Jo Negrini is to be the interim chief executive of Croydon Council once her current boss, the entrepreneurial Nathan Elvery, leaves his job in June.
Negrini has been chosen for the onerous task from a field of… err… just one. And meanwhile, our council could be spending a six-figure sum on hiring recruitment headhunters to find the borough’s next CEO.
Negrini is referred to officially as “the executive director Place”, meaning that she’s in charge of planning and development matters in the borough. She has been empire-building within the council headquarters ever since she arrived at Fisher’s Folly just over two years ago. Her spell as interim CEO could well cement her in the £180,000-a-year top job on a permanent basis.
Certainly, Negrini was being widely tipped among Katharine Street regulars as a shoo-in to become Croydon’s first woman CEO. If that were to happen, some would regard it as effectively completing Westfield’s takeover of the borough.
Australian-born Negrini was appointed to her senior position in Croydon within a year of the fair dinkum Aussie developers arriving in south London with their plans for the £1billion redevelopment of the town centre for the local landowners, the Whitgift Foundation. Previously, Negrini had spent four years at Newham Council working closely with Westfield on their Stratford mall.
The appointments, interim or permanent, are not yet set in stone, but knowing council leader Tony Newman’s preference for “continuity” – ie. not upsetting Westfield and not imposing his Labour group’s own political will on senior council staff – Negrini’s over-weaning influence over the council looks likely to grow further.
Elvery anointed Negrini as his chosen successor in an email he sent to all council staff yesterday morning.
“As you will be aware I have been appointed as the chief executive of West Sussex County Council and have now formally resigned my position with our council with my last working day being June 24. We have been focusing over the last few weeks on ensuring we have a smooth and effective transition and handover period for the next few months. During this transition phase there will be a number of acting arrangements established and I committed, at the earliest opportunity, to keep you all informed.
“An acting chief executive will be appointed for this interim period. In order to ensure we maintain momentum and progress as an organisation will be making this appointment internally and therefore an appointments committee will be interviewing Jo Negrini for the role of acting chief executive and acting head of paid service on April 28. The decision will then be formally approved by full council on May 23. Paul Greenhalgh, executive director of people has decided not to apply for this role given his retirement from the council at the end of July and the imminent selection of a new executive director of people on April 26. I will of course update you on progress on our new executive director of people once an appointment has been made.
“I will be working with Jo, subject to appointment, on the timings of handover arrangements to ensure this phase is as smooth as possible for our organisation. I know you will wish Jo every success for her interview next week and I am confident that you will support her in the transitional phase to ensure a smooth transition for our organisation.”
That’s nice, isn’t it? Wishing Negrini well for an interview in which she is in a field of… one.
Some of the information in Elvery’s email was not made available in report form to our elected councillors until just after 5.30pm last night – with barely an hour until the meeting of full council where the details were to be “discussed”. Or “pushed through” [delete according to your degree of cynicism].
It was last month when Elvery announced his departure for a £10,000 pay rise and to work closer to his family home in sleepy Sussex-by-the-sea. Any normal organisation might have been expected to have a replacement lined up to take over before the boss’s seat is allowed to cool.
But not in local government, and certainly not at Croydon Council, which is why an interim CEO is necessary.
“The Labour Party’s had shorter leadership selections than this,” one underwhelmed councillor told Inside Croydon this evening.
And having cost the people of Croydon dearly over his 12 years at the council – why the council offices should have cost more than £100 million more than the market rate has remained a closely guarded “commercially confidential” secret on Elvery’s watch – it seems that even as he leaves, there are to be further hidden costs.
In West Sussex there have been complaints that the county council paid through the nose for headhunters (and the best that they could find was the entrepreneurial Elvery). Last week, Croydon cabinet members were briefing that our council would not be so foolish as to pay inflated fees to a recruitment agency.
But yesterday, Elvery announced that the council will indeed be spending Tax-payers’ money on what he describes as “engaging a ‘search and select agency’ to help us recruit”.
Typically, headhunters’ fees can cost at least 25 per cent of the successful candidate’s salary, and sometimes over three years, meaning that our council could be looking at a six-figure bill. Right at a time of more austerity cuts.
The recruitment process begins in earnest with a “position vacant” ad in next week’s edition of the Municipal Journal. So anyone could apply, really.
That will be published on April 27 – more than a month after Elvery announced his departure. It will then be June 30 – a week after Elvery has left the job – before senior councillors get round to interviewing shortlisted candidates, with the council meeting on July 18 expected to give its approval to the whoever comes out on top.
That means it will have taken four months from Elvery’s announcement of his departure for our council to manage to fill the vacancy created. And if, against all odds, Newman and his selection panel do go outside Croydon and recruit someone from another local authority, there could be a further three-month wait while they serve out their notice period.
Meanwhile, the council’s staff have already begun speculating that Negrini’s close colleague, Colm Lacey, who she recruited for the Place department, will swiftly follow her into his own interim promotion. As if he is not busy enough already as the CEO of the council’s off-shoot housing company.
Elvery signed off in his email with a rousing message to what remains of the council’s staff, and gave a very clear indication of who has really been running the borough: “Our organisation is in a very strong position in terms of our financial planning, organisational culture and delivery of our political priorities.”
Yes: “our political priorities”. He must mean the elected council’s political priorities.
“We have strong plans in place through to the summer in terms of our future cabinet agendas…” And you thought Newman and the elected representatives set the council agenda? “… and solid plans in place for the medium term… although there are some changes to come in terms of my current role our organisation remains on our Ambitious course for our residents and our borough.”
Yes. Ambitious for another stitch-up of a senior appointment. Trebles all-round!
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