The sheer predictability of Croydon Council over its internal stitch-ups on senior jobs is so crass that sometimes even they appear embarrassed by it.Paula Murray has been confirmed as Croydon’s culture director in a permanent capacity. Hitherto the deputy CEO at Brighton council even gets a pay rise out of the deal.
Not that Croydon Council’s Ministry of Truth has bothered to announce the appointment formally. Instead, the press office made a passing reference to Murray’s elevation to the £82,500 per year director position in a press release this week about a council-funded arts festival.
Murray joined Croydon Council as its first “culture czar” on secondment from Brighton on April 1. A month later, our cash-strapped council was advertising (somewhat reluctantly) to fill the position permanently.
And this in the midst of a council-wide recruitment freeze and the latest round of redundancies of council staff.
“It smacks of another stitch-up over a senior post,” said a disgruntled source who is still working in Fisher’s Folly.
“Jo Negrini decided she wanted Murray for the job. Murray now owes Negrini – she was looking at being down-graded from her job in Brighton. And Murray’s got to clean up Negrini’s mess over Boxpark.”
Jo Negrini is the planning and development executive director who looks like she is being lined up as the next Croydon Council CEO in another “stitch-up” at Fisher’s Folly. Last year, her department recommended using £3million of public cash to provide a loan to lure Boxpark to set up next to East Croydon Station – only for her to discover on the day of the launch that Croydon was getting a Boozepark of just bars and restaurants, with none of the boutique label stores which had helped to make the original Boxpark in Shoreditch a success.
“This week’s press release makes it clear that Murray’s first big task is the 2016 Ambition Festival,” said the council official. “That’s where the council has got a company with no track record in organising festivals to organise it, and with it to be staged mainly at a venue that doesn’t yet exist.”
Another council source described centering its two-day arts festival on Boxpark as “ensuring that we get a return on our investment”, referring to the Negrini-inspired loan.The council’s advertisement for the culture director’s position, which Inside Croydon has now obtained, shows that the post comes under Negrini’s regeneration brief. It is for a fixed two-year term, to September 2018, with its main focus on the future of the Fairfield Halls, one of the development projects which Negrini was pimping to a Berkeley Square estate agents’ conference earlier this week.
Judging by the council’s press release this week, the first steaming turd to be dealt with and left on Murray’s desk is indeed the Ambition Festival.
Last year’s festival was staged over a week in July. For 2016, the council-funded Ambition Festival, now reduced to a mere two days, still has no confirmed dates.
“Culture to be at the heart of Croydon’s new image” the Ministry of Truth trumpeted this week.
The council admits that it has outsourced the festival’s management to Boxpark – thus, giving more public money to a private company to help promote that private company over the many existing food and drink businesses established in the town centre.
Boxpark has recruited, on a salary of less than £40,000 per year, an events organiser, but with a general brief. Nothing to do with programming an artistic festival. All to do with buskers and social media to create footfall to sell burgers, at Shoreditch as well as in Croydon.
The council stated: “The borough’s new permanent culture director, Paula Murray…” – see how they slipped that in, almost as if an after-thought? – “leads on this project, and is tasked with putting Croydon into a more prominent position within the capital’s culture calendar.”
But it is the Fairfield Halls’ future, following the £30 million council investment and a two-year closure, which will be Murray’s focus.
“Whilst the halls are closed, emphasis will be put on performances in Croydon’s other venues. These include established places like Matthew’s Yard and Stanley Halls, as well as making more use of the Clocktower and Town Hall spaces, local churches, and parks and open spaces,” the council says.
So for two years, the council is pinning its artistic hopes on a start-up coffee bar which has teetered close to bankruptcy and which now faces stiff competition from Boxpark, whenever it opens, and whose founder has left the country, plus a recently re-opened Norwood venue whose trustees conveniently include the influential Labour councillor Paul Scott, husband of the council’s deputy leader, Alison Butler.
“As we go through the early stages of designing how the future Fairfield will operate we are very pleased with the variety of interest we’ve already had from established arts and music venue operators,” the council press office has Timothy Godfrey, the cabinet member for culture, as saying. “We are determined to ensure we can deliver an ambitious contemporary and classical music programme alongside a regional large-scale theatre offer and a community programme.
The council statement also confirms what has long been suspected: the Fairfield Halls’ owners, the council, want to re-open in 2018 with new operators, replacing the charity-run board of trustees and CEO Simon Thomsett, who have presided as the arts complex has declined over the last few years, and who openly opposed the refurbishment plans.
“As well as the big names I know Croydon can start to attract in the future we have to ensure there is a grassroots arts movement. This has to be affordable and accessible to all parts of the community and offer a wide and diverse range of things from dance and music to theatre, comedy and the visual arts.”
But absolutely no mention of any budget for this. Probably because there isn’t one, or it has already all been handed over to Boxpark.
Nor any dates for the “revamped” Ambition Festival. Good luck with booking acts for that, then.
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