The council has announced, all so quietly, the appointment of a former senior London Labour Party official to the newly created position of Croydon’s “director of strategy and partnerships”.“That job is effectively the personal assistant to council leader Tony Newman,” one senior Katharine Street figure told Inside Croydon this morning. It is, of course, just 14 months before the next Town Hall elections.
As a director working in Fisher’s Folly, Julian Ellerby is likely to be paid up to £110,000 per year.
Ellerby’s appointment comes a year since the Labour-run council announced the creation of another senior position, that of creative director, a job which was never advertised and for which there was a single candidate: Paula Murray. And this at a time when there was a “recruitment freeze” on front-line service jobs at the council.
When Julian Ellerby previously landed a top job on a Labour-run council, in Lambeth 10 years ago, the opposition Conservatives kicked up a stink about “cronyism”. This time round, and Croydon’s dozy Tories have so far been silent about his latest six-figure “job for the boys” politicised appointment.
Ellerby, who had no previous local authority experience before joining Lambeth, was appointed there as the “director of campaigns and communications”, or spin-doctor-in-chief, by the then leader of its “co-operative” council… Steve Reed.
“It would have been madness not to appoint him,” Reed said at that time.Reed, a former vice-chair of the Progress Party, and now with an OBE, has since become the MP for Croydon North/Lambeth South [delete to distaste]. One of the parliamentary assistants working in Reed’s Westminster office is Louise Szpera, who just happens to be the partner of Woodside councillor and Croydon council leader… Tony Newman.
“This looks like Reed has decided that his Blairite pals at the council need some serious heavy-lifting doing before the local elections,” the Town Hall source said. “And Council Tax-payers will be paying for it.”
Others suggest that, to balance the books to accommodate Ellerby’s juicy new salary, there could soon be staff cuts made in the somnambulant council press office, which operates with a budget of more than £500,000 per year. In Lambeth, what Ellerby has described as a “bloated” media team was hacked back from 30 to 18 staff (though in classic spin doctor manner, a website managed by Ellerby and his team has managed to “massage” the previous staffing figure to 50, making the job cutting seem even more “impressive”).
Since being given his first council job by Reed, Ellerby has been running something called Lambeth Communications, which as well as managing the propaganda department for the local authority has been providing its services to other councils across the country from Brixton Town Hall.
Or, as Lambeth Communications put it so modestly themselves: “Six years ago, our communications service was a bloated, unfocused, de-centralised unit delivering poor outcomes. The role of communications was passive, reactive and ineffective. And Lambeth – the place and its leadership – had a poor reputation.
“Under Julian’s leadership it is now one of the most highly regarded teams in the UK, winning awards for the quality of its campaigning, digital, media and publications.” Seriously?And Ellerby makes no secret of the politicisation of the council’s publicity output since he’s been in charge at Lambeth: “The communications team have been centralised, re-modelled and focussed [sic] on delivering the political vision”, his council/company website states elsewhere.
And “Through internal communications, everyone from the top to the bottom of the organisation is clear on what we are working for.”
All very Orwellian. And all so very Progress.
No start date at Fisher’s Folly has been given for Ellerby as yet, but when he arrives it seems likely he might take a long look at the council leader’s own social media output, as well as that of some of his councillor colleagues.
According to Croydon Council’s press release, “Julian”, they are all so informal, “brings with him a wealth of experience such as overseeing the creation and implementation of the Borough Plan, which helped shape the nature and development of Lambeth”. That’s the same Labour-lite council which is closing public libraries, converting some into gyms against local residents’ wishes, and conducting wide scale social cleansing of council homes to make way for private housing developments.
Croydon confirms that Ellerby “will oversee policy and strategy for the council, as well as having responsibility for organisational development, external relationships with key partners and the third sector, the leader’s office and communications”. Given such a broad brief, it is a wonder that there’s anything left to do for the chief executive, Jo Negrini.
“This is a new post for the council, working directly to me, which will really drive the council’s approach to working with residents and our partners,” Negrini, herself a former Lambeth employee, is supposed to have said.
The council issued its press release on February 23.
The quote in the release attributed to Ellerby even mentions Progress. Or was it progress? And just to prove they are so very much “on message”, it also slides in the council’s new buzz word, “delivery”.
“I am very excited to have the opportunity to be part of Croydon’s story. It is a place with strong ambitions and the evidence of its progress and delivery is increasingly clear,” Ellerby is supposed to have said.
“It seems very odd that, more than a week after they issued the press release, the council has yet to post anything about the Ellerby job on the council website,” a source inside Fisher’s Folly said. “He’s clearly worked very closely to Reed in the past, and the creation of the job can only be because Reed thinks the Labour council needs some serious help.
“In that context, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of Newman’s political or leadership abilities.”
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