Nero Ughwujabo, for the past 15 years the chief executive of the Croydon BME Forum, has quit his job to become a SPAD – a government special adviser to the Prime Minister.Some observers of events around Croydon Town Hall might regard this as the latest example of Gavin Barwell’s influence and patronage at the heart of the Tory government.
Although even by the (low) standards of the former Tory MP for Croydon Central, finding someone called Nero for your bit of empire-building might be stretching a point.
Having lost his parliamentary seat at the General Election, Barwell was plucked from political oblivion when he was handed the role as Chief of Staff to the interim Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Since then, Barwell’s former head of paperclips, Conservative councillor Sara Bashford, has been handed a cushty government job in the Cabinet Office.
Now Ughwujabo has risen without trace to a Downing Street job, in which he is supposed to be “special adviser on social justice, young people and opportunity”.“It looks like Barwell’s made the case to May that her government is too pale and stale, full of old white blokes. She’s relied on Gav for his south London street cred, and the best he has been able to do is Nero,” someone from the black and ethnic minority – BAME – community told Inside Croydon.
Ughwujabo’s elevation was announced in an email from the chair of the Croydon BME Forum, Pat Reid.
The news was confirmed last night during what has been described as a “slapdash” launch of Croydon Council’s Black History Month (“That was the biggest bucket of crap I have ever seen,” one disappointed observer said of the event. “People are lauding mediocrity”).
According to Reid’s email, which Inside Croydon has seen, “Nero has worked in Croydon in the past 17 years, with the last 15 years as chief executive of Croydon BME Forum. In that time, Nero has supported numerous BME organisations, building capacity and helping to draw-down much needed funds to support activities. Nero represented the Forum and Croydon’s Black and Minority communities at the strategic level, serving on Croydon’s Local Strategic Partnership, and its chief executives’ group for over 10 years.
“Nero has also served on numerous boards across the borough including as a non-executive director at Croydon University Hospital, member of the Health and Wellbeing Board, Safer Croydon Partnership, Stronger Communities Partnership, Voluntary Sector Alliance, Croydon’s General Purpose and Audit Committee, council director of Octavo amongst others.
“Nero has led the Forum successfully and has made an outstanding contribution to life in Croydon. We are certain that he will do extremely well in his new role and we wish him all the best.”
The Croydon BME Forum under Ughwujabo has been criticised for focusing too much of its attention on Afro-Caribbeans, particularly Croydon’s West African communities, to the exclusion of other minority groups.
“The BME Forum is a tokenistic organisation, so that the council could reach its targets regarding equalities. They were never too fussed about whether it is doing a good job or not,” one source who has had dealings with the Forum said.
“I’m at a loss to know what Nero’s Croydon legacy is, after 15 years. BME is supposed to stand for Black, Minority and Ethnic groups, yet all they seem to do is piggy-back other organisations for their mailing lists, because they only really work with a handful of black organisations. All their events are filled with the same elderly people and the Forum’s staff.
“I’ve never worked out who it is they are supposed to be trying to engage – the majority of their events are staged in afternoons, when many people are either at work or college.
“When have they ever campaigned or lobbied successfully on any BME issue either nationally or within the borough?”
Ughwujabo, 42, retains one directorship in Croydon, at least for now, as according to Companies House records he is on the board of the Clocktower-based and part-council-funded education support service Octavo Partnership.
In his email to members of the Croydon BME Forum, chair Reid said that “the board will soon be appointing an interim CEO and you will be notified of this as soon as possible. I hope that you will give us support and encouragement as we continue our work to amplify the voice of Croydon’s black and minority ethnic communities”.
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