STEVEN DOWNES reports on the latest high-ranking casualty of Croydon Council’s ‘Godfather Affair’
Karen Sullivan, Croydon’s head of revenues and benefits, has become the third senior council employee in a month to leave their job at Fisher’s Folly as a result of an internal investigation sparked by Inside Croydon’s reporting into the “Godfather Affair”.
With the matter now having been reported to the police by at least one elected councillor, Jo Negrini, the council’s £185,000 chief executive, and council leader Tony Newman, are refusing to comment on the sudden departures of Sullivan, Graham Cadle and Harry Singh.
Inside Croydon approached Negrini and Newman on Friday, and they have failed to deny that Cadle or Sullivan may have received hefty “golden goodbye” payments, despite them both having broken the council’s code of conduct.
Singh and Sullivan are the parents of a child which has Cadle as its godfather.
None of the trio openly declared their friendship, as is required, until after a council investigation last year, which had been prompted by a whistleblower report. Despite finding that the Godfather, Singh and Sullivan had broken the code of conduct, the council took no further disciplinary action. Cadle’s boss, Negrini, also failed to report the matter to the police for possible investigation.
The council hierarchy has again failed to inform elected councillors, even at cabinet level, of the departure of Sullivan, who had worked at Croydon for seven years, most recently glorying in the job title of “head of customer contact, revenues and benefits and business support”.
“This is not some minor functionary who has left,” one councillor said tonight of Sullivan. “This is a key figure in the council, and elected members deserve to be kept fully informed of the circumstances.”
In her role within Cadle’s department, Sullivan had responsibility for the Town Hall’s multi-million-pound income from Council Tax, as well as managing the payment of benefits to residents, including the introduction of Universal Credit, where Croydon has been used by the Tory Government as a pilot study.
Cadle hired Singh – at a daily rate of pay equivalent to £200,000 per year – to implement widespread changes to the way residents can contact the council online, a £8.2million programme which has not hit its deadlines and which was, by last November, at least £700,000 over budget.
Other IT engineers and specialists working for the council took the view that Singh was seriously under-qualified for the task. Yet he was the best-paid consultant working on the project.
Many aspects of the online automation work which Singh was supposed to deliver related to Sullivan’s revenue and benefits department.
Sullivan joined Croydon Council in 2011, having previous managed a call centre for a phone company. On her online professional profile, Sullivan boasts of her importance at Croydon Council: “I am responsible for 9 direct deports and 450 staff following restructures and a £700m budget, with broad responsibility for 20-30 transformational projects at any one time and other BAU operations in 3 service areas.
“Key achievements include that I have successfully increased collection of council tax and business rates above corporate targets, with 2016-17 being the years for the highest collections on record (0.45% increase on previous year) – a crucial result given that this increased income pays for other service improvements and the Council’s £5bn regeneration project.
“I am leading channel shift and digital performance, transferring 185k customers to an online platform. This led to savings of over £10m since 2012 and through service transformation, will lead to a further £1.2m through omni channel service provision.
“My work has achieved numerous awards for best in class digital transformation and major benefits realisation, including the UK’s Digital Council of the year winner 2017, IRRV Excellence in Innovation winner 2017, LBC’s Influencing for Results winner 2016, LBC’s Inspiring Leader of the Year winner 2015 and as a finalist for a number of UK digital awards.
“Other achievments include centralising business support functions throughout the organisation and transforming service delivery through new, smarter ways of working, resulting in a £2.6m saving per annum.
“As early adopters of innovation, we have became the first council to roll out Universal Credit to all Croydon residents and have insourced the bailiff service, resulting in a £1m profit, whilst piloting a scheme to ensure vulnerable customers are not adversely impacted.
“Presently, I am piloting many new service improvement initiatives through business process engineering, such as Artificial Engineering, whilst utilising robotics, automation and behavioural insight to maximise income collection, prioritise debt and generate new revenue streams.”
If such self-recommendation were even half true, it might be the case that Sullivan would be indispensible to Croydon Council.
But not according to one Katharine Street source.
“It’s just the usual bullshit that council middle managers and directors are coming up with all the time,” they said.
“The back-slapping ‘awards’ they have received are meaningless, the IT forms and software that Sullivan here claims to have ‘delivered’ still do not work, the savings which we were promised appear to be a work of fiction, or at least wildly optimistic, and a £8million project for a replacement CRM system will not be ready for months after its deadline.
“You see this all through the council, including social services and the failing children’s services, and it all stems from management, or the lack off it,” said the senior council source.
With three senior figures at the council having now left Fisher’s Folly in a few weeks, the scope of any police investigation could become broader, and a good deal more serious.
“Those that knew about this and failed to report it to the police have failed in their public duty,” said one councillor, who learned of Sullivan’s departure from Inside Croydon. “It looks all the more like there’s been a cover-up.”
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