A leaked email from the council chief executive suggests she is trying to cover-up her attempted cover-up of the sudden departure of three senior employees. STEVEN DOWNES reports
Elected councillors, already angry at being left uninformed of important developments at the council, are now furious that the chief executive is trying to close down any discussion of the Godfather Affair.
Jo Negrini, Croydon’s £185,000 chief exec, yesterday morning emailed all councillors with a little message.
But it was not a Valentine’s Day love letter.
“Negrini is attempting to gag councillors over the Godfather Affair,” said one councillor who contacted Inside Croydon after receiving the email.
“It is fucking public interest… Misfeasance of public funds,” they added.
When councillors start to speak of “misfeasance”, then you know that they are worried.
As Inside Croydon first reported in October, Negrini’s No3 at the council, Graham Cadle, was paying £787 per day to IT contractor Harwinder, or Harry, Singh. That works out at an annual rate equivalent to £200,000.
Singh has a child with Karen Sullivan, the head of revenues and benefits at the council. The child’s godfather is Graham Cadle.
Those cosily close relationships were never willingly declared by the trio, as is required by the council’s code of conduct. A whistleblower expressed concerns about the conflicts of interest last April. An internal council investigation was held, but no disciplinary action was taken.
As far as Inside Croydon can establish, news of that enquiry was never reported by Negrini to the majority of Croydon’s 70 elected councillors. Nor was the file handed over to the police to investigate whether any criminal offence had taken place.
Last autumn, the council whistleblower, anxious that their concerns about Cadle’s apparent abuse of his position had been swept under the carpet by Negrini, brought the case to Inside Croydon. After some investigations, we handed our file to Sean Fitzsimons, the Labour councillor who chairs the scrutiny committee. Fitzsimons immediately identified the possibility of misfeasance of public funds.
The councillor had a duty to report the information to the Borough Solicitor, who then instituted a second investigation into the conduct of Cadle, Sullivan and Singh. This was conducted by Simon Maddocks, who had carried out the original investigation last April.
In the past month, Inside Croydon has reported that first Cadle, then Singh and, most recently, Sullivan have all left their posts at Croydon Council.
The departures of some of the council’s most senior staff – Cadle was on £150,000 a year as the director of corporate service – were never announced to elected councillors, who found out about the scandal and the cover-up by reading Inside Croydon.
Last week, one councillor reported the affair to the police, noting that it was something which the CEO or Borough Solicitor should have done 10 months earlier.
Clearly, Negrini, who has failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s questions about her handling of the matter and any pay-offs which may have been made to the trio, is beginning to get a little uncomfortable with the questions she is now getting from disgruntled councillors.
Senior council figures are drawing comparison with the paucity of information they have been given in this case by Negrini’s senior staff, and the similarly misleading information which elected representatives were given about the performance and management of the council’s children’s services department, which was rated as “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors.
In her Valentine’s Day email, under the heading “Confidential”, Negrini wrote yesterday:
“I would like to take this opportunity to respond to reports in a local blog site…” we think she means Inside Croydon, “…regarding a recent whistleblowing investigation conducted by the council.
“Although it would not be appropriate to discuss this investigation in detail, I would like to clarify that all allegations were investigated fully and all recommendations will be implemented.
“I would also like to remind you of the guidelines around our whistleblowing procedures.
“The council treats these issues extremely seriously, and conducts all investigations thoroughly, and within clear parameters.
“It is important to stress that we have a statutory responsibility to all whistleblowers. As Chief Executive and head of paid service it is also my responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of all staff. Therefore, in order to maintain confidence and integrity in the process it is essential that our investigations, reports and any resulting discuplinary action are treated as confidential.”
Negrini’s concern for whistleblowers is most touching. Though it doesn’t quite tally with the council’s attitude towards staff who report justifiable concerns.
Inside Croydon is aware of at least two staff members in the last four months who, after using the council’s whistleblowing procedure to report their concerns about their treatment at work, were then forced to take long-term paid leave of absence while the matter was investigated.
In both cases, the whistleblowers’ complaints were upheld. In both cases, the council staff members ultimately felt hounded out of their jobs, accepted a pay-off and signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Basically, taxpayers’ money has been used to gag individuals from going public with genuine concerns about the way the council is managed.
In October, after we had published the first of our reports on the Godfather Affair, the whistleblower who had contacted us had expressed their concern that council officials, including Cadle and Sullivan, were trying to hunt them down, monitoring emails and phone calls, even checking photocopying records, to discover who had been the source of our news reports.
And this week, following Sullivan’s departure from Fisher’s Folly, the whistleblower was back in contact again.
Of Cadle, Sullivan and Singh, they said, “They bullied good people, leaving a wake of chaos, dysfunctional technology and broken processes behind them.
“They threw away other people’s hard work and lined their own grubby pockets whilst undermining the efforts of honest council employees. This sordid tale will follow them for a long time to come.
“Their reign of terror at Croydon is over.”
A “reign of terror”? Really? At a local authority where Jo Negrini tells councillors that she has a “statutory responsibility to all whistleblowers”?
And where she emphasises that, “As Chief Executive and head of paid service it is also my responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of all staff”?
How can that be reconciled with what a whistleblower who felt that their report had been ignored by Negrini, and that they suffered a “reign of terror” at the workplace?
Perhaps Negrini can email councillors to explain that.
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I am sure that this is but the tip of the iceberg and this story will run and run.
Negrini’s email is actually disgraceful: basically it is a load of jargon-ridden sententious claptrap which actually says nothing except that whatever is being investigated, whoever is involved, no one will ever know!
It would be interesting to see the annual report of the whistleblowing committee (I have never seen any mention of its availability) and to align that with facts from an in-house source. I am pretty sure that the two will not line up all that accurately.
Just goes to show how Negrini doesn’t give a toss about anyone or anything that may rock her boat. She should stop trying to pretend that all is hunky dory and actually admit that there was an almighty cock/cover up which is now fully exposed.
I would imagine that there must be a safety barrier around the big lump in the carpet in Fishers Folly where they have swept everything they don’t want us or Members to know about.
Thing is, don’t think it is “now fully exposed”.
We’re still keen to hear from council insiders who have detailed knowledge and understanding of the workings of the council’s revenue account. And of course, we will protect our sources.
I see that Negrini is consistent in initial caps for her title of Chief Executive but confused as to “caps or not” for Council. However Councillors only rate a small “c”. Treating them with contempt?
Well spotted and quite revealing.
Keep up the good work.
There are two completely separate issues; the legitimate need to protect the identity of whistleblowers, and the unjustified cover-up of pay-offs to staff who have fallen way short of the council’s standards.
Negrini should not confuse the two.
How do we get the auditor in ?
You know that I’m not Negrini’s biggest supporter, but you may be missing something here. Her attempt at preventing further discussions might possibly imply that the Police may now be investigating this matter. Proceed with caution.
If they were, and she had anything to do with it, then she would have said so.
That she has never taken this matter to the police is a dire failure of her public duty, and suggests an attempt to cover-up the failings of her executive staff.
Derek, you are too kind!
If the Police are involved then she would have been cautioned to say nothing at all and not to refer to the matter in any way. That way she could not be accused of trying to influence events.
Suggest you read the statement again Arno if that is the case.
It must be really hard to be a whistle-blower, exposing the very things that senior staff are paid large sums to prevent. Anyone with the guts to do so, in the face of institutional inertia and even hostility (and worse), deserves and needs our full support, and the support of the Council and Councillors and Unions, and the Law.