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.
That 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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