There’s even more fall-out in the council’s botched attempt to cover-up the £787 per day IT consultant nepotism scandal
Jo Negrini, the council’s chief executive, threatened to use tax-payers’ money to sue this website on behalf of Graham Cadle, “The Godfather” at the centre of nepotism allegations first published by Inside Croydon.
Cadle, together with his colleagues and personal friends Karen Sullivan and Harwinder “Harry” Singh, have all left Croydon Council since the new year.
Last week, Inside Croydon published a confidential email from the chief exec, sent to elected councillors which many interpreted as a blatant attempt to “gag” them over a matter of legitimate public interest and a potential case of misfeasance of public funds.
But now we are able to reveal for the first time how Negrini has been using her public office in an effort to shut down all reporting of the matter.
In a letter dated October 26 and addressed to the website’s editor, Negrini made a clear effort to suppress our reporting of the case, in which Cadle, one of the council’s most senior executives, had authorised payments of £787 per day to IT contractor Singh.
Singh and Karen Sullivan, the council’s head of revenues and benefits, had together had a child. Cadle, Croydon’s £150,000 per year director of corporate service, was the child’s godfather. The relationship had never been declared by the trio until whistleblowers reported them last April.
Despite an internal investigation of this clear breach of the council’s code of conduct, no disciplinary action was taken and Cadle continued to hire Singh on the key council digital enabling project at a rate of pay equivalent to £200,000 per year.
The whistleblowers, frustrated at the apparent inaction over the matter, brought their evidence to Inside Croydon. The whistleblowers, as well as being in fear of losing their own jobs, were convinced that they had witnessed a high-level cover-up at Fisher’s Folly.
When we sent a set of questions to the chief executive, Negrini responded with an undisguised threat.
Negrini starts by using Stasi-era language, referring to the council “monitoring” the website for its reports on the conduct of her and other six-figure-salaried directors.
Negrini wrote: “As a public authority we are of course open to scrutiny…” Phew! And there were we thinking we were the ones in the wrong for asking questions about how Council Tax-payers’ money was being spent!
But what follows suggests that Negrini in fact considered herself and her senior colleagues to be above any such scrutiny.
“… What the council finds more difficult to accept is unsubstantiated statements, misinformation and personal attacks on officers where they are not in a position to defend…”.
As is common with threats of this kind, Negrini failed to specify any instances of unsubstantiated statements or personal attacks in Inside Croydon’s coverage of council matters. That’s probably because our information is usually based on the council’s own documents and on information and statements from staff and councillors.
But then Negrini’s letter took a more menacing tone.
“Where statements are a potential cause of legal action the council will not hesitate to support employees to protect their legitimate interests and privacy,” Negrini wrote.
“It’s a clear threat of legal action, and an attempt to shut down our reporting of The Godfather affair,” Steven Downes, the website’s editor, said today.
“Yet we were reporting something which the council had already investigated, and found serious fault, but over which Negrini had failed to take any action.
“Negrini has at no time ever denied that Cadle was paying Singh at £787 per day, nor that Cadle is godfather to the child of Singh and Sullivan, nor that the trio had failed to declare this relationship. That’s because it is all true.
“We brought our information to the attention of the Borough Solicitor, who had confirmed the detail. And now Negrini was threatening us with legal action? Does this begin to look like an abuse of her public position?
“Cadle, Sullivan and Singh were involved in the delivery of a digital enabling project which is many months overdue and close to £1million over-budget, and yet here Negrini was threatening to use more council money to ‘protect’ their reputations.
“Negrini’s email to councillors was a clumsy – and failed – attempt to gag our elected representatives over this matter, and has only served to prompt the question: What else is she trying to hide?”
Even last week, as news emerged of Sullivan leaving the council, senior managers in Fisher’s Folly were telling staff that the exits of the head of revenues and benefits, following Cadle and Singh in quick succession, were entirely unconnected. “We just laughed,” a council staffer told Inside Croydon. “None of us believe that.”
Others had been briefed that there was nothing unusual in the industry about paying an IT contractor £787 per day.
“Except the council’s own spreadsheets show that Harry Singh was being paid more than any other IT contractor working on the project. And we all know that Cadle hired him just after his company had gone bust, owing more than £100,000,” another council source said. “The point is: their relationship was never declared willingly, and that of itself looks suspicious.”
The failed attempt to intimidate Inside Croydon into not publishing anything further came from Negrini in response to a set of detailed questions which we had put in writing to Cadle a few days before.
Cadle, nor Negrini, have never attempted to address the questions raised.
The questions the council has refused to answer
It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but the questions represent the sort of thing some might think really deserve to be answered in a public forum, such as at a Town Hall scrutiny meeting. Or in an interview room at Croydon police station.
Given that Graham Cadle has now left the building, perhaps his boss Negrini should try to answer them on his behalf…
1, It was your decision to appoint Harry Singh to develop the MyCroydon app in 2013, even before he had registered Sensemble as a limited company or had a functioning website. When and how did you and Singh first meet?
2, Which other senior Croydon Council officials, at executive level, provided authorisation for Harry Singh to be taken on by the council after the collapse of Sensemble Ltd in November 2016? Can you provide any documentary evidence for this?
3, Which other senior Croydon Council officials, at executive level, provided authorisation for Harry Singh to be paid £787.36 per day by the council following the collapse of Sensemble Ltd in November 2016? Can you provide any documentary evidence for this?
4, When did you become godfather to the child of Harry Singh and Karen Sullivan, the head of Revenues and Benefits in your department?
5, Can you show when you first declared to your managers at Croydon Council your personal connection with Singh and Sullivan?
6, How many active projects are there in the Digital and Enabling Programme and which of these are being handled by Harry Singh?
7, What was the original budget for this work?
8, How many of those projects were completed and delivered, satisfactorily, by the deadline of June 2017?
9, How much, to date, has been spent on this work?
10, When were the snagging issues apparent in the council’s online housing repairs form first reported?
11, When do you expect these snagging issues to be resolved?
12, When were the snagging issues with council staff’s fixed penalty notice software first reported?
13, When do you expect these issues to be resolved?
14, How many staff or contractors, in your department or in IT across the council, will be losing their jobs or work as a result of the decision to off-shore Harry Singh’s MyCroydon operation to India?
15, Which other senior Croydon Council officials were also involved in signing off on the decision to offshore the MyCroydon operation to India?
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