Jo Negrini, the council chief executive who refuses to answer questions from Croydon Council Tax-payers or elected councillors about what she might have achieved for the borough by spending a week on the beach in the South of France at property developer junket MIPIM, has broken her silence.
But not for the people that pay her salary. Oh no.
Negrini penned a self-justifying little blog piece from the French Riviera for her mates at the Architects’ Journal. The self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” clearly knows to whom she is really accountable.
Negrini’s artless prose appeared online alongside similar gushings from the likes of Ben Derbyshire, the chair of HTA Design (who happen to have been hired by Brick by Brick for schemes in Croydon) and is the President of RIBA (who awarded Negrini that honorary fellowship thing).
Also on the blog for AJ is Steve Sanham, of HUB (who have been given planning permission to concrete over a large section of Queen’s Gardens with the Taberner House site which has lain undeveloped under the Negrini-run council for four years); and there’s Phil Coffey, from Coffey Architects (another firm which, coincidentally, has landed a contract in Croydon for Brick by Brick).
Negrini’s sole contribution to the blog was less Jane Austen, more Bridget Jones, as she defended her excursion to the Cannes junket (© Tony Newman, supposedly her boss, the leader of Croydon Council).
There’s a chance, perhaps a remote one, that in writing it, Negrini might have just been reading – or in her words, “monitoring” – Inside Croydon.
Read it for yourself and decide:
“In Cannes. Again. For some, MIPIM is a total junket, predicated on the view that all investment is bad for the city and that people who attend it spend their days drinking wine with their mates and their evenings with Russian oligarchs or other parasites at President’s Club-style events.
“Yes, there is that side of MIPIM. But you can get that side of things in all environments where you mix men, booze and fat expense accounts. London is awash with these types of opportunities. You don’t need to go the south of France for it. Over the time I have been coming to MIPIM, there are more women involved (and the majority of men) who are coming for the same reason I am – to meet as many people and companies as possible to have a choice about who invests in their area. The alternative would be to sit in the office and wait for the next half-baked planning application from some dodgy fly-by-night investor who wants to get a consent and then flip it for the highest price. It’s about building relationships with the people you want to work with in your borough – the ones that help you deliver the type of development you want.
“Ah yes, I should have said that these views are my own, I am a woman and I don’t have an expense account.”
Paid just £188,000 a year (she’s recently had a 1.6 per cent pay rise from the London Living Wage-accredited local authority), and having to spend the best part of a champagne-soaked working week in the South of France among the Russian oligarchs, Middle East sheikhs and Hong Kong speculators, to meet people she could probably see in London, and all without an expense account to call her own.
Doesn’t she get it? As an employee of a local authority, she really ought not be buying jeroboams of champagne for billionaire developers. But we’re confident that there was never any real risk that Negrini would have been personally out of pocket for her little trip to the Mediterranean.
It’s interesting that she characterises the other 51 weeks of her chief executive’s year as sitting in the office and waiting “for the next half-baked planning application from some dodgy fly-by-night investor who wants to get a consent and then flip it for the highest price”.
Does Negrini have any particular “fly-by-nights” in mind?
And further, it is also interesting that, in her defence of spending £17,000 of public money for her and three hand-picked colleagues to attend the notorious booze and hookerfest in Cannes “again”, Negrini is out-of-step even with one of the most notorious lobbyists and schmoozers for the building industry.
Peter Bingle, who has been linked to £3billion-worth of deals and contracts, including the social cleansing of council estates in south London for LendLease, was disgusted by what he witnessed at MIPIM this year.
Bingle tweeted: “In a post-President’s Club world, I was surprised and disappointed by some of the behaviour I witnessed and observed at @MIPIMWorld. These jerks need to be disciplined and told that their behaviour is totally unacceptable…”
But not as far as Jo Negrini and Croydon’s Labour-run council are concerned.
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