Jo Negrini’s sensitivities over questions about her jaunt to the South of France last month, where she attended the champagne-soaked MIPIM conference with international property developers, has seen the council’s unaccountable CEO not only refuse to answer letters from residents, but also get public questions to Town Hall meetings blocked, too.
This includes questions from residents worried about the impact which the council’s own Brick by Brick developments might have on their family homes.
Earlier this week, we reported how Negrini and the Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, had refused to answer directly a Council Tax-payer’s enquiry into the trip to Cannes taken by the CEO and three senior council execs.
Instead, they treated the questions about the business of the trip as a Freedom of Information request.
This report prompted our loyal reader (another one) to contact us to complain about a question they had tried to have asked at the last full council meeting, on March 26. The question was never put forward for a formal answer from the borough’s elected councillors.
The question was: “What was the benefit to Croydon residents to send the CEO Jo Negrini and a Brick by Brick delegation to the MIPIM Conference in Cannes in the South of France for four days at our expense?”
The resident’s question was ruled out of order by the borough’s monitoring officer, Harris-Baker. In an email from the council, our loyal reader was advised, “On this occasion your question has been ruled out by the Monitoring Officer under Part 4A of the Council’s Constitution (para. 3.17), as below:
‘Questions…relating to an individual or entity in respect of which that individual or entity has a right of recourse to a review or right of appeal conferred by or under any enactment shall not be permitted’.”
Our loyal reader is unimpressed. “It’s councilese gibberish, and complete nonsense, too.
“My question clearly gives Negrini and the council the opportunity to outline what benefits there might be of her and three colleagues spending £17,000 of our money on going to Cannes for four days.”
A Katharine Street source has told Inside Croydon that this level of interference by council officials in what is allowed to be asked of elected councillors sets a dangerous precedent. “The idea that someone is vetting the public’s questions that they want to put to their elected representatives is very Big Brother indeed. It’s blatant censorship, and a form of media management over what gets discussed in the Town Hall chamber. What have they got to hide?”
Inside Croydon has recently reported how other questions, raised from the chamber floor by elected councillors on matters which raise issues about the competence and probity of senior council officials, have also been blocked through interventions by Negrini and Harris-Baker.
The council has admitted (through its eventual FoI response) that it had no records or minutes of any of the meetings which Negrini, Heather Cheesbrough or Shifa Mustafa may have had while attending the “booze and hooker fest” that is MIPIM (they didn’t mention Colm Lacey, in the South of France on Brick by Brick business).
Nor, the council has conceded, do they conduct any evaluation of the effectiveness of attending the event.
Our other loyal reader, still disappointed to have been denied democratic access to his own councillors on the matter, said, “Maybe they didn’t like my question because they don’t have a credible answer?”
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Having spent 4 decades on conducting Council business in four different local authorities, I know I would have been in severe trouble if I’d gone to any meeting, even with other Departments let alone private companies, without lodging any record with my employer of what business was conducted and what the outcome was, I would deservably been in a lot of trouble. What is going on here then, Ms Negrini and why are you and your colleagues an exception? I thought Councils were still required to demonstrate economy, efficiency and effectiveness in all their operations.
I think I probably, on balance, support the blocking of all these questions! We, that is the council electors, are not going to make any change to what has happene4d already and the only way we can hope to do that is, not by continually complaining or pointing fingers at council meetings, etc, but by voting with our feet – well actually our election papers in MAY!
SO as somebody once said – GO TO IT!
So give it a rest, guys, just vote for the right candidates this time – you didn’t last!
BTW, I don’t belong to any political party, so I am not biased, am I?
“If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it” is the title of a book by the sometimes denigrated but sometimes wise Ken Livingstone.
Pre-election promises to spend money that isn’t there or to maintain the uninspiring staus quo make any undertakings either valueless or token. There is therefore no reason to suppose the vital issues of Housing need and Planning will be any different.
To see a Ward Councillor trying to speak out to support a view solidly supported by local voters, only to be steam-rollered by his own party, is to realise that some extent we live in an elected dictatorship.
There are pitifully few forums where ordinary members of the public can speak out on important local issues and Inside Croydon needs to be appreciated for providing a facility where malpractice, abuse of power, waste and broken promises are exposed and can be commented on.
In addition to Ken’s, I’ll give you two more dictums, which are “Knowledge is power” and “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
It therefore seems unwise to label this, or indeed any other, debate as “continually complaining” or as “pointing fingers.”
I have learned a lot from the information and comment on these pages, which will help to inform how I vote in May – and – yes I do follow a particular party, one which I hope will begin to act in the interests of all the people of Croydon. In the meantime it is not helpful to close down discussion on important issues
Give what a rest? Calls for public information about deals involving public cash and public land? Has nothing been learned from the Parliamentary expenses scandal? Or the Nolan Principles of public life?
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.”
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands it.”
“7. Leadership Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.”
Oh let us praise the CEO.
She’ll tell folks if they really need to know.
Why are questions all in vain?
‘Cos keeping records is a pain.
And if you don’t approve my rhyme
Give it a rest till four year’s time.
Blocked information. Censorship. Lavish spending of money on Riviera trips, free flights, free hotels & free dinners. Some of it paid from public funds. Some funded by property developers & their lobby firms. Chummy chats on the Riviera with those property developers. Meetings with no minutes.
All without any proper evaluation of the benefit to the public.
No, not Croydon. But it seems, a similar record over in Haringey. Where the – thankfully outgoing – right-wing regime of Cllr Claire Kober is almost certain to be replaced in the May Elections.
In my view something is really rotten when elected local government is run like this.
Can I suggest that Croydon residents who meet a Council candidate – from any political party – might like to ask them if they have been to MIPIM. Or if they would go? Or if they approve of public cash and developer “sponsorship” funding these trips? If they approve of secret meetings without minutes involving the sale or development of public land, and handover of public cash?
And if they say ‘Yes’?
Well, then you have a choice. You can have your local borough council run for the benefit of local residents. Or run to benefit property developers and their pals.
Declaration of Interest
I am a member of the Labour Party and was a Haringey Councillor 1998-2014. I am not a candidate in the May elections.
Jon Rouse, when the council CEO, went to the MIPIM Exhibition at Cannes in 2012, and reported back that they ‘had a record number of enquiries, including some from investors and developers with no previous history in the borough’.
They ‘had lots of important conversations that we are now in the process of following up’.
The large model of Croydon was certainly impressive, but in the last 6 years most of these ‘regeneration’ projects have been abandoned or come to a standstill.
I suspect that the only interest shown at Cannes was to see what ambitious ‘regeneration’ project was depicted THIS year – a game of ‘hunt the difference’ – and that Jo Negrini is not giving any information about her trip, because NOTHING was achieved, and she doesn’t want to admit that as far as benefit to CROYDON was concerned, it was a complete waste of money !
I have already said on this forum that I was in the south of France this year but did not attend any of the Croydon events. However those delegates I know who did attend Croydon events and made an enquiry where referred to various consultants in London rather than any direct engagement at the point of enquiry. There lies a waste of Croydon council tax payers money. You might as well have had a 6 foot high Croydon business card propped against the wall and save the council with additional £16,500 Expenditure On travel, hotels and subsistence.