KEN LEE reports on the fall-out from yesterday’s announcement that one of Croydon Council’s most senior executives is leaving her job
Labour councillors, including some at cabinet level, are demanding to know why the council chief executive authorised the release of a statement about the departure of one of her most senior members of staff just 48 hours before the local elections.
Barbara Peacock, the council’s £170,000 per year “executive director People”, has been under close scrutiny since last September, when an Ofsted report declared Croydon’s Children’s Services to be “inadequate”, with “widespread and serious failures”, which “leave some children at risk of significant harm”.
Yet her boss, council CEO Jo Negrini, waited until yesterday to announce that Peacock would be leaving her job as the result of a “restructuring”.
Councillors had not been informed of the development before the news was released selectively, with an official council spokeswoman providing a comment to a dwindling circulation newsheet based in Guildford.
That this story was leaked with the backing of Negrini was confirmed at lunchtime yesterday, after Inside Croydon had published its report of Peacock’s departure, with an official press release issued from the Fisher’s Folly bunker which used a form of words very similar to that which had been posted from a Guildford news room hours earlier.
“I’d like to thank Barbara for all her hard work and commitment to Croydon,” Negrini said in the council press release. “She has been at the forefront of driving improvements in our services for children and families and she leaves us with a very strong platform to go forward and keep getting better. We wish her all the best for the future.”
The borough’s elected representatives were underwhelmed by the chief executive’s handling of the situation, with councillors from the Labour group who are seeking to keep control of the Town Hall in tomorrow’s elections questioning the CEO’s judgement and timing.
“So is Barbara Peacock Jo Negrini’s Amber Rudd?” said one.
“If Peacock was so good, with her ‘very strong platform’, then Negrini ought to have been fighting to keep her at the council. The fact is, once the Ofsted report came in, there were grounds to show Peacock the door straight away.
“Negrini delayed doing that because she was protecting her own precious career. And now she’s made the whole Children’s Services crisis a live issue on the eve of the election,” the councillor said on condition of anonymity.
Another senior Labour council figure said, “I look forward to finding out more about it when I read Inside Croydon. We’ve been told nothing officially about the matter. We’re just elected councillors, after all.
“This whole debacle in Children’s Services came about because councillors trying to scrutinise the work of the officers were lied to.
“Negrini and her senior staff appear to have a culture in which they believe they are above scrutiny, and which relies on the inherent weaknesses of the cabinet system and the so-called ‘Strong Leader’ model. If we retain control of the council, then we need to start some serious work next week to ensure that council staff are answerable to councillors and to the public who we represent.”
A third Labour councillor highlighted how Peacock had been appointed just two years ago following the previous re-organisation, which had been devised by consultants PwC, recommended by previous CEO Nathan Elvery and embraced by council leader Tony Newman, despite reservations expressed by members of the Labour group.
The re-organisation put Peacock in charge of a too-large-to-manage super-directorate which was supposed to oversee housing, schools and social services. That re-organisation is now being abandoned.
“The sad thing about this is that we lost a great director, Mark Fowler, who was running Gateway but wanted a bigger job so moved to Barking and Dagenham. He is a great loss to the authority.
“Why adopt the model he’s just gone to and refuse to change model while he was here?”
And Donald Speakman, the Purley councillor who is standing for re-election tomorrow as an independent candidate, called for immediate disclosure of any pay-off that has been agreed with Peacock.
“I was right when I called for all executive director positions, such as Barabra Peacock’s, to be abolished,” Speakman said today.
“Now we need to know how many thousands of pounds of tax-payers’ money she has been given as a pay-off, a reward for failure.”
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