Thanks for the bins and incinerator! ‘Ballistic’ Bolger is leaving

Our Sutton reporter, BELLE MONT, on the shock – and a tad premature – announcement that the council chief exec has quit their job

Cheerio: Niall Bolger, off to Hounslow and a £180,000 salary

So long, and thanks for all the bins. And the Viridor incinerator, of course.

Niall Bolger, the Sutton Council chief executive whose hard work saw the sleepy south-west London borough become a regular in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column, has jumped ship.

Bolger, whose short fuse inevitably saw him dubbed “Ballistic”, at least by Inside Sutton, is chasing a pay rise by taking the top job at Hounslow Council.

The news leaked early this evening, and prematurely, possibly to Bolger’s embarrassment.

Hounslow were supposed to keep a lid on their announcement until Friday. Instead, they included the glad tidings in their weekly council news bulletin today, to the obvious consternation of Sutton’s ruling Liberal Democrats.

Bolger had told all that would listen in Sutton that he was on holiday in the south of France this week.

But according to Hounslow announcement, he underwent his final interview for the new job in west London only yesterday.

Hounslow’s Labour-controlled council has been seeking a new chief executive since Mary Harpley left in May to become the Chief Officer of the Greater London Authority.

Bolger joined Sutton in March 2011, and in seven and a half years has overseen several council-inspired disasters that have exposed the murky underbelly of the LibDem-controlled borough. The LibDems lost 12 council seats in the May elections, but Ruth Dombey and her pals retained control of the borough that has been in effect a one-party state for almost 30 years.

Knitting enthusiast: Bolger will take his yarns off to Hounslow

Bolger, a resident of East Sussex and knitting enthusiast, will have to work out a notice period at Sutton. That is believed to be three months, which means thaat unless he is sent on an immediate spell of gardenning leave – at Council Tax-payers’ expense, naturally – he should still be around in October when his legacy to south London, the Beddington incinerator, is fired into action in earnest for the first time.

His salary at Hounslow is expected to be £180,000, beating his current Sutton salary by around £11,000. Generous pension contributions take Bolger’s Sutton package close to £200,000. Harpley’s package at Hounslow was reported to be more than that.

Bolger’s tenure at Sutton has been eventful, to say the least. The Viridor incinerator; #SuttonBinShame; a councillor forced to resign before being arrested, and convicted, of fraud; and a controversial heat network, most of which made him and his council a fixture in the pages of the country’s foremost satirical fortnightly magazine.

Bolger has at times led the management group of the South London Waste Partnership which procured and introduced the disastrous Veolia waste collection service in Sutton in April 2017 – and which is now being rolled out in Croydon and, next month, in Merton.

Private Eye: Bolger was a regular

Reputational damage and national news coverage followed as bins were left unemptied, and the #SuttonBinShame hashtag is still much in use on Twitter (just as #CroydonBinChaos is gaining traction as the borough begins to suffer under the same contract).

Sutton Council granted planning permission for the Viridor incinerator in 2013, which was then subject to a Judicial Review at the High Court. Bolger’s explosive relationship with renegade LibDem councillor Nick Mattey then became headline news, as Mattey uncovered links between former LibDem councillor John Drage and his lifelong friend Coin Drummond, the then CEO of Viridor.

Revelations followed about the Viridor Credits scheme which made a convenient £275,000 donation to Drage’s church. Drage, it transpired, had failed to declare his friendship with Drummond when he was making decisions about the Viridor contract at the SLWP and on Sutton Council’s Executive Committee. Bolger failed to take any action on these serious breaches of the council’s Code of Conduct.

SDEN director Simon Woodward, council official Amanda Cherrington and Bolger (right), at the opening of the over-heated Felnex flats

Bolger’s other great triumph is SDEN – the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network – a barely profitable scheme that will use energy from the Beddington incinerator to heat 800 homes at Felnex in Hackbridge. The cost of the heat to residents is very high, and users cannot change suppliers. It’s a complete monopoly: Sutton Council or nobody.

In constructing the pipeline, Sutton Council officers overlooked environmental vandalism as hundreds of trees were cut down in April this year without planning permission.

And currently under construction in Hackbridge, a little more than half a mile from the incinerator, is a primary school. Bolger’s council officers conveniently decided not to include the incinerator in its statutory air quality assessment reports when applying for planning permission.

Other “triumphs” on Bolger’s watch have included failed Ofsted reports for SEND children services, building a new secondary school on an undersized site in Belmont, accusations of a bullying culture in the council, failing to notice that a senior LibDem councillor was fleecing two local charities, and his trip to the MIPIM property “booze and hookerfest” in Cannes paid for by council suppliers…

Sutton Council is at least building much-needed council housing, but at a grossly inflated build cost of £301,000 each (the majority of which are flats).

There is already speculation that Bolger has jumped before he got the push.

There has been top-level discussions between Sutton and Kingston councils over the possibility of the two LibDem-run local authorities sharing a joint CEO, and sharing the savings. And Bolger was thought unlikely to get the nod for such a position.

Bolger may be in for a political culture shock at Hounslow, where there is no a single Liberal Democrat councillor.

Given Bolger’s track record, the talk around Sutton council circles tonight is quite how glowing a reference Bolger must have got from Ruth Dombey (pictured) to get him off the Sutton pay-roll.

Or how much of Bolger’s record was left off the CV that he sent to Hounslow…

Tonight, Tim Crowley, the Conservative councillor and opposition leader on Sutton Council, told Inside Sutton: “It was with surprise that I learnt of Niall Bolger’s decision to leave Sutton.

“It is a real shame that Niall will not be around to push through some of the projects he has begun, such as the London Cancer Hub and to continue to oversee the start-up of the incinerator and the continued changes to residents’ waste collection.

“Niall has been at the forefront of seismic change within the council with the number of employees now 60 per cent fewer than when he joined. I would like to wish him well in his future role, although the spotlight now inevitably will fall on Ruth Dombey and her leadership skills.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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