Nathan Elvery, a man who did so much to create the culture and ethos that has been prevalent at Croydon Council during his reign there as chief finance officer, deputy CEO and ultimately as top banana, appears to have taken his copy of Council Management For Dummies with him to his new job in Sussex by the sea, and is putting it into practice with gusto.
It appears that staff there are so devoted to their boss, they are even prepared to mislead in official responses to Freedom of Information requests.
Less than three years on from Elvery leaving Croydon to take charge at West Sussex County Council, and he’s back in a starring role in the Rotten Boroughs pages of this week’s Private Eye, and splashed all over the local television bulletins, too, amid demands for a full independent inquiry into a payment of £47,500 for “permanent relocation costs”, on top of his £190,000 salary.
The nub of the matter is that while Elvery pocketed the relocation wedge, he’s never actually moved home, and still has the house he has shared with his wife in Epsom since 2006.
Elvery did buy a little bachelor pad in Chichester, close to his county council offices. But as the Eye reports, “the flat, for which he paid £205,000, wasn’t purchased until July 2017 – more than a year after Elvery started work at WSCC…
“The council’s rules state that a relocation allowance must be claimed within six months of a move – and, indeed, council accounts show it was paid in the 2016-17 financial year. So Elvery was paid the extra £47,000 long before he bought the flat – even if that could be said be ‘relocating’.”
Where Elvery’s unique management style comes in is with the false statement offered by a senior member of his staff at West Sussex. Tony Kershaw, the county council’s head of law – so someone you’d think would be familiar with the importance of giving true and honest testimony – said in an answer to a Freedom of Information request that part of the allowance paid to his new boss was for “legal and estate agent fees associated with a property purchase”. Kershaw even indicated that the council had received receipts.
But estate agents don’t work for house buyers, they work for, and are paid by, the property sellers. And as the Land Registry records show, Elvery’s not sold his Epsom house. So that bit from Kershaw couldn’t have been true.
A bit of arse covering followed. According to the Eye, when challenged on this discrepancy, “a council spokesman ‘clarified’ that ‘the term “estate agent fees” was used in a response when in fact it referred to letting agent fees to cover initial rental costs’.”
The Eye, and now others in West Sussex, are not convinced by this.
Those familiar with Elvery’s time in Croydon will recall that he appeared to regard himself as being above the council’s Code of Conduct, as he broke rules on declarations of interest and personal businesses to establish a private consultancy to market the “expertise” he had developed while supposedly serving the borough.
Inside Croydon investigations found that Tracie Evans, Elvery’s co-director of the company, Sundragon Associates, was found guilty of financial misconduct and bringing the accountancy profession into disrepute after she admitted to forging Elvery’s signatures on company accounts.
When Inside Croydon sought answers about Elvery’s involvement with Sundragon Associates, members of council staff went to great lengths to obstruct and avoid providing responses to FOI requests about their then boss. One FoI response was delayed by more than four months and required an internal review before the correspondence was released. The response, when it eventually arrived, came from someone working in Nathan Elvery’s own department.
His involvement in Sundragon when on a six-figure salary for his full-time job with the council was something for which Elvery was never sanctioned. Ultimately, he was promoted to the chief executive role (by incoming Labour council leader Tony Newman).
Elvery also escaped any disciplinary action despite being the subject of two investigations into the procurement of £3.7million transport contracts for the borough’s disabled schoolchildren, which happened on his watch and which appeared to favour one company which was uninsured and not properly licensed to hire out its buses.
Now in West Sussex, Elvery again appears to have placed himself above the rules. In Chichester, with no property purchase or sale-related expenditure in 2016-2017, the only eligible receipts submitted by Elvery would have been for temporary accommodation. But WSCC rules say that relocation expenses can only be paid for up to six months and must not total more than 25 per cent of the total relocation allowance – in this case £11,875.
“So how was payment of the other £35,625 justified?” the Eye asks, quite reasonably.
Thing is, they’re unlikely ever to get a proper answer. Kershaw, the legal eagle who once said that receipts for expenditure had been provided, is now saying that someone in the accounts department has “not retained” them. How careless. Or convenient.
The matter was discussed during a council meeting in Chichester on Monday, with the local ITV news interviewing a “good governance campaigner” Andrew Rowson, who has spent months investigating the payment to Elvery. Rowson wants an independent investigation.
Rowson said, “The policy says that this is relocation expenses. The law and the policy say that that means a change of primary residence, and that hasn’t happened.”
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