It’s not what you know, but who you know when it comes to some top-level jobs at Croydon Council, as KEN LEE reports
Tensions between Croydon Council’s senior paid officials and the Town Hall’s Labour leadership threaten to break out into a full-on row following the appointment of the Blairite former leader of Camden Council to an important new job in Fisher’s Folly.
Sarah Hayward has been handed the director level job (salary from £90,000 to £105,000 per year) as head of the newly created violence reduction network, despite having no specialist experience in community safety.
With a reasonably high profile in London-wide Labour politics, writing occasional articles for the Grauniad, Hayward twice publicly backed challengers to Jeremy Corbyn as party leader (including supporting Liz “five votes” Kendall). Hayward also tried, unsuccessfully, for selection to a safe Labour parliamentary constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, where Sir Keir Starmer was picked and held the seat.
Prior to becoming a councillor in 2010, during the Bliar government Hayward had been, according to her own LinkedIn profile, a consultant, “Providing strategic political, communications and policy advice to a range of public, private and voluntary sector clients including central and local government and a major national equalities charity”.
While running Camden Council, Hayward managed to find the time to study for her Masters degree, though since 2018 she has not managed to land herself a lucrative directorship with a swanky firm in The City or West End.
But now Newman and his numpties have come to her rescue.
The only slight problem is that Hayward’s CV shows no record or specific experience in working on community safety matters. But, it seems, she does have friends in high places.
According to sources within Fisher’s Folly, “Croydon politicians have appointed the leader for the violence reduction network. There was no officer involvement. She has no experience.”
The resentment among professional staff of having this appointment foisted on them, for such a significant and important role, is clear and may cause further friction between council leader Tony Newman and chief exec Jo Negrini.
At recent public events, Newman has been briefing Labour colleagues from outside the borough against Negrini, the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” whose salary has been allowed to balloon to £220,000 since she was promoted into the role in 2016 with the goal of delivering Westfield to the town centre.
Negrini, meanwhile, long ago abandoned even trying to disguise her sneering contempt for Croydon’s elected representatives, regardless of their political party.
It is not only Negrini who regards Croydon councillors with disdain, though. So does Newman. The choice of Hayward for such a key position had never been discussed with the 41-strong Labour group at the council, despite the importance of the new role.
This is not the first time that Newman has managed to place a political ally in a senior council role, with only a nod towards an open recruitment process.
Paula Murray was handed the newly created job of “creative director” without there ever being a vacancy advertised, while Steve Reed’s former spin doctor from Lambeth Council, Julian Ellerby, managed to walk into a £140,000 role in Croydon, apparently to help keep Tony and his cronies on-message through to the 2018 local elections.
There are strong Lambeth links with Hayward’s appointment, too.
Lib Peck, Reed’s successor as leader of Lambeth’s “co-operative council” after he landed selection for the uber-safe Labour seat in Croydon North in 2012, left her troubles at borough level behind in January to take up a £116,000 City Hall role heading up Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s violence reduction unit.
Peck’s appointment to the job was made despite gun crime almost doubling in Lambeth during her six years as council leader.
But Peck had a head start over other candidates in the running for the City Hall role, since she served on the small panel which had done the preliminary work on the terms of reference for the job.
Handily for Hayward, Mayor Khan was an admirer of her during her time at Camden.
And Peck rolled up at Croydon Town Hall for the latest cabinet meeting earlier this month, when the council’s plans for our very own violence reduction network – though not the identity of its director – were unveiled.
There is little doubt that a new approach to tackling rising levels of violent crime, in particular knife crime, is required urgently, and that treating it as a public health issue may offer some solutions.
Following the Croydon cabinet meeting, Peck said, “The causes of violent crime are extremely complex and involve deep-seated problems like poverty, inequality, social alienation and a lack of opportunities for young people.
“The VRU is taking a fundamentally different approach to violence reduction – one where we all work together with communities to help reduce violence.
“We look forward to working with Croydon Council to drive down violence and the VRU will provide London with greater capacity, expertise and coordination to identify the root causes of violence and deliver early interventions to help prevent its spread.”
There remain, however, a number of senior police figures who are less convinced, and who maintain that the obvious solution is an increase in officer numbers, back to pre-2010 levels before the Tory-led government, with Theresa May as Home Secretary, started making widespread cuts in the name of “austerity”.
Last night’s announcement from the Goebbels Institute for Truth and Transparency (previously the Croydon Council press office), made all the right noises about how “Sarah” (she hasn’t even started the job yet, and already we’re on cosy, first-name terms) “will spearhead the council’s preventative approach, continuing strong partnership work with the police and local community networks, influencing national policy on behalf of Croydon, and ensuring this vital work is closely aligned with City Hall and across London”.
Which sounds very much as if she’s Lib Peck’s placeperson in Croydon.
The appointment panel, which included senior Conservative councillors, “recognised her extensive knowledge and experience gained as an elected representative at Camden Council and strategic roles in local and national government”.
Glib doesn’t even begin to describe the comments attributed to “Sarah”: “It’s an exciting opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of Croydon residents and I look forward to getting started.” Someone in the press office needs to try harder when it comes to inventing quotes for new appointees.
For his part, though, Newman’s comments do merit being placed on the public record, so that they can be referenced again in 12 months’ time or so, when the next batch of crime statistics are made available.
“Tackling crime and the fear of crime is a key priority for this borough and I’m delighted to welcome someone of Sarah’s calibre to work for Croydon in this crucial role,” Newman is supposed to have said.
“In these challenging times where local authorities have an increasing role to play in influencing and innovation, Sarah’s experience will be invaluable in bringing together partners, agencies and the local community to help really reduce violence and tackle crime in our borough.”
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