You can take the boy out of Croydon, but can you take Croydon out of the boy?
Maybe not, in the case of Nathan Elvery, the former chief exec of the council who it was reported yesterday is taking a spell of euphemistic “gardening leave” from his latest job, as CEO of West Sussex County Council.
The trouble is, for Elvery and the Tory-run county council, the garden where he has been forced to spend that time while suspended, probably on full pay, is in Epsom, Surrey, rather than closer to his office in Chichester.
And according to opposition councillors in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea, Elvery’s suspension from duties in his £190,000 post is connected to as yet untested allegations that he has been bullying staff, something which was suggested during his time as finance director, deputy chief exec and eventually CEO when in Croydon, but allegations which were never substantiated.
Though Elvery’s conduct when in Croydon was the subject of repeated official investigations over all-too-cosy procurement practices over transport contracts, he had his promotion to the borough’s most senior council employee confirmed in 2014 by Tony Newman.
It was one of the first important decisions made as the new leader of the council by Newman, who is clearly such an excellent judge of character.
Elvery was known to favour management by PowerPoint, and after presiding over massive job cuts at the council came up with the gormless catchphrase, “Efficiency is in our DNA”, as if it was something to boast about.
Within two years of being handed the top job by Newman, Elvery was off to Chichester and a new job, thanks to the carrot of a £47,500 payment made as “relocation expenses” – something which caused an almighty stink when it was proved that Elvery hadn’t bothered to move from his Epsom family home.
The scandal over the non-relocation expenses rumbled on into this year, when West Sussex council was forced to make a repayment of more than £5,000 to the tax man because, since Elvery had not moved, the payment did not qualify as a tax-free benefit. Elvery was even forced to refund the full amount to the council.
And now there’s this.
According to the Chichester Observer yesterday, “A spokesman for the county council said: ‘The chief executive is currently away from duties’.”
Today, Dr James Walsh, the leader of the LibDem opposition on West Sussex County Council, and who has doggedly pursued Elvery’s location expenses since the matter was first discovered, called for the Tory-run council to “come clean” over the circumstances surrounding the chief exec’s suspension.
“The leader of the county council, Louise Goldsmith, must come clean over the suspension of the chief executive, and the real reason for his ‘not being at work’,” Walsh said.
“This is the fourth chief executive or head of paid service that she has sacked or suspended, and it has to be asked is she the problem, or are four chief executives all wrong?
“She appointed him after sacking the previous chief executive, followed by a period when she said she did not need a chief executive. She connived at his notorious relocation expense of £47,000, when he did not, in fact, relocate, and then engaged in a spurious cover-up of how the rules were changed retrospectively, and has continued to defend the payment.
“It has now emerged that the Inland Revenue clawed back £5,137 from the county council after an allegedly false certification that the payment was tax-exempt, and Mr Elvery has repaid the county council the £5,137.
“The council leader has a duty to taxpayers and the electorate to explain exactly why he has been suspended, presumably on full pay, and an interim CEO appointed.
“It is time for the leader to come clean to the council and to the electorate.”
Walsh added, “It has also been alleged that Mr Elvery has been accused of bullying staff at the county council, of which he was repeatedly accused at Croydon Council, his previous post.” It has not been possible to contact Elvery to put these allegations to him and give him an opportunity to respond.
It is known, though, that during his time as finance director and deputy CEO at Croydon, Elvery was in overall charge of a programme of wide-ranging redundancies and staff cuts at the council.
Several staff, when made redundant, took their cases to the employment tribunal, though few were ever successful.
In one case, a senior member of staff who worked in the chief executive’s office was made redundant soon after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She took her case to the tribunal where she spent several days going through the evidence while her former boss, Elvery, sat at the back of the courtroom, observing proceedings first-hand. “It was meant to be intimidating,” she confided in Inside Croydon, “and it worked.”
The council staffer lost her case and, not long after, also lost her battle with cancer. It did not, however, prove any impediment to “Efficiency is in our DNA” Elvery ultimately being promoted to the top job.
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