Our Sutton reporter, BELLE MONT, on the latest high-profile departure from the Civic Offices
So, farewell then, Jessica Crowe.
Sutton Council’s £100,000 per year “assistant director of customers, commissioning and governance” (whatever that is supposed to mean) is off to a bigger, better-paid job closer to her north London home.
During her four years working sarf of the river, Crowe displayed what some might suggest was a somewhat laissez-faire approach to her role as the borough’s monitoring officer, passing judgements which were usually favourable to the ruling Liberal Democrats, however dodgy their conduct.
But Crowe’s place in Sutton’s top team had come under increasing pressure of late, especially since the arrival of former LibDem party official Helen Bailey as her new boss, the council chief exec. Crowe, previously a Labour councillor in Hackney, was no longer a neat fit, no matter how hard she sought to ingratiate herself with LibDem council leader Ruth Dombey and her zombie administration.
“We will miss Jess,” was the quote attributed to Bailey in an official council press release. Council insiders, though, suggest that the words “not a lot” were somehow missing from the sentence.
Sutton Council issued its statement announcing Crowe’s imminent departure sometime after 4pm on Monday – far too late for the information to make it into the pages of the local Sutton free newspaper. Well not for more than a week, anyway.
Crowe is flying off to Labour-run Newham as “corporate director of people, policy and performance”, which sounds like a promotion and pay hike. She is expected to start there “by the end of the year”, according to the council statement.
With the usual, bog-standard codswallop that council press offices seem to be masters of regurgitating, Sutton’s statement said that Crowe’s “role in Newham will cover the council’s corporate policy, planning and performance functions, democratic, business and residents services, libraries and culture, and will focus on delivering change to put people at the heart of everything Newham Council does”.
For sure. They probably think she might be able to pull a few strings for them at City Hall.
Crowe joined Sutton in 2015. A year later, when her partner, Jules Pipe, stood down as the Labour Mayor of Hackney to become Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, there was some hope in Sutton circles that this might help steer some funding towards this part of south-west London.
The prospects were so good that Sutton even started taking cash off developers to pay for some junketing in the South of France at the annual hooker and booze fest that is the MIPIM property bash. The expression “faire une Pipe” began to be used in Sutton to mark the occasion.
But such high hopes were dashed, as Sutton remains tram-less and Dombey’s master plan to build a cancer hub in the borough continues to struggle to get traction with investors, whether at City Hall or in the private sector. At Newham, Crowe may discover how to make successful bids to the GLA for money: while Sutton has received a modest £16million, Newham has been handed £2billion-plus.
According to the Sutton press release, Bailey said, “Jess will leave behind her a great legacy through her innovative approach to commissioning and her drive for public service reform, particularly our collaboration with partners through the Sutton Plan.”
Since last year, Crowe’s “expertise” has been called upon to work with the recovery board that is overseeing the running of the bankrupted Northamptonshire county council. It is to be hoped that some attention might be paid to Crowe’s record as Sutton’s monitoring officer.
As such, Crowe was supposed to ensure that the borough’s rules, and the law of the land, were upheld at all times. Yet in her spell at Sutton, Crowe appears to have adopted a damage limitation role to protect the Liberal Democrats from public scrutiny.
Yet on Crowe’s watch, there were multiple instances of Sutton’s LibDems gerrymandering – using public resources to help promote their own political goals. The most recent example came last month when the council used Council Tax-payers’ money to buy a four-page wraparound of the Sutton Guardian, featuring Dombey on the front page, just before any special election rules kick in for the anticipated General Election.
This special Fake News supplement neatly masked the nasty, real news headlines in the paper that week, which highlighted yet again the failures and short-comings of Sutton Council and what Bailey calls its “innovative approach”.
On top of all that, Crowe is estimated to have cost tax-payers more than £30,000, and rising, in legal fees, as Sutton continues to block one independent councillor’s information request over its secret contracts with Viridor for a local heat network powered by the Beddington incinerator.
Despite a ruling from the Information Commissioner that Crowe, and Sutton, must release the contract details to Councillor Nick Mattey, the council has opted to dispute that ruling and fight a second costly court appeal, all to protect the commercial interests of Viridor.
This, of course, is on top of the no-expenses-spared legal fees forked out by Sutton Council – conservatively estimated at £100,000 – when it opposed the Judicial Review on the Beddington incinerator brought by environmental activist Shasha Khan.
Crowe luke-warm investigation into the scandal of the serial defrauding of local charities by LibDem councillor Alan Salter failed to protect the public purse, or the charities involved, one of which folded as a consequence of its lost money.
And Crowe’s investigation into payments amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds made to a Wallington church which is used as a base by the LibDems, failed to find any wrong-doing, even as the LibDems on the planning committee waved through a planning application for the incinerator at Beddington.
“With investigative instincts like that,” one Sutton councillor told Inside Sutton, “it’s a wonder Crowe can find her own arse with her hands.”
According to Bailey, “Newham are lucky to be getting her.”
Time will tell just how “lucky”.
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