Elvery’s colleagues exit amid council’s bullying scandal

Nathan Elvery: growing scandal

The growing scandal surrounding Nathan Elvery, Croydon Council’s former chief exec, and his brief spell in charge at West Sussex County Council was ratcheted up a couple of notches this week, with a damning independent report about that local authority’s “bullying culture” and high turnover of staff, including “damaged” individuals.

That was followed yesterday by the resignation of the Tory council leader.

Less widely reported following Elvery’s suspension last week has been the abrupt departure of three members of his senior management team – two of whom had previously worked in Croydon.

Yesterday, Louise Goldsmith stepped down after 10 years as the leader of West Sussex County Council, a week after her choice as the authority’s £190,000 per year CEO, Elvery, was suspended.

Gone: Louise Goldsmith

Elvery had been a controversial figure in Sussex ever since he arrived in 2016 from Croydon, where he had been promoted to CEO by the Labour council leader, Tony Newman.

When Elvery went to West Sussex, Goldsmith authorised what was meant to be a secret 25 per cent “golden hello”, dressed up as relocation expenses. Except Elvery never bothered to relocate to Chichester. 

Elvery’s suspension and Goldsmith’s resignation followed the release of a seriously critical report by children’s services commissioner John Coughlan, who has warned of “a bullying culture that starts at the top of the organisation and infects the rest of the corporate centre at least” in West Sussex.

The Local Government Chronicle reported yesterday that “three senior managers have departed the council in the past week while Mr Elvery has been suspended”.

Gone: Heather Daley

Inside Croydon has confirmed that those departing managers are the council’s human resources director, Heather Daley, the interim director of resources Richard Ennis and programme director Ravi Dhindsa.

Daley had spent six years at Croydon in a similar job, working closely with Elvery in his time as deputy CEO and finance director, when they were making swingeing cuts to council staff because, as the self-regarding Elvery pompously put it, “Efficiency is in our DNA”.

Daley left Croydon in 2016, and was recruited by West Sussex in April 2018, where she was given the typically Elvery-esque, overblown title of “director of human resources and organisational change”.

Gone: Ravi Dhindsa

Ennis, an interim appointment made by Elvery at West Sussex in July this year, had previously briefly worked at Sutton Council’s housing partnership.

Dhindsa had worked for Elvery in Croydon, for eight months in 2015, and was hired by West Sussex in July 2018.

Small world, innit?

Elvery held senior and influential positions at Croydon Council for eight years, to June 2016, the top tiers of the council often filled with appointees who fitted his management style and approach. Elvery was around in Croydon for long enough for that culture to become deeply embedded.

Anyone reading Coughlan’s report on West Sussex will be struck by the close and constant parallels with the position at Croydon Council, where its children’s services department was rated as “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors in 2017, and which remains in special measures still.

The difference in Croydon is that while one exec director and a couple of middle managers have been shown the exit door, the council’s £220,000 pa CEO and council leader remain stubboornly in place, despite the long-established and on-going failures that have affected thousands of young lives.

Coughlan was commissioned by the Department for Education to determine whether West Sussex could be trusted to continue running its children’s services after Ofsted found “widespread and serious weaknesses” in children’s social care.

Just like Croydon.

According to the LGC, “Mr Coughlan’s report provides a damning summary of organisational resistance to criticism or challenge, high turnover of officers and a children’s services department structure that is not legally compliant.”

Just like Croydon.

The report says there is a “deep and recurring theme about how hard it is to get things done” at the council and a “strong sense that the ‘system’ serves the organisation as an institution rather than as an engine of service and delivery”.

Just like Croydon.

The large number of new senior officers are not supported, with an “exhausting and sapping” meeting and email culture, it says.

Just like Croydon?

The report’s initial findings state that the West Sussex management’s “bullying culture” has “infected” the organisation and “damaged a range of individuals”, with “an apparently casual disrespect for individuals”.

Council staff are said to quickly go from “heroes to zeros”, with those falling out of favour enduring “a rapid descent to organisational ostracism and probable departure”. The chief executive’s own data revealed a departure rate for senior management of 40 per cent in each of the past three years.

The report says there are a “range of damaged individuals – casualties of WSCC” which is “difficult to report, difficult to hear, disastrous to ignore”.

Not gone: Croydon council leader Tony Newman

Just like Croydon.

Within days of the preliminary report being submitted to West Sussex, Elvery was spending more time than he expected to potter around in the garden of his Epsom home.

The Local Government Chronicle reports that, “Following this, it is understood that the authority’s HR director Heather Daley resigned”, closely followed by Ennis and Dhindsa.

Earlier this year, Goldsmith had put Daley in charge of carrying out the internal investigation into Elvery’s non-removal expenses. No one was shocked when Elvery’s appointee delivered a report which whitewashed the whole affair.

The continuing failure of West Sussex’s children’s services – something Goldsmith referred to yesterday as being a “deep-seated” issue – was not so easy to cover-up, though.

The LGC reports: “Mr Coughlan found it was impossible to prove specific cases of bullying as inquiries could not ‘get far below the stories and the narrative’. But the allegations were described as ‘disturbingly consistent’ with a ‘significant ring of truth’.”

Just like Croydon?

About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Barbara Peacock, Children's Services, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Nathan Elvery, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Elvery’s colleagues exit amid council’s bullying scandal

  1. Graham Bradley says:

    Classic and detailed reporting again. Elvery has to go.

  2. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    Elvery did nothing for Croydon when he held the top job in the Council.

    I met him once. I met him to talk about about a trade conference but really I wanted to talk to him about the ridiculous antics of Paul Scott on the planning committee.

    As soon as Elvery realised I was switching the subject, he asked to wait a moment whilst he left his office. He never returned.

    I was struck by his lack of engagement and disinterest in how the council was perceived by the electorate. I’d summarise by describing him as a weak, insubstantial figure but one who had self-promotion centre stage.

    It’s a fundamental failure of Croydon Council that figures like Elvery are allowed to rise through the ranks unchecked. A really uninspiring character.

    Regretfully we see similar meteoric rise with the current CEO, Jo Negrini.

    What’s the thread that weaves these two hopeless appointments together? Yes, Tony Newman.

    Tony Newman who leads the council but was not elected by the Croydon electorate. Tony was voted in by his councillor mates. And Tony will do absolutely nothing to upset this balance; Tony turns a blind eye to everything, bumbling along, keeping the status-quo and trousering his expenses at every opportunity. Tony represents everything that makes local politics in this country stale, ineffective and pointless.

    The answer? A democratically elected Mayor. This position would replace ineffective Tony Newman. Useless councillors clogging up committees such as Paul Scott on planning will be kicked out and dodgy appointment such as the warm handshake given to Nathan Elvery will be a thing of the past.

    And who is going to stand as this new democratically elected Mayor? Me for one. I will put my name forward and will drive a coach and horses through this council.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Bullying – whether on an individiual basis or as part of “corporate culture”, has no place in a decent and productive organisation.

    The perpetrators of bullying are deficient shits. Maybe damaged individuals by bullying parents or others in their past, but there is no excuse to pass it on to others. Bullies, whether in the playground, workplace or voluntary sdector, are cowardly, weak, pathetic individuals.
    Crap managers too.

    Get rid of ’em all.

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