Where was the council’s £220,000-plus per year chief executive, Jo Negrini, yesterday?
Was she hard at work at her desk in Fisher’s Folly, finding ways to reduce the council’s £879million total borrowing (according to Croydon Council’s own figures) from the Public Works Loan Board? No.
Was she engrossed in meetings trying to get her council’s children’s services department out of the special measures they were placed in following Ofsted inspectors’ “inadequate” rating more than two years ago? Nope.
Perhaps Negrini was going through the borough’s contracts with its rubbish contractors, Veolia, to find ways to get them to clean up Croydon’s streets? Wrong again.
No, Negrini was having time out of the office – again – this time to attend the annual MIPIM autumn shin-dig, what they call the MIPIM UK Summit, this year staged at the Old Billingsgate Market.
There she was sharing her experience and wisdom with international property developers from around the world on the subject of…
“Knowledge clusters: Driving growth in the London economy”.
There is never a meeting of MIPIM goes by that Negrini isn’t there, spouting about something or other – though she’s becoming a little quieter these days about Croydon’s “Urban Edge”, and the £1.4billion Westfield scheme which remains stalled in the town centre, where it has been causing development blight for most of the past decade.
She’s certainly a good deal more circumspect these days about arts-driven regeneration and the redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls, now it has finally re-opened, 15 months late, unfinished and incomplete, and yet still costing way over budget at £41million, at least.
Negrini’s season ticket for MIPIM, whether in London or for her annual jaunt to the Cote d’Azur (what Labour council leader Tony Newman once accurately described as “a junket”), always appears to be more about her personal career positioning than any value to to people of the borough who pay her very generous wages.
The pitch at such conferences is to a global audience – basically, for the past four years, Negrini’s been raising her profile on company time, and perhaps flogging off bits of Croydon to the highest bidders from the United States, oil-rich Middle Eastern states, or Hong Kong and and Far East.
With, as you might expect from Croydon’s most senior council employee, nothing much to show for it.
And so we come to yesterday’s “Knowledge clusters” talk.
It seems that without any proper Plan B should Westfield finally pulll the plug on their multi-billion-pound tease over Croydon, Negrini is now doubly keen to push the notion that hooking up with South Bank Poly – to the potential detriment of Croydon College’s established links with Sussex University – is the panacea for all the borough’s ills.
Yesterday afternoon’s MIPIM agenda described the session, at which self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” Negrini was a guest speaker, thus: “The higher education, technology, life sciences and research sectors are increasingly driving growth in the London Economy and being placed at the centre of new employment clusters and regeneration zones from King’s Cross to White City and the nascent East Bank.
“They provide investment, create vibrant places and attract talent and new skills. Where are the most exciting new examples of this playing out, how should real estate strategies adjust and are policymakers doing enough to support the Knowledge Economy to flourish?” It was, tenants living in Croydon’s private rental market will be delighted to learn, all organised and sponsored by the National Landlords Association.
According to MIPIM’s blurb, “Originally from Australia… Jo has focused on making places that people can enjoy and own.” Hmmm. No mention of providing council homes for social rent there, then?
“Jo now has, in her words, ‘the best regeneration job in London’ as Chief Executive of the fastest growing economy in London. Jo now pulls the strings on bringing together all the services of the Council, together with partners to make Croydon a place where people want to be,” according to MIPIM’s PR spinners.
“Croydon is a unique place as it provides opportunities for housing growth…”, ahhh, “opportunities”, “for growth”, “…but also is re-emerging as an alternative place for business.” Which is nice.
Given the repeated set-backs Negrini’s council has suffered over Westfield, the Fairfield Halls and the loss-making Brick by Brick, it is perhaps equally instructive to look at those MIPIM Summit sessions where her presence was not required.
Other cosy chats with multi-billionaire property developers over the last couple of days included a session called “The future of retail and town centre regeneration: Examining the latest projects, best practices, investments and future visions”.
MIPIM had “Mr Boozepark”, Roger Wade, as a panellist there. Given the Westfield impasse, it was probably just as well that Croydon’s “regeneration practitioner” made herself scarce at this one.
Then there was an hour-long discussion entitled, “Housing options and innovation: How do we build and invest in what people need, want and can afford?”
What an interesting subject.
According to MIPIM, “This session will explore what can be done to build and invest in what people need, want and can afford, and meet the government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year. This will include estate regeneration and the need to obtain local support within communities for projects.”
So no need for Negrini, probably since it is a subject she knows nothing about.
Likewise, Negrini was not on the list of experts for “The future of housing: Improving neighbourhoods and growing communities through partnerships”.
There was one other session, called “Regenerating cities: Vision, leadership, collaboration and partnership”.
But again, it was not something Negrini was asked to speak about.
Can’t think why.
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