Oh calamity! Negrini’s not worried about 6/11 high risk ratings

The council’s finances have gone into  the red zone, according to CIPFA, and Croydon now has £1.4bn debt, the third-highest of any council in the country. But the Town Hall CEO says it is nothing to be concerned about.
By KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter

Croydon Council’s £220,000 per year chief executive Jo Negrini has told the local government’s parish magazine that she’s “not sitting back waiting for calamity to hit”, despite the local authority where she has been in charge since 2016 being rated at high risk in six out of 11 categories by a nationally recognised finance and accountancy organisation.

Jo Negrini

Jo Negrini has led Croydon Council to high-risk status, according to CIPFA

Anyone note just a hint of complacency?

According to CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Croydon is rated as “high risk” on six out of 11 of the indicators on their resilience index, including levels of reserves, rate of depletion of reserves, proportion of budget spent on social care and levels of debt.

CIPFA also has an adverse auditor’s opinion, which is judged by them to be an indicator of potentially poor governance.

As well as dangerously depleting the council’s reserves, Negrini’s council has managed to build up a mountain of debt, including at least £900million from the Treasury through the Public Works Loans Board, using the money to fund its ill-managed Brick by Brick housing scheme and the over-priced purchase of local commercial property.

Negrini issued her words of calm reassurance not to a full meeting of Croydon Council in the Town Hall chamber, where she is supposed to be held to account by the 70 councillors elected to represent the residents of the borough who pay her wages, but in a cosy interview for the small-circulation, in-house subscription mag for local authority wonks, the Local Government Chronicle.

“We are not sitting back waiting for calamity to hit,” Negrini told the magazine.

“It’s very clear that the system is completely broken due to social care. There’s too much demand for adults and children,” she said, absolving herself and her senior staff of any blame whatsoever.

This from the head of a council which has had its children’s services department in special measures since 2017 because executives had cut staffing levels so much that social workers could not cope with their caseloads, a council which has loaned £261million to an in-house house-builder which has delivered just three council homes in five years, and from a council that has run up £900million-worth of borrowings.

Negrini told the Chronicle that she recognised that Croydon was regarded as one of the councils most at risk by Cipfa but said she and her highly paid execs are aware of the risks it faced. The magazine reported that she rejected the suggestion the council would run out of reserves.

Finance chief Richard Simpson: quit at the end of 2018

It is just over 12 months since Negrini’s deputy chief executive and much-respected senior finance executive, Richard Simpson, quit Fisher’s Folly somewhat abruptly. Negrini did not replace Simpson with anyone with a similar level of experience and expertise in managing Town Hall budgets in these tough times of Tory-imposed austerity, but instead chose to promote the Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker. Negrini and Harris-Baker are said to work very closely together.

Negrini has been claiming that the council’s reserves will be increased – a recent council leader scrutiny meeting produced an embarrassing cameo where she had to correct Tony Newman, saying that the reserves would be improved in the next financial year, not this one. Her council’s medium-term financial strategy is due to go to cabinet t be rubber-stamped by Newman and his numpties next month.

The common excuse used by Newman and Negrini to seek sympathy is the council’s annual spend of nearly £10million on unaccompanied young asylum seekers arriving at the Home Office’s Lunar House. The Tory government refuses to pick up the bill for what is a national obligation being borne by the borough’s council-tax-payers.

“This is pertinent to the reserves level as we have a shortfall of government funding,” Negrini said. “We are carrying a £9million debt from day one every year.”

Yet that does not account for the multiple other areas of mismanagement and incompetence on daily display from her council, not least the soaring costs of housing the borough’s homeless, while failing to deliver homes for those on the ever-lengthening housing list.

Croydon now has £1.4billion debt, the third-highest of any council in England and Wales. Negrini says that 70 per cent of that money has been spent on addressing the housing crisis.

“Am I happy with that level of debt? I’m more concerned about our level of reserves than our level of debt.

“This administration’s absolute priority is around housing. We are very much embracing people here who are in housing need,” said the council exec who has managed to build three one-bed council homes since 2015 and has an in-house house-builder who never bothered to get itself registered as an approved vendor of shared ownership homes.

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 Adult Social Care, Brick by Brick, Children's Services, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Jo Negrini and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Oh calamity! Negrini’s not worried about 6/11 high risk ratings

  1. David Wickens says:

    Given that the budget has not been agreed for next year, and there is no way of knowing what unforeseen expenditure might occur, there must be a high proportion of guesswork by Negrini to forecast that reserves will increase next year. Reserves are essentially a contingency that all responsible organisations should have if they are to function normally.

  2. derekthrower says:

    How much longer can Jo Negrini deny reality ?

    Seventy percent of the debt is to address the housing issue apparently. The same housing issue where they failed to register as an approved provider of share ownership housing. The same housing issue where they have overrun their budget on every project undertaken. The same housing issue where the property market is stagnant and developers are now cancelling and stalling projects.

    The reality facing the elected members is that Negrini has run the local authority into the ground and must have grounds for immediate dismissal for gross incompetence and misconduct.

    An issue facing the regulators of shared ownership registration will be the financial solvency of the provider. The Brick by Brick venture looks more vulnerable to being wound up as every day goes on in a desperate measure to prevent the council falling into bankruptcy.

  3. If she’s worried about the system being broken regarding social care, she should have taken a look into Richmond’s system before taking on certain directors. When the LGO take the action they have you know there must be real issues. Meanwhile guess who ends up with their staff?

  4. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    Inside Croydon’s pages attest to the dire state of planning in this borough and it’s going to get worse.

    Cllr Paul Scott has undermined good planning practice in Croydon. He has introduced a relaxation in rules that has left planners castrated and toothless, stripped of the skills and power they need to regulate, and sapped of the spatial imagination to actually plan places.

    We are arguably have the worst planning position of any metropolitan council in Greater London. This stems from lazy labour leadership from Tony Newman, the Scott-Butler wrecking crew and weak Planners.

    But think on. There is somebody in Croydon Council who has a BA in Town Planning, and used to be Head of Planning at both Newham and Lambeth – big local authorities like Croydon.

    Who is this person? Why don’t we draw on their undoubted experience and expertise to begin putting planning in Croydon right? To think, somebody with such relevant experience is already in our midst. Who is it?

    It is no other than Jo Negrini, Chief Executive of Croydon Council.

    Jo Negrini has sat back whilst Croydon misinterprets the London Plan, rolled over to some of the most unscrupulous developers operating in the UK whilst blasting years of good local planning policy into thousands of tiny pieces.

    Jo Negrini does nothing. She draws down her £5000 per week looks on and does nothing.

    Jo knows planning on Croydon is toxic. That’s why she just watches on. This is her subject, it’s the reason she was employed by Croydon Council as it’s own Head of Planning. But now Planning is off the rails she wants nothing to do with it.

    Who could have been so naive to have been taken in by self-serving Ms Negrini? You’ve guessed it, Tony Newman.

  5. timbartell says:

    Don’t forget there’s the remains of the Riesco collection to fall back on.

  6. Dave Scott says:

    Another excellent article highlighting issues in Croydon. But according to Paul Scott (commenting to me on a previous article on Inside Croydon) ‘It’s an article on Inside Croydon so of course it isn’t true! I strongly advise against believing everything you find on the internet.’

    So Negrini is not sitting back waiting for calamity to hit – is she stupid? It already has – A deserted, run down Town Centre, a lack of affordable housing, a company that fails to register properly etc. I expect she is packing her bags for a bit of sun for Cannes in March to make it all better.

    Has anyone got any idea what was achieved from these visits to benefit the borough previous years? I asked. You can guess the answer.
    I know who I would rather believe.

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