Questions are being asked among council staff about the authority’s preparedness to operate in the Covid-19 emergency after their chief executive ordered them to work in the office, as KEN LEE reports
Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s £220,000 per year chief executive, has ordered staff to carry on working normally in the council offices through the coronavirus emergency.
“Staff are advised to come into work as normal and continue to observe good office hygiene,” she wrote in an email distributed around Fisher’s Folly late yesterday.
This came after the government issued revised advice, leading to the closing of most theatres, restaurants, pubs and clubs and the wholesale abandonment of any larger public gatherings, such as sports events, in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
But for Negrini, council staff appear to have some immunity from infection and should report to Fisher’s Folly as usual, to hot-desk their way through the working day.
In an email distributed to staff late yesterday, Negrini wrote, “Dear colleagues, Following on from this afternoon’s announcement from the Prime Minister I would like to set out the council’s current positon [sic] in relation to working from home.
“I understand that these are really worrying times and, naturally, people are concerned. However, we do need to be led by the current national guidance and take proportionate action in relation to this advice.
“As a public service, we have a statutory responsibility to keep the council running and to provide essential services for our residents, and, as the current situation stands, we need to continue to work business as usual. Therefore, staff are advised to come into work as normal and continue to observe good office hygiene.
“I recognise that some staff are more vulnerable, including; people over 70, those with underlying health conditions and those who are pregnant. As per the government advice, these people should take all necessary precautions and should speak to their managers immediately to discuss their position in relation to working from home.
“I want to extend my thanks to all of you. I really appreciate all the effort everyone is putting in to make sure residents get the services they need from us. I will continue to keep you regularly updated as the situation develops.
Negrini’s missive is curious.
The council is not known to employ any staff over the age of 70, although there is a handful of elected councillors who are of that age. Town Hall meetings continued for councillors today, with three scheduled, including one of the scrutiny committee.
But while thousands of businesses and organisations around the capital have been shutting down and packing their staff off armed with lap-tops and remote authenticators so that they might work from home without increasing the risk of infection, Negrini appears to want to become Croydon’s very own super-spreader. And this despite the council having a six-figure-salaried “Digital Director”, Neil Williams, whose job probably ought to include facilitating home working in an emergency.
Few council staff these days are “public-facing”, with only a handful working in the contact centre at what some still insist on calling Bernard Wetherill House to deal with enquiries, and fewer still employed to answer telephone enquiries. So why Negrini should be so insistent on council employees being present in Fisher’s Folly at this time is baffling.
It is also a cause for concern and anger among staff.
“Apparently Negrini knows better than the ‘experts’, like the chief medical officer and scientists at Imperial College and the health service,” one told Inside Croydon.
“For the person who once told the press ‘we’re not stupid’, she’s going a funny way around showing that she is.”
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