There are growing concerns for the well-being of the council chief executive Jo Negrini.
It is more than a week now since the borough’s £220,000 per year CEO took to sending auto-responses to her emails, even those from elected councillors. Negrini’s reply says that due to the covid-19 emergency, she would be “checking my emails intermittently”.
Phone calls to her office have gone unanswered, and the council’s propaganda department has refused to deny that Negrini may be in self-isolation or – like the Prime Minister or Prince of Wales – have even contracted the coronavirus herself.
When asked whether the chief executive was working from her office in Fisher’s Folly, staff in what she calls “my Executive Support team” sounded flustered and were unable to give a coherent answer. “I don’t know what to say to that,” the council staffer said.
And yesterday, just after 5pm, a lengthy email was despatched to the borough’s councillors under the heading “Decision making in the absence of formal meetings of the Council”.
This important email about the transfer of power from the elected councillors into the hands of just one or two people was sent not from Negrini, but from Jacqueline Harris-Baker.
Harris-Baker was previously the Borough Solicitor who was promoted by Negrini just over a year ago effectively to be the council’s deputy chief executive, as executive director for resources – usually, a finance or accountancy specialism for which Harris-Baker is not known to have any particular qualifications.
Harris-Baker and Negrini are known to work very closely together.
In the email, written in fluent councilspeak, it explained that last Thursday Negrini had signed off the papers for the formal transfer of her powers as chief executive to Harris-Baker in case she becomes indisposed.
Last night’s email states: “The Chief Executive has made arrangements (via an addendum to her Scheme of Authorisation dated 26 March 2020) that should she be unable to exercise her powers as CE [chief executive], then the ED [executive director] for Resources will have full authority to act in her stead. Further provision is made for the ED for Adult Social Care [Guy Van Dichele] to act should both the CE and ED for Resources be unable to act as CE.”
Such is the disconnect between the borough’s elected representatives and senior council staff that no councillors approached by Inside Croydon were able to confirm whether the chief executive was still working normally, whether she was working from home, or if she was unwell.
“Croydon is in the midst of the biggest crisis it has faced since the Second World War,” a Katharine Street source said. “If Jo is focusing all her energies on dealing with the pandemic situation, that’s right, proper and understandable.
“But if she has been taken unwell at this crucial time, then this is no time for the council to be secretive.”
Inside Croydon has also been seeking information from the propaganda department on the number of council staff who have gone into self-isolation because of covid-19, or who have tested positive for the virus. The council has refused to answer our questions.
It was on March 16 that Negrini had issued an email to staff ordering them to work from the council offices at Fisher’s Folly.
“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,” Negrini told council staff. “Therefore, staff are advised to come into work as normal and continue to observe good office hygiene.”
That email 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.
A week later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered to nation to go on a full lockdown – though in the judgement of many, later than he ought to have done to reduce the spread of the killer disease.
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