Our political correspondent, WALTER CRONXITE, reports on the latest startling figures coming out of the council
Croydon Council had three members of staff who took home more than £200,000 in the last financial year for which figures are available.
That’s according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, in their annual Town Hall Rich List, published yesterday.
The figures relate to the 2018-2019 financial year and surprisingly show that Jo Negrini, the chief executive of the council, did not have the biggest salary at the Town Hall. That dubious accolade belongs to Guy Van Dichele, the council’s “executive director health, wellbeing and adults”, on a cool £215,444.
Negrini tops the wage charts, though, once her very generous, gold-plated, inflation-proof pension of £28,494 is added to her “basic” salary of £188,700, for a total of £217,194.
Negrini’s remuneration package from the council is therefore up by £4,259 on the previous year, just in case you were wondering what those “essential services” are that saw your Council Tax go up again this month.
The TPA research fails to include the additional money paid to Negrini by central government in her role as chief returning officer for the borough’s elections. That is understood to amount to at least another £10,000 per year, and which would take her take-home total to at least £227,000. According to the TPA, there are only 32 local authority employees in the country who are paid more than £250,000 per year.
Negrini’s local authority colleagues across the country went on the attack after details of their salaries – paid by the public – were put into the public domain. One council CEO described the publication of the information as “an attack on local government”, while Graeme McDonald, who is described as the “managing director” of an organisation called Solace, which represents council CEOs, called the report “inane and distasteful”.
Defending colleagues who are paid at a rate of £3,800 per week, or more, McDonald said, “In recent weeks many council staff have been working all waking hours responding to the covid-19 outbreak, working within local communities and advising Whitehall on the impact of their measures on the ground. They require our support and backing.”
The average salary paid to Croydon Council employees is around £22,000. Per year.
In Croydon, there is a touch of mystery over the identity of the third £200,000-plus employee on the list, because they had their name kept secret by the council when they responded to TPA.
It is possible that that this was Colm Lacey, Negrini’s former colleague at Lambeth and then Newham and Croydon’s director of development until he was transferred, in September 2018, to the role of “chief executive” of the publicly-funded private builders, Brick by Brick.
The council decision-makers may have concluded that Lacey needed to have his wage packet inflated before the transfer, to compensate for any loss of public sector pension and to reflect his new-found “position” in the private sector. Lacey was previously thought to be on a package of less than £140,000 while a “mere” council employee.
Indeed, there are four “Undiscloseds” in the top 10 earners at Fisher’s Folly, with at least one of them likely to be Heather Cheesbrough, the exec in charge of planning, whose salary package has remained tightly under wraps since she was hired by Negrini.
The TPA research shows Croydon as having 23 members of staff on £100,000 per year or more – that’s up from 15 on that salary scale in 2015, when Negrini was first promoted to the chief executive’s job. According to the TPA, on average local authorities have fewer than seven employees paid more than £100,000 per year.
Croydon Council’s Top 10 Earners
Jo Negrini (chief executive) £188,700 + £28,494 (pension) = £217,194
Guy Van Dichele (exec dir health) £215,444
“Undisclosed” (Colm Lacey?) £202,500
Shifa Mustafa (exec dir place) £153,000 + £23,103 = £176,103
Richard Simpson (exec dir resources) £143,892 + £21,550 = £165,442
Eleni Ioannides (exec dir children) £150,000
Jacqueline Harris-Baker (borough solicitor) £138,212
* Figures obtained through FOI by the Taxpayers’ Alliance
Of course, there are other, more flagrant examples of highly paid local authority staff. Elsewhere in south London, for example, Paul Martin is paid more than £300,000 – but then he worked as the chief executive for two councils, Richmond and Wandsworth.
And in Lambeth, they paid one of their exec directors, Susan Foster, in charge of housing and regeneration, a stonking £279,000.
The Croydon pay list for 2018-2019 includes three high-earners who have left the council either during that year or since: Barbara Peacock, Eleni Ioannides (Fisher’s Folly has had a revolving door on the staff entrance to the children’s department in recent times), and Richard Simpson, who appears to have taken a £50,000-plus pay cut to go to work for… Sutton. No explanation has ever been offered for the abrupt departure of Croydon’s most senior finance official.
But the latest figures do provide some observable trends.
For example, not a year goes past, it seems, without the already-very-well-paid Negrini awarding herself a pay rise and hike in her pension contributions.
And despite the austerity cut-backs and grant reductions over which the council’s leadership bleats on a regular basis, it appears there is no reduction applicable when it comes to Negrini’s empire-building, as she recruits evermore staff on £100,000 or more.
The next annual figures will be particularly interesting in that respect.
After taking on Van Dichele as an interim exec director for health and adult care on more than £200,000, Negrini has made significant hires in the children’s department, including Robert Henderson as the new exec in charge, replacing Peacock, with the daunting task of turning round that failing department.
In that respect at least, Henderson appears to be succeeding in the task, albeit armed with a significantly increased budget for front-line social work staff.
And given the events of the past couple of months, Van Dichele probably feels he is earning his corn just at the minute, too.
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