EXCLUSIVE: Chief executive emerges from a day of meetings to announce that she has a cunning plan. By STEVEN DOWNES
Jo Negrini this evening told council staff and councillors that Croydon won’t be “doing a Northampton”, at least not for now.
Emails were sent by one of Negrini’s two office assistants (yes, she has two members of staff to help her do her job) to councillors and council staff just before 6pm after the chief exec had been meetings all through the day to discuss the worsening financial crisis facing her administration.
Among Negrini’s first virtual meetings was one with members of the Labour-run council’s cabinet, at which as well as the Town Hall’s £1.5billion black hole of debt, also discussed was Inside Croydon’s reporting of the council’s precarious finances. “Safe to say, no one was happy with the information you’d put out there,” a source said tonight.
The council’s £220,000 per year chief executive seems unlikely to be able to reassure many of those among her staff that the fate that awaits them will be any more palatable than emergency financial action and government protection for frontline services provided if Croydon was to issue a Section 114 notice.
The emails, under the heading “Update from Jo Negrini“, were only sent after the CEO had been through detailed briefings over the situation with the financial troubleshooter Ian O’Donnell, who she brought in to Fisher’s Folly earlier this month.
“It looks like O’Donnell has found her a way out,” a source said.
“In truth, it means Jo herself might have dodged the bullet – but how many council staff will pay for that with their own jobs?”
Negrini’s email said, “I want to set the record straight and tell you that the council will not be issuing a Section 114 notice,” Negrini wrote.
“Yes, we are facing financial challenges, as so many councils are right now. In my messages and webinars I’ve spoken at length about the challenges the council is [sic] facing – both before the pandemic and with the added pressure that’s now brought.
“But, a Section 114 notice is a very last resort. As you will know it is an emergency measure that essentially bans all new spending with the exception of statutory services. Unfortunately this is something that many councils are having to consider, but this is not the situation we are in at Croydon. We have a plan in place.”
Negrini went on to confirm that the council is carrying out “a full review of our finances”.
She also confirmed, as Inside Croydon had reported earlier, “an immediate recruitment freeze and halt on all non-essential spend”. These are both measures which the council would be forced to undertake if it had served a S114 notice.
Negrini wrote: “I’m working alongside all of [council leadership team] to look at the detail of the plan and how we can deliver on our savings programme, and introduce additional measures, together.”
For “savings”, read “job cuts”.
The chief exec wrote, “There will be tough choices ahead but I will be honest with you at all times. As soon as the review is finalised I will share all of the recommendations with you, and in the meantime I will continue to give updates.
“We are looking at all options and opportunities – because this is also about the council we’ll become and how we will work with our communities in the future. That means thinking about what staff have told us in recent surveys, building on the work we’ve already done around localities and integration – exploring how we can organise ourselves in a way that makes the best of our available resources while continuing to deliver for Croydon.
“This is about changing the way we work to protect our services and I will make sure that as decisions are made, you continue to hear the details and rationale from me and the leadership team.”
Council staff who have been in touch with Inside Croydon suggest that they are less than reassured by Negrini’s cunning plan. “She’s only telling us this now because she’s been forced to.
“Frankly, given how it was Negrini’s own ‘plans’ that got us into this hole in the first place, there’s not a lot of faith in her that she’ll get us out of it.”
Under the council budget for 2020-2021, passed just a few weeks ago, the Town Hall has built up debts of £1.5billion, and Negrini planned to increase that to £2billion in the subsequent financial year.
“The strange thing here, though, is that Jo’s telling us that there won’t be a Section 114 now, while also saying that her financial review is on-going. Has she recently acquired a new skill of fortune-telling? Because her financial forecasting has been pretty crap until now.”
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