Newman hand-picks ‘Secret Seven’ to check on finance panel

EXCLUSIVE: The beleaguered council leader has moved to avoid  being held responsible for the borough’s massive £1.5bn debt and huge over-spend, reports KEN LEE

A group of councillors, secretly hand-picked by Tony Newman, will meet tonight to discuss the council’s financial crisis, and to keep a close check on the work of independent auditors and finance experts.

Patsy Cummings: finance deputy cabinet member, put in charge of checking the mess she helped to cause

As first revealed by Inside Croydon, the council has been hard-hit by a coronavirus cashflow crisis.

By its own figures, the council estimates that in the first two months of the pandemic, covid-19 has cost it £83million, with emergency grants from the government barely touching the sides.

As a comparison, when Northampton County Council went bust in 2018, they had an overspend of a “mere” £21.1million over a whole year.

Croydon’s situation is so dire that the council has been forced to call in outside consultants and a veteran finance director from another London borough, Southwark’s Duncan Whitfield, to head up its emergency finance review panel.

Now council leader Newman has established his Labour group’s own finance review panel, to review the work of the council’s finance review panel.

And put in charge of this internal committee is one of the councillors who is at least partly responsible for the council going broke in the first place.

Inside Croydon has obtained an internal email from the permanently red-faced Clive Fraser, who gets paid £26,000 of public money each year to supplement his local authority pension for the grace-and-favour position of “Labour chief whip”.

In his email, Fraser describes the make-up of the secret committee as “the recommended membership”. Which obviously means those councillors approved by Newman. The committee chair is to be Patsy Cummings, who as the deputy cabinet member for finance has a large portion of responsibility for the council’s current financial difficulties.

“This panel of councillors will be there not to dig down for details or to find a solution, but to put a block on Whitfield and the outside experts to cover the arses of people like Tony Newman, Simon Hall and the council CEO, Jo Negrini,” a source said.

“It says all you need to know about how dysfunctional the council has become under Newman that his priority in a crisis is to organise a cover-up.

Clive Fraser: Newman’s nark

“He’s already set his narrative of excuses: it’s all the fault of 10 years of Tory austerity, and covid. There’s no hint of responsibility for his council running down the reserves or running up record debts of £1.5billion. This committee’s prime task will be to make sure it stays that way.”

The source was particularly critical of the appointment of Cummings. “Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, is on the independent panel. Having Patsy chair this group smacks of ‘marking their own homework’. She shouldn’t be anywhere near this process.

“In any case, as the London Assembly candidate with an election to fight, she ought to be too busy with that. It’s just another set of bad decisions.”

Also on the committee, despite having no recent experience or background in managing civic finances, is Fraser, mostly to act as Newman’s nark.

Cummings and Fraser are joined by Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, Leila Ben Hassel (who in the real world works for the City Corporation), Selhurst councillor David Wood, Patricia Hay-Justice and the council’s least experienced member, Caragh Skipper, the unselected councillor for Fairfield ward and a clear favourite of Newman’s.

According to Fraser, the secret committee “provides a balance from across the Labour group, in terms of skills, background, and diversity of experience, while in addition creating an appropriate gender and BAME mix”.

The constantly thirsty Fraser makes no mention of the Secret Seven’s lack of experience in council finances.

Although other, perhaps better-qualified, Labour councillors volunteered to be part of the group to try to fix the borough’s busted budget, their offers to help were rejected by Newman. A move to expand the panel was also rebuffed.

Those who stepped forward were Stephen Mann, the Crystal Palace councillor who is a member of the council’s general purposes and audit committee, Andrew Pelling, who has worked in banking, and Sherwin Chowdhury (who he, Ed?).

The Secret Seven meet tonight, Fraser says, “to fit into the finance cycle of meetings, including the Finance Review Panel and the Cabinet”.


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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 Caragh Skipper, Clive Fraser, Croydon Council, David Wood, Leila Ben-Hassel, Patsy Cummings, Simon Hall, Stephen Mann and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Newman hand-picks ‘Secret Seven’ to check on finance panel

  1. whitgiftavenue says:

    This is not going to end well.

  2. Michael Hennessy says:

    its wasn’t me, guv

  3. sebastian tillinger says:

    The so-called financial ‘wizard’ called in by Jo Negrini is no Warren Buffet – he’s more of a Harvey Keitel who comes in to do a clean-up and protect Negrini and Newman from the very worst of the criticism. It’s like sloshing the water around an already flooded room.

    Duncan Whitfield has been briefed to Negrini and Newman to protect both their arses.

    Negrini should not be thinking about herself and that’s probably where the problem stems. Big salaries but no personal accountability.

    Negrini has been responsible for a litany of high-profile audit failures since she was handed the job by Tony Newman in yet another devastating lapse in judging character and ability.

    Responsibility for Croydon’s finance problems falls at the door of the CEO.

    Jo Negrini was responsible for:

    Provision of key strategic advice to Council and Cabinet.
    Overall signing off on statutory Council budgets.
    Ongoing monitoring and reporting of Council income and expenditure.
    Overall responsibility for the Preparation and publication of the Council’s statutory Annual Financial Report.
    Evaluating the implications of legislation on the Council’s strategic financial framework for both revenue and capital expenditure.
    Over control of Management of the Council’s investments and borrowing.
    The setting up of Brick by Brick, run by her personal friend, Colm Lacey, and the strategy to invest and develop sites, without competition, that would be seen by the commercial development sector as unviable.

    All this is in Jo Negrini’s remit. And yes, it’s a big responsibility but an annual salary cheque for £220,000 is also big. Jo Negrini needs to do the honourable thing, and foolish Tony Newman who handed it all to her should also go as a matter of principle.

  4. Colin Cooper says:

    Is this a case of poacher turns poacher? You could NOT make this s*it up!

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