EXCLUSIVE: Council staff are angry at the high-handed and dismissive manner in which they are being dealt with by the chief exec, while ‘award-winning’ Gateway Services face severe cuts. WALTER CRONXITE reports
As the council’s CEO, Jo Negrini has spent most of the past fortnight messing with the terms and conditions of the lives of hundreds of staff who have been told they are to lose their jobs. But yesterday Negrini announced that “… we are not messing with anyone’s Ts and Cs” when it comes to herself and her generously remunerated executive director colleagues.
Negrini’s short-tempered response was to a question from a council worker who asked why neither she nor any other senior members of her leadership team had set an example and taken a cut to their six-figure salaries and gilt-edged pension pots while the rest of the council faced 15 per cent budget cuts.
Many among the estimated 800 staff who had logged-in for the latest briefing on the council’s self-inflicted financial crisis were made even angrier by this latest nadir in the chief exec’s shambolic four-year reign over the council.
The dire insensitivity of Negrini’s comment was one of a series of low points during a staff briefing which those who endured it described as “a car-crash from beginning to end”.
As one experienced and senior council manager said, “Yet again, it’s a case of lions led by donkeys.”
Another said, “Morale is on the floor. Sessions like this do not help.”
A Katharine Street source described the situation as “turmoil”.
The council’s leadership’s relationship with the unions at Fisher’s Folly is severly strained, with more than 400 jobs expected to go as Negrini tries to balance the books after the hugely indebted council spent £62million to deal with the first two months of the coronavirus crisis.
Promises from central government to make good on local authorities’ covid-19 crisis spending have yet to be made good.
But as has been well-established, Croydon was already deeply mired in financial problems before the pandemic lockdown, failing resilience tests from CIPFA, the accountancy professional body, which suggested that the council might be suffering from “poor governance”.
Negrini herself even gave interviews six months ago where such issues were acknowledged, and she has also admitted more recently that a process of cutting council staff began at the start of 2020.
Negrini’s performance in yesterday’s virtual briefing did nothing to inspire staff with renewed confidence that she or her closest colleagues are the people to fix the problems.
“Everyone by now understands the narrative of the damage that 10 years of austerity cuts has done to local councils,” said one worker. “And of course that has made things tough – but we’ve been through three ‘reorganisations’ at the council in that time, shedding frontline staff each time. But the number of executive directors never seems to decrease, and nor do their salaries.
“Most other London boroughs, including Labour-led councils, seem to have managed somehow through austerity without the huge debts or the dangerously depleted reserves that have happened in Croydon since Jo was put in charge.”
Workers and some of their union reps are particularly angry at the way in which the jobs being cut now affect people who have worked throughout the covid-19 crisis to keep providing council services, often in difficult circumstances and while helping some of the borough’s most vulnerable.
Yet not a single executive director position is actually being cut as a consequence of Negrini’s “reorganisation”. Rob Henderson, the children’s, families and education exec director who Inside Croydon revealed yesterday is leaving Croydon, is almost certain to be replaced in the £150,000-plus role.
For her part, Negrini is paid more than £220,000 per year, excluding any returning officer fees. It means that she earns more in one month than some of the council’s staff are paid in a year. Each executive director in her leadership team also gets the support of an executive officer to act as their personal assistant; Negrini regards herself as so important that she has two assistants helping to run her office.
There is to be a little shuffling and sleight of hand over some senior positions, however.
Hazel Simmonds, who was appointed in November 2018 as head of the council’s Gateway Services (or “localities and resident pathway” as the council has pompously renamed the department), has had her substantive role “deleted”, but has immediately been taken back on a two-year fixed-term contract. Whether this delivers any real savings seems unlikely, but it is sure to be dressed up as the reduction of an exec director role.
It appears that Gateway Services staff are suffering some of the deepest cuts at the council. The “award-winning” department has developed an early-intervention approach to avoid people on Universal Credit being rendered homeless because of changes to the benefits system, provided a support hub for rough sleepers and overseen the introduction of welfare and food hubs – “Food Stops”. All of which is now under threat.
“Hazel will have special responsibility for ‘localities’, which is Jo’s ‘Big Idea’,” said a staffer at yesterday’s meeting. “More local hubs, less centralisation, and using the voluntary sector more to meet demand for council services. Effectively, you’re be paying your Council Tax to meet Jo’s salary for services that she’s no longer delivering.”
The council’s decentralisation process has been accelerated by covid-19, since Fisher’s Folly, the council offices built by the previous Tory administration at a cost of £150million, is not fit for purpose. Open-plan offices and hot-desking are not possible in the post-coronavirus “new normal”, and Negrini reckons only one-third of what’s left of the council staff can be accommodated there in future.
One moment during the briefing that caused laughter among many of those watching was when Negrini’s close colleague, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the former borough solicitor who the CEO made exec director of resources, said that she had “worked hard” to keep deletions of posts to those jobs which were currently vacant.
“We had to laugh,” said one observer. “It’s just absurd: those posts were only vacant because they started a recruitment freeze at the back-end of last year.”
The briefing attracted lots of questions from staff about the council’s seemingly reckless capital spending on the likes of the Croydon Park Hotel (£30million, and now closed for business), the Colonnades (which is supposed to deliver £150,000 a year in income to the council, but which had to be closed in March), and Brick by Brick (£260million of borrowing, plus £36million of new bail-outs this year).
“Jo tried to defend all of this robustly, but she got in a mess over the figures. She needed Shifa [Mustafa, the exec director, “Place”] to help her out.”
When Negrini was asked about the council’s financial problems that existed before covid, she said that BBC London’s televised report last week was incorrect. Yet the BBC got its figures from government sources, the council itself and CIPFA, the local authorities’ finance professional body.
“We know who we believe,” one council worker said.
“Hundreds of staff are losing their jobs, yet for Negrini it is all a matter of defending her reputation.
“It’s almost as if she’s trying to deny what is going on around her on her watch.”
Indeed, more than five minutes of the 80-minute online session was devoted by Negrini to dismissing reports in Inside Croydon.
Negrini is reputed to have said, “They never liked me even before I came here.” Which is just a tad self-centred, since no one in Croydon had heard of Jo Negrini before she arrived as the self-declared “regeneration practitioner” in 2014.
“She mentioned that the council had not had to issue a Section 114 notice to declare that we’re broke. Yet everyone knows that’s only because the government couldn’t handle a clutch of councils going broke during lockdown, and so agreed to ease the rules. But everything that has been done here since May have been the exact same measures that would have been taken if a Section 114 notice had been issued.
“It seems that she doesn’t like it when staff brief against her.
“It has not occurred to her to ask why staff are briefing against her.”
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In the wise words of an old prophet “Arrogance Cometh Before the Sack” and Negrini would do well to heed the prophet.
Just a small gesture, a tiny one, from her and the overpaid crema on the council cappuccino would have made the world of difference.
If she’d said that she and that lot were all taking a 5% voluntary cut her stock would have gone up immediately and maybe saved her from the P45 she deserves.
But no, she’s not stupid, she will bank the money for as long as she can… but that ught not be for all that long.
The same goes for Tony and his featherbedded cronies. They should be warned. There is a lot of unrest among the lower ranks of their colleagues about all sorts of things. Perceived arrogance is one thing. Proven arrogance another.
Companies all over the country have implemented salary cuts to help everyone in their organisation get to the other side of this crisis. In Croydon’s case the crisis started way before COVID. In many of these companies, directors and senior managers have taken even larger salary cuts. And these are people on salaries substantially less than Jo Negrini.
Pretty outrageous these overpaid senior public servants think only they are the exception. Where does this sense of privilege come from?
As to Jo Negrini not seeking to make cuts vertically through the council is probably because many of the senior staff she works with are personal mates from the other local authorities she’s worked at – the London local government gravy train.
Name these companies “all over the country” that have implemented salary cuts.
I’d rather you complete your own homework but since we are in a period of home schooling, I suggest you read this as a starter:
Thank you for so graciously sharing where you got the information behind the claims you made. But I fear you’re confusing chalk with cheese.
The estimates mixed with slivers of fact about FTSE 100 salaries being cut ignores the fact that the sky-high pay packages of these CEOs comprises both salary and bonuses. Andy Ransom, the apparently selfless head of Rentokil who publicly cut his salary by 35%, was taking a fair chunk out of his £756,000 a year, that’s true. But when you add in the extras, he’s still getting in the region of £4.3m per annum. Four million quid is the median rate for people like him in firms like that.
Compare that to the paltry package our council’s Chief Executive gets, a mere £189K plus pension contributions of c£28.5k. That’s less than Ransom’s ransom.
If Ms Negrini and her fellow Directors (of those that remain) were to cut their salaries, what real difference would it make? Would anyone on the Council payroll not be made redundant? Would our streets be cleaner? Would children get better care and education? No.
And if she were to leave, would things change? Hardly. Ask yourself, who would pick and manage her replacement?
The question posed in your final sentence is indeed pertinent: the borough has suffered under three ineffectual chief executives, though none was paid three-quarters of the remuneration package that Negrini has managed to put herself on in her first three years in charge.
To describe that as “a paltry package” is, of course, bollocks.
Negrini takes home more in one month than some of her staff are paid in a year. Such disparities in wage scales within an organisation tend to reflect a poor corporate culture.
And making that “futile sacrifice” is one aspect of leadership. In contrast to the “I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder” attitude which Negrini betrayed on Thursday, it would at least demonstrate a willingness to share in some of the hardship that is being imposed because of the misjudgements of that very same leadership.
And if Negrini, her pompously titled “Executive Leadership Team” and Tony Newman’s front bench chipped in, it would indeed make a significant saving, towards the cost of saving frontline workers’ jobs: if each one of Negrini’s execs who are on £100,000 per year plus gave up £20,000 this year, it would amount to almost £400,000. Sarah Hayward, the mate of the council’s Blairites who had a job created for her, has not yet served her probationary period and could be let go, saving another £150,000 over the next 12 months. And if Newman’s cabinet pitched in with £10,000 each from their inflated allowances, that’s another couple of social work jobs saved.
But such moves would require selflessness, public service, honesty and leadership, qualities that are all too rare at Fisher’s Folly.
You must be in some kind of hermetically sealed bubble if you don’t know companies all over the country are cutting pay and or hours to stave off the prospect of redundancies as a result of the pandemic? This is in addition to furloughing etc. And this isn’t just senior management.
35% is 35%. Or merely 6% of the whole package – compared to Jo’s … 0%.
I’m not going to get into a to and fro about ‘fat cat’ packages, because this is not the place and it would be a digression too much, yet for context: Rentokil’s sales in 2019 were £2.7BILLION, an increase YoY of 8.6%. Profits in the same period were up by 10.5%.
Ransom’s entire package represents 1.5% of the INCREASE in sales or 12% of the INCREASE in profits alone. It is arguable that he’s only being paid out of growth and the additional profit.
Where this point becomes painfully pertinent in comparison to Negrini is that Ransom is delivering value to his stakeholders, adding value to his organisation AND reducing his remuneration regardless.
Even Negrini’s greatest shill would struggle to say any of those things about her.
And the argument that you need big salaries to attract the right people into senior local authority executive positions is completely lost when you look at who we have in the council at the moment – clearly that doesn’t work.
But what really doesn’t work is Tony Newman being involved in the senior staff recruitment process. The guy is an absolutely crap judge of character and ability – why people voted him in is beyond me.
According to the High Pay Centre, 25% of FTSE 100 companies have reduced CEO pay by 20% in response to the virus.
Examples include ITV, Lloyds, Prudential and Rentokil.
Other examples beyond the 100 include BA, Marshalls (building materials), where the entire board has reduced pay by 20%, and BrewDog, where the owners have forsaken all pay for 2020.
Further afield, you can add AON, Monzo, Ryanair, GE, Virgin Atlantic, easyjet, Lyft, Fiat Chrysler, Marriott and RBS.
CEOs of BT and Sky have offered 50% of salary to pandemic relief, although there may be some tax etc advantages to that.
These cuts range from 20 – 100%.
Some of these cuts are temporary and some offset by other long-term performance related incentives (all remuneration at board level should be performance related IMHO, but that’s another day’s work); yet you get the drift.
Excellent research – clearly reasons for the council’s executive money holes to think again.
“Do as I say & not as I do” – this is the mantra from the top to all the frontline staff.
Yes, that and
“Its our policies that count, not you people”
“We are always consistent. We never answer questions”
“Whatever happens, its always someone else’s fault”
and many more!
I hear they are looking to get rid of the whole ERT team who deal with graffiti, cleaning car parks etc. The council will end up giving this work to one of their contractors who will not do half as good a job, charge the council more & not get penalised when they don’t do it. The people at the top have no common sense unfortunately and end up getting rid of good staff and costing the council more money in the long run. Seen this happen so often over the years. Negrini should do the decent thing and go & take her mates with her.
Pay Cuts! The are many employees in the council that don’t deserve a job. Today, I went dropped in at the recently (please NOTE the SPELLING of recently) closed Croydon Park Hotel to get the name of the company handling the closure and administration of the hotel, which is KPMG. Of course there was nothing posted outside giving this information. However, there was a handwritten A4 note affixed to the glass entrance door stating: This hotel was RESENLY closed. Note the spelling. Why council are employing illiterate people?. No wonder they are in trouble with enormous debts when they employ staff like that. Something needs to be done to redress Croydon Council’s inability to provide a service to it’s rate payers but what can we do?. contact Chris Phelps our MP?…afraid not as he’s pretty lackluster in my opinion. If anyone has any ideas …please let me know.
If you are going to post a pedantic comment about other people’s spelling, it is perhaps as well if you were to go to the bother of getting your own writing spell-checked, and also get your facts correct and make fewer ranting assumptions.
The council has never run or managed the Croydon Park Hotel. They own the freehold, and leased it to a private company, thereby – in theory – making an income for the council. This hit the buffers because, perhaps because of a lack of proper due diligence which led to the council paying £5million over the asking price for the property, they took on a tenant that was already struggling.
In any case, any notice placed in the doors of the hotel is therefore unlikely to have been written by a council employee, and more likely to have been placed there from someone who worked at the hotel. Is the author of the note you chastise so fiercely illiterate? For one misspelling? propbably note. But it is likely that whoever took the responsibility to post the notice is a migrant worker, writing in their second (or third) language.
The MP’s name is Philp, not Phelps.
In English, we do not spell “lackluster” as you do.
There’s veery many things wrong with Croydon Council. Not being able to spell comes a long way down that list.