The council chief exec is presiding over mounting anger over her handling of the borough finances and management of hundreds of job cuts.
STEVEN DOWNES reports
Dozens of council staff, many of them facing the prospect of redundancy as part of swingeing cost-cutting, have been circulating protest letters in which their Town Hall bosses are accused of “cowardice” and “double standards”.
Angry staff say that they are fighting “an injustice and hypocrisy that is unfolding within our council”, and they say that the council leadership has “forsaken those who risked their lives” during the darkest days of the covid-19 pandemic.
Protest letters have been sent directly to council chief executive Jo Negrini and members of her pompously titled “Executive Leadership Team”.
The gathering unrest comes about a week before the latest showdown meeting between the £220,000 per year chief exec and the staff, and more than a month after it was announced that 15 per cent budget cuts are being made at Fisher’s Folly because of a cashflow crisis at the council which has been exacerbated by additional spending on coronavirus measures.
Hundreds of jobs are under threat in a programme of cuts that Negrini and her close colleagues started in January – months before the covid-19 lockdown. Croydon Council had accumulated £1.5billion debt by March this year, while its reserves had been reduced to just £10million.
As well as Negrini, the protest letters have been addressed to Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the soon-to-depart Robert Henderson, Shifa Mustafa, Hazel Simmonds and Guy Van Dichele.
It appears that remarks made by Negrini at a previous virtual staff conference, where she refused even to consider her or the other six-figure-salaried directors taking any pay cuts to help in the emergency, have been particularly badly received.
The personalised emails, under the heading “Lead from the Front, Protect our Heroes and follow the values you proclaim to have”, read:
“I, along with other likeminded staff, would like to voice my outrage at the injustice that is unfolding within our council. I, and my fellow colleagues, have chosen to peacefully voice our dismay to the highest echelons of this organisation and across all allowable forms to ensure our concerns are noted and addressed through action, not just words.
“The injustice to which I refer sadly appears to lie at the very the heart of Croydon Council’s leadership, who have refused to lead from the front, operated in the shadows and have forsaken those who risked their lives. Our leaders have abandoned the very values we are expected to wear around our necks, which has not gone unnoticed. To this end I, along with my colleagues, request that Croydon Council’s leaders address the following points:
Taking Responsibility: covid-19 is a global issue placed on top of pre-existing financial issues that can be blamed on many things but one of those things is also leadership. It appears, however, that [the] leadership have chosen for only a few to carry the burden. I request that Croydon’s leaders detail exactly how they, too, are carrying this burden and how are they leading from the front?
Proud to Serve: Our leaders appear to have forsaken the heroes that risked their lives to care for the service users and residents we are here to support. These heroes of Croydon were expected to leave relative safety, were provided with inadequate protection and sent to the frontlines and they did so because they cared. This same leadership team have decided to reward these heroes with a threat to their livelihoods. We request that Croydon’s leaders detail exactly what is being done to protect Croydon’s heroes?
One Team: I request that Croydon’s leaders provide detail and surety that all other savings options were investigated and staff redundancies were the last resort. To that end, if potential savings options were not employed in favour of redundancy, what action will be afforded to us to challenge this decision? and
Honest and Open: This injustice and these double standards has left us distrustful. We request that Croydon’s leaders cease operating in the shadows and become transparent, allowing us sight of the complete impact of all redundancies in all areas of the council, including that of senior leadership.
The protestors have circulated their draft letter among colleagues, asking for as many of them as possible to forward it in their own name to the executives. In seeking a broad base of support, the protestors say, “This injustice … is the cowardice that has been shown by our leaders, who have refused to lead from the front, operated in the shadows, abandoned the values they enforce upon you and have forsaken those who risked their lives.
“We will not stand aside quietly and let these leaders ravish this council and its good people. In response we are looking to create a strong and united voice that will hold our leaders to account, protect our heroes and enforce the values that we all wear around our necks…”
Council staff passes, worn on the borough’s purple lanyards, carry some glib “values” on them, which some thrusting exec who had been sent on a management course must have thought was a good idea for employees to carry around their necks as reminders.
Now, it appears, the staff have decided it is overdue for the most senior council directors to start to display some of those required qualities themselves.
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