EXCLUSIVE: As more than 400 council staff are being made redundant, workers and unions express disgust that borough’s chief executive is to receive a lavish exit settlement. By STEVEN DOWNES
The Mexican stand-off at Fisher’s Folly has now gone into its sixth day, as Jo Negrini, the council’s £220,000 per year chief executive, holds out for a bigger pay-off to secure her departure from the job.
Negrini is expected to leave the cash-strapped council, where she has overseen debts mount up to more than £1.5billion, by the end of September. Council sources confirm that she is currently on annual leave, not due back at work until next Wednesday, though few ever expect to see her return to work at the council offices.
Budget cuts of 15 per cent are meanwhile being implemented, including the axing of the jobs of more than 400 of Negrini’s erstwhile staff. According to sources, that, though, has not stopped Negrini insisting on a six-figure “golden handshake”.
As Inside Croydon broke the news last week, a formal announcement of the end of Negrini’s tenure was due to have been made on Thursday.
But that was delayed, then postponed, as the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” held out for a bigger wedge of cash to ease her on her way out, and she also insisted on having a final say on the wording of any statement issued.
On Friday, executive directors were instructed not to discuss the departure of their boss with anyone. Emergency communications – intended internally, for staff, as well as a public statement – were drafted and ready to be issued.
“There’s been urgent meetings at senior levels all morning,” one insider told Inside Croydon on Friday morning. “It’s chaos.”
As the minutes ticked past into hours, staff exercised dark humour by organising a sweepstake on what time the council’s media department would press the send button on the formal announcement.
The most favoured timings were late in the day: “They like to try to bury bad news. So they reckon sometime after everyone has pissed off down the pub for the start of the weekend means that it won’t get any attention before Monday.”
Yet even that prediction proved ambitious.
By yesterday, someone calling themselves “Whistleblower Croydon” had even started an online petition calling for Rob Henderson, the widely admired executive director of children’s services and education, to somehow be persuaded not to leave the council at the end of this month and to be offered the CEO’s job to replace Negrini.
But as well as council staff being kept in the dark, so are the borough’s councillors.
No information on the position been provided for councillors even in the Town Hall’s ruling Labour group. “We all know Tony’s on holiday,” said one Katharine Street source, “but this suggests that he thinks everything stops when he’s not around, which is clearly far from the case.”
Newman’s absence at this critical time – over Negrini’s departure but also in the midet of the staff redundancies – and the lack of any consultation with the borough’s elected representatives is likely to prove highly controversial with his Town Hall colleagues and the borough’s unions when he returns next week.
Because well-placed sources suggest that Negrini’s exit was prompted when, in the middle of the council’s cash crisis, the council leadership made her an offer to leave her job last month.
Now, according to sources, this has also become a further cause of the stalemate, over whether Negrini has resigned, or has been sacked.
As one source said, “She is insisting that she has not resigned because she wants to squeeze as much money as possible from them. She is playing hard-ball and seems to have plenty on them…
“She is going, about that there can be no doubt. But until they agree terms there cannot be any official comms which fail to recognise her as chief executive.
“In the meantime, there is a vacuum at the heart of the council.
“The senior leadership team have been instructed to say nothing.”
Speculation over the size of the pay-off Negrini might expect is also rife.
Negrini has been a council employee since 2014 and appears to be leaving without serving her full notice period, expected to be six months.
Recent examples from other local authorities suggest that the Croydon Council Tax-payer may have to stump up the equivalent of a year’s salary, or more: when Negrini’s predecessor as CEO, Nathan Elvery, was sacked from his £190,000 pa job in West Sussex last year, he walked away with a tidy £265,000.
Meanwhile, most council staff taking redundancy in Croydon this month are being offered modest terms. Council workers and union officials are, understandably, outraged.
“This just adds insult to our injury,” one union member told Inside Croydon on condition of anonymity. “We’re losing hundreds of hard-working colleagues who gave dedicated service to the borough through the covid pandemic, and yet the person who has been in charge will swan off with a huge pay-off.
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