CROYDON IN CRISIS: Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, on the immediate reactions to the departure of the council’s chief executive
Any pay-off to Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s departing chief executive, would be “morally wrong at this time of financial difficulty”, according to Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South.
Negrini – dubbed “Negreedy” by disaffected council staff – has spent the past week or more haggling over the size of her “golden handshake” settlement, while maintaining that she had not resigned from her £220,000-plus salaried job.
Her departure was confirmed this afternoon in an email ostensibly sent by council leader Tony Newman, just back from a holiday taken in the middle of the borough’s coronavirus, financial and management crisis.
Disenchanted staff described Newman’s glowing testimony on behalf of Negrini as “ridiculous”.
“Seriously: what dirt has she got on him?” a well-placed source inside Fisher’s Folly told Inside Croydon this afternoon.
“It’s utterly ridiculous that she’s failed in her job to the extent that she has and then been allowed to write Newman’s glowing statement about herself for him like that!”
Negrini, the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner”, had four years in charge of London’s most populous borough, a period marked by conspicuous failures, from the collapse of the promised Westfield development in the town centre – a project she was originally hired to oversee – to the damning Ofsted report on the borough’s children’s services department in 2017, and ultimately the collapse of the council’s finances, as she leaves behind debts of £1.5billion.
She also gained an unwanted reputation, in the role of returning officer, of not being able to organise an election count properly, when Croydon was among the last to make its result declarations – even after the Orkneys.
Newman’s councillor colleagues were also less-than-impressed with the craven tone of the council leader’s valedictory message on behalf of the woman he promoted to the chief executive role in 2016.
“There’s not a single reference to the disaster that is Brick by Brick, her branchild, there’s no reference to Westfield, the regeneration project that she was hired to deliver, and there’s certainly no reference to any careful budget management,” a Katharine Street source said.
“Funny, too, how Tony doesn’t mention the Ofsted mess with children’s services that occurred with Negrini in charge. And to say that, ‘Jo is leaving with all the structures in place for the next stage’, really? The place is in disarray.
“The council has got huge problems. Getting rid of Jo is just one of them solved, but we should not be kidding anyone, least of all ourselves, that her four years in charge of the borough was anything but a failure.”
Council staff, many of whom with uncertain futures as they face job cuts, had become increasingly unhappy with Negrini’s remote and somewhat self-centred style of leadership, which included her dismissing any suggestion that she or her fellow executive directors should do anything as community-minded as taking a pay cut during the financial crisis as she explained the 15 per cent cuts she was imposing on them.
Now, it seems, the cash-strapped council is about to hand over a hefty cheque to Negrini to ensure that she leaves. Some suggest it could amount to as much as £200,000, perhaps more, representing six months’ pay for service and six months’ money in lieu of notice. Negrini is not expected to return to her desk.
In a press release issued by the council, Negrini is supposed to have said: “Croydon is a fantastic place and I’ve been proud to serve its residents over the past six and a half years.
“I’ve always been impressed by the borough’s resilience, ambition and can-do attitude and I’ve been fortunate to work with some really talented people who are passionate about Croydon. I’ve no doubt that their drive, hard work and determination to support the borough will help to make to Croydon stronger for the future.
“This is a challenging time for local government and I am leaving with all the structures and the team in place to navigate through this post-covid period and see the council through the next stage in its journey. I loved working for the people of Croydon. It’s an amazing place to work.”
Given the council’s parlous financial position, Philp, the Labour-run borough’s only Tory MP, was in no doubt about what ought to be the right course of action.
“Any large pay-off would be morally wrong at this time of financial difficulty,” Philp said.
“Negrini’s departure does not address the failings of the council.
“The council’s financial woes – such as the £1.5billion debt, the highest of any borough in London – their disastrous commercial property speculation, such as £30million on a now-bankrupt hotel, and their loss-making, destructive developers Brick by Brick can all be laid at the door of unaccountable council leader Tony Newman and his small clique of cronies.”
Meanwhile, Steve Reed OBE, the Blairite MP for Croydon North and Labour’s front bench spokesman on local government, remains utterly silent on the council’s financial problems and Negrini’s departure.
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