STEVEN DOWNES on a twist in the council’s search for new leadership
Well-placed sources in Fisher’s Folly describe council leader Tony Newman as “beyond desperate” to get Robert Henderson to stay in Croydon – possibly going as far as to offer him the job as chief executive to take over permanently from Jo Negrini.
Newman has had two meetings in quick succession with Henderson, the latest taking place yesterday.
Henderson, as Inside Croydon revealed exclusively in July, had handed in his resignation to Negrini to take up a post at another local authority and was due to leave Fisher’s Folly this week.
“It seems highly unusual for the council leader to have two meetings in such a short space of time with an exec director who is basically on his way out of the door,” the source said.
Henderson’s resignation after less than two years in Croydon was seen by many at the council as a very firm vote of no confidence in Negrini’s leadership. By this summer, his relationship with Negrini, and Newman, was described as “very frosty”.
Following his resignation, some staff even started up an online petition to try to persuade Henderson to stay, recommending him for the top job.
Henderson joined Croydon Council in late 2018 as the executive director for children, families and education. A year earlier, Ofsted had issued a damning report on the state of the borough’s children’s services department, which inspectors found put some children and young adults in the council’s care in serious risk of harm.
It was not until March this year, after around £25million extra funding had been provided to the department, that Ofsted revised Croydon’s children’s services rating to “Good”.
Negrini’s departure from Croydon was confirmed last week, but only after lengthy wrangling over the size of her pay-off. Another of Negrini’s exec director appointees, Shifa Mustafa, has been installed as interim chief executive, a move by Newman that has been greeted by council staff with less than unbridled enthusiasm.
Mustafa takes over a council with £1.5billion debts and which is undergoing an emergency financial review to deal with the unexpected, and largely unfunded, £62million spending in the first few weeks of the coronavirus crisis. As part of the review, more than 400 council jobs are to be axed.
Since being appointed as interim CEO, “Princess Shifa”, as she is disparagingly known by staff, has already indicated that she will be returning to her pre-covid practice by taking this Friday off work.
“So this week, she’ll be working just three days,” an underwhelmed council staffer said.
“Does she realise she’s in charge of a council that’s in crisis?”
It is understood that much of Mustafafridaysoff’s time this week is being spent in handover meetings with Negrini.
Meanwhile there is mounting expectation around Fisher’s Folly that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is at the point of responding to Croydon’s plea for a bail-out package – with staff speculating on what the onerous terms and conditions attached might be.
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