EXCLUSIVE: Croydon’s political leadership to come under increasing pressure as the full extent of the deal they cut with chief executive is revealed.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Jo Negrini will receive more than £400,000 under the terms of the deal that secured her immediate exit from cash-strapped Croydon Council.
Sources inside Fisher’s Folly have obtained the top-secret financial details of the agreement, which is thought to be one of the biggest pay-offs ever by a local authority in England.
Included in the pay-off is nearly a quarter of a million pounds in pension contributions, paid to take 59-year-old Negrini to her statutory retirement age.
In a recent poll of Inside Croydon readers, 96 per cent said that Negrini should not receive any kind of pay-off at all.
Union officials told Inside Croydon that the size of Negrini’s pay-off will be “like a kick in the teeth” for the hundreds of council workers, many of them low-paid and who are currently waiting to see whether they will still have a job in a few weeks’ time.
In Negrini’s four years as Croydon CEO, the council built up record debts of £1.5billion, while its cash reserve had been allowed to run-down to just £10million, prompting pre-coronavirus warnings from the council’s own auditors, as well as from CIPFA, the body of local government finance directors.
The £1.4billion Westfield shopping centre, with which Negrini was closely associated, was abandoned last year, while other flagship projects – such as the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls or the Brick by Brick housing company – proved to be badly managed, costing the council millions in extra spending. Commercial property purchases, such as the £30million spent on the Croydon Park Hotel, also flopped.
The Local Government Ombudsman regularly found Negrini’s council to have committed maladministration. Also during Negrini’s time in charge, the council’s children’s services department was judged by Ofsted inspectors to be a danger to some of the vulnerable younngsters in its care. It took nearly three years, and £25million extra spending, to restore the department’s “Good” rating.
When the deal was finally agreed, council leader Tony Newman praised Negrini for what he described as her “dedicated service to Croydon”.
Inside Croydon has discovered that in July, as the extent of the council’s coronavirus cashflow crisis was becoming clear, Negrini was approached by senior Labour councillors – thought to be Newman and his finance chief Simon Hall – to discover if there was a deal that could persuade her to leave the role that they had promoted her into in 2016.
After some haggling over the precise terms, Negrini finally agreed two weeks ago, but not until, as our Fisher’s Folly source said, “Her lawyers took the council to the cleaners.”
Negrini’s “reward for failure” has come in three parts, with by far the largest portion in pension contributions. It is common practice in many public organisations, and some commercial concerns, when someone is taking early retirement or being made redundant, for their pension pot to be topped up to the amount that it would have reached had they worked through to 67.
Negrini is eight years off statutory retirement age, and according to the most recent figures available from Croydon (for the 2018-2019 financial year), the council was paying £28,494 per year into her gold-plated, inflation-proof pension fund. That figure may well have increased in the past 18 months (it certainly would not have been reduced), which puts the pension-related part of Negrini’s pay-off at…
Negrini has also been able to pocket six months’ money in lieu of notice. Again, based on the official council figures for her “basic” salary of £188,700 that she was being paid in 2018-2019, Negrini will have received another…
And, just to round everything off and see Negrini on her way, there was also an amount paid for… you might find this hard to believe… “compensation for loss of office”.
These amounts to local government workers are subject to a government-imposed cap, so for this Negrini will have received no more than…
The total, therefore, spent to persuade Negrini to leave and maintain her silence about the council comes in at somewhere close to…
“She should be able to buy a decent-sized sheep ranch in New South Wales,” an underwhelmed council official said on hearing the total being paid to the Australian-born, self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner”.
The full and final figure should be made publicly available when the council’s accounts for 2020-2021 are published – which may not be until June next year. But the political row this largesse with public money is likely to cause will put immediate pressure on Newman and Hall – local Tories were already baying for their resignations before the full extent of this payment was known.
Council leader Newman was on local radio this morning, outlining how Croydon has been hard-done-by in payments from the government under Tory austerity policies of the past decade. It might be difficult for him to maintain that script when the full extent of the money he has agreed to lavish on Negrini becomes known.
Negrini’s payment is considerably more than previous estimates had suggested, and according to one human resources executive with extensive experience of negotiating similar settlements, the amount being paid by Croydon is unnecessary and “excessive”.
They suggested that had Newman and Hall sacked Negrini and she had then pursued the council in a case of unfair dismissal, and won, even then the council might have faced a settlement of less than half what she is now receiving.
“It sounds a bit excessive,” they said.
“It all suggests poor negotiation on the part of the council leadership, or a very weak position,” they added.
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