The executive director of the borough’s children’s and education services left the council on Friday with an emotional message to colleagues, saying it was “the best job I ever had”.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Eleventh-hour efforts to persuade Robert Henderson to stay on at the council eventually came to nothing, as Croydon’s executive director of children, families and education left Fisher’s Folly for a final time on Friday.
It is almost exactly two years since Henderson was named as the head of a council department which Ofsted inspectors had ruled was a danger to some of the vulnerable children and young people in its care.
Henderson’s resignation was first reported by Inside Croydon in July. His decision to leave came shortly after he had managed to steer the borough’s troubled children’s services to a “Good” Ofsted report after years of failure. But by the time his exit was announced, Henderson’s relationship with his boss, chief exec Jo Negrini, and with council leader Tony Newman, was described by insiders as “frosty”.
Unusually in the event of a departing senior council official, when the council’s propaganda department finally got around to confirming what had already been reported by Inside Croydon, their press release had not fond farewell from the council leader himself.
His departure came as a bitter blow to the council’s leadership, and for the staff who worked for him. Some officials set up a petition calling on council leaders to persuade Henderson to stay, even suggesting that he should be promoted to become the borough’s new chief executive.
But any such efforts came to nought, as Henderson went through with his decision to move to a position at Southampton City Council, something he explained in a farewell note to colleagues on Friday was, “based on specific circumstances and in no way a desire to stop working in Croydon”.
Henderson told his department, “It has been the best job I ever had, and we achieved some amazing things didn’t we?”
Henderson also pledged in his note to ensure that a race equalities review, currently being conducted within the council, will have “real impact”.
The council has been criticised because its staff numbers do not represent the diverse nature of the population of the borough as a whole – an issue which is understood to be causing considerable concern in the current “reorganisation”, with more than 400 jobs being axed. Many of the council jobs being cut are among the lower-paid staff, a large proportion of whom are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Henderson’s departure, announced in the middle of the covid-19 emergency with Croydon trying to manage a Town Hall cash crisis, is thought to have been an influential factor in the process which ultimately led to Jo Negrini leaving the CEO role, though in her case with a massive pay-off.
In his message to staff, Henderson wrote:
I have now finished my last working day in Croydon.
I leave with deep sadness and turmoil. My decision to leave was very hard and based on specific circumstances and in no way a desire to stop working in Croydon. I say it again but it has been the best job I ever had, and we achieved some amazing things didn’t we?
Even in my brief time, Croydon flows through my blood and I have come to care for and cherish the beautiful family of Croydon’s CFE [Children, Families and Education department]. I will miss you all from the bottom of my heart.
Keep looking after Croydon’s children and families. Shine your light and create the values of compassion and kindness and make the world a better place. We live on this earth for such a small moment of time, let’s make every second count and leave behind us a legacy of love, care and hope.
I will see many of you again and I hope you and your families thrive. I will be making sure the Race Equalities review has real impact, even from afar and takes us to a place where we work in an inclusive, tolerant, fair and open culture.
You have some of the very best practitioners I have worked with and a leadership and management team that is thriving. The future will be challenging but nothing you cannot overcome if you act as a collective family. Better together.
Loving you all, Rob
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Why would you stay and take on the top role if you have to deal with Tony Newman making idiotic decisions every day?