KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on the latest cuts at the council
While Jo Negrini was having her lawyers haggle over the size of her six-figure pay-off for leaving her job as chief executive of the council, the scale of the crisis she has left behind was becoming clearer by the day. And it seems to be worse than anyone feared.
According to a tweet from a member of staff, on Monday this week council exec director Guy Van Dichele was emailing those working in adult social care “asking us to consider reducing new care packages by 20 per cent”.
Croydon Council had gone into the covid-19 pandemic with debts of £1.5billion and much-reduced reserves, and the unforeseen added costs of providing services during the coronavirus emergency left a £62million hole in the Town Hall budget.
Before she left Croydon, Negrini had overseen the start of a “reorganisation” process, which aimed to slash costs – and jobs – by 15 per cent. More than 400 council worker positions are expected to be axed, with the consultation process on-going, though defiantly Negrini refused to even consider her or her “executive leadership team” taking even modest pay cuts to their six-figure salaries to help reduce the number of job cuts necessary.
Which only serves to make the 20 per cent cuts to adult social services being floated this week by Van Dichele – another council exec director on a salary of £200,000 or more – all the more startling.
As the frustrated council staffer tweeted to the borough’s councillors, “Why are members [councillors] pretending we will be able to deliver the same service to vulnerable clients with fewer frontline staff and less funding?”
When the council’s cash crisis was discussed at a scrutiny meeting at the end of August, none of the council’s executive directors even bothered to attend to answer questions from the borough’s elected representatives – so much for scrutiny.
Not that Croydon’s councillors have shown much urgency about the issue themselves: this was the first meeting of councillors to discuss the cash crisis for nearly two months; there is no meeting of the full council scheduled until October, with no sign of council leader Tony Newman showing any appetite to face a public grilling any time soon.
At the scrutiny meeting, Simon Hall, the council cabinet member supposedly in charge of finances, was allowed a very easy time of things. The scrutiny chair is Sean Fitzsimons, one of Newman’s patsies, bought off with £44,000 a year in allowances, so he was not going to rock the boat for his Labour colleague.
So when the imminent departure of CEO Negrini was raised, Hall was allowed to refuse to discuss the matter. No member of the scrutiny committee – Tory or Labour – bothered pressing Hall on the matter, nor did it occur to them to ask what kind of “golden handshake” Negrini might have been offered.
Nor did Hall, who sits on the emergency financial review panel which is implementing the crisis plans, give any hint that drastic 20 per cent cuts to adult social services might be on the way.
According to Hall, everything was going smoothly, and the consultation period with unions was being extended to assist the process. In fact, the consultation period has had to be extended by the council because they cannot cope with handling the hundreds of workers either facing redundancy or being moved around the council in the disorganised “reorganisation”.
As a concerned member of staff said, “I’m hearing from colleagues that the redeployment process is a mess, posts are being withdrawn at the last minute, there’s lack of clarity on how long contracts will be issued for… It’s nothing like Simon Hall, characterised it at the scrutiny committee.”
The cuts are hitting other services, too. Staff working with marginalised young gang members are also at risk of redundancy, according to sources.
As another council insider said, “We may soon be measuring the real cost of these cuts in the amount of blood being shed on our streets.”
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