- Newman failed to brief party colleagues on departing CEO’s pay-off
- ‘Golden handshake’ to Negrini may be even bigger than first estimated
- Negrini was given a £4,000 pay rise just days before she left Croydon
- Threat of backbench revolt by Labour councillors
Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon’s crisis-hit council, has refused to brief his Labour councillor colleagues about the £400,000-plus pay-off which he authorised to be made to departing chief executive Jo Negrini.
Instead, he has tried to defend the amount paid to Negrini, describing as “sickening” the notion that she might in some way have been denied her gold-plated pension.
Newman is facing mounting anger at his shambolic handling of the council’s cash crisis, as Town Hall officials issue warnings that the council could run out of money altogether before the end of this month.
Newman, meanwhile, continues to make public promises about “protecting” key services, even as council executives are going through the process of handing out redundancy notices to hundreds of staff.
In a poll of Inside Croydon readers conducted in the past month, 82 per cent said that Newman is not fit to be leader of the council.
Now, that appears to be a view shared among a growing number of his Labour councillor colleagues.
Newman’s stubborn silence over the revelations that Negrini had managed to secure herself a record-breaking pay-out from the cash-strapped council drew polite but testy emails from two widely respected Labour backbench councillors this week.
Both Robert Canning and Jamie Audsley have been councillors for six years, but have been repeatedly snubbed, or sacked, from senior jobs by Newman for perceived disloyalty to his ruling cabal.
Their emails to the council leader, together with his desperate-sounding replies, have been leaked to Inside Croydon.
Canning, a councillor for Waddon ward, has long drawn the ire of Newman’s clique, as he has been caught in the crossfire of a long-running and bitter row with the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party over local party funding. Waddon is the only council ward in Croydon South held by Labour.
Such is the acrimony felt by Newman and his Blairite colleagues Paul Scott, Alison Butler and Simon Hall that in 2018, before the last Town Hall elections, they even had a campaign “goal” which was referred to as “WWW”: Newman and his mates wanted to “Win Without Waddon” – effectively disowning the re-election chances of Canning and his ward colleagues Joy Prince and Andrew Pelling.
The majority of the borough’s Labour councillors had been left in the dark by Newman for more than a week over the mounting financial crisis and the behind-the-scenes negotiations to ease Negrini through the exit door of Fisher’s Folly.
It was Canning who was the first to dare question his not-so-great leader on Monday, just hours after Inside Croydon had broken the shocking news about the size of Negrini’s pay-off.
Canning sought “an urgent update about how and why this came about”. He also sought confirmation of the size of the pay-off.
Newman’s ill-tempered response failed to deny the amount paid to Negrini, and as has become his custom, turned into an ill-informed rant about Inside Croydon, saying that it “effectively backs the Tories and their DEMOC campaign”.
Pointedly, Newman did not deny that Negrini had received the huge pay-off, made up of several years pension contributions, money in lieu of notice and a payment for “loss of office”, as Inside Croydon had reported.
Newman wrote: “I will of course brief the group verbally…”, which means using words; Newman probably meant “orally”, “… at the earliest opportunity re both Jo and our next steps.”
Newman’s reply was not good enough as far as Canning was concerned.
“This isn’t about Inside Croydon,” Canning replied.
“My concern is around the ongoing absence of information from the leadership to the Labour group about Jo Negrini’s departure.” By Monday, the saga of Negrini’s exit and her pay-off terms had been going on for nearly three weeks.
“Comrades will read Inside Croydon or other sources of news – and may well fear the worst – if we’re not being told anything by the leadership about the reasons underpinning Jo’s departure,” Canning wrote in a widely circulated email.
“In particular, whether she chose to leave her position voluntarily or whether she was dismissed and, if so, who took the decision to sack her, why and when. Or perhaps she left by mutual consent like some football managers.
“Whatever the reasons for Jo’s departure, I certainly don’t think that we need to wait for an update in the future to be told whether Jo was given a golden goodbye of £400,000 of Council Tax-payers’ money. Either she was or she wasn’t.
“If she was given a payoff of this magnitude I find it truly sickening. I’m sure that council officers, especially those who will be losing their jobs, and Croydon residents more generally who will be picking up the tab would also share this view – particularly at a time when we are under such acute financial pressure. I do hope that you can confirm for me and the Labour group more widely that Jo did not receive a payoff or, if she did receive one, it was nothing like the figure that is being quoted.”
Canning has not received any answer to those questions.
Such audacity in questioning the council leadership is a rare thing among Croydon’s mostly docile Labour councillors. But on this occasion, Canning did receive support from a colleague, the equally marginalised Audsley.
On Tuesday evening, the Bensham Manor councillor chipped in with his own contribution to the email exchange. The Oxford-educated charity worker responded to Canning by writing, “Agree. sickening if true – look forward to a clear update.”
Newman’s irritable response was to defend his own actions in having voted through the pay-off for Negrini. In a terse late-night email, he wrote, “What would be truly sickening, just as an example, would be voting with the Tories to deny someone their pension.”
It is understood that when the council’s appointments committee met behind-closed-doors on August 27 to discuss Negrini’s departure, the motion was not passed unanimously, with the two Conservative members of the six-strong committee voting against. Newman, Butler, Hall and Alisa Flemming are understood to have supported the Negrini settlement package.
In his email, Audsley had also suggested something which Newman (£54,000 per year) had been avoiding for six months – to take a cut in councillor allowances “and stand with staff and residents”.
A proposal to do that will be put before a meeting of Labour’s 41 elected representatives to be held next Wednesday, when some increasingly angry councillors will be demanding answers.
But it has now emerged that Negrini’s secret pay-off could have been even more than Inside Croydon’s first estimate.
Our figures of £420,000 were based on the known amounts Negrini received in salary and pension contributions, taken from council figures for the 2018-2019 financial year.
Yesterday, inadvertently, Newman loyalist Sean Fitzsimons (£44,000 per year in allowances) let slip that Negrini only left Croydon just after her annual salary had been bumped up by another £4,000, to £192,474.
That national local government 2.75 per cent pay rise was announced on August 21 – had Negrini left before that date, her settlement may have had to be calculated on the previous salary and pension levels.
It means that, to a best estimate, Negrini could have walked away from Croydon Council leaving a legacy of debt, failure and hundreds of job cuts in her wake while pocketing something close to £424,000 – thought to be a record pay-out for a local authority worker in England.
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