Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports on how Tony Newman’s ‘most open and transparent council in Croydon’s history’ is now trying to block details of the ‘reward for failure’ that he authorised to be paid to the departing chief executive
Croydon Council is attempting to cover-up the amount paid in a settlement to Jo Negrini to persuade the local authority’s chief executive to give up her job.
Apparently, “the council has decided it would be unfair” if the £440,000 paid to Jo “Negreedy” Negrini was made public.
Even though the payment used public money, to someone who was employed by the public, and even though the full figures are likely to be put into the public domain once the council publishes its annual accounts, as it is required to do so by law.
Reliable sources within the council have confirmed to Inside Croydon that the total amount paid was £440,000, the bulk of which was made up of eight years’ worth of contributions into the gold-plated pension pot of the self-professed “regeneration practitioner”.
The total is almost double Negrini’s annual salary and pension package – far more generous than any of the redundancy payments being made to the hundreds of council staff who are losing their jobs at least in part as a consequence of Negrini’s disastrous time in charge of London’s most populous borough.
The figures have also been published in the latest edition of Private Eye magazine.
Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council who very likely authorised the payment, refused to share the detail of the CEO’s “reward for failure” with most of his own party’s elected councillors. He never even bothered discussing the matter with the Town Hall Labour group until after Negrini’s exit payment stirred up a “sickening” row.
In 2014, when seeking to win control of the Town Hall at the local elections, Newman railed against the previous Tory administration and promised “the most open and transparent council in Croydon’s history”.
Yet now Newman’s council is officially blocking requests made under the Freedom of Information Act for the details of the Negrini pay-off last month – even though the figures should become apparent as soon as the council publishes its 2020-2021 annual accounts next spring.
Newman and his finance chief, councillor Simon Hall, tonight face a no-confidence motion from the borough’s Conservative opposition over the state of the cash-strapped council’s finances. Despite the council’s parlous financial position under Negrini, Newman and Hall, none of the sidelined and bypassed Labour councillors are expected to break ranks and vote against their leader, or even abstain on the motion.
“That’s it,” one Katharine Street source said today. “Tony’s safe until 2022.”
If that proves to be the case, it is very likely that the next 18 months will see Newman behaving in an increasingly short-tempered, erratic and autocratic manner. He has already moved to block a petition from more than 17,000 residents who want a referendum to decide how the council is led. Now he is presiding over an authority which is refusing to advise the public how the council is spending their money.
In an FoI submitted shortly after Negrini exited Fisher’s Folly for the final time, the council was asked, “On August 27, 2020, it was announced by Croydon Council that Jo Negrini was to leave her job as the borough’s chief executive.
“Please provide full and itemised details of the amounts paid to Ms Negrini as a settlement on her departure from her post, whether they be in the form of ex-gracia payments, money in lieu of notice or untaken leave, and payments into her pension fund.
“Also, please provide details of the amount spent on legal advice in drawing up Ms Negrini’s settlement.
“These amounts have been paid from public money, to someone who had been employed as a public servant, and are a matter of considerable public interest.”
But the council has dead-batted the question.
In an unsigned response (oh, how open), an unnamed council official (how transparent) has written as if Negrini was still the council’s senior employee – and claimed that this vast expenditure of public money is, somehow, a private matter.
“The Chief Executive has a reasonable expectation in respect of that information and the council has decided that it would be unfair for that information to be disclosed into the public domain. As such that disclosure would contravene the first data protection principle and the information you have requested will not be disclosed to you in reliance on the exemption contained in Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”
As well as being secretive, the decision – which is being referred to the Information Commissioner – will achieve nothing but defer the inevitable, with the amounts having to be disclosed when the council publishes its annual accounts, usually next May.
That, though, will require Croydon Council to obey the law and make its accounts public: because of coronavirus, making local authorities’ unaudited accounts available was this year postponed until the first 10 days of September. Croydon has broken the law and so far failed to make its 2019-2020 accounts publicly available.
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