‘Vitriol’: council staff let managers know what they think

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The former Town Hall leader and CEO have been criticised for allowing ‘a bullying culture’ at the council. ‘They were vicious in the way they marginalised anyone that spoke against them’.

Croydon Council has a “fearful” culture where bullying behaviour goes unchallenged, according to staff responses in the survey carried out at the bankrupt council in the past few weeks.

Jo Negrini: presided over a council with a bullying culture, according to staff

Some staff expressed “anger and vitriol towards senior management”.

The staff engagement exercise also involved focus groups, with the findings reported to the council cabinet this week.

The most recent scrutiny meeting was told of the bullying culture at the council, and long-standing staff members have told Inside Croydon that, in their opinion, some of that came as a result of the approach of Jo Negrini, the chief executive until very recently, and Tony Newman, the now-former council leader who promoted her into the top job.

“They were vicious in the way they marginalised anyone that spoke against them, including, in Newman’s case, their fellow councillors,” the staff member said.

“I saw many competent and fantastic staff walk away from the council due to bullying. Evidence was always hard to find because of the attitude of senior directors and managers who were able to hide the facts.

“Even when people were brought from outside to investigate racism, no black staff would give evidence, because they knew it was all a waste of time and nothing would come out of it. Women, especially black women, and low-paid staff were the victims and they are still the victims of this current crisis.

Tony Newman: ‘simply appalling, incompetent and tribal’

“Labour leader Tony Newman was simply appalling, incompetent and tribal. He tolerated those who kissed his arse and were sycophantic. But anyone who saw what was going on and was willing to expose it were harassed, intimidated and sacked, including trades union officers. Yes, in a Labour-controlled council.”

Such serious allegations appear to be backed up to some degree in the staff survey, which was initiated by Negrini’s successor, interim CEO Katherine Kerswell.

In the survey, staff complained of “fragmented engagement and communication from senior management with often low visibility”, as well as a “lack of accountability and taking responsibility”.

The report to cabinet states: “A very strong message from the council’s staff is the need to change the culture from one which is seen by many as a fearful culture with staff unable to speak up, to challenge bullying or other inappropriate behaviour, with less hierarchical silo-ed behaviour, better communication, more openness and trust.”

It said there was “strong, palpable anger and vitriol” towards senior management and noted that an investigation (another one) into senior management actions between April 2017 and September 2020, commissioned by the council, would “offer more insight and hopefully help build a more detailed understanding of how the council has arrived in this situation”. The period that the investigation is supposed to cover is significant: Negrini was appointed CEO in June 2016, and left in August.

One participant in the council focus group said that the current chief executive, Katheerine Kerswell, “needs to listen to the staff on the ground, we often tell the true story of the service, the positive and the negatives, [as] it is the only way of really knowing what is happening”.

Given some of the examples of misconduct by Negrini appointees that Inside Croydon has uncovered and reported, that should not be any surprise.

‘The Godfather’: only after Inside Croydon’s report of the abuses was council No3 Graham Cadle investigated

In 2017, a pair of council whistleblowers approached Inside Croydon with evidence that a senior director at the council was paying family friends £787 per day for a job for which they were unqualified. Their original complaints had been dismissed and covered-up.

Once this website reported the story, councillors were gagged from following up the report, Negrini threatened legal action against this website, and the council whistleblowers were ultimately hounded out of their jobs.

According to a report in the Local Government Chronicle, the latest staff survey was wide-ranging and involved nearly one-third of all the council’s staff.

Of the 1,003 respondents, 74 per cent offered suggestions of savings that could be implemented immediately to achieve a balanced budget this year.

Just over one-fifth said they were not proud to work for the council, while a further 21 per cent were “ambivalent”, the report said.

Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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8 Responses to ‘Vitriol’: council staff let managers know what they think

  1. Kevin Croucher says:

    Newman’s sneering attitude was on display in the February 24th cabinet meeting when he accused Lynne Hale of drinking from a half full glass for daring to ask whether Brick by Brick might be a risk to the budget.

  2. Marcus Rigby says:

    I heard from a friend that if you made a complaint or grievance against anyone in management, you end up fighting against the manager, Their manager, the department Director and HR, my friend said it was obvious they all close ranks and you end up fighting against Croydon council and not the manager you made the complaint against!

  3. None of this surprises me but all of it disappoints me.

    I knew Day 1 Jo Negrini was made CEO that this would be an unmitigated disaster. How right I was.

    Tony Newman’s decision to promote Negrini and then stand by as she drove the council finances off a cliff demonstrates how useless he was as council leader and what a historical disservice he has bestowed on the Borough of Croydon.

    I would like to see Newman, Hall, Butler, Scott and Fitzsimons and others kicked out of the council and the idiots who attended to Negrini’s departure by squandering a £440,000 of council money should be subject to legal action to repay the money back into Croydon’s bank account.

    The running of Croydon over the last four years has been shamefully inept and council staff and residents want those responsible kicked out for good.

    Think back pre-COVID to council planning meetings where Council Tax-paying residents were sneered at by Paul Scott as they attempted to present a case against a wholly unbalanced planning process. This is just one example of the rot Negrini and Newman let into the council.

    Ali needs to realise there is still rot to cut out, or her initial support will very quickly fall away.

  4. Barbara Rudd says:

    If it’s any consolation to those whistle blowers at all, Cadle got found out at West Sussex. He was according to a reliable source, given the nod and the wink by our previous “death by PowerPoint” Chief exec but when he turned up to be interviewed by members they apparently refused to see him after Googling him and reading the coverage in Inside Croydon.

  5. Hans Mien says:

    Give me 1 example of a big business which has a fantastic open and honest culture, where whistle blowers are 100% protected and action taken. Bullying is non existent and front line staff ideas are actually recognised captured, communicated at all levels and result in an improvement that benefits people. Perhaps I’m asking too much. Lol!

  6. moyagordon says:

    Working in a bullying culture whether it is private sector or public sector is hard going. In this instance it is the public sector and it’s refreshing to learn staff are being consulted and the findings are disgraceful. In Croydon Council there is a fantastic opportunity to see how to come up with a means that enables anyone with dealings with the public sector who has an issue where they are aware of wrong doing to report it to a totally independent organisation that will advise that person how to pursue their grievance and ensure a satisfactory conclusion is reached. I know the citizens advice bureau can help but maybe we need something that oversees the whole of the public sector that seeks to ensure high standards. It could save jobs and stop taxpayers’ money being wasted.

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