CROYDON IN CRISIS: A controversial former Labour council leader is promoted and given a possible £40,000 pay rise by Hamida Ali in the latest round of musical chairs at the Town Hall.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Sarah Hayward has been promoted from a council job for which she was unqualified, and handed an executive director role for which she has even less experience.
“Sarah’s had a good crisis,” was the view of one Katharine Street insider today.
Hayward was named last Friday as the interim exec director of place – a move at the bankrupt council which potentially will hand her a pay hike of at least £40,000. Doubles all round!
Hayward takes over from Shifa Mustafa, the exec notorious among council staff for working just a four-day week…
In early February, Mustafa was one of four Croydon executive directors who were suspended by Katherine Kerswell, the interim chief exec, pending further investigations arising from the Penn Report, the inquiry into possible wrong-doing at the council during its financial collapse.
According to an official source at Fisher’s Folly, although all this time while working a zero-day week, Mustafa remains employed by the council, and so probably is still collecting her annual salary of £176,103 (as at 2019, the latest available figures). Trebles all round!
As executive director of place, it was Mustafa who oversaw the botched refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, which managed to cost twice the budget at £60million, yet remains incomplete and unfinished; she was ultimately in charge of the failed house-builders Brick by Brick, who borrowed £200million and delivered just three purpose-built council flats in five years.
Also in Mustafa’s directorate is the responsibility for the maintenance and up-keep of existing council properties, such as the flats at Regina Road in South Norwood, where the appalling conditions discovered by ITV News have created a national scandal this week.
The decision to replace Mustafa with Hayward was taken at a secret meeting last week of the appointments committee – or disappointments committee, as they have become known. It was chaired by Hamida Ali.
Among Hayward’s first tasks in her new role is to establish an investigation into the neglect and mismanagement of the South Norwood block and Croydon’s 15 other residential towers and other council homes (mainly so that council leader Hamida Ali doesn’t have to give tortuous interviews in which she cannot answer any direct questions).
There has been no announcement, as yet, as to who will replace Hayward as director of the council’s violence reduction network, or even whether the cash-strapped borough will continue with the role at all.
But how Hayward came to be handed this new role has again raised eyebrows among hard-pressed council staff.
Hayward is the Blairite former leader of Camden Council, who in 2019 had been out of work for almost 12 months until Croydon created a £100,000 per year job, the borough’s first director of a violence reduction network, for which she had precisely zero qualifications.
Prior to 2010, when she became a councillor in the north London borough, Hayward had been, according to her own online profile, a consultant, “Providing strategic political, communications and policy advice to a range of public, private and voluntary sector clients including central and local government and a major national equalities charity”.
Croydon’s choice of Hayward for the key job angered many senior council staff: the decision was an entirely political one, taken by the council leadership at the time, including Tony Newman and the then cabinet member for “safer Croydon”, Hamida Ali. “Croydon politicians have appointed the leader for the violence reduction network,” a source in Fisher’s Folly said at the time.
“There was no officer involvement. She has no experience.”
According to the council announcement at the time, the appointments panel, “recognised her extensive knowledge and experience gained as an elected representative at Camden Council and strategic roles in local and national government”. But nothing specifically to do with crime, policing or the necessary skills to reduce violence in south London.
Indeed, Hayward was selected despite there being other applicants who were more experienced and better qualified for the role.
According to a source close to Croydon’s appointments process, “There were two other shortlisted candidates, one of whom had a much more relevant CV. The candidate who was turned down was an ex-policeman.
“The appointed candidate has little or no relevant experience and performed less well at interview – albeit that’s subjective. The third candidate had only limited experience and did not perform well, apparently. Interestingly, there were a number of promising looking candidates with highly relevant CVs who were culled between the long and the shortlist, for no discernible reason.”
Since Hayward’s arrival in Croydon, there has been no appreciable reduction in violence in the borough – some fear the most up-to-date statistics when they are released will show quite the opposite.
And, together with Ali, the cabinet member responsible at the time, Hayward has managed to see Croydon Council break its statutory, legal duties to draft and deliver its Crime and Safety Strategy for the period until 2023.
Croydon’s Crime and Safety Strategy expired in 2020.
A new four-year strategy ought to have gone out for consultation and been signed off by the end of 2019 – what might be considered a priority task for Hayward in her new job. But nothing was done.
As Inside Croydon reported last year, Ali excused the failure to deliver on this important piece of work because of covid-19 – even though the work on the new strategy ought to have been completed before most had even heard of the coronavirus pandemic.
More troubling, in terms of the due diligence being performed around such a key appointment, was the controversial circumstances surrounding Hayward’s resignation when leader of Camden Council, where she had been accused of having bullied Town Hall staff.
The complaints saw Hayward advised to take an anger management course and she had her conduct subjected to an inquiry led by a senior lawyer.
Hayward was leader of Camden from 2012 until 2017 when she stood down, somewhat abruptly. A year later, Hayward did not seek re-election as a councillor.
During her time as council leader, other Labour councillors became concerned by Hayward’s tendency to shout at council staff.
“On one occasion, I recall that a council director left the room in tears,” a source told Inside Croydon. Hayward “was foul to people. It was a destructive environment”.
Some of Camden Council’s most senior staff left their jobs because of the treatment that they were subjected to. Town Hall meetings often included pointed questions about the unusually high turnover of staff.
“Some people have been very seriously damaged,” said one source.
By 2016, Hayward faced a leadership challenge at the council from Sally Gimson, another Labour councillor. “I just couldn’t tolerate the bullying any longer,” Gimson told colleagues at the time.
Hayward survived, winning a ballot of her Labour colleagues by 24 votes to 15. As the respected local paper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, reported at the time, “The leadership contest was seen as one of personality and management style rather than a battle of ideological differences.”
During the months that followed the leadership challenge, and with no significant change in Hayward’s conduct, a Queen’s Counsel was called in by Camden to carry out an investigation.
“There was even a possibility that there may have been a case of ‘misconduct in public office’,” the colleague recalled. “In the end, Hayward’s position was untenable, and she stood down as leader.”
A member of council staff in Camden told Inside Croydon that the circumstances surrounding Hayward’s decision to stand down as leader were “covered up”.
They said, “Staff who worked for her had to take pills for anxiety and depression. Some had to take therapy for months after they stopped working for her.”
Inside Croydon put the allegations about her time at Camden to Hayward, but received no response.
Read more: Jobs for the gals! Newman hands £100,000 job to Blairite pal
Read more: Former colleagues express worries over new Croydon director
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments – how the Fairfield Halls refurbishment cost Croydon £50m-plus
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