Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons

£613,000: Jo Negrini enjoyed her time in Croydon

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Last week’s news that former chief exec Jo Negrini’s total reward for failure at the council amounted to an eye-watering £613,000 of tax-payers’ cash raised further questions about how such a payment was agreed and who authorised it.
After 18 months of careful and patient research, now many of those questions can be answered.

It was a Thursday morning towards the end of that covid summer of 2020, with the August Bank Holiday weekend approaching, when a handful of senior councillors in Croydon were told that they needed to attend a meeting urgently to determine what to do about Jo Negrini.

The parlous state of Croydon Council’s finances was well-known. In spite of all the official denials, it was a matter of “when?”, and not “if”, as far as the impending bankruptcy of the borough was concerned. Labour-controlled Croydon was about to become only the second council this century to go bust, and Negrini was the council’s chief executive.

Inside Croydon had reported a week earlier that Negrini was on her way out; she was officially on annual leave, which was due to end on September 2. Now, on August 27, a decision was needed on the terms that would clear the way to avoid the need for her ever to return to Fisher’s Folly.

This was to be a special gathering of the appointments committee, summoned by Blairite council leader Tony Newman and Simon Hall, his finance “wizard” (with magical abilities to make money disappear), with only a handful of attendees – senior executives of the council and four other councillors.

It was hurriedly arranged and all held in secret. There would be no formal reports circulated in advance, as would normally be the case with important council business. Indeed, the councillors summoned were given nothing in writing at all, no report, no recommendations, not even an agenda. Just the 10.30am start time and the codes to log-in for the meeting which, in line with pandemic precautions, was to be held remotely.

The councillors soon discovered that they were being expected to agree to lavish the best part of half-a-million pounds on an exit package for a chief executive who had presided over some of the most egregious breakdowns in governance ever to be seen at a local authority in this country. “Collective corporate blindness” was the withering phrase used by the council’s external auditors in a special report to be published a little more than a month after this crucial meeting.

The Times would later describe the “culture of profligacy” at the council under Negrini (Hon FRIBA, remember…), that “far predates the pandemic and cannot be explained away by austerity or the area’s high demand for social care”.

In charge: Tony Newman, one of six councillors at the Negrini pay-off meeting

The newspaper’s leader column said that Croydon Council “is a victim only of its own misjudgment”.

All those who logged in for that meeting on August 27 2020 have been tight-lipped since, but enough details have emerged over time to make it clear now that the council’s misjudgments were not confined to the appalling management of Brick by Brick, the dodgy deals done over the Fairfield Halls or the lack of controls on outsourced contracts, such as with the council’s housing repairs service.

Those misjudgments were about to be extended to the vast amount of public money to be given to Negrini.

What do we know about that meeting?

We know that the attendees were Newman, Councillor Alison Butler, his deputy, as well as cabinet colleagues Alisa Flemming and Hall. Making up the numbers were token Tory attendees, Councillor Tim Pollard, the then leader of the Town Hall opposition group, and Councillor Jason Perry, who was soon to succeed him as Conservative group leader.

In charge: finance ‘wizard’ Simon Hall

Of this half-dozen, within weeks Newman and Hall had gone, resigning their cabinet positions and getting out just before that highly critical auditors’ report was published. Butler would stand down as deputy leader soon after, too, in the resulting Town Hall reshuffle.

By the New Year, Newman and Hall were suspended from the Labour Party and then resigned as councillors. 

There’s never been any satisfactory explanation for Newman and Hall’s sudden resignations. They never really expressed any regrets; surely, if they had done no wrong, their resignations would not have been necessary?

Or did they decide to go to avoid being pursued, if they had remained councillors, for breaches of ethics, or even breaking the law?

Of the council executives who we have ascertained to have been present on that TEAMS meeting, all have long since left Croydon Council.

One of them – finance chief Lisa Taylor – quit Croydon after being suspended from duty in February 2021. She now holds a senior finance job at Birmingham City Council.

Another – Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the council’s senior legal official – resigned from Croydon in mid-2021 after a lengthy period on paid sick leave.

Also highly likely to have been in attendance at the meeting will have been a senior figure from the council’s personnel department.

In charge: Alison Butler oversaw Brick by Brick

We know from remarks that have been made by various participants that there were no papers circulated in advance of the meeting.

We know that some members of the committee – including both Conservative councillors – weren’t even told in advance exactly what the meeting was convened to consider.

We know that at the start of the meeting Harris-Baker – a lawyer not averse to having the council break the law on behalf of Negrini or Newman – outlined that the entire meeting was to be top secret, issuing blood-curdling threats as to what would happen to any councillor revealing to the public anything that was discussed.

A council official read aloud a report to the councillors. That’s right, a complex pay-off to the council’s most senior employee had to be read out to the voting members, apparently because they couldn’t be trusted to receive a copy of the report to read in advance. It was a method of meeting management that Stalinistic Newman was known to be fond of using, especially in his meetings of Labour’s Town Hall group.

It is understood that some parts of the top-secret document were made available on screen, to enable the voting members to read it for themselves (had the council officers involved never heard of “screenshots”?).

We know now that the meeting considered a package for Negrini which amounted to £437,000. Not bad as a reward for bankrupting your employer.

We know now that this payment comprised about one-third in the form of an immediate cash payoff and the rest, £292,851, in enhanced pension payments, equivalent to about 10 years’ worth of employer contributions had she remained in post until reaching retirement.

In addition to this generosity with other people’s money, Negrini was also paid nearly £177,000 in 2020 for the five months or so she was working at the council. It all added up to £613,000, the figure published last week by the Tax-Payers’ Alliance, making Negrini the best-paid council worker in the country that year.

At the meeting, when the matter of the exit package was put to a formal vote, not everyone was in favour. Minutes state it was “Resolved by a majority”. Best-guess is that the vote went 4-2, with Newman, Hall, Butler and Flemming all voting in favour of the deal.

In charge: Alisa Flemming voted in favour of the pay-off

There might have been more clarity on the matter had a request from Pollard been agreed that a record be kept of how people voted should be kept in the minutes. But Harris-Baker advised that such transparency would somehow be “unlawful”.

Harris-Baker even advised that it would be unlawful to record the number of votes for and against.

Not for the first time, it seems, legal advice provided by Harris-Baker appears to have been wide of the mark.

Voting at the appointments committee is covered in part 4F of the Council’s Constitution, the “Non-Executive Procedure Rules”.

Paragraph 10 sets out the rules for voting, with paragraph 10.2 covering the point explicitly as follows:

10.2 Where immediately after a vote is taken at a meeting of a Committee or Sub- Committee, if any Member so requires there shall be recorded in the minutes of that meeting whether the person cast their vote for or against the question or whether they abstained from voting.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems very likely that the notoriously secretive council officials, together with Newman and Butler, probably never wanted anyone to find out who had voted and how. Together, they probably wanted to allow the perception to gain hold that the pay-off was agreed unanimously. It was not.

What remains an area of some conjecture are the reasons given to the members of the appointments committee for the need for the massive pay-off to Negrini.

Ignored: Tim Pollard

Pollard has made some remarks at a subsequent meeting that he was immensely frustrated to be told that he couldn’t be told why it was imperative that Negrini should leave immediately. Just that it was. The best that anyone could manage was that it was “in the best interests of the council, corporately”.

If, as some Katharine Street sources have suggested, getting rid of Negrini was an attempt by Newman to deflect criticism from himself and to cling on as council leader, then it can go down as yet another expensive failure of his discredited administration.

In the event, the meeting was simply asked to accept that for undisclosable reasons it was imperative that Negrini should leave and be very well-rewarded for doing so.

The deal done, by the end of the same working day an official statement announcing Negrini’s departure was released by the council propaganda department. It had all the appearance of having been prepared in advance, as if the outcome of the meeting was always a foregone conclusion. There was, of course, no mention in the council press release of the very generous terms under which Negrini was leaving.

The council statement included suitably corporate quotes from Newman, as council leader: “I want to thank Jo for her dedicated service to Croydon,” he said, apparently seriously. He wished her all the best for the future, knowing that while hundreds of council staff were being made redundant on minimum terms as a consequence of her, and his, misjudgments, any blow to Negrini was being cushioned by that £437,000.

Done deal: within hours of the £437,000 package being pushed through by her erstwhile colleagues, Jo Negrini’s exit was confirmed by the council

Negrini, remember, was officially on leave at this time. Yet she was available to offer a few quotes. The things money can buy…

For her part, Negrini’s public platitudes included the claim, “I am leaving with all the structures and the team in place to navigate through this post-covid period and see the council through the next stage in its journey.” But in reality, within six months, Negrini and five other members of her pompously titled “executive leadership team” were all on their way out of the council – the others without any generous pay-offs.

In the same six-month period, the council would also issue its Section 114 notice indicating it was unable to balance its budget, and Whitehall would send in a team of commissioners to oversee the running of the bankrupted, rotten borough.

After 20 years, today Tim Pollard is in his last month as a Croydon councillor. He is not standing in the Town Hall elections. When pressed to comment on the Negrini exit payment, he said, “Many residents tell me that, given the disaster enveloping the council at the time, it was clearly right that Jo Negrini had to leave.

“However, in the interests of transparency and accountability, this should not have been done through a secretive pay-off.

“The public still want to know exactly who is responsible for the catastrophe which enveloped the council in 2020. Because of the ongoing secrecy surrounding this shameful episode, we will never know what really happened behind closed doors.

“I did vote against the pay-off, and I did so because it felt morally wrong to spend that money without any explanation for the reasons and benefits. Perhaps it really was the only option available, but in the absence of any proper facts, how could I vote for it?

“It is a huge source of shame for the other members of that committee that they supinely bent to the will of Councillor Newman in creating a ‘fall guy’ for the catastrophic failures.”

For all the calls for root-and-branch reform of Croydon Council following its bankruptcy and the departures of Negrini, Newman and the others, there persists the very real sense that there really has not been the cultural change that was promised, and required.

It’s a toxic, secretive culture has been embedded at the council since before Newman was leader or Negrini was hired. For any new, executive Mayor taking charge next month, changing the council’s culture will undoubtedly be their greatest challenge.

Read more: CEO Negrini’s long campaign to shut down Inside Croydon
Read more: Watchdog suggests Negrini’s pay-off may have been unlawful
Read more: Council paid £25,000 for legal threats against Inside Croydon
Read more: The bottom line on the failure of ex-CEO Negrini: £613,895
Read more: Newman’s ‘sickening’ defence of Negrini’s £400,000+ pay-off
Read more: Negrini lands cushty consultancy with ex-council supplier

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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
This entry was posted in Alisa Flemming, Alison Butler, Croydon Council, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Jason Perry, Jo Negrini, Lisa Taylor, Simon Hall, Tim Pollard, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons

  1. Briilant investigating and reporting. Another IC triumph

  2. Charlotte Davies says:

    There is something really rotten about Croydon and its governance. That has been going on for a very long time and does not create effective checks and balances. I think that the borough would benefit from being divided into two so that the North and South ends of the borough can focus more effectively on their actual needs and stop the concentration of “projects” in the poorest areas. I think that there needs to be a really thorough look at the role of dominant property owners, charities and other stakeholders who sideline the needs of the community. The bullying, the threats, the poor service etc I recognise from the last 30years. But if you go back in history Croydon has always had a history of poor governance and domineering behaviour by a few unrepresentative stakeholders. Croydon needs a serious fresh start with the community needs at the centre of any strategy.

  3. Hazel swain says:

    they should be paying the council tax payers ,,, not the other way round ,,, lucky not to be prosecuted for fraud IMO .

  4. Great, informative piece IC, thanks. Fair play to Cllr Pollard.

  5. Andrew Pelling seems to me the candidate most likely to get to the bottom of this.

    He gave the most convincing impression of knowledge and effectiveness at the hustings. Let’s see what happens.

  6. Dennis Shaw says:

    How do we know Negrini didn’t then given £30k to each of the people sitting around the table? Unbelievable.

    • Negrini had appointed or promoted both Taylor and Harris-Baker. Both proved loyal (to their boss), but ultimately useless or out of their depth, or both.

      And no one has ever before suggested that Negrini was of a generous, sharing disposition…

  7. Anita Smith says:

    On Monday, Steve Reed speaking on Sky News about Boris Johnson and Partygate said “there is a sense of entitlement at the top of the Conservative party”.

    That’s as maybe Stevie boy, but pot kettle and black, judging by the high-handed, arrogant, bullying tactics adopted to push through this huge payout to a failed leader.

    I would say that your mate Newman’s sense of entitlement even puts Boris to shame.

    I cannot decide if they deliberately tried to keep us, the tax payers from finding out the sordid details of how and why Negrini got paid off, or in their supreme confidence and arrogance, we didn’t even register on their radar as having a right to know.

    Brilliant reporting but why has it taken so long for the details of this meeting to be made public? There needs to be a root and branch clear out at the Council, lets hope this begins on May 5th.

    • “Why has it taken so long for the details of this meeting to be made public?”

      In fairness, Anita, we reported Negrini’s departure a week in advance, and had the detail, first thought to be the £440,000 pay-off, soon after.

      The ridiculousness of all attempts to keep the sums involved secret is that everyone knows that these kind of payments of public money have to be made public sooner or later – normally through the council’s annual accounts which the Tax Payers’ Alliance – an equally opaque and unaccountable organisation, albeit a private one – manages to trawl through ever April.

      Newman and Hall, and Negrini, knew this would all come out eventually.

      Yet they, together with Butler and Alisa Flemming, have spent 18 months on a futile cover-up.

  8. Steve Francombe says:

    Surely there has to be a criminal investigation for such an abuse of public office and use public funds?

    • Lancaster says:

      It will not happen sadly Steve, Public officials being held to account – that’s a thing of the past. Today we have spoilt, pretentious, entitled officials who are narrow minded and one-sided. Both councillors and civic officers; ‘failing upwards’, but talking the correct bullshit, to the position of impotence.

  9. Peter Stanmore says:

    Not only did Negrini play a large part in bankrupting the council, she was also useless at her job.

    She personally brought in the swathe of senior executives who have mostly now all been sacked or ‘resigned’. These were all, like Negrini, serial underperformers with questionable track records but they fitted into Negrini’s easy going, don’t push yourself too hard, view of the world.

    It fucking annoying that her attitude, supported by Newman and band, has held this borough back for years.

    Negrini is now swanning around, dining off her ‘FRIBA’ accolade that should have been awarded to the Borough of Croydon, not her. We should ask the RIBA to assign the award to Croydon, not Negrini.

    I’m afraid everyone who was in that room is responsible. And fuck knows why this has only come out now. Why did the conservatives keep all this secret??? Pollard??

    Harris-Baker was clearly giving unsafe device, but hey, she was another of Negrini’s ‘friends’.

    I know someone who was at Harris-Baker’s interview. It was a completely unbusiness like event with Negrini and Newman entering into chit-chat from the outset – another stitch up. She was asked to answer various question and tasks in preparation and I understand her performance was way below par – but her face fitted with Negrini.

    My concern now is that Negrini’s unwillingness to engage with the voters of Croydon, her wish to remain at the top table and not interact can be seen in Katherine Kerswell – the current CEO. I’m hoping the new Mayor will address this problem.

    • Lancaster says:

      I wonder if Negrini and Newman kept detailed records of the interview and answers given as is policy at the council for evaluation, scoring and justification if review is needed. All part of the HR process for others.

  10. IC, please re-post that self-congratulatory and totally inappropriate email Negrini sent to staff on her appointment. I cannot find it, despite doing a search, as you suggested. You know, the one where she says, I think, “Who would have thought I could be so lucky. Me, an inexperienced but amazingly talented Australian has won the top council job in the world. It’s going to be so great lording it over you – watch this space!

    • Dan Maertens says:

      “an inexperienced but amazingly talented Australian” – what bullshit!
      I don’t remember this comment but as an Aussie myself I know that Australia would have been pleased to see the back of her!

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