CROYDON IN CRISIS: Right to the very last, Croydon Council was trying to stop the publication of any part of the Penn Report.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Earlier today, Inside Croydon approached Katherine Kerswell, the council chief executive, with a number of questions surrounding her non-publication of the Penn Report.
Commissioned from the Local Government Association in November 2020, shortly after Croydon’s financial crash, the report from consultant Richard Penn was completed and delivered to Kerswell in February 2021.
We asked Kerswell why she has denied councillors the opportunity to make the decision on whether “the concerns in this initial investigation constitute a repudiatory breach” of Jo Negrini’s contract, and a breach of her settlement agreement.
We also sought an answer to the question of what entitles the CEO to ignore the recommendations of the LGA investigator and deny councillors the opportunity to call in a police investigation into possible misconduct in public office.
And further, we asked, “as a consequence of your suppressing the Penn Report, its findings and recommendations, will you now resign?”
In the response we received from the council propaganda department (after the deadline, of course), they claimed that “whatever has come into your possession has not come from the council”, and “it is not an official version”.
“We would caution you against publishing any details from that.”
A hour later, we received a further email, this time from Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, the (relatively) new Monitoring Officer, the biggest of big cheeses in the council’s legal department.
He, too, seemed to think that publishing the Penn Report wasn’t a great idea.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, you do not have the Council’s permission to publish any such report or parts of it,” he warned.
“Those objecting to the publication of the Penn Report may issue legal proceedings against you if you decide to publish the report or parts of it.” Then again…
In the response from the propaganda bunker, they said, “The Penn Report was given to the council on 9 February 2021 and was formally received by elected members on the cross-party Appointments Committee on 17 March 2021.” By that, they mean the six committee members who were allowed strictly limited access to the report. Two of those councillors stood down at the local elections in May.
“That committee – now the Appointments and Disciplinary Committee – has been the decision-making body in relation to the Penn Report – so it is entirely inaccurate to say that the report has been kept from members.” Except that no other councillors – possibly as many as 64 out of the council’s 70 councillors, have not had sight of the report.
“To suggest that the chief executive has supressed [sic] the report is categorically untrue and there can be no founded opinion on which those claims can be made,” the council propaganda department said on behalf of Kerswell, clearly making the case that showing a report to less than 10per cent of all elected councillors means it hasn’t been “supressed”.
“As the report is not published, we cannot comment on recommendations or other content which you have set out in your enquiries. However, we can explain the council’s position in relation to the Penn Report and its publication.
“The council is fully committed to publishing the Penn Report when current investigations and other processes are completed.” They fail to state what these “current investigations and other processes” might be.
“Councillors on the Appointments Committee most recently considered the issue of publication of the Penn report in April 2022.” That is six months ago, and before the local elections in May, and the change in council administration.
“All members supported publication in principle – however in accordance with legal advice, they agreed that a ‘Maxwellisation’ process must be undertaken with the individuals who are commented upon in the report prior to any publication.” They’ve had the report for 19 months…
“The Appointments and Disciplinary Committee will properly consider any responses received prior to publication.
“The committee will also take into account other relevant considerations, including how much of the background, circumstances and issues have already been the subject of public reports (examples include the two Reports in the Public Interest) or are otherwise in the public domain, and the substantial public interest in the Penn report.”
And then they throw in another excuse for further delaying publication of the Penn Report indefinitely.
“We also await the outcome of the Kroll audit which the council commissioned as a forensic investigation into the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls to determine whether fraud may have taken place.”
In his after-thought email tonight, Monitoring Officer Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense also rushed to defend his new boss.
“The council’s appointments committee, now known as appointments and disciplinary committee, has had oversight of all decision-making in respect of the Penn Report and associated matters,” he said. “The assertion that the chief executive has suppressed the report is factually inaccurate and misleading.
“We do hope that commonsense will prevail.”
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