#PennReport: Croydon has been let down by political leaders

‘Poor governance’: discredited council leader Tony Newman claimed the Penn Report is just hearsay

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The report into the council’s financial collapse that has been withheld for nearly two years includes damning criticisms of some of the council’s most senior staff and political leaders.

Croydon’s dysfunctional council went bankrupt, according to Local Government Association investigator Richard Penn, because of “poor governance by the former political leadership of the council and by correspondingly poor managerial leadership from the council’s most senior officers”.

The Penn Report was handed over to Croydon’s current chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, in February 2021, but its contents have been withheld from most of the borough’s councillors, with only half-a-dozen of the borough’s elected representatives even being allowed a sight of its findings.

Until, that is, last night, when Inside Croydon published the first part of the hitherto unseen Penn Report. Penn recommended that councillors should consider calling in the police to investigate possible misconduct in public office, and also pursuing former CEO Jo “Negreedy” Negrini for her £437,000 pay-off because of possible breach of contract.

Penn is, by the usual, bland standards of civic authority report-writing, withering in his criticism of Croydon’s elected councillors and the senior staff at Fisher’s Folly.

Many of the 160 pages of Penn’s Report are taken up with cut-and-paste sections of the Report In The Public Interest from auditors Grant Thornton that was published in October 2020, just ahead of the council issuing the Section 114 notice that admitted that the authority could not balance its books. There’s also sections copied from other reports and reviews, such as PwC’s trawl through the books of Brick by Brick.

Penn even nicks the most memorable phrase from the RIPI, “Collective corporate blindness”, for the title page of his report.

The narrative throughout the report is one of a tug-of-war between Labour leader Tony Newman’s “Gang of Four” – which included Alison Butler, her husband Paul Scott, and Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance – that controlled the Town Hall and the council execs.

Several of Penn’s 64 interviewees spoke of the deep distrust of council officials that developed in the Labour group after the adverse Ofsted report on Croydon’s children’s services in 2017, when Newman and his clique had been assured that the department would sail through the inspection.

Over-promoted: Jacqueline Harris-Baker

The report also points to a power vacuum that was created when executive director of resources, Richard Simpson, abruptly quit Croydon at the end of 2018, and he repeatedly refers to how Jacqueline Harris-Baker and Lisa Taylor, both promoted to top jobs by Negrini, were too inexperienced or unqualified for the roles.

But by promoting from within, Negrini ensured her own role and decisions could go largely unchallenged.

Penn’s recommendations specifically mention Harris-Baker, the erstwhile executive director of resources and Monitoring Officer, and Taylor, the director of finance and S151 officer, plus Shifa Mustafa (exec director for place), and he says consideration should be “given to whether the concerns raised in this report warrant further formal [disciplinary] proceedings”.

All three officials resigned from Croydon Council within months of the Penn Report landing on Katherine Kerswell’s desk.

The report they didn’t want you to see: Penn made a series of important recommendations that the current CEO has failed to act upon after nearly two years

Penn further recommended consideration of whether there had been breaches of the Member Code of Conduct by Newman and Hall.

In another recommendation, paragraph 14.14 of the report, Penn says, “Concerns have been raised about the behaviour of the Executive Leadership Team as a group and its behaviour in response to possible breaches of the Officer Code of Conduct in regard to bullying behaviour.”

Allegations of bullying were made by interviewees against Negrini.

As well as Taylor, Mustafa and Harris-Baker, the other members of the Executive Leadership Team were Guy van Dichele and Hazel Simmonds, who were both suspended in February 2021 and who both subsequently took complaints against the council to the Employment Tribunal.

‘Blinkered’: former cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall

Penn’s brief in conducting the report was to “explore what led to the council being in such a perilous and precarious financial position”.

And later in his report, Penn writes, “What happened in Croydon seems to have been an assertion of power to control the operational domain of the council by certain elected members and an apparent acquiescence to that by some senior officers.

“It would appear that those with the biggest responsibilities and personally-held statutory duties let the organisation down.

“Major risks within the council’s revenue budgets and in its investment portfolio appear to have been downplayed in the face of what seemed to have been unbridled optimism and seemingly an almost reckless disregard of the potential adverse consequences of these risks.

“By narrowing its focus and attention to a small number of commercial, regeneration and other goals, the council appears to have effectively blinkered itself to its wider responsibilities.”

Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: #PennReport: Council’s 11th hour attempt to suppress findings

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
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Children's Services, Croydon Council, Guy van Dichele, Hazel Simmonds, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Lisa Taylor, Paul Scott, Report in the Public Interest, Richard Simpson, Section 114 notice, Shifa Mustafa, Simon Hall, The Penn Report, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to #PennReport: Croydon has been let down by political leaders

  1. Christian Evans says:

    Top journalism.

  2. Lancaster says:

    The Council is in such disarray it has no idea of its finances.

    It is incapable of reviewing and analysing its finances and has been for decades; partly due to making most of its accountants and finance team redundant as well as using illogical accountancy practices.

    As an example, in 2010 an entire service, a legacy service from Crosfield Industries, was closed and all its staff made redundant because the FIS sheets showed a £40k overspend that year. Had anyone with authority been bothered to review the financial records they would have found £25k wrongly charged to that service for petrol from the Parks Department; a totally different department.

    This was highlighted at the time but no one was interested as the proposal to close the service had already been scheduled for discussion at cabinet. Just one of many errors in that years FIS sheet for this one service.

    The result, 4 staff made redundant when the service was NOT overspent. How many other staff have lost their jobs due to financial incompetence and ignorance? Managers and chief officers are just not interested or bothered by their services finances; why would you be when you just get given a new full balance next year ?

  3. Billy James says:

    Wasn’t Crosfield Industries mainly employing people with disabilities…

    Absolutely disgraceful..

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