CROYDON IN CRISIS: Richard Penn’s report tells of how the borough’s political leaders had become ‘paranoid’ about Inside Croydon – which one senior councillor noted was filling ‘the communication vacuum’ created by the dysfunctional council. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
In the course of compiling his report, Local Government Association investigator Richard Penn interviewed 64 figures, many of whom had crawled from the wreckage of the borough they had just bankrupted.
Some offered some intriguing, insiders’ perspectives on the toxic cultures in Croydon Town Hall and the council offices in Fisher’s Folly – such as a fear that real news might ever seep out about what was really going on.
Take “Interviewee 56 (a former and/or current member of the council cabinet or a committee chair)”, according to Penn.
Penn reports that they said, “it is now possible to see how the council has been performing over a long period. Interviewee 56 believes that everything that has happened relates back to the culture of the organisation and now that Interviewee 56 is inside the organisation the view is even clearer.
“The former council cabinet was in place for too long and was dominated by a few strong colleagues. Those former cabinet members who were not part of the leader’s team kept their heads down and focused on their own portfolios. Interviewee 56 does not believe that people like Interviewee 56 would have had a voice in that cabinet and Interviewee 56 would never have survived in that culture because people like Interviewee 56 would not have kept their head down and would not have kept quiet.
“Some of the councillors outside of the cabinet had asked questions about what was happening and had raised concerns within the Labour group but did not get a useful response to those questions and their concerns were ignored.
“Interviewee 56 is surprised now how little was understood about what was going on and it is only because Interviewee 56 now has a mentor, a councillor from another local authority, that things can now be seen more clearly.
“It is clear to Interviewee 56 that there has not been an effective working relationship between the members [councillors] and officers [council staff] for some time and that there is now a demoralised workforce facing more redundancies and cuts to services.
“The council’s relationships with the wider Croydon community are very poor and the council’s communications and explanations to the community about what has happened are negligible so Inside Croydon has filled the communication vaccuum.”
Another interviewee, No46, also a senior councillor who has at some time been a Labour cabinet member, told Penn that “part of the problem in recent years has been the sense of paranoia resulting from … sites like Inside Croydon“.
This “paranoia”, Interviewee 46 said, had pushed councillors “into an over-defensive position”. The Westfield non-development saga was cited by the interviewee, which had “contributed significantly to the atmosphere of blame and distrust”.
There’s another mention of Inside Croydon in the Penn Report, in Section 8, on the council’s financial (mis)management.
Para 8.5.6 states that according to Interviewee 49, “It was also very well known that both the (former) cabinet member for finance and resources [meaning Simon Hall] and the (former chief executive [meaning Jo Negrini] wanted only good news stories.
“Both were very upset about Inside Croydon’s negativity and criticism of the council.” Poor lambs.
“In Interviewee 49’s opinion, issuing a S114 notice [the council’s admission that it was effectively bankrupt] was regarded by both of them as totally unacceptable and the ultimate bad news.”
In that respect at least, Negrini and Hall were right about something.
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: #PennReport: Croydon has been let down by political leaders
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