CROYDON IN CRISIS: The notorious £437,000 payment made to former council chief exec was agreed at an ‘unlawful’ meeting and should never have been paid. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The near-half-a-million pounds paid to Jo Negrini in August 2020 to speed her exit from Croydon Council and ensure her silence was arranged because of a “breakdown in trust” in the chief executive’s working relationship with Tony Newman, the then leader of the council.
That’s according to an official council response to its external auditors, which also states that the decision to make the payment was taken at an unlawful meeting, with incomplete or inadequate advice provided by council officials to the councillors on the committee. Further, the response says that Newman should never have been allowed to chair the meeting, and that the £437,973 handed to “Negreedy” should never have been paid.
It has taken council officials almost 12 months to draft the formal response, which has been published on the council’s website before going before next week’s full council meeting for approval.
The Negreedy “golden handshake” was pushed through at a meeting of the council’s appointments committee held on August 27, 2020, just a few weeks before the auditors, Grant Thornton, issued their first Report in the Public Interest on the chaotic mismanagement of the local authority and predicting its financial crash. Newman resigned as council leader just before that RIPI was published and he resigned as a councillor early in 2021. He has been suspended from the Labour Party for almost two years.
The matter of the £437,973 pay-off to Negrini was questioned by a Croydon resident, who raised it with the auditors, who in turn put to the council whether such a payment represented “best value” for Council Tax-payers.
It has taken the brains trust at the council to finally draw the conclusion that, well, probably… not.
The council’s long-delayed response to the auditors has been drafted by Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, the council’s Monitoring Officer (who may yet have a few questions to answer himself about wasting thousands of pounds of tax-payers’ money).
In his response – under the snappy title Query from External Auditor relating to former Chief Executive Settlement Agreement – Lawrence-Orumwense writes, “There were significant failings in the officer report to the August 2020 Appointment Committee meeting relating to the approval of the former Chief Executive’s settlement agreement and consequently the decision-making.
“The report fails to set out the facts that gave rise to the breakdown in trust and confidence between the then former Leader and former Chief Executive, any wrongdoing by the Council, the reporting of this by the former Chief Executive and any attempts at conciliation or dispute resolution.”
Lawrence-Orumwense says that there was no legal advice provided to the committee members over the possibility of the council, as Negrini’s employers, being taken to an Employment Tribunal for some form of unfair dismissal, or its chances of success. “The report should have given members of the Appointment [sic] Committee all the relevant information to enable them to make an informed and reasoned decision,” he writes.
There was no reason given in that report for the council paying Negrini £7,718 over the national cap for local government settlement payments, and there was no advice on the basis for making a £48,118.50 gross payment in lieu of notice.
The report also states, “There was no mention of the efforts, if any, made by officers to negotiate or secure a lower quantum of financial settlement… No information was provided to members as to whether the former Chief Executive’s exit could have been secured at a lower cost.”
And it gets worse.
“The process for convening the meeting (ie notice and dispatch of agenda and report) of the Appointment [sic] Committee did not meet the requirements of the Constitution and was potentially unlawful…
“The former Leader of the Council…”, meaning Newman, “…chaired the Appointments Committee. The circumstances that gave rise to the settlement agreement (ie breakdown in relationship) was between the former Leader and the former Chief Executive. There should be serious consideration given to how the Council manage any likely conflicts of interest by ensuring individuals who are the subject of the complaints ‘play absolutely no role in deciding whether those complaints should be settled by making an award to the complainant from public funds’.”
Lawrence-Orumwense fails to elaborate on what the nature of the complaint made about Newman by Negrini may have been.
In a paragraph that appears to have been added to his report as an after-thought, and which somewhat contradicts some of his earlier findings, Lawrence-Orumwense says, “The settlement terms were the subject of extensive legal advice by external solicitors”, and that advice was “adequately reflected” in the council officials’ report to the committee.
More than once in his response to the auditors, Lawrence-Orumwense writes, “For the avoidance of any doubt, for the reasons set out above and considering the Reports in the Public Interest in 2020 and 2021, the Council should not have agreed to settlement payments.”
He states that the appointments committee did have the powers to approve the payment, and based on the advice that they were provided, their decision “was not irrational” – it was just that the decision was “tainted by poor and inadequate advice in the officer report”.
And the Monitoring Officer has found – just as Grant Thornton found repeatedly when analysing the running of the council during Newman’s time – a lack of adequate and proper records of meetings or minutes.
“It appears that concerns about potential leaks were given priority over adhering to constitutional and statutory requirements for notice and agenda papers to be sent to members in advance of the meeting.”
The upshot from all this?
The council must undertake to behave itself in future and conduct its business in accordance with the law and its constitution. Which will come as little relief to all those who have lost their jobs at the council or are seeing their public services axed as a consequence of the self-serving and mismanagement under Newman and Negrini.
Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: Watchdog suggests Negrini’s pay-off may have been unlawful
Read more: CEO Negrini’s long campaign to shut down Inside Croydon
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