Negrini’s dodgy pay-off now gets attention from the trade press

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Borough’s most senior lawyer, responding to advice the council received almost nine months ago, says that the meeting that agreed to pay £437,000 to departing chief exec was ‘potentially unlawful’.
By STEVEN DOWNES

The council’s glacially slow progress at pursuing any cases of wrong-doing that may have led to its bankruptcy in 2020 has been reported by the local government trade press this week, following Inside Croydon’s exclusives since October on the Penn Report and the dodgy £437,973 pay-off to former chief exec Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.

As Inside Croydon was first to report, the very generous settlement was pushed through at what was probably an unlawful meeting of the council’s appointments and disciplinary committee in August 2020, held just weeks before the authority’s financial collapse was confirmed.

That committee was chaired by the then leader of the council, Tony Newman, even though the settlement was arranged because of an irreparable breakdown in his relationship with the chief executive, who had lodged a formal complaint about his conduct. Newman resigned as a councillor early in 2021 and his membership of the Labour Party has been under “administrative suspension” ever since.

£437,000 settlement under scrutiny: former council CEO Jo Negrini

This week The Municipal Journal reported that Croydon “is pushing ahead with plans to clawback hundreds of thousands of pounds paid out to ex-chief executive Jo Negrini”.

Inside Croydon reported last month of the legal advice, provided in April this year by Jane Mulcahy KC of Blackstone Chambers, that the council’s prospects of success in a court case alleging that Negrini had acted in breach of contract were “better than evens”.

The advice was requested by the council following the 2021 report from the Local Government Association’s Richard Penn which the council’s current CEO, Katherine Kerswell, refuses to make public, but which iC has published extracts from over the past three months.

Laughing stock: Private Eye’s take

After having had that report for almost two years, Kerswell has failed to enact any of Penn’s recommendations.

These included that elected councillors – rather than senior council officials, such as Kerswell and the council’s lawyers – should “consider a review of the settlement agreement that was signed by the council with the former chief executive and whether the concerns raised in this initial investigation constitute a repudiatory breach of her contract and thus a breach of the terms of the settlement”.

When Inside Croydon published the Mulcahy advice, the council’s response was to take this website to the High Court for an injunction to gag us.

The legal action failed and the council was branded “a national laughing stock” in reports in Private Eye magazine.

The judge in the case also dismissed Croydon Council’s application for a third-party injunction, which is why other publications have been able to go ahead and re-publish parts of the Mulcahy advice.

As The Municipal Journal reports this week, in her advice Mulcahy said, “It is likely that JN breached the agreement by her actions – alternatively inaction – concerning the Fairfield Halls refurbishment in that she must have been aware of the chaotic and probably unlawful approach to the refurbishment at the time of entering into the agreement whereas the council was not so aware, and/or she should reasonably have known that her part in the debacle constituted a repudiatory breach of the contract.”

‘Highly confidential’: the council placed this KC’s advice document on its own website last week

A March 2022 note by Browne Jacobson solicitors said an investigation by external auditor Grant Thornton “resulted in findings of significant failings by JN and failures by her to discharge her contractual and statutory obligations”.

And the Local Government Chronicle is reporting that Croydon Council “has admitted to ‘significant failings’,” over the Negrini settlement.

The council became obliged to investigate the circumstances of the Negrini payment when the matter was queried by external auditors Grant Thornton in their second Report In The Public Interest, this focused on the £70million “refurbishment” of the Fairfield Halls, which they issued in February this year.

Once again, Kerswell attempted to keep this important formal auditor query a secret from the public. Inside Croydon published details of the Grant Thornton query in April.

The LGC reports that in its response to Grant Thornton, Croydon Council has concluded that the Negrini payment “should not have been made”, and refers to the “potentially unlawful” nature of the Newman-chaired committee.

Trade magazines: how the secretive councils’ failures are being reported this week by The Municipal Journal

The report by council officials to that committee failed “to set out the facts” relating to the breakdown of trust between Newman and Negrini.

Inside Croydon reported in April that the meeting, “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 LGC reports that Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, the current head of the legal department at Croydon, has written in his response to Grant Thornton that “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 [councillors] in advance of the meeting”.

They did it: Alisa Flemming, together with Tony Newman, voted for the £437,000 Negrini pay-off

And in common with much business conducted at the council and within the Croydon Labour group when Newman was in charge, no proper records were kept of conversations between the council leader and council officials leading up to the decision to give Negrini her very generous golden handshake.

Unmentioned in any of the trade press’s reports have been the names of the attendees at that appointments committee at the end of August 2020. As well as Newman, there were five other councillors. These included Jason Perry, now the executive Mayor of Croydon.

No record of the vote, or how councillors voted, has ever been published by Croydon Council. Perry is thought to be one of two Conservative councillors who voted against making the pay-off to Negrini, but were out-voted by Newman, Simon Hall, Alison Butler and Alisa Flemming, the four Labour councillors on the committee. Only Flemming remains as an elected councillor; she is the ceremonial Mayor of Croydon for 2022-2023.

Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: More Town Hall secrecy as auditors question Negrini’s pay-off
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: #PennReport: Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure

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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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11 Responses to Negrini’s dodgy pay-off now gets attention from the trade press

  1. Sarah Bird says:

    Impressive journalism.

  2. Flemming, Butler, Hall and Newman owe us an explanation. Just why did they agree to vote to give nearly half a million pounds of our money to Negrini?

  3. Peter Howard says:

    When is the elected Mayor (who is another luxury I voted against)going to get a grip of his officers and ask the Police to investigate this and other missing money? £70 million for one!

    One wonders why he has not???

  4. Sarah Bird says:

    Journalism at its very best . If the case goes to Court the Cross examination will be extremely interesting

  5. Has this ‘irreparable breakdown’ between the gruesome twosome been reported before? Please tell us more …

  6. Kevin Croucher says:

    The Slough Chief Executive, in similar circumstances, was simply sacked for gross misconduct. Why did Croydon not do the same?

    • That isn’t how it happened. In Slough, the CEO went *after* the S114. In Croydon, Newman got Negrini out before anything became of her complaint against him. And before the S114 (which Newman claimed wouldn’t happen).
      Her silence was bought with our money, loads of it

  7. David Bryce says:

    Is Kerswell acting on behalf of the residents of this borough, or acting on behalf of herself?

    There’s something deeply not right here. I question her competence and ability to do her job.

    The fact that she has halted the publication of the Penn Report because a former council employee is pursuing an Employment Tribunal, in which Kerswell is named individually, on grounds including racism should not effect residents.

    Kerswell should resign and defend her name outside of the Council. We should not al be marred by hopless decsions she has made.

    We need a fresh, dynamnic, young, engaged CEO in Croydon who is not self-obsessed and will publish the Penn Report in his first week in office and not be scared of speaking to IC.

    Jason Perry must show some leadership – or his support will fall away.

    • Jessica says:

      Agree – she has done nothing to improve Croydon or to clean up the Council after Negrini.

      Didn’t Kerswell herself get a pay off previously? Perhaps she’s waiting for a similar package. There should be a review of all the senior hires made by Negrini – so residents can understand fully why they were hired, why they were suspended or left and why someone like Heather Cheesborough who has been a disaster for Croydon and wasn’t even honest about her qualifications remains in post.

  8. Jim Bush says:

    Good news for Croydon? It is no longer alone, now that there is another bankrupt, basket-case council, Thurrock, from Bandit Country (Essex), just outside London.

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