Try not to get your hopes up too much ahead of next week’s Penn Report meeting, suggests STEVEN DOWNES. The Mayor might be over-promising before under-delivering again
Is Jo Negrini being used as a “dead cat” by Croydon Mayor Jason Perry?
It is Aussie political spin doctor Lynton Crosby who is attributed with coming up with the ploy. The man behind the classy Tory slogan “It’s Not Racist to Impose Limits on Immigration” and who steered the Tories to their General Election win in 2015, Crosby was for many years Boris Johnson’s favourite campaign guru, helping him win two elections for London Mayor (and in one instance pocketing £140,000 for four months’ work…).
It was Johnson who offered up this explanation of Crosby’s deadcattery: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant.
“The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’
“In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
For Jason Perry, a 15per cent Council Tax hike, to be imposed on the borough at his own request, is causing him a great deal of grief.
More than 30,000 signatures have been collected in two petitions opposing Perry’s premium Council Tax increase. On one of those petitions, to Parliament, there are twice as many signatures from the Tory heartlands of the Croydon South constituency as there have been so far from Labour-voting Croydon North.
The Conservative supporters and members of residents associations who helped bring in the mayoral system in Croydon and then elected Perry as the borough’s first executive Mayor are going to be as hard-hit by the 15per cent Council Tax hike as anyone else. And they are clearly not very happy about that.
Which is where Jo “Negreedy” Negrini comes in.
The former council chief executive remains a much-loathed figure among Croydon voters even now, two-and-a-half years after she walked out of the plate glass doors of Fisher’s Folly for a final time, with a cheque for £437,000 of Council Tax-payers’ money tucked into her designer briefcase.
After failing to deliver on the town centre’s growth zone, after overseeing the concreting over of swathes of suburban neighbourhoods, without progressing Westfield but delivering Brick by Brick and the Fairfield Halls fiasco, it is reasonable to suggest that Negrini is liable to be remembered, less-than-fondly, for some time to come.
A good part of the reason Croydon Council is in the billion-pound mess that it finds itself today, with more than 400 jobs cut from council staff since 2020, is because of what happened when Negrini was in charge.
And so: THWACK! Mayor Perry last night threw Negrini, or at least the notion of her, onto Croydon’s dining room table.
After taking a verbal battering for two weeks over Council Tax, Perry decided he would seek to change the subject…
Perry decided to talk about the The Penn Report.
Remember that? The 160-page document following an investigation into possible wrong-doing that led to the council’s financial collapse, and which Katherine Kerswell, Negrini’s replacement as council CEO, has been withholding for more than two years?
The same Penn Report that Perry pledged, when seeking election as Mayor, to make public with all due haste, but which the council has still yet to release?
Yeah, that Penn Report, the one which Inside Croydon has published extensive extracts from over the past six months or so.
Perry, for reasons best known to himself and his close advisers (some of whom have worked in Downing Street and at Conservative Central Office, and would be well aware of the dark arts and deadcattery of Lynton Crosby) decided to bring up the matter of Penn.
“Next week the council’s appointments committee will formally consider whether to publish the Penn Report into the council’s historic mismanagement,” the Mayor said.
“Whilst I will respect due process, I remain convinced that it is strongly in the public interest for the report to be published,” said the man who has still failed to order the council chief executive to undertake that simple process.
Perry, somewhat apologetically it might seem, recited what would be on the agenda of a committee which he chairs, saying, “It’s taken longer than I’d wanted, but… I am committed to ensuring those responsible for Croydon’s financial collapse are held to account.” Which is nice.
And he threw in this juicy morsel for those preparing to march on the Town Hall on March 1 over Perry’s premium Council Tax hike. The appointments and disciplinary committee (our itals), to give it its full title (why might the Mayor omit that in his public statement?), is to consider, as Perry puts it, “Whether legal action can be taken to recover the monies paid to the former chief executive…”, meaning Negreedy, “under her settlement agreement.”
At risk of mixing our animal metaphors, however, that horse has bolted long ago. As Perry well knows.
It was Mayor Perry who supported an unsuccessful High Court legal action against this website last November after we obtained copies of the legal advice given to the council in April 2022 over the matter of Negrini’s golden handshake.
The council had published the legal advice on their own website, and were sorely embarrassed when Inside Croydon discovered it (thanks to a sharp-witted loyal reader) and reproduced it. Perry’s ill-considered injunction against Inside Croydon (estimated legal costs for the cash-strapped council: £20,000) flopped.
Which is why today, we can re-published extracts from the advice given to Croydon by Jane Mulcahy KC.
Mulcahy’s 14-page appraisal of the legal position over the pay-off to Negrini considered whether the council’s former CEO had acted in breach of contract and, if so, what the prospects might be of recovering any of her pay-out.
Mulcahy gave the council a “better than evens” chance of success in the courts, but also went on to suggest that it would be but a Pyrrhic victory, since only a fraction of the £437,000 golden handshake given to Negrini could ever be recovered.
For a start, of the Negrini pay-off, £284,000 to her pension fund is untouchable.
“My concern is that the council will be throwing good money after bad, since any victory in money terms will be for only a fraction of the full value of JN’s settlement package… Further, even if the council is successful, it is most unlikely to be awarded all its costs,” Mulcahy wrote.
“Should the council proceed with action for breach of the agreement it is likely that protracted legal action will follow as it is most unlikely that JN will accept any wrongdoing.
“Allegations which JN may potentially make in her defence (eg that members well knew/condoned what was happening), as well as generally airing all the issues around the Fairfield Halls refurbishment in a public forum, may well be reputationally damaging to the council as a whole.”
Mayor Perry knows this. Negrini and her own lawyers know this, too.
Indeed, Negrini already knows exactly what action Croydon Council is considering taking against her arising from the Penn Report, because the council has already told her.
Negrini has been indulged as many as three times through the legally constipated council’s use of a Maxwellisation process: going to those at the centre of an investigation, and oh-so-politely consulting them on whether they have any objections.
So unless Perry and Kerswell are finally going to go for the nuclear option and seek criminal charges of misconduct in public office or some such against Negrini, they would be proceeding against their own legal advice if they were to try to recover the pay-off money from her (the council has also received legal advice about misconduct criminal action, too, and apparently it is not something the Director of Public Prosecutions is all that keen on…).
There are other signs, too, that Negrini knows she’s not going to face any lengthy legal battle with her former employers.
Last month, we reported how she’d applied to de-register her consultancy company, Total Shit Ltd (or something like that). The company appeared to have only one client, Arup, the engineering consultants who had enjoyed some generous council contracts in Croydon in the days when Negrini was in charge. Now, out on her own as an independent consultant, business was hardly booming for Negrini.
But it appears that there is another reason Negrini is folding her own business: Arup have given her a job.
Last month, she appeared on stage as an Arup “expert” at a British property conference. And earlier this week, she posted on her social media a plaintive message: “Congratulate Jo for being promoted to Director at Arup.”
The appointment, it seems is something to do with “Inclusion and Equity” and “Cities and Regeneration”. Which is nice.
Among Negrini’s first old pals to provide her with the comfort blanket of the requested congratulations were none other than Colm Lacey, her old buddy from Lambeth and Newham councils who she installed as a six-figure salaried managing director of Brick by Brick, with disastrous consequences, and Richard Simpson, the former Croydon finance director who set-up Brick by Brick and also oversaw the dodgy “licence” arrangement that put the rookie house-builders in charge of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment.
Now, it is entirely possible that Negrini has never mentioned to her new bosses at Arup the possibility that she just might be tied up in a forthcoming two-year-plus court battle over her performance for her previous employers.
But otherwise, would a multi-national firm such as Arup, highly risk-averse and always mindful of the potential for “reputational damage”, really take on Negrini in a senior role if they thought that there is truly any prospect of Croydon Council’s lawyers coming calling any time soon?
Probably not. And Mayor Jason Perry really ought to know that, too.
Read more: ‘You seem to be trying to put the genie back in the bottle’
Read more: Newman and the Negrini pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: #PennReport: Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Our comments policy can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine
I’m sure a Pyrrhic victory in clawing back money from Negrini is better than allowing her to swan off with impunity. However, those who facilitated this ludicrous reward for failure need also to be brought to book.
Except the chances are, if you bother to read the legal advice, it will cost the bankrupt borough more to bring the case than the few pennies it might recover – and even that is uncertain.
Besides, it is the fault of the process and the people involved in handing her that money where real fault lies. As Jason Perry well knows: he appointed Negrini to her first Croydon job, and he was present at the meeting where the £437,000 gagging pay-off was pushed through… Yet he said nothing about *that* for two years
Would the source of that legal advice be the same bright spark that did the deal with Negrini and tried to stop Inside Croydon publishing the Penn Report?
Having witnessed a few dead cat bounces over the years they hold as much interest as the sauce spoon on the table.
“It’s taken longer than I’d wanted, but… I am committed to ensuring those responsible for Croydon’s financial collapse are held to account.”
I am seriously amused. That is like the person being hung requesting that the hangman ensures that his legs, arms and eyeballs are made to hang seperately for their culpability of being attached to the miscreant head! Bearing in mind he was one of the arsecheeks to said leg a little bit suicidal also.
No. One could safely say Mr Perry in this case means Everyone ”of those responsible” is in the true dissembling political sense and means obviously Anyone But Us!
I also wonder if Ms Jane Mulcahy KC would temper her opinion today – considering how low Croydon’s reputation has sunk. I would suggest that it perhaps has reached the state where there is Little reputation left to actually damage. I might even go so far as to voice the point that now it could actually improve Croydon’s image if it did wash all of it’s smalls in the public forum beginning with Negini but going back to Fisher. At least then it can begin with a recovery with no more shit coming out.
It doesn’t matter what Perry does to ghosts from the past. If he puts that 15% through he is finished in Croydon. Simple as that.
The phrase ‘a dead cat bounce’ springs to mind i.e. a temporary recovery in share prices after a substantial fall, caused by speculators trying to cover their positions. Perry can speculate all he likes on bringing Negreedy to book, but it looks like he’ll have the label the 15% Mayor hung round his neck for time immemorial.
I think he will, deservedly, find out on the 1st of March that the Croydon public are not stupid.
Any regrets now about your Mayoral Referendum slogan of a “Bit Less Shit”?
And to all who voted for one unaccountable potentate instead of the old oligarchy…
Buyer’s remorse yet?
Oh dear Anthony. Subtlety has never been your strong suit. Nor irony.
#ABitLessShit described the Mayoralty exactly as it is: there’s little difference between having a third-rate party hack incompetent buffoon in charge, or Tony Newman.
Though it is fair to say, since you don’t appear to have been paying attention, that lately, given part-time Perry’s performance, we have updated the hashtag to #ABitMoreShit
Anthony you have to go back via Newman and Fisher (both profligate money spenders) to when the old Oligarchy was in power. Unfortunately despite that old system being the preferred one that was not on the referendum paper so really a Hobsons choice.
For my part, I would be interested in hearing ,(in Open Court ) the evidence ,given under Oath and cross examination of all the parties .If the case passes the 50% rule of thumb , then surely it should be pursued.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King ” Where there is injustice anywhere . It is a threat to Justice everywhere “. Justice must be seen to be done.
I think if the systems of Local Administration were taken into open court in from of the bench and televised we would lose all confidence in all public administration and that would be if no illegality was done.
Just the fact that what should be delivered and the inordinate amount of process and redundant controls thee are clearly indicated that they are not designed to work or be efficient but are there to delay them taking place and reduce the level of spending irrespective of requirements. And this is allowed!