CROYDON IN CRISIS: Home Office junior minister Chris Philp says that some of the council’s former leaders ‘committed such egregious breaches of public trust that they should be formally investigated by the police for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office’.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s “two steps forward one step back” council might actually take a big step forward later today in bringing charges and sanctions against some of those responsible for bankrupting the borough.
A local MP has urged officials to pursue a case of misconduct in public office against one former Labour councillor after he was alleged to have “invented” enough extra homes for a whole new town to help make his budget balance.
Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, has latched on to one of the revelations of the Penn Report, which was oh-so-reluctantly released by council officials in February – six months after Inside Croydon published the independent investigator’s findings and recommendations.
One of the more ludicrous episodes uncovered by Penn suggests that Simon Hall, the former cabinet member for finance, had instructed a council director to add 5,000 Band D properties to the Council Tax base, “as it would significantly increase the predicted income from Council Tax which would in turn assist with immediate budget balancing and setting decisions”.
Anyone convicted with misconduct in public office could face a maximum life sentence in prison.
Hall, a chartered accountant by profession, has always refuted the allegations, dismissing them as hearsay. Hall resigned from his cabinet position in October 2020 and quit as a councilor a couple of months later.
Richard Penn, the senior investigator appointed by the Local Government Association to look at whether there had been wrong-doing leading up to Croydon issuing its first Section 114 notice in November 2020, interviewed more than 60 past and present council staffers, councillors and external individuals.
Penn’s report does not name his interviewees, although many can be readily identified.
In Para 7.32 of the Penn Report, he provides an account from “Interviewee 43”, who is described elsewhere as “external to the council”; they may have been one of the financial experts brought in as the crisis at the council mounted during 2020.
This has never been confirmed, but it is quite possible that No43 was Ian O’Donnell, the finance consultant who was brought in to Fisher’s Folly in May 2020 and quickly found 75 serious faults in the way in which the council is run.
Whoever Interviewee 43 is, they were not impressed with Simon Hall.
The Penn report, written in early 2021, states, “Interviewee 43 said that there are concerns about behind the scenes possible tampering by elected members with critical decisions, for example with Council Tax setting which is essentially a purely technical process that feeds into the budget-setting process and is crucial to the budget that is finally agreed by the Council.” Our italics.
“The (current) Interim Deputy Director of Finance had told Interviewee 43 that he had discovered that 5,000 additional properties seem to have been added to the Band D Council Tax base for Council Tax income calculation purposes with no clear explanation.
“Interviewee 43 said that, according to members of their team, the (former) Head of Corporate Finance was apparently instructed by the (former) Cabinet member for Finance and Resources [meaning Simon Hall] to place an extra 5,000 properties into Band D as it would significantly increase the predicted income from Council Tax which would in turn assist with immediate budget balancing and setting decisions.”
Penn also made note of this: “Interviewee 43… told me that the (current) S151 Officer’s [Lisa Taylor] relationship with the (former) Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources had been problematic because in Interviewee 43’s opinion the (former) Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources had behaved as if he was the S151 Officer. This included rewriting the S151 Officer’s reports to Cabinet.” Our italics.
“In Interviewee 43’s experience that was the approach of the (former) Cabinet member for Finance and Resources generally, and indeed he had wanted to see Interviewee 43’s report on financial management at the Council before it went to the Finance Review Panel. Interviewee 43 had refused.”
The council’s appointments and disciplinary committee meets, appropriately, in Room 1.01 of Fisher’s Folly from 2pm this afternoon.
Much of the agenda will be discussed in secret. But we do know that they will discuss the long-delayed Kroll Report, the investigation into allegations of multi-million-pound fraud in Brick by Brick’s disastrous £67million refurb of the Fairfield Halls.
And they will also, finally, get round to discussing whether to action the recommendations made by Richard Penn in his report which he handed over to Katherine Kerswell, the council’s go-slow CEO, in February 2021.
There are some clues that the council will be seeking to take some action: the disciplinary committee’s papers helpfully including the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance on the offence of misconduct in public office (summary: the determinedly cautious CPS doesn’t usually rate the chances of a successful prosecution).
And even before today’s committee meeting has taken place, the Conservative group at the Town Hall has placed a motion for debate on the agenda of next week’s full council meeting which says, “This council notes the decision of the appointments and disciplinaries [sic] committee on 23rd March 2023.” So they already know what is going to be agreed later today…
The motion says: “Those who caused Croydon Council’s financial downfall must be held to account. It is vital that all avenues are pursued to ensure that residents’ anger and desire for accountability are recognised.” So this is about revenge, rather than justice. Heyho…
The Tory council motion does seem to suggest there could be more than one individual about to have their collar felt. This might even include the former chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, who last week was back schmoozing with property developers at MIPIM, the speculators’ “booze and hooker fest” held on the Cote d’Azur, this time representing her new bosses, Arup, as “London director”.
Penn had suggested that Negrini’s £437,000 golden handshake from the council in 2020 might be clawed back because of a “repudiatory breach of contract”.
Penn’s report also recommended reporting senior staff involved in the council’s financial collapse to their relevant professional bodies, which would severely curtail their future job prospects with other local authorities.
Croydon South’s MP Philp is a junior minister at the Home Office, so he just might have had the benefit of some high-grade legal advice from within that department on the available next steps.
Today, Philp told Inside Croydon: “It seems to me that the actions of Croydon Council’s former leadership – both councillors and senior officers – have committed such egregious breaches of public trust that they should be formally investigated by the police for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.
“We all know about the reckless way that they squandered hundreds of millions of pounds on loss-making hotels, shopping centres and failed property speculation – which had driven Croydon to bankruptcy and their toxic £1.6billion of debt still hangs over us all.
“But the thing that shocked me the most was that they apparently fabricated council income that didn’t exist in order to make it appear that their budgets added up.
“A careful analysis of the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidelines suggests to me that the threshold has been met for the common law criminal offence of misconduct in public office.”
Read more: All you ever need to know about ‘misconduct in public office’…
- Check out some of our archive of coverage, in which we published extracts from the Penn Report:
- Penn Report wanted police probe into possible misconduct
- No referrals sent to staff’s professional bodies
- Negrini staged a power-grab over councillors
- Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure
- Men who led council to bankruptcy say they did nothing wrong
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So finally Philp has returned. On the matter of misconduct too. He has some practice on that in his youth and should know what he is talking about. The only problem is the matter of proof on the matter, unlike what he encountered. Anyway it is so nice to see that he is aware of the disintegration going on in his local council and that he has not forgotten us all.
Coming the day after Boris Johnson had to answer questions about #Partygate, that’s one hell of a dead cat from Chris Philp. Doesn’t mean that Hall should not answer questions about his antics. Same goes for the other three, Newman, Butler and Scott. Plus the unlovely Negrini. Oh, and while we’re at it, the wheels of justice seem to have got stuck over that Inside Croydon hacking and data theft
Maybe there is an unwritten definition of law for Croydon and certain parts of Westminster.
”The system of rules which conservative party puts through the house regulating the actions of whom it chooses within England and Wales and by which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.
note1 As with all laws from 2011, senior council officers and Prime Ministers or others so delegated can interpret them as they see fit or ignore them as they see fit without explanation. Especially laws created under Emergency powers and in National crisis like pandemic’s or war.
Note 1b due to misinterpretation by previous PM it should be made clear what constitutes a party in a crisis.
note2 Everyone else can meet the requirements of the CPS which are interpreted for performance purposes to be as follows (including old ladies supping dandelion tea during a lockdown in an open space with plenty of ventilation and distance between themselves) –
1. the prosecution has to be in what we define as the public interest and is subject to change due to exigencies at short notice or if one of us is inadvertantly caught doing so (but not for elderly ladies supping dandelion tea in a park taking their hourly exercise etc)
2.the victim has to provide all the evidence and detain the culprit in the act without retaining them or placing a hair or whisper of breath into their personal space. If the scant resource we have afforded to the hoi poloi are too busy then the victim should desist from stopping the culprit attacking you and let them go about their unlawful business.
3. The police may be instructed to reserve the right to ignore as many crimes as neccessary to enable them on focus on crimes we want them to focus on – particularly against those of other political parties or individuals we do not like but not against more powerful/influential individuals except when instructed to make an example of said powerful/influential individual.
4. Absoloutely no records should be kept of anything at all to prevent anyone senior person appointed having any ”guilty knowledge” of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
And so on
P.S Please do note the Police have not been made aware of these new definitions so caution should be taken by senior officials. They must retain their belief of impartiality and unbiased approach. We must keep our distance to ensure their is no controlling mind. Finally if caught, take golden payout blame bad advice or poor health, finally insist on a party/council lawyer and keep schtum! We will play pass the parcel for at least a decade so everything is forgotton or lost and will dilly and dally and never chase you for a penny.
I think Chris Philp is right . Have Sarah Jones MP and Steve Reed MP joined Chris Philp on this ? They represent Croydon? Have the authorities been instructed ?If so when ?
You require evidence to make a prosecution.
Philp is fully aware that a Councillor cannot make any instruction upon the Valuation Office Agency which sets the valuation on which council tax is based and any comment made by them is irrelevant on the matter since it has nothing to do with the Council.
Hark at pan calling kettle grimy ass! Mr Philp has a severe credibility issue after being called a liar -his acts on the BBC can be perceived as being quite disengenuous at best.
Maybe a select committee can investigate why he was given/took a brief from Shit Shape Schapps department and spouted a pack of garbage and jingoism so far from the reality it was more like a diatribe of generalistic cliches so far from the situational reality it was like a bad historical script for a right wing zealots junior school stab at film drama?
Not one mention of Mr Fisher and the folly or the £780m on failed property? Not a mention of Mr Perry’s participations? Not one mention of Conservative actions that
1. Started the loss with Fishers folloy and its sad Fisher regime that squandered millions
2. Added to the loss by underfunding the Council.
3. Failed to properly assess fitness to pay when giving loans willy nilly –
Still Flip Flop is becoming consistant with his dribbling and can seemingly always be relied on to
1. Put his foot in his mouth and do gymnastic’s with his vocal chords.
2. Be so far out of reality he should audition for a Sci Fi movie
3. Be repeatedly called a liar and keep up the inane grinning throughout whilst repeating said utterances called lies – more lies and yes yet more lies.
Frankly I am getting to the stage where I will cancel my Amazon/Netflix and just watch flip flops utterance on repeat.I would even happily vote for him just to keep the gags rolling out of his orifice. I do hope he keeps up the good work of amusing us — it brightens up a dull day”!
The facts should be investigated into all the that has gone wrong with Croydon – but having Mr Philp cry hark and requesting justice but not for all is just amusing as well as rank hypocrisy.
Cleaning up of the civil service and councillors actions and reminding them of the repercussions for their actions. For too long the law has not got involved when it was needed.
I wish the Mayor and Mr Philp Mp all the best with this and hopefully a trial for justice from the residents of Croydon.
When will the other Croydon MPs support this legal action ?
There is now an open Court case , something happy to look forward to for long suffering Croydonians…….