CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mayor Perry is taking his time over his public claim to be pursuing the former council CEO for a refund of her golden handshake. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Almost two months after Jason Perry, Croydon’s elected Mayor, announced that the council could potentially be going to court to recover part or all of the £437,000 “golden handshake” given to departing chief executive Jo Negrini in August 2020, and no legal proceedings have been actioned.
That’s according to “Negreedy” Negrini herself, or at least the latest firm of solicitors the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” has hired to defend her… [checks notes]… reputation.
And it would appear that Negreedy’s lawyers are well-briefed about the legal position of their client, and the council’s very weak grounds in any attempt to claw back some of the money she received, paid as a settlement package ahead of her somewhat rushed departure before the financial solid matter really hit the fan.
Negrini’s lawyers could probably have worked it out for themselves, but they have also been assisted by Croydon Council itself, when it published confidential legal advice on its own website which described the exercise of going after the Negrini pay-off as “throwing good money after bad”.
Mayor Perry knows all this, of course. Or at least he should do.
It was the then mere Councillor Perry, as the Conservative-controlled council’s cabinet member for planning and development, who in 2013 rubber-stamped the recruitment of Negrini as exec director. She was the council’s fifth planning chief in the space of little more than two years, as no one else seemed to match the demands of Westfield, whose interest in central Croydon had only just been revealed.
In June 2016, little more than two years after she arrived at Fisher’s Folly, Negrini was promoted to the local authority’s top job, on a salary of £194,500. At the time, Tony Newman, by then the leader of the Labour-run council, said, “The decision to offer Jo the job was made unanimously…”, which sort of suggests that Jason Cummings and Tim Pollard, Perry’s Tory colleagues on the appointments committee, voted in favour of that move.
Unfortunately (or conveniently, depending on your perspective on the transparency of council business), there is no record of the vote in the council’s official committee minutes.
There has been a persistent rumour ever since that the recruitment consultants who were hired by the council, no doubt at considerable cost to the public purse, actually advised that committee not to hand the CEO position to Negrini. And that they were ignored. No one has been prepared to confirm, nor deny, that bit of council scuttlebuck.
By the time the appointments committee was meeting in late August 2020, Perry was back among the attendees for the Tories.
This was the meeting that discussed the “complete breakdown” in the working relationship between Negrini and council leader Newman (a bit of a problem for a local authority in the middle of the twin crises of the covid lockdown and their financial free-fall). The only way out was to show Negrini the exit door, and buy her silence with a massive wodge of (public) cash.
Inside Croydon understands that, on this occasion at least, Perry and his party colleague, Pollard, did vote against the pay-off, but were out-voted by Newman, Alison Butler, Simon Hall and Alisa Flemming. And on this occasion the minutes confirm that, as they record that the decision was reached by a majority. It’s one of the few bits of information from that meeting that has ever been made public.
So while the massive and entirely undeserved pay-out to Negrini, by a council that she had led to the brink of bankruptcy, has understandably been the cause of considerable public anger, it has long been suggested that the real fault in this sorry saga lies not with the recipient of the settlement, but with those who decided to authorise it.
Why this has now become a matter for Negrini’s lawyers is an article in the i newspaper published last week under the headline “Local councils have been driven to the brink by austerity and incompetence – now taxpayers are suffering”. Hardly in the Gotcha! class of headline writing, but it gives you the gist.
The article quoted Perry, who as usual sought to blame others for his own ineffectiveness, and included much with which iC’s loyal reader should already be familiar.
The article also originally included this paragraph about Croydon: “In March the council agreed to refer reports into the conduct of previous senior leaders to the Metropolitan Police and relevant professional bodies, while also taking legal action against its former chief executive Jo Negrini to recover a £437,000 settlement she received on leaving in 2020.”
Which is all true and based on established facts.
But soon after, the newspaper received a snotty missive from solicitors acting on behalf of Negrini. They had written with what those in the libel business regard as a pre-emptive strike. There was no actual threat of action, just an attempt to deliver a correction where no correction was necessary.
Withers LLP claimed the article “contains inaccuracies”. It doesn’t, and it appears to have remain published, despite the less-than-withering rebuke.
But the solicitors’ note to the i did provide some interesting updates from Negrini.
They said, “There is no legal action currently against Ms Negrini and the council has not yet commenced any pre-action stages.”
It is almost seven weeks since Mayor Perry announced to the people of Croydon, “It is completely unacceptable that individuals… [should] be rewarded for their failures while our residents, businesses and partners continue to pay the price.
“They must be held to account.”
Since when, nuffink. Nada. Zilch. And this after Mayor Perry and his predecessors had allowed council officials to suppress the Penn Report, which recommended considering this and other actions, for more than two years.
A true man of action is part-time Perry, clearly.
Withers also showed that they had read the legal advice provided to Croydon Council by Jane Mulcahy KC in April 2022, when she told them that pursuing Negreedy for her pay-off would be “throwing good money after bad”.
Mulcahy highlighted how only a fraction of the £437,000 golden handshake could ever be recovered.
Mulcahy pointed out that the bulk of the payment to Negrini – £284,000 to her pension fund – was effectively 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 [Jo Negrini’s] settlement package… Further, even if the council is successful, it is most unlikely to be awarded all its costs,” the KC wrote in April 2022.
In their warning letter to the i newspaper last week, Withers did the maths: “The council would not be able to ‘recover a £437,000 settlement’; the maximum sum they could attempt to recover is £96,000.”
Which raises the matter of when Mayor Perry will stop pretending he is going after any of those implicated in the council’s financial collapse and actually admit that he has broken yet another of his election promises.
Read more: ‘You seem to be trying to put the genie back in the bottle’
Read more: ‘Better than evens’ chance of winning Negrini legal case
Read more: #PennReport: No referrals sent to staff’s professional bodies
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
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There you go again. Undermining part times dynamic indolence. He is doing his best and what else do you expect from a Tory other than a lot of hot air and no underlying substance that actually changes anything. What old part time has to worry about is his claim that failure shouldn’t be rewarded. Just what is he going to do then and will those unfortunates who inherit his tarnished role be looking to go after him and hold him to account once his pointless period of office is completed.
Absolutely nothing will come of this matter I am betting.
This below should sound familiar….
A similar situation happened at Pembrokeshire Council’s Chief executive but the payment was £95,000 in November 2020.
Audit found Significant and numerous governance deficiencies were found in the way the Council dealt with the termination payment to the former Chief Executive. These include:
A failure to address and resolve relationship difficulties between members and officers
Lack of clarity on respective roles and responsibilities
Officers failing to properly discharge their professional duties
Disregard of external legal advice
A failure to follow internal policies and procedures
Poor and un-transparent decision-making
A failure to document and report the reasons for decisions
Members of the Council not being given the opportunity to review and scrutinise the proposal
Failure to comply with legislative requirements.
Pembrokeshire Council have a history of paying off its Chief executives with it also happening in 2014 but the pay-off being £280,000 but was smaller than the £330,000 originally planned.
This Chief executive was also given a unbelievably given a luxury £90,000 Porsche as his work vehicle.
Is Kerswell given luxury £90,000 Porsche as her work vehicle?
Croydon has to be seen to be making an attempt to recover all or some of the Negrini cash. Every £1 recovered will be a bonus, even if the legal costs are not covered. The thing that (still) really enrages me was Negrini’s shameless self-promotion and total lack of humility. This culture of rewards for failure and utter lack of accountability are what is really crippling public services imho
Why? All the advice is that it is a dumb thing to do, because the chances are it will cost the council – sorry, it will cost Croydon residents more than any amount ever repaid.
THe dumb thing to do? Of course, so that’s exactly what the part-time Mayor says he’s doing (although he is taking a very long time to do it).
Better to learn from the experience than waste money in a hopeless attempt to claw back money. If the Council decided to offer an employee a payoff, that was accepted by the employee, a valid contract was made..
As long as both parties made the deal legally and without coercion, it surely must stand, how ever much the amount may seem over-inflated, or the reality of the underperformance.
My worry is that an amount equal to the payoff will be spent in legal fees. No money will be got back.
The overiding need is to avoid similar experiences in future.