Croydon’s part-time Mayor has always known that the actions of councillors and senior council staff ‘can decimate an authority… without any fear of recrimination’. But he’s been very reluctant to admit his impotency to the borough’s residents. By STEVEN DOWNES
Compare and contrast Jason Perry in the video above, from a Town Hall meeting in November, and Perry in a letter to his Tory masters: “None of the individuals responsible have been personally held to account for their actions as they all resigned when disciplinary action began. This has left the council with very few options to hold them to account or to pursue personal consequence.”
One year into his term as Croydon Mayor, and in a letter to a Government minister, Perry has finally admitted that he can never deliver on one of his key election promises: to bring to account those responsible for bankrupting the borough.
Perry’s admission comes in a little-publicised letter he sent to Michael Gove, the Secretary of States at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The reality is that, having been privy to the majority of the top-level, privileged legal advice that the council has received since its financial collapse in November 2020, the Tory Mayor knew – or certainly, ought to have realised – than any punitive action against the likes of former council leader Tony Newman and his Numpties, or Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, the former council CEO, or any of her senior officials, was only ever a very remote possibility.
Throughout the election campaign last year, Perry kept going large on how he would “Clear up Labour’s mess” and bring those responsible to account. Yet the only thing the part-time, £82,000 per year Mayor has done so far is to inflict a 15per cent Council Tax hike on residents.
Inside Croydon reported earlier this week that Negrini says she has still not received notification of any legal action from Croydon Council to recover some, or all, of her £437,000 golden handshake. This might actually be a good thing for Croydon’s Council Tax-payers, because senior legal counsel has suggested that any case against the former chief exec would be “throwing good money after bad”, with little chance of recovering the bulk of the payment, and no chance of being awarded costs.
Perry knows all this, but publicly has still persisted with the pretence that he is somehow the new sheriff in town who is going to round up the bad guys.
Take, for example, his little hard man speech (as shown in the video above), delivered to a council cabinet meeting last November – after six months of inaction in office.
“The people of Croydon expect action,” Perry said, after cranking up the expectation levels throughout the election campaign, promising to deliver something that he probably always knew was outside his powers.
“I’ve been clear with council officers that where former or current members [meaning councillors] or officers [meaning council staff] are found to have done wrong, everything possible must be done to ensure they face the consequences of their actions.”
This was nothing but a piece of vacuous grandstanding by Perry, who must – should – have known that “everything possible” was very little indeed.
Perry’s speech came more than a month after this website had published the suppressed Penn Report, commissioned in 2020 and kept under wraps for more than two years by senior figures at the council, notably Katherine Kerswell, the current CEO.
The Penn recommendations were stifled for long enough that any council directors implicated in the council’s financial collapse had left Fisher’s Folly, avoiding any possible disciplinary action. Perry knew – should have known – that, yet persisted with his little pantomime and pretence for public consumption.
Having frustrated all attempts to take any action for more than two years, Kerswell outlined the fait accompli that she had handed to Perry at a disciplinary committee meeting in March, where the CEO effectively ordered the Mayor to send a letter to Gove to explain the council’s patent powerlessness.
With Kerswell off on her Easter holibobs, probably after dictating what the Mayor was expected to write, Perry got round to sending the letter to Gove on Maundy Thursday – timed to ensure that as few people as possible among those who voted for him and then got screwed by his 15per cent Council Tax hike would notice that here was the latest of his broken election promises. And a biggy at that.
Now Inside Croydon can share with our readers the truth about what part-time Perry is doing to bring the culprits “to account”: nuffink.
Under a heading “Accountability in Local Government” (Non-accountability may have been more accurate), Perry began by outlining Croydon’s “£1.6billion of unsustainable debt” and the “dramatic breakdown in resident trust in the council”.
In his/Kerswell’s letter, Tory Perry – who had voted in favour of the Labour council’s pre-crash budgets in 2019 and 2020 – navigated through some of Croydon’s recent, painful history which prompted the auditors’ damning “corporate collective blindness” Report in the Public Interest in October 2020.
Perry wrote: “The two independent investigations which followed, the Penn Report into the culture and senior leadership of the organisation and the Kroll Report into potential criminal and other wrongdoing during the Fairfield Halls refurbishment, both highlighted significant failures by former elected Members [he means councillors] and Chief Officers [he means council staff].”
“These reports clearly set out how Croydon’s financial and governance collapse arose as a direct consequence of the failures of the political, statutory and chief officer leadership of the council which did not pay sufficient regard to governance, risk management and internal control when spending millions of taxpayers’ money.”
In journalism, what Perry has done here is what is called “burying the into”, because now he finally gets to the point.
“Despite the scale of the damage done by the mismanagement and poor decision-making of the previous political and officer leadership, none of the individuals responsible have been personally held to account for their actions as they all resigned when disciplinary action began. This has left the Council with very few options to hold them to account or to pursue personal consequence.”
So much for Perry’s promise to bring to account those responsible for bankrupting the borough. His letter to Gove admits that the Mayor is entirely impotent.
“We are now reliant on other organisations to follow this through. In reality, there is little the council is able to do to hold these individuals to account for their part in Croydon’s collapse.”
Perry could yet be rendered completely powerless
Perry, who has been an elected official in local government since 1994 and has been a witness to all the “reforms” imposed on councils by the Blairites and laissez-faire Big Eric Pickles, would have us all believe that he has only now discovered that he is powerless to deliver on another key promise that he made to the Croydon voters.
“The current arrangements to hold senior local authority leaders to account for their conduct in public office are deeply inadequate.” No Shit Sherlock…
Perry told Gove, “New arrangements are urgently needed to protect residents in other local authority areas from experiencing similar situations in the future.” Can you hear that horse galloping over the horizon as part-time Perry closes the stable door?
“A stronger accountability framework for those leading local authorities would reduce the moral hazard related to financial failure and encourage councillors, statutory and chief officers to reflect more fully on the potential consequences of their actions before taking decisions to spend millions of taxpayers’ money.”
Of course, funding councils fairly by central Government might also help to avoid the need to local authorities to make many of those decisions. Perry doesn’t mention that to his Tory Party boss.
“We need to ensure we have robust measures to protect the trust residents place in their public servants, both elected members and officers. Croydon’s example has shown that currently, this is not the case.
“The situation in Croydon has clearly demonstrated that both elected members and officers can decimate an authority, at huge expense to current and future taxpayers, without any fear of recrimination,” impotent Perry wrote, suggesting that Gove might “learn from our experience” and “strengthen the arrangements for formal accountability and responsibility for conduct in public office”.
But that’s not the end of the humiliating climbdown by Croydon’s elected Mayor.
Having been forced by Gove to effectively bring an end to his own political career by inflicting the 15per cent Council Tax hike on the borough, and being left dangling by the Government over whether it will, or won’t, take the extraordinary step of writing off more than half-a-billion pounds of Croydon’s debt, Perry has another pile of shit to swallow.
An announcement by Gove’s DLUHC was delayed due to pre-election purdah in Thurrock and Slough, but by the end of this month they are expected to give extra powers to commissioners in those other bankrupt boroughs while in Croydon, statutory powers are to be handed to Tony McArdle and his Government-appointed improvement panel.
This will allow McArdle and his colleagues to speak at council meetings and implement financial decisions at Croydon Town Hall. Effectively, it will make McArdle Croydon’s UberMayor.
And it will render Jason Perry utterly powerless, facing the prospect of three years of attending garden fetes and children’s tea parties, with little or no say in the running of the borough. But the £82,000 per year should be a little consolation…
- Read Perry’s admission of impotence to Michal Gove here
- Read Kerswell’s report on accountability (or the lack of it) here
Read more: Kerswell condemns councils’ accountability as inadequate
Read more: Councillors agree to chase Negrini for golden handshake cash
Read more: MP calls for misconduct charges against ex-councillor Hall
Read more: Penn Report wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure
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Part time has clearly stated that there should be no rewards for failure while he is Mayor. Can he confirm that he is not receiving any form of remuneration for turning the role of DEMoC into Actionless Man.
I think everyone can now see Perry for what he truly is: a puffed-up, fragile local who can’t deliver a thing. If Croydon is rubbish, Perry is continuity-Croydon.
Nobody will elect him back in.
If Perry was a football manager the home fans would be chanting “You don’t know what you’re doing”
If only we could all sing “You’re getting sacked in the morning”
Steve Weed won’t. Sarah Jones daren’t. Chris Philp isn’t bovvered.
Newman and Hall have been suspended for an age, but given how two of their less than finest colleagues have just been readmitted to the fold, it can’t be long before any charges against the Odd Couple are dropped, very quietly.
Butler and Scott were allowed to retire without any sanction or comment, their party membership intact.
Lacey is pretending to be a successful developer, and Negrini has managed to get a nice job with Arup.
We’ve all been shafted.
When will we all wake up and realise that these pantomime dressed officials are just impotent window dressing, (the red cape and gold chains really help the decision making). What the hell is the position of Mayor anyway after local councillors and borough MPs, and how many do we need, 70+ ? How many layers of unimaginative, egotistical, self serving individuals do we need, all drawing and draining public monies.
It all needs simplifying, culling and employing professionals with a proven track record and not a merry-go-round of tired old transferable skills sets; and worse, those who just have ‘opinions’ and a gob big enough to shout loud. And we give them the platform to shout.
How shocking and dreadful it would be to have a chancellor with a background and training in finance and not philosophy; or a minister of education with a background in schools and teaching rather than a degree in business studies etc; oh, and actual experience in the real world and not just in one square mile being part of the chattering classes. How stupid would that be.
A shocking indictment of public services whichever your political views. Shane on all parties and staff, was no one willing to stand up and say this is wrong?
They were, but Newman and his Numpties, several of whom are still on the council, persecuted and pilloried them.
The question I can’t get my head round is why did the Council pay Negrani anything except statutory redundancy if she resigned?
The usual reason for paying anyone more than statutory redundancy is to impose a gagging clause. Or to put it another way to pay someone off. What was she being paid off for?
Is it possible to explore what her payoff conditions and who signed them off were by FOI here?
Then you should really pay closer attention to our reports, Tony…
It was all done to buy her silence over Newman.
The post of Chief Executive was not made redundant. Jo Negrini is said to have resigned. Paying her Statutory Redundancy” in these circumstances would have been neither necessary nor wise.
However, the sum we now know she was paid was part of a Settlement Agreement as a means of resolving disputes between her and her employer. The very existence of the agreement, the sums involved and the reasons for the payment are meant to be kept confidential by all parties to it.
I say this with all due respect: Croydonians have been incredibly naive.
Naive that the Executive Mayor was as if by magic going to be able to bring all alleged wrongdoers to account and recoup all financial losses incurred by Croydonian taxpayers.
We are £1.6 billion in debt!
As far as the severance payment to the former Chief Executive of the Council is concerned, English law is crystal clear. If two parties enter into a contract after having received legal advice, absent fraud or misrepresentation English law says they are bound by the terms of that contract.
English law says this because otherwise two or more parties who enter into a contract – even a contract that it was foolish for one or more of them to agree to – could renege on their contractual obligations with impunity. English law says that can’t happen save in exceptional circumstances because contract law requires certainty.
As far as I know the facts from reading Inside Croydon the circumstances are not exceptional.
The Council entered into a severance agreement with the former Chief Executive. Unless someone tells us differently we must assume they took legal advce before doing so. It is irrelevant that councillors either ignored any legal advice not to enter into the severance payment or not to pay the former Chief Executive as much as she was paid. It is also irrelevant some councillors voted against or abstained in making a severance payment or the amount of the severance payment.
Absent additional facts, I believe any litigation to try to recover the severance payment is unlikely to be successful.
As for wider alleged wrongdoing, Croydonians have been wholly unrealistic in their expectations.
If, as has been claimed, substantial sums of money have gone missing which cannot be accounted for, then the Council should call in HM Constabulary to investigate. That investigation should be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and if the evidence meets the CPS’s 50% evidential rule of success, criminal prosecutions should be brought under the Theft Act 1968 or subsequent legislation.
No one knows what evidence is available nor whether it meets the required evidential burden.
A criminal charge must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” It is (rightly) an onerous burden.
Some Croydonians want criminal charges to be brought for misconduct in public office. Croydonians simply don’t appreciate how difficult it is to prove this crime before a jury. That is why very few people are charged with this offence. and even fewer are prosecuted successfully
Until 2000 it was possible for public officials to be surcharged (sanctioned) personally and financially for misconduct if public money was spent unlawfully or a local authority suffered financial loss because of misconduct. Surcharging dated back to the 19th century. The burden of proof was the lesser “balance of probabilities” and not “beyond reasonable doubt. ”
As the current law and lesser sanctioning regime stands at present, I think it is unlikely that any wrongdoers will be brought to book.
Surcharging was abolished because in 2000 it was felt that it was outdated, overly punitive and deterred people from entering public service.
I think the ever-present risk of being surcharged – up to and including being made bankrupt – in the backs of councillors’ and other public officials’ minds acted as a deterrent not to act foolishly bordering-on-criminally but to make broadly sensible decisions and take proper advice.
If Croydonians really want to make a difference they should lobby their MPs for the reintroduction in some form of surcharging.
Croydonians voting for an Executive Mayor (even to rein in Croydon’s “rogue” planning department) now seems with hindsight a foolish decision.
Croydonians need to think far more carefully in future who, and what, they vote for.
If there is a case to answer then very clearly it must be addressed under good cross examination in Court. To quote Martin Luther King “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Why are the police doing nothing? Surely enough evidence has been shown to at least question this group of ‘individuals’ under caution. And I bet all would do no comment interviews.
Oh, the madness.
This isn’t a situation where there is a lifeless body that’s been found in the street (which the police can investigate immediately of their own accord). Have Croydon Council even asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether any crimes have been committed yet? It is unclear to me. The Council need to do that first before the police can do anything.
The Penn Report recommended calling in the Met in Feb 2021.
The council found all sorts of excuses not to do that until Mar 2023.
They may have not submitted any report to the Met even now.
Some publicly spirited person might want to ask the CEO
I would but she never replies and many issues are still outstanding.
The Police do not have to have a matter reported before taking action. They can act if they have a reasonable belief a crime is in progress or has been committed.
They are loath to investigate another enforcement authority which is what the Council in effect is, and that may take a directive from either the Home office, the Mayor or in effect (as Perry was part of the structure that caused the debt and would have to excuse himself )- Mr Gove.
Perhaps a petition signed by the majority of residents requesting action from the Met directly into how their taxes both centrally and locally were blown improperly and if that constitutes a misuse of public funds and a crime, or we are given proof that it was all above board and quite legal to use £1.5bn in this manner as seems to be the case?
Forgive me, but HM Constabulary cannot possibly take any action in this case based on “reasonable belief.”
If both auditors and special commisioners have had to come in to assess and try to piece together what has happened, that suggests whatever is alleged to have taken place is complex and far from identifiable straightforwardly as potential criminal offence(s).
HM Constabulary rarely acts on its own volition in such circumstances without first being invited to investigate by the alleged “victim” (bank, other financial institution, local authority, etc).
Remember, if criminal charges were to be brought a barrister will have to try to explain to twelve people – in as simple terms as possible – what has happened and try to persuade those twelve people that a crime has been committed beyond reasonable doubt.
I would hope that once invited to investigate HM Constabulary would do so without fear nor favour – as they are supposed to do.
There is not one part of Mr Perry’s letter that was not known is 2010 – 2011 prior to the implementation of changes. The regulations were loosened to loan Councils money instead of properly funding them.
I will not use language like disengenious deceit obfuscation as there is no evidence of that with intent.
Instead one has to ask Mr Perry outright that when his party spent all that money on Fishers folly where did said money come from and how much did that contribute to the overall debt?
Of course maybe he knew nothing about that as that would be guilty knowledge – so was he an incomeptent Councillor back then? Or did he know full well what was taking place? I bet he did not see himself being culpable for a 15% rate hike then!
Stuck with an ever increasing debt one can see perhaps why Newman and co gambled (so stupidly with foresight along with hindsight) and doubled down on that.
But the real blame for the outcomes lies totally with the Ministry and those at the time that failed to provide adequate safeguards and did this in the full knowledge of those risks.
Who ever wins the next election should include in their manifesto a rock solid pledge to ensure those regulations are very tight and also hold an investigation into all Council borrowing from Central Government and with a view to legal action and designating the mismanagement as an offence thereby allowing the recovering of monies under the proceeds of crime act.