Rouse ready to appoint psychologist as Croydon’s press chief

Croydon on the couch: will the council appoint as press chief someone who has no media experience at all?

Sources inside the Town Hall suggest that Croydon’s chief executive, Jon Rouse, has lined up a trained psychologist who has no direct experience in the media to head up the council’s press department Ministry of Truth.

This may be especially bad news for Croydon residents seeking greater openness and transparency from their council, because the person we understand has been earmarked for the job is Hayley Lewis, who has had overall  responsibility for Croydon’s dreadful record in answering Freedom of Information requests.

It is more than two months since Inside Croydon broke the news that Matt Burrows was skipping from Taberner House, where he had been director of the press department, to take up a senior position at Kent County Council. Burrows’ departure came shortly after Croydon had published its comically error-strewn city bid document.

As yet, Croydon has failed to announce any replacement for Burrows.

Our sources suggest that it is Hayley Lewis (not to be confused with the Australian former Olympic swimmer-turned-TV presenter) who is being lined up to plug that gap in Rouse’s top team, despite her lack of public relations or media experience and a predilection for posting slightly off-message articles on her personal blog.

Lewis is currently the Head of Customer Strategy and Development at the council, although she also manages to squeeze in sessions as a visiting lecturer in psychology at City University.

Since joining from the BBC six years ago, Lewis has worked at Croydon in a range of senior roles, including Interim Head of Customer Contact and Head of Strategy and Innovation (ahhh, if only Croydon Council had some strategy and innovation, you may be thinking). The rapid turnover of job titles for Lewis may indicate that Rouse regards her as a versatile trouble-shooter.

For her own part, Lewis describes herself thus: “Part council head of service, part psychologist. It’s a bit like being a superhero with a secret identity – although I don’t get changed in telephone boxes and I can’t leap buildings in a single bound! Oh, I also don’t read minds (contrary to the popular belief about psychologists!) I leave that kind of thing to Derren Brown!”

Thanks! for clearing that! up! Hayley!

She also says of herself: “I believe psychology has the power to transform organisations such as councils, through better understanding of what makes people tick and subsequently, how to use that understanding to improve performance and ultimately, the customer experience.” Not a hint of Big Brother at Taberner House at all, then?

Somehow, despite already holding a senior management position within Croydon Council, Lewis has been allowed to publish her thoughts and musings on own online blog. Whether she will continue to be indulged and allowed to do this if she is confirmed as the head of the council’s press department remains to be seen.

This week’s musings have been posted under the heading: “If Only: Reflections and resolutions on work-life balance” in which she admits:  “I’ve had much to reflect on during my much needed time off from work.  It’s been an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. To laugh. To remember what’s important. Because, do you know what? Sometimes I forget what’s important.”

At face value, that’s hardly reassuring for the Council Tax-payers of Croydon…

Lewis’s other recent entries include: “Promises, promises: Good customer service isn’t about simply telling someone what they want to hear” (a bit of a giveaway that she might work at Croydon, you might think).

Then there was: “‘Because we’re worth it’ – how to demonstrate the value of non front-line services”, posted with a rather unconnected photograph of Cheryl Cole. Here, Lewis gushed: “Next week I have to channel my inner Cheryl Cole (courtesy of L’Oreal Paris), for next week I will be sitting down in a ‘challenge’ session with our chief exec to go through my service area and my budget. I don’t see this as a threat. I see this as an opportunity”… yes, dear reader, she really did write an “opportunity”, not a “threat”… “to demonstrate what it is my teams do and how what they do are making the difference to how services are delivered to residents and customers in our area.”

Or how about this from the end of November (a hint of things to come?): “I will say ‘zis only once: The perils of poor communication”.

Maybe what clinched Rouse’s decision to look to appoint Lewis as his new head of press was the blog posting from mid-November headed: “Now you see it, now you don’t: The post of council chief exec” in which she loyally defended the “roll” (sic, not the sort of spelling error you’d expect from a press chief) of a council CEO, even one like Rouse who trousers around £250,000 per year.

But if you were looking for the strongest hint that the former BBC human resources exec was about to be moved to another department at Croydon, then this passage from Lewis’s blog last month ought to be the clincher:

“There’s one thing you need to know about me. I don’t like being told I can’t do something. It’s one of the things that drives me. If you tell me that, I’ll go all out to prove you wrong. Stubborn, some might call it. Tenacious, others might say. At this stage in my career, tell me I can’t do a particular senior role and I’ll really show you my mettle. The upside? I may prove you wrong and you’ll benefit from what I can do.

“Why do I think this is important? Because I see too many organisations, particularly councils, make decisions to appoint service heads and directors, based pretty much purely on their technical expertise and career path. In my experience, technical expertise is no guarantee for strong leadership in particular the ability to traverse and manage complex change, inspire staff and take a service to even better performance.”

Ahhh… the ability to traverse and manage complex change. Yep, definitely what Croydon’s press office desperately needs.

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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
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