Council silent as HR chief Parkes heads for the exit

Croydon’s Council Tax-payers look to be facing another expensive six-figure pay-off, after an internal announcement yesterday confirmed that the borough’s human resources director, Pam Parkes, one of the council’s five most senior officers, is to leave with immediate effect.

Taberner HouseThere is a suggestion that Parkes, formally the “director of workforce, equalities and community resources”, will receive a compromise agreement – a golden handshake – when she leaves Taberner House in something of a rush with effect from March 31.

Croydon Council’s Ministry of Truth today refused to answer questions about Parkes’s departure, preferring to waste more public money by referring Inside Croydon’s enquiry as a Freedom of Information Act request.

As Croydon Council prepares to move its headquarters offices from Taberner House to the £140 million Bernard Weatherill House, it looks as if they will need to install revolving doors on the executive floor, as Parkes heads for the exit hot on the heels of CEO Jon Rouse, plus other leading execs Emma Peters, Tom Jeffrey, Damian Roberts and Stephen McDonald.

The latter four departures cost Croydon Council Tax-payers at least £350,000; McDonald alone  got a handsome £46,000 pay-off after barely six months in post.

Parkes is not the first highly placed member of the HR team to leave recently, either: Dr Lucy Goundry, the council’s occupational health physician, has just left Croydon although the council failed to publish any statement to mark or explain that departure.

Parkes’s path to the Taberner House exit could be considerably more expensive, even than McDonald’s, since she has been among Croydon Council’s best-paid executives since July 2004. Staff are speculating that there may have been a clash between Parkes and Croydon’s recently installed interim chief executive, Nathan Elvery.

Elvery, too, refused to answer enquiries from Inside Croydon.

Nathan Elvery: did he clash with Parkes?

Nathan Elvery: did he clash with Parkes?

Parkes’s personnel department has been very busy handing out redundancy notices to hundreds of staff in the last three years, as well as co-ordinating a number of expensive legal battles in Employment Tribunals.

One tragic case involved Nadine Graham, a 33-year-old mother of one who had worked in the council’s housing department, but lost her appeal against losing her job and was found, hanged, in her Norwood home last November.

Today, Croydon Council senior executive Hayley Lewis refused to answer Inside Croydon’s questions about whether Parkes’s abrupt departure from her six-figure job was connected with the suicide of Graham. The Coroner’s Court delivered a verdict of suicide last month, after considering a letter from Graham’s family which linked her death to the loss of her council job.

In her post, Parkes had oversight of the council’s staffing budget, which at its peak amounted to nearly £300 million per year. Parkes had previously worked at Southwark, Lambeth and Hackney. “HR wasn’t well regarded by staff, managers or by corporate management and was struggling to manage the basics, such as recruitment and learning and development,” Parkes said in a 2008 interview of the regard for her department on her arrival in Croydon.

“We needed to raise our profile – and our credibility.”

She succeeded in the former aim, though perhaps not in quite the way she envisaged, when it was revealed that her department was spending more than £300,000 on training for just 85 of the council’s 10,000 staff, much of the bill being for tea and lunches during the course.

“I don’t think it is expensive,” she told one local newspaper. “Tea is not cheap, we do not grow tea in Taberner House, we have to buy it. It does cost someone to make the lunches.”

It’s perhaps some surprise that after an insensitive and ill-advised comment such as that, Parkes managed to remain in post for another five years.

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5 Responses to Council silent as HR chief Parkes heads for the exit

  1. ndavies144 says:

    A compromise agreement doesn’t necessarily mean a golden handshake. It’s a device to protect the employer against any legal claim for. among other things, breach of contract or unfair dismissal.

    A lot of employers use them routinely even if the dismissal is a perfectly safe redundancy and only statutory payments are involved.

    That said, and without prejudging this issue, compromise agreements are used rather more expensively to hide all sorts of misguided actions by both parties as well as to provide cover against expensive litigation if a dismissal is obviously unfair or a resignation would lead to a successful constructive dismissal case.

    • The Head of HR? Leaving at a few days’ notice? Mention of a compromise agreement?

      So what’s the chances of Parkes leaving without at least eight months’ salary (one month for each year she’s worked at Croydon)? She’s reckoned to be on £105,000 per year, plus pension contributions.

      • ndavies144 says:

        I didn’t say she wouldn’t. I just wanted to point out that the next time you hear someone down the pub fretting about a compromise agreement you shouldn’t automatically assume that the next three rounds are on them.

    • east1956 says:

      It may not be inherently indicative of a significant “compensation” payment but given Ms Parkes role it’s highly likely that any deal to prevent her spilling the beans with have been accompanied by a serious sum of money. As Head of HR etc she presided over plenty of similar arrangements & would have know exactly how to get what she wants.

  2. east1956 says:

    Less well known is that HR under Ms Parkes was sending HR personnel on expensive training that was irrelevant to their jobs at a time when other Council departments were drained of training resources.

    So lackadaisical were HR towards training that allegedly one middle manager walked out half way through the first day of a £3,000 3-day course stating that he would never use the skills or the qualification. Of course that was £3,000 down the drain and an insult to other staff who were desperate to attend the same course.

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