Croydon in crisis: Whitehall imposes new chief exec on council

EXCLUSIVE: Borough to get its third CEO in two weeks, as government parachutes in a ‘safe pair of hands’ on Newman’s Croydon clique.

Troubleshooter: Katherine Kerswell

A hastily arranged meeting of Croydon Council’s appointments committee will convene this morning to rubber-stamp the appointment of Katherine Kerswell as the interim chief executive of the authority.

Kerswell, who is expected to take up her duties at Fisher’s Folly on Monday, will thus become the third CEO in the space of a fortnight at the crisis-hit council.

Shifa Mustafa, the Croydon exec director who was hurriedly installed by the council leadership as the interim replacement for Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, will return to her planning and development duties after a period in charge briefer than Chris Cowdrey’s time as England cricket captain.

Kerswell is understood to have been imposed on council leader Tony Newman and the cabal in charge of the Labour-run council by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as a pre-condition of any financial bailout for Croydon, which is £1.5billion in debt and is wrestling with a covid budget overspend of more than £60million.

The Local Government Association is also understood to have played a part in recruiting Kerswell for a job which many might regard as a poisoned chalice. The LGA yesterday would not deny that they have worked on finding a temporary replacement for Negrini, a spokesperson saying only, “The LGA doesn’t ever comment on individual councils but I can confirm that we are supporting Croydon as part of our sector-led improvement work.”

By parachuting in Kerswell to Croydon’s crisis-hit council, the MHCLG has dealt a massive blow to Newman’s leadership, as well as issuing a vote of no confidence in his appointment of Mustafa as interim and the grandiosely titled “executive leadership team” assembled by Negrini.

In effect, it is a government takeover of Newman’s spendthrift council.

Tony Newman: his leadership has been dealt another massive blow

This morning, a Katharine Street source denied that the road outside the Town Hall was to be renamed Katherine Street, but they did say, “Newman must really consider his own position now – 21,000 people have signed a petition saying that they want a different, more accountable leadership in the council, local polls say he is not up to the job, and now the government has delivered this vote of no confidence in his judgement.

“It’s a wonder he’s been allowed to hang on this long.”

Negrini departed the top job in Croydon at the end of last month amid acrimony, as Inside Croydon revealed she had achieved a pay-off of around £420,000 after four years in charge that had ended in abject failure.

Kerswell will arrive with a “restructuring process” already well underway, but seemingly as badly managed as many of the projects run under Negrini, with more than 400 council staff likely to lose their jobs. What were expected to be swingeing 15 per cent spending cuts across all council services now look likely to be 20 per cent cuts.

After a 25-year career in local government and senior Whitehall posts, Kerswell is regarded as a “safe pair of hands” and is something of a troubleshooter, with experience working at other local authorities which have gone bust (though not on her watch: she was in charge at Northamptonshire from 2007 to 2010). The Local Government Chronicle described Kerswell as “one of the country’s most experienced chiefs”.

Shifa Mustafa: barely lasted two weeks in the top job

Her most recent position was as the interim CEO at Nottingham City Council, a post she took up in April in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which meant that she never actually visited her office nor met most of her staff in person.

She has also worked as an interim chief exec at Newham, so will be well aware of Negrini’s reputation. Croydon will be the seventh local authority where Kerswell has worked as CEO, her personal profile stating that she has “… experience in both county and urban government across England [including] achieving major regeneration and development schemes.”

Kerswell , 57, also worked for three years as the health services director for Crapita, and was the first director general in the Cabinet Office to have responsibility for civil service reform.

According to her own CV, she also has “experience of significant transformational change in national government (including Department for Education and Home Office)”. Which could come in handy.

Her Whitehall profile page states, “Katherine has represented local government on a number of government and national commissions, and has written and spoken extensively on public sector reform, leadership and change management.”

The council appointments committee, due to start at 10.30am, was only scheduled late in the day yesterday. The five senior Croydon councillors – Newman and two Labour colleagues, plus two Tory councillors – will be expected to approve Kerswell’s salary package, likely to see her paid pro rata at the same rate that Negrini received – around £188,000 per year.

Kerswell: “The last thing you want is people saying, ‘I’m not going to listen to her because she is not going to be around very long'”

It also seems likely that Kerswell will work in Croydon until a permanent replacement for Negrini can be appointed, which could see her working for the council probably until early 2021.

In an interview with the Local Government Chronicle published in June about her time with Nottingham (the city’s permanent CEO took up his post last month), Kerswell said, “I think interims have a challenge anyway coming in as a temporary person, owning a role that needs to have weight and continuity in the messages you are giving.

“The last thing you want is people saying, ‘I’m not going to listen to her because she is not going to be around very long’. You have to say, ‘This is it, this is the decision, we’re all moving forward’.

“You must be really careful you’re not just saying, ‘This is how I do things, it will be done like this’. You can’t come with preconceptions into these roles – you really have to learn and understand the culture and take stock of what they really want you to do.”

And although she was talking about her time working for Nottingham (if not in Nottingham because of the covid lockdown), Kerswell could well have been speaking about Croydon when she said, “We are busy people with an agenda to get through. The response and recovery to covid has laid an additional enormous workload on people. You can’t just cobble this together.

“There is a definite job to be done to lead the organisation through this very difficult period we’ve got.”

About insidecroydon

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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19 Responses to Croydon in crisis: Whitehall imposes new chief exec on council

  1. Moya Gordon says:

    Sounds promising. Hopefully Croydon’s fortunes can be turned around.

  2. Warren says:

    About time, lets hope she will sorts the wheat from the chaff ! and remove those senior manager who were only appointed because of their “YES MAN” mentality.

  3. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    Tony Newman must take responsibility for the decisions he has made that have led to this appalling situation.

    He should resign now or announce a phased exit over the coming weeks. There are many capable young councillors in the party he belongs to who can take the helm in the lead up to a Mayoral election.

    This is highly embarrassing for the Croydon Council – our reputation outside of the borough is at its lowest point ever. If Tony Newman thinks being London Borough of Culture 2023 is going to sort all this out as implied in his recent tweets, he is not only stupid, he’s delusional.

    Most important, above all this, is the hundreds of council workers and their families now facing redundancy.

    I welcome an experienced CEO joining the council. – This is how it should have been before Newman made the stupid and lazy decision to appoint Jo Negrini 4 years ago.

    The new CEO will quickly assess Newman.

  4. Donna Roberts says:

    I have lived in the borough of Croydon for nearly 20 years and I have seen a big decline in the area. It’s infested with rats and mice, furthermore the streets are dirty and always piled with rubbish.

    We pay our Council Tax on time and are disgusted by the services we get.

    Tony Newman needs to go ASAP

  5. says:

    Newman and his cronies should be prosecuted for misfeasance in public office, fined to the full extent of their assets and jailed.

    • Charles Burling says:

      Bollocks. Why don’t you publicly hang draw and quarter them as well? Charge £100 ringside and you’d fill Selhurst Park. It still wouldn’t cover the debts created by Fisher’s Folly.They have had to deal with cuts imposed by central government, legacy issues from previous administrations and all the usual ‘events’ that a council faces. It is a lot tougher running a council than you think. Croydon isn’t perfect, but no one is going to get thrown out of public office. Some may not stand again, however, mainly because of the abuse.

  6. Marcus Rigby says:

    New CEO needs to send Newman and his cronies packing, and then look at reversing the decision of sacking 400 people, at this stage job losses are inevitable, but offer voluntary redundancy to whole council not targeted, you may get the number you need rather than destroying people’s lives.
    Take a bit more time in this consultation and do Croydon tax payers justice!

    • Kevin Croucher says:

      I think it is up to the voters to send Newman and his chums packing. Not until 2022 though, I hope they have long memories.

    • Charles Burling says:

      Something about the stick and the wrong end here.
      Councillors normally hire and fire CEOs. Some councils have had CEOs thrust upon them. Sometimes for political reasons.

  7. Just moved to the borough … started reading this website … yikes ;). Ah well, we’re all in the same boat. I hope the Council can move on … there seems to be plenty of low hanging fruits to pick that would make things easier and better overall.

    Great local website by the way.

  8. Rohit Patel says:

    What a refreshing news!!!

    I hope this is the beginning of the end for Tony “Gambino” Newman, Paul “Gotti” Scott and Simon “El – Chapo” Hall – the Mafiosi criminals, whose sheer negligence caused havoc with Council’s finances and job losses for so many hard working soon to be ex-employees, staff of Fairfield/Croydon Park Hotel and no doubt many others.

    Why is Tony-Simon-Paul are still allowed to retain any powers? Surely, this is an emergency and whitehall big wiggs should suspend their influence from All forums / hold them accountable. We need a strong Regulator to have early intervention in such situation else these criminals will go scott free (excuse the pun Paul Scott).

    To borrow a Gujarati phrase, ‘Saro Chay’ (all is well / business is usual) is not longer an option!

  9. Lesley Jeffreys says:

    In any private employment Jo Negrini would have been given written warnings and left a long time ago
    Instead, she is going to recieve loads of money made up of hard working people’s council tax. It’s appalling.

  10. Jasmine Gahda says:

    l am a resident association member for Selhurst and with all my 5 years of dealing with this council the corruption runs deep
    Selhurst is dirty -buisnesess have no duty of care for how they mess our area and cars parked around Selhurst useing up most of our pavements
    and garage cars used for spare parts parked all around Selhurst too
    Landlords who exspect there tenants to live in run down propertys
    without spending money for improvements both inside and outside there propertys
    Bin left on pavements when there is space on Property grounds to leave them
    and so much more
    We need to remove some heads of departments as they are
    lazy and unfit for purpose with no duty of care for the residents of
    Selhurst and do not supervise or monitor works done and paid for by our residence
    if we have any hope of change

  11. Margaret says:

    Why are we paying council CEOs that kind of money in the first place? Reduce their pay to below 80k, they don’t do that much work anyway…it’s the lower paid workers who do all the work for peanuts.
    All senior staff of Croydon council that stole off the council left with huge handshakes and no jail sentences and they are all doing fine in other councils …Nathan Elvery, Graham Cadle, Karen Sullivan, Jo Negrini.
    Please can something be done urgently?
    And get rid of directorships in councils too…waste of money.

  12. Sandra Monks says:

    I have lived in Croydon for over 40 years and in the last few years I have watched in dismay as the town goes steadily downhill as as a result of mismanagement by the council: the numerous lawsuits and fiasco surrounding the Whitgift Centre, the grandiose plans for the Fairfield halls which came to nothing, planning permissions that seem to go through on the nod, and some time ago, the riots. While people are being made redundant, it is a disgrace that extremely high wages being drawn by some councillors and the final insult is the large pay off to Jo Negrini. The reputation of Croydon is at rock bottom … try telling new acquaintances that you live in Croydon these days and you are met with raised eyebrows!

  13. Stephen Tyler says:

    And how about hygiene? Multi-storey car parks where the stairwells reek of cannabis and urine. And passageways along the streets that are used by inebriates as open air urinals. My eldest daughter walked down one passageway recently to espy a human turd left there by someone who obviously couldn’t give a damn about anyone else. But to an extent, it says something about the lack of public conveniences. But also there is the way that people treat them, Lloyd Parkbeing a local example.

  14. Stanley Pontlarge says:

    I remember Kerswell from her time in Redditch back in the 1990s. She is marginally less use than a chocolate fireguard.

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