Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, on how the interim CEO has launched an immediate charm offensive on the council’s hard-pressed staff
Katherine Kerswell, less than a week into her new job as the council’s interim chief executive, wrote to staff to get them onside ahead of what she called “the most difficult few months the council has seen”.
Kerswell started work last Monday, taking over from previous CEO Jo Negrini, who left abruptly at the end of August with a £440,000 “reward for failure”.
Kerswell, in an email sent on Thursday morning and leaked to Inside Croydon, made an appeal to workers for their input to help sort out the mess created by their bosses.
“We all have a stake in making this work and I want staff to be at the heart of all this,” Kerswell wrote.
“I know how hard you all work, and how dedicated you are to delivering vital services to residents, so your input into this process is essential.”
Kerswell will make her first (virtual) public appearance as Croydon’s interim CEO tonight, at a cabinet meeting where the main business will be to pass an emergency budget which includes seeking government permission to borrow another £22million to see the council through its immediate cashflow problems.
Inside Croydon has reported that the emergency budget includes an undertaking to conduct a six-week review of the council’s commercial property investments, including the loss-making Brick by Brick housing developers.
Although Kerswell has been approached by Council Tax-payers and residents’ associations anxious over Brick by Brick developments in their neighbourhoods or proposals seeking planning permission (the next one goes before the planning committee on Thursday), the interim CEO is refusing to enter into dialogue on the matter while the council’s ownership of the company is under review.
But at the same time, she does want council staff to share their ideas on ways to better manage the services the council is supposed to provide.
In her email last week, Kerswell outlined the Croydon Renewal Plan, the second part of the emergency budget report going before cabinet tonight (click here to read the report in full).
When I wrote to you on my first day, I explained that my immediate focus would be meeting Croydon’s financial challenges and balancing our budget. I also said that the next few months are going to be very important to Croydon’s future, that we would be working at pace and I made a commitment to provide regular updates to you on our work on the financial situation.
So being true to that, I wanted to let you all know about the cabinet meeting next Monday, where the leader and cabinet will be asked to take some important decisions in regard to our finances and the future of the council.
Like many local authorities, Croydon Council has been badly affected by the financial consequences of the covid-19 pandemic and the increased costs and loss of income that has created. This is on top of a decade of funding decreases from central government.
The scale of the financial challenge we face means we either have to take immediate action on our own to reduce our costs or we ask the government for financial support.
Support from the government would allow Croydon to implement its plan over the next two [to] three years. This would transition the council into a more financially sustainable and resilient position.
In order for the government to consider supporting us financially, they will require a very robust plan that lays out how we will transform the council into a sustainable, financially-resilient organisation.
The decision that cabinet will be asked to take on Monday is to agree to ask government for financial help and to the development of this plan, which we are calling Croydon’s Renewal Plan.
If we get government’s backing it will give us the time and space we need to make fundamental changes to reset our organisation in order to deliver a balanced budget.
I want to be upfront with you that this will be an incredibly challenging time for everyone, perhaps the most difficult few months the council has seen.
There will be some tough decisions to make as we remodel services and in some cases stop doing things altogether.
We all have a stake in making this work and I want staff to be at the heart of all this.
I know how hard you all work, and how dedicated you are to delivering vital services to residents, so your input into this process is essential.
I really want to hear your ideas to help shape the future of the council and I am opening a new mailbox for you to share them with me. From midday today, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
I really look forward to hearing from you all.
Meanwhile, Kerswell has so far failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s invitation for an interview about the crisis facing the borough.
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