CROYDON IN CRISIS: Simmering anger among staff who fear they may lose their jobs is likely to turn to fury when they realise that the council’s top-down cuts are leaving the executive floors barely touched.
Exclusive by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council is advertising for an interim executive director of children, families and education department on a cool £800 per day.
That could work out at £190,000 per year, at a local authority where following its covid-19 induced cashflow crisis is now undergoing an urgent financial review, a recruitment freeze and is axing more than 400 posts – including nearly one-third of its agency social workers, many of whom worked in the very same children, families and education department.
Last night the council cabinet passed an emergency budget which included a proposal to government to be allowed to borrow another £22million to deal with the immediate covid-sized hole in the borough’s budgets.
The impression that this money will be used to pay for senior executives’ gold-plated salaries and pension funds, while services to the public are being cut, will only be reinforced by this job advertisement.
The ad has appeared over the past week or so, and is being handled by Adecco, the Swiss-owned recruitment agency who have made huge sums out of supplying Croydon with temporary staff when the council’s own internal personnel department has failed to fill vacancies. It is a practice which is lucrative for Adecco, and extremely costly for the Council Tax-payer.
Staff at Adecco’s offices today confirmed that the interim exec director post is for Croydon Council, where the widely-respected Rob Henderson left the role at the start of this month. It seems very likely that by the time he left Croydon, Henderson will have been on a salary and pension package of around £180,000.
Children’s services at the council are a sensitive area. The department was only rated “Good” by Ofsted in March following more than two years and £25million extra spending after Croydon’s children’s services were assessed as “Inadequate” and a danger to youngsters in the council’s care.
But executive-level pay at the council is also a sticking point, especially after the previous chief executive, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, snapped at staff who dared to ask whether she or her six-figure-salaried colleagues would be taking wage cuts to help with the financial crisis. “We are not messing with anyone’s Ts and Cs,” said Negrini, who departed Croydon last month with a £440,000 pay-off of her own.
Before she left, Negrini had admitted that the council had begun an effort to wean itself off agency staff, beginning in January this year, and because of the poor state of the Town Hall’s finances even before coronavirus.
Croydon’s HR department’s dependency on agency staff, and particularly its reliance on Adecco, has proved very expensive and controversial, and is regarded by insiders as another aspect of how badly-managed the council had become under Negrini and her appointees.
“There’s always a need for temporary staff from an agency at a local authority,” said the source. “But in Croydon, it is not the last resort, but the default position.”
According to sources within the council, Croydon has been paying Adecco around £5,000 for every vacancy they have managed to fill. This has been followed by welcome and retention payments. “It’s colossal,” according to the Fisher’s Folly insider.
Indeed, according to official figures from Croydon Council obtained under an FoI, in March this year, in children’s services alone, there were 164 agency staff out of a total of 216 social workers. At £5,000 a time at least in recuitment fees, that could add up to £820,000 for Adecco, in a single year, in one section of one council department.
The suggestion that fees to recruitment agencies soaked up much of the £25million poured into children’s servives since 2017, rather than being spent on full-time staff and providing services, is confirmed by reports from Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, who has admitted that in 2015-2016 the bill for agency staff and their recruitment fees came to a staggering £20million.
“That is the reality of the marketplace we are trying to deal with,” Hall said at that time.
Seemingly, nothing has been done over the intervening four years to make the council’s in-house HR department more capable of handling a recruitment process.
The job ad for Henderson’s replacement may reflect other additional and unnecessary expenses. After all, why has the council’s HR department not simply placed an advertisement itself? And why go to the trouble and expense of hiring an interim, rather than begin the recruitment process for Henderson’s full-time replacement three months ago, when he handed in his notice?
Inside Croydon has heard from multiple whistleblowers who have reported concerns about the way Adecco manages workers within Croydon Council, and from others who have been summarily escorted off the council premises when they have dared to question the costly practices.
One case is expected to reach an employment tribunal this autumn, where a number of questionable practices are likely to be made public.
If those, such as Katherine Kerswell (another interim), the new chief executive, and others working on the council’s financial survival plan want to find ways to cut costs and make efficiencies, they could do worse than attend the tribunal to pick up a few tips.
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