CROYDON IN CRISIS: The cash-strapped council could reduce staff’s working hours on top of job cuts, under some of the latest solutions being offered to save money, reports KEN LEE
Croydon staff could be placed on four-day weeks under one of the latest suggestions put forward to save millions at the cash-strapped council.
The four-day week would immediately slash wage bills by 20 per cent, on top of the 400-plus job cuts among budget reduction measures already agreed.
“It means the people of Croydon will be getting a four-day council for five days’ Council Tax,” one sceptic on Katharine Street summed up the proposal.
Croydon has overspent its 2020-2021 budget by at least £70million, because of additional spending taken on during the first lockdown. With reserves run down to perilously low levels, even with tens of millions of pounds received in government covid grants, the council is struggling to balance its budget and pay all its bills.
Last week, the government announced it was sending in a taskforce to carry out a “rapid review” to ensure that Croydon, under interim chief exec Katherine Kerswell, will be able to deliver on financial undertakings given to secure a settlement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The announcement from Whitehall came after the council’s own auditors had issued a damning Report in the Public Interest 10 days ago.
The council’s exec directors – most of them on salaries of £150,000 per year or more – were left reeling by the auditors’ findings, and last week were obliged to issuing grovelling written apologies in an email circulated to staff and later repeat their mea culpaein online briefings to staff. None of those apologies were made to the Croydon public (though Inside Croydon published a leaked email including some of the well-edited statements of apology), and most appeared to be made for show in front of watching Whitehall officials.
Some might be lucky and cling on to their jobs, though for the frontline staff bracing themselves for the second lockdown, after enduring six months of uncertainty over whether they will still even have a job, some might now be facing a like-it-or-lump-it deal which sees their wages cut by one-fifth.
At the start of 2020, the council’s staff roll (excluding those who work in schools) stood at around 3,600. In total, 56 per cent of the council’s spending was on staff.
Some staff numbers were already being cut in January this year, before covid-19 and before anyone on the executive floors of Fisher’s Folly was admitting to their short-comings, with contracts with agency staff being discontinued. Proposals already being implemented and rolling in to 2021 are looking for 15 per cent cuts – with more than 400 posts being axed.
Now, those left behind, with fewer resources with which to undertake their tasks, could be asked to work one day fewer each week.
The idea of the four-day week was among those floated after staff briefings on Thursday and Friday, amid growing discontent among staff who see themselves carrying most of the financial burden for the failings of the borough’s executive directors and political leadership.
Working arrangements around the second lockdown may see any such moves delayed or deferred, but there seems little doubt that further cuts in services to Croydon residents are on their way. Inside Croydon has been told repeatedly, by sources working at the council and by councillors, that few, if any non-statutory services – those which must be provided by the authority by law – will survive.
After the council’s flagship Gateway housing services was hit by significant job losses, the word going into the weekend following the briefings given by Kerswell and Hamida Ali, the new leader of the council, was that what’s left of Croydon’s Youth Services – already hard-hit after a decade of austerity – will not survive this round of cuts.
One disillusioned member of staff told Inside Croydon of Friday’s virtual briefing: “Kerswell and Hamida Ali took questions from Croydon staff on the web. But staff had to submit the questions beforehand.
“Councillors are going to go on financial courses to help them out in their roles. You could not make this up!”
Another council staffer said, “Like most staff, I had to sit through two webinars on Friday. All it did was make me more angry.
“All those directors saying how awful it is and taking time for personal reflection: either they didn’t have a clue what was going on, or they did and then did nothing about it. In either case, it’s time to go rather than make a trite apology whilst raking in a nice salary.
“There are some very good and committed people that work at Croydon. Very few are directors.”
The council staff understand very well what interim CEO Kerswell’s task in hand is. Kerswell has had a long career in local and central government, including being parachuted in to troubled councils to sort out the mess left by others.
“She had been brought in because problem councils is what she does,” the care-worn council worker said, making clear that they knew exactly where responsibility lies. “Lots more jobs and services will go, not because of Kerswell, but because of the Negrini legacy.
“Expect anything that isn’t a statutory service to go.”
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