CROYDON IN CRISIS: The honeymoon period for interim chief exec Katherine Kerswell appears to be over after a memo, sent just as the Section 114 notice was issued yesterday, has prompted new anger among the already demoralised staff. KEN LEE reports
In the summer, as more than 400 council jobs were being cut but Croydon dodged a Section114 notice by virtue of little more than the stroke of a pen from a senior accountant working with the government, this website noted that it was a case of “Trebles all-round for the exec directors! P45s for the frontline workers!”
And while much has moved on since July, including chief exec Jo “Negreedy” Negrini (the blow of her departure softened with a £440,000 reward for failure), little has happened to calm the simmering discontent among council staff. Or at least, those council staff who are left.
Because it is not just the hundreds of staff being made redundant from the council who are leaving. There’s an on-going exodus of senior and well-regarded front-line employees, as they seek to quit Fisher’s Folly and resume their careers at better-run authorities.
This will create further problems in terms of delivering services, any services, at the cash-strapped council, because under the strict terms of the S114 introduced yesterday, no one who hands in their notice for the next few months can be replaced with a new recruit.
And there may be some loyal council staff, many of them on modest rates of pay, who had their minds made up for them yesterday when they received what some characterised as a “patronising” memo from Katherine Kerswell, the six-figure salaried interim CEO.
Kerswell has a well-earned reputation as a local authority trouble-shooter. Croydon is the second crisis-hit council where she has been parachuted in this year alone.
She now has a unique, and probably unwanted, record of having presided over two local authorities where auditors have published Reports in the Public Interest (Nottinghamshire and Croydon) and worked at two councils which have issued S114 notices (she was at Northamptonshire, though some years before the Tory-controlled shire went bust in 2018).
Two months since she was imposed on Croydon, some staff are beginning to realise that Kerswell’s modus operandi is to arrive at a council where she has few, if any, existing loyalties or relationships, deliver the swingeing cuts expected by her colleagues in Whitehall, and then move swiftly on to the next basket-case local authority.
The fact that most of Kerswell’s meetings with staff, like this afternoon’s briefing, have had to be held “virtually” because of covid-19 restrictions, has only helped make her seem an even more remote figure from the majority of the council’s workers.
“I am so angry with top management,” one council staffer told Inside Croydon (on condition of anonymity, of course).
Kerswell wrote: “Colleagues across the council are still putting forward requests to spend money and for growth next year that we simply cannot afford. Too many of us are still operating like business as usual and are not facing up to our new reality that we are actually in a financial crisis…
“The consequences of that behaviour are that we haven’t found the savings we need and therefore Lisa Taylor, our finance director, is issuing what is called a Section 114 notice with the support of the whole of the executive leadership team.”
Staff were less-than-impressed. “It’s insulting that the vast majority of staff who have absolutely zero control over the finances are now being chastised in this way by the new CEO, when very senior people responsible show no signs of taking responsibility and stepping down,” one said.
They confirmed that what staff remain working at the council are likely to be asked to take 20 per cent pay cuts, as they are put on four-day-week working, as was exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon.
But they feel that the virtual briefings are being very closely controlled, with few spontaneous “questions from the floor” being allowed, and carefully prepared responses lined up for those questions which are permitted during the meeting.
At previous Kerswell briefings, “The answers were all very non-committal with the usual stuff about consulting with the unions. With the Section 114 notice today, we can’t see beyond more job cuts for colleagues working in non-statutory services.
“Quite a lot of the more contentious questions from staff were simply ignored – particularly around Jo Negrini’s pay-off. It’s all starting to feel a little like a PR exercise, but at least they are meeting with us.”
Kerswell and her “executive leadership team” are already working on another “restructure plan”, which means more job cuts, which is expected to be released before the end of this month.
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