‘Our members did not cause this mess… our members did not approach the council’s finances with “corporate blindness”.’ Unions are gearing up for a battle to protect frontline jobs, WALTER CRONXITE reports
Katherine Kerswell, Croydon’s interim CEO, has been put on notice by the largest union at the council that they will not accept their members being blamed for the disastrous mismanagement of the local authority by incompetent executive directors and its discredited political leadership.
Unison regional organiser Louise O’Hara sent a stern letter to Kerswell and Hamida Ali, the new leader of the council, yesterday. In the letter, O’Hara refers to the memo sent to staff by the CEO – and published exclusively by Inside Croydon – following the issuing of the Section 114 notice on Wednesday that declared the council bankrupt.
The union official wrote that Kerswell’s memo “implies it was the failure of committed staff to cease non-essential spending that has caused the council to issue a Section 114”.
She continued: “Croydon having no choice but to issue a Section 114 is not the fault of the hard-working Unison members, many of whom are already bearing the brunt of the council’s mismanagement of finances.
“Let us remind you that these staff have already been through one staff review process under the misleading guise of needing to cover the funding gap caused by covid. They engaged in the process in good faith and many of them made sacrifices, some with their livelihoods, to help the council make savings.”
As revealed by Inside Croydon yesterday, the council is expected to publish another “reorganisation” report before the end of November, the second in three months, potentially cutting many more jobs. Kerswell avoided taking questions from staff at this week’s briefing about how many more jobs might be at risk.
The letter from Unison followed a warning issued by the other large council union, Unite, who said on Thursday, “Any attempt to reduce workers’ terms and conditions and or cut hours will be fully resisted.”
O’Hara’s letter to Ali and Kerswell said, “Unison appreciates the seriousness of the council’s finances, but we will not accept a Section 114 as a blanket cover for attacks on our members’ terms and conditions or their jobs.
“Our members did not cause this mess; our members did not make the decisions that resulted in huge overspend of budgets; our members did not approach the council’s finances with ‘corporate blindness’,” O’Hara wrote, referring to the phrase used to describe the council’s management by auditors Grant Thornton in their Report in the Public Interest.
“In fact, our members and the Unison branch have raised time and again concerns about the money being spent on consultants, the money being spent on Brick by Brick, [and] on the financial viability of a hotel, amongst many others.
“Difficult decisions will need to be made,” O’Hara wrote, “… but let’s not confuse who is at fault.”
According to last year’s accounts, Croydon had at least 10 director-level council executives on salaries of £100,000 or more. Three were on salaries above £200,000 per year. With the exception of one director, who is thought to have handed in their notice before the financial review began, no one from the executive floors have yet lost their jobs nor taken a pay cut as a consequence of the financial collapse of the council.
Indeed, frontline council staff are still seeking explanations over how Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, the former CEO, managed to walk away from Fisher’s Folly with a £440,000 pay-off – enough to pay the wages of 20 workers for a year.
And while the council is now subject to a strict ban on recruitment, in the fortnight before the S114 was issued, Kerswell herself managed to bring in Elaine Jackson in an executive position, probably on a salary of around £150,000, to help her with the process of… making more cuts.
Meanwhile, more than 400 council posts have been “deleted”, mostly frontline workers’ jobs.
“We hope we can work together constructively in the coming months to mitigate the risk to members’ jobs,” O’Hara wrote to Kerswell.
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: £36m Brick by Brick ‘risk’ helped to trigger Croydon’s S114
Read more: ‘Tony Newman always has been a coward’
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