Unison warns Kerswell not to play blame game with workers

‘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

Winter of discontent: Unions are beginning to question the council management

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.

Interim CEO Katherine Kerswell: two warnings in two days from two unions

“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.

Jo ‘Negreedy’ Negrini: a £440,000 reward for failure

“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’


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Croydon Council, Hamida Ali, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Report in the Public Interest, Section 114 notice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Unison warns Kerswell not to play blame game with workers

  1. moyagordon says:

    Maybe if the unions had listened to their members who had to tolerate incompetence from their superiors the unions would have more credibility.

  2. Harry Heron says:

    The council and its workers work for Croydon council tax payers. They don’t have a blank cheque. They have to do their best with the budget available. No more no less. Forget the ideology. Forget the politics. Simply provide services with the money you’re given.

  3. Anthony Mills says:

    You really ought to have a ”dislike” button for truly stupid comments….

  4. Marcus Rigby says:

    Yep! share the blame, Do these people think the public are so stupid to believe this nonsense, You are all out of your depth, and trying to cover your failure, using the hard working employees as scapegoats. How much lower can you sink. Truly insulting!!

  5. Harry Heron says:

    Time to issue redundancy notices with statutory minimum pay-offs and slash the gold-plated pension arrangements. Why? Because the council cannot afford to spend money it doesn’t have. And council tax payers cannot afford to pay more. It always ends like this when Labour is in charge.

  6. What has happened to the usually objective ‘Inside Croydon’ contributors? Some of the comments above are way off the mark. “The unions” do not run Croydon, “the unions” did not make this huge financial mess, “the unions” on the contrary have consistently railed against the stupid mis-spending, “the unions” largely work on the basis of staff who take on representation etc on a voluntary basis for their colleagues, on top of their paid work. Had it not been for “the unions” even the vestiges of local government services that remain would not have done so, after years of austerity and government disinvestment.

    I can only feel that a little group has entered this debate to try to deflect attention from the actual culprits and place it on “the unions”.

    They have as much validity as those Trump supporters in the USA who refuse to acknowledge reality.

  7. Anthony Mills says:

    Well said, Mr Wright. As a retired Unison Steward, I could not have put it better myself.

  8. SBLNet says:

    They’re only now starting to question council management… The mind boggles.

    • George Wright says:

      Why this obsession with the unions not pointing previously out the catastrophic direction that Negrini, Newman, Hall, Scott etc were taking the Borough’s finances towards?

      The job of Unison, Unite etc is to protect the jobs and terms and conditions of their members. It is not to question the policy decisions of elected members.

      It is no good blaming the unions to try to deflect from where the responsibility lies, it lays, Brother, with those named above and in terms of speaking out previously, with all of us for not lobbying our ward Councillors much earlier in the day.

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