Council staff have been ordered not to read or talk to Inside Croydon. Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on how the council’s £192,000 per year CEO has quickly adopted the bunker mentality of her discredited predecessor
Katherine Kerswell has been working at Croydon Council for barely two months, but judging by reports from staff members who attended her latest “open” briefing meeting last week, she has already adopted the bunker mentality of her immediate predecessor Jo “Negreedy” Negrini and the discredited council leader Tony Newman.
“It was a lack of openness and transparency which to a large extent got us into this mess,” one staffer told Inside Croydon over the weekend, as the enormity of the council issuing a Section 114 notice and declaring itself bankrupt continued to be absorbed.
“The constant denials that there was anything wrong, the bogus claims of success and awards for things like Brick by Brick… oh yeah, and trying to blame Inside Croydon just because you report what is going on. That’s what Negrini and Newman used to do. Now Kerswell’s started to do it.”
Having risked alienating the trades unions Unite and Unison with her ill-judged and badly worded memo to staff, Kerswell used the virtual meeting to blame others for her mistakes, and she issued an order to staff not to talk to the press, and certainly not Inside Croydon.
Council employees are growing increasingly worried about their futures, the possibilities of four-day-a-week working and even more redundancies. Having already endured one “reorganisation” this year, when more than 400 council posts at the Labour-controlled local authority were deleted, many believe that another round of job cuts could be about to be announced this month – just in time for some to be out of work by Christmas.
The virtual briefing, which was also attended by Hamida Ali, the council’s political leader, was supposed to be an opportunity for staff to put questions to their bosses.
But council employees who logged in to the event relate that it was closely controlled, their questions censored or just never raised. “We’re back to how things were under Negrini,” said one.
“My whole team watched the session,” said another. “We all said it was a bit rubbish. They didn’t answer our questions. We were told we shouldn’t blame anyone.”
Among the perfectly reasonable questions which failed to be addressed at the meeting was how many more jobs are likely to be axed.
“Most of us are asking,” said the frustrated frontline worker, “why are the top management, who created this crisis, still in their jobs?”
Kerswell also misled the meeting, somehow seeking to blame Inside Croydon for reporting the news of the Section 114 notice.
Kerswell – who is on an annual salary of £192,474 at Croydon – “gave the excuse she only had half an hour to draft her memo because the big bad Inside Croydon were going to break the news about the Section 114 notice,” a council staffer said.
“It was difficult not to laugh.”
In fact, acting on information received, Inside Croydon sent an email to the council’s press office at 12.46pm on Wednesday, November 11.
This was a routine piece of journalistic fact-checking, while also giving the council an opportunity to comment on the information that it was to issue the Section 114 notice the following day.
Our email was copied to Kerswell and to Ali.
It said, “Good afternoon,
“Are you able to deny that the council is to issue a Section 114 notice tomorrow (Thursday, November 12)?
“Would you like to take the opportunity to provide a statement on the financial situation at the council that has led to this latest action?
“I am working to a publication deadline of 4pm today, so any response would need to reach me by 3.30pm.”
We have never received the courtesy of an acknowledgement, never mind a substantive response (although we do have email read receipts).
In the event, Lisa Taylor, the council’s chief finance officer, wrote to councillors at just after 3pm that day, November 11, to advise that she was issuing the Section 114 notice. Kerswell sent her email to staff at 3.07pm (nearly two and a half hours after she had received the email questions from Inside Croydon), and the council propaganda department issued a press release at 4.15pm.
Inside Croydon’s fact-checked and entirely accurate report was published at 4.24pm (it was a busy day).
“It’s all getting a bit pathetic, to be honest,” said one staff member, choosing to ignore the Kerswell instruction at the meeting for employees not to speak to Inside Croydon.
“She even used the phrase ‘fake news’, just like Tony Newman and Donald Trump. What happened to them, I wonder?”
Read more: The questions that Kerswell refused to answer
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’
Read more: Jenrick orders urgent inquiry into ‘unacceptable’ council
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Ooh dear- copy books being blotted so early!
Banning staff from accessing Inside Croydon ? Perhaps the council disciplinary code will be amended to make it “Gross Misconduct” A thought-crime even to consider looking at it . Big Sister is watching us !.
Embodying a desire to “Shoot the messenger” ???
What does Wikpedia say ?
“A modern version of “shooting the messenger” can be perceived when someone blames the media for presenting bad news about a favored cause, person, organization, etc. “Shooting the messenger” may be a time-honored emotional response to unwanted news, but it is not a very effective method of remaining well-informed.”
If Kerswell researched Inside Croydon’s archive she would see that much of the problems that Croydon are experiencing were predicted by people with a wealth of relevant experience combined with common sense. The problem was that the earlier administrations took precious little notice and as is said in this article discouraged staff from engaging with Inside Croydon.
She is now making the same mistake.
Remember the poster “DONT MESS WITH CROYDON ?? Now who is doing the messing? Lets be serious with this number of staff departing and the remainder working a day less, can we expect to see anything, bar the bare legal essentials, done? In reality, no, as the present reply rate is close to minimal. (OR there were far to many staff chasing each other round and doing very little). I have recently drawn attention to the shocking signing in respect of the current road changes wh8ich allows motorists to pass along roads from which they are prohibited (Well lets be positive, it brings in revenue that is needed!).
Look at the central reservation in Wellesley Road – it has yet to be maintained even once this year while different departments say it is not their job – last year I think it was actually done once.
SOMEBODY must be responsible for the mess.
Oh, wanna park your byke? Plenty of space in Lansdown Road, there are four empty racks, daily
I will give Kerswell a bit of time. However many politicians believe that they are right, dont listen to rational opinion and then when it all goes wrong say they will listen and lessons will be learnt. Then the whole sorry cycle starts again. Sorting out the mess that is now Croydon is never going to be easy and hopefully legal action will be taken against the previous arrogant incompetent leadership. Maybe the only solution is to totally abolish Croydon Council and hive off to other councils. South to Reigate and Banstead, East to Bromley, West to Sutton and North to Lambeth. Obviously it wont happen, but does anyone really think that the current setup can be rescued? (Are we still having to pay for Newman, Scott and Butler etc to be councillors? If so that needs to stop pretty pronto)
I hope Kerswell learns fast.
Inside Croydon is the only means residents of this borough have to find out what is happening in local government in Croydon and what decisions are being made in our names.
If she thinks residents will disappear only to reappear four years later when the ballot box comes out, she’s got another thing coming.
She has been called in to sort out a council who was called out by Inside Croydon some three years previously. Given the utter mess caused by Negrini, Newman, Butler, Scott and Hall, council staff and residents will be alert to incompetence now more than ever before. And we learn this through Inside Croydon – not the Council newsletter.
Three years, Seb?
Where were you in 2013 and onwards?
Katherine Kerswell needs to be open and honest above all. The miscreants listed have caused this disgraceful and predictable situation yet there seems to be no sign of being held to account and are very much to blame. I wonder if they’d behave in such a cavalier manner with their own money.
I have learned much from this web site and, perhaps, Katherine Kerswell could do likewise.
I must be a little more generous than the writer of this article and some of the commenters so far. I do not yet perceive this as ‘more of the same’. Katherine Kerswell is charged with sorting the mess out and not with explaining why we arrived here. The investigation that is underway will (hopefully) reveal the accuracy of the Inside Croydon articles and expose the root cause of the problems we are experiencing. Katherine Kerswell wishes to keep staff informed of the enormity of the task we are facing and wants to keep them onside. The announcement of the S114 Notice was planned for a particular time and information would have been given to staff and public alike on schedule. The few hours deadline given to her meant that the timing allowed for the final drafting of the official announcement had to be condensed and what we got was a very hastily prepared statement.
I really appreciate the work Inside Croydon has done over the last few years and do not think it beneficial to stoop to name calling and points scoring this early in the ‘new regime’. It remains to be seen how Katherine will drag us from the abyss but that is what Westminster are trusting her to do.
I am critical, however, of the wording used by Lisa Taylor, Director of Finance Investment and Risk, but I will also generously forgive her the few mistakes she made. I’m sure this was due in part to the fact that she was only the second Finance Director to issue a S114 Notice, and this after only a few months in post. Her speech did come across as appearing to criticise staff, to use an example, for having ‘two biros instead of making do with one’ and this has caused immediate offence among many staff. I’m sure this part of a difficult speech was not intended to be directed at the workforce but was meant for the administration and senior management who, to quote one of the apologies previously offered ‘should have challenged more’.
I have not been banned from reading Inside Croydon and will continue to visit the blog. Please stick to exposing the errors made by the administration over the recent years as this is why people read your blog.
My partner is an Croydon Council staff member and was on this video call.
The questions answered were the easy ones that were not what the wider audience wanted answered.
Time and time again, people asked and asked for the questions with the most likes to be answered, but they just chose to ignore them.
Ms Kerswell and the guy narrating the questions (Stephen) just did not capture the mood and the emotions of my partner and the rest of the staff on the call, and were constantly smiling and laughing and acting far too jovial, which was insensitive at the least, given the situation the wider staff population are in, not knowing if they will even have a job after Xmas.
The only one who came out of it with any credit was Ms Ali, who seemed sincere and at least wasn’t laughing with the other two.
Lisa Taylor looked at Ms Kerswell when answering anything, as if seeking permission and/or approval for anything she said.
What a sorry state of affairs, and what a mess Jo Negrini and the rest of the Directors have gotten the borough in, the rest of them should be marched out of the Council, but without a £440k goodbye present.
I do hope the Unions fight for the hard-working staff on miserly salaries.