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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