Kerswell’s management savings plan: no change at the top

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Staff, unions and residents expected to react angrily to the council’s £193,000 interim CEO’s plan to make only minor changes to the staff on the biggest salaries at Fisher’s Folly.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Katherine Kerswell: proving herself an adept furniture re-arranger on a sinking ship

Katherine Kerswell’s plan for the reorganisation of the management structure of Croydon’s bankrupt council will see her scrapping five “executive directors”, all on salaries of £150,000 per year or more. They are to be replaced with… five corporate directors, each of them likely to be paid at least £150,000 per year.

That’s according to sources inside Fisher’s Folly, who were kept waiting an extra 24 hours for the outcome of the interim CEO’s deliberations on how she and her “executive leadership team” proposed to save some money to help plug the £66million hole in this year’s Town Hall budget.

“It’s a real slap in the face for all the hard-working staff, many of whom have placed their health, even their lives, at risk to keep delivering services in the most difficult of situations during the coronavirus pandemic, and now hundreds of them face being made redundant,” one source told Inside Croydon.

“Frontline workers have borne the brunt of the cuts at a council where management have made poor decisions. This plan really is just moving the deckchairs on the Titanic.”

Four months into her role as Croydon’s interim chief exec – on a salary of £192,474 – Kerswell’s management proposals have been met with near-disbelief by some union officials working at the council. This week, they held talks with Kerswell and other senior managers over plans to axe another 130 jobs on top of more than 400 frontline council positions already cut this year.

How the ‘executive leadership team’ appears on the council website, with Kerswell and five exec directors. She plans to replace these with five ‘corporate directors’

Insiders suggest that after several years working as a peripatetic local government “troubleshooter”, in senior positions at councils and in Whitehall, Kerswell – who owns a £1.3million home in Lewisham with her partner, Barry Quirk, the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea – has expressed to colleagues her intention to stay on in the top job in Croydon (although that could be dependent on the outcome of her council’s plea to the Whitehall for a bail-out to see them through this financial year).

“If she wants to take the Croydon job on permanently, then she will need to have as many senior allies inside the council offices as possible,” said another source.

Debbie Jones: where might she fit into the new set-up?

“Keeping execs on their gold-plated salaries and pensions is one way of doing that.”

At present, the “executive leadership team” comprises Kerswell as CEO and five executive directors (as shown on the PowerPoint slide on the council website).

The five are: Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the borough solicitor who was promoted by previous CEO to the exec role for Resources (meaning the council finances); Guy van Dichele, head of health and adult services; Shifa Mustafa, who heads “Place” (meaning planning and development, including the twin disasters of Brick by Brick and Westfield); Hazel Simmonds in charge of something called “Localities and Resident Pathway”, which takes in housing and what’s left after the cuts of Gateway services. Plus there’s Debbie Jones, the 70-year-old interim head of children and education who is notorious, at least for being paid £800 per day

According to a document released to staff yesterday and leaked to Inside Croydon, those “exec directors” are to be transformed into “corporate directors”. There has been no indication as to how much each is likely to be paid.

One of the group looks set to go, because Kerswell has decided to give herself an assistant chief executive – a post reckoned to be reserved for Elaine Jackson, whom the CEO hired from Tandridge just before she ordered a recruitment freeze for everyone else at the council.

Elaine Jackson: lined up to be Kerswell’s ‘assistant CEO’?

Below the exec/corporate director tier of management, the council currently has 20 directors, many of them on six-figure salaries.

This is where Kerswell has chosen to make some cuts, with their number to be reduced to 15.

Below that, the council’s 79 heads of service (on salaries between £80,000 and £100,000) are to be reduced in number to 71.

Through mergers and reorganisation, Kerswell wants to create new positions including one for “resident access” and to appoint someone to run the council leader’s and cabinet’s office.

Working to the corporate director of resources will now be two directors, one of finance (the role currently filled by Lisa Taylor) and another for “commercial investment and capital”.

“That job sounds like they will need to come equipped with a mop and a bucket to clean up the mess left by Brick by Brick and the hotel investments,” said a source.

There’s also to be new roles, “head of estates asset management and facilities” and “head of insurance risk and anti-fraud”.

Heather Cheesbrough: leaving

There’s to be a “director of adult social care improvement”, while in the children, families and education department, there is to be a “director of quality and performance improvement” and “head of quality assurance and performance”.

There’s a big hint where a major merger of directorates might be coming, because under “Public health and public realm”, Kerswell’s blueprint shows a “director of planning and regeneration”, “head of growth and regeneration” and “head of employment skills and economic development”. This suggests a shift from the current “Place” directorate, where two directors – Paula Murray and Heather Cheesbrough – have already decided to quit.

The director of housing will now have four heads of service – “allocations and solutions”, “housing service development”, “lettings tenancy and income collection”, and  “homelessness and assessments and placements”.

Guy van Dichele: what will be his ‘corporate’ role?

According to one Katharine Street source, an elected councillor who had yet to have sight of the full Kerswell plan, “I think that the council’s executive leadership team should carry these vacancies for a while. Not only would it save some serious money but those at the top of the pile would get some first-hand experience of the real-world impacts and hardship of carrying vacancies.”

Another told Inside Croydon, “When it comes down to it, you need someone to do the work. Decent management is something the council has been very short of.

“The council doesn’t know what ‘customer service’ is, so someone to be responsible for resident access is a good idea.

“There’s a couple of new posts created that appear to be responsible for ‘improvement’, such as in adult social care. A continuous improvement plan is needed across the council. Staff are very resistant to change. That will be a tough job and will need commitment from the top.

“I don’t like the idea of assistant chief executives if that is their only job. Staff also get to know which is the weakest link.

“At the end of the day good people make things work, in spite of the organisation, so retaining and recruiting good people is crucial.

“The problem is that good people will be leaving. Why would anyone whose actually any good come to work for Croydon Council right now?”

Read more: Council staff ‘are angry, upset and want answers’
Read more: Survey on cuts tries to pass the buck to residents
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council


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
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5 Responses to Kerswell’s management savings plan: no change at the top

  1. Graham Bradley says:

    This is only a light token pruning of the bloated senior management tree. Radical cuts are needed near the top and the Council should invest in more base workers who have the day to day knowledge but little power.

  2. Kevin Croucher says:

    It’s the same in the private sector. Once you get to the top levels you are set up for life. You have enough chums about the place, who are also in on the scam, to make sure that whatever happens, there will always be a well paid job somewhere for you.

  3. Hans Mien says:

    I think the new deal for Councils should be a flatter structure of staff allowing for ownership and decision making by people at the heart of the work being done. Perhaps someone at top to overview and and pick up on the what else or other angle before signing off. If you want to empower your staff, just get on and do it. Trust, belief, coaching and honesty works. Councils need to get out of the giant hairball of policy and process which is just shit by design and orbit the hairball a little and try, I mean actually try new ways of working rather than just bloody talking about it. Sort out the historic red tape and try some open source working.

  4. Local government exec salaries are waaay out of line now – it’s a recent trend,. But, to be fair, the exec salary bill is miniscule compared to the ordinary men and women. Bloated exec salaries send entirely the wrong message, but cutting them won’t make any significant savings. Exec job cuts would just be a gesture. But pursuing runaway CEOs for redress and incompetence, now that’s an idea.

Leave a Reply to Hans Mien Cancel reply