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’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.
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.
“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.
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”.
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”.
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
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