CROYDON IN CRISIS: Monday night’s constitutional changes at the Town Hall were quickly followed by ‘unprecedented’ action from the interim CEO. By STEVEN DOWNES
Almost the whole of the senior leadership team at the council “went off-grid” today.
Inside Croydon understands that four exec directors have been suspended from duty by Katherine Kerswell, the interim chief executive, while a fifth, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the borough solicitor, is reportedly off work sick.
Callers to the council today were being told that Lisa Taylor, Shifa Mustafa, Hazel Simmonds and Guy van Dichele were “not contactable”.
According to a source inside Fisher’s Folly, “Rumour is that ‘Killer Kerswell’ has hit them with the ‘Poison Penn’ report and that they are now ‘tending their gardens’.”
The Penn Report, by independent inspector Richard Penn, has yet to be made public or even seen by councillors. It had been expected to be delivered to Croydon early in the New Year, after Penn had been tasked to investigate whether there had been any evidence of wrong-doing by council officials or councillors in the years leading up to the council issuing its Section 114 notice in November and admitting it could not balance its budget.
Council sources suggest that, “Not all of the five exec directors are implicated by the Penn Report.”
Taylor is the council’s director of finance, who issued the S114 notice, effectively declaring the council bankrupt. She had been promoted to her role in early 2019, shortly after her boss, Richard Simpson, quit his job abruptly.
Mustafa is the controversial executive director of Place, notorious for being paid a £160,000 a year salary for a four-day week, and whose responsibilities included housing and Brick by Brick, as well as the Fairfield Halls refurbishment.
Simmonds is the executive director of localities, while Van Dichele is exec director of health, wellbeing and adults.
The Local Government Chronicle reported tonight, “All those suspended served under former chief executive Jo Negrini, who left the council in August amid mounting concern over its financial position…”.
The LGC reports that the suspensions follow the receipt of the Penn Report, which was conducted with assistance from the Local Government Association, looking “into senior management actions between April 2017 and September 2020”.
The trade magazine reports: “One senior local government figure said it was not a surprise to see so many officers suspended at once at a council in difficulty, although they could not recall a precedent to so many officers being suspended simultaneously.
“They pointed out that whereas in the past deals could be struck so that officers could be encouraged to leave, the government’s exit cap rules now meant such offers would be less attractive.”
Negrini got out of Croydon with a £440,000 pay-off.
Tonight, opposition councillors were demanding that those responsible for the council’s financial collapse, “be they elected members or officers, should be held accountable for those actions. This cannot be a whitewash”.
No action has so far been taken against any councillors who served in the cabinet of the discredited former council leader, Tony Newman.
“One question now is how many of the members of Newman’s cabinet have to go, too, to match any clear-out among council officials,” a Katharine Street source said. The new council leader, Hamida Ali, had herself been a member of Newman’s cabinet from 2016.
“There has to be serious doubt whether the council can deliver the savings being demanded by the government in the absence of so many senior officials,” said the source.
“It leaves the council vulnerable to have commissioners appointed by Whitehall.”
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