The Kerswell cull begins: five senior council execs go ‘off-grid’

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

‘Killer’: Katherine Kerswell today suspended four of her exec director colleagues

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’.”

Suspended: Lisa Taylor

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.

Suspended: Shifa Mustafa

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.

Suspended: Hazel Simmonds

“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.

Suspended: Guy Van Dichele

“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.”

Read more: CEO Kerswell gets ready to reorganise council’s senior officials
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council

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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
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6 Responses to The Kerswell cull begins: five senior council execs go ‘off-grid’

  1. Maverick says:

    Well let’s hope that’s just the beginning …the complete Director level in “Place” needs to be reevaluated. It’s not a secret that staff morale is at rock bottom, with one former colleague telling me, “The man-management skills are nil. They can only just manage to get out of bed.”

  2. Four – maybe five – senior Croydon council employees are now at risk of their careers being very publicly shredded because of what they did or didn’t do.

    Meanwhile, three senior Croydon Labour councillors, Newman, Butler and Scott, haven’t been suspended by their party, are acting like nothing has happened and are so relaxed, the former leader is threatening to stand again for election next May.

    Any Director being sunk by this process should make sure they take that shower down with them.

  3. Croydon will be under the shadow of this financial burden for a generation.

    If Tony Newman, Simon Hall, Paul Scott, Alison Butler, Fitz-stupid and Clive Fraser have not got the temerity and self respect to resign as councillors, residents of the borough who will suffer as a consequence of their actions should kick them out.

  4. Richard London says:

    Shifa Mustafa’s LinkedIn profile no longer shows Croydon Council under experience!!!

  5. Lee Dee says:

    The collective decisions and policy making of all department Directors are a disgrace, all should resignn or be dismissed.

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