CROYDON IN CRISIS: Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, on the latest bulletin to council staff intended, perhaps, to keep up morale
In the vintage (and not very “woke”) BBC sitcom Are You Being Served, the doddering old proprietor of the Allders-like department store (remember them?) would at the end of an episode appear on the shop floor, usually pushed on in his bath chair by a buxom young woman.
After a cursory look around, Young Mr Grace would wave his walking stick in the air before declaring: “You’re all doing very well.”
The staff were, unsurprisingly, unmoved. No one was reassured.
Today, Croydon Council staff received a missive from the interim chief executive Katherine Kerswell which, like the encouragement of Young Mr Grace, will have done little to improve morale among those still working at the authority, as it continues through a process which will shed more than 500 jobs in an effort to balance its budgets.
At least now, following yesterday’s news that four executive directors have been suspended, it is not only the lower-paid, front-line staff whose jobs appear to be on the line.
Some execs have already jumped ship – planning chief Heather Cheesbrough and arts director Paula Murray announced their departures before Christmas.
Now, Inside Croydon understands that Sean Murphy, who until recently was styling himself as the council’s “interim director of law and governance, and deputy monitoring officer”, has also left Fisher’s Folly.
Unconfirmed by the council, this may be a significant move since Murphy was the borough’s lawyer who oversaw much of the legal work conducted for the planning department, who sat on multiple planning committees, and also provided advice on matters relating to Brick by Brick.
The suspensions (on full pay) of the four exec directors are expected to last no longer than 10 days, and it is by no means certain whether any of the four placed on gardening leave yesterday by the CEO will face any disciplinary action. With the council still in the middle of scrabbling around and trying to fix the current year’s busted budget while attempting to set a budget for 2021-2022, the absences of some of these key figures, such as finance chief Lisa Taylor, couldn’t have been worse timed.
And Kerswell’s latest email – still using the non-ironic sign-off logo “Delivering for Croydon” – does nothing to address the many questions arising from her decision.
“This is a really difficult situation,” Kerswell said, with all the grace of… Old Mr Grace.
Judge for yourself.
Here’s Kerswell’s email to Croydon Council staff, sent this morning:
I am writing to you this morning as you may have heard or seen speculation in the press over the last 24 hours about members of staff.
While this is a really difficult situation, and will undoubtedly spark lots of questions, we cannot comment at the moment. I hope you understand that it would not be right or fair to talk about any individual, in line with our duty of care and respect for all staff.
What I can do right now, and why I wanted to write to you as soon as possible, is to give you absolute assurance that plans are in place for continuity of services.
We remain absolutely focused on delivering the council’s priorities – stabilising our budget, delivering services to residents and continuing with our response to the pandemic. Central to that is delivering Croydon’s Renewal Improvement Plan, which we are totally committed to – to live within our means, put the right processes in place and secure our financial footing.
As a temporary measure I have decided to pause the management restructure. I am very grateful for all of the comments that you have shared with me. These will be retained for when the process is picked up again, which I will do following the council’s budget meeting on Monday 8 March.
As soon as I am able to I will share more information with you.
Later on today I will also be meeting with all affected DLT’s to discuss temporary cover arrangements.
Read more: The Kerswell cull begins: five senior council execs go ‘off-grid’
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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