CROYDON IN CRISIS: Having overseen the removal of almost all of Jo Negrini’s ‘executive leadership team’, it seems that the interim chief exec wants to move on to better things. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council is to begin the hunt for a new chief executive, with advertisements expected to appear in a fortnight’s time, according to sources at Fisher’s Folly.
Council insiders are interpreting this move as indicating that Katherine Kerswell has no desire to extend her stay in Croydon much beyond the first anniversary of her arrival as the borough’s £192,474 pa interim chief executive officer in September.
With the record £120million government bail-out secured for Croydon’s bankrupt council, there is now loadsamoney to pay for a permanent CEO, and to fund the fancy fees demanded by whatever firm of executive headhunters the authority’s execs decided to use.
As well as the financial rescue package, the other “achievement” of Kerswell’s time in Croydon may be seen as a thorough clear out of the pompously titled “executive leadership team”, which she inherited from her predecessor, Jo Negrini.
That came one step closer to being completed today with the resignation of Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the borough solicitor.
Harris-Baker had been on sick leave from since early February – coincidentally at the same time that Kerswell suspended four other of the council’s most senior employees after having received the Penn Report into possible wrong-doing at the council. Having commissioned the Penn Report, with the help of the Local Government Association, Kerswell has never allowed it to be published.
In early 2019, Negrini had promoted Harris-Baker to executive director of resources, a position for which she was notably under-qualified. Without any accountancy background, Harris-Baker could not serve as the borough’s Section 151 officer, a finance position required by law. Within two years of Harris-Baker being appointed to her new post, the authority was issuing the dread Section 114 notice, effectively admitting it was bankrupt.
Soon after Kerswell arrived, Harris-Baker was given what had all the appearance of a demotion, back to her former borough solicitor role. Her departure now sees her avoid any suspension and possibly any disciplinary action.
In recent weeks, the council has appointed interims as exec director of resources, borough solicitor and monitoring officer – all roles previously held by Ms H-B. When the council was asked, by Private Eye magazine, when Harris-Baker was expected to return to work, and in what capacity, answer came there none. This was clearly a sore point for the council.
Since Negrini quit last summer, having forced the borough’s political leaders to hand her a £440,000 golden handshake, there has been a bloody cull on the 7th floor of Fisher’s Folly, as one after another the execs on salaries of £150,000 per year or more, all Negrini’s appointees, have departed.
The first to go was Robert Henderson (exec director children, families and education). Guy van Dichele (health, well-being and adults), resigned before he was suspended, to take up a similar post at Southampton, where Henderson also now works.
Sean Murphy, the borough’s second-most senior lawyer, has resigned recently.
Lisa Taylor, the finance director who carried the can for the S114 ignominy, resigned in February after having been suspended. She now has a senior role working for Birmingham City Council.
Heather Cheesbrough, another key Negrini appointee, a controversial director of planning, has also resigned.
That leaves just Shifa Mustafa, who was exec director of “Place”, and Hazel Simmonds, who was in charge of “gateway, strategy and engagement”.
Little has been heard of either Mustafa or Simmonds since they were among the suspendees three months ago, although Mustafa’s role was recently filled by remarkably under-qualified Sarah Hayward as an interim. It is entirely possible that both may still be on the payroll, even if they are still on gardening leave.
Effectively, it appears that under Kerswell, Croydon’s cash-strapped council has been paying two exec director salaries in at least three roles for the last three months. Cushty!
And there’s another executive salary to be paid, now, too, with Elaine Jackson having been appointed by Kerswell as her assistant CEO shortly after her arrival.
Jackson’s salary was initially paid by the LGA, as a means of helping Croydon dig itself out of a hole. But that arrangement ended at the end of March. Jackson’s very generous salary now, in common with all the other execs, is now being paid for by the borough’s Council Tax-payers.
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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The story that keeps on giving… at our expense
How on earth did all these INCOMPETENT people end up running or should I say ruining our borough. This is so so so wrong. If I did not pay my Council Tax I would be threatened and these incompetent people were put in a position of trust and what did they do? Squander our hard earned cash. This is WRONG, WRONG, WONG. They should be taken to court and when found guilty imprisoned for their wrong doings. Make an example of them.
I am not sure trebles is the word I would use. I am minded of that close proximity word Tribbles and mogwai. Trekkies will know about tribbles those nice furry lovable balls that for some strange reason start with one and end up with a whole spaceship full sucking up all the resource available solely to re-produce more of – well tribbles. And we all know what Gremlins start out as – those cuties called mogwai – that as soon as they get a bit of liquid motivation turn into – yep savage uncommunicative little creatures that turn and bite the hands that feed – terminally!
I am sure everyone can see the similes here
One thing puzzles me – if a person failed to deliver what they are employed to deliver and failed so spectacularly how are they able to obtain further employment at high levels in other Public roles?
What kind of Executive recruitment and selection process does Local Government have in England and Wales?
Should we call Southampton and other areas Gremlins 2 Or considering Ms Kerswells history and the events here maybe we got visited by Gremlins 2 the new batch that was visited by helicopter management teams using mushroom growth techniques for communication. (Free Nero coffee card to the first to respond with the answer to that simile!)
Can I say it pleeeease! NEXT! It is clear the bad apples are being binned. All of course avoiding accountability. This CEO is just clearing out the cupboards and then off, like a part time bank staff. Leaving an empty Council with f** all left to lead. Fantastic. By the way I rest my case with the fact that to sort out the Council housing stock maintenance issues would soak up all the loan in one go. Happy days!
I don’t know what the procedure is for removing councillors from committees, but when is the leader going to take the hint and have a similar clear out of the remaining councillors from Newman’s circle?
Shifa Mustafa runs the Place department that directly impacts the environment of residents of this borough. There is and continued to be huge dissatisfaction amongst Croydon residents about how Place fulfils it role. Meanwhile, Mustafa is an absent, anonymous lead who appears to have no interest in engaging with the public and appears to have no plan or vision. She doesn’t reply to letters, never speaks in public and nobody knows what she is thinking, if anything. It’s not what Croydon needs.
Kerswell will not have done her job if she leaves with Mustafa still in her role. Massively over-paid and hugely underperforming.
There’s no other way to say it.
The major matter to be resolved over Mustafa was how she, as a council exec director overseeing the work of the council’s wholly owned housing developer, Brick by Brick, while also having responsibility for what was supposed to be a £30million refurbishment of our Fairfield Halls, saw nothing wrong in being on the Halls’ management board at the same time as being a director of Brick by Brick… It may nt have been the act of a corrupt person, but it was certainly the mind-bogglingly stupid act of a thick one.
Everything Mustafa touched – BxB, the Halls, the Westfield redevelopment – turned to ash.
Pound to a penny Mustafa features prominently in the Penn Report, which Kerswell, who commissioned it using public money, has duty to the public to allow them to review and comment upon it.
Mustafa another NEXT coming soon!
Agree entirely with this, everything she touched disintegrated. How on earth do these people live with themselves, all they care about is their six figure salaries (and four day weeks). Ms Kerswell must make the Penn report public, she simply must, what is she afraid of? She came in after the events of Negreedy, Mustafa and Newman, so nothing will incriminate her, so why not release this report to the very people who funded it, and had their public funds pissed up the wall by these cronies, it makes no sense for her to withhold it, unless of course their is a criminal investigation now taking place behind the scenes based on this report’s findings?
Also, what happened to the Grant Thornton report that she supposedly commissioned into the catastrophe that was the…em.. “refurbishment” of the Fairfield Halls? I took my mother to the Halls recently where she had her covid vaccination (in the small glass cafe to the side of the Halls). A gentleman there i was talking to told me the Halls were unable to reopen anytime soon, as there were major issues with the standard of the work carried out. Apparently rain water is leaking through the building everywhere, all over the main concert hall stage (because they forgot to install a section of the main roof!), in the “VIP” lounge area (that has now caused ceilings to collapse and electrical systems to blow), and into the main power distribution control room of the Halls!! Can you believe this, after £30 or £43 million spent, no one knows the true figure, probably more. We visited the Halls for Cinderella the xmas before last, it looked like it had had a lick of paint and some new flooring, that’s about it, even the tatty old red velvet chairs n the concert hall had not been renewed! Where on earth has that money been spent?? Absolutely shocking.
Does anyone know who has read the Penn report? Have councillors seen it for example?
Very few. Perhaps only six people, and only a couple of those are elected representatives.
The only people being punished for the financial excesses and recruitment policies of the Council are the poor old tax payers who are simultaneously having their homes ruined by unsustainable overdevelopment. Do we even live in a democracy anymore? Thank goodness for Inside Croydon.
Only two councillors have gone the same way as the senior officers, that’s Newman and Hall. Butler and Scott are still on the borough payroll, because they have no sense of shame or responsibility, and because Croydon Labour Party have neither the brains nor the guts to kick them out.
Frankly, who can really blame her? Would you want to have your name associated with a shitshow like this, I certainly wouldn’t!