Over-worked, under-valued and long-suffering members of council staff are regarding Monday’s council business with some trepidation.
Because as well as Monday evening’s cabinet, earlier in the day there is a meeting of the council’s appointments committee to decide the short-list of candidates for interview for the borough’s top job, chief executive. And most council staff think they already know who will get the £192,474 plum post.
Many staff are feeling exhausted and downtrodden after a gruelling year of delivering emergency services during covid-19 amid the financial collapse of the council. Morale is at rock bottom now with the council regarded as a pariah following the scandal of the squalid council flats in South Norwood.
With more than 500 job cuts because of the borough’s bankruptcy, council staff, many of them on the minimum wage, are being expected to paper over the cracks in departments many of which were under-staffed even before the cut-backs.
And after nine months of working in an organisation headed by Katherine Kerswell, their fear is that she will be a shoo-in for the top job permanently.
Staff compare her to a female version of David Brent, and say that she dominates the council’s elected leadership, almost to the point where senior councillors are behaving as if they have Stockholm Syndrome.
The council is, inevitably, “on a journey”.
“Coming out of the pandemic and with the financial challenge ahead of us it is a priority to appoint to the permanent role of chief executive to provide stability and to lead our turnaround journey, providing assurance at the highest level, whilst rebuilding and reinvigorating a whole workforce behind a new vision and culture,” reads the report to the appointments committee, almost as if it was drafted at a desk in Wernham Hogg in Slough.
“I’m not sure I want to be reinvigorated,” one cynical staffer told Inside Croydon. “And if we are to be told to ‘get behind’ a new vision and culture one more time, I think I might puke.”
Kerswell is the interim CEO who told staff faced with possible redundancy that, “This is a really difficult situation.” NSS.
On another occasion, Kerswell had told the very people she was about to issue P45s to, “I want you to be at the heart of this.”
Staff recoil with horror at the Kerswell management style, which they claim has changed little since the cosy presentation video that she made to her colleagues when in charge of Northamptonshire County Council in 2008 – the council which in 2018 (long after Kerswell had moved on) became the first local authority in England to go bust, two years before Croydon managed it.
“We’ve seen it in all of Katherine’s Zoom meetings with staff. It’s that same, carefully modulated tone of voice, the same management speak,” one said.
“It’s like she’s a cross between David Brent and a Blue Peter presenter from the 1970s… Deliberately patronising, assuming everyone else is an idiot.
“There’s always buzz words, all this waffle about ‘a two-way dialogue’ – is there any other kind of ‘dialogue’? It’s just that there’s nothing two-way about the way Kerswell has been doing things since she was parachuted in here.
“She might have got rid of Negrini’s execs and directors, but while there have been job cuts across the board among frontline staff, Kerswell seems to have increased the number of well-paid executives. We’ve got interims and consultants everywhere.”
The appointments committee is chaired by Hamida Ali, the council leader, and it is this which seemingly guarantees Kerswell’s future job prospects, according to another member of Croydon staff.
“The relationship is entirely the wrong way round. Katherine and her execs are the ones making all the decisions now, and they are doing their utmost to ensure that the members carry the can for it.
“Hamida is totally dominated by KK,” the staffer said. “She is completely in her thrall.
“We see it in the regular staff meetings they have been having, where carefully selected questions are allowed. Katherine deals with the routine, obvious stuff, and then passes the awkward to Hamida or the councillors on the call. It’s been like that since very soon after Katherine arrived – it’s as if they have Stockholm Syndrome.”
The announcement of who will be appointed as Croydon’s permanent chief executive is expected next month.
Read more: More worries over Kerswell’s suitability for council top job
Read more: Official accused of bullying Regina Road tenants over meeting
Read more: Exec director resigned week before suspension was announced
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