Kerswell was only interviewee for £192,000 council top job

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council announces chief exec appointment – after the only alternative candidate dropped out.

No competition: Katherine Kerswell

The council this afternoon announced that the £192,474 per year job of chief executive has been offered to Katherine Kerswell, as predicted by Inside Croydon three weeks ago.

What they failed to mention was that, by the time of the job interview this week, the recruitment panel was down to seeing just a single candidate.

Kerswell has been in the Croydon hot-seat since last September, appointed in a bit of a rush after her predecessor, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, legged it from Fisher’s Folly with £440,000 stuffed into her executive briefcase.

Despite the council hiring expensive corporate head-hunters to find top candidates for the top job, by the end of last week the field for the CEO position had been whittled down to the almost shortest of short lists, with just Kerswell and one other due to be interviewed.

But according to sources at the council, the other candidate pulled out of the reckoning on Friday.

The paucity of the field for the post is undoubtedly a reflection of the scandal-ridden council’s bankruptcy and dire reputation, although the possibility that Kerswell might have had a hand in drafting the job description and recruitment copy could also have swayed potential applicants from throwing their hats into the ring.

This is the council’s less-than-frank version events: “Ms Kerswell has been offered the permanent role following a rigorous recruitment process, including an external technical assessment, stakeholder panels and a cross-party appointments committee which took place on 25th May. The decision to offer Ms Kerswell the role was unanimous, reflecting the committee’s confidence in her ability. Her appointment must now be confirmed at full Council in July.”

Jason Perry: ‘delighted’

And, of course, there’s absolutely no chance that that will not happen, since the council’s opposition Tories are backing Kerswell for the job, as well as council leader Hamida Ali’s Labour group.

For the first time in several years, a press release from the propaganda department at the Labour-controlled authority included a quote from an opposition councillor.

Jason Perry, the leader of the Conservatives at the Town Hall, claimed to be “delighted” that the job is going to Kerswell.

“Her experience, expertise and strong leadership has been invaluable to the council in recent months,” Perry said, no doubt mindful that Kerswell arrived in crisis-hit Croydon thanks at least in part to intervention from the Tory government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Today, Fisher’s Folly described Kerswell’s time in Croydon as the interim chief exec as “helping the council navigate some of the most difficult financial challenges in its history”. Just “some”?

In March, the council secured a capitalisation direction – a bail-out – from the government worth £70million for 2020-2021 and a further £50million for this financial year.

In effect, Kerswell, together with her appointee as finance director, Chris Buss, and the government-appointed chair of the “improvement board”, Tony McArdle, are running the council as government-approved commissioners in all but name, with the borough’s elected representatives mostly bypassed over all but the most trivial decisions.

Or, as the propaganda department’s guff would have it: “With organisational transformation, strong governance and providing affordable quality services at the heart of these plans, the focus is on creating a financially sustainable council for the future.”

Today, council leader Ali said (or perhaps she was told to say?), “I’m delighted to be able to welcome Katherine to Croydon on a more permanent basis. Over the past eight months she has proven herself to be an exceptional chief executive who is helping to improve our council and the way we deliver services to our residents.

“Her determination to meet all challenges head on, her financial acumen and her passion for the borough and its people have been instrumental in helping us deliver the improvements we are making.

“Our focus now is on the road ahead and I believe the appointment of Katherine as our permanent chief executive gives us further stability to move forward and build on the progress we have made already.”

Prior to being parachuted in to Croydon, Kerswell had spent five months last year as the interim CEO at Nottingham City Council (another authority struggling on the brink of Section 114 status). Before that she had been interim CEO at Newham from August 2018 to April 2019.

Hamida Ali: ‘delighted’

But perhaps the most significant job Kerswell has held was the near two years she spent as managing director at Kent County Council, which came to an end in December 2011 when she left with her own controversial pay-off of £420,000 – almost a “full Negrini”, even before the term was invented.

The Kent Messenger has reported that the County Council “has never fully explained the full background to Ms Kerswell’s departure or accounted for why she was given a £420,000 payout…

“There were rumours that she had fallen out with the Conservative administration but the council said doing away with the managing director was a way of saving money.”

At least until late 2019, Kerswell lived with her partner, Barry Quirk, in a £1.2million-valued listed house in Lewisham. There, their next-door neighbours were the family of Professor Julius Weinberg, the chairman of Ofsted.

Kerswell and Quirk together represent the London local government “power couple”: Quirk, after 24 years as chief executive at Lewisham, moved to a similar role at Kensington and Chelsea in July 2017 – barely a month after the Grenfell Tower fire in that borough.

Today, Kerswell said that she is “honoured” to be offered the Croydon position on a permanent basis. And she’s still on a David Brentian “journey”.

“The past year has been a very challenging one for the council and there are still some difficult times ahead, but we have come so far together and I couldn’t be happier that I will continue to be part of our improvement journey for this wonderful borough.

“There is much still to do to make sure Croydon is financially sustainable for the future but, despite these challenges, I know that by working together we can succeed and make a difference.”

A Katharine Street source, not bound by the requirement to spout weapons-grade bullshit, gave this assessment of the appointment this afternoon, “In my opinion, Katherine is a class act.  This is a very tough job and she could have walked away, taken the credit and left us in real difficulty. Staying to do the hard yards is, I think, commendable.

“That said, delivery is going to be the issue.”

Read more: Kerswell in two-horse race for £192,000 council CEO job
Read more: ‘Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue’
Read more: More worries over Kerswell’s suitability for council top job
Read more: Official accused of bullying Regina Road tenants over meeting

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12 Responses to Kerswell was only interviewee for £192,000 council top job

  1. Jim Bush says:

    What else could we expect from the winner of the Rottenest Borough award in 2020 ? With the largest population of any London borough, Croydon probably has more voters than any other London borough as well (so hardly a rotten borough in the old sense), but although Croydon Council got there first, the national government are copying them so we in Croydon are doubly ‘Led by Donkeys’ both nationally and locally.
    As a basket-case council, Croydon is probably not an attractive appointment to any good candidates, but for the council to fail to find any other candidates for the job than the existing Government-appointed local government gravy train passenger is yet another indication of ‘Can’t Do Croydon’ !?!

  2. Michael Lott says:

    It seems that with all of the “journeys” that the hierarchy are on, a travel agent would be more suitable. When, if ever, will they arrive?

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    I think this lost Dr Seuss Poem sums that lot up –
    “I love my job. I love the pay!
    ~I love it more and more each day.
    ~I love my boss, she is the best!
    ~I love her boss and all the rest.

    ~I love my office and its location. I hate to have to go on vacation.
    ~I love my furniture, drab and grey, and piles of paper that grow each day!
    ~I think my job is swell, there’s nothing else I love so well.
    ~I love to work among my peers, I love their leers, and jeers, and sneers.
    ~I love my computer and its software; I hug it often though it won’t care.
    ~I love each program and every file, I’d love them more if they worked a while.

    ~I’m happy to be here. I am. I am.
    ~I’m the happiest slave of the Firm, I am.
    ~I love this work. I love these chores.
    ~I love the meetings with deadly bores.
    ~I love my job – I’ll say it again – I even love those friendly men.
    ~Those friendly men who’ve come today, in clean white coats to take me away!!!!!”

    Perhaps Valium and lithium can be prescribed in Industrial quantities to those who need it most – just about anyone who has to suffer the services and those that have to face the public ire from Council lack of support.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    They never left. Think of mice on a wheel generating power and defecating on the mushrooms below. Then think of the big cat waiting patiently doing nothing. Now think of when the mouse drops with exhaustion and the cat pounces and brings the poor mouse to its master who discards it and brings in another mouse and the cycle continues. Well we are the mushrooms the rest you can figure out as you see fit.

  5. Chris Flynn says:

    How much did we spend on head-hunters, only to give the job to the incumbent?

    • As reported last week, when the “field” was “narrowed” down to two: at least £25,000. Which, according to the council’s own figures, is more than the average salary paid to council employees.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        The Local Government standard is for the recognised CIPD good practice to be followed in Recruitment and Selection and whatever HR Head or Business partner the Council got to employ an executive recruitment agency, they could perhaps show that this was followed. – But it seems very strange that any Agency would be paid for such poor results unless it was set as a requirement at the outset to limit this process.It would also be normal for any process that failed to provide sufficient candidates to be reviewed and re-advertised – unless again the purpose at the outset was met. Perhaps all the Councillors on the ”new” scrutiny committee can scrutinize this process and publish a report showing how the Recruitment and Selection Process was followed, along with the Remuneration package in full not just the salary. Being reasonable residents should know in full what they are paying for someone to take a chainsaw to their services and local democracy. At least Chucky had the decency to yell I’M Back!

  6. To be fair, who on earth, would want this poisoned chalice? I hope IC will chase down the disappeared candidate. And, we need to know how much the ‘Head Hunters’ were paid, as Chris Flynn says. They clearly haven’t covered themselves with glory

  7. So the headhunters approach was to tap up existing local authority Chief Execs and go “wanna come work at Croydon?”. I guess that is where the head-hunting comes in but the excuses given by the other CE’s ranged from the “it’s a foregone conclusion KK will get it” to “the challenge is too big” to “Croydon? Don’t wanna live there” to “we’re in the middle of a pandemic duh!” to “I’m happy here and have stuff to do”.

    The committee members said…”do you think you could’ve widened the field” to which the recruiters said “er… well this is what you told us to do”.

    I’m sure I could’ve emailed all the Chief Execs in the country for a lot less than Gatenby Sanderson got…

    • It’s worth reminding ourselves of the two previous appointments of CEOs at Croydon Council.

      In 2013, on the departure of Jon Rouse, the then finance director, Nathan Elvery, was appointed as an interim. Headhunters were drafted in. In 2014, Elvery was confirmed as CEO.

      In 2016, when Elvery decided to go off to West Sussex to cause mayhem there, Jo Negrini, the then director of “place”, was appointed as interim. Headhunters were drafted in. Negrini was handed the job…

      Either incumbency provides too strong a built-in advantage, or the appointment committee has a dearth of imagination. Or both.

      Whichever, clearly the spending on headhunters is a complete waste of time.

  8. Lewis White says:

    Let’s hope that Ms Kerswell and Ms Ali together can turn round the current…. er, difficulties faced by our Council. I wish them both well, if the result delivers a Council that is accessible , listening, responsive, proactive, and cost-effective. And a humane employer.

    A big order, but someone needs to do it.

  9. Kerswell should do a regular interview slot on Inside Croydon.

    Jo Negrini thought she was above Croydon residents and that was her downfall.

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