CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council announces chief exec appointment – after the only alternative candidate dropped out.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
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.”
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.
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.”
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