CROYDON IN CRISIS: ‘Kerswell’s cull’ of the council’s executive directors appointed or promoted by her predecessor, Jo Negrini, is not going as smoothly as might have been hoped. And it appears that most will escape any disciplinary action. By STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council is facing an expensive-looking possible court case for discrimination and constructive dismissal from one of its executive directors who was suspended earlier this year in the wake of the authority’s financial collapse.
Guy Van Dichele had already given notice that he was leaving his near-£200,000 per year job as executive director for health, wellbeing and adults when he, together with three other execs, were placed on gardening leave in February by the council’s new CEO Katherine Kerswell.
Van Dichele had always been rated as one of the council’s more competent exec directors, and had spent the last year in post overseeing the borough’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. He left Croydon to take up a top job at Southampton City Council.
The Municipal Journal is reporting that Van Dichele is now bringing claims for constructive dismissal and discrimination against Croydon Council.
Van Dichele, finance director Lisa Taylor, Hazel Simmonds, the executive director of localities, and Shifa Mustafa, the executive director of place, were all suspended by Kerswell, while the exec director of resources, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, was said to be on long-term sick leave.
All but Simmonds have since left the council.
All had been appointed or promoted by Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, the previous council chief exec who walked away from the carnage she had helped to create in Croydon with a golden farewell of £440,000.
The trade magazine has confirmed that Mustafa had also resigned from Croydon Council, though without negotiating any pay-off. It is understood that had Mustafa not resigned, she could have been subject to disciplinary action.
Mustafa’s responsibilities included the disaster that is Brick by Brick, the costly bungled refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls and the massive Compulsory Purchase of a swathe of the town centre for a Westfield supermall that is never going to happen.
Mustafa was singled out for criticism by the council’s internal auditors for a blatant conflict of interest, when she accepted an appointment on the board of Brick by Brick while also holding an equivalent position with the Fairfield Halls.
It was also widely known among council staff that “Princess Shifa”, despite being on a salary of £176,000, never worked on Fridays.
In the aftermath of Negrini’s rapid exit last autumn, Mustafa was even appointed as acting chief executive by Tony Newman, then the council leader. She held the position for just a few days before the government parachuted in Kerswell as interim CEO.
Over the past four weeks, there has been a flurry of meetings of the council’s appointments committee – which includes council leader Hamida Ali and her deputy Stuart King – as well as meetings of the “investigating and disciplinary” sub-committee. Much of the business has been conducted in secret.
According to The Municipal Journal, “Last month Croydon’s appointments committee privately agreed to begin an independent investigation into the conduct of the corporate management team but it will only be able to look into Ms Simmonds, as all others members of staff in scope have left the council.”
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: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council
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