CROYDON IN CRISIS: One year since the council declared itself bankrupt, CEO Katherine Kerswell is offering a slew of six-figure salaried executive positions for recruits to be ‘part of a new chapter’ and to ‘go on a journey’.
By Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE
Croydon’s cash-strapped council, after handing out P45s to around 500 frontline workers over the course of two years while making budgets cuts totalling £83million, has just placed ads for eight new appointments that together offer salaries that total more than £1million per year.
The timing may be unavoidable, the optics of arrogance and entitlement among the council’s most senior staff are appalling.
Under chief executive Katherine Kerswell (herself on a cushty £192,474), the council has supposedly undergone a reorganisation this year which seems to amount to exchanging a word in the job titles of the authority’s best-paid employees.
Instead of “executive director”, they are now to be known as “corporate director”.
It is sure to make all the difference…
And under Kerswell, there appears to be a couple more exec/corporate director positions than there were when she arrived in Croydon in September 2020 as a troubleshooter, on a mission to reduce the council’s costs and overheads.
The jobs have all been newly advertised in the last week, almost exactly one year since the council was forced to declare itself effectively bankrupt, unable to balance the books.
The jobs on offer are:
- Corporate Director of Children, Young People & Education (DCS)
- Corporate Director of Adult Social Care and Health (DASS)
- Chief People Officer (whatever that’s supposed to mean)
- Director of Legal Services (Monitoring Officer and Proper Officer)
- Director of Commercial Investment
- Corporate Director of Sustainable Communities, Regeneration & Economic Recovery
- Corporate Director of Resources (S151)
- Corporate Director of Housing
The ads all state, “This is an opportunity to be part of a new chapter for Croydon and help shape the future of the council.” Which is nice.
The “corporate director” positions each offer a salary from £141,965 up to £150,547.
The other positions are advertised as offering £100,000-plus. Which is very nice…
Kerswell has appointed a slew of “interims” to senior positions in the past year or so. This is the move to fill them permanently. The task cannot have been made any easier given that Sue Moorman, the erstwhile head of personnel, quit her post a couple of months ago without having another job to go to. “A career break”, is how she described it.
The job ads are full of the by-now-familiar marketing speak so beloved by local public servants, using the kind of language you’d usually expect to read in an estate agents’ window – insincere and utterly unconvincing.
“Inspire Excellence”, they say.
“Croydon is a council on a journey.” Of course it is.
“By accepting and addressing the challenges of its past, the council is transforming itself into a modern, sustainable and resident-focused local authority.” Did we mention “insincere”?
“This is an opportunity to be part of a new chapter for Croydon and help shape the future of the council. A council with a passion for driving positive change and delivering excellence; a community with a rich heritage, a diverse population and a distinct identity. It’s an environment in which you can find fresh inspiration and inspire others in equal measure.
“Welcome to Croydon Council – and a role that will challenge you and fulfil you like never before…”.
And on it goes. You probably won’t want to read much more, or risk projectile vomiting over your computer screen.
This, remember, is a London borough council which has made so many frontline staff redundant, they can’t even answer the phone lines in order to take payments from residents who want to pay their Council Tax.
“You’ll deliver cultural change to our service delivery model that will give residents greater choice and control, tackle inequalities and improve service access and increase support for those with the highest level of need.” Hard to believe, innit?
This is the same council that paid £104,000 on a six-month contract to a Kerswell appointee, ostensibly to sort out the mess in “the worst flats in Britain”, where mouldy walls, leaking ceilings and dodgy electrics were exposed in television news reports that caused a national scandal. That director, Alison Knight, has already left Croydon without ever once meeting the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group.
So much for residents’ “greater choice and control”, or for improving “service access and increase support for those with the highest level of need”, eh?
And the council’s job ad copy continues, “You’ll work collaboratively as part of the new corporate team of directors and with our chief executive to deliver the Croydon Renewal Improvement Plan, our priorities and ways of working, and a financially sustainable budget by March 2024.” So that’s all sorted then.
Most of the positions are currently filled by “interims”, who are now expected to apply for the post full-time. They include Knight’s immediate replacement, David Padfield, and Richard Ennis, the council’s third finance chief in less than a year.
Others, such as veteran Debbie Jones, £800-per-day interim executive director for children, families and education, since October 2020, are expected to be replaced.
According to the job ads, the director of commercial investment, who’s to be paid a relatively “modest” £104,902 to £109,140pa, has a particularly interesting time ahead of them.
Their job description requires that the successful candidate should be capable of…
- Taking the lead on and delivering any land or property-based commercial transactions, including housing disposals and acquisitions (the Croydon fire sale)
- Ensuring robust governance and control around our shareholdings, asset investment funds and any other entities (that would make a pleasant change)
- Overseeing the recruitment of non-executive directors to all council company boards, ensuring they have the right level of training, development and support (in contrast to the former board members of Brick by Brick)
- Meeting all shareholder requirements both contractually and operationally, and upholding our governance requirements in briefing members appropriately and ensuring transparent and effective decision-making (there’s a first time for everything)
- Acting as the client representative on all future affordable housing development, managing all asset purchases and disposals, and creating an asset management register (which suggests that the council’s existing asset register is inadequate, if it exists at all).
One position not being advertised is that of “assistant chief executive”, which was created by Kerswell last year and handed to Elaine Jackson.
It is not known how long Jackson will continue in post as an “interim”.
But there is a strong sense that the latest job ads are there for appearance’s sake, much like when Kerswell applied to make her CEO’s interim position permanent: after headhunters were employed and a “competitive” recruitment process, she ended up being the only applicant.
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