CROYDON IN CRISIS: While the council CEO lays off dozens more frontline workers just in time for Christmas, she’s still recruiting for six-figure salaried commercial director. By STEVEN DOWNES
Undaunted by the realisation that dabbling in the casino economics of commercial investment played a large part in getting Croydon’s cash-strapped council into the mess it finds itself in, Katherine Kerswell, the chief executive, is still trying to recruit a new “director of commercial investment” on a juicy £110,000 per year.
And this at a time when Kerswell has just written to the authority’s hard-pressed staff to advise them that another 58 front-line workers are about to lose their jobs… just in time for Christmas.
The commercial investment director role appears to be a new one, and was among the tranche of eight top-level vacancies first advertised about a month ago.
Apart from the obvious questions about whether any local council should ever be involved in any kind of commercial investment, or whether £110,000 per year really is the kind of money that could hire the calibre of individual with all the right contacts in The City who could actually make a positive difference to the borough’s finances, the advertisement copy simply reinforces the fears expressed by residents that no one in charge at Fisher’s Folly has learned anything from the experiences of the last few years.
“Croydon is a council on a journey,” it says. Seriously.
“By accepting and addressing the challenges of its past, the council is transforming itself into a modern, sustainable, and resident-focused local authority.” Yes, that’s right: “resident-focused”, from a council with a well-deserved reputation for not replying to emails or even bothering to answer the phone.
According to the ad, Croydon is “a council with a passion for driving positive change and delivering excellence”. No, we don’t recognise that description, either.
But here comes the nub: this is actually a job for a director of corporate disinvestment, whose main task is to flog off Brick by Brick and what remains of its unfinished builds and undeveloped sites.
“Welcome to Croydon Council – and a role that will challenge you and fulfil you like never before. As our director of commercial investment, you’ll manage our current portfolio of investments and shareholdings. You’ll act as the corporate client to Brick by Brick and Croydon Affordable Housing, minimising risk and improving efficiency.” At least “improving efficiency” shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.
The successful candidate is to “provide expert property and commercial services, working very closely with other divisions and our finance, legal and commissioning services to achieve the perfect balance between quality and value…
“There will be difficult decisions to make and tough budgets to deliver. But you’ll relish the chance to apply your ideas and ingenuity to find the best ways forward.”
Listed under “specific responsibilities” are “delivering any land or property-based commercial transactions, including housing disposals and acquisitions”.
And “overseeing the recruitment of non-executive directors to all council company boards, ensuring they have the right level of training, development and support”, which would be a stark contrast to the Brick by Brick board under bungling Colm Lacey, who tried to run the housing development business for more than two years without the oversight of an experienced or competent finance director.
The new director’s job will also require the successful candidate to act “as the client representative on all future affordable housing development, managing all asset purchases and disposals, and creating an asset management register”. Because Croydon Council, despite lending £200million to Brick by Brick and spending £30million on the freehold of a struggling hotel business as well as other multi-million commercial investments, did not have an asset management register.
Elsewhere in the near-1,000 words of complete cobblers intended to recruit someone, most likely from the public sector with limited private sector experience for a role which is almost entirely about disposing of assets, Kerswell’s recruiters have written this:
“We fully acknowledge the fact that we haven’t got things right in the past and have strengthened our resolve do them better.
“With a clear financial strategy in place together with an unwavering commitment to listening to our residents and putting them first, this is a reenergised Croydon. A determined Croydon, with a fantastic team of people who care about our community, and how we can support the many different people who live and work here.
“We have a vision of what improvement success looks like for us – a future where we have a vibrant local economy, a great team of people, and delivering new ideas that will mean we can be at our best for the communities in Croydon.”
And all of that being done with 400 fewer staff than in January 2020, while paying millions more to rubbish contractors such as Veolia, while there’s another £38million-worth of cuts coming next year, and plans to meet those budget targets by removing aid and support from tens of thousands of the borough’s most vulnerable households.
“An unwavering commitment to listening to our residents”.
“A reenergised Croydon. A determined Croydon”.
“A vision of what improvement success looks like for us”.
The “for us” at the end there are the real weasel words in that passage. Because, surely, few outside the bubble of Kerswell’s executive leadership team would recognise what she is passing off as “improvement” and “success” as being anything of the sort.
Has there ever been a greater chasm between the self-congratulatory rhetoric coming out of Fisher’s Folly and the hard realities of life in 21st Century Croydon?
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