£110,000 director job advertised to flog off Brick by Brick

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

Commercial centre: the council is recruiting for a director of disinvestment

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.

On a journey: Katherine Kerswell

“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.”

Marked for disposal: bungling ex-council staffer Colm Lacey’s empire-building at Brick by Brick drove Croydon to bankruptcy

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:

Complete cobblers: the job ad is nearly 1,000 words of self-satisfied, gushing nonsense

“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?

Read more: Town Hall’s untrue claims about cuts to Council Tax Support
Read more: Further £38.4m to be sliced from next year’s council budget
Read more: Labour wants to cut voluntary sector funding by a ‘full Negrini’

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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6 Responses to £110,000 director job advertised to flog off Brick by Brick

  1. Clearly Croydon Council remains in a parallel universe. You know what’s missing, completely, is any sense of humility.

  2. This article is absolutely right.

    Has Kerswell got a clue about what she’s doing?

    It’s history repeating itself.

  3. Lancaster says:

    Stanley Unwin as Commercial Director; this way they can all talk the same language.

  4. Kevin Croucher says:

    Do they just use one of those corporate BS generators to write these ads?

  5. Stephen French says:

    Having worked in construction in the private sector for nearly 40 years and being a resident of Croydon, I simply cannot believe the mess the Borough is now in due to sheer stupidity and personal egos.

    Croydon use to be a thriving town with thousands of shoppers visiting the centre every weekend. Now it looks more like a ghost town.

    Brick by Brick was a disaster just waiting to happen. A majority of construction firms employ non executive directors to give advice on governance, direction and for an independent view on the business from outside the board room.

    I welcome the commercial mind of Katherine Kerswell into post to sort out years of bad decisions and wonder how Tony Newman sleeps at night.

  6. Ian Kierans says:

    Besides the creative language used to laud failures which is par for the sorry state honesty has fallen to,I would be gobsmacked that they are just now creating a post and by default an asset register let alone someone to manage the portfolio!

    I can pretty much believe that they had no Risk Register and would not know a risk if it conducted flagrant public indecency in Queens gardens wearing only a rucksack with lots of dodgy wiring coming out of it.

    If they did have one then it was done by a person who was treated perhaps like Bertha in the Attic by Newman and Ali.

    No I am sitting here in a bit of despair that only last month someone got around to realising that the Council should be actually recruiting someone to do those tasks and even after the debacle of Debt x Debt – ​seriously it took this long to advertise?

    Mr French may welcome Ms Kerswell for her commercial mind and may have a point. But surely this should have been a priority right from the start? Well probably after Mr Parry at least. Anyone with a reasonable business mind would be covering the bases of Operations Finance,Legal, Risk and Asset management. When hitting a spot of business turbulence would be ensuring those bases are covered at least – But in a complete Clustur***k that is the starting point. So what part of the last 18 months with all the cuts etc and shitstorms did not meet the definition of abject disaster?

    No one suspects that this was not so much missed as extremely delayed as there is a bigger mess than we are led to believe. Or has bureaucracy and process seriously delayed much needed appointments.?
    One the role and salary £110,000 appears to be a bit cheap. Perhaps the well funded defined benefit pension (provided by Pelling and co on the board) is a package benefit and maybe a car or expenses etc – irrespective that is still poor fare. That was a salary paid in public bodies to decent Commercial Directors in 2009.

    There may be some divesting of property especially from Brick by Brick but realistically unless everything has already been sold there should be quite a lot of property on the books. The Directors role will be to maximise revenue from those buildings not sell them. One decent use of one Commercial building can generate enough to fund the running costs of a few Libraries at least.

    So that this has not been done already does require some explanation.

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