Council correspondent KEN LEE reports on the latest bit of empire-building going on at Fisher’s Folly
Croydon’s cash-strapped council, which over the past 18 months has been handing out P45s willy-nilly to hundreds of the low-paid front-line workers who grafted through the toughest times in the pandemic, has this week announced the appointments of two “corporate directors” who will both be paid salaries of around £150,000 per year.
And just to make sure no one rocks the boat over either appointment while she builds her little empire in Fisher’s Folly, chief exec Katherine Kerswell has made sure that she’s got the Town Hall’s Conservative opposition to endorse her choices. There are elections coming up in three months’ time…
Last year, to make it appear that she was actually doing something, Kerswell decided to scrap the “executive director” title that most in her top team had attached to their jobs. From now on, they were to be “corporate directors”, because, you know, it will make so much difference to the end outcomes for Croydon’s long-suffering Council Tax-payers.
According to Kerswell’s edict, she has created a “new corporate team of directors which, alongside the chief executive, will deliver the Croydon Renewal Improvement Plan and a financially sustainable budget by March 2024”. Note the date: a full three years will have lapsed by March 2024 since Croydon was handed the biggest civic bail-out of all-time, with the local authority effectively under Whitehall control all that time.
So now we have Annette McPartland promoted from her job as director of operations in Croydon’s adult social care department to become “corporate director of adult social care and health”, while Jane West has been lined up for the role of “corporate director for resources”.
West appears to have been handed the most poisoned of chalices… when she takes up the job, she will be Croydon’s fourth finance chief since this time last year.
McPartland fills the vacancy left since Guy van Dichele left Croydon amid some acrimony in February last year.
The social care and health gig is huge, especially in a diverse borough such as Croydon with so many competing demands, and a large number of care homes, and especially so in the midst of a pandemic. McPartland has been doing van Dichele’s job as an “interim” since last August.
McPartland, 57, lives in Croydon and has been working for the council for 27 years, having joined as a social worker.
According to the council, McPartland has “played an important role in the borough’s response to the covid-19 pandemic”.
Announcing her appointment, the council said McPartland “builds on invaluable knowledge and experience of both the council and this specific field, having started her career locally as a social worker”.
The dullards in the council propaganda department must have put in some hefty overtime bills after digging out the barrel-load of platitudes that they attributed to McPartland in the announcement of her promotion. “Croydon Council has nurtured me throughout my career and offered real opportunity to grow…
“There are many opportunities and challenges facing us as we move on through our recovery and renewal journey.
“I have no doubt… that our staff will continue to innovate and flourish.
“I relish the chance… to take our adult social care and the council forward to even greater success.”
Even greater success? Oh well…
“It’s great to see some home-grown talent in our new top team,” was the best that Hamida Ali, the council’s lame-duck leader, could offer.
West’s appointment will see her replace Richard Ennis as the borough’s Section 151 officer, in charge of finances.
Ennis was the finance chief who helped rescue Lambeth when that council was on its uppers 20 years ago, and had impressed most who encountered him during his brief stay at Fisher’s Folly, not least because of his frankness and openness, unusual qualities in senior council staff in Croydon.
It has been suggested by Katharine Street sources that Ennis opted not to apply to turn his “interim” position into a permanent appointment. Perhaps working with Kerswell and her hand-picked deputy CEO, Elaine Jackson, is not such an attractive proposition after all…
West has more than 30 years’ experience working in local government, and arrives in south London from Havering, where she had worked as chief operating officer since April 2018.
In the council’s announcement, it made much of West’s experience in overseeing service delivery shared between neighbouring local authorities – Newham and Havering councils sharing corporate services; Westminster working together with Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham councils – so it may be that together with Kerswell, there are plans being laid for similar money-saving schemes with Croydon’s neighbouring authorities.
West claims “strong links” with Croydon. “I’m really excited to be part of Croydon’s renewal plans – getting the council’s finances back on track, rebuilding trust with residents and restoring its reputation as a provider of fantastic local services.
“I am passionate about making sure public money is spent effectively and putting strong financial management at the heart of decision-making. This is a great opportunity for me to bring that passion to one of the biggest transformation programmes in local government today.”
In a sign that this appointment was as much made by government-appointed commissioners as it was by the borough’s councillors, the council’s statement included an approving comment from the chief executive of CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Rob Whiteman, who said, “CIPFA is pleased to see so strong an appointment for Croydon.
“Jane West is a leading chief finance officer in the local government sector with a commendable track record of helping organisations to make tough decisions, get the basics right and then motor on to transformation.”
Ahhh. “Tough decisions”. “Getting the basics right”. “Transformation”. The thesaurus of councilspeak has rarely been put to so much use to disguise one simple aim: even more cost-cutting.
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