Croydon Council has announced the appointment of Susmita Sen to the role of corporate director of housing. Recruitment ads for the post at the cash-strapped local authority offered a salary of up to £150,547.
Sen is the fourth top exec for housing at Fisher’s Folly in just nine months.
The rapid turnover of housing execs follows the shame heaped upon the borough after it caused a national scandal because of the squalid and appalling state of some council homes in South Norwood – described as “the worst homes in Britain” by one expert interviewed by television reporters who exposed the damp and mouldy living conditions.
The council became only the second landlord to breach the Regulator of Social Housing’s tenant standard, with the regulator labelling the homes “uninhabitable and unsafe”.
Sen takes over a housing department that continues to be in some disarray, and not just because of the churn of execs at Fisher’s Folly.
Nearly a year since the Regina Road scandal broke, the council is still to deliver and approve any improvement plan arising from the atrocious conditions it was subjecting its tenants to. Many council tenants are in open revolt at being subjected to a 4.1per cent rent increase from April.
Meanwhile under-performing repairs and maintenance contractors Axis have decided to quit their multi-million-pound contract, leaving Croydon to scrabble around for a replacement.
And Sen arrives less than a week after another financial scandal was revealed, exclusively by this website, that £73million has gone from the supposedly ring-fenced Housing Revenue Account, apparently used by the council on other stretched budgets. Even the council’s auditors, special consultants and a Queen’s Counsel between them have yet to figure out a solution to that latest Croydon clusterfuck.
The revolving door at the council offices has been spinning ever-faster due to the rapid turnover of staff under Katherine Kerswell, the chief exec. This is never more so than among the executives running the housing department.
Ozay Ali had been in the job, on an interim basis, for just over a year at the time that the Regina Road scandal broke. He left in May 2021.
Kerswell then parachuted-in Alison Knight, on £800 per day, who promptly vamoosed as soon as her six-month contract was up, personally £100,000 richer but having achieved very little for Croydon, and after pointedly avoiding ever meeting any of the residents of Regina Road.
At the time of Knight’s arrival, in May last year, Hamida “Apologetic” Ali, the council leader, said, “This appointment underlines we are serious about raising Croydon’s housing standards, and at pace.”
Yes. At pace. Oh, how we laughed!
Six wasted months later, and with Kerswell having not bothered to find a permanent appointee for the role, Dave Padfield took over.
But he is one of a number of “council career interims”, who never stay in any job too long, and who have been a feature of Kerswell’s merry-go-round of recruitment during her 18 months in charge.
For his part, Padfield did at least appear to appreciate the need for change in Croydon’s housing department. “We are not very good at responding to complaints and queries, a lot of things that come through is about how defensive staff are when responding to complaints and queries,” he told a meeting in December.
“This is about a culture change…my experience is that staff are defensive.”
But Padfield was only ever keeping the hot seat warm for whomever Kerwell might eventually decide to give the job to permanently.
This week, we found out who.
The appointment of Sen was accompanied by all the usual council platitudes and bullshit.
“As London’s second most populous borough, housing is one of the most vital services the council provides to its residents.” Just “one of the most vital services“, though, note.
“Susmita takes on this role at a crucial time in the council’s journey to address the significant challenges in the housing service.” A “journey”. And “challenges”. Who do they think they are kidding?
And as for the next bit, well… please don’t read this aloud in the presence of any past or present council tenants. You’re likely to get a gentle slap of admonishment, if not worse: “Susmita,” says the council’s all-too-familiar press office, “will be instrumental in demonstrating the housing service’s unwavering commitment to putting residents first.”
Yeah. “Unwavering commitment“. Like the unwavering commitment the council showed when failing to fix water leaks in South Norwood flats for four years.
Sen joins from Tower Hamlets, where she was the CEO of an arm’s length management organisation, or ALMO, responsible for 22,000 council homes across the east London borough, where according to Companies House records she was on a salary of £150,000 per year, plus £27,600 per year in pension contributions.
Of course, it is always possible that Sen has taken a pay cut to come and try to fix the mess in cash-strapped Croydon. But what are the chances?
“This is an exciting time to join Croydon and its new executive team as we work to right ongoing challenges and make a huge difference to local communities,” Sen was quoted as saying in the council press release.
She may have already checked out predecessor Knight’s track record, though. “I plan to listen closely to residents as we shape and strengthen the housing service to deliver on their behalf,” Sen said.
“I would like to take this opportunity to assure tenants, leaseholders and all residents of my firm commitment to working collaboratively to deliver much-improved services.”
The council also quoted Hamida Ali, though frankly, who believes or cares what she might have to say?
Read more: ‘Your staff make us feel less than human’
Read more: Ali accused of cover-up over findings on council flats scandal
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?’
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