CROYDON IN CRISIS: The council running one of the country’s most ethnically diverse boroughs could be dragged through the courts, with one of its rare BAME directors accusing it, and its chief executive, of racism.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Hazel Simmonds, Croydon’s executive director of localities who has spent the past 12 months on “gardening leave”, is suing the council for race discrimination, victimisation and unlawful reduction in wages.
Simmonds is also pursuing a complaint for racial discrimination against Katherine Kerswell, the council chief executive.
Simmonds was one of five directors, all on hefty six-figure salaries, who in February 2021 were either suspended by Kerswell or went on long-term sick leave, just weeks after the council’s financial collapse and the issuing of a Section 114 notice to declare itself effectively bankrupt.
The suspensions occurred shortly after Kerswell received a report from Local Government Association official, Richard Penn, that was supposed to examine the circumstances and conduct that lead to the collapse of the council’s finances and governance. More than a year later, the Penn Report has never been made public.
At the time of the suspensions, the Local Government Chronicle reported a senior source saying that they could not recall so many council officials being suspended simultaneously.
The three other suspended directors – director of finance Lisa Taylor, executive director of place Shifa Mustafa and executive director of health, wellbeing and adults Guy van Dichele – have all since resigned, while Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the former monitoring officer and sometime director of resources, has also exited Fisher’s Folly after a period of sick leave.
All five directors were either appointed or promoted by Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, the chief exec who scarpered in August 2020 with a £440,000 pay-off.
According to a report published today by The Municipal Journal, Simmonds is being represented by local government lawyer Mark Greenburgh. She remains an employee of the council, but must now have one of the best-tended gardens in south London.
The MJ quoted a Croydon Council spokesperson as trying to pretend that there was nothing serious in a racial discrimination complaint, saying, “It is not the council’s policy to comment on individual staffing matters.”
Kerswell had not responded to Inside Croydon’s request for a comment by the time of publication.
Read more: Former health director suing council for constructive dismissal
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