From bankrupt to laughing stock as council count continues

Unfinished work: tellers will be back at Trinity School this afternoon for a fourth session of the council’s ever-so-slow election count

WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the country’s longest-lasting election count, and more unwanted notoriety for Croydon

The Croydon election count looks set to head into a fifth day, and its second week, after yesterday’s session at Trinity School managed to declare results in just eight of the borough’s 28 voting wards.

One interested observer, Tim Crowley, a Tory councillor in Sutton, tweeted snarkily, “I’ve worked out that since the polls shut on Thursday at 10pm, you could have flown to Sydney had lunch outside the Opera House and flown back and still not have had the New Addington result in Croydon declared.”

Pompous: Steve Reed OBE finally speaks out about Croydon Council mismanagement

Things have got so bad that even Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North who managed to keep silent while his mates Tony Newman, Alison Butler and Manju Shahul Hameed were bankrupting the borough, losing tens of millions of pounds, letting council tenants rot in Dickensian housing conditions and cutting Meals on Wheels, has this morning managed to summon up a mild rebuke.

“Not good enough,” Keith Starmer’s pompous shadow justice minister tweeted this morning.

Many of the problems at the count stem from the decision of the council chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, to conduct the complicated mayoral and ward councillor counts in the sports halls and theatre of an independent school. Trinity needed its main sports hall on Friday, the day after the voting was held, for A level exams, and so Kerswell, as Returning Officer, decided to delay the start of the tallying for Croydon’s first elected Mayor until 5.30pm on Friday – 19½ hours after the polling stations closed. It was all downhill from there.

When the organisation of the count ran into problems and slowed the whole process down, a mayoral election count that was supposed to be done and dusted by 10pm on Friday was still continuing at 4.30am on Saturday.

What’s going on?: MP Sarah Jones and mayoral candidate Val Shawcross (back to camera, white jacket) in a huddle trying to fathom what was happening in the early hours of Saturday

Inside Croydon understands that it was mayoral candidates and their agents who called a meeting with the Returning Officer in the early hours of Saturday morning to highlight problems with the slow progress of the two-stage preferential vote count.

The candidates suggested to Kerswell that plans for the ward counts to get underway that morning should be abandoned.

At first, Kerswell tried to maintain everything was running according to her timetable. It was 2.30am yesterday when she was forced to admit defeat and, finally, she conceded that none of the ward counts could be completed that morning and she graciously advised the councillor candidates should make their weary way home to their beds.

Sources at the count suggest that the slow progress was not because of too few telling staff – drawn from council officials – but for lack of organisation. “There were plenty of tellers,” one source said. “But many of them were sitting around with nothing to do for hours on end on Friday night.

“There seemed to be some bottleneck in the process with senior count over-seers verifying the votes against the number of ballot papers issued.”

Someone else said, “I reserve my sympathies for the poor sods counting (or rather sitting and waiting for instruction) who have been so poorly managed throughout.

Slow going: council CEO and Returning Officer Katherine Kerswell

And, as Reed also observed, as far as hall hire was concerned, time is money. “Someone needs to ask the Returning Officer how much four or five days’ hall hire fees have cost, plus all the staff overtime costs, paying for their out-of-office meals and transport… what should have been completed in one day looks to be taking five.

“Who organised this?”

Kerswell’s problems did not end on Saturday morning, though. The glacially slow counting has carried on into Sunday.

With Trinity’s main sports hall not available to continue the count, Kerswell announced in the early hours that this hugely important process would esume at 6pm on Saturday in the small hall and Mitre Theatre, starting with counts for just 12 of the 28 wards.

The rest would then be dealt with in a further count session on Sunday afternoon.

Business partners: from left, Mark and Maddie Henson with Labour Party General Secretary David Evans, on the campaign trail. The Hensons got a Labour business contract without any tendering

On Saturday, the count began an hour late. Even with relatively low turnouts across the borough, it was three hours before the first result was declared.

Some close calls required recounts; Kerswell’s preferred, time-saving strategy was to offer candidates a “bundle flick”, which is what was done in Addiscombe East, a two-seat ward which retains the same councillors – Tory Jeet Bains and Labour’s Maddie Henson.

Henson appeared to cling on to office thanks to some heavyweight canvassing in her ward conducted on her behalf by mayoral candidate Val Shawcross and local MP Sarah Jones.

Indeed, that was the pattern of the night, with no change at all to the political representation in the wards declared, only with some of the personnel changed. Newman numpties, such as Henson, and those who were part of the old Labour council team who bankrupted the borough were all duly returned for another four years on the Town Hall gravy train.

In Addiscombe West, that meant that the chair of non-scrutiny, Sean Fitzsimons, was returned alongside Newman’s chief whip, Clive “Thirsty” Fraser, who survived being deselected in his home ward of South Norwood to scramble back on to the council. Addiscombe West is the third ward where Fraser has stood for election in three elections.

The voters of Addiscombe West were so disenthused by the offer placed before them by the political parties that fewer than 1-in-3 bothered to vote – 32per cent being the turn-out reported.

Broad Green, probably the safest Labour ward in the borough, waved through Stooge Collins, for six years Newman’s deputy leader of the council, fellow loyal numpty Sherwan Chowdhury and the exceptionally useless cabinet member for business, Manju Shahul-Hameed. Here turn-out was just 26.5per cent – hardly a mandate at all.

Counting up time: the ward count gets underway in Trinity School yesterday evening, with tables sorted out, ward by ward

It was as if the events in the Town Hall of November 2020 never happened.

Safe Labour areas, in ward-after-ward, dutifully returned the same councillors who got Croydon into its financial mess in the first place. In Thornton Heath (30per cent turn-out) and West Thornton (27per cent turn-out), the Labour vote looked as healthy as ever, the “Local” Conservatives never getting close, with the Greens and LibDems not managing to land a blow. Fringe group Taking The Initiative Party failed to take any initiative.

With each declaration from safe Labour wards, the low turn-outs served to underline why Shawcross missed out on the mayoralty by fewer than 600 votes – Labour’s campaign managers had failed to get out the vote.

According to the geniuses running Labour’s campaign, Tory-held South Croydon was a target ward. In the midst of Partygate and the other scandals that have embroiled the Tory government, the three sitting Conservative councillors still won the poll in South Croydon – Labour’s Josh Andrew getting within 300 votes of the lowest-polling Tory.

£30,000 by-election: Jason Perry making his Mayor acceptance speech on Saturday morning

What was interesting here was that topping the vote in South Croydon was former IRA gun-runner Maria Gatland, ahead of Jason Perry, who earlier on Saturday had been declared Croydon’s new Mayor.

Unable to be a Mayor and a councillor at the same time, Perry won’t be continuing as a ward councillor, and there will now have to be a ward by-election to fill the vacuum created – a possibility which must have surely occurred to Perry when allowing his name to go forward on the nomination forms.

So that’s another £25,000 to £30,000 expenditure on an unnecessary by-election that Croydon’s long-suffering tax-payers could do without.

Back at the count, Kerswell’s problems were not getting any easier.

Saturday midnight came and went. At a quarter to one, with two ward counts unresolved – Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, where the LibDems had got the Labour candidates “shitting themselves”, according to a party insider, and Waddon, the only ward in Croydon South’s parliamentary constituency to be held by Labour – Kerswell called time.

CPUN and Waddon would have to wait until the count resumed on Sunday for their bundle flicks – a process far quicker than a complete recount, in which the counters sort the votes into piles of 25 or 50, and then pass them along to be checked by a team leader to make sure all the votes had been counted properly. Election agents who agree to a bundle flick cannot then ask for a recount.

The counting is due to start again at 1pm Sunday, But this morning candidates were sent messages asking them to turn up early. Trinity School is busy; there’s an event going on…

Click here for the Croydon ward election counts declared so far

Read more: Tory Perry wins historic Mayor election by less than 600 votes

Become a Patron!


About insidecroydon

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
This entry was posted in 2022 council elections, 2022 Croydon Mayor election, Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, Bensham Manor, Broad Green, Clive Fraser, Coulsdon, Coulsdon West, Croydon Council, Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, Jason Perry, Jeet Bains, Katherine Kerswell, Maddie Henson, Manju Shahul Hameed, Maria Gatland, New Addington, South Croydon, South Norwood, Stuart Collins, Thornton Heath, Tony Newman, Val Shawcross, Waddon, West Thornton, Woodside and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to From bankrupt to laughing stock as council count continues

  1. Hazel Harrison says:

    Brilliant reporting but what shambles.

    Kerswell should be sacked – in the same way she sacked dozens of Croydon employees.

    Hopefully Fitzsimons will be removed from the Scrutiny Committee. What arrogance this man possesses – does he not think Croydon was bankrupted partly because a lack of scrutiny? Unbelievable.

    Steve Reed MP was instrumental in the lacklustre has-beens being voted back in and he’ll be held to account for that.

  2. Peter Gentleman says:

    Kerswell was parachuted by the government to make Croydon employees redundant. She was then supposed to leave to allow a proper search for a new CEO.

    At this point Kerswell thought this was a cushy number – huge salary, fat pay cheque to be the boroughs returning officer – she can be as unaccountable as she likes and there’s nothing in her contract that says she has to return emails, communicate or even sustain a public profile – none of which she does anyway. Anyway, this was a good gig – she applied to be permanent.

    Then months of silence as if nobody lived in Croydon. He reluctance to communicate with residents is simply rude, arrogant, call it what you like.

    The first time she’s come out of hiding was the Croydon May 2022 elections.

    These were an utter shambles. Croydon is the last local authority in the UK to declare and still we haven’t declared.

    Kerswell should tender her resignation. If not, there should be an all party inquiry into her performance. Kerswell is becoming Negrini ll – CC needs to act now.

    • sedley says:

      can someone tell me what sort of power has new mayor croydon got

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Hi Sedley, theoretically the Mayor has executive power somewhat like the President of the USA but in reality he will require agreement with the Council Advisors and effectively if they do not agree then it will not happen. One could assume that as the Advisors and Ms Kerswell are appointed by the Minister for Local Government (Mr Goves predecessor) then as all Conservatives they should be able to make some changes in particular areas.
        But that will still be subject to funds – and there is little about.

  3. miapawz says:

    Kerswell and the planning department should all… depart.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      There would be no material difference in performance and results to Residents if they did. However less complaints, more accountability and communication having an independent planning body reporting only to Mayors and Councillors and prioritising Residents AND developers equally.
      It is time to stop passing indirect costs of developments onto local residents and local taxpayers.

  4. Lancaster says:

    Simply indicative of how senior management works at the Council. Last minute thinking; without the thinking, planning or decision making. This is the madness staff have to work under in BWH on a daily basis; stumbling and falling from one mess to the next while those above refuse to make decisions or actually address and look at projects and work. And they wonder why the level of staff sickness and number of staff off from long term stress is so high.

    Well done Kerswell, another KPI ticked off as excellent and something else to add to the CV and boast about how critical your input was for the deliverable; which wasn’t delivered.

    When will this madness be stopped and competence returned.

    • Maverick says:

      Totally agree, unfortunately after 28 years service at Croydon Council no one was more happy than me when I left BWH for the last time. It’s turned into a terrible place to work, the council claims there’s no bullying ! The place is run on fear , when staff are worried to complain because if they do , when the next axe comes down it could be them next out of a job. This is when you have so called directors on over inflated wages with no relevant qualifications for their role , don’t get me started on the Kerswell , I’ve always said the workers at the coal face are the real hard workers at the council and should commended , in other words “ Lions lead by donkeys “

      • Ian Kierans says:

        I am inclined to agree. Having interacted with many I find that outside of planning they are a very diligent and helpful bunch and go the extra mile to make very flawed processes work with scant support or resource.
        I have also found that even when you may not like the answer many take time to assist you in understanding why and how the decisions have come about.
        Many factors are engendered by Legislation and some generic processes. Many areas residents find difficult are usually through lack of understanding or lack of communication. Many of the enforcement areas are ethical and hard working and do not make many mistakes or as many as people think. They are on appeals able to exercise some discretion within the legislation but not as much as many would like.
        However there are a couple of departments that are acting like residents are the enemy, have a bunker mentality and are perhaps no longer fit for purpose. I do suspect that some brickbats thrown at them are probably unjustified as are some personal attacks on character. But sadly given the type of communications I have received and the lack of other correspondence one has reason to expect, there are clearly gaps in language comprehension at best. Still no matter the results as long as IC is in operation there will always be some level of scrutiny.
        I would suggest to the Editor that he looks at setting up a truly confidential and Independent Whistle blowing hotline for those employed on the Public purse.

  5. The handling of the count of this election really does seem to be yet another mess for Croydon.

    Whoever has the majority on the new Council (whenever that might be, eventually) needs to take a grip and conduct searching enquiries into what exactly has gone wrong over the years including, if necessary, placing those who have let down the council tax payers of the Borough (and this applies equally to elected representatives and appointed officials) under rigorous investigation for what they have done, or failed to do.

    Competent and honest local government is important as it has a direct effect on people’s everyday lives and we need a council to reflect these values.

    I want Croydon to be famous and well known for all the right reasons, though at the moment it appears to be well known for all the wrong reasons and this count appears to be yet another of these.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      I have to admit I am surprised. Ms Kerswells partner Mr Quirk was an efficient returning officer for Lewisham. Mind you they have a very experienced and effective team that takes pride in delivering for the borough – and quickly!

      The choice of venue was either poor planning or with intent. I am sure that the Electoral Commission will take a look if there are any complaints albeit that can take a bit of time.
      Perhaps a refund from the returning officer might be appropriate or at least a donation to any dis-enfranchisement charity to campaign with the post office to ensure postal voting papers actually arrive on time?

  6. At least the racist bnp wasn’t there

  7. Rob Davies says:

    Croydon Council is the biggest laughing stock in the country. Labour councillors who sat in the bankruptcy period have been voted back. All those lefty councillors should be up on mismanagement and fraud charges.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Croydon Council is the biggest laughing stock in the country. True.

      Councillors of both parties who contributed to financial failure have been voted back. True.

      All those lefty, righty, and middly (so basically all) Councillors and Executive employees who may have transgressed should be held to account for their actions and in-actions. So Very True.

  8. Tim White says:

    Just dropped in from afar to see what the hold up was in Croydon and found this excellent piece – respect to the author.

  9. Jim Bush says:

    Can the Croydon electorate and/or council tax payers “disown” the council? These hapless cretins should be sacked and I still want to see the heads of the people who bankrupted Croydon on sharp sticks outside the town hall as a warning to others (Negrini, Newman, Hall, Scott and his wife, Colm Lacey, etc.) . We could re-use the council’s own slogan: “Don’t mess with Croydon (residents)”

    • Chris Flynn says:

      I believe there is indeed a process whereby residents can choose a preferred set of candidate, in a “vote”.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Ah is that the one that in many areas your vote does not count as large parties are too well organised? You mean obviously someone else’s preferred set of ”slated” candidates. Perhaps that is the reason we have 26% turnouts?
        Make the vote compulsory (with exceptions) and include none of the above – then you get a realisation.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Disown? Hold that thought and add disown the debt – after all it was not us that made it!

  10. Anthony Miller says:

    “Labour’s campaign managers had failed to get out the vote.”

    What’s the point in coming out to vote for a Council run directly from Westminster?

    • Ian Kierans says:

      I would not blame the campaign managers on that – have a sneaking suspicion that whomever did the dirty to Pelling caused that loss and frankly not much else has changed vis a vis Councillors either side.
      Seems it is reasonable to assume that 70% of people really could not give a shit about the Borough – or could not be enthused over the selected? Sadly a big part especially in the North is that people have little time as they are trying to earn some money to pay the rampant increases in the costs of living foisted on us through both parties mismanagement

  11. Peter Kudelka says:

    Is it true that Croydon will be the Borough of Culture next year and it will be ‘organised’ by this lot?

    • TJ says:

      ‘Culture’ as in petri dish ?

      • Ian Kierans says:

        I think the popular term today is ”Pondlife”! But ignore the Kerswellian style of organisation – the talent in Croydon is huge and still largely untapped. There are some excellent street skaters who do dance practice in Georges walk, to street performers and singers in the high street who are a joy to listen to and quite talented along with the artists whose works are in some cafe’s and shops and there are many good actors and classical players about also.

        Perhaps we should as residents embrace those and set up our own stuff and give those people opportunities? I know that would be something of value to put our efforts towards

  12. Hazel says:

    do labour just keep counting hoping the result will change ?

  13. Tadhg Tíogar says:

    Is it my imagination or is there some sort of requirement that anyone in a senior position in Croydon Council has to be either incompetent or some sort of clueless patsy, or preferably both? How did it come to this?

    Anyhow the result seems to be No Overall Control now, which probably marks a small improvement on what went before….

  14. Ian Bridge says:

    Can anyone tell me what the power the Mayor has? Is he allowed to sack anyone etc..

  15. John Kohl says:

    If I understand correctly, all the results are now in.

    Croydon Council now has “no overall control” in terms of councillors. Which seems fair enough (Shakespeare might have called it “a plague on both their houses”).

    However, a minority of total registered voters in the borough have elected a single individual, who is allowed to direct certain policies (which policies I am still not sure) to the exclusion of the elected councillors???!!!

    Is that correct?

    So what happens now? Will all those elected {finally} work together for greater good of all Croydonians?

    Is anything going to get better objectively?

    • Ian Kierans says:

      That depends on the person elected. However this Borough has now got an ability to make changes occur and if they do not then not re-elect that Mayor directly. Before this we as residents did not get any say in who led at all. Baby steps. It is up to Mr Perry to be a Residents Mayor for all or just a Boris sidekick. I hope he chooses well and keeps his promises. If not I am sure IC will remind him, but let us congratulate him for the success even if we did not vote for him.

Leave a Reply