Council exec Simmonds quits after 18 months ‘gardening leave’

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The final obstacle to the release of the Penn Report into possible wrongdoing in Croydon has finally been removed, just ahead of an Employment Tribunal hearing this week. By STEVEN DOWNES

Resigned: Hazel Simmonds

Hazel Simmonds, one of five council executive directors who were suspended from duty in February 2021 over their part in the council’s multi-million pound financial collapse, has resigned from her job.

The news was confirmed this evening on The Municipal Journal website.

Neither Katherine Kerswell, the council’s £190,000 per year chief executive officer, nor staff working in the council’s propaganda bunker, responded to Inside Croydon request earlier today for comment on the position.

Simmonds’ departure comes just days before one of her erstwhile colleagues, Guy van Dichele, takes Croydon Council to an Employment Tribunal with allegations of constructive dismissal.

It was November 2018 when long-term Croydon Council staffer Simmonds was promoted to her £150,000 per year role of “executive director of Gateway, strategy and engagement” by the council’s then chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.

Exec clear-out: council CEO Katherine Kerswell has so far resisted calls to publish the Penn Report

In the aftermath of Negrini’s own hurried (and very well-rewarded) departure from Fisher’s Folly two years ago and then the issuing of a Section 114 notice in November 2020, effectively admitting that the council could no longer pay its bills, Simmonds was one of five senior members of staff who were either suspended from duty or who quit after a lengthy spell of sick leave.

The other four execs – van Dichele, the “executive director of health, wellbeing and adults”; director of finance Lisa Taylor; “executive director of place” Shifa Mustafa; plus Borough Solicitor Jacqueline Harris-Baker, who never returned to work from sick leave – all left Croydon in 2021, with none receiving any compensation.

But Simmonds had remained on paid leave for 18 months, and in that time also launched a grievance counter-action against the council for race discrimination, victimisation and unlawful reduction in wages.

She also made a separate racism complaint against Kerswell individually, the MJ has reported.

A meeting of the council’s appointments committee last month resolved to take Simmonds’ case through the full disciplinary procedure. That will have seen Simmonds summoned for a hearing of the committee, scheduled to be held in October.

Within days of the committee having taken that decision, last Tuesday, September 6, Simmonds finally submitted her resignation. It is not known whether she may still pursue her legal complaints.

Van Dichele, who took a senior role at Southampton City Council following his departure from Croydon last year, has his Employment Tribunal date fixed for this Thursday, September 15.

That hearing could yet be postponed due to royal mourning, rail strikes or, according to sources, because Kerswell’s council is seeking a postponement. If the hearing does go ahead, it is liable to reveal much about how the council unravelled at senior levels during the covid lockdowns of 2020 and its financial collapse, as well as aspects of Kerswell’s management style which saw her move to suspend van Dichele and his former colleagues.

Simmonds was seen as the final obstacle to Kerswell and the council being able to release the Penn Report, the immediate investigation into possible wrong-doing at the council which was conducted by Local Government Association official Richard Penn, and was submitted to the CEO in January 2021.

Tribunal date: Guy van Dichele

It is understood that the Penn Report led directly to the suspension from the Labour Party, and their resignations as councillors, of former council leader Tony Newman and his cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall.

Kerswell has prevented even Croydon’s most senior elected representatives from receiving copies of the Penn Report; councillors who have been invited to view the document have had to do so in an office in Fisher’s Folly while being carefully watched by a council flunky to ensure that no notes were taken, no copies were made nor photographs taken of the report.

Until now, therefore, the public and councillors have had to rely on reports drafted by the council’s auditors to get an objective opinion on the way that senior council staff have been running the borough.

In a separate Report In The Public Interest into the £67million bungled refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, published earlier this year by Grant Thornton, the auditors found that Negrini, Taylor and Harris-Baker, as council monitoring officer, all “failed to ensure council was acting lawfully”.

This was Grant Thornton’s second RIPI into the running of Croydon Council. The first, in October 2020, had found “collective corporate blindness” over the borough’s finances.

When Negrini promoted Simmonds in 2018, she issued an email to all council staff expressing her “delight”.

Jo Negrini

‘Exciting time’: former council chief Jo ‘Negreedy’ Negrini

In the internal council correspondence, Negrini wrote, “Many of you will already know Hazel as she is currently the interim director for district centres and regeneration in Place. She was the unanimous choice of the cross-party appointments’ committee and brings with her a wealth of experience across operational and corporate services, communications, strategy and partnerships.

“This is an exciting time for the council as we embark on new ways of working, changing how we deliver our services. The new directorate will drive this important work and will be crucial in positioning the council for the future, repositioning our relationship with residents and localities, and putting residents at the very heart of we do.”

Within a couple of years, the council was bankrupted and also at the centre of a national scandal over the appalling state many of its tenants were forced to endure in blocks of flats on Regina Road, South Norwood.

Around 500 council staff, mostly on the lowest salary grades, paid for the mismanagement of their bosses with their jobs. Dozens of council services have been axed by the cash-strapped council. Negrini, meanwhile, walked away with a golden handshake of £437,000.

Neither the council press office nor the part-time Mayor, Jason Perry, have not yet issued any statement on the departure of Hazel Simmonds.

Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: Kakistocracy: Butler forced into £6m bail-out of Brick by Brick
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt

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
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Guy van Dichele, Hazel Simmonds, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Lisa Taylor, Report in the Public Interest, RIPI II: Fairfield Halls, Section 114 notice, Shifa Mustafa and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Council exec Simmonds quits after 18 months ‘gardening leave’

  1. derekthrower says:

    I thought everything was going to be different under the new directly elected Mayor and the culture of secrecy regarding the failure of the Council was all going to be lifted. Wouldn’t this be favourable to a Conservative Mayor parking the blame all on the previous Labour administration. The normal expectations of political behaviour in Croydon local politics are not what they appear. The great division between these two sets of politicians is illusory than substantive.
    The bonds of self interest through the Whitgift Foundation to the interests of pubic relations companies, property developers et al are more tangible. With a central Government whose encouragement of such local risk taking being all rather shy at intervening too deeply in case it revels it’s own negligence in oversight of the situation across all Councils, I think we can see that part-time Perry is not doing anything to change how things happen in the LB of Croydon. It looks like this is yet to be another grim decade of decline for this once thriving local economy.

  2. Dave Russell says:

    What function does a “£150,000 per year” “executive director of Gateway, strategy and engagement” perform? Apart from gardening, that is.

  3. Perry Freemason says:

    Gardening leave? Up to a point, Lord Copper.

    Gardening leave is when an employee resigns and the employer makes them stay at home to serve out their notice period in isolation rather than prepare to or start work for a rival.

    We are told that Hazel Simmonds was suspended from work for over a year and a half, presumably due to allegations about her involvement in the borough’s financial collapse. Suspension is meant to be for a period as brief as possible and only done if the employer has very good reasons, such as having concerns that the employee could damage evidence, influence witnesses or damage the organisation and its customers.

    That it’s taken all this time for the Council to finally decide to proceed to a disciplinary hearing is a worry. And why Hazel Simmonds alone and why now?

    That she’s resigned in response does, in theory, not make a jot of difference. She’ll have a contractual notice period which, given her seniority, will be several months long. In the time remaining she can therefore be expected to cooperate with her employer, answer questions and attend a meeting at which she could potentially be dismissed from her employment for reasons which will make it very hard indeed for her to find a new job.

    Just for a minute, put yourself in her shoes. Jo Negrini received a payment of around half a million pounds, other Directors have been able to move on and you’re the only one left, and are about to be put through the wringer.

    My guess is that proceedings will stall because of the counter-allegations mentioned in your report, a “settlement agreement” will be reached (and through it money will be paid out under cover of a confidentiality clause) and the Council will try to draw a veil over the whole sorry matter.

    • Lancaster says:

      It would be interesting if behind the scenes the delay is to get HS to pensionable age where redundancy would not deplete her pot, and access could be immediate. Not that that would be a cynical use of process, nor that this has been done numerous times in the past for “the favoured” or those that have potentially “damaging information”.

Leave a Reply