The deal is in: council facing another expensive staff pay-off

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Late cancellation of an Employment Tribunal hearing this morning avoids the council washing its dirty linen in public.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Golden handshakes, costs and legal bills: the van Dichele Tribunal case will have cost Croydon’s tax-payers a huge sum

Jason Perry, Croydon’s part-time Mayor, could soon be asked to rubber-stamp another expensive “golden handshake” for a former senior council staffer, after an Employment Tribunal that was due to be heard this morning was called off at the last minute.

Perry was a member of the council committee that agreed to hand a £437,000 pay-off to the then council chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, in August 2020.

The Labour majority on that appointments committee, chaired by Tony Newman, waved through the massive payment for Negreedy, wrapped up in all kinds of non-disclosure agreements, intended to buy the civic executive’s silence over her calamitous time in charge of the council ahead of its financial collapse.

Perry was one of two Conservative councillors serving on the committee then, and is assumed to have voted against (the official record of the meeting is a little vague on the detail).

This time, as the borough’s elected Mayor, Perry may have little choice but to approve a payment likely to run into high five figures to Guy van Dichele, who until February last year was Croydon’s executive director for health, wellbeing and adults.

Van Dichele had always been rated as one of the council’s more competent exec directors. He spent his last year in post overseeing the borough’s response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Then came “Kerswell’s Kull”.

Van Dichele had already given notice that he was leaving his job when in February 2021 he, together with three other directors, were suspended by Negrini’s replacement as CEO, Katherine Kerswell.

Case work: Guy van Dichele, former adult care exec director in Croydon

Van Dichele, the finance director Lisa Taylor, Hazel Simmonds, the “executive director of localities”, and Shifa Mustafa, the “executive director of place”, were all summarily suspended by Kerswell, while the some time Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, was said to be on long-term sick leave.

All but Simmonds quit their council positions in 2021. Simmonds resigned earlier this month, confirming this week that she would herself be taking the council, and Kerswell, to the Employment Tribunal.

That was the course of action that van Dichele embarked on last year, claiming constructive dismissal. His hearing was due to take place this morning at the London South Employment Tribunal at Montague Court, West Croydon (handy for Lidl…).

According to Tribunal papers, van Dichele’s case included claims of unfair dismissal, breach of contract and “failure of employer to pay wages or unauthorised deductions from wages”.

In one of his last two years working at Croydon, van Dichele’s wage packet had swelled to more than £200,000 – making him better paid, before pension and other allowances, even than Negrini herself.

Kerswell has spent her first two years in the top job at Croydon’s dysfunctional council doing her utmost to keep the lid on what had gone on in Fisher’s Folly in the last days of Negrini’s empire. Two Employment Tribunals in the space of a couple of weeks – van Dichele and then Simmonds (slated to be heard on September 27) – risked unravelling all those efforts.

There had been word for a week or more that the council was doing its utmost to postpone the van Dichele Tribunal. A senior member of staff expected to give testimony was away, sick. There might be a train strike. The Queen was dead…

Courts in the act: the Employment Tribunal building on London Road

Then, late yesterday afternoon, the Employment Tribunal removed the van Dichele case from its list of hearings. An 18-month Mexican stand-off between van Dichele and his erstwhile employers appears to be at an end.

A court official confirmed that the hearing “has been postponed and converted to a case management discussion instead”.

“Case management discussions” are where the details of a deal are thrashed out by the lawyers for both sides and, importantly for Kerswell’s efforts to keep the council’s business a secret, are held in private.

It seems very likely that van Dichele – who since July has held a senior position at Sutton Council – will be handed a very handsome sum, in return for his signature on a non-disclosure agreement.

Simmonds, too, may now anticipate an approach to buy her silence, although the nature of her grievances, including claims of racial discrimination against Kerswell personally as well as the council, could make those negotiations more difficult. And expensive.

Of course, Croydon’s long-suffering Council Tax-payers will again be picking up the bill, not just for any pay-offs, but for van Dichele’s legal costs and the year and a half of legal work, probably including expensive briefs from outside the council, in preparing for the ultimately abandoned case.

Much of this will reflect poorly on Kerswell’s judgement and the advice she was given by council legal advisers and its personnel department (both of which have also experienced considerable churn among its senior figures since 2020).

As one insider said on hearing the news of the latest developments, “Faced with the prospect of having the council’s dirty linen washed in public, they’ve probably thrown in the towel and reached a deal.

“If so, why they waited until now to do so is a mystery, because the time and costs of preparing for a battle at No101 won’t have been insignificant.

“Maybe Hazel Simmonds’ announcement this week spurred them on?”

Read more: Newman and Negrini’s pay-off: no papers, no notes, no reasons
Read more: Former health director suing council for constructive dismissal
Read more: Watchdog suggests Negrini’s pay-off may have been unlawful
Read more: The bottom line on the failure of ex-CEO Negrini: £613,895
Read more: Newman’s ‘sickening’ defence of Negrini’s £400,000+ pay-off

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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 Croydon Council, Guy van Dichele, Hazel Simmonds, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Mayor Jason Perry, Shifa Mustafa and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The deal is in: council facing another expensive staff pay-off

  1. Lancaster says:

    NDA agreements cannot be used to shield wrongdoing on either side, this is against the law. Personally I think they have no place in the public sector especially given the serious allegations.

    Transparency and sunlight is what we need, not more hidden failings.

  2. Dave West says:

    In my experience, a case management discussion is not where a deal is thrashed out but more a discussion between the lawyers and the judge about who will compile the bundle of documents (usually the employer), how many witnesses each side will call (which affects how many days it needs to be listed for) and when each side will produce its documents. It’s unlikely that a full hearing has been converted into a CMD at the last minute unless one side or the other suddenly introduced new information which converted a simple case into a more complex one. That might also lead the judge to have to decide whether such information was in time, relevant and admissible so again could be other grounds for a pre-trial discussion. Again from experience, one or other party often decides to settle when they see the strength of the other sides case or as legal costs mount and it becomes cheaper to settle up front.

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    When a Council CEO and a council that has transgressed so fundamentally, there should never be any form of agreement using public money. There can be no further damage to reputations that have stooped so low and become a National disgrace. Better to have it all out in the open now pay the damages to those wronged and move on with rebuilding for the future.

    The only rationale for paying to keep this quiet would be that those guilty are being shielded and protected.
    That it is still being done with taxpayers money is scurrilous and disreputable, and has no place in today’s society.

    Again there should be an immediate public investigation into the Council and how it has operated from before Fisher to eventual financial failure

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