Judge orders CEO Kerswell to face tribunal over racism claims

Our Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the latest development in the increasingly messy aftermath of Croydon’s bankruptcy

Court room drama: a judge threw out a request to reject a claim for racial discrimination against the council and CEO Katherine Kerswell

Katherine Kerswell, Croydon’s £192,474 per year chief executive, will have to face up to 11 days in an Employment Tribunal and claims that she, as well as the authority, discriminated on grounds of race against one of the council’s most senior employees.

Judge Paul Abbott last week rejected an attempt by lawyers acting for Croydon Council to reject the racism complaint against the CEO brought by Hazel Simmonds, the council’s former executive director for Gateway services and localities.

Simmonds was one of four execs suspended by Kerswell in February 2021, shortly after the council had received the Penn Report from a Local Government Association investigator into “possible wrong-doing” connected to Croydon’s effective bankruptcy in November 2020.

Simmonds resigned last month, and her Employment Tribunal proceedings claims constructive dismissal, unlawful deductions from her wages during her period of suspension and racial discrimination by the council and Kerswell personally.

According to a report in The Municipal Journal, published at lunchtime today, Croydon “sought to remove the allegation against Ms Kerswell at a preliminary hearing last month. But Judge Paul Abbott denied the request.”

Headline news: how The Municipal Journal broke the news today

The MJ reports that the full tribunal hearing is unlikely to be held until late 2023 at the earliest and that “Judge Abbott has ordered a lengthy 11-day hearing due to the volume of material involved”.

The magazine quotes a council spokesperson as saying, “External, independent investigation reports at internal grievance stages of the process have exonerated Ms Kerswell of all complaints including those of racial discrimination.”

The comment suggests that the matter has been fully debated by the council’s appointments and disciplinary committee, made up of senior councillors. Simmonds’ suspension and departure has never been raised at council cabinet or full council, at least not in the public, Part A section of procedures. Nor have any minutes been made publicly available of any such discussions and decisions.

Tribunal test: Hazel Simmonds

The appointments and disciplinary committee is due to meet in the Town Hall Chamber tomorrow at 2pm.

Its agenda includes “6, Confidential Staffing Matter”, “7, Response to Query from External Auditor Relating to Former Chief Executive Settlement Agreement” (seems Grant Thornton are no happier about the £437,000 paid to Jo Negrini than report author Richard Penn) and “8, Update on Richard Penn’s Independent Report”.

All of which are to be discussed in secret, in the “Part B” section of the agenda.

Jason Perry, the part-time Mayor who says, “I have always been committed to the full publication of the Penn Report”, yet has failed to do so, is to chair this very secretive meeting.

The other senior council managers who were suspended by Kerswell in 2021 – executive director of place Shifa Mustafa, finance director Lisa Taylor and executive director of health Guy van Dichele, plus the executive director of resources, Jacqueline Harris-Baker – all resigned from their jobs last year and have faced no disciplinary action.

As Inside Croydon has reported, the Penn Report described Croydon as “dysfunctional” and blamed “poor governance by the former political leadership of the council” and “correspondingly poor managerial leadership” for the council’s financial collapse.

Read more: #PennReport: Staff speak out about ‘scandalous’ bullying
Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: Men who led council to bankruptcy say they did nothing wrong
Read more: #PennReport: Hall and Negrini ‘only wanted good news stories’
Read more: Mayor breaks silence to say he won’t publish #PennReport

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
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9 Responses to Judge orders CEO Kerswell to face tribunal over racism claims

  1. I bet they reach a settlement

  2. Graham Bradley says:

    Great investigative work again from Inside Croydon. Kerswell cannot escape now and must be called to account immediately.

    • Too kind, Graham. Really too kind: it is the work of the nice people at The Municipal Journal. We’re just joining some dots locally on this one.

      But if you know of any thrusting young journalists who fancy spending 11 days at the Employment Tribunal on London Road at the tail end of 2023, maybe even in 2024, do get in touch.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Though not a young person trust me – I will journal that 11 days with great delight. Take me back to my days studying employment law and the many ETs and appeals spent at Croydon, and Kingsbury . So health permitting I will be there!

  3. Nick Davies says:

    Would anybody who knows about these things care to estimate how much m’learned friends will be costing the long-suffering council tax payers.

    • The FoI has already gone in…

    • Ian Kierans says:

      With 11 days scheduled – that is a sizeable amount of time for a tribunal.

      So £40 – 60k for that side of the costs + VAT, but depends on in house work also and could go higher.

      Legal fees are on top so
      Junior barristers – £1,200 – £1,900 a day plus VAT
      More experienced barristers – £1,700 to £3,400 a day plus VAT.
      Highly experienced barristers – £2,500 to £4,800 plus VAT.
      KC (Formerly Queens Councillors) – £6,000+
      Dependent on Firm and work this would be a bit higher or lower but are usual costs. there are also costs for overall case management by the Barrister but will be set in the fee upfront usually
      Expect circa a further £50k
      But they may go with a retained firm or one like Ropewalk Chambers. So there can be cost benefits there

      I would not put it past this council though to use a recognised KC or a Band 1 ranking Barrister (formerly QC) and that will obviously cost a lot more.

      Overall I expect it to be somewhat higher than £100k.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    The long wait. This is becoming more of a Council gamble with the case now going forward. Not many cases actually get to Tribunal and of those that do, not so many get past case management stage. When they do go forward, defendants like this Council are a sizeable number of the losers.

    It will be interesting to see at what stage this gets settled or if they are going forward on principle irrespective, as their reputation outweighs our boroughs need for that money.

    This does not appear to be a person using insulting behavior to a co-worker, immediate superior or subordinate. This brings into question Croydon Council, its CEO and both their reputations for equality in a very mixed borough.

    Many have already experienced the unequal impacts of their cuts and decision making process. We already know that they are very light on Equality impact Assessments. They have had so many Judicial reviews against their decisions one wonders what laws they are reading. This Councils decisions of late are pretty heartless and thoughtless.

    So frankly is there any reputation left worth saving?

    This case will either show Kerswells regime to be discriminatory – or to be quietly taking a lot of flak and actually working in a shit environment doing a thankless job but someone has to do the shit shovelling and it is not going to be Rubbisholia!

    (I suspect there is a bit of one a bit of the other and a lot in between)

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