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