CROYDON IN CRISIS: Katherine Kerswell, the £192,474 per year council chief exec who less than a year ago said that the borough ‘was not teetering on the edge of bankruptcy’, when clearly it was, has now told her staff that the 15% Council Tax hike ‘is very difficult news to hear’.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council’s chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, has told staff that she is backing the 15per cent Council Tax increase being imposed on the borough by Tory Mayor Jason Perry.
Kerswell, who in March last year also briefed staff that the council was not “teetering on the brink of bankruptcy” – just seven months before it issued its third Section 114 notice in just two years – said in an email to council employees that such a massive increase in Council Tax is the only way to avoid making yet more cuts, and therefore redundancies.
Kerswell is paid a salary of more than £190,000 per year.
“The management’s messaging to staff is clear,” according to one source in Fisher’s Folly. “Don’t rock the boat over the 15per cent Council Tax increase, or you will pay with your jobs!”
In her latest round-robin email, Kerswell told staff that the Department for Levelling Up, who agreed to Mayor Jason Perry’s request to allow Croydon to raise Council Tax by 10per cent more than the 4.9per cent cap without any referendum, and the government-appointed improvement panel “have been fully involved in the discussion around the Council Tax increase and agree that this is the next step to take”.
Kerswell, who has cut £90million-worth of council spending on services since she arrived in Croydon in the autumn of 2020, wrote, “Unfortunately, the scale of our financial problems means that we must look at every option possible to protect vital services.”
She added: “The improvement panel have been clear that we really cannot continue to make cuts at this level.”
Kerswell’s typically patronising email to staff was sent just before noon on Tuesday, February 7.
Yesterday afternoon, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) published the Local Government Settlement, setting out the funding that the Government will provide to all councils for the next financial year (2023-2024). This is an annual statement the government makes.
As part of that settlement announcement, DLUHC set the level of increase in Council Tax, or, set the council tax cap that councils can consider charging. For most councils in the country the cap is a 5per cent increase to Council Tax bills.
However, the government has given us, Slough and Thurrock councils permission to increase Council Tax above the 5per cent cap. Because of the seriousness of our financial situation, Croydon has been given permission to increase council tax above that national 5per cent cap by 10per cent to 15per cent.
I know how much you care about Croydon, and for many of you it’s not just where you work, it’s also home.
For those of you who are residents I understand that this is very difficult news to hear, especially given the pressure that all households are under.
Unfortunately, the scale of our financial problems means that we must look at every option possible to protect vital services.
The size of Croydon’s problems means that there is no easy choice to make. Without this proposed increase we would have make a further £20million in savings – that’s on top of the £36million that are already being put forward for next year’s budget.
That would mean even more cuts to services and putting more jobs at risk.
With all our hard work, we have made savings of £90million to service budgets over the last two years, and the improvement panel have been clear that we really cannot continue to make cuts at this level.
Everyone in this council has been working hard on our turn around and together we have achieved so much – and we all recognise that we still have more to do.
DLUHC and the improvement and assurance panel have been fully involved in the discussion around the council tax increase and agree that this is the next step to take, along with them continuing to support us financially – but I know that doesn’t make it any easier.
What we can guarantee is that we will continue to support anyone – staff or resident – who is in hardship. The budget proposals will include plans to introduce a new hardship fund to support residents who are not eligible for Council Tax Support but who are finding it hard to make ends meet in these difficult times. A dedicated hub to help with the rising cost of living has also been set up on our website.
As staff, there is additional support for you. You can access confidential support and financial advice through our Employee Assistance Programme – and we have many more support options listed on our intranet. If you are worried about any of this and how it will impact you, please do use these services or speak to a Guardian about what is available to help.
Following this announcement, our budget-setting work must continue. The proposed budget for 2023-2024, which includes Council Tax levels, will be presented to cabinet on 22 February 2023. A report will be published ahead of that meeting next Tuesday, 14 February 2023. The annual budget is due to be decided at the Full Council meeting on 1 March 2023.
We will make sure that the above meeting links, recordings and papers are all shared on the intranet and in the weekly newsletter.
This is a really difficult but important step in our journey, and I hope that I’ve been able to give context about why we are here – and hopefully some reassurance that we are still focused and committed to doing everything we can to protect services and secure the council’s future.
Katherine Kerswell (she/her)
- To sign the petition to Croydon Council against the 15% Council Tax hike and call for fair funding, click here
Read more: Perry to preside over record-breaking 15% Council Tax hike
Read more: Public’s furious reaction to Perry’s Premium Council Tax hike
Read more: Council forced to issue 3rd bankruptcy notice in just two years
Read more: ‘We’re not teetering on the brink of bankruptcy’ claims Kerswell
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Time for the senior council staff to forego 15% of their salaries.
Great idea. As most will be higher rate tax payers they will only lose about 9% net.
Yes this is harsh and must be opposed but please note that over 32% if all council tenants who receive no benefits or financial support gave the 7% rent increase plus the 15% Council Tax increase and they will pay tge must but get the least and still endure poor and difficult housing issues. We are stigmatised by the establishment. It is not only unacceptable it is unfair for to face a 22% increase. No Councillor is raising that issue
I am a 83 year old pensioner. It is easy for Ms Kerswell on £190K PA to not mind the 15% Council Tax rise. Also were her words to her staff an Implied threat. Back us or we sack you!!!
Surely senior counselors should be taking pay cuts as they are NOT doing a very good job. Im sure that would help with the financial problems. We have already paid once why should we still pay for their incompetence
Absolutely disgusting behaviour from Mayor Perry.
Told us during his election campaign he would fix the mess left by Labour. what he failed to tell us that we were going to pay for it. Absolutely despicable behaviour.
Katherine Kerswell put it very well when she wrote “the scale of our financial problems means that we must look at every option possible to protect vital services.”
So why didn’t “every option possible” include going back to the Tory government and demanding fairer funding for Croydon, to the tune of what Lambeth council is getting?
She doesn’t have the guts to do that.
Perry is her boss. He should have done that himself. He chose not to. Instead of asking for a better deal, he sought and got Gove’s permission to hit us with a 15% increase in our Council Tax. In his effort to curry favour with the Tory government, Perry has decided to shaft every household in Croydon
Officers and Councillors screw up, but the populations pays! Love democracy…..oh wait….
One of the few things, and possibly the only thing Kerswell seems to be good at, is making people redundant. Suggesting that cutting further jobs (are there any left that are non-essential?) will save much money is optimistic, at least in the short term.
This is because making people redundant incurs substantial costs in term of redundancy and possible early payment of pensions for which the revenue account would have to make a payment to the pension fund. Furthermore the on-costs associated with each job ie accommodation and central departments such as HR will still need funding through increasing recharges to remaining jobs.
For a Chief Executive to write in these terms shows a lack of essential leadership qualities and perhaps she should set an example by sacrificing some of her salary, or better still all of it on a permanent basis.
It’s funny how there’s enough money for eye watering salaries at the very top and money poured in at the top in terms of consultants etc to fix Croydon’s problems. They need to wake up and pour money into the foundations – ie those overworked underpaid people at the bottom. They always get these things upside down.
Well said. Kerswell is not fit to do the job. At a time like this we need a strong leader, not one that hides from public scrutiny. That email probably took her a day to write. How can a government appointed redundancy specialist be of any use for Croydon now?
She must go.
Time to bring in performance related pay for ALL council managers, especially so called chief officers and directors. Also, liability for the leader, CEO and councillors.
Perhaps time to consider why we need 70 councillors as well ?
Huge savings would be made.
I have never seen or heard from my 2 ward councillors.
You can’t bring in performance-related pay as we have minimum wage laws in this country
Totally agree. As i said below if this was the private sector heads would have rolled from the top to the bottom by now. So they should .. There is meeting at 6.00pm on the 1st March at 6.00pm at Croydon Town Hall. Everyone needs to get behind the petition and get this debated in the Commons with all of the press ie TV
It’s always those with the most money in the bank who have to make “difficult choices”. Be it rich wallpaper boy, George Osborne to “almost a billionaire” Rishi Sunak. I’m sure it must be so difficult when it doesn’t affect them. As demonstrated by Rishi Sunak slipping up and saying how high inflation is difficult “for you” (not us).
I am tired of the mismanagement of councils and the country by people who are not listening to what it’s like for those at the bottom. 15% is abstract to them. They need to have resident representative groups at the top of Councils because the politicians aren’t doing a good enough job.
Croydon is in the very worst situation here – there are financial pressures current and historical but sadly we are being led by Katherine Kerswell who is not a leader with vision – she is a useless paper shuffler who instinctively covers her own arse at every opportunity.
Everything she has done has gone tits up. Her organising of the elections in the borough has been a fiasco. The election count in Croydon was the longest in the UK.
The people of Croydon need to wake up and demand that this particularly useless CEO is removed.
She did not get the job on merit – she sneaked in the back door after being given a TEMPORARY position.
We need a leader who’s sole focus is Croydon and has the fire in his or her belly to fight for our borough.
Katherine Kerswell is NOT that person.
Perry need to grow some balls and sort it out.
I am not sure if I could even tell as a disabled resident , if more staff lost their jobs as the failings of the council are so huge. If staff cuts are required then introduce performance related pay decided by the residents .Cuts could be made forthwith the councilors and management from the top downwardsIf it was the private sector, heads would have rolled months ago from the top to the bottom. It is absurd to have so many councillors and their expenses .What do they actually do ? The CEO ‘s salary is far more than the PM ,which it has to be said, has more responsibility .Let the Mayor CEO and councilors hold an open meeting with the residents and actually listen to the residents and be accountable to them. What efforts have the aforesaid undertaken to chase the money? That point and council’s response appears to be deafening
Please don’t forget everyone, this 15% hike has not befallen our borough because of some Government enforcement team.
Perry went to the government and asked for it. Yes, he asked for it.
He did it so the government would think “oh, there’s one of our own in Croydon who’s able to crack the whip – perhaps we should put him in the House of Lords?’
Perry is doing none if this because he thinks it will benefit the people of Croydon – it’s being done to serve his own personal political ambition which has now extended beyond the borough boundary.
I doubt whether the council could function at all if it shed any further staff from the teams that do things. That includes functions like building Control and Planning.
Not sure whether there still are teams or individuals that don’t do anything tangible to manage / design/ service/ build the necessary activities of the council? PR ??
There is a need for sufficient and EFFICIENT publicity, primarily to let the public know in a timely fashion as to borough-wide public consultations and local things that affect them .
But, there is something very wrong when the only way to get through to a senior person in the PR department is to press the “Press enquiries” option on the key pad. It is clear that in the minds of the top people (maybe now departed from the council on golden farewell handshakes), contact with the media is far more important than calls from the mere public. Too posh to speak with the council tax payer.
It takes a lot to get rid of a £ billion (plus) deficit.
Shedding staff only means that more expensive consultants or temp.staff have to be employed. Like the NHS is finding with its own staffing needs. Plus, the huge cost of redundancies and early retirements is met from the Council resources, as has been mentioned by Derek above, not a magic money tree. So such savings are in fact, illusory.
I feel sad for the rank and file staff, whose jobs have been ended, and for those survivors who are left. To work under contstant reorganisation, and threat of redundancy, is corrosive of collective morale and individual mental heath.
What a despicable thing for Kerswell to threaten. If you don’t stuck-up the 15% increase your job could be at risk.
Who the fuck does does she think she is?
She doesn’t even live in Croydon.
She’s probably close to retirement and she’ll be milking everything she can out of Croydon – salary, returning officer fees, additional pay… Until very recently, her husband held the same position in another London borough.
And the big rabbit caught in the headlights, Perry, watches on and is clueless.
Lets get real here after so many needed and useful staff got made redundant surely there is no longer the need to have so many busines/general managers and directors?
Quite a few might as well Foxtrot Oscar as there is no money to pay those salaries as there is no work or workers left to do anything worth speaking about in what is left of this decade.
But I am interested in the dedicated hub to help with the rising cost of living has also been set up on our website.
So eactly how does Ms Kerswell expect those in dire need and without digital access to avail of this so called assistance?
It is not just those unable to use IT as the costs rise for broadband and comms more will find this out of their reach and will be using ”free” areas more than before – no point going to libraries as they have been cut also and are for large parts of the week inaccessible.
So as usual Ms Kerswell and Mr Perry are far out of touch with reality and using soundbites to mask the disregard for the most vulnerable of our Borough.