Kerswell finally prepares to publish long withheld #PennReport

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The council’s £193,000 per year CEO has descended into the realms of Alice In Blunderland with her latest excuses for ignoring elected councillors and the public. By STEVEN DOWNES

Katherine Kerswell, Croydon’s chief executive, claims that it is “factually incorrect” to say that the Penn Report into possible wrong-doing that led to the financial collapse of the council, which she has withheld for more than two years, has been “buried or withheld”.

Kerswell spends nine pages of an 18-page council report indulging in lengthy justifications for her inaction over the Penn Report. But according to the latest council papers, released today ahead of a council appointments and disciplinary committee due to be held on February 23, the Penn Report – or a version of it – will finally be made public on February 24.

As Inside Croydon reported last year, the Penn Report recommended that the borough’s 70 elected councillors should consider the possibility of disciplinary or legal action against Tony Newman and Simon Hall, leading members of the previous Labour administration, as well as Jo Negrini, the former CEO, while lodging of reports with professional bodies regarding the conduct of three senior council executives.

Newman and Hall subsequently resigned as councillors and Negrini and the council officials have all since left their jobs in Croydon.

Lock and key: Katherine Kerswell has resisted all calls to publish the Penn Report

But in the two years since Penn delivered his report, outside the carefully controlled confines of the appointments committee (where much of the proceedings are held in secret) the majority of Croydon’s councillors have never been given the opportunity to discuss the report. After 24 months, not a single submission to any professional bodies arising from the Penn Report has ever been made by Kerswell or on behalf of the council.

Jason Perry’s election as executive Mayor last May, on a manifesto pledge to publish the Penn Report and act on its recommendations, has made no difference.

Kerswell’s stubborn intransigence has continued to keep the 160-page document firmly under wraps, on the flimsy grounds that were the Penn Report to be published, the council itself might be subject to litigation from the likes of Newman and Negrini. Seriously.

“It had always been a choice for the committee to weigh publication of the report against the risk of litigation,” Kerswell has written in one part of the latest council papers.

“It was always the intention to have the report published in as full a version as possible and now that the disciplinary process had concluded there could be a greater push toward publication.”

Alice in Blunderland: a sketch from last November’s council appointments committee, where Katherine Kerswell gave more excuses for not publishing Penn

Kerswell justifies her inaction by citing 13 meetings where she has trotted out various excuses why she would not allow the report to be made public, stalling any action against those who helped to crash the council’s finances.

“This really is Alice in Blunderland stuff,” a Town Hall insider said today.

“The idea that 13 meetings over the course of two years somehow shows Kerswell to be taking dynamic action over these serious complaints, when the opposite is the case, is the stuff of Lewis Carroll.”

Recent meetings of the appointments committee demonstrate how Kerswell has used her position as the local authority’s senior employee to deliberately frustrate the democratically elected councillors, to whom she is supposed to be answerable.

The last time that the appointments committee met to discuss Penn was in early November last year. Councillors from both of the largest political groups, Jason Cummings and Stuart King, were clearly concerned that council officials, in particular Kerswell, were once again stalling over the release of the Penn Report.

Kerswell promised that meeting to organise another meeting (Meeting No14!) to provide the latest update before Christmas. But that meeting was cancelled by the chief executive without any explanation.

When the committee re-assembles, in the very Orwellian Room 1.01 of Fisher’s Folly a week tomorrow, they will at last do so with a firm commitment to publish the Penn Report. Or at least part of it.

All is revealed: Page 1 of the 160-page Penn Report. But how much will be left after Kerswell has applied her redactions?

There’s no way of knowing quite how much of the report Kerswell will have redacted – withheld – from the public and the majority of the borough’s councillors, because the details of her intentions are contained within the Part B – or secret – part of her report to the meeting.

A significant part of the delays in getting to this point has been the insistence on conducting a “Maxwellisation process”, whereby anyone mentioned adversely in the Penn Report gets shown the section in question and is given an opportunity to respond.

A first round of Maxwellisation was conducted two years ago. It is that which prompted the hysterical threats of libel action from Newman and Hall. At least one further round of Maxwellisation consultation has since been conducted by Kerswell’s cautious council.

Today’s council papers confirm that five out of nine parties identified in the Penn Report had responded to the latest Maxwellisation round, which finished nearly six months ago, in October. Their responses, Kerswell reports, “were being worked through by Legal”.

The report continues: “Once this process had concluded there would need to be a view reached on the risk to the council of legal action based on either defamation or data protection, which would need to be balanced against the public interest of publication.”

The Town Hall source asked the obvious questions: “Just who are they trying to protect here? Who’s interests are they acting in?”

Kerswell’s recommendations to next week’s meeting are choc-a-bloc with references to Part B reports that have been withheld from the public and meetings to be held in secret. And they make it clear that Kerswell has already gone through the report with a very thick marker pen…

“The Committee is recommended to:

(i) Consider the Maxwellisation responses received from the interested parties appended at Exempt/Part B Appendices 3 to 7 to the Exempt/Part B report;
(ii) Consider the need for and agree any appropriate targeted redactions having regard to the Maxwellisation responses and, in particular, the proposed redactions set out in paragraph 10.2 of the Exempt/Part B report;
(iii) Consider whether to publish the Penn report at Exempt/Part B
Appendix 1 to the Exempt/Part B report; and
(iv) Note the following next steps:

a) If the committee decides to publish the Penn Report, with or without redactions, the interested parties will be notified as soon as possible and the Penn Report will be published on 24 February 2023;
b) The implementation of the Penn Report’s recommendations, and any other action the committee decides on its own initiative, will be the subject of a follow-up report to be considered by the committee at a meeting on 23 March 2023; and
c) At that meeting the committee will also receive the Kroll Fairfield
Halls investigation report”.

Read the council papers ahead of next Thursday’s meeting by clicking here

Just don’t get your hopes up too much just yet…

  • Check out some of our archive of coverage, in which we published extracts from the Penn Report:

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 Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Guy van Dichele, Hazel Simmonds, Inside Croydon, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Jason Cummings, Jo Negrini, Katherine Kerswell, Lisa Taylor, Mayor Jason Perry, Report in the Public Interest, Richard Simpson, Shifa Mustafa, Simon Hall, The Penn Report, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Kerswell finally prepares to publish long withheld #PennReport

  1. Jim Bush says:

    They are still protecting the guilty.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    The devil is in the details – or is it?

    The Penn report is one document of an investigation with a set remit. It should be welcomed when it is released – but –

    Fundamentally this Borough is broke. It has no money. It has sold most of the assets that could have made income. It intends to sell even more of those assets. It may even be selliong assets that were origionally left in trust or bequested to the Borough for the use of residents. It may be using all it takes in to pay of debt and debt interest.

    Realistically this situation will continue.
    In short there are five causes of the debt. Conservative Central Government cuts to funding, Conservative Fisher(and Perry) regime squandering and running up a debt of allegedly £720million to £1bn give or take a few hundred million – and the Newman regime efforts in raising the debt to allegedly £1.5bn again give or take a few hundred million – but all through that decade of decadence and squander there was an administration that failed to either keep in check those excesses or was incompetent in preventing them. Finally there was a government that lossened the regulations in place and basically allowed those other parties to waste public money without effective control and/or incompetent oversight.

    So irrespective of the Penn report and Kerswells excuses there should be a full open investigation into all the circustances leading to the issues of the first S114 notive and all those actions.

    But we are in dire need of a second investigation independently to look at all the actions that have taken place since then. Clearly this should be by a person seperate from the organs of the state and Local Government and at the least a senior KC with independent members of the public with forensic invesigatory backgrounds.

    Ms Kerswell actions may be legal and justifiable but are they appropriate and should they be appropriate in this Century especially where trust in Public officers in both Government and in Croydon has sunk to unheard of depths.

  3. Sally Fielder says:

    How much time is Kerswell spending attempting to re-write history, attempting to justifying her inaction for two years over the Penn Report?

    She came to Croydon on a temporary basis, as a redundancy specialist – to make people redundant. She then grabbed the opportunity to become permanent – helped by Jason Perry. Giving Kerswell a job is like employeing an undertaker to serve tea in an Old Person’s Home. But we know now Kerswell spills most of the tea.

    What tarnishes the reputation of a redundancy specialist?

    When a senior person you are attempting to get rid of accuses you of racial discrimination – this is the reason Kerswell withheld the Penn Report – a purely personal one that she is now attempting to conceal.

    Kerswell’s very public failures are mounting – her competence is called into question and her position is now untenable.

  4. Sarah Bird says:

    There must be a proper investigation into Croydon Council by the appropriate agencies forthwith. The endless delays and excuses simply do not wash .Where is the accountability from the Council and its councilors, many of whom , have been in situ for years, under both the previous Tory leadership and Labour .Enough is enough of the ineptitude of the Council and its numerous failings. If the council , its officers want to be open, and transparent , as it asserts, then hold an open public meeting and be questioned by the residents and update on all enquiries .If this was the private sector, heads would have rolled

  5. moyagordon says:

    Wonderful, the end section of this article reminded me of the Marx Brothers sketch in A Night at the Opera, the contract scene where Groucho says, ‘The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party of the first part … ‘.

    Seriously though hopefully lessons will be learnt and any wrongdoing will be addressed appropriately. It’s understandable that legal issues and public inquiries take time in order to ensure justice is carried out and anyone being accused is given a fair chance to defend themselves.

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