Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, on the latest shocking cost-cutting measures being imposed on council staff
Croydon Council could be heading for a series of strikes later this year, after senior managers at Fisher’s Folly moved to cut some workers’ pay by at least £250 per month.
The latest cost-cutting measure at the cash-strapped council emerged in a series of internal staff briefings conducted soon after Mayor Jason Perry bullied through his 15per cent Council Tax hike last week – costing typical households an extra £230 per year and giving residents the second-highest Council Tax bills in the whole of London.
But Croydon’s long-suffering residents will be paying more for less, as Mayor Perry and his accomplice, council CEO Katherine Kerswell, push through another round of cuts.
Staff in the housing department received an email from a director last Friday, advising them that there would be a “staff restructuring” meeting on the following Monday, March 13, both in person and remotely.
Witnesses relate that Susmita Sen, the council’s corporate director of housing, spent just 15 minutes in the remote meeting before “she made some excuse that she had another meeting with the chief joker himself, Mayor Perry”.
Those who remained in the meeting were treated to directors going through a series of flip charts to explain the reasons there was to be “a restructure”.
As one told Inside Croydon, “But they did not give us the restructure plan until two hours later.”
It was only when this was circulated that, according to a source at the council, “We realised then that all of our pay scales were to be reduced.”
The council worker said, “What this spinless organisation has done is claimed that they have to raise Council Tax to ensure that they can run services. However, the pay increase all staff members received and had backdated last year will now be lost. They are basically offering us ‘new jobs’, but paid at a lower scale.”
Typically, some council staff who have worked for Croydon Council for several years stand to lose around £3,000 per year. For those who live in the borough, as many do, their Council Tax will be going up by 15per cent from next month, too.
It has not been confirmed whether this “restructuring” and change to workers’ pay sacles is limited to just the housing department, or may yet be applied elsewhere in the crisis-hit council.
Officials from the Unison, Unite and GMB trades unions are known to have held urgent meetings this week to discuss what their response could be to the wage cuts. Strike action has already been raised as a possibility.
“I work for the council and live in this borough, and I can say that I hate it here right now,” said one demoralised staffer.
Croydon’s housing department has been under the spotlight for the past couple of years, since the scandal of slum-like conditions in council homes in South Norwood was exposed by ITV News.
Poor standards of maintenance and repair have seen the private firm, Axis, have its contract terminated, while the housing call centre is also being brought in-house in an effort to improve the council’s responsiveness. Sen was appointed last year as executive director responsible, after the departure of a series of ineffectual council housing bosses.
Many staff blame Mayor Perry and the council chief exec, Katherine Kerswell, for making an already bad situation much worse.
Insiders suggest that the council may be pursuing cuts to staff salaries to avoid the lengthy and costly redundancy process. “As if it wasn’t already evident, there have been so many jobs axed over the last couple of years, there’s some departments which are really struggling to fulfil even the most basic functions required of the authority,” a Fisher’s Folly source told Inside Croydon.
“My personal opinion is that there will be limited redundancies due to the costs involved and the savings will come from outsourcing as much as they can in the next 18 to 24 months.” Or, as Mayor Perry broadcast on BBC Radio London, “Things are going to get worse.”
Criticisms of Kerswell as being “remote”, “aloof”, “frequently absent” and “in her ivory tower”, are also mounting.
There has been no special communication about the implications of the council’s latest budget, beyond a brief mention in Kerswell’s weekly email round-robin to staff last Friday, along with information about International Women’s Day and other really important events such as the ceremonial raising of the national flags of Ghana and Bangladesh outside the Town Hall.
According to Kerswell’s note, the 15per cent Council Tax increase is an “extra investment residents are making in their council”.
As one staffer told Inside Croydon, “It’s like an armed robber who has put a gun to someone’s head and demanded they empty their pockets or purse, and calling it an ‘investment’.”
In her email, Kerswell wrote: “Now the members have taken their decision, it is up to us to implement it… Every one of us can play our part in making sure every pound we spend is truly value for money.”
After having been patronised by their boss, one council staff member said, “The reaction to what has happened is mainly one of disbelief. As far as I know, none of the staff are aware of where the £36million of savings are coming from. We are all in the dark as far as that is concerned. Nothing is being shared outside of the executive team.
“It’s just like the dark days when Negrini was in charge.”
According to sources, the council is preparing to get rid of almost all its fly-tipping enforcement team – possibly four jobs – while up to 20 members of the neighbourhood safety team, who after being told they were to be axed two years ago, are expected to get their formal notices before the end of this month.
The savings from this cut-back are reckoned to be £1.1million, but with the borough suffering untold costs of more ASB on our streets.
- Click here to sign the Council Tax petition to Parliament
- Click here to sign the separate petition to Croydon Council to Say No to 15%
Read more: Allowing 15% hike is ‘protecting Council Tax payers’ says Gove
Read more: Here’s the Mayor and 33 Croydon Tory councillors who THREE times voted in favour of hitting you with a 15% Council Tax hike
Read more: ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ to start if 15% tax hike goes through
Read more: The solution to Perry’s finance problem: Fund Croydon Fairly
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They need to get rid of some high earners, or everyone over say £100k volunteers a 10% paycut to set an example. Surprised they have any staff left if this is how they are treated.
Its nice to know that the mad panic early morning frantic emails about flag raising at the Town Hall are still the priority at Fishers Folly and focus on the important issues; no change then over the past two decades. This activity alone heats the 7th floor.
I assume chief officers and directors pay cuts are also in focus at present for savings. Perhaps the Council can furnish more details on this area.
A big problem with staff, grades and pay started in 2007 with a process called Single Status. This was a review…. plan to cut the pay of staff employed and also cut the caliber of staff recruited; dumbing down positions as has been seen across many industries.
Qualifications became a dirty word.
Staff were prohibited from using their qualifications or professional titles; experience without qualification became the preference when employing new staff.
Unsurprisingly, those who were favored received unwarranted pay rises. Those who were excellent at their jobs but did not kiss ass where held back or demoted in pay and grade. This resulted in qualified professionals finding the pay and recognition of local government positions unattractive.
Now, what do you think happened after that…. and what do you now see at the top tiers here at Croydon and elsewhere?
You don’t have to be an expert in employment law to see that, superficially, this seems to be an attempt to unilaterally change terms and conditions which, as any HR or legal services fule no, is bang-to-rights grounds for construing constructive dismissal.
To avoid that, such a ‘restructuring’ would need to be wrapped in all kinds of consulations which, superficially, doesn’t appear to be the case here.
But then, Croydon HR and legal services do so often appear to be fules that don’t no.
Jack, they know perfectly well what they’re doing. They’re hoping that the staff and their union reps either don’t have a clue or won’t have the stomach for a fight
I’ve been a union rep in as many restructuring consultations as the best of them. As night follows day, you are always consulted to, not consulted with. Chances are you’ll save a job or two. But you can be sure they’ve factored that in so that they can make out, should they find themselves at an ET, that they’re weren’t just going through the motions.
‘Extra Investment’??? Kerswell should resign now. Adding insult to injury. Services are being cut and we have to pay more? She has failed. She should go.
It true that some grades are going down, although some will go up and others will remain the same.
The real scandal from a staff point of view is the potential for 25 redundancies in the middle of a homelessness and cost of living crisis and the insensitive attitude of the Head of HR who was at the in-person meeting on the 13th when the restructure papers were first released to staff.
The matter of whether or not the restructure policy has been followed properly was quite rightly questioned by a colleague who was dismissed out of hand in a manner that caused audible shock across the room. There appears to be an empathy bypass in a department that is supposedly there to support staff.
Then there is the issue of the Equality Impact Assessment.
It’s a legal requirement to produce and publish an EIA when a public body providing services to people with protected characteristics is planning significant changes to those services.
People with protected characteristics under the Public Sector Equality Duty are over-represented as clients of homelessness services and it’s of serious concern to staff that neither Cabinet or relevant Scrutiny committees demanded a detailed EIA, instead appearing to have rubber-stamped this restructure without asking the right questions.
We are not only concerned about the risk of redundancy, but about the capacity to provide a half-decent service to the public post-restructure
What did I comment a couple of weeks ago? – Kerswell is another Negrini bearing a different smile. Think croydon is bad – try moving to another place in the country and living life there, then you’ll see just how bad it is. Irretrievable I think.