Kerrr-ching! Kerswell reckons £192,000 per year not enough

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The best-paid employee at the cash-strapped council is lobbying for a bumper pay rise – and is being supported in her claim by the part-time elected Mayor. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Ivory tower: council CEO Katherine Kerswell reckons she deserves to be paid more

Barely a month after she helped to push through an inflation-busting 15per cent Council Tax hike for the borough’s residents, Katherine Kerswell, the council’s chief executive, wants her own pay rise.

Kerswell, who has overseen around 400 lower-paid job cuts since she was parachuted in to Fisher’s Folly in October 2020, already receives a more-than-generous annual salary of £192,474.

Council Tax bills dropped onto residents’ door mats at the end of last month demanding an extra £240 per year for the average household – “to avoid having to make another £22million of cuts” was the reason given by part-time Mayor Jason Perry for the 15per cent tax hike in the bankrupt borough.

Now, Katharine Street sources suggest that Tory Mayor Perry (£82,000 per year in allowances from the cash-strapped council) is supporting Kerswell’s pay claim.

It is suggested that Kerswell has put out feelers to outside bodies, possibly including the Local Government Association and SOLACE – the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives – to seek justification for her pay request.

There has been nothing tabled as an agenda item to the council’s appointments and disciplinary committee, the body which would usually determine matters relating to the salary of the council’s “head of service”.

But then, at Kerrr-ching Kerswell’s two-steps-forward-one-step back council, there’s no meeting of the appointments committee scheduled for at least the next three months.

When she stepped in to the crisis-hit council two and a half years ago, with the backing of Whitehall and the LGA, Kerrr-ching replaced the notorious Jo “Negreedy” Negrini. Negrini quit in a bit of a hurry, with the council facing the first Report In The Public Interest from its auditors and with a bankruptcy Section 114 notice soon to follow.

Negrini’s exit was cushioned by the payment of a controversial £437,000 settlement.

Croydon has issued three S114 notices while Kerswell has been in charge, the most recent in November 2022, an admission that the authority has failed to get its finances under control, despite the supervision of a Whitehall-appointed improvement panel.

Since Kerswell took over, there has also been an increase in the number of six-figure salaried director level staff at Croydon Council.

Last month, Kerswell’s council was advertising for a “director of transformation”, on a salary of £123,000.

“‘Transformation’ is just typical councilspeak for redundancies and cut-backs,” a Katharine Street source confided.

“In the past, the council’s finance director or CEO, like Nathan Elvery, would deal with all this. Kerswell appears to think she needs someone else to do her dirty work for her.”

Live long and prosper: Kerswell’s a bit of a Trekkie

On her arrival at Fisher’s Folly, Kerswell quickly earned a reputation for being patronising and using management jargon when communicating with staff. That said, nothing she has uttered in Croydon so far matches her most bananas offering, from the time she held the top job at Kent County Council.

“Everything you can learn about life, you can learn from Star Trek,” Kerswell said then, chanelling her inner Vulcan.

In Kent, Kerswell instigated a purge of senior staff, aimed at saving £750,000 per year, called “Change to Keep Succeeding”.

But the cost of bringing in consultants and “interims” to do the work of the departed, sometimes on £1,000-a-day plus, soon outstripped any savings to the tune of an estimated £4million. She swiftly found herself on non-speaking terms with the Tory council’s then leader, Paul Carter, who decided to cut his tax-payers’ losses and bean Kerswell down, helped with a payoff of £420,000. Kerswell had been in that job for just 16 months.

The speculation around Fisher’s Folly is that Kerswell’s household kitty at the £1.2million-plus home in Lewisham that she shares with her husband might be getting a little empty. That, though, seems most unlikely: the husband is Barry Quirk, 69, who until last November had been earning the big bucks as chief executive at Kensington and Chelsea. So he’s bound to be on a gold-plated public pension.

LGA advisor: Barry Quirk, Kerswell’s husband

And besides, last month Quirk started a new role, as an “advisor”, to… the Local Government Association.

Inside Croydon asked the LGA for its advice.

We asked whether the LGA would provide assistance to a local authority chief executive if they wanted supporting evidence to justify claiming an improved salary package.

An LGA spokesperson (not Barry Quirk) told us: “All senior officer salaries are determined locally by each individual council.” Yet in Croydon, Katherine Kerswell has not arranged any meeting at which her pay rise might be discussed, or approved.

According to council reports from 2021, Kerswell is probably due a pay rise, though maybe not of the size she has in mind.

The document, Pay Policy 2022-2023, states, “The pay structures, including basic pay, for the chief executive and head of paid service, corporate directors, directors and posts at Croydon Special Range (CSR) level are determined locally.

“The chief executive and head of paid service is to be paid a spot salary of £192,474. The salary is subject to review every two years and is next due to be reviewed in April 2023.” Our italics.

“The pay of the chief executive and Head of Paid Service is determined on appointment with reference to market rates. In establishing market rates, the council will compare remuneration data from other comparable local authorities. This allows closer benchmarking, where possible, to take account of factors such as population size, social demographics, budgetary responsibilities, economic and regeneration activity.”

There’s other documentation which suggests that if a pay increase is agreed for Kerswell, despite her already being on £3,700 per week at a council with debts of £1.6billion, she might find herself receiving only a modest (in comparison with recent inflation rates) 3.5per cent.

No negotiation: the 3.5% pay deal for council CEOs, like Katherine Kerswell

In February this year, while Kerswell was busy-ish preparing to lump a 15per cent Council Tax hike on the people she works for, the Government was laying out what it described as a “full and final” pay offer to the JNC – Joint Negotiating Committee – for chief officers of local authorities.

In a letter making the pay offer, the Government side said, “Employers must be able to demonstrate that pay offers they make to senior officers can be defended to Council Tax-paying local residents and other employees.” Good luck with that, Mayor Perry.

For Kerswell, any such pay rise would be worth £5,500 extra per year, gross.

We wanted to ask Kerswell about her pay demands.

But she is away on annual leave until April 19.

Which just happens to be when all the staff working in the council’s payroll department are planning on going on strike in a dispute over low pay and complaints, left unresolved by Kerswell, of discrimination.

Read more: Auditors and Government both losing patience with Kerswell
Read more: Croydon put in special measures: ‘Worst of all possible worlds’
Read more: Judge orders CEO Kerswell to face tribunal over racism claims

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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
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18 Responses to Kerrr-ching! Kerswell reckons £192,000 per year not enough

  1. Laurence Fisher says:

    Is this serious Steven – not a late April Fools joke? There’s no bloody way this can be serious.

  2. On her return she might like to address the non submission of accounts by Brick by Brick Ltd (wholly owned by the Council). That failure constitutes a criminal offence and incurs automatic financial penalties which is more money lost to Croydon. Hardly something that will help justify a pay rise.

  3. Sally P says:

    I challenge Kerswell to contact Inside Croydon and tell its readership one thing she has done that has benefited the people of Croydon. Just one thing.

    Don’t include the shambolic election counting where Croydon performed the worst in the UK. Don’t include the redundancies that has resulted in senior ex-Croydon staff suing her personally for unfair dismissal and racism. And don’t include the fact that she never gets off her arse to reply to an email or letter -as she is far to important.

    Do others think Croydon deserves somebody much better that `Katherine Kerswell and her gravy train creaming off the public purse.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    Realistically the post should get a basic increase. The would be little if any performance related increases as it is hard to see any performance targets being met.

    But fundamentally the role is now a caretaker role as it is centrally run so in fact as executive responsibility is now a lot less should the role not undergo a re-evaluation and the score and the salary be a lot lower?

    Surely also the failure to keep control and direction negate any reason for their being an Executive Mayor also.?

  5. John Kohl says:

    Two questions. If Croydon Council is now de facto in special measures and being run by commissioners appointed by central government, isn’t the final decision about the amount of any pay increases for all senior executives within the Council a matter entirely for those commissioners?

    Or HM Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities?

  6. Angela Rixon says:

    I as a Council tax payer am appalled by croydon council they are stealing off the public and should be made accountable

  7. Dave Robinson says:

    Is there no end to these greedy people?

  8. Sadanddejected says:

    So as the Council’s services to its residents goes down, Kerswell looks to be rewarded for it!

  9. Laurence Fisher says:

    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  10. Lancaster says:

    Kerswell’s achievements are…. ?

    and these need further rewarding… !

  11. Andrew Pelling says:

    Local Government Chief Executive pay has become grossly inflated. Pay before generous pension provision should be capped at rate the Prime Minister gets which is £ 165,000 pa.

    • The Prime Minister also gets free accommodation and transport, and can and does cash in after leaving office. For example, by February this year, liar Boris Johnson had racked up over £5m in “earnings, hospitality and donations” since leaving Downing Street five months earlier.

      The old canard that pay should be limited to what the Prime Minister gets is trotted out by the right-wing press about public sector posts and jobholders they don’t like. They kept schtum about the near quarter of a million quid that the waste of space called Cressida Dick was paid as she turned a blind eye to the rot that set in while she headed the Metropolitan Police.

      And there’s barely a peep from them about the £2m that the CEO of the privatised Thames Water gets to dump raw sewage (that’s the polite term) into our rivers and onto our beaches.

      Then there’s the boss of Centrica, Chris O’Shea, who has a salary of £790k plus bonuses that take his package up to £4.5m, all this for fleecing us with energy price hikes and forcing rip-off prepayment meters on the poor.

      Croydon council needs to pay good money to find and keep talented people to run it. If Kerswell isn’t up to the job (and I’m yet to see anything solid to back up that claim), that’s a different issue.

      Earlier this year Medway was giving a package of up to £169k to run its flush council while Portsmouth is currently offering c£180k, and the benefits include not reporting to a part-time Mayor.

      If or when Kerswell leaves for an easier life with a better local authority, who worth hiring would want to come and work for our basket case council for a measly £165k? Better the devil you know

      • Anthony Miller says:

        I’m free.

        You are just advancing a two wrongs make a right argument.

        Re private industry…

        Centrica is not just a utility supplier it’s an operator… It has to drill for oil an gas which these days costs £20m a well with about 20 wells a field and several times that for a seismic survey all of which data has to be analysed… arguably a more complex operation than running Croydon Council. The oil industry is also notoriously volatile being linked to commodity prices that go down as well as up resulting in high salaries yes but also job insecurity and mass layoff cycles. If you mess up you get taken over, merged, fired… There are risks as well as rewards ..

        Kerswell etc seem to never get made redundant but move mysteriously from one Council to another in a bizarre game of musical chairs while disposing of more canon fodder than a WWI general. When like Negrani they do mess up so badly they have to fall on their swords they get bizarre payoffs instead of a sympathetic visit by the HR department and a free box of tissues. We could cap the reward for failure at statutory redundancy for a start. That’s what happens in most private companies and I bet that’s all Negrani’s minions get.

  12. Kevin Croucher says:

    There seems to be no downside to being a Chief Executive. Vastly inflated pay and pension while things are going well. If you screw it up, just keep your head down for a few months and wait for the dust to settle, then pop up at some other lucky council.

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