Kerswell’s council keeps payments to top earners secret

Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, on how Croydon’s backlog of unsanctioned accounts is being used as an excuse to disguise the latest round of top-level recruitment

The Tax Payers Alliance, one of those deliberately opaque, far-right lobby groups from Tufton Street who exercise excessive influence over our law-makers without ever openly declaring who funds them, can now claim to be a more transparent organisation than Croydon Council.

Because last week, when the TPA published The Town Hall Rich List, its annual grope through the payroll details of the nation’s local authorities, there was absolutely nothing in there from Croydon, where Katherine Kerswell has been chief executive for two and a half years.

What was to be discovered in the TPA’s data splurge, however, were the six-figure wages being paid to three individuals who were either named in Croydon’s Penn Report investigation into possible wrong-doing or implicated in the actions that led to the council’s financial collapse in 2020.

Two of them now work in senior positions at Sutton Council, while a third – who was suspended from her post in Croydon – was appointed to their latest finance role at a local authority where the chief exec was Kerswell’s own husband. The references from their previous employers must have been immaculate. Click here for more on this eyebrow-raising story of Town Hall revolving doors…

This year’s was the 16th edition of The Town Hall Rich List, and it is believed to be the first time that the salary details of Croydon Council’s top earners have been withheld.

It was last year’s Town Hall Rich List, with figures from local authorities for the 2020-2021 financial year, which confirmed the full horror of exactly how much was paid to Jo “Negreedy” Negrini when she exited Fisher’s Folly for a final time, scarpering in August 2020 before the first Report In The Public Interest was published by the council’s auditors.

Between April 2020 and September 2020, Negrini received £613,895 from Croydon Council.

Reward for failure: ex-council CEO Jo Negrini

That was made up of five months’ salary: £151,474

Plus pension contributions of £25,214

And then there was the now notorious pay-off of £437,207.

But Croydon tax-payers, hit with a 15per cent Council Tax hike this month, are being denied any insight on the council’s top earners for 2021-2022 under Negrini’s replacement, Kerswell, because the authority has failed to publish its accounts.

That failure to fulfil a basic financial requirement also denies residents access to information which would illustrate how many council staff are on salaries of more than £50,000 per year, allowing comparisons to be made, for example, with the number of execs employed in Fisher’s Folly since before Kerswell took charge in late 2020.

According to the TPA’s latest figures, on average, each London council employed 22 staff members on salaries of £100,000 or more.

In Croydon in 2020-2021 – the year before these latest figures – there were 29 staff employed on £100,000 or more at our cash-strapped council, including Negrini who worked for just five months. And there was also the £132,931 paid in salary and pension contributions to Kerswell for her work from October 2020 to March 2021 – six months.

Opaque: under Katherine Kerswell, Croydon has issued three bankruptcy notices, but has not released senior salary details

The council’s bankruptcy, having three times issued Section 114 notices since November 2020, most recently in November 2022 – all under Kerswell as CEO – has not stopped the authority posting ads for highly paid executives. As Inside Croydon reported last month, Croydon is now seeking a “director of transformation”, a new role at Fisher’s Folly fulfilling functions previously undertaken by the… chief exec or finance chief … on the jolly decent salary of £123,000. Crisis? What crisis?

Every council is required by law to publish accounts detailing remuneration of all employees earning over £50,000, with various additional requirements for employees earning over £100,000 and £150,000. In England and Wales, the council must publish the job title of anyone earning in excess of £100,000 and for those earning in excess of £150,000 their name must also be disclosed.

Croydon now has three years’ worth of accounts which its auditors have not signed off as being a reliable record of the council’s finances. Long-standing questions over multi-million-pound charges to the Housing Revenue Account and the mishandling of council-owned company Croydon Affordable Homes have prevented the accounts receiving external approval.

That has never before been used as an excuse for withholding executive salary details from the TPA, however.

And Croydon is not alone in failing to meet its legal obligations over its accounts.

Croydon is one of 47 councils – nearly 12per cent – who have failed to publish their accounts. The deadline for the publication of draft accounts was July 31 2022 (and audited accounts November 30).

According to the TPA, “By April 11, 2023, over eight months after the deadline, 47 councils had not even published their draft accounts. While many councils have pointed to covid as an excuse, the number of councils failing to report their accounts in time for the Town Hall Rich List in 2022 and 2021 was 25 and eight respectively – when the pandemic was far more of an issue!”

The failure to release the details has screwed up the TPA’s annual game of assessing how many public servants are on more than the Prime Minister (which always seems such a random benchmark, when comparisons to individual organisations’ average pay might provide a better monitor). So many authorities have failed to provide data on 2021-2022 that the number of civic servants on £100,000-plus has fallen in this year’s Town Hall Rich List.

“We believe that if all councils had published their accounts the real figure would well exceed 3,000,” the TPA says, clearly somewhat put out.

Joining Croydon on the TPA’s naughty step are Bromley (Conservative controlled), Barking and Dagenham (Labour), Camden (Labour), City of London, Lewes in sunny Sussex, Buckinghamshire, North Norfolk (Aha!), Nottingham City Council (where Kerswell worked as an interim CEO before coming to Croydon) and the Surrey councils of Reigate and Banstead, Surrey Heath, Woking (in very deep financial doo-doo) and Tandridge.

Thurrock and Slough, two councils which like Croydon were given Government permission for an above-5per cent Council Tax hike, have also failed to publish their accounts.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “With rising numbers of councils failing to publish their annual accounts, including some in financial difficulties, taxpayers are left in the dark on the senior salaries for those in charge.”

Read more: Three former exec directors are back on councils’ gravy train
Read more: Watchdog suggests Negrini’s pay-off may have been unlawful
Read more: Council paid £25,000 for legal threats against Inside Croydon
Read more: Negrini lands cushty consultancy with ex-council supplier

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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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5 Responses to Kerswell’s council keeps payments to top earners secret

  1. Great piece, thanks.

  2. Moira Cockcroft says:

    Pay for Chief Officers 2022/2023 is published on Croydon Council website along with the daily rates for interim staff or consultants

    • We’re aware, Moira.

      But the Kerswell-isation of the council’s pay system anonymises the recipients of those salaries, and does not give the numbers of those employed on £100,000+

  3. Sarah Gills says:

    I have no issue with market based salaries for CEOs and senior managers of local authorities. When you look at what they’re responsible for – legally for some posts – it makes sense.

    The problem is when people are paid those salaries even if they’re not fit for the job.

    A huge problem in local government is that it is incestuous in nature. Very few “outsiders”, most, once in, just hop on the merry go around. This creates a sense of group think across authorities and, as has happened in Croydon, when things go wrong, they don’t have the ability to recognise that they are part of the problem.

    We need more movement in and out of local authorities so that they can learn how to run things better and for non-local government CEOs to realise what the public sector is like (and vice versa). Until that changes, we will keep getting under qualified highly paid senior staff who all think they’re the bees knees.

    • Chris Flynn says:

      But surely those who’ve worked at functional councils would be able to recognise dysfunction? Whilst some competencies will transfer across industries, understanding ‘how things are done’ is surely useful. Sounds like Trump being president.

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