Council’s striking homelessness staff take their fight to Gove

Senior officials have been accused of deliberately sending in false data on homelessness, potentially costing Croydon as much as £3m per year. By our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE

Whistleblowers: striking GMB staff say that falsified data is being submitted on homelessness in Croydon, where £1.2m is being spent on agency staff in one department every month

Council staff working in Croydon’s housing and homelessness department have today called on Tory minister Michael Gove and his improvement panel to intervene in their dispute, accusing senior figures at Fisher’s Folly of knowingly providing falsified data on the borough’s homeless.

Members of the GMB union have already staged several strike days over the past two months. Today, they held a demonstration outside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in central London, when they delivered a letter addressed to Gove.

The workers are striking against redundancies in their department. Since the council’s budget was passed in March, including Tory Mayor Jason Perry’s 15per cent Council Tax hike, more than 60 council employees in the housing department have joined the GMB union, such is their concern over the proposals.

The cash-strapped council wants to axe 26 posts from the department, equivalent to 18 redundancies.

The GMB says it has “severe concerns” around safeguarding and keeping the service remaining legally compliant.

Croydon’s housing department has been at the centre of national controversy since TV reports in 2021 exposed the appalling state of some council flats in blocks on Regina Road in South Norwood.

The GMB says that Mayor Perry’s plans “will make an already bad situation worse, potentially much worse”.

The union has accused council leaders, including Mayor Perry and chief exec Katherine Kerswell, of ignoring a collective grievance signed by 80 staff. Perry and Kerswell have been “deliberately evasive”, the union says, with meeting minutes being “lost” and formal questions failing to receive responses.

Earlier this month, Gove, the Secretary of State at the DLUHC, announced he was giving additional legal powers to the improvement panel which the Government appointed to oversee the running of Croydon shortly after its finances crashed in 2020 – meaning Perry and his Tory cabinet has to take instructions from the commissioners, rather than simply listen to advice.

And today, in their letter to Gove, the council’s striking GMB workers drew the minister’s attention to “ongoing mismanagement within the local authority”.

Time to intervene: Michael Gove

The letter to Gove continued: “There are many grievances in this dispute but one which can be directly addressed by yourself as the Secretary of State for DLUHC is the fact that Croydon Council knowingly under-report and provide incorrect data on the number of homelessness cases they handle.

“The council only report 2,200 cases to Government when the actual figure is over 3,000 cases.”

The GMB letter names three senior council officials who it accuses of “knowingly providing false information to the DLUHC and other government bodies”.

They say, “It is estimated that if the council received the funding it was entitled to for these additional cases, it would increase the funding by £2million to £3million, which is almost double the projected savings of this restructure.”

The GMB letter to Gove also says that the council is “employing agency staff on expensive rates to clear the backlog in cases, yet are still pursuing the cutting of long-term, experienced workers in a decision that most definitely is not best value for money for the taxpayer”.

The GMB says that Croydon’s cash-strapped council is spending more than £1.2million per month on agency and temporary staff in the housing and homelessness department.

“Staff are already facing unmanageable workloads which are only increasing in the face of numerous crises – the cost-of-living crisis, the housing crisis and the mortgage crisis are only serving to create more people needing immediate help from the local authority…

“If there was ever a time for DLUHC and the panel to intervene, that time would be now.”

Read more: Croydon put in special measures: ‘Worst of all possible worlds’
Read more: Call for Tory Mayor to resign after Government’s takeover

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3 Responses to Council’s striking homelessness staff take their fight to Gove

  1. Sarah Bird says:

    Time for Michael Gove to attend an open meeting, before his forthcoming holiday to Greece, and answer the allegations, together with the Mayor and CEO.

    The level of Homelessness is huge in Croydon. It is not just those people forced to live on the streets, in car parks and doorways, but also many people and children living in unsuitable housing.

    Homelessness is not all drugs rock and roll , far from it .

    Anyone can become homelessness or live in unsuitable accommodation.

  2. Ian Kierens says:

    Does anyone expect at this stage anything but evasion dis-information and silence emanating from Fishers Folly?

    That place lost credibility with me when Townsend investigated herself and her boss Heather Cheesebrough and came back with the response ” Perfectly legal development” to a development that transpired as being anything but. It most definitely was not high quality – far from it!

    Formal letters sent to Kerswell in December 2020 still unanswered. Claimed they had no records of them. Yet they were hand delivered and recorded being given to the security at Fishers Folly. FOIs still unanaswered.

    That place is a shambles and an excuse of Public service. The most shockingly run Public Administration I have ever seen and I saw some pretty poor ones in the USA.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Good on GMB and all the underpaid Council staff who are striking.
    It takes character to go on the picket line.

    The employment of agency staff at huge cost to the council needs to be reduced substantially. Unfortunately, as the private sector supplies these staff, and takes a decent fee per hour for doing so, it is unlikely that Mr Gove will feel free to rock the boat too much.

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