CROYDON IN CRISIS: In an internal email to staff, the £192,000 per year chief executive has laid the groundwork for the next round of redundancies in departments including personnel and planning.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
While her council was congratulating itself over its “progress” with the budget, Katherine Kerswell, the £192,000 per year CEO, was this morning doing what she does best: patronising her staff and readying them for more redundancies.
It is council staff who will be paying for the illusory “success” claimed by Kerswell and Croydon’s Mayor, Jason Perry, with dozens likely to lose their jobs as part of the £31million of cuts written in to the 2024-2025 budget.
Kerswell’s memo today was to prepare the groundwork ahead of the next round of “consultations”. It is reckoned that more than 500 council posts have been left vacant or axed since 2020, the process having started even before Croydon issued its first Section 114 notice in November that year.
Judging by Appendix B1 in the council’s budget papers “New savings and growth” (released today ahead of next week’s scrutiny committee and cabinet meetings), it appears that there are further job cuts planned in Human Resources, the safeguarding team, procurement (presumably because the cash-strapped council ain’t going to be procuring very much for a while), educational capital delivery team (no new schools planned), and in spatial planning and regeneration (which should be a blow for £150,000-plus per year director Heather Cheesbrough, unless she is one of those to go).
Cuts to planning are likely to be really counter-productive. There have been countless complaints of the council’s planning department being slow to process applications because it is understaffed. And what happens if Westfield really do pitch up with a revised scheme for the long-overdue regeneration of the town centre, as they have been threatening to do all year?
But while there are job cuts coming across a range of council departments, there’s a couple of places which remain growth areas at the crisis-hit council.
“They are employing more lawyers and accountants, so that’ll help deliver all those essential services the residents are after,” according to one world-weary insider at Fisher’s Folly.
In her little round-robin to staff, Kerswell started off with bare-faced deception: “You will see from the figures that we are in a very different position to the one we were in this time last year.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. With budget cuts, another Council Tax hike, another £38million emergency loan from Government for 2024-2025, with more loans requested for the next three years, and still no debt write-off as most people agree is essential to reduce the council’s debt burden. Croydon is very much still in the same hole it was in 12 months ago.
Kerswell simpered on: “The progress we have made would not have been possible without the focus and effort you have given to deliver savings and spot areas where we can be more efficient, all while continuing to offer the best services we can to residents.
“What remains clear, however, is that the council’s debt burden is still our biggest financial issue. We do not have a solution for that right now, but finding the right resolution is at the centre of all the conversations we are having with Government.
“We must agree a package of support that will enable Croydon to have a sustainable financial future.” Without the half-a-billion debt write-off, nothing is going to change any time soon.
Kerswell soon got to the crunch: more job cuts (although how a reduced personnel department will cope with another round of redundancies is anyone’s guess).
“You will see that the documents do reference certain areas in the organisation and services that have been put forward as places where we could potentially make savings.
“Before writing to you today I asked directors to speak to the teams that are directly referenced in the document, to give more information on why these savings have been suggested.
“These are still only draft proposals; today is not the start of a formal consultation period for any staff potentially impacted by proposed service changes.”
Not at all reassuringly, Kerswell added, “Everything will go through the proper process and governance.” Because as many council staff, past and present, that has not always been the case.
Between them, Kerswell and Tory Mayor Jason Perry, probably after paying a very large amount to a consultant of some kind, have devised a slogan to describe their mission at Croydon Council: “Less but better”.
According to a council insider, “Everyone can see how they are delivering on the first part of that. But with this next round of redundancies, they will never be able to justify the claim of doing anything ‘better’.”
Read more: Perry claims ‘progress’ and gets set to hike Council Tax again
Read more: ‘There is no solution in sight’ warns council’s finance chief
Read more: ‘Uncertainty faced by all local authorities is unprecedented’
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