CROYDON IN CRISIS: A council committee is to meet in secret later this week, potentially to discuss whether the authority should settle out-of-court over allegations of race discrimination and victimisation brought by a former senior employee
Croydon Council’s Employment Tribunal case against a former senior executive could be about to collapse. A move to settle the case would avoid Katherine Kerswell, the council’s £192,000 per year chief executive, from having to face allegations of racism in open court.
A meeting of the council’s appointments and disciplinary committee has been hurriedly summoned for Thursday, under the heading “Confidential staffing matter – An update”.
It has been suggested that the meeting, to be chaired by Mayor Jason Perry, has been called to approve the council withdrawing from the serious Employment Tribunal case that had been brought against it by former executive director Hazel Simmonds.
Simmonds was one of four execs who were suspended in February 2021 by the then new council CEO, Kerswell while their part in the council’s multi-million pound financial collapse was to be investigated. No disciplinary action has ever been taken against any of them: three quit their Croydon jobs that year (a fourth never returned from long-term sick leave).
Simmonds did not resign until September 2022, and she embarked on a grievance counter-action against the council for race discrimination, victimisation and unlawful reduction in wages. She also made a separate racism complaint against Kerswell individually.
In May this year, Simmonds won one part of her case, when it was shown that the council had acted unlawfully in reducing her pay while she was suspended from duty. The cash-strapped council was ordered to give Simmonds £15,000 in back-pay.
That ought to have given Kerswell and her legal advisers in Fisher’s Folly a bit of a clue that they might not have too strong a case to defend against Simmonds, in most respects at least.
Whatever the discussion at Thursday’s committee meeting, the Simmonds’ legal case against the council is approaching its end-game. The rest of her case was slated for a three-week hearing at the ET in December.
It is impossible to know with certainty if Thursday’s appointments committee meeting, with a single item on its agenda, has been called to discuss the Simmonds case.
That’s because our non-transparent council is refusing to release any details of the top-secret meeting, beyond saying, “The Part B (exempt) version of this report updates the committee on an ongoing confidential staffing matter.
“The report contains confidential personal data and confidential legal advice and therefore the entirety of the report is exempt.”
Oh, how Croydon’s civic servants love a confidentiality excuse for keeping things secret and stopping the public discovering their latest clusterfuck.
Councillor members of the committee – including Labour’s Stuart King, Callton Young and Enid Mollyneux, and Tories Lynne Hale and Jason Cummings – are sworn to secrecy on pain of death, or worse. Kerswell and her deputy CEO, Elaine Jackson, plus the hapless legal director, Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, are also expected to attend – so it is fair to assume that this is not a trivial matter.
The Simmonds complaint was filed more than 14 months ago, so Kerswell has been accumulating legal costs all that time.
The prolonged disciplinary process brought against Simmonds had been used by Kerswell as an excuse for failing to action the findings of the Penn Report, which had investigated the conduct of several senior figures at the council.
Given the serious nature of the allegations made by Simmonds against the council and Kerswell, settling out-of-court now is unlikely to come cheap.
There may be a “compensation” payment to be agreed, and then there will be an NDA – a non-disclosure agreement – for Simmonds to sign to buy her silence, which will also come at a price (but will serve to stop the truth coming out). And Simmonds’ own lawyers could also make an application to the Tribunal judge for her legal costs. All of which would ultimately be paid by Croydon’s long-suffering Council Tax-payers.
Simmonds was promoted to her £150,000 per year role of “executive director of Gateway, strategy and engagement” in 2018 by the council’s then chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.
Depending on what is agreed at Thursday’s council committee meeting, since Simmonds’ settlement will be in respect of more than a single year, she could even walk away with more than her erstwhile boss, Negrini, received in 2020.
That now-notorious £437,000 pay-off was also decided behind closed doors and in secret.
The only person likely to attend this week’s appointments committee and who was also at the August 2020 meeting that pushed through Negrini’s astronomic pay-off was… Jason Perry.
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: Council exec Simmonds quits after 18 months ‘gardening leave’
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else
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