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London borough changes constitution ahead of reported move to suspend quartet of senior officers

The London Borough of Croydon changed its constitution to resolve a conflict on senior staff suspensions immediately before four such officers were reported to have been suspended.

An extraordinary meeting of the financially-stricken council on Monday approved changes needed because of what a report from interim chief executive Katherine Kerswell described as “a conflict between Part 3 (Responsibility for Functions) and Part 4J (Staff Employment Procedure Rules) of the constitution in relation to the authority to make provisional suspension of statutory officers and chief officers should such a situation arise”.

This was clarified so that suspension of the head of paid service, chief finance officer or monitoring officer may be decided by the Appointments Committee but that in exceptional circumstances the director of human resources may temporarily suspend any of these three roles for up to 10 days. This latter provision was also applied to any non-statutory chief officer.

The day after the meeting the council was reported to have suspended four officers.

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Croydon did not respond to a request for comment, but a tweet from the Conservative opposition said: “If officers are being suspended, then why has [Labour council leader Hamida] Ali not done the same to her complicit Labour councillors. What is she waiting for?”

Lord Barwell, formerly a Conservative MP in the area, tweeted: “This makes a powerful point: whatever your politics, it cannot be right that council officers are suspended, but no action is taken against the councillors who took the decisions.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick imposed an improvement and assurance panel on the council last month following a highly critical review commissioned by his department.

Among the findings of the review panel were “it is clear that Croydon Council has had significant failings in leadership and management (particularly in sphere of financial management) and its governance and assurance mechanisms have failed in identifying, escalating and addressing risk”.

The panel also found “concerns about the capability and capacity of the council to organise and manage the recovery”, and that Croydon has “a poor track record of robust financial management and this will need to change if it is to effect a successful recovery.”

Previous chief executive Jo Negrini left in the summer and was replaced on an interim basis by Ms Kerswell.

Cllr Ali, who became leader in October, said when the panel’s report was published: “We fully accept the findings of the rapid review and the serious concerns around the council’s financial position and past governance.

“Since I became leader, I have been clear that my absolute priority is to get Croydon’s finances back on track and strengthen our governance so that we can deliver good essential services and value for money for residents.”

Mark Smulian

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