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Kerswell out of it

Cllr Carter will wear a toga of Imperial purple on all public engagements, and feast on roast peacocks daily. We, on the other hand, will be fed to the lions. There will be no circuses. There will be no bread. Does anyone remember voting for this?

Kent County Council have finally decided that Katherine Kerswell is not in fact managing director. This is the latest instalment in a story that has been running since November 16th, when the rumours first emerged that Katherine would be leaving her post for reasons for reasons unknown.

At the time she was 16 months in to her four-year contract, and appeared to have ruffled the feathers of the Conservative backbenchers with her program of change and improvement within the Council. Initially there was confusion as to whether she had actually left or not. Even when Kent County Council put out a statement that Katherine “is and remains” managing director, some confusion remained given that there was no sign of Katherine at the KCC offices.

There was activity behind the scenes, there were lawyers, there were rumours. However, throughout the exercise there was uncertainty and a lack of transparency, and this remains the case. On November 28th KCC held a meeting that was behind closed doors and did not have a published agenda. This is probably when they decided what to do about Catherine. It seems that they decided to pay her a lot of money to go away – £450,000.

This begs a number of questions. Firstly, did she resign or what she made redundant? Secondly, why is this very expensive exercise in failed recruitment shrouded in secrecy? The most worrying question, in my opinion, is what happens next.

The senior officer grades at KCC have just been cut and reorganised by Katherine, and a number of posts are being filled by interim managers. It seems reasonable to guess that one of the reasons that contributed to Katherine’s departure is a clash of styles between the members and the officers.

Councillor Paul Carter seems to be suggesting that KCC doesn’t actually need a managing director or Chief Executive, and that he will simply sweep up those functions within his own existing role as Leader.

“I and my cabinet have made the decision that to deliver further efficiencies and a more streamlined organisation we can operate very successfully without a managing director.” He said local government now had cabinets working with the leader as the executive and so no longer needed a chief executive or managing director.”

It seems to me that this is a spectacularly bad time to combine roles of leader and Chief Executive. Even if Paul Carter was a supremely talented human being, it would be a lot to ask of him. As it is, the MD’s salary of £200k represents a saving of 0.01% of Kent’s £2 billion budget, while the cost to KCC of doing without a managing director has yet to be calculated.

Kent County Council is under further pressure over the news that its managing director is to quit and is reported to be walking away with a six-figure payoff.

Unison said reports that Katherine Kerswell is in line for a settlement worth £450,000 were a smack in the face for its staff and demoralising at a time when hundreds of lower paid staff had lost their jobs at County Hall.

KCC finally confirmed that Katherine Kerswell will leave this month after weeks denying that it had any plans to axe her post – despite mounting rumour and speculation. Mrs Kerswell, who has not been at her desk for the best part of a month, is only 16 months into a four-year contract.

Unison branch secretary David Lloyd said:

“It is demoralising for our members to see this at a time when they are struggling to save their own jobs and would never get anywhere near this kind of payout even if they had worked for 20 years or more. It really is a smack in the face.”

Opposition parties said it was disgraceful that taxpayers were being kept in the dark over how much she will walk away with. They also raised questions about why she was receiving any payout if she was resigning.

KCC says it has signed a confidential agreement, meaning it cannot say what the terms of the settlement are. However, some details will have to be published next year when the authority publishes its annual accounts as part of new government transparency regulations.

Labour opposition leader Cllr Gordon Cowan said:

“This is public money and after all, it will be taxpayers’ who fund this. KCC should be upfront and say exactly how much she is getting. It will have to come out at some point but they should say so immediately.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman Cllr Tim Prater echoed:

“From the statement the council has put out, it reads like she has resigned. If she did, why is she being paid off at all? That is the question every taxpayer in Kent deserves an answer to.”

Mrs Kerswell joined the county council in March 2010 from Northamptonshire county council following the departure of former chief executive Peter Gilroy. A statement released by KCC said:

“Katherine Kerswell has done an exceptional job at Kent reshaping our approach to service delivery and recasting our overall management arrangements. She is a first-rate public servant with tremendous skills at making large organisations work well. Her management direction has helped produce very significant savings to the council and confirmed Kent’s position as a leading authority.”

kentonline 12th Dec 2011 Paul Francis

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  1. Who'd have thought, when he sold his first used car, that one day, this man would rise to become emperor of Kent. Good on yer Arfur.