The head of the East Kent Internal Audit Partnership says “action is needed at Thanet District Council to address the cultural and governance failures that stem from the very top of the organisation.”
The call comes from partnership head Christine Parker in a letter to the chair and vice chair of the authority’s governance committee.
Ms Parker highlights concerns over senior officer relationships and ‘blurred reporting lines’ as well as raising the issue of grievance procedures that have not been brought to a conclusion.
In the letter, highlighted in the Municipal Journal today (September 3) Ms Parker says she is ‘conflicted’ over her work because although the report is ‘rightly a summary’ for the audit of Thanet council processes the issue remains that she was asked to move forward ‘whistleblowing matters’ but ‘despite a good deal of hard work’ the matters remained “unconcluded.”
She added: “The chief executive said to me all whistleblowing must be investigated, but now the grapevine would have you believe that whistleblowers get disciplined, which breeds fear and is very unhealthy and damaging to governance and culture.
‘In my view this is all about people, their relationships, behaviours and attitudes, and I only experience this culture at Thanet DC, not the other councils that I work for.”
Ms Parker says she believes Thanet council “is being held back by the unwillingness to conclude investigations that have been started.”
She said matters leaked into the public domain include an independent investigator’s findings that “there was evidence of bullying and harassment of staff by some of the most senior members of staff within the organisation.”
She adds: “With these matters unresolved it insidiously affects the culture of the council and is hugely damaging. If good governance is not demonstrated at the top then the rules of good governance do not apply further down the layers of the organisation.”
Two grievance complaints were filed by TDC staff against top officers during 2019.
One of those complainants named both chief executive Madeline Homer and Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite in a list of 10 grievances.
The officer then lodged an appeal over the way his grievance was dealt with, including being unable to see an independent investigator’s report, having the case handled by a current TDC top officer, and no formal action being taken despite one grievance of bullying and harassment being partly upheld, one of a breakdown of working relationship being upheld, and one of suffering work-related stress due to the situation being upheld.
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt said the authority is aware of concerns and he and council chief executive Madeline Homer have asked the Local Government Association to instigate a peer review to carry out an independent assessment.
Speaking to the Municipal Journal he added: “We hope it will also look at the evident damaging practice of leaking internal correspondence among some individuals within the council and why it is they are doing that.”
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “As part of a commitment to continually improve the organisation, the Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Rick Everitt, and the Chief Executive, Madeline Homer, have asked the Local Government Association to undertake a review of the council’s culture as an organisation.
“This follows feedback raised by the East Kent Head of Internal Audit to ensure that the council is providing the highest possible standards of governance at this time.
“The review will be undertaken independently of the council to provide an objective assessment of the culture, to identify and make recommendations for changes where needed and also to highlight aspects of organisational culture that are positive and should be built on.
“The council had hoped to start a review pre-COVID-19 and it welcomes this opportunity to ensure it is working to the highest possible standards”.
Thanet Independent Group leader Stuart Piper said he does not believe a peer review is the correct course to take as the issue being highlighted is with staff not elected members.
He said: “It is my understanding that a Peer Review would include elected members of the council. If that is the intention then no I do not think it is the appropriate response. Any review of the kind being called for must, in my view, not become too wide ranging and cumbersome. It would seem much better to use a laser beam approach and deal with the actual issues, real or imagined rather than taking a blunderbuss to the whole organisation.”
A statement issued by Thanet Green Party says: “We note with concern the serious issues raised in the Municipal Journal today about the culture operating at Thanet District Council referred to in Christine Parker’s recent Internal Audit report. These allegations are not new, and in previous letters Ms Parker has called for the External Auditor, Grant Thornton, to be called in to investigate them. We support this proposal, as it is time that these concerns were properly addressed.
“Regarding the proposed Local Government Association Peer Review, we have been pressing for such a review since the three Green Councillors were elected in May 2019. We fear that it is now too late for an LGA Peer Review alone to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
“We are disappointed with the council leader’s response as quoted in the Municipal Journal, which appears to focus more on the alleged leak than on the problems the report highlights. We would respectfully point out that if this matter had been dealt with when the auditor first raised it earlier in the summer, there would have been no scope for any sort of leak.
“We believe there is an urgent need for greater transparency at Thanet District Council. We are deeply concerned that our councillors are having difficulty accessing the information they need to fulfil their duties – even to the extent of one of our members having to resort to Freedom of Information requests. We believe that no council that is operating properly should have anything to fear from sharing information and allowing external bodies to scrutinise its work.”
Thanet Green group leader Cllr Mike Garner added: “I am looking forward to hearing a fuller explanation from the leader at next week’s full council meeting about why the auditor’s previous advice has been ignored, and how he proposes to ensure that nothing of this kind can happen again in future.”
Cllr Everitt responded: ““The peer review team will want to hear from officers at all levels as well as members. It is exactly the point that everyone is able to be heard, so that a rounded overview can be obtained, not a partial one shaped by the repeated selective leaking of documents or a conclusion that fits anyone’s pre-existing agenda. It is a cross-party exercise and I am confident the eventual report will highlight plenty of positives about the organisation, as well as issues that need addressing.
“As far as Cllr Garner’s comments are concerned, the head of internal audit has never raised any of these concerns directly with me in any way whatsoever and I am only aware of them now because I received, third hand, a copy of the private letter to the Conservative chair of governance and audit that has now been leaked.”
Thanet Conservative leader Cllr Lesley Game said: “We understand that the LGA have been asked to undertake a review of the culture of the organisation at Thanet District Council. It is the governance at the council which is the major issue, frankly it’s a disgrace.
“We want an external body including external auditors to carry out a full audit and review. Thanet council as it is now is dysfunctional, yes the culture needs reviewing, obviously, but to just ask for this is a face saving exercise. When there is good governance it follows there will be a good and healthy culture.”
Independent councillor Ruth Bailey also backs calls for ‘appropriate action’ to be taken.
She said: “I have followed these rumours of ‘all not being well’ and accusations of systemic problems emanating from the CMT for several years now.
“I also know that there are those who have grievances, either real or perceived, with the council for one reason or another. I have never been in a close enough position to know for sure whether or not these accusations are well founded and I am open-minded enough not to condemn without knowing the full facts.
“However, what I do know is that these continuing and persistent rumours and accusations, and the seeming ongoing reluctance to tackle them head on, is very detrimental to the reputation of the council. We can only know the whole story with an open investigation and, if there is nothing to hide, then there should be no impediment to undergoing a fully independent, external audit.
“My concern is for the stability of the council, without these distractions, so that we can do the job we have been elected to do. We have to be seen to be an open, honest and transparent council.
“I feel this is a necessary process to publicly examine the culture, system and procedures at TDC once and for all in order to either condemn or exonerate any miscreants, whoever they may be, and to put the council back on an even keel.”
lol by the sounds of it Stuart Piper has got some dirt on his hands.
My favourite TDC moment was when council leader, Sandy Ezekiel got jailed.
TDC for the lol
The sheik walking round ramsgate harbour was funny
Not forgetting Jonathan Aitken, and also Cyril Hoser.
Do TDC train these people how to commit fraud, and other crimes?
It seems to be a lot of backstabbing going on at Thanet District Counci if a counsellor has to asked for Freedom of Information Act because the information they require is not fully on hand for them to access then it also seems the Thanet district council tenants do not stand a chance of getting jesters when they are wrongfully accused. Thanet District Council do not even acknowledge there’s a problem within their workforce. Keep up the good work councillors Rick Evenitt and the other councillors
Typical diversionary tatics from Homer, which is the one thing she’s very good at.
Rick Everitt says, many positives will be found. I don’t know of any, but I could think of one; Rick Everitt being asked to resign.
Isle of Thanet News. Has Tim Howes whistleblower charter been amended to reflect laws of statutory reporting DUTIES on the INDIVIDUAL. Particularly important now that Terrorism Act 2000 has been amended.
Whistleblowing is where there is a choice to report and where failure to report is not itself a criminal offence.
Today it emerges that TDC is barging ahead at Ramsgate port whilst laughing like hell that no protest group raised the absence of an environmental and health hazard assessment, precautionary principle or cumulative impact assessment re water supply to Bretts process!
The distraction of the boo hoo public sector parasites.
Well said Richard.
Not again Richard
You heard that Kent might get Dutch human poo covid ridden for fertiliser. Holy shit.
Does anyone know anything, about the history of Sandy Ezekiel, Jonathan Aitken, and Cyril Hoser?
Any idea what party they supported, were they all conservative?
Here we go again. More cover ups and sweeping under the carpet at TDC led by Homer and Everitt.
Rick Everitt has had evidence on several occasions of bullying and harassment at TDC by their top officers and has chosen to do nothing about it. This is why the Audit Head has chosen to direct her letter to the Audit Committee where the legitimate issues raised will hopefully get looked into properly and dealt with. Let’s hope that Committee take the bull by the horns and take some action.
Thanet Council is a horrible place to work. The blame culture and toxicity is set right at the top. The finger pointing and destructive behaviour is shameful. Independent investigators have already found evidence of bullying and harassment from the Chief Executive and her close colleague, the Director of Operational Services.
Rick Everitt and previously Bob Bayford chose to ignore the many statements which highlighted this unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. Nothing will ever get done about the Director of Operational Services despite the complete failure of the services he is responsible for.
I’m afraid, Councillor Everitt, that if you aren’t going to deal with the problem properly then you are part of the problem and I would look to all the Labour Councillors with a conscience to put pressure on to do something about it. It’s encouraging that other Councillors from other parties are now seeing past the typical diversionary tactics and a “peer review” is a total joke of a solution. I know Councillors from all parties read this site and I would urge them not to let this happen.
Frankly, we deserve better as Thanet residents and we deserve a top table of senior managers who actually behave in a way that their salaries demand.
Thanetian Blind, that’s a very powerful statement to make, but I agree with every word.
Unfortunately- senior management being useless and partaking In bullying discrimination and incompetence is not limited to TDC.
Both the Canterbury universities for example are toxic environments ripe with bullying, harassment and cover ups.
I agree. It seems to be a lack of Governors (or Councillors in TDC’s case) holding senior management to account.
TDC Councillors need to realise their role is to hold officers to account not just blindly defend them and cover up their unacceptable behaviour. I am hopeful there are enough Councillors out there with a sense of decency who won’t let this blatant cover up get approved.
In my previous role as Cllr (Central Harbour Ward) I asked consistently both in the chamber and at meetings for the Port and Harbour Accounts to be produced/shown separately and circulated. Nothing was ever received and no explanation given.
At the moment the Local Government Ombudsman is investigating my complaint against Thanet District Council, which was delayed for several months due to the Lockdown! My complaints runs to 6 pages, and includes 22 emails, showing incompetence, and poor leadership by senior managers who failed to take action. I am not holding my breath, but it does mean the Ombudsman is taking my complaints seriously, as they do not entertain frivolous ones that are baseless! Watch this space!
Seems the existing way they spend our cash could be faulty,i could be wrong but await their reply.
hope they are not spending our council tax contributions on their own internal squabbles !
Why not put Thanet back on the “good map” maybe those currently involved are in the wrong occupation.
seen it all before.
Don’t bet on Grant Thornton to do anything – I raised two objections to last year’s accounts both were accepted but a year later nothing had been investigated.
Seems like a cosy set up all round – champagne for everyone!