A letter containing serious allegations has been sent to Thanet councillors by a GMB Union officer, outlining claims of ‘victimisation’ against a council employee who raised a grievance against members of the senior management team in June/July 2019..
The letter, which has been passed on to The Isle of Thanet News, says the staff member, who is still waiting for the full grievance process to be completed more than a year after his bullying complaint was lodged, has been:
- suspended twice – being cleared on the first occasion after being accused of leaking grievance report details from a colleague but then immediately suspended again after seeking help from the General Purposes Committee;
- has had Human Resources support removed;
- told to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement to read the independent investigation report into his complaint
- is now the subject of a restructure which, the GMB says, will see one manager role made redundant from TDC.
The letter claims he has also had his email account hacked, his office stripped of his personal belongings and dumped in a metal container without him being notified and councillors being told by senior staff that he had left the authority when he is on sick leave.
The GMB says an attempt was made to seek help from the council’s deputy chief executive Tim Willis but Mr Willis was suspended in August 2019, although he was reinstated a month later and cleared of all gross misconduct allegations.
The employee has now been invited to a disciplinary hearing where he is facing charges amounting to gross misconduct related to writing to the GPC about his grievance complaint.
The GMB representative says the council’s Monitoring Officer had also written to the GPC after the head of East Kent HR raised serious whistleblowing concerns about the authority.
The letter raises the issue of the employee’s grievance being dealt with by those who are the subject of complaints and says deputies for the Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer were better placed to have handled the process.
His grievance named both chief executive Madeline Homer and Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite in a list of 10 complaints including bullying and harassment.
He 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 TDC top officer, and no formal action being taken. One grievance of bullying and harassment was partly upheld, one of a breakdown of working relationship was upheld, and one of suffering work-related stress due to the situation was upheld.
The process of dealing with this grievance, and another submitted by the current officer, prompted the GMB union to call on Thanet council to implement a new, independent system for dealing with bullying and harassment complaints against senior officers, saying the current methods are ‘compromised beyond further use.’
Mr Kennett left the authority last September and now works for another Kent council.
The GMB letter says there have been accusations “of truly unforgivable breaches of TDC policies and procedures,” and, in the case of the Kennett grievance, the “independent investigator even advised that there was a toxic culture within the council that had been fostered by the highest elements of the senior management team.”
Non Disclosure Agreements
The letter adds: “In August 2020, the member of staff and GMB member was finally advised that the independent grievance investigation report was complete and that if he or anyone else wanted to see the report, they would have to sign up to an NDA.
“So our member agreed and has since received his grievance report. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to advise you on what the report contained (the GMB rep also signed an NDA), but what I will say is that given the fact that the council boasts having a serious zero tolerance when it comes to Dignity at Work (TDC’s Bullying and Harassment) policy, I am truly shocked because for a second time the report’s recommendations have failed our GMB members and (TDC) employees.
“In over 14 months since our member and (the) employee raised his grievance we have only reached the first stage of the grievance procedure.”
The letter goes on to criticise the Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer for taking part in a preliminary investigation and being involved in the decision to suspend the employee while they were the subject of live complaints. The process has since been passed to a deputy officer.
It is claimed that it was six weeks before the employee was told the leak allegations made against him had been dismissed.
It then says: “As well as putting our member through a vexatious disciplinary process not once but twice, the council has now gone out to consultation on a management restructure where there will be redundancies, sorry, where there will be only one redundancy, can you guess whose role is the subject of being managed out of the organisation?
“The author of the restructure document is the Director of Operations who has now been subject of two independent investigations and whilst I can confirm that (“there is substantial evidence that he acted in a bullying manner towards”) our first GMB member, I cannot advise you on the outcome of the second GMB member’s grievance, due to me being forced to sign an NDA just to read the report.
“The GMB has asked that both the disciplinary hearing and the restructure be placed on hold until our members grievance process has been exhausted, but the deputy monitoring officer has refused this reasonable request.”
The GMB representative goes on to say: “We have seen an endless stream of employees leaving the council through either vexatious disciplinaries, restructures or NDAs. I believe that the money wasted on NDAs and legal advice could have improved the pay of every TDC employee by around 5% after years of austerity.”
According to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Thanet blogger Ian Driver in a five year period TDC has spent some £651,000 on NDAs with 37 former members staff.
The letter says that in the last 12 months there have been several reports raising concerns over the culture at TDC, including:
- The Westell independent investigator report into the Trevor Kennett bullying and harassment grievance
- The whistleblowing letter of concern by the Head of East Kent HR
- A whistleblowing letter from the Deputy Chief Executive & Section 188 Officer
- The Beven Britton report into the whistle blowing complaints of the Head of East Kent HR and the Deputy Chief Executive & Section 188 Officer
- The Maycock independent investigator report into the other GMB member’s bullying and harassment grievance
- A 500+ page document compiled by outside independent solicitors setting out complaints and counter complaints
- A letter of concern to the chair and deputy chair or governance by the Internal Auditor
The GMB rep says he is outraged at council leader Rick Everitt’s response to the letter which, he says, was more concerned about the TDC leaks than the behaviour that was prompting the whistleblowing.
The GMB Trade Union has now requested:
- That councillors request no disciplinary process takes place against the employee and GMB member until the current grievance process has been exhausted
- That councillors request no restructure takes place involving the employee until the grievance procedure has been exhausted
- That the Conservative and Labour groups meet and propose “an investigation into their group leaders’ part* in the culture at TDC
- That the current leader of TDC stand down and a new leader be appointed to lead TDC into a new era where bullying and harassment is not tolerated
- That the councillors appoint an external organisation to investigate “toxic bullying, harassment and victimisation allegations levelled at the Chief Executive, the Monitoring Officer and the Director of Operations.” As part of the scope, the independent investigator should be not only tasked with carrying out the investigation, they should also be asked to make any recommendations arising out of the investigation.
A second letter, jointly written by representatives of the GMB and the Unison trade unions, requests a formal independent investigation is set up and that investigator is given the remit to carry out a full investigation and also make the recommendations that they may have arising from their findings.
It adds: “The Joint Trade unions believe that by carrying out a truly independent investigation, and ensuring that the recommendations come from someone independent of the Council, Thanet District Council will be able to close this very bad chapter in its history.”
Councillors’ role in employment
Council leader Rick Everitt highlighted the TDC constitution, which says:
The role of Members in employment matters are limited to:
Determining significant human resources policies and conditions of employment;
The appointment and discipline of Chief Officers;
Hearing and determining appeals.
Members shall not act outside these roles.
Officers will not seek any Members’ support in any employment matter.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “We will not discuss HR matters in public but we are aware of the letter from Mr Macklin. It would have been preferable for Mr Macklin to raise his concerns directly with the officers who were dealing with this matter, rather than sending an open email to all councillors.
“Mr Macklin’s failure to follow the council’s HR policies, risks him prejudicing the interests of the staff he is claiming to represent.”