Culture review at Thanet council ‘held up’ due to numerous outstanding disciplinary and grievance complaints

Thanet council

Thanet councillors on the Governance and Audit Committee have asked for action ‘sooner rather than later’ to review the culture at the authority.

During a meeting earlier this month, committee chairman Mike Garner said the review, which is pencilled in for 10 days in the 2021-22 financial year, needs to be “prioritised.”

The Thanet Green Party member added: “My suggestion is that it is one of the first things that is done.”

But the review cannot take place until the conclusion of numerous investigations into staff grievances and disciplinary processes being dealt with by the Investigations & Disciplinary Sub-Committee (IDSC). It is understood that this would cause an overlap and mean certain issues could not be discussed openly.

It is also understood the authority currently has ongoing investigations into complaints and counter complaints involving all four of the top management team – CEO Madeline Homer, Gavin Waite, Tim Willis and monitoring officer Tim Howes, who has been suspended from his post since last December.

Mr Willis had also been subject to a suspension in 2019 but was subsequently cleared of all allegations.

There is at least one staff grievance that has been dragging on since 2019 and is still to reach a conclusion.

Accusation of theft

Investigations undertaken include an accusation of theft by a Thanet council officer which an audit report says “was alleged and evidenced following a fact-finding investigation undertaken by East Kent Audit Partnership (EKAP).

“The fact-finding investigation identified breaches of FPRs by a senior member of staff. The staff member resigned prior to the commencement of a disciplinary hearing.”

The report also highlights an allegation of breach of Financial Procedure Rules (FPR)  made against a senior officer in March 2020. It states: “This matter in part was concluded and the remainder is being dealt in accordance with the Council’s proper internal processes.”

The same report notes: “There is an identified weakness in internal controls relating to the payment of expenses for elections staff. This weakness was identified following an alleged fraud and a review of the processes is currently being undertaken to address the existing shortcomings.”


A separate report to the council’s standards committee shows that a complaint was lodged by a council officer against a councillor, alleging the “member is undermining officers by sharing allegations and instigating investigations.” This resulted in a No Further Action finding.

Additionally there has been a complaint lodged about Thanet council’s use of non disclosure agreements and this is being investigated by external auditors Grant Thornton LLP.

That complaint was made by Broadstairs resident and former councillor Ian Driver who had previously obtained figures for the amount spent on the gagging orders through a Freedom of Information request.

The details released from that request show that £446,503 was spent on orders between April 2015 and the end of August 2019. Payments were made to more than 30 staff during that timeframe.

Mr Driver says a further request shows £268,000 was spent in 2019-20 on securing NDAs.

Concerns over HR shared services

It is also understood that concerns have been raised over staff at East Kent HR services, whose roles include assisting those involved in grievance procedures, receiving letters to say Thanet may withdraw from the shared service and take it  back ‘in-house.’

Bullying concerns

Last September the need for a governance and culture review “from the top down” was highlighted in a report by the head of the East Kent Internal Audit Partnership, saying “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 came from partnership head Christine Parker in a letter to the then chair and vice chair of the authority’s governance committee.

Ms Parker highlighted 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.

She said matters leaked into the public domain included 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.”

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.

Culture review

Last year Thanet council said the Local Government Association had been asked to undertake a review of the council’s culture as an organisation.

During the governance committee meeting on March 3 it was agreed, with explanatory help from officer Tim Willis, to amend an internal audit plan to show the review as needing to begin in quarter one of the financial year.

Cllr Garner said: “If it has not been started by quarter two then we would want to know why.”

Cllr Garner says although unable to comment on the disciplinary issues he would like to see these resolved in “a timely fashion,” due to the impact on corporate governance.

He added: “I would like to see the terms of reference for an all encompassing review put together now so that it is ready to go when IDSC finishes.

“IDSC needs to get on with this so that we can then begin the top down review.”


  1. Sometimes, living in Thanet, I feel that, like Alice, I’ve gone through the looking glass into a world where things are all the wrong way round. If I’ve understood this article it is being argued by council officers that the overall culture of the organisation cannot be reviewed because there are so many pending and continuing disciplinary and conduct issues to be resolved. To a simple soul like me this would be ample evidence of the need for the review. But, of course, in the looking glass world, it means that nothing can ever be resolved and, in the end, people will get bored and forget and the whole thing will go away.

    • Absolutely Tony.That is exactly what they expect to happen. What I never understand is how Thanet staggers from one disaster to another and the likes of Homer and Waite rise to the top. Worse for me is that no matter which party run the council it is the same. Bullying, threatening behaviour is the basis of the way the cabinet is run and rather than hold the officers to account they support them. There needs to be a complete change in its governance.

  2. They have got away with many misdeeds over the years and at one point we’re the mist corrupt council in the country. We all remember the fake sheik issue among others and the refusal of sea life centre at station green as they wouldn’t co-operate with their misdeeds to name but a few

  3. I am also unsure why a barrel load of disciplinary or grievance investigations would hold up a culture audit or staff survey.

    Something is wrong that this many formal issues are underway in a small district council.

    Where is the scrutiny and accountability for residents?

    • Good question. This is the problem. The leader of the Council and his cabinet are not interested in the people only themselves. Cllr Everett has stated in public that councillors are there to service officers not the constituents. What chance.

  4. So the most senior officers at TDC continue to drag the council and area in general through the dirt. You could perhaps turn half a blind eye to the shenanigans if the quality of services were top drawer but we have the worst of both worlds; embarrassing claims and counter claims and staff who work there openly calling it Toxic District Council and also complete incompetence on a daily basis with some of the worst services in local government.

    Culture is led from the top. The most senior leader sets the tone. This is precisely the issue at TDC. Lots of people who who work there openly say that Homer is out of her depth and covers this up by behaving as she does. You have also got a bunch of Cabinet members who seem to be utterly incapable of effective scrutiny and challenge and just wave everything through like nodding dogs. The senior management team are just back stabbing each other constantly rather than doing their jobs to improve the area.

    For the love of God can someone please just get a grip, clear out the top team, establish a new culture and let’s leave this complete embarrassment behind.

  5. Good thing we now have an effective & determined new Green Chair of Governance & Audit, who is pushing for the review to happen as a priority. This is something he and the Green Group have argued for but had no clout at all to press for as ordinary Cllrs.

  6. About time some decent people got elected to TDC. Conservative, Labour and TIC spend more time infighting than supporting their electorate and holding the Management Committee to account. May 5th is an opportunity for us all to right these wrongs. Remember we get the politicians we deserve.

  7. I am just not sure the elections will generate change, unless TDC goes Green or properly independent.

    The residents of Thanet deserve so much better than these two decades of bitching whilst we clear our own litter and step round the dog turds.

    Tories blaming Labour. Labour blaming Tories. And repeat.

    Stop it. Work collaboratively, collectively, for your residents.

    • Unfortunately the main elections in May are for KCC. Apart from a couple of by-election seats in Thanet we are stuck with the same Councillors until 2024.

      The Cabinet have proved completely ineffective at challenging the incompetence of senior managers so I am hoping leaders of the other parties will start to push for action.

  8. The officers are incompetent and corrupt. They are bullies who stifle free thinking and challenge anyone who questions them. The culture is toxic. So long as the top tier remain Thanet residents will suffer. I am always dismayed that our councillors fall in line with the officers when they should serve their constituents…..!!!!!! Well done Mike Garner.

  9. A council where,

    The prime objective of every officer is to make sure its never their or the councils fault no matter what the cost.
    As a result of the above outside contractors used where ever possible and surveys and reports never questionned, just ticked and cheque signed.
    A culture where por performing staff are just rotated to another position to then fail again, there have been 2 alcoholics that i know of who went from post to post for years.
    An oversight and scrutiny committee who just turn up for the tea and biscuits.
    Planning and building control are basket cases ( rumours of the use of outside contractors who have done some very odd things) both in thrall to the current councillors as the farce around the old british legion showed. Which also roped in the conservation officer in the debacle and cover up.
    Selective licensing, anyone remember that ? Ends this year , there’s been no report published since 2015. 10 years of fees and “action” does cliftonville seem much better? Certainly hasn’t improved the number of unlawful killings.
    Waste and recycling , it seems that currently all the card and paper recyling bins have disappeared from around the isle, and last time i tried reporting a second missed collection , it wasn’t allowed as the previous report was still open and it wasn’t possible to record another. Easy way of keeping the numbers down.
    Residents parking that costs a fortune , has to be done online, tickets can only be used in financial upyear of purchase and it can take 3 days to get a single permit issued.
    Council tax collection now done from a service provider up north, the online forms leave a lot to be desired and simple changes seem impossible.
    Having wasted millions on east kent housing and then starving it of funds to maintain the councils stock , all back in house with many of the same staff just relocating, they went through a period of answering queries with opening statements in letters of “its our belief that you’ve asked” “our understanding of your enquiry” then promptly reinterpret the enquiry to evade it. What happened to the principle of , if you don’t understand ask for an explanation?
    Umpteen millions wasted on Dreamland, Pleasurama, NDA’s, Animal Exports, Bretts loading facility, inability to deal with the problematic tenants in invicta house, won’t enforce the lease conditions regarding Arlington House, endemic drug dealing and antisocial behaviour in the council and housing association stock in the area with no intention of dealing with it.
    Quite how much more money can be wasted before we go broke?
    5 million to Paramount Property for emergency housing and an undisclosed figure for the same company to provide the hostel for 3 years, how much is being spent on Foy house?
    Pretty sure the council could buy back ex council homes bought under right to buy and which come on the market regularly, must be the cheapest and quickest option for new social housing provision. Though rather expect the council don’t want the bills for the years of neglected maintenance that is again going to be a massive burden on the borough.
    Won’t matter which bunch of idealists are in charge , they’ll be so busy trying to distance themselves from the previous bunch that cost and clear thinking will not matter.
    It’ll only keep getting worse until we become insolvent and having sold off anything worth tuppence, get taken into special measures as we line up with a begging bowl to be bailed out.
    Lets see how the 20 odd million for margate gets spent, any chance it’ll be invested in the basics toilets, wintergardens, theatre royal, it won’t be enough to do even that properly but would at least get them back on an even keel and make them viable going forward. Or will it be doled out to the “darlings of the moment” on politically correct schemes that once the cash has gone just vanish like a vampire at dawn.

  10. Long but said it all. Well done LC. Residents need to keep an eye on everything TDC plan to do, then we all need to voice our views. Every resident has a responsibility to look after their area, TDC need to be accountable to residents, not councillors.

    • Long! They’re the edited highlights. Pretty sure as a district we’ve had more than our fair share of those that were representing us go to prison over the years. Then the expensive departure of the last two chief execs and a council leader at the same time as one of them under circumstances that as far as i know have never been explained. I know of one person that took TDC to court and the ICO won on all counts over the council’s behaviour, all settled but under an NDA. An officer who was happy to issue threatening letters but would never apologise when proved wrong, too many examples where officers were ignorant of changes in national legislation , as for the gas safety debacle if that was a private landlord they’d be in court, TDC just says they’re sorry and lessons learnt.
      Every one of us and all organisations make mistakes ( if you don’t then you’ve not tried new things) but you generally expect to have more good days than bad.

  11. The culture may well be toxic within the council and management poor but as long as successive political groups of all persuasions collude with the officers little will change. One only has to look at the failure in basic services for eg road sweeping ,bin collection, recycling,
    Graffiti removal , dereliction of the Arlington site , lack of public toilet provision failures in social housing and safeguarding to sense that TDC is a dysfunctional Council. Filth and squalor at every turn. It has been months since pointing out to TDC about the mountains of rubbish on the harbour arm in the now exposed lock up facilities.
    It seems to me until the local population organise demonstrations on a grand scale in the town to shine a light on the state of things neither officers or council members will take any action. In the absence of a root and branch change to the way TDC is run led from within, the malaise will continue. Failure of the members to tackle the culture is reason enough to seek assistance from central govt, regrettable as this may be .
    It took Govt appointed auditors to come into Tower Hamlets and to be placed under special measures for a number of years for corruption and illegal practices to be rooted out , quite clearly TDC is rotten to the core and a similar process is required and essential.

    • Good place to start would be the contracts handed out in respect of the maintenance and repair of the housing stock, some shockingly over specified contracts in place and little oversight as to what actually gets done and to what standard. Invoices just seem to be paid .

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