Damning report lists failures, “bullying,” “allegations without evidence,” and use of disciplinary action against staff raising grievances at Thanet council

Council leader Ash Ashbee says she is confident there will be new ways of working at TDC

Thanet council’s “inadequate” governance arrangements around whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary procedures have resulted in External Auditors Grant Thornton branding relationships between the authority’s top four officers as in “serious breakdown” and listing a number of failures within the council including using disciplinary action against staff raising complaints.

The report has been issued by Grant Thornton under Section 24 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

In the opening to the report Grant Thornton LLP says: “As well as our responsibilities to give an opinion on the financial statements and assess the arrangements for securing economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in Thanet District Council’s use of resources, we have additional powers and duties under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

“These include powers to issue a public interest report, make written recommendations, apply to the Court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law, and to give electors the opportunity to raise questions about the Council’s accounts and to raise objections received in relation to the accounts.

“We have concluded that it is appropriate for us to use our powers to make written recommendations under section 24 of the Act, due to inadequate arrangements in governance in responding to whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary procedures with the direct financial costs adding further pressure to a fragile financial position.”

The damning public report says there have been “a number of interlinked instances of whistleblowing, lodging of formal grievances and disciplinary action including examples of serious allegations made by senior officers without adequate, or in some cases any, supporting evidence.”

The report also says previous independent reviews showed “clear evidence of bullying” but the council only taking action on appeal after a third – of eight – reviews; that people raising grievances and whistleblowing complaints with merit have been “subject to disciplinary action prior to the substance of their complaints being formally considered,” and that “Senior officers’ behaviour was found to fall below the standard expected on a number of occasions.”

Grant Thornton LLP says opportunities to mediate were missed, that there are key deficiencies in Thanet council governance processes, failure to manage whistleblowing and grievance cases and outcomes promptly, failure to follow through with agreed outcomes, failure to mitigate conflicts of interest in the choice of investigating officer, failure to involve councillors at an appropriate stage and a failure to recognise statutory responsibilities in whistleblowing cases.

The report says despite numerous reviews and expert advice Thanet council “ignored, discredited or restricted” its distribution or it was “interpreted selectively.”

Thanet council has been accused of discrediting independent review findings to “justify inaction.”

The report adds: “Where the council had appropriate policies and procedures for dealing with grievances and staff performance issues, to protect staff from inappropriate behaviours, these were not adhered to by senior officers in a number of instances.”

Calling in central government

The issues have already led to Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee calling in central government to step in to deal with the culture at the council amid on-going disciplinary and grievance proceedings at the authority which have racked up a legal bill of more than £733,000.

Future anticipated/potential costs are split between £78,000 to conclude Thanet council internal processes and £408,000 for external employment tribunals.

There have been 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.

Recommendations and an extraordinary council meeting

The report from Grant Thornton also highlights that: “The council’s management culture has allowed the perception that attempts to raise legitimate concerns will be met by disciplinary action” and has previously been described in an independent review as “a culture of overt bullying, intimidation, victimisation or humiliation within Thanet council.”

Grant Thornton says officers have had to suffer “significant reputation damage without resolution.”

A meeting to resolve outstanding matters had been deferred until next month, two years after initial allegations were raised, Grant Thornton says further whistleblowing and grievances have now been lodged and a further employment tribunal claim submitted.

The report says failures include council members not taking effective action earlier; serious concerns over the ability of senior officers to work together and the council responding to challenge  by using procedural matters to cause delays.

A number of recommendations have been made including calling in an independent monitoring officer to report on current tribunal claims and complaints; bringing outstanding complaints to a conclusion; finding savings for further grievance ad whistleblowing costs and creating clear agreement on officer and member responsibilities.

The recommendations and subsequent actions will be discussed at an extraordinary Council meeting which must be held in public within the next month.

Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Ash Ashbee said: “I have been clear that a key ambition of my leadership and administration is to improve governance, so I welcome the recommendations shared with the council today.

“Good governance is the cornerstone of good local government and it is essential that we do everything we can to improve the way we work. It is absolutely right that members will have the chance to discuss the recommendations, to participate in the process and ensure we commit to a robust plan of action.”

Thanet Labour group leader Cllr Rick Everitt added: “I welcome and support the external auditors’ recommendations. The matters covered in it have been ongoing since the 2019 elections and senior members of both main parties on the council and others have worked together throughout that period to try to resolve them.

“Unfortunately, the council’s lack of adopted formal processes in 2019 for dealing with issues involving its most senior officers, as well as restrictions on elected members’ role in staffing matters below that level, created a complex set of problems that required extensive external legal advice to address.
“We all share the commitment to getting governance right, but that has also meant resisting calls from inside and outside the council for arbitrary and potentially unlawful action that could have made matters even worse.
“Nevertheless, the Labour administration brought forward the missing processes and ensured that the members acted lawfully in respect of the multiple issues that already existed when it took over in October 2019. There will be lessons for all of us to learn from this and I am confident that we will, but this has never been about a dispute between elected members.”
Cllr Stuart Piper

A statement from The Leader of Thanet Independents Party Cllr Stuart Piper says: “The External Auditor’s report, which has just been published concerning several issues at Thanet District Council, makes disturbing reading.

“Like most ‘official’ reports there is a lot of detail to be digested. Some of the information has been in the public domain for quite a time so people may not be surprised to read sections of the content and will no doubt be looking for swift and decisive action.

“Members and officers need to read the report in detail and work together with any external advisors who may become involved, to put the situation right. It cannot be acceptable for any council to take little or no action in response to such a damning report, so TDC will have to address the matters firmly and take the proper courses of action.

“There will likely be some strong views expressed at the forthcoming meeting of the council and it behoves us all not to make the situation any worse than it is but to work positively to bring about change to the organisation, notably in the way it operates and is seen to treat its own employees.”

Thanet Green Party leader Mike Garner said: “I welcome the publication of this report from the external auditor. It outlines behaviours that have no place in any workplace, let alone the offices of a public authority.

“Councillors need to make sure that the findings are urgently addressed and action is taken to bring about the changes necessary as soon as possible.”

Independent councillor Ruth Bailey said: “All I can say, because I am not privy to the full information being a backbench independent, is that I will be glad when things are brought to a head, one way or another, so that we can all get on with what we were elected to do.

“This whole situation is distasteful, reputationally detrimental and distracts from proper council business. Financially, the debacle just exacerbates an already dire situation and detracts from the frontline services we should be providing to the public.”

Thanet council leader calls in central government to deal with governance at the authority

Thanet council looking at whopping £733k legal costs for on-going disciplinary and grievance cases – with £247k already paid out

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

Trade union letter to Thanet council outlines allegations of ‘victimisation’ against authority employee

36 Comments

    • Don’t hold your breath. If there is a more appallingly run local authority in the country than this shower I would be very surprised. It is rotten to the core.

    • TDC is rotten to the core and has been for many years. If there is a more appallingly run local authority in the country I would be very surprised. Resignations? Don’t make me laugh.

      • And yet the “Rotten Borough” pages of the Private Eye magazine carry no mention at all of Thanet’s woes.
        Perhaps, compared with other authorities, we’re not that rotten.

  1. The authorities top four should all resign with immediate effect. No golden handshake. Hopefully any union can take action against those 4, bullies and this type of management must be stopped and the guilty people severely dealt with.

  2. Time for the bullying and incompetent CE Madeline Homer to go. She is letting down all residents, especially the most vulnerable, racking up legal costs and leaving Thanet District Council open to further claims and costs, and increasing our council tax bills while services decrease. No pay off, just a simple resignation and apology will do! Time to go!

  3. And sacking them will lead once again to more costs and a merry go round of incompetent officers leaving one council and joining TDC yet again

    • It doesn’t have to at all. Madeline and Gavin must go. It has been utterly scandalous that she has done everything in her power to maintain her fiefdom even falsely disciplining Tim Willis. I gather the Monitoring Officer is virtually out the door.
      I see Rick Everitt is playing ball after denigrating the current leader Cllr Ash Ashbee. He has been part of the problem. Allegedly he enjoys Madeline’s company socially whilst she plots to further cover her bullying tracks and indulging her profligacy is spending taxpayers money to get legal advice and actions to protect herself which have been extremely damaging to ex-employees and demoralising for the staff.
      I am sorry to say that her CEO status was conferred by the Labour Party when in Office. Iris Johnston was the Leader and in the thick of it!

  4. I agree the gang of four must go but, who replaces them? TDC’s management culture is sick and needs healing not compounding. TDC workers have the right to decent leadership as residents have the right to decent services.
    Who will recruit the replacements? Will it be the Cllr’s who have allowed this to go on for so long?
    Ash Ashbee called in central government but why didn’t Labour do this before? And why didn’t the Conservatives do it before that?
    It smacks of conspiracy or cowardice or both.

  5. I agree they must go but so too must their loyal ‘yes’ men and women who propped them up, otherwise the organisation will remain riddled with the toxic residue of this mess.
    As for who follows – government should appoint some high flying outsiders to get the show cleaned up and back on the road. make no mistake, it will take a long time to turn this round.

  6. This is what we’ve long known, or at least suspected. I feel so sorry for the workers at TDC, most of whom do sterling work with the resources they have.

  7. It’s not just the staff around the very top table who are incompetent leaders. There is a whole level just beneath them who are just as bad. They exist just to block anyone else from doing creative and innovative things to better the lives of local residents.

    Even Everitt isn’t daft enough to keep up his party line of “we were doing everything by the book and were sorting it out” as the external auditors seem to have a very different view of it.

    • Your right, Thanetian! I won a case against TDC with the Local Government Ombudsman last year, and they were supposed to and I quote “provide training to front line staff dealing with the public to ensure they are referred to the appropriate department, and followed up to ensure an appropriate response” Yeah, right! My experience is the public receive the first excuse to do nothing from TDC staff, which indicates low moral, and poor leadership!

  8. It seems to me that reading the Grant Thornton report a the councillors should be kicked and we start from scratch with all previous councillors be barred from standing for re election

  9. I despair at ALL our politicians who are playing their fiddles whilst Thanet Burns, so much so I feel disenfranchised not because I don’t have a vote, because there is NO politician who will do what is right and good for my, District Town or Ward. Even some are suggesting that they would do better, no you won’t I am a working man who after my vote and saying I won’t let you down you have totally ignored working folk, those who earn the money that is spent! Our political system has failed the silent majority the loss of faith is irreparable.

  10. Thanet District Council has a lot to answer for. They have ruined and disposed of all the valuable assets for far too long. I would like to know where the money has gone. Another Department that needs cleansing is the Housing Department, Richard Hopkins and his team needs to be removed with immediate effect. They have ruined Thanet and they have a lot to answer for. They should all be prosecuted for their negligence and lies.

  11. Why are the best people never appointed to the top job’s ?

    Or are they ? and something happens. Funny olde council, please sort it out.
    Hopefully the mentioned squabbles will not interfere with the current central government application for levelling up funding.

    • Someone once described a management structure as being like a cesspool: the biggest turns float to the top.
      There is a saying in management circles to the effect that people get promoted to their level of incompetence. Ie, you’re good at your job, so you get promoted. You’ve good at that job, so you get promoted. You’ve not very good at that job, so you don’t get promoted again. You stay in a post that you’re not very good at.

  12. I am surprised that action 1 of the recommended actions involves accountability from the CEO?

    Surely a conflict of interest?

    The employment legal bill/estimation is utterly unacceptable and incompatible.

  13. We need to scrap thanet council and leave Kent county council and join with dover to become a unitary authority, cheaper and more democratic

    • What on earth would be in it for any other Council to join up with Thanet ? That ship sailed a long time ago. What would the attraction be to merge with a toxic, bankrupt, largely incompetent authority with very little going for it ?

      Even if it was on the cards, it should be an enforced takeover by a high performing Council (unlike Dover) rather than a merger. Like they do with failing schools.

  14. Thanet Council Management = Toxic
    Thanet Council workers = excellent usually
    Thanet counsellors = general money wasters and gutless usually.
    Thanet Council web site = pretty poor.
    Thanet Council needs decent leaders.
    Thanet needs honest help and leadership not those that simply swop parties at times of difficulty and deny any responsibility. If I were younger I would stand against the tossers we have.

  15. This is hardly a surprise and the outcome will be that at least 2 out of the quadrumvirate will leave with cash in their pocket. The last CEO was paid off, and she had previous form. The politicians cannot escape censure as they are mostly not up to the job. That’s not true of all, but many of the leaders since TDC’s inception in 1974, have been incompetent, crooked, or ineffective, and sometimes all three.
    Thanet is not an attractive proposition for young professional local govt officials, doctors, nurses, administrators and technicians of all sorts. The combination of run down conurbations, a lack of affordable housing to rent or buy, and a rentier driven economy, where Air BnB counts for more than the communities that host these money making schemes, is itself toxic to the health and well being of the state run organisations that have to cope with the effects of deprivation and neglect.
    This is the deeply embedded structural reasons why the Thanet health care, local govt and other support systems, fail so often.
    Of course the partiality towards the never ending funding of all things in Margate, parts of Ramsgate Harbour, and numerous white elephant projects don’t help, but the main cause is structural failure of the local economy. An economy based on day trips, Air BnB, and panshine optimism, cannot succeed long term, and this is the result.
    Calling in Central Govt won’t help unless, it is prepared to put in more investment, and is prepared to restructure, not just Thanet, but the whole of Kent.
    This means unitary local govt, with an East Kent Council based in Canterbury, a health system based on the same area, and a voting system that does away with mini fiefdoms and the same old lags being recycled, decades after their usefulness has long gone.

  16. Can someone help me?
    My understanding is that a Local Authority is run by the elected members, including the Cabinet, Committees, Leader and so on. It is their job, I thought, to decide policy, based on election manifestos and so on. It is, I understood, the job of the council officers to implement (within the law) those policies.
    So how has this situation come about? We’ve had a variety of Leaders if various political leanings – Iris Johnson, Chis Wells, Bob Bayford, Rick Everett and now Ash Ashbee. Were they all completely hopeless?

  17. Andrew.

    Iris = Airport Pet Project.

    Chris = Airport Pet Project then saw the light.

    Bob = shoved Chris out of the way to pick back up the Airport obsession + bonus ferry debacle + fudge the local plan to protect airport + shove housing best built at airport onto green belt.

    Rick = studiously quiet on Airport.

    Ashe = called for help.

    I note the report also criticises elected members for ignoring or disregarding expert reports. Presumably that includes all of the damming reports against the viability of Manston that the pet project leadership above hold so dearly.

    • To be fair, Ash Ashbee supports the proposed cargo Airport.

      In her most recent submission to the Planning Inspectorate she wrote “As an Interested Party I write to you as invited, as both a Thanet resident for over 30 years and as Leader of Thanet District Council and the controlling Conservative Group who, throughout the whole process have fully supported the re-opening of the airport”.

  18. Good point well made Samara and there we have it then. A leadership focus full of doomed aviation pet projects at the expense of anything normal and willing to ignore facts.

    I didn’t realise the current leader was also a Manston supporter. Why am I not surprised.

    • Let’s be clear, it’s the only way to progress in the party – and my standing in the party comes first!

  19. Unfortunately it is impossible to disentangle and separate the collusion and culpability of the main political parties from the existing dysfunctional and corrupt practices of senior officers of TDC. The senior team have not operated in a vacuum. In fact it is astonishing that it has taken so long for any political party to seek redress externally .
    TDC is rotten to its core and must be placed under special measures or similar and a far
    reaching root and branch investigation undertaken into all aspects of the running of the council including employment, Procurement ,tendering practices and asset disposal. In the meantime the management and running of the council should be undertaken by an independent govt approved auditors .
    Councillors of all parties need to seriously consider their position as many local residents have lost all trust and respect for them.
    What council dependent on tourism with customer care at its heart and respect for visitors or residents would allow temporary portaloos to be placed on the seafront in the most prominent location on Margate seafront in full view of everyone. Look at the filthy nature of many of the streets in Margate and the state of refuse collection to see that that this is a dysfunctional council .

  20. Thanet rate payers want an honest Council & Officers. The way I see it is that most are toxic with very few exceptions.

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