Thanet councillors tonight (November 2) voted unanimously in favour of accepting four recommendations laid out in a damning report into the “inadequate” governance arrangements around whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary procedures at the authority.
The actions will include bringing in an external officer to examine all outstanding grievance and whistleblowing complaints.
Last month external Auditors Grant Thornton branded relationships between the authority’s top officers as in “serious breakdown” and listed a catalogue of failures within the council, including using disciplinary action against staff raising complaints; attempting to discredit criticism in independent reports; draining finances due to disciplinary and tribunal actions and causing significant reputational harm to those involved in prolonged grievance processes.
Steps to be taken now
The recommendations set out in their report and agreed tonight means Thanet council will bring in an experienced, independent Monitoring Officer from a large local authority to carry out a risk assessment of the current employment tribunal claims and proposed actions including a detailed financial analysis of the options available to the council.
They will also produce an assessment of the status of all outstanding grievances, alleged whistleblowing complaints and any continuing suspensions and propose a plan of action to address them.
A lessons learnt report will be produced and current Investigations and Disciplinary Sub Committee business will be brought to a conclusion with clear actions that are reported and monitored.
The council must re-examine financial plans and identify additional savings to deal with costs created in resolving grievances and whistleblowing complaints.
An action plan must be produced and will include a clear agreement on where Officer and Member responsibilities lie.
Progress must be made within six months or options such as moving to a public interest report could be carried out, said Paul Dossett from Grant Thornton.
Sarah Ironmonger, auditor from Grant Thornton, said: “It is an unusual set of circumstances, and our report reflects our view of the situation. What’s clear to us is the arrangements (Thanet council) has in place to respond to whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary action are not adequate. The impact is the length of time matters are taking to resolve and financial costs.”
Ms Ironmonger said there were both perceived and actual cases of conflicts of interest that further heightened tensions and led to situations escalating.
Mr Dossett said in his experience an authority attempting to discredit independent reports criticising the authority’s performance was ‘unusual.’
Concerns were raised about the roles of members and officers with Green councillor Tricia Austin criticising a previous change of constitution and highlighting how fellow councillor Becky Wing had resorted to Freedom of Information requests to try and get details about decisions affecting her ward.
Cllr Stuart Piper said: “We have to admit failures in governance. It should be noted that elected members did not escape criticism,” adding: “We should have taken action in the past and we did not.”
He queried whether councillors would be free to give their views or whether they would be ‘muzzled.” He also questioned when the failings of individuals could be discussed.
Cllr Rob Yates twice pressed a question of whether the external officer would interview councillors. In response council leader Ash Ashbee said she planned for the independent officer to be given “absolute free rein.”
Cllr Wing said she found the report ‘harrowing’ in terms of human suffering and huge financial expenses. She also forced her point of councillors have emails monitored by council officers despite chairman Cllr Jason Savage attempting to silence her.
During the meeting protestors, who had at first gathered outside to hear a speech from former councillor Ian Driver and to demand the resignation of chief executive officer Madeline Homer, voiced their views from the public gallery on numerous occasions and chanted “Homer out” after the vote to agree the auditor’s recommendations.
Also in the public gallery was Frank Macklin, Regional Organiser for the GMB Trade Union, who revealed the union had submitted a complaint about Ms Homer lobbying councillors before the meeting – something one of his members was disciplined for during a grievance complaint.
Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Ash Ashbee said: “It is only right and proper that councillors have had the opportunity to ask questions of the external auditor, agree to its recommendations and be a part of the process.
“When I was elected as Leader, I made it clear that good governance is the cornerstone of effective local government. Tonight’s unanimous decision is the first step towards us building a sound future for this council.”
The issues had already led to Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee calling in central government to step in to deal with the culture at the council amid the on-going disciplinary and grievance proceedings 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.
The complaints and counter complaints involved 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.
Finance officer Tim Willis left the authority last month with £280,000 severance pay following mediated talks with Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee.
Mr Willis had been subject to a suspension in 2019 but was subsequently cleared of all allegations.
The council will make public its action plan in due course and continue to provide updates to councillors and the external auditor.
Progress must be made within six months or options such as moving to a public interest report could be carried out, said Paul Dossett from Grant Thornton.
Thanet have been waiting for action since 2014
Ash Ashbee Leader said
““When I was elected as Leader, I made it clear that good governance is the cornerstone of effective local government”
Yet she is a member of (along with 13 other Tories) a pressure group trying to reinstate the airport site. That is pre-determination and Councillors should be neutral or declare an interest or recuse themselves
How is Cllr Ashbees support for the reinstatement of Manston as a functional Airport any form of predetermination ?
That is a Governmental Decision not the local councils .
TDC at present are “interested parties “ not decision makers .
Since becoming Leader of TDC she has shown more strength than any of her predecessors from any political party … Certainly not cowering or frightened by the CEO..
Like has been the case for too long ..
Hopefully we will see changes for the better within TDC soon.
Totally agree, Liam. Supporting the airport is no more pre-determination than supporting QEQM, which incidentally is also a national issue and decision, not a local one. Is Labour run Ramsgate Town Council accused of predetermination in spending residents’ money to raise a Judiicial Review against the airport? A bit of hypocrisy going on by God Help Us, me thinks.
Best ask that question of Stuart Piper who wrote a complaint to standards about a Ramsgate Town councillor for being a decision maker at RTC and being a member of NNF. Also in 2015 various Kipper councillors voted to spend £50K on an aviation report whilst being members of “Save Manston Airport”
So who knows what the future may bring especially as the DCO is due to fail and RSP have said “well we can always ask for Planning from TDC” instead
I watched this meeting on YouTube, an outrageous situation, hundreds of thousands, wasted on legal processes, extraordinary.
Even more shocking was the apparent allegation that council officers tampered with private emails addressed councillors, in addition to refusing to provide information of council business in the ward to which they had elected.
The plus side of the evening was the unanimous decision to agree with recommendations made by independent advisors, I wonder whether Madeleine Homer will now walk.
Shame on councillors who’ve allowed things to get out of control and even more shame those who’ve shown utter contempt to local democracy.
Worth keeping your eye on the additional “savings” that now have to be found to pay for the rising costs of the backstabbing around the top table.
These will be found at the expense of things that simply won’t get done in the local towns and villages. Already poor services sliding further into the toilet whilst the instigators and perpetrators of all this sorry mess desperately cling on to their fiefdoms because they know very well that no other organisation would have them.
That’s the bit that’s getting my goat. Why should WE be punished because of TDC’s incompetence and corruption???
Because we effectively voted them in. Councillors past and present have as much to do with this ongoing farce as anything else. They’ve been happy to turn a blind eye so long as they get what they want.
Thanets local politics attracts little or no interest from the general public and so is easily manipulated by the politically active. Being a local councillor is often just the first step in politics for too many wanting to climb the greasy pole with their lofty ideals , compounded in thanet with the posts attracting little real talent ( not there are not those who do take on their roles in the more traditional sense of being a local councillor). In addition too often we now see political idealism being seen as more important than dealing with the local issues in their wards.
It is new management and proactive councillors that are needed. Remove the bullying nature of Homers and Waites leadership and their mismanagement and more funds will become available.
“and listed a catalogue of failures within the council, including using disciplinary action against staff raising complaints; attempting to discredit criticism in independent reports; draining finances due to disciplinary and tribunal actions and causing significant reputational harm to those involved in prolonged grievance processes”.
And yet only the other week the CEO of TDC was saying proudly that the report was saying no action was against her lol.
We are meant to believe the CEO didnt have a clue any of this was going on. If that’s the case sack her for not knowing. If she did know sack her for allowing it.
The buck stops with the CEO and the fact that she thinks none of this has anything to do with her just shows how unfit she is for the job.
I just hope Council Leader, Ash Ashbee and all councillors will remain strong and committed to sorting out the Action Plan, and not let Homer bully them into using HER preferred plan, which will suit her – as has been allowed to happen until recently – and not the councillors or residents. No more bullying or dictatorship from the CEO! Ash Ashbee is the Leader, not the CEO! Time for change.
I watched the meeting on-line. The shock was how few Cllr’s felt the need to speak on this. The Green 3 were animated and clear about the problems and necessary action.
The Tory’s seemed unable to support their leader who asked central governement for help before the auditors report was published.
Labour, aside from Rob Edwards, were dismal. Their leader trotting out the “Oh, how awful”, “if only we’d known” and “it was so difficult during this period”. Much the same as some of the Tory’s who did speak up.
The basic problem is that Officers have too much power over decision making due to constitutional changes after UKIP took the Council. Neither the Tory’s under Bayford (absent from the meeting) nor Labour under Everett (elected leader for the sole purpose of making these same changes) did didley-squat to bring the decision making power back to the people we elect!
The real question now is whether Cllr’s will take joint action to change TDC’s constitution, ensure Cllr’s are given the facts and information they require to represent us and hold to account all those Officers who are bending and breaking rules.
The classic scene at the meeting was when Cllr Wing described how Officers were illegally intercepting private Cllr emails. The Chair was very cross, demanding that she stop unless she has evidence. Becky had already had waved a copy of evidence at him but the Chair ignored this, continuing to talk over her. This is symptomatic of the bullying culture the auditors found. The Chair should have accepted the evidence and said he’ll ensure this is one of the first matters the Independent Monitoring Officer deals with.
If emails between Cllr’s and their constituents are intercepted by a third party there is not confidentiality. How is the IMO going to ensure privacy in this situation?
Has everyone forgotten what is most at stake here, its the abysmal service the public receive from officers! In my experience they treat the public like lab rats observed with interest, but barely responding to their concerns, or taking any action. Reaching for the first excuse to do nothing, this smacks of poor leadership, and low moral, which isn’t surprising by the sounds of it!
Bravo to all 3 Green councillors who prepared so thoroughly for this meeting, said what really needed to be said, and refused to be browbeaten by the Chairman.
Likewise bravo to the Pipers for pointing out that elected representatives must accept responsibility for allowing this situation to arise.
And, let’s celebrate the fact that we finally have a real Leader at the council, in Ash Ashbee, who refuses to play to Maddy’s tune.
“Raging” Rick Everitt, and his useless “Cabinet of 5” must have been squirming in their seats as their incompetence was being so comprehensively exposed by the auditor. I hope that they receive the scrutiny they deserve when the independent specialist arrives.
Madeleine Homer’s face was like a well slapped arse for the whole meeting, I hope she goes, and soon, and with no pay off or glowing reference, likewise her alleged lover Gav.
Thank you for a great report, as always, Kathy Bailes.
Has the pantomime season started early in thanet, did i miss the memo ?
I watched online, also with a mixture of horror at the dreadful old fashioned language still adopted by TDC when Local Gov doesn’t have to behave like it is 1942. There is simply no need in modern civil service to refer to Miss, Mr blah blah. Bizarre! My thoughts were
1. I thought Becky Wing asked a great question about conflict of interest. How can it be that the CEO (who may be the subject of casework) is also in charge of assessing that casework along with Ash and the Independent Monitoring Officer? This was not answered at all. I do agree it is a job for the Leader and the CEO but surely there is a conflict of interest here?
2. I was also depressed by how few councillors debated this embarrassing audit of monstrous incompetence. How few asked questions or made comments that this has been allowed to happen was disappointing. Why hasn’t TDC got a good HR Director? This is bread and butter stuff for a qualified HR Director and a good team. Well done to those that spoke up from all parties but it simply isn’t good enough that there were so few voices taking responsibility or public interest.
3. The Chair rode roughshod over Becky Wing raising an allegation in relation to emails. At very least he should have acknowledged her comment and agreed to take it offline. All he did was shut her down when she was clearly trying to make a point in debate about issues of toxic culture at TDC and given the potentially serious nature of such an allegation I’d have thought he would have at least acknowledged this.
4. Clearly the constitution needs changing. Good point well made Trisha.
5. Given Grant Thornton has evidence that TDC has either ignored, or wilfully discredited expert reports (was it 8 in total) it comes as no surprise they’ve been doing the same about Manston year after year after year. Look at what the pro Manston vocal minority is trying to do currently – discredit the Arup report. It is a clear conflict of interest for Ash Ashby to recommend any Manston related TDC activities or actions without declaring any interest in doing so.
The auditor said time and time again that it is for TDC to take these findings forwards into outcomes. I’m not even convinced they’ll be able to agree who the independent monitoring officer should be, and let’s hope that doesn’t just turn into a jamboree of arguing and inaction.
I am not convinced that we have the right leadership either elected or paid but I do commend Ash for driving through this focus on governance. As ever, the residents suffer here as we are witness to the squandering of hundreds of thousands of pounds on rectifying basic leadership failure and this audit is probably the thin end of the wedge.
I could go on.
Excellent post (though I disagree over the “Mr.” etc – I wouldn’t like to be referred to as “Peter” or “Checksfield” in a role like that).
Ha, definitely not Checksfield, it isn’t Gordonstoun or Eton!
What’s wrong with first names? Why are women defined by our marital status? For example.
Bonkers. Let’s modernise. There’s nothing wrong with the name Peter. It’s rather nice.
“Ms.”, perhaps? I agree that marital status shouldn’t come into it.
I’d accept being addressed by my full name without the “Mr.” The problem with just first names is that, unless it is very unusual like “Emmeline”, there’s a good chance others in the room will have the same name.
How about first name surname?
Yes, I think “Peter Checksfield” or “Emmeline [Whoever]” is acceptable.
Having watched the meeting on line ,like others in this thread have commented I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of useful participation in the main by most of the members from both labour and the Tories in attendance. At least the greens had done their homework !Our elected members must take their share of the responsibility for the shocking state of affairs at TDC.most should bow their heads in shame for allowing such shameful practices to have become normalised. Although not a Tory supporter at least Cllr Ashbee did what her predecessor failed to do, which was confront the maladministration at TDC , which is to be congratulated.
I can not see any real change taking place as the political culture among elected members of labour and the Tories appears to be generally based on collusive , closed and autocratic principles and as dysfunctional as the management systems within the council itself .
Unfortunately ,In addition to the bullying culture Like many local residents I am concerned about contracting asset disposal and many aspects of financial management at TDC, which needs to become subject to more rigorous scrutiny. Look no further than the waste of huge amounts of money having gone Dreamland’s way on a vanity project still failing, but no longer a public asset owned by the residents of Thanet but owned by an unaccountable offshore hedge fund. As we all know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yep, it’s going to be interesting to see what the outcome is of previous comments from tdc regarding the flawed cpo process for dreamland and how much sorting it out costs thanet. Then we’ll have the ongoing eventual saga over the sites future once the current ( or future owners if it sells) put their plans forward. Assuming that the Lido and AllSaints Estate are also bought up, there’ll huge areas of margate that will be left to rot and used as levers to force the council to let developments go forward, unless we’re to go through another pleasurame saga.
Recently spoke with a property professional that feels thanet has a lot of upside in the next 10-20 years and that properly managed the district will flourish. But also had grave concerns at the ability of TDC to see things through properly and that lfinancial liabilities along with pitiful reserves would leave the district with little clout to get decent deals.
well over the years have live in different uk areas, different countries that have the local council idea.
Non were perfect, some quiet fradulament, some rather stupid, some so much better.
Not mentioning Tdc, Well i wont go there but the well is rather slippery & deep
Hopefully tdc will get the maximum levelling up fund, internal squabbles could be bid negative.
Oh any levelling fund is for new projects not cash spend on infrastructure previously not maintained.
Everyone knows that !
Shame on the senior management Homer & co for creating this terrible situation! at least the new leader of the council is trying to sort out this mess unlike the previous leaders Bob Bayford and Rick Everitt who just allowed the legal fees to go on for ever while they collected their leaders allowances.