Independent officer brought in to oversee actions agreed following damning report of Thanet council failures

Council leader Ash Ashbee

An independent monitoring officer has been appointed recommendations following a damning report into the “inadequate” governance arrangements around whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary procedures at Thanet council.

Tasks carried out by the  external officer include examining all outstanding grievance and whistleblowing complaints at the authority.

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.

On November 2  Thanet District Council unanimously agreed to Grant Thornton’s four statutory recommendations – including bringing in the 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.

The Local Government Association sourced two candidates and council Leader Ash Ashbee and Chief Executive Madeline Homer interviewed both candidates and have chosen Mark Hynes who is currently Director of Governance and Law and Monitoring Officer at the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

The service will cost £1000 per day plus £500 per day for his assistant. The Local Government Association will fund the officer costs.

Mr Hynes 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 has been developed and includes activity that will be undertaken and what stage each  is at.

The plan goes to the General Purposes Committee on Thursday 2 December for review and then to the Full Council on Thursday 9 December for approval.

Cllr Ash Ashbee, Leader of Thanet District Council said: “I stood on the platform of good governance, and this is a chance for us to embrace opportunities for improvement. Publishing the draft Action Plan with individual programmes of work and timescales is part of our commitment to being open and transparent and we will keep Councillors, staff and residents regularly updated with progress.

“In addition to the Action Plan, I am pleased to say that we have appointed an Independent Monitoring Officer, Mr Mark Hynes. Mr Hynes is currently Director of Governance and Law and Monitoring Officer at the London Borough of Waltham Forest and will oversee progress on the recommendations, and we welcome his support and advice. There is a lot to do in a relatively short space of time but I’m confident that new ways of working can be adopted, allowing us to deliver on our ambitions for Thanet.”

Mr Hynes has been a solicitor since 1988. He worked for four years in the private sector as a commercial lawyer with Eversheds, before joining local government.

He has worked at every local authority tier at borough: county and unitary level. This included 11 years as the Director of Corporate Affairs at the London Borough of Lambeth, and four years as the City Solicitor at Peterborough City Council.

He is a Director of Solace (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) and Solicitor to the Board and also a past President of Lawyers in Local Government (LLG).

He was awarded the Legal 500 Public Sector Lawyer of the Year in 2014.

Intervention from independent officer and other actions agreed following damning report of Thanet council failures

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