Central government declines Thanet council leader’s request to intervene with governance issues at authority

Council leader Ash Ashbee requested intervention from central government

Central government will not intervene in governance problems at Thanet council – for now – despite a request made by authority leader Cllr Ash Ashbee last year.

Last September Cllr Ashbee Ash Ashbee requested central government step in to deal with the culture at the council by “request(ing) the assistance of DHCLG to, in the public interest, regularise the governance of TDC”.

The letter, initially sent to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (DHCLG), came amid on-going disciplinary and grievance proceedings at the authority which had, at that point, racked up a legal bill of more than £733,000.

In it Cllr Ashbee said: ”I write to formally to invite your Department to intervene and to provide such support and assistance, if necessary up to and including Special Measures, to rectify the situation and to restore governmental probity and financial stability to what, sadly, I believe at  present to be a failing authority.”

However, following Freedom of Information requests made by Thanet Labour leader Rick Everitt to see the correspondence it has now been confirmed that central government will not become involved at this point.

Cllr Ashbee had initially declined to make the letters public, saying they were ‘personal.’

A letter from the department to Cllr Ashbee said: “As local authorities are independent of central government, Ministers have no remit to intervene in their day-to-day affairs, except where specific provision has been made in an Act of Parliament.”

The department said Thanet council should continue to work on the recommendations made following a damning report by external auditors Grant Thornton and seek advice from the Local Government Association.

External Auditors Grant Thornton had 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 letter from Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister of State for Equalities and Levelling Up Communities, concludes: “Once the appropriate local processes have concluded, should you feel further support is needed, I would be happy to consider what steps may be appropriate based on available evidence at that time.”

Cllr Everitt said: “Nobody disputes that serious issues had arisen between senior officers at Thanet that needed to be resolved in the interests of all residents, staff and councillors, but as the correspondence notes the processes to do with this were already in place.

“The processes to deal with the issues were all in train under Labour and did not change when the Conservatives took over last June. The Labour administration had liaised with the Local Government Association, which monitors councils for the government, throughout its 20 months in office and it had been able to provide government with reassurance, particularly around political stability and service delivery.”

However, Cllr Ashbee’s appeal for help had been backed by various councillors, including Green Party and Thanet Independent members, and the GMB union.

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “The council is making positive progress with activity included in its Action Plan, developed in line with the statutory recommendations from the external auditor to improve governance.

“We appointed an Independent Monitoring Officer in December who is overseeing progress and we welcome their support and advice.”

The monitoring officer, Quentin Baker, says he is focusing on the areas of concern raised within the external Auditors report and working to understand what happened and why. He is also working to support the resolution of the outstanding grievances to ensure these matters are concluded.

To assist with this process, Mr Baker has been speaking to a number of councillors, officers, external partners and external lawyers and reviewing documentation.

Initial observations confirm there had been a serious breakdown in relationships of the senior management team which had resulted in costly and time-consuming internal dispute.

The process is ongoing and further evidence is being gathered, with a view to producing final observations within the next month.

Mr Baker say action plan proposals include: reviewing the council’s constitution to ensure greater clarity between the role and involvement of officers and members, proposing the introduction of coaching and mentoring to the senior team and a corporate management restructure, and creating more mechanisms for council staff to provide ongoing feedback via surveys and a new panel.

Progress will continue to be reported back to the General Purposes Committee and shared with Councillors, staff and the wider public.

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

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

27 Comments

  1. This the same let-out by the Tory Government as in Health. Ministers are ministers for a department, but refuse to intervene when its local management is perverse or deficient. Yet they are only too keen to intervene to remove or privatise local services.

  2. If the brief minority Labour admin had it so under control, how come the employment casework and toxic culture was, and is, so out of control? As per the shocking audit report.

    Can we please stop the red/blue arguing, and start to create competent leadership that isn’t shedding almost 1 million on employment matters.

    • It would appear impossible to resolve. Everitt is incompetent and the Labour Group disfunctional. The Tories have some of the worst councillors who have failed to make any changes over the years. Ashbee may have a dislike for Homer but she has a cabinet and councillors who support the officers no matter how corrupt they are. Based on this rejection of the leader request by the government we have years of bad management and corruption to come. What a shame.

  3. The brief Labour admin was preceded by the totally dysfunctional UKIP admin, and followed by the (apparently) totally helpless Tory admin.
    Might explain a lot.

  4. It’s not only the leadership at TDC but in several departments too where things are not right. Even the FOI officer is not giving all the appropriate information asked for as they should. The blabber is missing important parts. Excuses not to supply what should be public info because of expense is now being told also.
    The Planning department is run by a man eager to accept development applications on greenfield sites without any due diligence made. The Cabinet member for Youth Engagement will not listen to the youth. Funding is being wasted on needless projects, and not on essentials. I could go on and on. T There needs to be a supervisory group that is able to control TDC and bring it back into line. If central government is not listening then who will?

  5. So there you have it. Past issues are irrelevant as noted by this comment. “Once the appropriate local processes have concluded, should you feel further support is needed, I would be happy to consider what steps may be appropriate based on available evidence at that time.” Water under the bridge so keep your nose clean in future. When will residents get decent, honest officers and councillors.

    • Of course it says nothing like that whatsoever. It simply and quite correctly states that when local processes that are already underway are concluded, the gvt dept “would be happy to consider what steps may be appropriate based on available evidence at that time”

      What about that is difficult to understand Robo?

  6. We talk of how terrible things are.

    But how long have some of these Councillors been there?

    Does anyone know when the clear definition of what is the responsibility of the Leader of the Council and the Councillors and what is the responsibility of the CEO of the Council and its officers will be published ?

    This is a requirement of the external audit.

  7. I’ve never lived anywhere with such ongoing issues alleged about senior leadership at the Council.

    Or anywhere that wastes so much money on unnecessary employment costs due to alleged toxic leadership and culture.

    I can see zero benefit in having a District Council and zero evidence of change or improvement.

    I’m no Tory but I am thankful to Ash for calling it in and trying to get this depressing chaos under control.

  8. And yet TDC has the best CEO in the country Ms Teflon

    Million pounds of our money spent by TDC management to fight bullying claims against them.

  9. It’d about time that our 2 MP’s went to see the Minister in charge on the basis that the systems that the Government has put in place are just not working and must be amended. Just what does the electorate have to do to get anyone to listen to logic and common sense?
    What procedures are open to us or anyone for that matter to sort this out once and for all?
    They say that there are enough procedures available to solve these problems but what are they?

  10. So It’s all going to be swept under the carpet, costing, probably millions each year because those at the top are toxic. When will it end?

  11. We all know that this council is dysfunctional and a continued embarrassment to its residents and council tax payers. Look no further than the filthy streets and the state of our community assets and contracting arrangements ,let alone the toxic employment practices. Decision making probably within every department is at best questionable incompetent and at worst appearing to be corrupt.I have heard it said the Council is rotten to its core and that’s how it has always been like here .
    Whilst there still appears to be a lack of transparency and openness with in council structures this does appear to be same problem mirrored and reflected in many councillor’s relationships with their constituents. There does seem to be a serious democratic deficit and defensive stance taken by the two main political parties , ignoring the wishes of constituents.
    Central Government state they are unable to act on the lack of good governance
    Within TDC at this time then it is going to be up to residents to continue to raise matters with our local MPs and through the press. Perhaps local groups should compile their own records or files on issues that should be investigated in the future.
    It is likely that Central Govt will eventually have to put this council under special measures as real change will not come about without a change in personnel. The issues now being investigated as we all know are a tip of the iceberg and are symptomatic of a dysfunctional council.
    .

  12. The Council is made up of the Councillors we voted for, and has been for centuries.
    If it’s true that “the Council is rotten to its core” then what does that say about us, the electorate?

  13. I don’t think all staff are incompetent in the same way all councillors cannot be either. BUT, I do see years of consistent allegations of leadership incompetency and a toxic culture. And as a tax payer, I see my hard earned pennies go into the £1 million employment tribunals pot.

    What I see politically is constant red/blue bickering as to who is best/who is worst. This doesn’t do anyone any favours. Why couldn’t Labour get behind this push for improvement and transparency? Is defensiveness more important than the residents and natural justice?

    • It was a Labour Councillor’s FoI request that facilitated this news item. Tory Ashbe wanted to keep it secret.

  14. I do agree that seems odd, given it was news in the first place.

    Nonetheless, the bickering is so tedious and of no material benefit to residents. If it were the case it was all sorted under Rick then why are vast sums of OUR money being accrued for tribunals? This is Thanet, it isn’t Deutsche Bank.

  15. Alarm bells should be ringing loudly when in the middle of a crisis at TDC. The Leader of the Council is reluctant to release information “allegedly” because it is personal? When the request for help from the Government was emblazoned across the newspapers. It is blatantly clear to most what is required The Spanish Archer needs to be deployed urgently, Councillors get on with it!!

  16. Andrew, you make disparaging remarks about previous administrations. You don’t care to remind us all of how difunctional the Labour admin was were and who wiped out prior to UKIP. It does seem that you have very little if any knowledge of how a Council functions and how little power Councillors have over the Civil Servants they inherit?

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