Thanet councillors will meet tomorrow (June 8) and are expected to discuss the next steps following recommendations of an independent report into failings at the authority, which include ‘serious breakdown’ in relationships of the top management team and the use of disciplinary action against staff trying to raise complaints.
Eight recommendations were agreed at a meeting of the council on May 19 and next steps are understood to have been discussed by the council’s General Purposes committee on June 1.
The recommendations included a restructure of the corporate management team to create a role responsible for HR (human resources) and the requirement for chief executive Madeline Homer to enter into a formal coaching/mentoring arrangement.
However, it is understood that severance arrangements in regards to the CEO post may also be discussed at the meeting. This follows a General Purposes meeting on June 1 into ‘staffing matters’ which was related to the independent report.
Last year external auditors Grant Thornton issued a report branding relationships between the authority’s top officers as in “serious breakdown” and listing a catalogue of failures within the council, including 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.
Thanet District Council unanimously agreed to Grant Thornton’s four statutory recommendations – including bringing in an independent Monitoring Officer 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.
A summary version of the report by that Independent Monitoring Officer, Quentin Baker, was published last month and highlighted concerns such as the personal relationship between chief exec Madeline Homer and Director of Communities Gavin Waite; the hostile relationship between the top four senior officers which has seen one dismissed and the other exit with severance pay after a wrongful suspension and lodging of a bullying complaint and the pay out of more than £1.5m for redundancy or employment tribunal deals between 2015-2021.
In the summary Mr Baker looks at the failures and the emergence in 2019 of a serious break-down in the relationships between the four officers comprising the then- Corporate Management Team (CMT) – Madeline Homer CEO, Tim Willis Dep Chief Executive, Gavin Waite Corporate Director of Communities and Tim Howes Corporate Director of Governance & Monitoring Officer.
On two occasions disciplinary proceedings were launched against members of the CMT -one of which resulted in a serious disciplinary sanction against Monitoring Officer Tim Howes, leading to his dismissal in April of this year and the other ending with a public apology and £280k severance deal for deputy chief Tim Willis who left the council last October.
Mr Baker’s report said among the aggravating causes of the failings was “the emergence of the close personal relationship between Madeline Homer and Gavin Waite which was for some time during 2018-19 the source of much gossip and speculation both amongst staff within the authority and more widely on the internet, which is likely to have impacted upon the dynamic of the small CMT.
“Although there is no prohibition on such relationships it is widely acknowledged that robust and transparent arrangements must be put in place so as to mitigate the risk that others will perceive favouritism. The steps taken were insufficient.”
Mr Baker also noted that the relationship between the chief executive and the elected council leader: “is best characterised as lacking trust and mutual respect.”
Madeline Homer has been in the chief exec post for eight years following the exit of Sue McGonigal.
Dr McGonigal was absent from her post for six months while an investigation related to a planning application was carried out., She was cleared of any wrongdoing but resigned in 2015. She received an £82,500 “loss of office” pay off. The compensation was not agreed and paid until the 2016 financial year.
Prior to Dr McGonigal, former chief exec Richard Samuels received a ‘golden handshake’ payment of £92,000 and £81,000 into his pensions pot.
In 2017 the director of communities, Rob Kenyon, was made redundant and received a loss of office payment of £39,533
Most recently former deputy chief exec Tim Willis was paid £280k after the wrongful suspension and the submission of his grievance claiming to have been subjected to systematic bullying, intimidation and victimisation.
A significant sum of £1,590,151 has been spent on settlements due to redundancy or employment tribunals between the financial years 2015/16 to 2020/21 and costs are expected to rise further as a number of matters remain extant and unresolved.
The ‘staffing matter’ being discussed at tomorrow’s council meeting will not be held in public as “Information relating to any individual” is considered exempt.
Any severance agreement amount would need to be compared to the possible costs of prolonged sick pay or disciplinary or tribunal costs.