Chief executive Madeline Homer’s exit from Thanet council has been confirmed and it is understood she will receive around £327,000 severance pay.
A statement issued by the authority following a meeting last night (June 8) says her exit is a ‘joint’ decision made by TDC and Ms Homer.
The council’s Section 151 Officer and Director of Finance Chris Blundell has been appointed as Acting Deputy Chief Executive and will cover her duties as Head of Paid Service with immediate effect.
His appointment is a short term arrangement to ensure the council meets its obligations to provide the statutory role of Head of Paid Service until an interim Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service is identified. An appointment is expected to be made at the next Full Council meeting on Thursday 14 July.
Thanet council has not confirmed the details of the severance payment although the amount will need to be recorded in the annual statement of accounts.
‘Serious breakdown’ in top management relationships
Her exit follows an independent report into failings at the authority, which included ‘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 including a restructure of the corporate management team to create a role responsible for HR (human resources) and the requirement for Madeline Homer to enter into a formal coaching/mentoring arrangement.
However, it is understood that severance arrangements in regards to the CEO post were raised and discussed at a General Purposes meeting on June 1 into ‘staffing matters’. The meeting last night addressed two ‘staffing matters.’
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.
Prior to the auditors’ report the situation prompted Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee to appeal to central government to 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, sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (DHCLG) came amid on-going disciplinary and grievance proceedings. Although central government declined to step in it is understood Thanet council could still be at risk of entering ‘special measures.’
Top officers exit the authority
A summary version of the report by 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 and the pay out of more than £1.5m for redundancy or employment tribunal deals between 2015-2021..
On two occasions disciplinary proceedings were launched against members of the top management team -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. A leaked document showed Mr Willis had lodged a grievance against Madeline Homer with accusations of systematic bullying, intimidation and victimisation..
With the exit of Madeline Homer, Gavin Waite is the only member of the top team currently remaining.
Two grievance complaints were also filed by TDC staff against top officers during 2019.
In 2020 the process of dealing with employment grievances prompted the GMB union to call on Thanet council to implement a new, independent system for dealing with bullying and harassment complaints against senior officers, saying the current methods are ‘compromised beyond further use.’
Last year, the prolonged grievance procedures were blamed for holding up an “urgent” review of the culture at the authority.
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.
Madeline Homer has been in the chief exec post for seven years following the exit of Sue McGonigal and has been on the staff at Thanet council for 15 years.
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.
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 severance agreement amount for Madeline Homer will have been compared to the possible costs of prolonged sick pay or disciplinary or tribunal costs.
Madeline Homer said: “After nearly 15 years at Thanet District Council, and 7 years as its Chief Executive, it is time to embrace the natural cycle of change both for the organisation and also importantly for me. I want to pursue new challenges, which is something I am excited about.
“I have enjoyed being Chief Executive and have worked collaboratively and positively with elected Leaders over those 7 years, together achieving positive change in the district. I am particularly proud of Dreamland; the Multi Agency Task Force and Housing Intervention programmes in Margate; Thanet Parkway; and of course more recently the Margate Town Deal and Levelling Up funds for both Ramsgate and Margate.
“I have proactively encouraged and supported Thanet’s excellent reputation for partnership working, including establishing the Thanet Leadership Group and East Kent Wellbeing & Health Partnership, which is now being incorporated into the East Kent Health & Care Partnership. More importantly, I have overseen the delivery of vital public services to our communities, including during the challenges presented to us all during the pandemic.
“I could not have done that without the positive support of the staff, they are a credit to the district and the council.”
GMB Union representative Frank Macklin has labelled any financial package to the chief exec as ‘a huge betrayal of trust.’
Pointing to the many professionals and independent reports that have raised concerns over a ‘bullying culture’ at TDC, Mr Macklin says policies and procedures should have been used to ‘clean house’ and “ensure that poor behaviour will not be tolerated.”
He added that an “offer (of) a financial package to the Chief Executive to leave TDC, will be a huge betrayal of trust to the employees of TDC who, like the GMB Trade Union, are expecting the council to manage poor behaviour, not reward it.”