Central government rejects Thanet council leader’s request to intervene over governance issues in the authority – The Isle Of Thanet News
The central government will not intervene in governance issues on Thanet council – for now – despite a request made by chief authority Cllr Ash Ashbee last year.
Last September, Cllr Ashbee Ashbee called on the central government to intervene to address the culture within the council by “requesting the assistance of the DHCLG to, in the public interest, regularize the governance of the TDC”.
The letter, originally sent to MP Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG), came amid ongoing disciplinary and grievance proceedings before the authority which had, at that time, by then racked up a legal bill of over £733,000.
In it, Cllr Ashbee said: “I am writing formally to invite your ministry to intervene and provide such support and assistance, if necessary up to and including special measures, to rectify the situation and restore the governmental probity and financial stability to what, unfortunately, I currently believe to be a failing authority.
However, following freedom of information requests made by Thanet Labor leader Rick Everitt to see the correspondence, it has now been confirmed that central government will not be involved at this stage.
Cllr Ashbee initially refused 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 mandate to intervene in their day-to-day affairs except where specific provisions have been made in an Act of Parliament.’
The department said Thanet council should continue to work on recommendations made following a damning report by external auditors Grant Thornton and seek advice from the Local Government Association.
External auditors Grant Thornton had described relationships between senior authority figures as “serious breakdowns” and listed a catalog of failures within the board, including the use of disciplinary action against staff raising complaints; attempt to discredit critics in independent reports; depleting finances due to disciplinary and legal actions and causing significant reputational harm to those involved in protracted claims processes.
On November 2, Thanet District Council unanimously accepted Grant Thornton’s four statutory recommendations – including the appointment of an independent monitoring officer from a major local authority to carry out a risk assessment of current claims of the labor court and proposed actions, including a detailed financial analysis of the options available to counsel.
The letter from Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister of State for Equalities and Community Leveling, concludes: “Once appropriate local processes have been completed, if you feel further support is needed, I would be happy to consider the measures that might be appropriate given the available evidence at the time.”
Cllr Everitt said: ‘No one disputes that serious issues arose between senior Thanet officers which needed to be resolved in the interests of all residents, staff and councillors, but as correspondence notes, the processes to this topic were already in place.
“The processes to sort out the issues were all underway under Labor and did not change when the Conservatives took power last June. The Labor Administration has liaised with the Local Government Association, which oversees advice for the government, throughout its 20-month tenure and has been able to reassure the government, particularly regarding concerns political stability and service delivery.
However, Cllr Ashbee’s plea for help had been backed by various advisers, including members of the Green Party and Thanet Independent, and the GMB union.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “The council is making positive progress with the activities included in its Action planprepared in accordance with the Statutory Auditor’s recommendations to improve governance.
“We appointed an Independent Monitoring Officer in December who is overseeing progress and we welcome their support and guidance.”
Monitoring officer Quentin Baker says he is focusing on the areas of concern raised in the external auditors’ report and working to understand what happened and why. He also works to support the resolution of outstanding grievances to ensure these issues are resolved.
To facilitate this process, Mr. Baker spoke to a number of advisors, officers, outside partners and outside lawyers and reviewed documentation.
Early observations confirm that there has been a serious breakdown in management team relationships, leading to costly and time-consuming internal conflict.
The process is ongoing and new evidence is being collected, with a view to producing concluding observations over the next month.
Mr Baker said the action plan proposals include: revising the council’s constitution to ensure greater clarity between the role and involvement of officers and members, proposing the introduction of the coaching and mentoring for the leadership team and a corporate management restructure, and creating more mechanisms for board staff to provide ongoing feedback through surveys and a new panel.
Progress will continue to be reported to the Corporate Goals Committee and shared with Councillors, staff and the general public.