Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
The House of Commons
20 June 2022
Dear Secretary of State Gove
I am writing to you in connection with the article published in the Local Government Chronicle on 16 June “Gove to consider two new interventions and extend action in Liverpool”.
I note that one of those two new interventions is reported to be the sending in of commissioners to Thanet District Council (TDC).
A proposal which I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support.
I am a resident of Thanet, a former TDC councillor, and a citizen journalist who has played a not inconsiderable role in exposing the mismanagement of the council by the recently departed Chief Executive Madeline Homer, and her boyfriend Corporate Director Communities, Gavin Waite, who is said to have been suspended from his post less than a week after the departure of Ms Homer, for alleged sexual discrimination and harassment.
It is my opinion that TDC has failed to deliver best value for its residents for some considerable time, and that it has not acted in way which delivers economy, effectiveness and efficiency. I list some of my concerns below:-
Ramsgate Port £26million operational losses over
previous 10 years with losses continuing.
Ramsgate Port berth replacement project overspend £1million due to ignorance of planning law.
Sale of Dreamland Amusement Park, Cinema and associated property for below market value in order to pay off a £6million compensation payment for the flawed compulsory purchase of the amusement park and cinema.
The highly likely financial collapse of the council’s arm’s length trust, Your Leisure Limited , for which the council has contingent liabilities of approximately £8million.
My concerns about the council’s finances are such that I believe the sending in of commissioners to be both urgent and essential.
Furthermore, I also have extremely serious concerns about the way in which the former Chief Executive managed the council and the additional costs, both human and financial, her time in post have caused the council and its taxpayers.
In particular Ms Homer’s departure from her post on 8th June 2022 did not, in my opinion, secure best value for the council and its taxpayers. I understand she received a severance package which included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), a £327,000 payment, plus a 6 month period of “gardening leave”, equating to approximately another £70,000 plus the council ‘s pension contribution for this period, bringing the total package to over £400,000!
This may be an underestimate as the council has been less than transparent, and has not publicly set out the financial terms of Ms Homer’s departure.
This package was, in my opinion, deliberately engineered, in ordered to circumvent the Government’s Statutory guidance on the making and disclosure of Special Severance Payments by local authorities in England (Statutory Guidance) which was published on May 12, 2022 (see more below).
As you maybe aware, using its powers under Section 24 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, TDCs external auditors, Grant Thornton published a damning report about the council in October 2021 which painted a disturbing picture of Ms Homer’s management of the organisation.
This report was followed in May 2022 by a report from the Independent Monitoring Officer(IMO), Quentin Baker, which was equally condemnatory of Homer’s stewardship of TDC and which also stated that there was considerable and compelling evidence to conclude that Ms Homer and her boyfriend, Corporate Director Communities Gavin Waite, are serial workplace bullies who had created a climate of fear amongst staff at TDC.
Mr Baker’s report was based upon a review of documents covering a 3-4 year period which related to complaints about Homer and Waite’s bullying. I have a good knowledge of these documents and have copies of some.
I understand, that at least 8 reports from independent investigators, including lawyers and a QC were produced and that without exception these reports commented, often quite robustly, about Ms Homer’s and Mr Waite’s bullying.
Several senior council staff blew the whistle on these matters and placed information in the public domain, especially about the manipulation of process of cover up the bullying complaints. The trade unions who represented some of Ms Homer’s and Mr Waite’s victims also expressed their concerns about the management of grievances against the pair.
The cost of these investigations is reported as being close to £1million. In addition, it was reported by Mr Baker that the cost of NDA’s and severance payments, many of which were related to Homer and Waite’s alleged bullying, was approximately £1.5 million. This does not include Ms Homer’s severance package of £400,000 or outstanding claims against Homer and Waite which are yet to be settled.
It would be fair to says that at least £4million will have been spent by the council on matters directly related to alleged bullying by Homer and Waite which, by any standards, cannot be said to have been best value for the taxpayers of Thanet. Nor did this expenditure secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
Sadly Ms Homer, despite her misleading public claims to the contrary, has never faced a formal disciplinary enquiry about her alleged, and what appear to be, frequent and egregious breaches of the council’s Dignity at Work Policy.
There was certainly a reluctance by former council leaders Rick
Everitt and Bob Bayford, who both knew of Homer and Waite’s alleged bullying, to act swiftly and decisively to tackle this issue.
I also understand that a meeting of the council’s General Purpose Committee, which has the power to initiate disciplinary action against Statutory officers, and which was scheduled to take place on 1 June 2022, was cancelled without reason.
This prevented the committee from fully and properly considering the implications of the IMOs report and to decide whether or not disciplinary action should be taken against Ms Homer.
Instead, a meeting of the council took place on 8th June which included, amongst other things, a recommendation that Ms Homer be provided with a programme of mentoring to improve her management skills, even though she was already engaged in, or had recently ended, another programme of mentoring which had also been recommended by one of the 8 investigatory reports (the Adrian Bush Report) which were critical of her.
The acceptance by the council of the mentoring recommendation on 8th June, served to scupper any move to launch a formal disciplinary enquiry into Ms Homer. This means that the council was able to circumvent the requirement of 3.4 of the Statutory Guidance which says that the council must ensure that these payments are not used to avoid management action, disciplinary processes, unwelcome publicity or avoidance of embarrassment.
I agree with the Statutory Guidance that special severance payments for departing public employees do not usually provide good value for money or offer fairness to the taxpayers who fund them and so, should only be considered in exceptional cases.
This was not an exceptional circumstance. Neither has the council published any information to justify its actions and to demonstrate that the £400,000 payment to Ms Homer was lawful and in the interest if taxpayers.
Indeed, it is more than likely that the council and its councillors gamed the system in order to get around the Statutory Guidance and pay £400,000 to someone who, in all likelihood, would have been found to be a workplace bully and dismissed from her post, had a disciplinary enquiry been allowed to take place.
I welcome the Statutory Guidance. It quite rightly aims to ensure that taxpayers money is not improperly used by local councils and applies much needed regulation to the frequently abused special severance payments system.
However, TDC appears to have deliberately circumvented it and decided instead to reward someone who is a reputed workplace bully and who has overseen huge multi-£million losses to the council, to the tune of at least £400,000.
This is an insult to the taxpayers of Thanet and to the victims of Ms Homer’s alleged bullying. It is also an extreme and sickeneing example of why NDAs and large payouts to public sector bosses who have mismanaged and misbehaved, should be made unlawful.
This is why I fully support the bringing in of commissioners to TDC. Who, amongst other things, will investigate the circumstances of Ms Homer’s extraordinary special severance package. Hopefully ways will be found to recover some of that money from Ms Homer and to scrap the NDA between her and the council.
One final word, despite political differences, I would like to pay tribute to current Council Leader Ash Ashbee.
Unlike her two council leader predecessors Rick Everitt and Bob Bayford, who both knew about Ms Homer and Mr Waites mismanagement of the council and her their alleged bullying of staff, but chose not to act, Ms Ashbee has, despite extremely difficult circumstances, made a brave and determined effort to resolve the appalling situation at TDC, with much success
I am sure that sending in commissioners to TDC would undoubtedly provide Ms Ashbee with much needed additional resources to help her to move council forward and begin to provide best value for its taxpayers
I trust my comments are helpful and will help you to make a wise decision.
CC Sir Roger Gale MP, Craig Mackinlay MP