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The Mystery of Ramsgate’s Glendevon Guest House



Thanet Council’s all powerful, Labour controlled, Cabinet will decide on Thursday 14 March whether to purchase the Glendevon Guest House on Turo Road, Ramsgate for £650,000 plus a further £45,000 costs to covert the property into eight self-contained flats to house individuals and families who are in urgent housing need.


This is an excellent proposal. In fact TDC should purchase  a lot more property to accommodate  people in urgent  housing need. The council should  also be building hundreds, if not thousands,  of low rent council houses on brown field sites powered by solar electric and kept warm by high standard insulation and efficient heat pumps.


 But,  when it comes to spending public money  all  procurement processes, including the acquisition of  desperately  needed social  housing,  must be scrupulously  transparent and able to demonstrate that tax payers cash  has been spent wisely.


In  the  case of the Glendevon Guest Hosue this does not appear to be the case. One of the current owners of the Glendevon, Rebekah Smith, is a long-time employee of Ramsgate Town Council (RTC) where she has worked as the town promoter for over eight years.  Along with her partner she purchased the Glendevon hotel in 2006 for £340,000.



Unbelievably, when consulted by Thanet Council on 7th September 2023  about  a planning application to change the  Glendevon into a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO), neither  Ramsgate Town Council’s  clerk, its  chairman  Cllr Steve Albon, or any other of its elected councillors, all  of whom must have known  that their  employee Rebekah Smith owned  the property,  thought to  call in the application for further consideration.


Nor, to the best of my knowledge   did  any of them  seek advice from TDCs Monitoring Officer about how best to manage what was and remains a potential conflict of interest.


To my surprise  the report recommending the purchase of the Glendevon which will be discussed by a meeting of Thanet Council’s Cabinet on 14th March,   makes no  mention of the fact that  the property  belongs to someone whose salary is being  paid for from the council Tax.


Nor,  in a highly  sensitive situation such as this, does the report mention   whether the council offer of £650,000 to buy the property  has been based  upon several independent valuations.

  

I am not suggesting for a moment that Ms Smith, or anyone else,  is misbehaving or acting unlawfully. What I am saying is that where public money is involved and where the beneficiary of the sale  is a employee of the purchaser,  there must be  a clear and transparent  audit trail to demonstrate that best value for the taxpayer has been achieved.


Even though there may genuinely be nothing to see here  the advice is,  and always has been,  if a process appears to be conflicted  or able to be manipulated or exploited for financial or any other gain, it is always best  to over declare than under declare any concerns.


But of course this is TDC and RTC where the normal rules of honesty, integrity and probity don’t apply.


Remember  just 2 short years ago TDC was ruthlessly  criticized by its external auditor and   an  independent investigator for overseeing some of the worst governance  arrangements in the country.

 

It seems to me that some RTC  and TDC have demonstrated once again that they learned nothing from the past.

 

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