Chief and leader at odds over government intervention request

By Dan Peters | 20 September 2021

Tensions between Thanet DC’s chief executive and leader have erupted into the open after the latter asked the Government to intervene in the council.

Council leader Ash Ashbee is understood to have informed chief executive Madeline Homer, all councillors and Thanet’s two MPs late last week that she had asked new secretary of state Michael Gove to intervene to sort out governance issues at the council.

In a statement released over the weekend, Ms Homer said: ‘Staff are shocked and surprised at this action by the leader, which appears to have been taken without cross-party consultation and support, and certainly without discussion with the senior management team.’

A council spokesperson added that the senior management team had not been involved in the letter and had yet to see a copy of the document.

The letter is believed to have requested the help of the Government to ‘regularise the governance’ of the council.

North Thanet MP, Sir Roger Gale MP, said Cllr Ashbee had his ‘full support in the action that she has taken’.

A report to a meeting of senior councillors this week said one-off costs and overspends totalling more than £9m in the past six years had ‘undermined financial stewardship and diminished reserves’ to a level described as ‘low relative to others’.

Reserves at cash-strapped Thanet have been ‘further eroded’ by legal costs of more than £700,000 as the council grapples with disciplinary and grievance procedures.

After listing a number of other examples, the report read: ‘These events have an obvious impact on reserves, but they also serve to undermine confidence in the council’s financial management - its ability to exercise good stewardship of resources.

'No matter how robust we claim our financial management to be, as long as these events continue to occur, the evidence suggests we have some way to go.

'Low reserves that take regular unexpected hits that diminish them further does not engender a sense of stability and optimism that could enable investment in services and initiatives.’

There have previously been complaints and counter-complaints involving all four of the top management team.

A government spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of the concerns raised about Thanet’s governance and will remain in close contact with the council.’

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