'Serious breakdown' in senior relationships, report reveals

By Mark Conrad | 24 May 2022

A scathing review of executive cultures at Thanet DC has concluded that relationships between senior figures have been dysfunctional – at huge cost to local taxpayers.

A ‘lessons learned’ report by independent monitoring officer Quentin Baker concluded rows and grievances between senior officers at Thanet impacted the council’s performance, in particular exacerbating financial challenges.

Mr Baker’s study made eight recommendations, including for Thanet to restructure its senior management team, review its constitution, develop improved officer relationships, use mentors for the chief executive and directors, review the council’s human resources (HR) function, improve staff reporting procedures and establish an independent assurance panel to oversee reforms.

It concluded the period between early 2019 and late 2021 was a time of ‘disintegration [and] absence of good working relationships between the most senior officers in the authority, resulting in collateral damage and dysfunction affecting the wider officer group and councillors’.

Mr Baker was called in after external auditor Grant Thornton found ‘inadequate’ arrangements in governance when responding to whistleblowing, grievances and disciplinary procedures.

He concluded that from 2019 until 2021 there was a ‘serious breakdown in the relationships’ between the four senior council officers on the corporate management team - chief executive Madeline Homer, deputy chief Tim Willis, communities director Gavin Waite, and governance and monitoring director Tim Howes.

This led to a string of complaints, grievances and whistleblowing procedures, as well as the hiring – at great expense to the council – of independent lawyers and HR specialists.

Mr Baker’s report read: ‘The observations arising from the review indicate a deep-set and persisting problem in the governance of Thanet DC which has its roots in the leadership and culture of the organisation.’

Thanet last year committed to an improvement programme, which included commissioning Mr Baker’s report.

However, Mr Baker warned some problems have still not been resolved.

A council statement read: ‘Implementation of the eight recommendations approved this evening will begin with immediate effect.’

Mr Willis left Thanet with a £280,000 payout in the autumn after being exonerated.

The council sacked Mr Howes after he submitted ‘vexatious and malicious’ allegations about Mr Willis.

The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) is now looking into whether Mr Howes breached its code of conduct.

A spokesperson for the SRA said: ‘We have had a complaint and are looking into it before deciding on the next steps.’

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