Members of Thanet’s council cabinet are being asked to approve a whopping £ 697,000-733,000 to pay for legal fees due to ongoing disciplinary and grievance proceedings with the authority.
A law firm was hired in March 2020 to provide governance support and costs have been estimated at £ 40,000. In July 2020, that estimate was revised to £ 50,000, but it has now been revealed that the CFO is reporting costs incurred through to completion. of May 2021 regarding ongoing disciplinary and grievance proceedings already total £ 247,000. Of this, £ 141,515 relates specifically to 2020-2021.
A report to members of the Cabinet indicates that potential future costs are estimated to be between £ 450,000 and £ 486,000, resulting in estimated total legal costs of between £ 697,000 and £ 733,000.
Of the costs incurred to date, £ 114,000 relates to overall process management, £ 111,000 for internal processes under the control of the board and £ 22,000 for external employment tribunals.
Anticipated / potential future costs are split between £ 78,000 for concluding internal Thanet Board processes and £ 408,000 for external employment tribunals.
Grievances and disciplinary proceedings
There have been numerous inquiries into staff grievances and disciplinary processes handled by the Board’s Investigation and Discipline Subcommittee (IDSC).
It is understood that the authority is currently investigating complaints and counter-complaints involving the four members of the management team – CEO Madeline Homer, Gavin Waite, Tim Willis and chief oversight officer Tim Howes, who has been suspended from his duties since last December.
Mr Willis was also suspended in 2019, but was subsequently cleared of all allegations.
There is at least one staff grievance that has been dragging on since 2019 and is still unresolved.
Last September, the need for a ‘top-down’ governance and culture review was underscored in a report from the head of the East Kent Internal Audit Partnership, saying that ‘action is needed on the board of Thanet District to address cultural and governance failures that arise from the highest level of the organization.
The call came from the head of the partnership, Christine Parker, in a letter to the chair and vice chair of the authority’s governance committee.
Ms. Parker highlighted concerns about relationships with senior officers and “fuzzy reporting lines” as well as the issue of unsuccessful grievance procedures.
She said the cases in the public domain included findings from an independent investigator that “there was evidence of intimidation and harassment of staff by some of the most senior staff within the organization”.
Two complaints were filed by TDC staff against senior officers in 2019.
One of those complainants named both General Manager Madeline Homer and Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite in a list of 10 grievances.
Last year, the employment grievance process prompted the GMB union to ask Thanet’s board to implement a new independent system to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment against senior executives, claiming that current methods are “compromised beyond further use”.
Earlier this year, the protracted grievances procedures were accused of delaying an “urgent” review of the culture within the authority.
Then-governance and audit committee chairman Mike Garner said the review needed to be “prioritized.”
But the review cannot take place until investigations into staff grievances and disciplinary processes handled by the Subcommittee on Investigation and Discipline (IDSC) are concluded, as it is said that this would result in an overlap and mean that some issues could not be discussed openly.
Cabinet approval required
The issue of significant legal fees is brought to Cabinet members on 8 June, as Cabinet approval must be sought for all budgets over £ 50,000.
A report to Cabinet members states: “The law firm that oversees and manages these processes was selected because of its particular expertise in dealing with employment issues in constitutional and local governments and because the case could not be managed internally due to perceived conflicts of interest. interest.”
The report also highlights the difficulty of finding funding due to the depletion of reserves.
He says, “The board’s finances are in a delicate position, even before the pandemic our reserves were relatively low and we used to not meet savings or income targets.
“The impact of the Covid pandemic is expected to put more pressure on the Council’s finances, the extent of this situation will only be known when the year-end position is finalized and this will be reported to Cabinet on July 29, 2021. As such, at this time it is not possible to clarify exactly what will be the exact source of funding of the £ 247,000 for costs to date, but this will inevitably have to be funded from our earmarked reserves. limited.
“It will be a difficult task to identify what funding is available, especially in light of the requirement to allocate £ 3million of earmarked reserves by 2020-2021 to address the financial impact of Covid.
“To comply with applicable accounting standards, it will be necessary to create a provision in the 2020-2021 accounts to fully cover planned future expenses. Therefore, total planned costs of £ 733,000 will need to be recognized and re-funded from our reserves in 2020-2021. “
The report adds that £ 247,000 ‘must be approved’ in retrospect as the funds have already been disbursed.