Thanet District Council’s leader has taken the rare step of asking the Government to intervene to resolve its governance problems.
This appears to have opened a rift with the senior management team, which said they had not seen her letter to the since-renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Conservative Ash Ashbee said in a statement published by the Isle of Thanet News: “Since I took over the leadership of Thanet District Council on 3rd June 2021 it has become apparent to me that the governance of this local authority is not acceptable in its present form.
“Following a meeting with the then Secretary of State for Local Government in Margate at the beginning of the month, I have now written to the new Secretary of State Michael Gove to formally invite MHCLG to provide the intervention necessary to rectify the situation.
“I have done so in what I believe to be in the public interest and in the interest of the residents and businesses of Thanet.”
Her move came ahead of a cabinet meeting where a report showed the legal costs of investigating a convoluted series of staff grievances has now reached £331,106.
This sum comprised £247,000 in costs incurred to last June and since then solicitor’s costs of £76,406 and investigator’s costs £7,050. A report in June projected these costs could eventually reach £733,000.
The council has not revealed exact details of the staff disputes involved but its former Labour leader Rick Everitt said in a statement to the same local news site: “Given the lack of resources, residents are entitled to ask why so much money has been spent on legal process over the last couple of years and the truth is I can’t give them a complete explanation, because to do so would infringe individual employment rights and expose the council to the risk of even more costs.
“However, you can take it from me that it has only been spent as a last resort to try to resolve a problem which affects the most senior officer level of the council, where staff are protected by law because it is recognised that their role is likely to make them unpopular.”
A Thanet spokesperson said: “We are aware that the leader, Cllr Ash Ashbee, has written to the MHCLG about governance matters at the council.
"The senior management team was not involved and has yet to see a copy of the letter.
“The council is nearing the conclusion of various grievance and disciplinary matters, with the full knowledge and support of both the external auditor and the leader, who is herself a member of the relevant grievance and disciplinary committees.
“The council will provide all the information that MHCLG requires in order to act in the best interests of Thanet, its residents and businesses.”
Cllr Ashbee did not respond to a request for comment.