Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The strange and peculiar story of Thanet District Council reorganisation

The council leaks information like some sort of giant sponge, both officers and councillors tend to be reluctant to say much about what really goes on in the council but somehow the information slowly leaks out.

One gets a sense of people desperately spinning plates to maintain or enhance their position. Despite all of this I am slowly forming the impression that the council – normally perceived as a bit dysfunctional – is reaching a point where it is unable to function properly at mid and higher management levels.

The main problem appears to emanate from government cuts, this has meant that some officers have been made redundant, some have left voluntarily due to the uncertainty of the stability of their continued employment and there are even some rumours of some being pushed rather than jumping ship in a way that could perhaps be contestable.

This means that some of the council departments are being run and staffed by officers on a temporary basis, with the added cloud hanging over them of uncertainties about the stability of their continued employment.

In many cases we are talking about officers with remuneration in the region of £1,000 per week or more, so what they are doing or not doing is costing us dear.

What appears to be happening is that important decisions, that are normally made at officer level, have often been postponed while departments wait to find out who will be running them and working in them.

There is a very real sense that officers don’t know where they stand and are just biding their time rather than achieving a properly run and efficient council, there is also a sense that some officers are having more in terms of work and responsibilities heaped on them that they could possibly cope with.

I am not sure how the new chief executive stands in all of this, nor do I understand how combining the position of chief executive and head of finance is supposed to work. My understanding is that a council chief executive should be the person with the innovative ideas and that the head of finance should complement this by applying the restraint of what is actually viable and affordable. This begs some questions about one person holding both posts.

I am also uncertain how other councils are coping with this situation and whether the situation is particularly bad here in Thanet, on thing is certain and that is that delays to making beneficial things happen locally and weak slow regulation of major local projects will cost us dear.

I am sending this one to the leader of the council and the chief executive the council in the form of an open letterof for any comments or corrections before I publish it at the end of the working day i.e. 5.30 pm. 

 This is what I said to them as well as sending the above:

“Hi Bob, Sue I am sending you the text of this blog post as a matter of courtesy before publishing it later today, please send me any comments or corrections for incorporation in the post.”

Here is the response to this post:

Dear Mr Child,

In response to your open letter sent to myself and the Leader today.

I am unable to respond to most of your comments as they lack any specific detail. 

The one specific issue you raise is regarding my combined role of Chief Executive and Chief Financial (S151) Officer. Prior to the restructure, an opinion was sought from the Council's External Auditors regarding combining these roles, who raised no objections and indeed there are other authorities where this combined role is currently working successfully.

I can tell you that the majority of the council restructure has been implemented successfully. There remain a couple of teams which have outstanding issues yet to be resolved due to changes in the circumstances in which their services are delivered but we expect these to be fully implemented within this calendar year.

In conclusion, we have not noticed any increase in formal complaints regarding any of the issues you have alluded to but would be pleased to address any specific complaints that you have through our formal complaints process.

Yours sincerely

Dr Sue McGonigal
Chief Executive & Chief Financial Officer


  1. Sounds like business as usual for tdc, the chief execs coterie looked after everyone else left like headless chickens and the poor old resident of thanet loses out.whilst the likes of RS & BW sun themselves on massive payouts funded by yes the poor old resident of thanet.

  2. I thought the reply was very good in that the Chief Executive & Chief Financial Officer responded to the facts and made no comment regarding unfounded conjecture.

    But then again I live in Broadstairs….happy days.

  3. Over on Margate Architecture blog and others there's the story of a council that paid for an independent report regarding a planning application and then reclaimed the cost from the applicant. The report was also produced by a partner of a consultancy who often worked for the applicant's client. Could only happen at TDC but I guess the senior officers can see nothing wrong with this. Thats TDC interpretaion of 'independent' for you.

  4. You forgot to mention the bit where it says "The report will be assessed independently by English Heritage" anon. Or don't you trust English Heritage either?

  5. I would say that the Tesco roller coaster business is a fair example of what of what I mean in this post. I take this to be a large project, and the council did have a chap in charge of large projects, but when the cuts came along, he went. My guess is at the moment the council don’t actually have anyone with experience in this field, and that it is a post being covered on a temporary basis by someone with experience and responsibilities in another area. So I very much doubt that the council realised that they had used the same consultancy experts as the potential developer.

    I think a lot of the problem here relates to the way government cuts are made, I suppose when the money was essentially unlimited the council had experts of their own in this sort of area, employed outside consultants and the had the whole thing overseen by English Heritage.

    As far as I can see all of the previous rules and red tape still exist, but not the staff to implement the old system. This is tied in with the problem that the council can’t just say “sorry everyone, we made a mistake” and even if the could, there isn’t much in terms of procedure for when they have made a mistake.

    I suppose a question here would be, want do local people want the council to do? One of the options would seem to be an expensive legal battle with Tesco.

    I should also point out that is not that long ago that Tesco opened a supermarket in Ramsgate that resulted in the closure of many local shops and when the damage had been done to the town, so that it was reliant on the Tesco store, they suddenly closed it.

  6. So we should reject Tesco because there's a chance they might close down & move on at a later date? Should we have done the same for Thanet Earth, Pfizer, Turner Contemporary & everything else?

  7. I think too much gets blamed on government cuts. I understand that the government grant was reduced but i do not know by how much, but where is the saving to TDC in making a head of planning redundant and employing someone else to do the job, Making a chief exec who has stated he wanted to to retire early due to his ill health "redundant"at the cost of over £200K, and promoting someone "in house" without any competetive interview. i seem to remember the previous "Estates director was made redundant a couple of months after his 50th birthday at a cost to the local tax payer of £250K another cost saving measure by TDC. So much money has been wasted by changing the titles and terms and conditions of the chief exec, directors and heads of service to no benefit of the local taxpayer. I even recall a certain member of the highways dept who was made redundant when he said he want to retire so he could get an extra £90K. This is the sort of waste that should be tackled and the elected members should do something about.... but no they are quite happy for the "gravy train to continue" but I cannot undertstand why.

  8. I am quite happy to admit that I'm not an expert on planning. However, I'm a fast learner and I'm prepared to give it a go. I'm prepared to do the job for much less than £1000 per week. Can anyone explain why my application should not be considered?

    If these jobs had been advertised in the local press I'm sure many people, like me, would have come forward to save the taxpayer a bob or two.

    P.S. When I talk about saving a bob I'm not suggesting that I would like to help save the current Leader of the Council.

  9. I think it is rather odd that part of the job requirement for the directors of tdc is not residency in thanet, and the fact the chief exec can "work at home".
    so we have a chief exec who doesn't pay council tax in thanet, parks for nothing in thanet and probably gets supplied with lunch and tea and biscuits.
    contribution to the local economy nil takes out of the local economy £100+k.
    sounds as though we are getting a raw deal


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