She says she understands the importance of transparency and is able to discharge responsibilities to the highest standards of probity.
Dr Susan Priest, the Chief Executive of Folkestone & Hythe District Council, took up the top job on 1st April 1st 2018.
Under her leadership, there was a failure to spot a £1.5 million pound “systemic fraud“ by P & R; and significant breaches of health & safety issues for Council tenants, such as gas, fire, electrical, legionella and asbestos.
And lets not forget the £200,000 pound overcharge by M & R.
Susan has presided over the continuation of the Council Tax rate being the highest in Kent; and for paying out £448,381 to keep ex employees quiet, the highest amount paid in any district in Kent.
But of course, it doesn’t stop there.
In her first year of office she failed to get the Council’s accounts signed off due to the “systemic fraud“. The Auditor, Grant Thornton have not yet given a clean bill of health for the 2018/19 accounts.
Under her leadership in 2019/20, the Council spent £1,338,239 on temporary staff. This is a record. In no other financial year have the council spent such money on temporary staff.
Then who could forget the significant data breach in 2019, where data about council employees pay and pensions, landlords personal and financial data and council tenants personal data, remained in the public domain for more than ten weeks.
Then just yesterday we made it clear, under her leadership the council have failed to provide the public with the developer contribution data in 2018/19 and 2019/20. And we ask where are the 2019 and 2020 Annual Monitoring Reports (See example here ⇒ Annual Monitoring Report (2018)); which have not been published as they must under The Town and County Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012.
In Jan 2020, the Council were heavily chastised by the Local Government Ombudsman regarding their treatment of a homeless family. The Ombudsman said in his report:
The Council has, at times, refused to respond to our enquiries and questioned our authority to investigate parts of the complaint. This resulted in us having to threaten to issue a summons requiring the Council to attend our offices.
In this case the Council produced the evidence we requested. However, we should not have had to threaten the Council with a summons in the first place.
We would ask the Council to reflect on how it has responded to our enquiries in this case and put measures in place to ensure we receive an appropriate response to any future investigations.
Were these signs of petulant shyness, or an extreme reluctance to be transparent with the ombudsman?
For somebody who stressed the importance of transparency in her bid for the top job as Chief Exec, there are now more meetings behind closed doors, than at any other time in the Council’s forty six year history.
When Susan took the top job on 1st April, 2018, her annual salary was £111,994, plus £13,485 in pension contributions, amounting to £125,479.
In June 2019, the personnel committee awarded Susan a pay rise. Her annual salary, without pension contribution, rose to £149,279, which was a 33.3% increase. With pension contribution it rose by 32.3% to £165,969.
A Local Government Association spokesman informed the public face of The Shepwayvox Team:
‘Senior pay is always decided by democratically elected councillors in an open and transparent way.’
It’s true the decision was taken by democratically elected Councillors. They being:
The decision though was taken behind closed doors.
Nobody in their right mind would consider a meeting behind closed doors to be open and transparent, except of course, a democratically elected councillor, and the Chief Exec, Dr Susan Priest.
As we’ve said before: One person’s transparency is another’s humiliation.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful