This is a guest post
“I am a senior council officer at Folkestone & Hythe District Council. I am publicly blowing the whistle to the Shepway Vox Team for reasons set out herein. What is mentioned here has come about through long, private out of hours conversations with many past and present colleagues, who know if they dare blow the whistle internally, they’ll lose there jobs and be sent to Coventry in the time that it takes for them to lose their jobs. I am NOT suspended, or under investigation. I most definitely work for the Council and am NOT a subcontracted party.
There is little substantive trust between officers and the most senior officer levels of the council especially- Dr Susan Priest, Charlotte Spendley, Andy Blaszkowicz and Amandeep Khroud – and there exists a climate of fear and intimidation as reflected in many of the conversations I have had with past and present council officers.
The Chief Executive fails to stand up to the leader of the council; which began with the incident in the staff car park where Cllr Monk shouted and screamed at Dr Susan Priest in late 2018. I and others know about this incident and it is clear it did happen, as there were witnesses to this event including elected Cllrs, who failed to pursue any complaint after a meeting with her, shortly after the event occured. She does not have ‘broad shoulders‘ regardless of what others were informed.
Since then she has done most, if not all of his bidding, even when she and others knew this was breaking law and regulations, as set out in the constitution and statutory acts of parliament. It is clear and evidenced Dr Priest will not raise issues to outside bodies when she knows full well Cllr Monk is NOT a qualified Occupational Therapist, and is breaching the law and regulations regarding his register of interest. He is not the only elected Cllr doing this.
Let me remind you all, local government is about people and place, managing, delivering, and integrating a range of disparate services to achieve a consistent level of service delivery and community leadership which improves the lives of all of the area’s residents. This is NOT happening across the district of Folkestone & Hythe as many of my colleagues have stated.
The evidence, and the information collected clearly points to the fact FHDC has forgotten much of this and lost its way since Dr Priest was placed in charge, to the extent that the leadership of the council, do not perform their appointed responsibilities satisfactorily. Despite the Council’s relatively good financial position, there are signs that services are starting to perform at a lower level due to this lack of attention. Think bins, procurement, contractual & financial irregularities, the failure to publish data, plus broader issues of non-compliance of internal controls, of governance and the lack of integrity to follow necessary procedural processes.
Many staff who have left the organisation signed settlement agreements with terms included which meant they could not speak to anybody about the circumstances of their employment with an exit from FHDC. In effect Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) clauses, although the council might not use this terminology, played no formal part at the personnel committee, when it most definitely should have.
Let’s not forget Jeremy Chambers left the building with £43,000, and he had sexually harassed women within the building for a good number of years. This behavior still continues and is best described by senior officers as ‘banter‘. It is not ‘banter‘. It is sexual harassment, and a criminal offence, yet the council choose to do nothing.
Many staff who have left, described in harrowing terms they had been treated extremely poorly by senior officers at the Council. I alone cannot make a full determination of all these circumstances, but at FHDC there have been significantly more staff subject to these agreements than would be normally expected. Between April 2015 and March 2021, nearly £1m has been paid out by the council in settlement agreements for staff leaving the organisation. This is higher than comparable councils within Kent.
There are many accounts of staff (both past and present) feeling extremely aggrieved by Human Resource (HR) processes at FHDC. This is not unusual, as in any organisation, as staff may become disillusioned if they themselves have been unsuccessful in any application processes for promotion. However, the view of current and past staff is that at FHDC, there has been too many examples of HR practice and process relating to senior staff which is at best inconsistent and in certain cases contrary to local government legislation.
Past & present colleagues believe that some internal appointments have not been awarded on merit, or skill set. Whether senior management agree with this or not, if less senior officers have this view, this demonstrates a gap in communication, trust, motivation, and effective working in the council.
Council employees have reported that there is a traditional command and control approach to leadership and management, with little empowerment encouraged. Many operational decisions needing to be made at senior officer executive level, slowing down the organisation and creating bottlenecks. Officers describe ‘five organisations in one’ as services generally operate in silos. It’s clear contract management do not speak to finance given the irregularities which have occured.
The council’s constitution makes very little reference to governance of companies. There is no explanation of why and for what purpose the council might establish a company. There is no description of the various roles that need to be fulfilled or how they will be undertaken, how the objectives of the companies are to be set and reviewed, and performance monitored.
There appears to be no statement or policy about the council’s framework of governance of its companies. This is a major and significant gap. There is no basis set out to guide arrangements, and no information for Members to understand the differing roles of different bodies, or their role in them.
The council have struggled with the establishment and control of subsidiary companies set up under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.
Our Council has Oportunitas Ltd, which allows the leader – Cllr Monk – to dispel any director at his whim without any discussion in any committee, as recently evidence by the removal of Cllr Peter Gane. Then there is Otterpool Park LLP, Otterpool Park Development Company Ltd and Folkestone Parks & Pleasure Grounds charity. The issues with these companies is the failure to understand the differences in law owed by those charged with governance of companies and Folkestone & Hythe District Council.
Given the experience in many other places, understanding, reporting on, and recognising changes in risk profiles is, in terms of trading issues, a company matter, but in terms of why FHDC are operating in the area they are, and the benefit it brings to the Council is a completely distinct set of decisions. The limits to the powers of the shareholder representative and how they gain
legitimacy for their approach is also not understood by many council officers, elected members, or residents.
Nothing short of a radical review is required, tested against best practice guidance for local authority companies. It is necessary to establish a new shareholder agreement for all the companies listed above, and a job profile for each company director to be appointed linked to the company’s needs. It must set out the rules for their removal. The Council must appoint a shareholder representative, which will be a personal appointment, that is, not capable of being delegated without authority, and Cabinet should establish a commercial sub-committee to consider progress reports on physical and financial issues required to be referred under the shareholder agreement and direct the shareholder representative. Even if the council were to listen to these ideas/suggestions, the likelihood of them being taken up is close to zero. Without this being done the murkiness that already exists will continue.
There is more I could say, but the issues raised herein are sufficient I hope to give you a clearer insight into the goings on and changes necessary inside your Council, Folkestone & Hythe District Council.”
All claims made are those of the whistleblower, NOT the Shepway Vox Team. We offer the Head of Paid Services and the Chief Executive of Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Dr Susan Priest, the opportunity to reply to the whistleblower’s claims. She can contact US at:
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful.