Unaddressed systemic issues are holding back Council’s development
This is a guest post
I am a Folkestone & Hythe District Council Officer. What is written here is a distallation of my own and other colleagues opinions. All opinion expressed herein are are my own and other collegaues who have contributed to this blog post.
One of the things I have come to recognize, and it is not just me, is keeping your head down, looking the other way, and telling people – especially senior officers – what they want to hear. This is the way things are done at Folkestone & Hythe District Council. This has been the case for as long as I, and other colleagues can remember
The culture of not speaking up has become so embedded that even when senior officers actively seek candid views, there is a reluctance to speak up.
In Sept 2021, it became clear and evident that East Kent Audit Partnership were conducting a “Corporate Leak Investigation“ on behalf of Folkestone & Hythe District Council. They were instructed to find the mole/s who kept providing fact based evidence of contract and financial irregularities to the Shepway Vox Team. Of course they came up empty handed.
Many of us wanted to speak up about what we knew, but it was not possible to raise these irregularities with senior staff, as they were not prepared to hear the “bad news“, or the evidence backed “allegations”.
Since these issues came to light, there has been a strong tendency to look for a positive spin internally. This has allowed the organisation to “move on” so senior management believe. They’ve sought to put it in the past and blame individual ‘bad apples’ who were dismissed; with NDAs and financial rewards, rather than pausing for genuine reflection on systemic issues. The failure to do this means these issues will happen again, as there has been a failure to address them properly.
It’s my personal opinion, problems with the culture and attitudes of the Council, and its senior officers cannot be addressed by developing a new policy, changing the rules, training or developing a new process. One has to do a root and branch deep dive to remove the offending officers who remain.
Folkestone & Hythe District Council is a £100m plus local authority. Therefore, it should be transparent and accountable for the services it provides and the resources it uses, while maintaining operational responsibility for council decisions. All too often it has been
unaccountable to the residents of the district, and in some cases their elected representatives.
The structures of governance and scrutiny of the Council are relatively weak. I say this as it has been the Shepway Vox Team who has driven much of the change inside our Council. Remember the eighteen month long investigation into the P & R Contract, and their overcharging and failure to produce gas safety certitificates? It was this and them which brought down East Kent Housing and led to Mark Anderson and Deborah Upton’s demise.
The Shepway Vox Team use of the Council’s data and comparing the payment to suppliers data against the published contract details; is what ultimately led to four people being dismissed, and others “moving on“.
They have been a force for good, but then again, they have also allowed officers to evade their responsibility in speaking up when they see and know things are wrong. Just think Jeremey Chambers when he was rewarded with £43,000 for indecent acts towards women. Senior Officer’s who knew of his behavior, including our current Chief Executive, Dr Priest, were prepared to go along with paying Chambers off, rather than go to the Police.
Returning to the financial and contractual irregularities, highlighted by the Shepway Vox Team, this has led to all staff to have “training” on the Contract Standing Orders. This “training” though has failed to work. It is still not valued by persons within the organization, who continue to find successful workarounds two months after the training began.
The Audit & Governance, Committee is weak. It’s elected members do not have a proper understanding of finances, or governance. Yet there are courses available to them at the LGA to improve their skill sets. But they choose not to take them.
The external and internal auditors are not regulators and can only really comment on what they find. They have limited levers to drive improvement. Their recommendations are a reflection of the significant concerns about the Council, but they hold no real consequences for the Council. It is now time for a local government regulator, not just an ombudsman. Such a regulator must be given extensive powers over local authorities as it cannot be right that those who commit financial or other offences be rewarded with an NDA and a financial payment, and allowed to move on.
It is my personal belief the Chief Executive, Dr Susan Priest & the Monitoring Officer, Amandeep Khroud, should leave the building. I know I am not the only Council Officer to think this, or even vocalise it privately. We need new brooms to sweep the Council clean.
I hope the next elected adminstration in May will have the courage to remove Dr Priest and Mrs Khroud, as morale is low. Then and only then can we create a radically improved Council, one which is prepared to hear and listen to its officers and its residents.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime
Thank you. A well written piece, refreshing, with clear in-sight, as this summarises general public opinion, as observed.
These are matters which the public vote is not empowered to influence yet is obliged to finance, with much grievance.
Moves by a councilor body to rectify the current situation would seem the correct means to move forward, public support would appear to be in confident agreement.
Yes at last a voice from within confirming what the Council Tax payer has realised for some time .
Monk and his little band of cronies have got to go .
They are corrupt to the core and the only way of sorting the finances out is for a new robust leadership being put in place .
It’s totally unbelievable that it’s been allowed to go on for so long and no questions ever asked or anyone brought to account.
We will be paying for their incompetence for many years to come .
Serious questions require clear answers as to why an instrument of government is reportedly performing in a manner unacceptable in normal practice, the roots traced to source and extracted.
If The Prime Minister can be brought before an inquiry, then with certainty, FHDC Executive must be accorded the same protocols, as with the staff.
Senior officers must face inquiry, in probability, disciplinary action and dismissal in consideration, pursuit of financial recoveries inclusive.
These matters are unfortunately seeming to place the effectiveness of central government in a poor light.
Not strictly accurate though – no one was dismissed. Four scapegoat officers were suspended whilst investigations took place, then subsequently resigned. And who can blame them! No accountability from the Director of all four you will recall
There is a developing picture, regardless of the election season.
Thank you to all those sketching the outlines, not without risk; please accept our respect.