Published: 09:22, 13 October 2021
| Updated: 14:57, 13 October 2021
A Kent council is in turmoil after allowing bullying, intimidation and financial insecurity to run rife, a report has found.
Thanet District Council has left itself in a "fragile financial position" after a series of costly reports trying to rectify numerous issues, according to auditors.
A report from Grant Thornton made official recommendations that the council must now consider in a meeting open to the public.
It exposed a series of "interlinked complaints" against a number of officers, and four senior officers of the corporate management team.
The auditors pointed to "a serious breakdown in relationships" between the senior officers, resulting in their behaviour falling "below the standard expected on a number of occasions", while the council "failed to manage" the situation, allowing it to escalate further.
The report also found that the council has spent in excess of £700,000 on reviews into the situation, with eight reports from six independent reviewers commissioned in the past two and a half years.
However, when legal advice was given in the reports it was "interpreted selectively, ignored, discredited or restricted in its circulation to members", while on more than one occasion perceived "procedural errors" and technicalities were used to discredit any findings in the reviews.
Amongst several findings in these reports were at least two cases where there was "clear evidence of bullying" where the council failed to take action until an appeal following a third review.
In some cases, whistleblowers raising legitimate concerns described as "having merit" faced disciplinary action before their complaints were even formally considered, and individuals were left to suffer "significant reputation damage" without resolution.
An independent reviewer described the situation as "a culture of overt bullying, intimidation victimisation or humiliation" within the council.
The auditors said that the position the council found itself in represented a "failure of governance", and made several recommendations that the body must now consider.
Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Ash Ashbee said: “I have been clear that a key ambition of my leadership and administration is to improve governance, so I welcome the recommendations shared with the council today.
"Good governance is the cornerstone of good local government and it is essential that we do everything we can to improve the way we work.
"It is absolutely right that members will have the chance to discuss the recommendations, to participate in the process and ensure we commit to a robust plan of action."