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Thanet District Council leader calls on Michael Gove to intervene with running of authority

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The leader of Thanet District Council has called on the government to intervene in the running of the authority - as it faces "multiple financial risks".

The council has racked up more than £730,000 in legal fees in recent months and overspent by £825,000 on projects, adding further burdens to the £9million costs it has notched up in the past six years.

Thanet District Council has financial troubles
Thanet District Council has financial troubles

In an attempt to solve the crisis, Cllr Ash Ashbee (Con) has written to Michael Gove, the new communities secretary. She is asking for the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (DHCLG) to help "regularise the governance of TDC".

Cllr Ashbee wrote to party leaders at the end of last week, informing them of the request, saying "after much thought and consideration" she believes the move is "in the public interest".

Some councillors have welcomed the bid to tackle "culture issues at the council" - but the Labour group leader has called on Cllr Ashbee to resign.

A report on the council's bleak financial situation has been made available to view in the past week, ahead of a TDC cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The findings from deputy chief executive Tim Willis state reserves are being continually "eroded".

Michael Gove. Picture: Dave Tully
Michael Gove. Picture: Dave Tully

It reads: "Although TDC’s financial sustainability has been maintained in recent years by careful management of reserves, it has suffered a series of unexpected financial burdens.

"Even though, in general, budgets have been managed well, there have been instances of one-off costs and overspends that have undermined financial stewardship and diminished reserves.

"In the past six years, these included the Transeuropa costs, animal export claims, a hand-arm vibration fine and costs and a grant repayment incorrectly claimed, which together amounted to about £9 million.

"More recently, legal costs of about £733,000 and the port berth 4/5 project overspend of £825,000 have further eroded reserves.

"These events have an obvious impact on reserves, but they also serve to undermine confidence in the council’s financial management - its ability to exercise good stewardship of resources.

Council leader Ash Ashbee
Council leader Ash Ashbee

"No matter how robust we claim our financial management to be, as long as these events continue to occur, the evidence suggests we have some way to go."

The council admitted last summer it was on the verge of bankruptcy due to a £3 million black hole brought about by the pandemic - and problems still remain.

A replacement financial management system for the council is sought and due to be discussed at Thursday's meeting.

But Cllr Ashbee has now called on the government to assist regulating the authority - a move backed by North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale.

In a tweet, he said: “Cllr Ashbee has acted entirely within her remit as an elected representative and leader of TDC. She has my full support in the action she has taken.”

Green group leader, Cllr Mike Garner, said: “It has been clear for a long time that action needed to be taken on this serious issue.

Labour leader Cllr Rick Everitt
Labour leader Cllr Rick Everitt

"We hope that this intervention will finally enable us to resolve the longstanding governance and culture issues at the council and to work for the benefit of all the residents of Thanet.”

But Labour leader Cllr Rick Everitt is calling for Cllr Ashbee's resignation.

He said: "Calling in the ministry is a straightforward admission that she can’t do her job. That being the case, she should resign and make way for someone who can.

“This is not an act of leadership. In fact, Cllr Ashbee is running away from her responsibilities as leader and seeking political cover from the Conservative government when she should be taking charge herself."

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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