Thursday, 18 April 2013


Cllr Clive Hart


In this report, generally speaking, I have to deal with matters since the last council meeting. I want to quickly make a couple of very pertinent points and then move on.

On the day following the last council meeting we received the news that the former Conservative Leader of this council was found guilty of misconduct in a public office. Probably the worst possible publicity this council could have. A very, very black day indeed for TDC.

I don’t have to explain to councilors here just how difficult my relationship was with that particular former leader. It’s no exaggeration when I say I found it very difficult to be in the same room and I’m sure he had similar feelings.

However, we both had to attend council meetings along with other members  and I want to commend my group for their dignified and controlled behavior in the months leading up to the court case. They turned the other cheek and never once responded when lectured by that former leader on ethics and probity during heated debates in this chamber.

Thankfully, we can now move on, but we are still hindered by negative stereotypes and this is where I want to make my last point in this regard.

I’ve been a councilor for ten years this month and to my knowledge during that time none of my fellow Labour councillors have received criminal convictions. This council may have a reputational problem that WE ALL now have to deal with but I’m sick and tired of the public saying ‘we’re all the same’. We’re not – and I do sincerely hope the Conservative group will do some serious soul searching as part of the process to rebuild reputations across this council.

So our administration has yet more legacy issues to deal with - and we will.

We wish to emphasise that Thanet District Council’s policies and procedures are robust. Indeed the Annual Audit Letter of September 2012 stated that in overall terms their assessment was that the Council has a good understanding of its underlying financial position and sound financial systems and that the Council continues to demonstrate effective arrangements for budget and financial management.

TDC’s Whistleblowing Policy was effective and instantaneous in alerting the Senior Management and subsequently the Police to the crime committed.

Thorough investigations by the Police took place with full co-operation of TDC officers to check if there were any signs of collusion found nothing untoward.

We share the concern that Councillors who are elected to represent and serve the general public must adhere to the highest standards of integrity.

We have therefore decided to take the opportunity this situation presents to revisit our policies and procedures and not to leave any stone unturned.

We have requested a comprehensive report to Cabinet on lessons to be learnt and what actions to follow. This report will be discussed at the Cabinet meeting in April.

It is proposed to write a report to Cabinet to debrief Members on the findings of the court case, and to present the response of the council to learn from this case to improve its systems and processes.

The cabinet report will state in its opening paragraphs that a crime has been committed and although we are actively reviewing our procedures, a preliminary review has shown that it was a result of the council’s procedures that enabled the crime to be detected and brought to justice. As a learning council we have used this to prompt a thorough review of procedures covering asset disposal, contract procedures, publication of reports and disclosure of member interests.

The report will specifically refer to:-

- A review of the asset disposal policy and procedure – with revisions to include the addition of an explanation of the methods of disposal; and to improve key controls to prevent advantage to officers and members through inside knowledge, by prohibiting officers from sharing bidding information during commercial negotiations.   Internal audit will be asked to contribute to this review and to provide assurance of the adequacy of key controls.
- A review of the register of member interests, to strengthen the information requested. This revision would then be taken to Standards, for recommendation to Council.
- A reminder will be issued to all members alerting them of the need to complete the register of interests.
- Regular reminders will be issued to all staff and members of the whistleblowing policy.  This has recently been undertaken.
- Officers will be made aware of risk areas in disposal and contract award decisions and will be reminded of the need for thorough and accurate records of all decisions as well as for the need to log member contact in relation to sale and contract negotiations.
- To strengthen the detection controls for asset sales, all sales will be reported in the quarterly budget monitoring reports, where the sale values will form part of the capital receipts figures within the capital programme. The report will state which assets have been disposed of, by which sale method, for what price and the details of the purchaser.

Members will be reassured that it is appropriate to approach officers with concerns relating to their ward, or portfolio, such as may affect the areas regeneration, but that these contacts will be recorded.


- Where officers deem it necessary to exclude the press and public due to the content of a report, the report that recommends the exclusion of the press and public will, in future, state what the public interest test is, to explain the rational for the exclusion, and what is meant by commercially sensitive, where applicable.
- The exclusion report will also state that in the case where the public interest test is finely balanced, that the presumption will be in favour of publishing.

On this point I really do have to ask that councillors please do honour their pledge and respect the very privileged position they each hold. We simply can’t have an individual member deciding when they will and when they won’t play by the rules. That’s total anarchy and a huge insult to the other fifty plus members of the council who take such responsibilities very seriously indeed.

I was the Leader of the opposition for a couple of years so I know only too well, the feeling of frustration that pink papers and confidential items can sometimes create.

Indeed, as opposition leader I argued on several occasions (sometimes successfully – sometimes not) to have papers taken off of pink and discussed in open session.

Please be assured, my attitude has not changed as Leader and Chair of Cabinet where again, over the past eighteen months, I have challenged officers regarding pink papers on the same basis and with the same success rate.

However, you will not find one member of the press or public who has ever received confidential papers from me. To have leaked them would have been an insult to my fellow councillors and all the staff here at TDC – not to mention those referred to in such papers.


I want to make a small plea on behalf of a council whose staff are increasingly stretched to the limit due to funding cut backs from central government.

Between January 2011 and March 2013, TDC dealt with 1537 questions submitted under the Freedom of Information Act.

The total cost of dealing with these cases over this period, on which officers were required to spend 3,278 hours, amounted to an estimated amount of £130,850, which represents an average of £85.13 per case.

Of the total amount, ten people making regular FOI requests incurred costs to the TDC rate payer of £14,233, with an average time of 2.3 hours taken on obtaining the answers to their questions.

One person in particular has submitted a total of 63 FOI questions since January 2011, on which a total of 206 hours of officer time has been spent and at a cost of over £7,000.

So I also ask colleagues and members of the public to please think very carefully before making FOI requests – they have to be resourced and residents ultimately foot the bill through their council tax.


In summary, this council is at a critical point. Because of the appalling actions of a former Conservative council leader, we need to review our current processes and procedures to restore the public’s confidence in TDC.

I really am delighted that it is our Labour administration that will now oversee that process. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for a Conservative group so closely aligned to the former leader to perform this task.

We are a fresh team with absolutely no allegiance to the former Conservative leader and we will make sure the job is done correctly.

We are not complacent about the way decisions are made and implemented and our guiding principle will always be the public interest. We intend to continue to debate, scrutinise and challenge every aspect of Thanet District Council’s work on behalf of the community it serves.

Thanet Labour Group Press Office

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