Monday, 25 March 2013
Thanet Council - Review of Procedures
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 by Cllr. Ezekiel who was found guilty of Misconduct in a Public Office.
Thorough investigations by the Police 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.
- The annual review of contract standing orders and the tight controls over tender opening, which already exist.
This course of actions will show the residents of Thanet that, as the new administration at Thanet District Council, we are not complacent about the way decisions are made and implemented and that 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.
Councillor Clive Hart – Leader
Councillor Alan Poole – Deputy LeaderCouncillor Michelle Fenner – Cabinet Member Business Services and Corporate Regulatory