LBWF Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes lands a plum job on the side, but then ‘unforeseen circumstances’ spoil his Christmas, leaving the Town Hall hierarchy with questions to answer

Reports reach this blog of a new and arresting episode in the life and times of our old friend, LBWF Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes.

The gist is as follows.

In the past few years, Thanet District Council (TDC), which provides services to 140,000 people living in the Margate, Ramsgate, and Broadstairs area, has descended into chaos, said to stem from a near complete failure of governance.

Indeed, the situation was so bad earlier this year, that the TDC auditors, Grant Thornton, stepped in, and using powers granted to it under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, investigated the scale and nature of the crisis, and made a series of recommendations.

On the crisis itself, Grant Thornton was scathing, finding that there had been a ‘breakdown in relationships between the four Senior Officers’; ‘serious allegations made by Senior Officers without adequate, or in some cases any, supporting evidence’; numerous ‘key deficiencies’ in governance processes, including ‘Failure to manage whistleblowing cases, grievances and disciplinary cases’; bullying; and deliberate attempts to discredit previous independent reviews.

As to the recommendations, there were several, but the key one was that ‘an experienced, independent Monitoring Officer from a large local authority’ should be brought in to provide, first, ‘a risk assessment of the current employment tribunal claims…including a detailed financial analysis of the options available to the Council’; second, ‘an assessment of the status of all outstanding grievances [and] alleged whistleblowing complaints…[with] a plan of action to address them’; and, third,  a ‘lessons learnt report collating themes and recommendations from all externally commissioned reports and any other appropriate evidence’.

As is immediately obvious, this was a tall order, and so Grant Thornton recommended that it be well remunerated, telling TDC, ‘The cost of the Independent Monitoring Officer (IMO) will be £1500 per day (to include the IMO at £1000 per day and an assistant at £500 per day)’, but adding, to soften the blow, that though ‘The precise total costs at this stage are unknown’, the final sum would be covered by a Local Government Association (LDA) grant.

Given the latter assurance, the TDC unsurprisingly turned to the LGA to help it find the right person for the job.

In turn, the LGA recommended two candidates, one of which was our Mr. Hynes, and after interviews, it was he who was appointed, the TDC Leader, Cllr. Ash Ashbee, announcing the glad news on the 25 November just past.

But in the last few days, events have taken a very unexpected turn, with the TDC suddenly announcing that Mr. Hynes will not, after all, be doing the job, and the Local Government Lawyer providing the additional gloss that this was because of “’unforeseen circumstances”’.

Contacted by Waltham Forest Matters about the flip flop, Mr Hynes comments, ‘I can confirm that I am not undertaking the work for Thanet Council. The role was offered to me but I declined’, and clarifies, ‘Any work proposed to be undertaken for Thanet would have been in my own time in a private capacity’.

One obvious puzzle is whether Mr. Hynes ever had accepted the TDC job in the first place.

The TDC press release of 25 November is unequivocal, quoting Cllr. Ashbee directly as stating, ‘“I am pleased to say we have appointed an Independent Monitoring Officer, Mr Mark Hynes”’. 

Yet here we are, less than a month down the line, and Mr. Hynes is categorical that while TDC had ‘offered’ him the job, he ‘declined’.

For sure, there seems to have been a misunderstanding somewhere.

More concerning, from a Waltham Forest point of view, is Mr. Hynes’ frank disclosure that in his dealing with TDC, he was acting as a private contractor.

It can be taken for granted that, as the Town Hall’s most senior legal professional, Mr Hynes always has been well aware of paragraph 7.1 of the LBWF ‘Employee Code of Conduct’, which reads:

‘Employees graded above Scale 6 are required to obtain the written consent of their Chief Officer to take any outside employment (either paid or unpaid). All employees must be clear about their contractual obligations and must not take outside employment which conflicts or may conflict with the authority’s interests’.

It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, given the history rehearsed here, that Mr. Hynes must have both sought Chief Executive Martin Esom’s blessing, and been given it.

But if this is so, it raises questions about what on earth Mr. Esom, and by extension his employer, the Leader, Cllr. Grace Williams, thought they were playing at.

As a point of principle, it is surely unwise to allow senior officers to take on substantial private work, since by definition that inevitably will be a distraction.

And in Mr. Hynes’ case it is particularly inapt because his corporate responsibilities are already so exacting – currently, after all, he is Director of Governance and Law, Monitoring Officer, Data Protection Officer, and Returning Officer; head of LBWF’s commercial legal services arm, Eastern Legal Partnership; and a director of his own, albeit modest, private company. 

True, Mr. Hynes states he was going to do the job in his own time. 

But there are only 24 hours in the day, and TDC’s needs were, and remain, both wide-ranging and urgent.

In short, it’s understandable that Mr. Hynes should have been attracted to a Christmas windfall: after all, who wouldn’t want £1,000 per day.

But as to the LBWF hierarchy’s decision to give him the green light, that seems at best ill-advised, at worst damaging to LBWF’s longer term interests. 

Coming so soon after the previous LBWF Leader, Cllr. Clare Coghill, stepped down to join a property developer, the suggestion is that some in the Town Hall are losing their grip.

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