On this blog and also on the now archived The Thurrock and Basildon Heckler, we’ve put up more posts than we care to remember about the utter shitshow that’s Thurrock Council. These are the two most recent posts we’ve published: Transparency? 17.7.22 and: It’s official… 3.7.22. As we have now relocated to near Bristol, we thought we had finished with commenting on their lamentable performance. However, what has now happened is of too great an importance to ignore, so here goes…
Followers of the farcical ‘investment’ strategy that was implemented by Thurrock Council will be aware of the efforts made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to unearth the truth of how that strategy ultimately failed. Efforts that have been followed through by the determination of Neil Speight of Thurrock Nub News to hold the council to account.
Well, things are now coming to a head as reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: Government steps in to inspect ‘grave concerns’ over council finances 2.9.22 and also Thurrock Nub News: Government tells of ‘serious allegations’ that led to drastic action and intervention in Thurrock Council’s financial affairs. And councillors fear borough could be swallowed up by Essex 2.9.22 and: Opposition leader welcomes change but damns council after he and media were ‘stonewalled, ignored, falsely reassured, lied to, fobbed off and misled’ 2.9.22 and also: Minister explains why government has stepped in to take over Thurrock Council’s financial management 2.9.22.
In a nutshell, the government has intervened and have appointed Essex County Council as commissioners to run the financial affairs of Thurrock Council. At lunchtime on Friday 2.9.22, the Tory leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill resigned his position. At the time of writing, it’s unclear what the Chief Executive of the council, Lyn Carpenter, will do. If Carpenter had a shred of integrity, she would also resign. Suffice to say, we’re not holding our breath. As for the senior officer who oversaw the ‘investment’ strategy, Sean Clark, who has since left the council, questions are being raised as to how he will be held to account for his role.
Backbench Tory councillors are now trying to distance themselves from the actions of their leaders who, for whatever reason, took the words of the senior officers responsible for the failed ‘investment’ strategy at face value. Basically, it’s a cynical exercise in damage limitation because they failed to hold their leaders to account for their failure to properly supervise the senior officers responsible. Watching this is going to be like watching ferrets fighting in a sack!
Yet again, all of this raises the question of who actually runs the council. Is it the elected councillors on the ruling group as residents have been led to believe or is it the senior officers who really hold sway? The debacle at Thurrock Council clearly shows that the ruling group councillors allowed themselves to be strung along by the senior officers. They failed to properly supervise them and ask critical questions that could have stopped this shitshow in its tracks. If ruling group councillors allow themselves to be led down the garden path by senior officers, then it raises this question – what is the point of voting in local elections? A question that is routinely answered by the majority of residents who don’t bother to vote in local elections because they are sussed enough to know that the real power lies with unaccountable senior officers who can’t be voted out.
Well, the Essex County Council commissioners will soon be in place. We would hope that the parlous financial situation Thurrock Council have got themselves into isn’t going to be resolved by slashing services to the bone. However, we’re not optimistic that this will be avoided. Our thoughts and solidarity are extended to all of the residents of Thurrock in this situation. We hope that if the ‘solution’ is to slash services, there will be a massive fightback.
How many more times have we got to say that the current system of local governance is broken beyond repair? This doesn’t just apply to Thurrock – having started to look at the situation down here in the Avon region with the councils we have to deal with, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the system is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. The question is this – how much longer are people going to tolerate this before something finally gives?