Spiralling down the drain

Having moved down to near Bristol, we really hoped that we wouldn’t have to write any more posts about Thurrock Council. However, the fallout from their largely failed ‘borrow to invest’ strategy is dragging the councils they borrowed from to fund this into financial trouble. Many of the deals that were a part of this strategy were brokered by one Liam Kavanagh who has been dammed by a High Court judge as ‘unreliable’: Council damned over lost £200m and its links with questionable financial advisor as national spotlight turns on its failings. Call for government probe into ‘huge scandal’ 15.7.22. This is a massive failure of local governance and one we cannot afford to ignore so, we’re obliged to keep commenting on this ongoing shitshow.

These are two posts we’ve recently published about the situation: Meanwhile, in other news… 9.9.22 and: So it comes to pass… 3.9.22 Here’s why we feel obliged to put up yet another post: Councils continue to reveal where borough debt lies but they are confident cash will be repaid. But at what cost to Thurrock on the back of bungling councillors? 14.9.22.

Cllr. Jack Duffin, Thurrock Council’s current finance portfolio holder, was due to present a report to the council’s cabinet on Wednesday 14.9 regarding the failings of the ‘investment’ strategy and the subsequent impact on council operations. However, it turns out that the cabinet meeting has been cancelled on the grounds that it would be ‘disrespectful’ to the late Queen to publicly discuss politics during a period of national mourning. How very convenient. What is disrespectful is pissing council tax payers money up the wall and refusing to come clean with them about why their money has been squandered.

A behind closed doors meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday 15.9 where the future of a number of senior officers is to be discussed at a general services committee meeting. We’d love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!

Let’s return to Cllr. Jack Duffin. He was first elected as a UKIP councillor and back in September 2016 when he was their shadow finance portfolio holder, he said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ at their decision to invest in a solar energy scheme. He said: “This investment is deeply unethical. Energy generated in this way is expensive and it is a fact that the ‘green energy’ agenda has pushed millions of working households into fuel poverty. A new fuel poverty grant should be set up in Thurrock in which half these profits will be ring fenced and spent on helping the poorest people harmed by this ill-considered energy policy.”

Followers of the political scene in Thurrock will be aware that the UKIP councillors rebranded themselves as the Thurrock Independents. This was a short lived experiment in ‘independence’ as the majority of the councillors ended up joining the ruling Tory group. Once this happened, Cllr. Duffin changed his stance on solar energy and ended up urging the council to borrow and invest millions more in the ‘investment’ strategy.

The former holder of the finance portfolio, Cllr. Shane Hebb, stood down from his role back in May. Presumably that was because he was aware that the storm that was already brewing over the failed ‘investment’ strategy would be getting a lot worse. Well, that’s one call he did get right! As for Cllr. Duffin stepping into the role, the one word that comes to mind is ‘mug’.

Thurrock Council could be in total debt to the councils it borrowed from up to the tune of £900 million. Those councils are going to want their money back. They’re expecting to get their money back. How Thurrock Council are going to be able to pay back the money they owe is at the time of writing, an unanswered question. What is also an unanswered question is what the impact of all of this is going to be on the residents of Thurrock? Another unanswered question is when are the ruling group councillors and senior officers responsible for this mess going to come clean with the people of Thurrock about why this scheme has largely failed?

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