THE LEADER of Thurrock Labour, who is also the prospective parliamentary candidate, has quit as chair of a committee.
Cllr John Kent resigned as Chair of Children’s Scrutiny Committee after he claimed the meeting has been treated with “total contempt” by officers.
Cllr John Kent said: “Three months ago, this committee agreed unanimously that it wanted a report on the investigation we’ve been told had been held into the allegations made by whistle-blowing staff members, allegations that, at the time, suggested a young child had died.
We didn’t expect details, but we did expect to get taken seriously. When I saw today’s agenda without that report I approached senior officers to ask what was happening.
To my disbelief they told me that the report at item ten was being supplied to answer our request.
Clearly, it didn’t do that.
The allegations made in that letter to our chief executive in January were very serious and we asked for assurance that the chief executive, the director of children’s services, and the Local Safeguarding ChildrenBoard had investigated the allegations and, where necessary, taken steps based on the findings.
We didn’t expect names or fine detail but we did expect to be reassured.
If this report is all that’s being provided, then it’s nothing more than a whitewash. The members of staff who were brave enough to come forward as whistle-blowers have been let down, we’ve been let down and the children of Thurrock have been let down.
This committee unanimously asked for a report and officers have denied us. We are supposed to be representing local people, and we rely on our officers to make sure we have all the tools we need to do that properly.
Apparently not in children’s services. We asked for detail of an investigation, we didn’t get even one single reference to it.
In all my time as a councillor I have made it my personal policy not to directly criticise officers; I have seen where that can lead, so I’ll leave that there.
But this committee is officially named Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny; that means we, members of this committee, should be providing both an overview of the services this council provides and procures for children, and we should be scrutinizing how those services work and how they are provided.
But, how can we provide a real overview and real scrutiny when we are refused our requests for information?
Is it any wonder that I can now say I have been approached by two more sets of whistle-blowers, yes two. I have here copies of what they say.
And you’ll have seen that one local newspaper has taken things further still investigating the death of a child Thurrock Council was aware o fand received a similar response from the fourth floor of this place – that is no response at all.
I spent six years as leader at this council, some years as leader of the opposition and many years before that as a councillor. Not once in all my time as a councillor have I seen elected members treated with such contempt by officers as we are now – and I choose that word carefully.
I had, genuinely, hoped that the concerns set out in the, now, two sets of whistle blowing allegations – concerns shared by members of this committee would have been assuaged this evening.
The failure of officers to respond properly, fairly, reasonably to our request has, far from easing our concerns, increased them.
The leaves me no option but to resign from my role as chair of this committee.
“I wish whoever takes over in this chair the best of luck.