THE FIRST Labour Cabinet in six years took place at the Civic Offices last night. The meeting was marked by a tour-de-force from Labour leader John Kent who made every officer and every member aware of the challenges, responsibilities and roles they must play.
Cllr Kent immediately began the meeting with a “Statement from the Leader.” He made clear reference to the massive overspend that occurred under the Tory administration.
He said: “I want my Portfolio Holders to be a constant thorn in the side of the officers to ensure fiscal discipline as tough tough decisions will have to be made.
“But it is vital that the officers and members clearly understand the nature of their relationships. Officers run and deliver services while members set policy”
He said: “I know officers and councillors worked very hard last year to reduce costs and to make efficiency savings, but we still overspent and by more than we have in reserve now.
“Obviously we quite literally cannot allow that to happen again this year, it’s not a cliché, it’s not an option, it is a fact.”
The report to Cabinet explained that the council ended 2009/10 with a general fund deficit of £3.939 million which was covered from reserves. That left £2.118 million in the reserve balances.
Cllr Kent said: “The discussions I have had with senior officers since taking over as Leader three weeks ago have made it clear that this council has no options.
“We have to work together, as a team, members from all political persuasions, officers, staff, and the people of Thurrock, to make sure this does not happen ever again and that we reverse this overspending trend.
“We’re going to have to act like surgeons making cuts literally to save the patient.
“We are going to have to make some pretty unpalatable decisions, but I am determined to minimise the impact those decisions have on the most vulnerable members of our society ― the old, the infirm and the young.”
The report also highlighted that Government plans to reduce local authority funding by £1.165 billion (part of the £6 billion reduction in spending) this year, but details are not yet known.
Cllr Kent said: “This means that in addition to having to find millions in savings that we already know about, there will be more we will have to find.
“It’s going to be a difficult year and more ahead. The situation is such that we are going to have to bring a supplementary budget ― detailing the latest savings proposals ― to full council soon.
John Kent told Cabinet that he wanted his Portfolio Holders and backbenchers to hold Question Time type surgeries around the borough on all aspects of policy and be open to the challenges and questions that might bring.
The move was seen as a stark contrast to the previous Tory administration where many were only contactable by appointments via mobile phone.
He said: “It is important that we go out into the wards and all parts of the borough and explain our message to the voters.
“From Aveley to Corringham, we must engage the voter and the taxpayer in every aspect of borough life.”