A WAR OF WORDS has broken out between Labour and the Conservatives over the decision to hand the Thurrock Council contract to a company is HQ is outside the borough.
Tory candidate for Grays Thurrock, Traci Barnes may be a first time candidate but has come out fighting on the issue of the controversial contract which saw the Essex Enquirer win the £150,000 advertising contract from under the noses of the Thurrock Gazette.
In her campaign leaflet, Traci addresses the subject of Grays Beach Park and the question of it being sold off. Traci states: “It’s not. Those lucky enough to still get the Gazette after Labour put the councils advertising budget in a Billericay based newspaper have read about Labour’s scaremongering.”
The leader of the Labour group and council leader, cllr John Kent has defended the process to YT.
He said: “When we came to power, we asked various departments what they spent on advertising. They didn’t know. We wanted to streamline the process and make it more coherent. But from that point onwards, it is in the hands of the officers. They make the decisions. Ms Barnes seems to be ill-informed.”
In November last year, Thurrock Council’s head of comms Phil McCusker spoke to PR Week and explained what they, along with many other authorities, were planning to do and said his authority was planning to scrap its local publication and instead form a partnership with a local media company.
Mr McCusker said: ‘We spend money on advertising, so how do we form a partnership with one of the local media suppliers? We’re going to pitch it out now.’
YT attempted to speak to Ms Barnes and so phoned the contact number on her leaflet called ‘Intouch”. Unfortunately the number relates to Pink Moon Cruises in York.
A spokesperson said: “No, we are not associated with the Conservative Party in Thurrock or anywhere. We run luxury cruises around the York area.
“We do hope that the Tories or anyone from Thurrock will come up and visit us.
YT also contacted the promoter of the leaflet, Ben Maney, as well as the Tory leader, deputy leader and campaign strategist but they have not replied.
YT did receive a reply from the editor of the Thurrock Enquirer, Neil Speight.
Thurrock Enquirer editor Neil Speight, who lives in Stanford-le-Hope, said: “I fully respect the rights of all candidates to say what they want and fight their battles as well as they can but accuracy and truth have a part to play in that.
“To suggest the Labour group had any influence on the awarding of a contract is a gross defamation by these candidates and their advisors, who should know better, of officers who manage the procurement operation. It unjustly questions their integrity.
“Thurrock Conservatives recently accused their Labour counterparts of scaremongering – perhaps a legitimate political move, but I think for Conservatives to draw officers into the political wrangling for doing their best to obtain best value for Thurrock residents is unfair and far worse.
“Regarding people being ‘lucky to get a Gazette’ – well the facts are quite simple.
“Over the past seven years the circulation of the Gazette has dropped, in pursuit of profit, by many thousands as Gannett, who run the Gazette and Newsquest Essex, attempts to make financial savings to boost profits for its American shareholders.
“Regarding the concerns of these would-be councillors about the fact that the parent company of the Thurrock Enquirer is based in Billericay, where our senior staff work less than ten miles outside the Borough, perhaps they would be interested to pop in and see the Enquirer’s Gannett counterparts. The office is in McLean, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC! Or perhaps they would like to ask a question of the Newsquest pre-press operation, part-based on the Indian sub-continent after Essex people were made redundant.”