THURROCK will be fighting hard to maintain its influence and future full funding from the organisation which will be distributing many major government grants in the future.
The council is part of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) which covers much of the country to the south and east of London.
At Wednesday (4 September) evening’s meeting of the council’s cabinet, Leader Cllr John Kent said the organisation was considering changing the way it works, with smaller groups of areas reporting in to the overall SELEP.
He said: “Putting Thurrock on the top table and making sure we punch above our weight is critical to our success and we have been working very hard to ensure we retain our rightful place.
“This is despite attempts by some to subsume Thurrock by suggesting there should be just three county partnership boards beneath the overall SELEP – East Sussex; Kent and Medway; and Greater Essex taking in Thurrock and Southend.
“This would mean decisions on Thurrock’s priorities being taken by a Greater Essex board in Chelmsford. We’ve been there before and we absolutely know what happens next. Thurrock loses out.”
Cllr Kent said there were two recent examples of Essex county taking decisions against Thurrock’s best interests, “supporting a new river crossing and motorway across our green belt” and “holding on to over £1m of our public health money”.
He added: “And those of us who have been around for a few years know why we fought so hard for unitary status back in the 1990s. Thurrock is and always will be at the bottom of the Essex agenda, little more than an after-thought.
“We have made our position clear. Decisions that affect Thurrock must be made at as local a level as possible. The strongest possible case for Thurrock’s projects must be and will be put forward directly to SELEP and Thurrock’s regeneration must be the key part of SELEP’s Strategic Economic Plan going to government later this year.”
Cllr Kent said Thurrock had “strongly advocated” being part in partnership with the districts in Thames Gateway South Essex “working directly with SELEP”, but that Thurrock would work directly to the LEP if necessary.
He said this is not just the council’s view; it was fully supported by local businesses through the Thurrock Business Board.
Although “confident Thurrock’s compelling growth story will feature prominently in SELEP priorities, after all Thurrock’s economic success is key to the success of the LEP”, Cllr Kent said he had one concern.
“There are moves by some on SELEP for funding to be passed straight down to the local partnership boards on a simple per-head of population basis,” he said.
“That would mean no account taken for ambition; no account taken of growth; no account taken of value for money; and no account taken of delivery and risk.
“If that’s the case we don’t need a LEP at all, we’d just need an abacus.”
He concluded: “Thurrock and more importantly Thurrock’s people would lose out. We are fighting Thurrock’s corner: for local prioritisation; for decisions based on growth and ambitions; for responding to what local business wants; and for minimising not maximising bureaucracy.”