THE Thurrock Independent newspaper has reported that Thurrock Council will not be responding to questions posed by them to the council for the next six months.
Since its launch from its offices on Orsett Road in Grays in 2017, the Thurrock Independent has developed a reputation for putting the council under close examination but it appears that the council feel that the editor Neil Speight and this team have gone a step too far.
The decision came just days after a complaint by Thurrock Council against the Thurrock Independent made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) failed.
The Thurrock Independent has published the correspondence between themselves and the council. In the correspondence, the council sets out in detail what they describe as “repeated breaches of appropriate working practices” by the Thurrock Independent.
Mr Speight, who has spent 40 years in the newspaper industry and was previously editor of the Thurrock Gazette and the Thurrock Enquirer, said: “Quite frankly I thought there was nothing left that Thurrock Council under the current administration could do to surprise me, but then again it appears I have underestimated Ms Carpenter’s passion for secrecy and the absolute contempt she appears to have for democracy and the residents of Thurrock as she seeks to hide failings of the authority under her guidance.
“I have edited newspapers in Thurrock since 2004 and myself and the several chief executives who proceeded Ms Carpenter and the council and group leaders of all political persuasions have always got on and recognised that there will be times when we have to agree to disagree and move on but Ms Carpenter is the champion of autocracy and she appears to brook no challenge to her power.
“This ruling from her directly to myself is shocking – what will be all the more shocking is if the elected representatives of Thurrock Council do not immediately respond by forcing her to revoke it. I cannot believe that senior councillors have been consulted about this decision and approved her actions, but if that is so, shame on them too.
Mr Speight that been backed by two of the opposition groups on Thurrock Council.
The leader of the Labour group, cllr Oliver Gerrish said: “It is very concerning to hear that the council might not be talking to a major local news organisation. We will be asking questions to get to the bottom of this situation.
“As recently as the last council meeting, I raised a question on whether the council had a communication problem. The response was only that it was a work in progress. Residents are entitled to be concerned that this is moving in the wrong direction.
“We need more engagement from the council, with residents, stakeholders and local media – not less!
“My Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be reviewing the council’s communications strategy and asking detailed questions of how we have got to this point, and what the council’s plan for improvement is.”
The leader of the twelve-strong Thurrock Independent group has been more vociferous. Cllr Luke Spillman said: “This is a deeply worrying step by Thurrock Council’s minority Tory administration. An administration that continues to show breathtaking arrogance and contempt for democratic scrutiny. Now we see the Tories banning newspapers! Someone needs to remind them that this is Thurrock not North Korea.
“This step was taken without consulting the majority of Councillors, who have not been given any details on the reasons for this decision. I have contacted senior management and am yet to receive a reply. In the absence of any information, as to the reasoning for this decision, it is impossible to see this as anything else other than an entirely unacceptable attack on the freedom of the press.
YT contacted the leader of Thurrock Coucnil, cllr Rob Gledhill but has not received a reply at the time of publication.