By Local Democracy Reporer
THE job that determines how Thurrock’s most vulnerable children are protected could be reduced to an additional responsibility for a council officer under new plans.
Thurrock’s Children’s Services department has been engulfed in controversy in the wake of the deaths of two children in its care and problems supporting children with special educational needs.
But with the director of the department, Rory Patterson, set to retire this month, the council is attempting to merge his responsibilities with those already held by the director of people, housing and health.
These responsibilities include overseeing the services that support the needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children, and their families.
The idea will be discussed during a council meeting on Wednesday night – just two days before Mr Patterson leaves the council. It is not clear what will happen if councillors choose not to back this proposal.
The council was asked to explain the reasons behind this but they did not respond.
A report notes that it will lead to “savings” and that Thurrock would “struggle to attract the top candidate” if they were to try to recruit a new director. It goes on to call it an “interim joint role” which is the “best approach”.
It does not rule out making the change permanent.
Labour leader, Councillor Jane Pothecary, said: “I have significant concerns about the proposal to merge the posts. My worry is that children’s services in Thurrock need more focus and attention, not less. I know a lot of councillors from across the chamber are deeply uncomfortable with the proposal.
“We need to be confident that our children and young people are being properly protected and supported.”
Councillor Luke Spillman, leader of the Thurrock Independents, claimed that the plan has caused a rift between Conservative councillors, who disagree with it, and the council’s board of directors who want it to happen.
He claims that a meeting has now been scheduled to “clear the air”.
He said: “I have listened to wildly different versions of the events that led to this dispute from both sides. I am therefore very happy that the directors agree with me that we need to have clear the air talks on Monday evening. These talks will involve all groups and senior officers.
“This is not an issue to be playing political games with. We are considering one of the most important decisions we can make as Councillors. The people and structures we will rely on to keep Thurrock’s children safe. The Thurrock Independents take this responsibility extremely seriously.”
The deputy leader of the council, Councillor Shane Hebb, was contacted about the alleged dispute but he did not respond.