By Local Democracy Reporter
THURROCK Councillors have rejected a proposal to permanently hand responsibility of four major services to a single director over fears it will impact the safety of vulnerable children.
The plan was put forward after Thurrock Council’s director of children’s services took early retirement last month and council bosses temporarily assigned his responsibilities to the director of adults, housing and health.
The decision was met with frustration from elected councillors who accused the council’s management team of going over their heads to impose a significant change that could harm the protection of the most vulnerable residents in the borough.
On Monday night, councillors met with Thurrock’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter and demanded that the change be reversed as soon as possible and a new director of children’s services recruited.
The council’s deputy leader, Conservative Councillor Shane Hebb, said: “Are we doing what is right or what is easier? Because if I go through the council’s report there is a number of things about salaries and opportunities to save – that is all well and good but I keep coming back to whether we are doing something that is right.
“I don’t think I’ve seen enough or heard enough to make me go with it as a corporate parent.”
Labour leader, Councillor Jane Pothecary, said: “This report says that the trend, which is ever fluid, shows that seven local authorities have disaggregated services and three have combined services in the last 12 months.
“It suggests to me that if seven have disaggregated, so moved away from this combined role, there is something not quite right about that role where it is being tried.
“I am further puzzled by the fact that the last major review of social care was the Munro Review in which she fundamentally said that the director of children’s services role should not be diluted.
“She said the type of restructuring being proposed is inconsistent with the Children Act 2004 and should only be deployed in truly exception circumstances, so I am confused why as an authority we are playing with this as a serious idea.”
The council’s chief executive stressed that “whatever we do we will make sure children are safe” and defended the change, telling councillors “I don’t believe it undermines the delivery of care”.
She went on to warn councillors that the market for recruiting a new director will be “competitive” and as a result the council would have to pay the “top level” pay grade of £147,501. If the roles were permanently combined, the council estimates it could save £192,000 which could be reinvested into social care.
Hitting back at Mr Hebb’s comments specifically, she said she never makes decisions “because they are easy”.
Councillors remained unconvinced and in a unanimous vote they told Ms Carpenter to recruit a new children’s services director “as soon as possible”.