Thurrock councillors vote to take back control

By Local Democracy Reporter
Steve Shaw

THURROCK Councillors have handed themselves more power over crucial staffing decisions after accusing council bosses of undemocratically forcing through a major change to the borough’s children’s services department.

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Rows between councillors and council bosses erupted four months ago when a decision was made to hand the responsibilities held by an outgoing director of children’s services to another council director, despite councillors voting against it.

The decision meant that one of the most important positions in overseeing the care of vulnerable children in Thurrock would essentially be treated as a part-time role because it was handed to Roger Harris, who is already in charge of adults, housing and health.

Council leader Rob Gledhill said at the time that the decision was made with “democratically elected councillors, who are accountable to the people of Thurrock, shut out of the decision and treated as an afterthought”.

At a council meeting on Wednesday night Conservative Councillor James Halden, spoke in Mr Gledhill’s absence, and told members that steps had been taken to “resolve the unacceptable situation”.

He said: “Tonight we have the outcome of this work, it outlines a series of binding constitutional changes to ensure that members are always in the centre of these conversations and decisions cannot be taken without our knowledge and without our say. This is a decision that transcends administration and opposition lines.

“It means the council’s general services committee will take on new powers to appoint directors and assistant directors, and review interim acting up restructure arrangements before they take place.”

He added that measures will also be taken to ensure that the council does not “lock down from a democratic point of view” during an election period, which is when many of the decisions were made linked to the appointment of the children’s services director.

“To be clear,” he continued. “These changes are not about any single officer, member, policy or issue. They are changes to ensure the correct democratic oversight of decisions is functioning within the council that allow officers to act in a professional manner within a strong policy framework set by members.

“That is the only way to ensure that seemingly malign issues of administration have the oversight and consent of the 160,000 people that we are here to represent.”

Among the changes is the power of the council’s general service committee to have oversight of the appointment of council bosses and the requirement that councillors are told of major staffing changes.

Labour leader Councillor Jane Pothecary said the June meeting had been a “low point for many of us in our time as councillors” and called the new measures “a step in the right direction”.

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