Thurrock Tory leaders back plans for shake-up of south Essex councils

COUNCIl bosses in Thurrock have given their support to a plan that could completely re-shape the way south Essex is governed.

It was revealed last week that council leaders from Southend, Thurrock, Basildon, Rochford, Castle Point and Brentwood hope to get a major boost in infrastructure funding from the Government by forming a combined authority that would sit above the councils that already exist.

The new South Essex Combined Authority would need to be agreed with the Government but could also see the introduction of a directly elected mayor who would be responsible for region-wide projects aimed at boosting economic development.

At a cabinet meeting on Thursday night, Conservative council leader Councillor Rob Gledhill, said the combined authority would give the region greater power to get investment.

He said: “Everything does need to change and we need that big voice, we can’t just be Thurrock saying can we have this money, we need the voice of six local authorities, 800,000 people, saying we need to be able to do this to improve the ability for our resident to earn, to learn and for the Government to gain the tax money it needs to keep this great nation moving forward.”

Councillor James Halden said: “Some of the problems we need to address have been problems for decades, so the belief that just staying as we are will fix this problem is an absolute fantasy.

“Clearly we need to do something different. This is a really positive first step.

“As we go into a severe recession that is going to affect this country for years and years to come, think about care leavers, learning disabled adults – we need to be creating jobs, we need to be creating skills.

“For those people they don’t care if your designation is unitary of district or county.

“They want to see cooperation to tackle these problems and for us to work together to create infrastructure to grow the skills, to grow the jobs that are going to positively impact their lives.”

Mr Gledhill stressed that no decision has been made regarding whether there would be an elected mayor or what kind of combined authority would be created, as this depends on negotiations with the Government.

However, a council document produced ahead of the negotiations claim the change could mean a boost economic development through the creation of 100,000 jobs, more than 96,000 homes, and a raft of infrastructure improvements to public transport, education and health.

While the plan has gained support from the council’s cabinet and Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, it has faced strong criticism elsewhere.

Southend West MP, Sir David Amess, told the House of Commons that the handling of the plans had been “disgraceful” as he had not been informed.

Mark Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, has also called it a “farce” and a “white elephant”.

Furthermore, Southend Council’s deputy leader, Independent councillor Ron Woodley called the ideas “outlandish” and compared them to a “dissertation from a university graduate”.

He said at a Southend’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon, that it is “full of promises but has no depth”.

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