Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Thurrock Tories freeze out Labour from committee positions

THURROCK’S Conservative administration has been accused of “marking its own homework” after refusing to allow Labour councillors to head up committees that scrutinise council policies.

Rob Gledhill, leader of the council announced his new cabinet at a council meeting on Wednesday but said all but one chairmanship or deputy chairmanship of scrutiny committees would be given to Tories.

The committees review council policies and projects and provide advice, and sometimes criticism, to be considered by cabinet before they are implemented.

However, Mr Gledhill said: “During previous years there has been a belief that having opposition chairs would lead to better decision making. However, all that has led to is headline grabbing complaints when recommendations from overview and scrutiny are not listened to, that they are ignored.

“With Conservative councillors in all but three of the wards and with an overall majority, we need strong scrutiny and strong decisions. Not once did I see a Labour scrutiny chair appear in front of us at cabinet yet I saw Conservative chairs give their reports regularly.”

Mr Gledhill added: “To be honest, if any cabinet member or anyone else wished to find out what opposition chairs thought, they would have to look at various local news outlets. This isn’t good enough. We tried that same approach year on year and got the same results.”

Mr Gledhill said, as a result, all the chairs and vice chairs’ positions would be taken by conservatives with the exception of vice chairman of the planning transport and regeneration scrutiny committee, which will be occupied by Independent, John Allen, who Mr Gledhill said was “not afraid to speak his mind.”

John Kent, leader of the Labour group said previous such actions had resulted in administrations being accused of “marking their own homework”.

He added: “He should be honest enough to say we are doing it because we can. I would just remind everybody what he said at last year’s mayor making, that each year discussions were undertaken between group leaders and proposed the chair and vice chair appointments should be politically proportioned going forward.

“It’s clear be it nationally or locally you can’t believe a word the Tories say.

The meeting was held at the new council offices, which Mr Gledhill revealed cost £9.8million to build with no sign of the council chamber being ready in the near future.

The offices opened on April 2 and have since hosted more than 30 weddings with more services set to open in future. Council meetings are currently being held in committee rooms.

Mr Gledhill said: “The long-awaited council chamber is progressing well. Along with any construction project of this size we have not been helped by the national and international shortage and delay of both materials and craftspersons but we are going to deliver a chamber that will deliver for a generation so we need to make sure it’s right.”

The new cabinet is as follows:
Deputy leader Mark Coxshall – regeneration
Deborah Huelin – adults and health
Barry Johnson – childrens services, social care and education
Luke Spillman – housing
Ben Maney – highways and transport
Jack Duffin – finance and communcations
Andrew Jeffries – environment and air quality
Shane Hebb – transformation and performance
Qaiser Abbas – communities and equalities



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