Thursday, December 8, 2022

Government fears Thurrock finances could get worse

THE extent of central Government’s concern over Thurrock Council’s finances has been laid bare, amid fears that “further evidence of failure could come to light” reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

A report by the council’s deputy finance officer, Jonathan Wilson, describes how a decision was made by Government ministers to appoint an Essex County Council commissioner to investigate and oversee financial decisions made by the council.

The report said: “The scale and nature of the issues is emerging rapidly, and the Secretary of State is concerned that further evidence of failure could come to light very quickly and require prompt action.”

The investments, made with hundreds of millions of pounds borrowed from other local authorities, are said to have caused a £20million loss for the council.

An investigation was announced by Local Government Secretary Greg Clark earlier this month.
The drastic step was said to have been taken because of “the scale of the financial and commercial risks potentially facing the authority, which are compounded by the authority’s approach to financial management.”

The council also failed to provide assurance to ministers about the action it had taken to address the issues.
The report, which is due to be discussed at a corporate overview and scrutiny meeting on Thursday, adds:

“Taken together, the Secretary of State considers that there is a pressing case for urgent government action to protect the interests of the residents and taxpayers of Thurrock, as well as to provide assurance to the sector that action is being taken.

Essex County Council will oversee Thurrock Council’s financial management and will carry out a “best value” inspection to find out what impact the failings could have on council services.

In his report, Mr Wilson said: “The council is treating this situation extremely seriously and has worked with the Government in recent weeks, as well as independent financial and legal experts to fully understand how the situation has arisen and establish a comprehensive resolution plan to safeguard the Council’s financial position.

“The council is grateful to the Government for the support they have given us and welcome the action to instigate intervention and provide additional support. The council is co-operating fully with the appointed commissioners to work to protect the delivery of core services and planned investment in the community.”
Council leader Rob Gledhill resigned following the launch of the investigation.

The council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter has also taken leave from her role without explanation.

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