THURROCK Conservatives have called on back bench councillors to do more to warn cabinet about the kind of bad decisions that have led to an unprecedented failure of governance reports the Local Democracy Reporter.
The council is currently undergoing a Best Value Investigation by Government appointed inspectors following a raft of investments that left it with a £469milion deficit this year.
At last week’s cabinet meeting a Local Government Association peer review carried out last January but left unpublished by the council until the autumn, was finally discussed by members.
The administration called for back bench councillors on overview and scrutiny committees to ask more questions about cabinet decisions.
Mark Coxshall, leader of the council, said: “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I keep pleading that they will get involved. We need opposition challenge to guide good decisions. We want challenge and to see members come here to challenge our decisions.
“I don’t want to hear just “yes” people.”
Jack Duffin, Conservative councillor for Stanford East and Corringham Town, said: “It’s a sad indictment. Back benchers should have a role and we should have a role in checking and balancing as well but it’s needing opposition to step up to the plate. For so long it was a tick box exercise. They treated these committees that way.”
Speaking after the meeting, John Kent, leader of the Labour Group, said opposition councillors had asked many questions but received no response.
He said: “There have, clearly, been massive failures of governance that have led to the crisis at Thurrock Council.
“Over the past few years, we have been consistently fobbed off, misled and lied to whilst Thurrock Conservatives spent three years – and £70,000 of tax payers money – fighting through the courts to keep as much detail of their dodgy deals secret.”
Mr Kent added: “You simply can’t have a properly functioning democracy without honesty, openness and transparency – governments and councils need to be held to account and that just can’t be properly done within a culture of secrecy, such as that overseen by Thurrock Conservatives.
“If we believe what senior Conservative councillors now claim – that they knew little or nothing about the details of these deals – then it’s pretty clear that greater openness and transparency may well have helped prevent the catastrophic situation that Thurrock finds itself in today.”