Thursday, December 7, 2023

Thurrock Council to be stripped of more powers

THE government has announced it is stripping further powers from a financially bankrupt Thurrock Council.

Essex County Council was initially appointed to oversee finances at the Conservative-run Thurrock Council, which has about £1.5bn debts.

Government minister Lee Rowley said those powers would be expanded and would include controls on the hiring and firing of its most senior staff.

A new managing director commissioner was also appointed.

“I am satisfied that Thurrock Council is continuing to fail to comply with its best value duty,” said Mr Rowley, who is the Conservative minister in Westminster for local government and building safety.

Mr Rowley said on Thursday that Dr Dave Smith, former chief executive at Sunderland City Council, would serve as managing director commissioner, overseeing Thurrock.

Along with Essex County Council, the government said he would have power over the council’s:

  • Strategic decision making
  • Operating model and redesign of services
  • Appointment, suspension and dismissal of its statutory officers
  • Development, oversight and operation of an “effective performance management framework”

Opposition councillors in Thurrock were expecting the government to publish a highly-critical Best Value Inspection report – put together by neighbouring Essex County Council -as early as January.

The government said it would be delayed once again so that named people in the documents could make representations.

Opposition Labour leader John Kent said he was “shocked” at the latest delay and feared the report would not be released until after the local elections in May.

“This looks like a Conservative government protecting a Conservative council,” he said.

“We have been constantly promised a new era of openness and transparency – once again those promises ring hollow.”

Thurrock Council is in debt after borrowing hundreds of millions, mainly from other councils, to invest largely in financial bonds linked to solar energy farms.

The local authority is already borrowing £836m in government loans and has been told an extra £632m bailout, to prop up its finances over the next two years, is likely to be approved.

Thurrock Council leader Mark Coxshall said he was “pleased” to welcome Dr Smith as a commissioner and said: “I look forward to working hand in hand with him as we drive forward our recovery to ensure Thurrock Council has a future in which it is sustainable and is the best it can be.”


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