Sunday, June 23, 2024

Chadwell councillor’s concern over impact of raised fees on well-being of Thurrock children

A LEADING opposition councillor in Thurrock has spoken up after being advised of the implementation of a number of fees and charges relating to children’s services in the borough.

Cllr Sara Muldowney is Labour’s shadow portfolio holder for children’s services and also sits on the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee which has been briefed on a second rise in fees and charges this year as the council tries to claw back cash in a bid to reduce the amount it needs to borrow from the government after the catastrophic collapse of its calamitous ‘borrow to invest’ policy.

The Conservative administration, which was responsible for taking the council into bankrupt status, has implemented a policy of ‘full cost recovery’ for every discretionary service offered by the council.

Following last Thursday’s O& S meeting Cllr Muldowney says most of the charges proposed for children’s services are way above the current rate of inflation and the Equalities Impact statement showed that this would have a negative impact on children and families in the borough.

She said: “Looking at the new policy, I saw that full cost recovery can include a whole host of extra charges including departmental costs such as insurance and advertising and corporate costs such as the cost of actually bringing this report to committee.”

“There are a whole page of costs that must be considered and added to the basic employment costs and I worry that this system will be used by the council to make money out of residents given it’s desperate financial situation.”

“I asked the officer what checks and balances would be in place to prevent this and he said that council’s are not allowed to make a profit, or at least, not for long, it has to balance out over several years.”

“This wasn’t a reply which gave me much comfort and I have asked to see the “working out” involved in arriving at such charges.”

“These additional rises, after prices were only just raised on 1 April really stick in my throat.”

“It’s unacceptable that Thurrock families are being asked to pay more for these activities when I know that the service is already turning a small profit.”

“These are local families who are not to blame for the financial situation at the council but who being asked to pay the price for it.”

“The impact report showed clearly that this would negatively impact all families in the borough and some more vulnerable groups to a greater extent. That’s just wrong.”

Twenty-four hours before the O&S meeting, the council’s cabinet had announced one U-turn in its cost-saving and revenue-generating plans, saying it had scrapped a proposal to charge schools for road safety crossing patrols, with the alternative being it would shut down the service.

However, the announcement is not yet ratified, and the cabinet did not make a formal record of the change of plan, nor issue a directive to officers. It was, in effect, a political announcement about a policy change rather than a policy change itself.

And that is a past failing of the council, highlighted in the damning ‘Best Value Report’ issued by the government, also last Thursday.

In the report the ruling Conservatives were heavily criticised for making statements that were not translated into actual policy or a recorded instruction, and Cllr Muldowney fears the road safety crossing announcement could be another example.

She cited the road safety crossing proposal as an example of how the cuts and ‘full recovery’ might impact on the borough, saying: “We have just had the first example of this with the council asking schools to pay £8,000 for their lollypop staff or lose the service.”

“As I understand it, lollypop staff have a base income of £4,836. The council said that the additional £3,000 plus was for uniforms and training.”

“I’m not sure what kind of uniforms and training costs over £3,000 per person, maybe the lapels are gold-plated, but that sounds well over the odds to me!”

She concluded her post meeting statement by saying: “Given that the inspection report had just landed showing how the failures of the Conservative administration and senior officers had led to the current financial disaster, it was frankly sickening to see all the Conservative members of the committee wave through the extra charges without a word of protest or any sign of remorse.”

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