'A gun held to our heads'. Councillors tell of concern as they face a difficult decision as authority finally reacts in the saga of missing directors

  Posted: 13.12.20 at 11:50 by The Editor

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LEADING Thurock councillors face a dilemma on Thursday when they will be asked to make a crucial decision.

Effectively they have been backed into a corner to either make what will be a controversial appointment of a senior officer to be a director of the council's regeneration company or leave the council open to a fine for breaking company rules.

The issue centres on the council's wholly-owned Thurrock Regeneration Limited.
In August three council officers quit as directors - reportedly under instruction from the council's CEO Lyn Carpenter, and the reason later given by the council after much pressure from Thurrock Nub News was that they faced a conflict of interest.

In the months that have passed the council has been tight-lipped about what is happening with the company, and its subsidiary Thurrock Regeneration Homes (Ltd).

Regeneration portfolio holder Cllr Mark Coxshall has shed a glimmer of light on the situation, but the whole issue has been played out under a veneer of secrecy - with questions from the media and councillors largely ignored.

Thurrock Nub News has repeatedly asked the council why the council is operating the company without responsible directors - an offence against company law. We have had no answers.

Now, a meeting of the council's general services committee has been called for next Thursday (17 December) when it is proposed to make the council's Director of Place Andy Millard the proxy representative of the shareholders effectively in place of the members of the General Services Committee who are the nominated shareholders.

And to appoint the council's Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health, Roger Harris, as the sole director.

The choice of Mr Harris appears a provocative one. He is due to leave the council in March next year.

Last year Mr Harris became the focus of a significant debate when the council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter attempted a reorganisation of the council’s senior management structure against the wishes of a majority of councillors – including members of the ruling Conservative group.

She attempted, using her delegated powers, to railroad through her plan to add the directorship of children’s services to Mr Harris’s already full portfolio of responsibility.

Councillors argued that Mr Harris had enough work within his portfolio and it would be unfair on him, and the services he represented to add to his workload.

Ms Carpenter stood by her plan even after a full meeting of the council instructed her not to. In the end, however, the democratic will of members prevailed and at the eleventh hour she changed her mind.

In September Mr Harris announced he was going to leave the council but he was not retiring.
In the report to next Thursday's meeting the council, put forward in the name of Cllr Coxshall, it says the council officers who recently resigned as directors did so principally because they had a conflict of interest with their own council roles.

The three who resigned were Mike Jones, who is a strategic resource accountant at the council, Anna Eastgate who is the council's assistant director Lower Thames Crossing and Project Delivery and Carol Hinvest, the council's assistant director of housing.

It therefore seems incongruous that Mr Harris - who is the director of housing and therefore carries more weight and 'conflict' than the other three - be appointed with the council saying in Cllr Coxshall's report: "It is not considered that Roger Harris will have the same conflict of interest as the previous board."

And the report is also somewhat disingenuous in that it tells members "Over the last few months, all the directors have resigned from their posts."

In fact all three resigned on the same day, 31 August. The only other person to have been a director in 2002 was Steven Greener of Homes England who resigned as a director on 24 February.

The council needs to appoint a new director to both companies because their accounts need to be signed by a Director and filed at Companies House by 31 December or the council will face punitive action.

Thurrock Nub News has spoken to several members of the general services committee, representing both major parties and the independents on the council and they say they are 'deeply concerned' about Thursday's meetings with one saying: "We are being backed into a corner and have a difficult decision to make. Do we appoint someone in circumstances we have many questions about or do we delay a decision, meaning that council taxpayers' money will have to be spent on a fine."

“This was all avoidable and there is absolutely no excuse that this has been left to the eleventh hour. The directive to directors to quit was premeditated when it happened in August so why was there not a plan put in place which we as shareholders could have time to consider and debate rather than having a gun held to our heads at the last minute? This is yet another example of councillors being held in contempt by the officers who think they run this authority, not the democratically elected members."

The report to Thursday's meeting can be found here.

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