Council says it has taken 'swift and robust action' to mitigate missing millions - but it dodges questions from councillors and critics

By Neil Speight

19th Jul 2022 | Local News

FOLLOWING a weekend of revelations and condemnation about its financial management – with national media stories highlighting a possible £200 million shortfall in its investment returns and suggested impropriety in the due diligence process which saw tens of millions paid to a dodgy financial advisor, Thurrock Council says residents have nothing to worry about.

In the face of substantial criticism and questions from local opposition councillors and council observers, the council today (Tuesday, 19 June) gave a brief statement to Thurrock Nub News about the situation.

It concedes, for the first time, that there have been issues regarding valuations of property it has pumped hundreds of millions of borrowed money into. But it says 'swift and robust action' has mitigated the problem.

However, no details has been given about the investments of the nature of the concerns. Nor did the council spokesperson respond to the question: "Is the council or the ruling administration prepared to apologise for apparently misleading local residents?

"Can we expect action to be taken against officers who have sanctioned this huge loss? In particular is the position of the CEO and the senior finance officer tenable?"

And councillors who wanted to ask questions at next week's full council meeting have been told they cannot ask them!

The statement issued to Nub News today says: "As a result of Thurrock Council's ongoing due diligence programme, concerns regarding the valuation of this solar site investment were identified by the Council in 2021.

"Immediately, swift and robust action was taken. Thurrock Council and its external financial and legal experts have established a comprehensive resolution plan to safeguard the Council's financial position.

"Thurrock Council has taken action on this matter to minimise risk and support the continued security of public funds."

Council leader Cllr Rob Gledhill and financial portfolio holder Cllr Jack Duffin have declined invitations to speak to Nub News.

And the borough's two Conservative MPs, Jackie Doyle-Price and Stephen Metcalfe, have also declined invitations to comment on the council's financial affairs.

Councillors who did want questions asked next week were told by the council's legal and monitoring officer: "I won't be able to allow any question on investments for this July meeting as this relates to the formal legal tribunal which is happening.

"Legal colleagues have advised me that the risk of breaching confidentially at a public meeting, at this time, should be avoided as it may prejudice the hearing."

However, the hearing the officer is referring to takes place tomorrow (Wednesday, 20 July), while the council meeting does not happen until next Wednesday, 27 July. The council does not have to publish its agenda details for the council meeting until tomorrow evening – after the tribunal, so the officer's response as angered councillors who believe it is simply another cover up by an administration trying to avoid scrutiny.

The tribunal hearing will be the third time Thurrock Council has contested an instruction at an information hearing that it has, by law, to release details of its investments.

The ruling that the council should release the information was twice won by the Bureau of Investigation – but the council has refused to accept the decision and appealed to a higher tribunal. The cost of its appeals has not been disclosed!

The Bureau has been scathing of the council and its detailed and relentless investigations into council affairs sparked a damning weekend article in the Daily Mail and its own take on the council's position in an article that contains graphic language.

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