Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex RM17 6SL
Contact: Jenny Shade, Senior Democratic Services Officer Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk
Declaration of Interests
No interests were declared.
Councillor Hebb, presented the report that on the 22 May 2020, the Financial Times published a story on Thurrock Council’s investments and borrowing position. Whilst the Financial Times asked a number of questions, the council was not given sight of the article or the right to respond before publication and it therefore did not fully reflect the council’s investment approach since 2014.
In response to this printed article, the Leader of the Opposition, supported by members of the Labour Group, had called for an Extraordinary Council meeting to “address the issues of concern raised by the Financial Times article”.
The investment approach to generating income to protect council services began in 2014 and was supported by the unanimous agreement at Full Council of a new Investment Strategy in October 2017. The implementation of this Strategy had achieved, and continued to achieve, significant income giving the council the ability to protect services for the most vulnerable in the borough, provide time to reform services, provide additional services that are important to residents, and increase the Council’s overall financial resilience. This approach had been agreed at Full Council since 2017.
Councillor J Kent thanked the mayor for agreeing to facilitate the Extraordinary Council as it was important that all 49 Members had the opportunity to take part in a debate and to look at the Investment Strategy that was being carried out by the Administration.
Councillor J Kent referred to those investments that Members had learnt from reading the article in the Financial Times and made it clear that he was not against taking advantage of historical low interest rates in order to borrow and invest in returns which may help the Council against impacts of austerity. That was something that Labour did and would agree that this should continue but there had to be some control as there had been a lack of openness and lack of transparency from the start. That the Council Spending Review meeting was an informal meeting and requested that the decisions made at these meetings be made more public.
Although receiving assurances from Cabinet, the draft accounts from last year had shown that the Council had invested a further £113 million with no consultation with opposition leaders, no democratic or public scrutiny on that decision. Members were still waiting to see the proposed options for the democratic oversight of investments and noting that a further £100 million had been invested. Councillor Kent questioned why this had not been reported to Cabinet in June 2020. Councillor J Kent referred to the Council’s debt and noted that the Council was borrowing 11 times more than the Council’s income and had concerns on whether this was sustainable. That the borrowing or lending to other local bodies had always been as secure was being to tighten due to COVID-19 and the consequences of this could be severe for Thurrock Council. Concerns that 80% of investments were in one sector and it was not clear how these investments were spread against ... view the full minutes text for item 142.