Leading councillor quits committee chair over officers’ ‘contempt’ for elected members

Cllr John Kent

A LEADING Thurrock councillor has quit his position at the helm of a committee and damned senior officers for the “contempt” they show towards members.
At the end of Tuesday night’s Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr John Kent said the committee had asked for two reports to come to them. Neither was on the agenda.
They had asked for a report from the Youth Offending Service and one on an investigation allegedly carried out into whistleblowing allegations.
He said: “Three months ago this committee agreed unanimously that it wanted a report on the investigation we’ve been told had been held into the allegations made by whistleblowing staff members, allegations that, at the time, suggested a young child had died.
“We didn’t expect details, but we did expect to get taken seriously. When I saw today’s agenda without that report I approached two senior officers to ask what was happening.
“To my disbelief they told me the report at Item ten was being supplied to answer our request.
“It. Does. Not!”
Item ten was entitled Safeguarding and Performance Management Children’s Social Care and gave an overview of the department.
Cllr Kent said: “The allegations made in that letter to our chief executive in January were very serious and we asked for assurance the chief executive, the director of children’s services, and the Local Children’s Safety Board had examined the allegations and where necessary, taken steps based on the findings.
“If this report is all that’s being provided then it’s nothing more than a whitewash. The members of staff who were brave enough to come forward as whistleblowers have been let down, we’ve been let down and the children of Thurrock have been let down.
“This committee unanimously asked for a report and officers have denied us. We are supposed to be representing local people, and we rely on our officers to make sure we have all the tools we need to do that properly.
“Apparently not in children’s services. We asked for details of an investigation, we haven’t got one single reference to it.
“In all my time as a councillor I have made it my personal policy not to directly criticise officers; so I’ll leave that there.
“But this committee is officially named Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny; that means we members of this committee, should be providing both an overview of the services this council provides and procures for children, and we should be scrutinizing how those services work and how they are provided.
“But how can we provide a real overview and real scrutiny when we are refused our requests for information?
“Is it any wonder that I can now say I have been approached by two more sets of whistleblowers.”
Cllr Kent said he had copies available for committee members.
He then referenced the Thurrock Independent’s investigations and the council’s senior officers’ response – “that is no response at all”.
Cllr Kent concluded: “I spent six years as leader at this council, some years as leader of the opposition and many years before that as a councillor. Not once in all my time as a councillor have I seen elected councillors treated with such contempt by officers and I choose that word carefully.
“I had, genuinely, hoped that the concerns set it out in the now two sets of whistleblowing allegations – concerns shared by members of this committee – would have been assuaged this evening.
“The failure of officers to respond properly, fairly, reasonably to our request has, far from easing our concerns, increased them.
“This leaves me no option but to resign from my role as chair of this committee. I wish whoever takes over the best of luck.”