Transparency?

We read this story on Thurrock Nub News with a weary and somewhat cynical sigh: Silence and mystery still surrounds future of council’s regeneration companies after authority signs half million pound deal with private firm. It’s a pretty sound piece of local journalism to be fair. However, there’s one minor quibble, namely, there’s no mystery about the relationship Thurrock Council has with regeneration companies and consultants because it’s plain for all to see that there’s no transparency.

There are two issues in this story. One involves Thurrock Regeneration Ltd. and Thurrock Regeneration (Homes) Ltd. – two regeneration companies wholly owned by Thurrock Council. Three directors of these companies quit their posts in August and at the time of writing they have yet to be replaced. There is some scope within the rules for limited companies to operate without directors for very brief periods. However, it’s seven weeks on since the directors quit and there are question marks as to whether these two companies are operating legally. For the low down on this, we recommend that you read the Thurrock Nub News story:)

What caught our eye was the deal Thurrock Council have struck with the property consultancy Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH). This consultancy will be trousering £580,000 for a year’s work to deliver a ‘regeneration and housing development programme’ for the council. A fair chunk of their efforts will be focused on the £6 billion Purfleet regeneration project.

LSH already have a track record of working with Thurrock Council. They were paid £164,000 as consultants on the controversial civic offices extension project, £425,000 for work related to a lease on Grays multi storey car park and £123,000 for land procurement advice. All of this took place while Thurrock Regeneration Ltd. and Thurrock Regeneration (Homes) Ltd. All we can say is that this raises a lot of questions about the relationship between LSH and Thurrock Council. We would like to say more but dealing with hostile litigation isn’t exactly top of our priority order!

LSH will be undertaking consultancy work on issues that will have an impact on a lot of residents across Thurrock. Sure, at some point, there may be ‘consultations’ where we’re given a list of carefully calibrated but not overly dissimilar options. We’ll be invited to pick the ‘best’ (least worst) option and will be expected to be pathetically grateful to have our ‘opinions’ canvassed in a pretence of ‘democracy’.

Most residents in Thurrock are realistic and realise that more housing needs to be provided. What residents would appreciate is being involved in the process of planning this from the outset as opposed to more or less being told what’s going to happen and invited to make a pick from a ‘range’ of options.

As thing stand at the moment, planning feels like it’s something that’s done to us rather than anything we have a real, meaningful stake in. ‘Commercial confidentiality’ is always the excuse we’re given when residents demand some honesty from the council or when a local journalist digs too deep and starts asking ‘awkward’ questions. We always end up getting fobbed off with bullshit.

All this current shit show illustrates is how unfit for purpose the system of local governance we have to endure really is. Suffice to say, with the growing feeling in the country that the system as it stands is failing us, at some point, Thurrock Council (and many others) will find out the hard way they can no longer get away with bullshitting us…

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