Barking and Dagenham to stop sharing chief exec with Thurrock

Graham Farrant

Graham Farrant - Credit: Archant

“Very difficult” times lie ahead for Barking and Dagenham Council, its leader has said, with plans revealed today to replace the chief executive it shares with Thurrock and recruit a full-time skipper to navigate the choppy waters.

Cllr Darren Rodwell announced the change after an independent report criticised Barking and Dagenham for lacking consistent leadership. The new chief exec will replace Graham Farrant, who has been at the helm of both councils for a little over two years.

Cllr Rodwell told the Post the decision was not a reflection on Mr Farrant’s work, but said £55million of impending cuts from central government could see more than 100 services “shared” with charities and other councils – and that meant Barking and Dagenham needed a full-time boss.

A group of senior council officers from other parts of the capital audited the borough at the end of July. The Local Government Association’s draft report landed on Cllr Rodwell’s desk last week.

“What we saw in the report was that the management structure and the support mechanisms that need to be put in place need to happen [under the watch of] somebody permanently emplyed at Barking and Dagenham,” Cllr Rodwell said.

Council managers were being told today about the plan to recruit a full-time chief executive, while councillors were informed by e-mail last night.

Despite having taken the decision to replace Mr Farrant, Cllr Rodwell denied a mistake had been made in appointing him to watch over both councils in 2012.

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“At the time it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re now two or three years on. It’s right to say: ‘Yes, it’s worked for both councils’, and we’ll continue to share services, but our viewpoint has shifted somewhat.

“We’ve got to look towards sharing more services across London boroughs.”

Asked what impact the cuts would likely have on front-line services, Cllr Rodwell said nothing was off the table.

“The council does 550 services as a starting point,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure residents realise by the time we finish this process we’ll be down to more like 400.”

But that doesn’t mean services will be axed altogether. Rather, the council hopes to work with voluntary organisations and other London borough councils to provide services.

He added: “The next two to three months are going to be very difficult for everyone concerned.”

The Local Government Association, whose report is still a draft and will be signed off later this month, also said “huge demand” on children’s services mean it “cannot continue to deliver everything it has traditionally done”.

Cllr Rodwell linked this to the scaling back of the Dagenham Ford factory as a reliable provider of mass employment.

“I take no pleasure in cutting any services,” he said. “That’s why we’re working hard with the voluntary sector to see how we can help them take over some services the council once delivered.”

He added he “personally” thanked John Kent, Thurrock’s council leader, for the support he had given Barking and Dagenham in the last year.

As yet Cllr Rodwell doesn’t know how long it will take to recruit Mr Farrant’s replacement.

But despite the turbulent waters, he believes Barking and Dagenham’s star is on the ascent.

“London is moving east,” he said. “The Docklands is already in Tower Hamlets. The Olympics are already in Newham.

“It’s up to Barking and Dagenham to make its own legacy and it’s really important that works for everybody in the borough.”

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Barking and Dagenham to share leadership with Thurrock Council