Cabinet agrees ‘unjustified’ £100k political roles despite committee’s objections

Barking Town Hall

Barking Town Hall - Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson

Plans to recruit two political officers at a cost of £100,000 were agreed at last night’s cabinet meeting, despite the council’s audit committee calling them “unjustified” during a council savings drive.

The cabinet’s decision in October to create the roles was probed by the Public Accounts and Audit Select Committee ahead of last night’s meeting, where they were agreed to against the committee’s objections.

It comes as the council cuts services to make £53.5million savings over three years.

Addressing the cabinet, Cllr Dominic Twomey, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “I will be asking my colleagues to note the objections but to go ahead with the original decision and push ahead to appointing these positions.”

He added the roles were needed to carry out the council’s long-term plans.

The committee’s report had recommended the council drop “unnecessary” plans to recruit a “leader and members’ services manager” and said the second role, of “political assistant” in democratic services, be expanded to include the work of the former.

They said the £100,794 cost was “inappropriate in the context of the financial pressures currently faced by the council and would have an adverse impact on frontline services”.

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The committee’s report also said there was “no prior consultation” on the proposals and non-cabinet councillors “were refused permission to ask any questions” at the cabinet meeting where they were agreed, noting “a lack of openness and transparency” in the proposals’ aims.

Council leader Cllr Darren Rodwell, speaking to the Post after the meeting, said a peer review by the Local Government Association in September found that changes were needed at the Town Hall.

He said: “The peer review made it clear that we didn’t have a management structure in place for the whole running of the council.

“These posts were there [before], but the last political officer became a councillor, and the person that was in the cabinet role left, and they were never re-filled.

“We need to make sure the structure of the running of the council is correct, otherwise we’re not getting the best performance and serving the borough in the best way.”

He added: “We are the leadership and we have the right to take on their [the committee’s] recommendations if we agree.

“But we felt there was actually more precedent with the peer review.

“Councillors do a very hard job and it takes a lot of hours. I work 70 to 75 hours a week and need to have more support just in my role, let alone what the other 50 councillors do.

“Lots of residents don’t understand that when we do casework we need people to make sure that’s chased up and addressed in a timely fashion.

“Otherwise the resident doesn’t get the service the resident deserves.”