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Chief sharing in question at hung council

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A shared chief executive post is in the balance amid political turmoil in south Essex following last month’s elections.

Thurrock BC is in no overall control after Labour lost two seats, leaving six Ukip and two Independent councillors holding the balance of power.

Thurrock’s chief executive Graham Farrant has been shared with Barking & Dagenham LBC since 2012, when Stella Manzie left the London borough after what one source described as a “breakdown in relations” with then leader Liam Smith (Lab).

Rob Gledhill, a former Barking & Dagenham council tax team leader who is now leader of Thurrock’s Tory group, said he wanted to end the sharing arrangement if he took power, because his previous employer absorbed too much of Mr Farrant’s time.

“Shared services are fine but you can’t have your senior manager absent half the time,” he said. “We want him here full time.”

Cllr Gledhill said he could work with other groups to form an administration as long he was not forced to “herd cats”.

The situation has been further complicated by a change of leadership in Barking & Dagenham with Darren Rodwell (Lab) replacing Cllr Smith, who originally agreed to the shared chief arrangement.

Last month voters also ousted long-standing Conservative administrations across south Essex at nearby Southend-on-Sea, Castle Point, Basildon and Brentwood BCs, leaving them in no overall control.

Independents, Labour and Liberal Democrats have done a deal at Southend-on-Sea, with Ron Woodley (Ind) set to become leader and other positions divided proportionately.

Cllr Woodley told LGC: “There is no whip in my group but we are all adults and know we have to represent the town. We’ve got ex-Labour, ex-Lib Dem and people who like myself have never been in any party, although I’m a Conservative-minded person.”

The three groups have agreed to support each other in any confidence motion and to review Conservative plans on sea defences, care homes and libraries, Lib Dem group leader Graham Longley said.

Castle Point faces instability after the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) refused any coalition with the Tories’ new leadership.

CIIP leader Dave Blackwell told LGC he objected to the Tories’ choice of Bill Sharp as deputy leader because he was suspended for eight weeks in 2009 after a complaint was upheld that he improperly influenced planners. He was suspended for six months the following year for bullying a senior officer.

New Tory leader Colin Riley said: “Bill Sharp and I have been elected by our group. The Independents and Ukip have said they will not vote against us forming an administration.”

Meanwhile, the Tories are expected to hold on to minority control at Basildon, while four non-Tory groups are set to control Brentwood.

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