I’m Thurrock’s sixth chief executive in five years. Even so, after these significant changes at the top in recent years, Thurrock is progressing - and doing so rapidly.
Thurrock is home to some of the biggest regeneration programmes in the UK in a very small area and we’ve shifted our emphasis from planning-led regeneration to a community focus on outcomes for local people.
We are now launching the second year of ‘Next Top Boss’, a programme that seeks to bring younger people to top, local businesses and education providers to help prepare them for the world of work.
The arrival of the Royal Opera House’s Production Park and National Skills Academy in Purfleet, together with the creation of a new cluster of small artist and business studios there will bring jobs and training opportunities and create a unique cultural and creative hub in the East of England.
At the other end of the borough is the London Gateway DP World development, building the largest deep-sea container port in the country alongside the largest logistics park in Europe, creating thousands of jobs and changing the nature of retail distribution in the UK.
When I told friends I was going for the Thurrock job, I got more than a few strange looks. Thurrock had a reputation as being a ‘basket case’! But that hasn’t been my experience. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in Thurrock.
My first year has been about creating stability, building confidence, providing a clear sense of direction, getting closer to local people and improving quality of services - although some of our services are recognised nationally as best practice.
In my ward walks I have been impressed by the passion of local councillors and the pride of local people. In a political environment where one change of seat can trigger a change of control, things can get heated. However, we have unanimous political agreement behind a clear set of objectives, focused on improving the quality of life of local people.
Planning committee issues were having an adverse impact on the council’s reputation, so we’ve refreshed our constitution and strengthened support to the members. It’s working much better now, but it will take time to change external perceptions.
The key to our success is twofold: Anyone who has driven around the M25 knows of the problems around the Thames crossings, so imagine what it’s like living here. Alongside businesses such as DP World we are lobbying the government to get rid of the tolls and sort out Junction 30/31 quickly.
We must equip Thurrock’s younger people with the education and skills to take advantage of these new opportunities, and improvements in GCSE and Key Stage 2 results show that we are heading in the right direction.
The Next Top Boss programme symbolises my ambitions for Thurrock. If local people are not able to access the managerial jobs and opportunities that will open up over the next two decades, then we will have failed.
Graham Farrant is Chief Executive, Thurrock Borough Council.