CALLS for an independent inquiry into the “catastrophic” failures of Thurrock Council’s investment strategy that led to a £1.3billion debt have been rejected by just one vote.

In a motion proposed to full council on Wednesday, Thurrock’s Labour group called for the council to write to the Government demanding the probe into what led to Thurrock Council's financial downfall, along with similar collapses in Woking, Croydon, Slough and Northamptonshire.

Councillor John Kent (Grays Thurrock) claimed successive government funding cuts to local authorities had sparked the council’s decision to make disastrous investments with millions of pounds borrowed from other councils.

He said: “What I’m calling for is a full inquiry that explores in detail the issues that led to the financial collapse of Thurrock council and others. That inquiry needs to look at a range of factors. The first is the impact of reduction in central Government grants to council."

Funding for Thurrock dropped by about £64million between 2009 and 2016, he claimed. 

"Does anybody seriously believe the administration would have embarked on such a risky borrowing and investment strategy had the council been properly funded," he said.

In addition Cllr Kent said the abolition of the Audit Commission in 2014, a body set up to scrutinise councils’ financial decisions, had compounded the situation. He claimed the move had encouraged councils to become more entrepreneurial which, he believed, had led to “reckless commercial activities”.

Cllr Kent added: “How can it be that Thurrock Council was able to borrow close on £1billion from other local authorities without anybody in central Government noticing?"

Launching an inquiry, he said, would ensure such a situation never occurred again.

But a Tory amendment to the motion said the Best Value Inspection (BVI) of Thurrock Council's failures, recently undertaken by Government appointed commissioners, was an adequate inquiry.

Council leader Andrew Jefferies said: “The Government is already investigating what actually happened in the councils councillor Kent mentions. The BVI gives us answers. We’ve accepted the recommendations in there and are continuing to look at the way local government is funded and the way that it is run.                                                           

"I think it’s premature, it’s not needed. All of the things that councillor Kent has called for are already being looked into by Government.”

An amendment to the motion put forward by Mr Jefferies calling for the council to write to the Government, but welcoming the current investigations by commissioners, was carried 24 to 25 after Mayor of Thurrock Susan Little used her casting vote.