The Good Law Project has written to Thurrock council demanding answers over the mystery of the missing £138m in taxpayers' money revealed by the Bureau last month. The organisation, which launches legal actions on matters of public interest, says it is concerned that Thurrock may have breached its fiduciary duty to taxpayers and will apply for a judicial review of the council’s actions if it does not get a satisfactory response.
The Conservative council has been fighting to block Bureau reporter Gareth Davies's efforts to find out about the state of its finances, a three-year saga that culminated in an Information Tribunal hearing last month. Opposition councillors were prevented from asking questions about the situation after the Bureau’s article was published.
The leader of the Labour opposition, councillor John Kent, has now joined with the Good Law Project in asking who decided to invest the £138m, what diligence was undertaken before handing over the money and what information, if any, was given to councillors and the public about the investment.
The money was part of £665m handed over by the council to the companies of businessman Liam Kavanagh. With that cash, the companies bought dozens of solar farms and the council generated income on the interest from those loans. But the Bureau found that when the council hired an investment firm to value the solar farms this year, it discovered they could be worth £200m less than the council had paid for them – and did not know where the £138m had gone.
A Thurrock spokesperson told the Bureau: “We are working with external advisers to ensure the council’s position remains secure. The issues raised have been known for some time and are being actively managed, mitigated and resolved through that oversight with significant external advisers.”