KCC

Dover's Rubbish

by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Monday, August 25 2014

I’m sorry I have been away for so long but I have been in hiding, getting over the embarrassment of my ‘Face of Dover’ mix up. You see dear readers I was under the impression the Dover Express was looking for the best lookalike of ‘The Face’ from the A-team. I spent months cultivating the look and tracking down the right 80’s clobber only to find they were just looking for some attractive Dovorians... Never mind who would want to be the face of a town with such a litter problem anyway?

Yes rubbish is a problem in Dover. People are no longer sure of what can and can’t be recycled and contractors are refusing to take it away if you should put something in the wrong box. Our bins are being monitored. And now we’re being told we can’t even litter anymore! Can’t even drop a fag butt in the high-street or watch a crisp packet be cradled gracefully by the breeze to a nearby tree or settle in a children’s playground, without being fined £400 plus. At least Morrisons have had the decency to remove the one pound coin locks on their trolleys so we can shove one in a river on the way home after a nights drinking.

Dropping cigarettes has accounted for 80% of cases where people have been issued with fines by Environment Enforcement Officers. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the perpetrators as the hefty fee does not seem fitting of the crime. There are worse offenders out there; irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their animals and fly tippers who I’m sure everyone would like to see punished more. Just six fines were handed out in the 191 reported cases of owners not clearing up after their best friend.

The aftermath of rubbish day is never a pretty sight; rouge cans bouncing and ricocheting down the streets to freedom, slices of half eaten pizza and rubbish sacks being pulled apart by Seagulls. It seems customary to blame the council and Veolia –Dover’s street cleaning service providers- after the foul scented trucks have disappeared for another week but if we examine what is left behind we can see who is to blame. I have seen nappies, pet food, food waste and all manner of things inviting birds, rats, foxes, vermin to come and see what bounty is inside, spilling out of purple sacks like the intestines of a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

I know the majority of people make the effort to separate their recycling, food waste and put their bins out in the morning and not days before. I see it with my own eyes every Thursday morning. We are not perfect and may toss the odd plastic container in the bin that is just too fiddly to clean out but we do our bit. It is the few who are not willing to perform these simple tasks, and I fear not just out of laziness but indifference to their hometown and neighbours, that are responsible for the carnage you see when collecting your morning paper. It’s the same people dropping litter standing next to a bin, drinking alcohol in the market square, and dumping shopping trolleys’ in the Dour. They will complain when their mess is not cleaned up quick enough too. Blame culture is prevalent nowadays. No one takes responsibility anymore.

Of course I can’t let KCC, DDC and Veolia get away with it that easy. Some of KCC’S policies have led to more rubbish on our streets. Fly-tipping increased in Dover district after KCC began charging people who use commercial vehicles to dump rubbish. DDC are being too soft on dog owners and fining Veolia paltry sums for not doing their job properly. People argue why they pay their council tax when the streets are an embarrassment but my point is who made them like it.

I would hate to see another big brother style measure like introducing transparent bin liners so your neighbours can see what you’re putting in your rubbish but perhaps it’s the only way we will rid the streets of garbage.

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Categories: Dover Town centre | Environment | Health and Safety; | Humour | KCC

Why Kent will lose out in lorry charge scheme. And should KCC really have 84 councilllors?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, April 1 2014

First, the good news.

After years of discussion, the government has finally introduced a charge on foreign lorries using the UK's roads, meaning that there ought to be more of a level playing field between foreign hauliers and UK  companies.

Now the less good news. Kent won't directly benefit from the income raised - an estimated £20m a year. Instead, the Department for Transport says it will be passed to the Treasury, who will have its mitts on the money and decide what to do with it.

Politicians of all colours have, over recent years, argued that Kent should get some back from the "vignette" scheme since the vast majority of HGVs arrive in the UK via The Port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel and their numbers are growing - meaning more wear and tear on an already over-burdened road network and congestion on key travel routes.

The figures bear this out: In 2013, 2,206,728 lorries used the Port of Dover compared with 1,952,138 the previous year - an increase of 254,590.

But the DfT says the scheme is not about raising income for road maintenance but has been introduced to help haulage firms. It also says the money raised is actually pretty modest - £20m apparently covers no more than paying for one mile of a motorway.

The secretary of state Patrick McGloughlin said as much two years ago when he first outlined the scheme - in fact his press statement yesterday bore an uncanny resemblance to the one issued yesterday, with quotes which were virtually identical.

So, Kent loses out again because it's a peninsula county. Much has been made of the fact that Kent is the  "Gateway to Europe" but the benefits of its proximity to the continent often appear elusive.

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How many county councillors should there be to serve the people of Kent?

At the moment, we have 84 but the Boundary Commission has come knocking at County Hall's door to ask if that number is appropriate.

KCC is beginning a review at the commission's beckoning and will have to come up with its own proposals this year. It will do so with reference to the Commission's overall principles - which include the assertion that  "community identity" is less important at the county level than it is at the district and borough level.

County councillors are not swayed by the argument that they are more 'strategic' representatives  - or at least those attending a meeting of KCC's Electoral and Boundary Review Committee appeared not to be - and there is already some hints that many woud prefer there not to be any reduction at all in the numbers.

I can't see that happening, despite the fact that if Kent's population grows at the expected rate, there could be a case to retain the status quo.

A report prepared for members noted that in previous reviews of county boundaries, there has historically been a 10% cut in the numbers - equating to KCC having about eight fewer members.

That is probably where KCC will end up and it would just about tolerate it.

Councillors are often keen to stress that they have a fairly onerous workload, although as one county councillor - David Brazier - remarked, the burden of work varied depending on where you were a representative (more prosperous divisions having fewer needy residents than those in areas of economic deprivation.)

Perhaps the most persuasive argument for having fewer politicians is that, at least in KCC's case, not many have direct involvement in the decision-making process. At last week's full council meeting, seven items on the agenda required only that councillors "note" reports - a point rightly criticised by Labour.

Ad today's meeting of the boundary committee followed suit: the two items on the agenda were both "for noting."

 

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Categories: KCC | National Politics | Public Sector

Conservative back-pedalling on grammar school transport.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, February 19 2013

Conservatives at County Hall are acutely sensitive to suggestions that grammar schools are increasingly dominated by children who have got there because they are somehow privileged.

The fact the county council has now acknowledged that the eleven plus is skewed towards those who can afford private coaching - and is trying to do something about it - reflects these sensitivities.

Now the authority has agreed to review its controversial decision to scrap discretionary transport subsidies for children who opt for a selective school - or a denominational school - above others nearer to where they live.

An estimated 4,200 families have lost out under the arrangements because their income means they do not any longer qualify.

Whether KCC would have done had it not been faced with one Conservative - Cllr Andrew Bowles, also the leader of Swale Council - breaking rank and publicly denouncing the policy is a moot point. 

I suspect the ruling administration would have faced down a similar Liberal Democrat call for a rethink but felt propelled to act knowing that Cllr Bowles might not be the only one to decide to speak out.

He made the point that other Conservatives have privately expressed, namely that ending transport support has adversely affected precisely the kind of children that Kent ought to be assisting when it comes to going to grammar schools.

A review, of course, is just that and there has been no commitment to a U-turn. The fact there will be an-party working group indicates that the Conservatives want to tie in the other parties to any changes that might be made.

And a review will help neutralise the opposition from contending that nothing is being done, even if it seems unlikely that it will report before the May election, which won't unduly worry the Conservatives.

The issue is complicated by the fact that KCC will also have to address the issue of whether it should bring back some kind of discretionary subsidy for children who choose a church school above others nearer to where they live.

And it is worth noting that in an environment where parents are sold the idea they can choose a school, some may question why discretionary support for transport costs should not available for those who choose a non-selective school above others nearer to where they live.

This anomaly was actually a factor when KCC originally determined that it would end most subsidies and it was suggested it could be legally challenged.

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Even the most fervent believers in transparency and accountability would have to question whether Kent County Council's annual budget meeting represents open democracy at its best. 

The gruelling day-long meeting was singularly lacking in political drama - with the one exception of the debate on grammar school transport - and enlightening debate and there was a distinct impression that county councillors were simply going through the motions.

There was an awful lot of Conservative councillors standing up to say what a good job KCC was doing and equally, a lot of opposition contributions saying they weren't.

Perhaps the format might also benefit from an all-party review.

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After hints that he might enjoy another run against the incumbent MP Helen Grant in Maidstone and Weald, it seems the former Liberal Democrat candidate Peter Carroll, who is now working for the Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes, is to give it a miss.

The constituency party will select its candidate this weekend from a shortlist of three - all men but Mr Carroll is not among them.

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Categories: KCC | Local Politics

The school place conundrum. Plus: Former KCC boss tells public sector to be more cost-effective.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 1 2013

When county education chiefs set out their blueprint for Kent's schools for the next five years, the introduction to the extremely lengthy Commissioning Plan acknowledged the education authority was operating in "an increasingly diverse environment."

Some of the consequences of that environment are beginning to be seen, not least in the challenge facing Kent County Council to ensure there are not just enough school places across Kent for children but that there are, in its own words, enough "appropriate places". At the same time as fulfilling that statutory obligation, it retains a general responsibility for the performance of schools in the area - regardless of whether schools have broken free of the supposed shackles of the county council and become academies.

Squaring this circle has its problems and data from the authority shows wide-variations in the intake of Year 7 pupils across the 99 secondary schools. The data was obtained by the well-known Kent education adviser Peter Read.

That there are five - including Kent's first academy, The Marlowe in Ramsage - that took in less than half the 11-year-olds they actually had places for is not quite as shocking as it might appear. Worrying, true, but Kent is no different to any other area in seeing fluctuations in pupil numbers across both the primary and secondary sector.

Education chiefs say that a general surplus - or spare capacity - is not necessarily a bad thing, although if it applied the same calculations to the empty desk data now as it did when it embarked on a programme of closing and merging more than 40 primary schools a few years ago, we might be seeing the same happening in the secondary sector.

The arguably more interesting aspect of the figures is not the under-occuppied schools but the third where more pupils were accepted in Year 7 last year than schools had places for. They include nine academies and 13 grammars and it hardly needs saying they are all among the best performing schools in the county.

There is nothing KCC can do to stop popular over-subscribed academies enlarging as the government, which likes to apply a market forces philosophy to education, has decreed that is what should be permitted: it's a question of supply and demand. This approach marks a return to the Thatcherite ethos in which competition between schools was considered the best way to drive up standards. No politician will ever say it but underlying this approach is a view that if schools can't make the grade, they should wither on the vine.

For KCC, this means trying to provide places while some schools, understandably focused more on their own interests, look to increase their numbers to respond to parental wishes. But the only real area where KCC has direct control is over its maintained schools. It has very little power over academies which is precisely the point (whether you agree with it or not) of the policy. If successful schools expand, continue to be succcessful and siphon away more able children, where does that leave the others? And where does it leave KCC as the commissioning body?

That 13 grammars took in more children, coupled with plans by at least three more to add places next year, should also be a concern. There may be an issue of a shortage of places in west Kent but there are some who suspect something else is going on here.

The relentless quest and obsession among politicians for diversity in the schooling system has over the years, created as many problems as it solves. If the government does genuinely believe that academies and free schools are the answer to declining standards, perhaps the solution is for all schools to become them.

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When Katherine Kerswell was managing director of Kent County Council, she embarked on one of those "re-structuring" exercises with the Orwellian title of "The Change To Keep Succeeding" programme. This was dressed up in all kinds of impenetrable jargon but was basically about cutting away staff and particularly management.

It was not, to put it mildy, terribly popular especially with county councillors, who at one point questioned just how successful the programme could be considered when in an early incarnation, it appeared KCC was to end up with just as many top officers as it had under the old management structure.

Of course, the managing director secured more notoriety when she left KCC after less than two years in the job and picked up a £420,000 pay-off in the process, not exactly what council taxpayers considered value for money. Now she has written an article extolling public sector leaders to do more to be cost-effective in "these austere times".

It's hardly the most revelatory suggestion ever to have been uttered and the irony of it coming from someone who was extraordinarily well remunerated when she quit has not been lost on some.

However, I do agree with one thing she writes - namely that "decision-making that is obscure, unseen or hidden fails the test of a modern democracy. As citizens, we now want 24/7 accountability, and we expect the full disclosure and transparency of those public decisions taken in our name."

Why then, did we have to wait for KCC to fulfill its statutory requirement to publish its annual accounts to find out about her payout - six months after she left?

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Where is Kent's Big Society? It's hard to tell on the strength of the pitiful take-up of Kent County Council's £3m fund available to social entrepeneurs to set up business in the county. Just three loans have been taken up in a year, suggesting there's not much appetite out there for this kind of initiative.

Of course, KCC's loan rate of between 12 and 15% may have something to do with the low take-up.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: KCC | Precept

Investing in local... with a London agency!

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, December 11 2012

Looking at the online debate among Kent’s creative agency bosses, they are clearly miffed about the loss of another big contract to a big-name London agency.
For the second time in three years, Kent County Council decided that an agency with a top sounding name and no doubt an impressive, expensive pitch was a better bet than a firm based in Kent.
First, there was M&C Saatchi, which won the Kent Contemporary contract to inject fresh dynamism into Kent tourism.
Local firms pitched but were outclassed by a global big-hitter which won the £400,000 deal.
It was a controversial decision - but the results speak for themselves. An impressive series of innovative - iconic even - photographs showing Kent in ways never seen before. Using clever slogans, they were shown in a variety of settings, with a resulting boost in visitor numbers and revenue. 
Kent’s finest creatives might argue that they could have matched Saatchi performance but it would be a hard argument to win.
The same cannot be said for the Seven Hills contract which has resulted in the Grow for It in East Kent campaign.
Seven Hills founder Michael Hayman is a smooth articulate operator used to moving in high places. Leading political figures and ex-Dragon  Doug Richard are on his books.
But a lot of the £250,000 being paid to Seven Hills over time has gone on market research. For  anyone with a good knowledge of East Kent, the findings were akin to teaching granny to suck eggs.
He told us what many of us already knew. He made it seem as though he was the first person to discover the gems of East Kent. the lower cost of living and housing, high-speed trains, and the quality of life.
These facts would have been fully understood by Kent agencies without the need for much research.
Seven Hills has used the data to create slogans aimed primarily at Londoners - Swap your Oyster for Oysters for example. They have come up with some good stuff.
But Kent creative eyebrows rose at the decision to use posters on the sides of London buses and alongside Underground station escalators. “Old-fashioned” said one. Others questioned the choice of typography, saying it was too busy for a bus.
Another key question - rightly posed by Desmond High, a judge in the creative category for the 2011 Kent Excellence in Business Awards (KEiBA) - is whether or not KCC insists on the involvement, partnership even, of local agencies when it awards a creative contract. It says Seven Hills has given work worth £30,000 to Kent businesses but one suspects that is a token gesture rather than an obligation.
I’m not aware of any agency being asked to do the PR. I have heard nothing directly from Seven Hills - M&C Saatchi was better in that respect - and KCC did the PR for the recent Dover Cruise Terminal campaign launch event. 
Kent creatives have every right to be upset by this latest contract, watching frustrated on the sidelines while kudos goes to those with it already.
I am confident they could have done as good a job as Seven Hills - with the deep local knowledge that the London agency initially lacked - brought more money into the county, and shown that we have the creative skills and talent in the county to match the London big guns.
A high-profile contract win would have done wonders for Kent's creative sector, generating more revenue and underlining to the outside world  that it has what it takes to be a national player. 

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Categories: KCC

Adoption and Iceland: Good news and not so good news

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, November 1 2011

IT is probably a little much to declare it a 'victory' - as the inevitable press release described it - but it is undeniably good news that KCC, along with a handful of other councils, are poised to recover  the money they invested in former Icelandic banks.

KCC on course to get Icelandic cash back>>

But while the words "rejoice" may be resounding around the corridors of Sessions House, it is worth making a couple of relevant points.

KCC originally invested the £50m because it was attracted by the rather generous interest rates being offered by the banks, around 5-6%. It put the money there precisely for that reason and no other. It is not, however, money the authority will be seeing - and you can do the maths yourself to see what budget papers usually refer to opaguely in accounts as the "net impairment loss."

According to KCC's audited accounts for 2010-2011, the sum associated with the 'net impairment loss' is £7.6m. Now, I am guessing this is the sum that the council expected to make as a return on its deposit but now won't. Victorious in the courts, yes but that is only part of the story.

And the protracted legal wrangle, which lasted three years, will also have a cost but as the action was being pursued on behalf of 100+ authorities, this may be relatively modest.

There is no doubt that treasury management policies at County Hall were not quite as robust as they should have been at the time this happened, but neither were they at many other town halls and public bodies (and before I'm reminded the now defunkt Audit Commission was among them).

There was the unopened email that meant £3m more was invested when brokers had advised KCC to halt, for example.

One consequence of the saga is that there is now a little more transparency about how and where taxpayers' money is being invested. Previously, little was volunteered about the subject and what was was largely impenetrable to many.

However, much of it unfortunately goes through an informal members group at County Hall, whose meetings are closed to the public.

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SOCIAL services chiefs appear to have finally got to grips with the crisis in vulnerable children's social care. A positive Ofsted report which apparently says KCC has successfully addressed many of the problems identified in a highly damning report issued a year ago is due out shortly. We'll know the full details in a week or two.

Having overcome that challenge, another is on the horizon - adoption, where Kent appears to have a fairly dismal track record compared to many others when it comes to the speed with which it deals with applications from would-be adopters.

Clearly,the downward trend began a few years ago but for whatever reason, was not spotted or was but ignored.

Adoption challenge for KCC>>

All of which makes me wonder again exactly how it was that for several years, KCC secured high ratings from inspectors for the quality of its social services.

The suspicion is that County Hall had any number of policy wonks skilled in completing self-assessment forms on which judgements were often based but rather fewer people overseeing what was actually happening at the coal face.

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Categories: KCC | Precept

Spotlight on Spend: How KCC has spent some of your money.Plus:County Hall spins like a top

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 22 2011

 

SINCE January, councils up and down the country have been publishing thousands and thousands of invoice details on websites, listing all transactions of more than £500. They have been doing so in response to the government's much-vaunted transparency crusade - a genuine effort to encourage the public sector at all levels to engage the people they serve by telling them much more about how money is being spent.

In the case of councils, the communities secretary Eric Pickles has spoken of his desire to enlist the support of an army of armchair auditors, in the belief they may be able to spot areas where money might be saved or more appropriately spent. The only problem with this tsunami of information is that it is almost unintelligible and incapable of being scrutinised.

The invoices are the worst kind of crude data, providing no context and no explanation. Comparisons are next to impossible to make. Councils like KCC have literally thousands of invoices to publish each month and to be fair, it presents them in a way which makes the data easy to sift and sort. But that is about as far as it goes.

Calling councils to account on the basis of what they publish under this transparency regime is next to impossible. That is not to say they are deliberately misleading us or trying to draw a veil over what they are up to. They are doing just what the government wants them to do.

If you really want to establish why, for example Kent County Council spent £1,995 on lunches at the Open Golf championship at Royal St George's, you won't find it in the invoice details.  The only real way is to ask via the Freedom of Information Act for an explanation and account. And from personal experience, I can say that what superfically may look to be an example of unnecessary profligacy often turns out to have an entirely reasonable explanation.

In the case of those golf lunches, KCC says the costs were recouped from sponsors and therefore no costs fell to the taxpayer. Not that you would know from the invoice.

Anyway, attached is a recent response to an FOI request I submitted to KCC querying seven particular transactions - including £1,346 spent on hotel accommodation, drinks and food at a Ghananan beach resort - and the authority's explanations.

FOI.11.1070 Transactions.pdf (9.27 kb)

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An almighty behind-the-scenes row among Conservatives over plans to cut the number of community liasion managers appears to have been the trigger for the leadership contest now underway within the county council's ruling group.

But what is the “official” line on these posts which were to have been axed?

Asked to explain the background to the decision - a blatant political U-turn - this is what the council had to say:

"It has been decided to increase the number of community engagement officers from 7 to 12. These posts support county and district councillors in the growing localism agenda. As the scope for a meaningful localism agenda increases, it has been decided that each of the districts in Kent should have a dedicated support officer to ensure that the many benefits which can be realised from effective and efficient locality boards are realised.”

I suppose it was too much to expect the council to say there had been a huge political row and the leadership had backed down after a revolt by backbenchers.

Reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984 and the concept of doublethink.

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Categories: KCC

Too many county councillors?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 7 2011

Given that the coalition government has decided that we have too many MPs, it seems logical to ask whether we have too many councillors. The question may be one council taxpayers will ask when they see how much they are paying for KCC's 84 elected representatives in figures for allowances and expenses published today.

How much county councillors claimed last year>>>

The overall sum claimed by county councillors in 2010-2011 was £1.85million - pretty much in line with previous years but about £42,000 more than last year.

I think many councillors work pretty hard and do a decent job for their constituents but I've often sat at meetings at County Hall - especially full council meetings - and wondered exactly why we have so many (notwithstanding the fact that Kent is a large county).

Like it or not, the facts of cabinet government mean that only a select few are involved in the important decision making stuff. If you're a backbencher, you're pretty much sidelined from the decision-making process and when it comes to scrutiny, have only a minimal amount - actually pretty negligible - of influence.

Which makes it all the more surprising that there are, despite this concentration of power within the cabinet, that there are currently 106 county council committees and forums established by KCC. That's more than one committee/board/forum per member.

List of KCC committees here

So do we get value for money and would KCC be any different if it was represented by say, 60 county councillors, rather than 84? Democracy needs strong political advocates and it is vital that there are strong checks and balances in the system but I do sometimes sense that County Hall would get along just as well with fewer politicians.

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Not for the first time, I'm struck by the fact that many county councillors appear to be devoted petrol heads when it comes to going about their official business.

Despite espousing more use of public transport, many councillors prefer to let the car rather than the train - or bus - take the strain. It can be tricky getting to County Hall from some of Kent's furthest flung corners but it is not as if County Hall is miles away from a train station (you can see Maidstone East from the entrance to Sessions House).

It's worth pointing out that councillors' milage rates have recently increased from 40 pence to 45 pence a mile.

 

 

 

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Categories: KCC

Why a 1.5 per cent pay cut for councillors is too little. Plus: KCC and children at risk

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 13 2011

County councillors have, after much hand-wringing, agreed to take a pay cut. It's a small gesture in every way. The 1.5 per cent cut in their basic yearly allowance will lop a modest £200 off their £13,000 they get.

If you want an illustration of why it is fairly small beer, I've worked out that it accounts for 0.017 per cent of the £95m of savings the council is making this year. 

But there's another issue here. Namely that the £16,400 that the 1.5 per cent cut will achieve represents a fraction of the £200,000 savings package the council has agreed for members' services. Once you've accounted for the other measures - such as a reduction in special responsibility allowances for cabinet members - our elected politicians together will be saving the taxpayer the grand sum of £80,000. And the rest? That is to come from cutting jobs in the staff who support members.

Opposition parties argued at this week's full council meeting that the cut should be greater. Labour and the Lib Dems pushed for an eight per cent cut, taking them back to the annual levels of allowances that they had before 2009, which is when the independent panel last set them.

Of course, there was - as Conservative leader Paul Carter pointed out - an element of political posturing going on here. (The race to be holier than thou is never more intense than when politicians are involved.) 

But he forgot - until he was reminded by departing Labour group leader Les Christie - that it was the Conservative administration who decided to make a virtue of the original plans for a pay cut when it first unveiled its budget plans in January.

I don't believe that county councillors should have to go around wearing hair shirts. They deserve some financial compensation for the work they put in. But these are uniquely challenging times for councils wrestling with the impact of austerity measures forced on them by the government.

In a week they unveil proposals to raise care charges for elderly and vulnerable people, their decision to agree a fairly miniscule reduction in their own pay does look a little selfish. Was it too much  to expect them to take a bigger hit - even if only for a year or two?

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Social services chief Malcolm Newsam is to be commended for deciding that transparency is the best  policy when it comes to dealing with the challenges of turning around Kent's troubled children's services.

One of the greatest problems KCC had over recent years is what one county councillor described as "the culture of fear" that existed as things started to unravel - staff knowing that things were going badly wrong but finding it impossible to tell anyone.

For years, KCC basked in the glow of independent inspection reports that suggested it was a five-star service. When it commissioned internal reports assessing the resilience of children's social services, they came back saying everything was more or less OK - with the odd caveat about workload pressure.

At last, the politicians have grasped that they cannot take these things for granted. Too late for some but better late than never.

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Categories: KCC | Local Politics

Are council interim managers value for money? Plus: Should Kent have a 'C' charge?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 8 2011

IS employing interim managers cost-effective? KCC has a few on its books at the moment as it continues with a rather complex re-organisation that has seen several experienced senior officers recently depart and, if the opposition Liberal Democrat leader Trudy Dean is to be believed, sinking morale at Invicta House.

Some of the costs associated with the appointment of four "external interim directors" currently in post were revealed this week after opposition parties tabled questions seeking the information at a full council meeting. It follows our report recently that the man overseeing the shake-up, Jeffrey Hawkins, was costing the authority £165,000 for his services over ten months.

According to an answer provided by the council leader, the monthly costs in March - including a fee  to the agency KCC used to recruit them - was £69,825, a not insignificant sum. The daily rate ranged over the month from £750 a day to £1,250 a day.

How does this compare with the costs of permanent appointments? Direct comparisons are a little tricky but Cllr Carter revealed that the weekly costs - I emphasise weekly - of KCC's former children's services director Rosalind Turner was £5,300 while the weekly cost of the interim  corporate director in the same job, Malcolm Newsam, is £3,900.

There are various arguments in favour of interim directors. KCC doesn't have to make any pension payments; they don't get sick pay and any leave is unpaid. They come in with a specific brief; do the job and then move on. They don't come with any cultural baggage and can offer fresh perspectives. If they don't do a good job as a short-term troubleshooter, it may make it more difficult to get work elsewhere in a similar capacity. The other side of the coin is that they don't necessarily have any knowledge of Kent, they have no long term commitment and if things do go awry, they can deflect the blame on to the authority.

So, there's a case for interim directors to be made. But the real test of whether they represent value for money will be the results they deliver. Not whether they are cheaper than having permanent appointments in place.


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Ever poked a stick at a wasps' nest? Senior Lib Dem county councillor Martin Vye did the political equivalent when he ventured to suggest that if Kent was serious about tackling pollution and poor air quality, it perhaps ought to consider a county-wide congestion charge. Cue outrage and frothy indignation from motorists and his political opponents.

It was a brave call, if not exactly the most judicious moment to try and trigger a debate (especially so close to council elections). You could argue that while we have seen an exponential increase in car use in recent years, the spiralling costs of motoring are in any case having an impact by compelling people to find alternative ways of travelling to work. Kent is not a county that would be well-suited to such a policy in any case, with large numbers travelling to towns to work from rural areas where public transport connections make commuter journeys on trains and buses next to impossible.

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Meanwhile, Kent County Council wants us all to say no to AV. Why? Well, county councillors held a debate at this week's full council and the Conservatives, with their comfortable majority, succeeded in adopting a policy that the council is formally opposed to AV and is encouraging residents to just say no, too. There was even an official pres release issued about it, too which struck me as slightly odd.

Is it any of KCC's business, you might ask? (The opposition parties didn't think so - saying that such a debate was an abuse of power and nothing to do with KCC but cleverly managing to weave in to their anger comments articulating precisely why they thought AV was actually a rather good idea).

I wasn't too bothered about the fact that councillors had a debate although I have to say that it was a fairly pedestrian one with both sides trotting out the well-rehearsed arguments from either side.

And I'm inclined to think that when it comes to putting their crosses on the ballot paper on May, the last thing voters will have on their mind is the fact that KCC doesn't want to abandon first-past-the-post.


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Categories: KCC | Local Politics

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