Liberal Democrats

Manston, Miller and Mr Farage: The top political stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 11 2014

Here's my round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and beyond:

1. After trying to stave off calls to quit, Maria Miller capitulated to the inevitable and quit her job as culture secretary. Few Kent MPs seemed prepared to comment in public about the saga which left Mr Cameron facing questions about his judgement. One that did was Tracey Crouch, the Chatham and Aylesford MP, who said Mrs Miller was right to resign but expressed frustration that MPs elected in 2010 were being tarred with the same brush despite the expenses rules being tightened.

2. Rarely out of the political spotlight, the definitely not shy or retiring UKIP leader Nigel Farage had another week in the headlines. A poll suggested that if he chose to stand at the general election in Folkestone and Hythe against Conservative incumbent Damian Collins, he would run him close but may not win. Bring it on, said Mr Collins. Mr Farage dropped an even heavier hint that he was eyeing up a Kent seat in 2015 but declined to say which one. Our bet? It will be Thanet South.

3. There may have been a spectacular increase in people cycling but Kent's track record on encouraging more people to use two wheels rather than four was under the spotlight. Census figures suggested fewer people were  cycling to work than ten years ago - compared with more forward-looking places like Brighton and London. The Green county councillor Martin Whybrow denounced the county council for its track record, altlhough given that the Conservative leader of KCC is an enthusiastic rally car driver, maybe he shouldn't have been that surprised.

4. An unfortunate piece of timing left some people wondering whether David Cameron was "running frit' after a scheduled and heavly trailed interview with Radio Kent was abruptly cancelled - supposedly so he could make a telephone call to a fellow unnamed Prime Minister.  Was it coincidence that the interview was due to take place the day after Maria Miller quit? Who knows.

5. Uncertainty continues over the fate of Manston Airport as the final flight by KLM took off on Wednesday and the airline boss of the Dutch operator made clear the carrier would most definitely would not be coming back. There continue to be talks over a possible buyout and owner Ann Gloag has agreed to consider a rescue plan drafted by staff. A case of watch this space.

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Categories: Liberal Democrats | Politics | Precept

County Hall's £165k shake-up manager. And councillors lunch row rumbles on..and on

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 7 2011

While Kent County Council seems fairly convinced that paying £165,000 for the services of a transformation project manager for less than a year was worth it, I rather doubt taxpayers' will see it that way. (I suspect one or two council employees might also find it rather hard to swallow).

But you could argue - as KCC has - that contracting Jeff Hawkins for a six-figure sum has been value for money because he has helped the authority come up with a leaner structure that will help save more than four times that sum every year.

The related question that needs asking is why, if we follow the argument that has often been advanced by KCC in relation to executive pay levels, the authority felt it was 'unable to find a full time dedicated programme manager with the skills and experience needed for delivering this scale of programme.'

How KCC is paying £165,000 for a shake-up manager>>>

I'm sure Jeff Hawkins is a perfectly capable and skilled adviser. But was there no-one at County Hall capable of steering through this programme, complex though it might be? Surely these kind of changes are exactly what we pay our most highly paid public sector executives to oversee?

Incidentally, it's worth noting that councillors were not involved in signing off the appointment and did not need to be, a situation that has since led to some changes relating to the recruitment of such contractors. 

It's also worth pointing out that you would have had some trouble locating the information regarding the costs of securing Mr Hawkins' services among the hundreds of invoices of more than £500 published monthly by KCC as he is employed by Kent Top Temps - and there are literally hundreds of invoices submitted by Kent Top Temps to KCC each month.

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Meanwhile, the rather unseemly row over whether county councillors should forego their free lunches on days when there are full council meetings at County Hall rumbles on.

I'm always surprised - perhaps I shouldn't be - that politicians appear congenitally incapable of understanding that although the sums involved are relatively trivial, it is this kind of thing that really irritates voters. MPs were exactly the same when confronted with exposure of some of their more modest but nevertheless eye-catching claims in the expenses scandal.

Anyway, it sounds like efforts are being made to bring down the costs although I haven't spoken to anyone yet outside KCC who thinks that the right thing to do would be to continue with the lunches but have councillors pay for them. If, as it seems, they already receive as part of their basic allowance a sum to cover subsisdence, why are we meeting the costs on full council days?

Still, at least it looks like our democratically-elected representatives are to agree to a pay cut. A plan to cut their allowances by 2% is being drawn up, meaning county councillors will see their basic yearly allowance of £13,000 reduced by about £260.

Which is something - although perhaps the prospect of a pay cut explains why they are being so intransigent about their free lunches.

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Categories: Freedom of Information | Liberal Democrats

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