All posts tagged 'Katherine-Kerswell'

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

The Political Year In Quotes: who said what and why....

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, December 20 2012

 

"I want to stop the police being run by politicians” –  Ann Barnes, declaring her plan to stand in the election to be Kent’s first crime commissioner

 

“A wilful waste of money” – Ann Barnes, as chairman of Kent Police Authority on the plans for elected police commissioners, before declaring her candidacy

 

 

"It's my view that the idiot entering the roundabout at speed with one
hand on the steering wheel and the other holding his mobile phone poses
an infinitely greater threat to the public wellbeing than a couple of teenagers sharing a cannabis spliff." 

 

Would-be independent police commissioner candidate Ian Driver.

 

 

 

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“Unacceptable and disturbing” – minister Grant Shapps on the £420,000 pay-out to former Kent county council MD Katherine Kerswell

 

“It will save a fortune in the long run” – KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter on scrapping Katherine Kerswell’s role

 

“I am thrilled to join the civil service” Katherine Kerswell on her new six-figure salaried job in the civil service. A few months after leaving her job at KCC

 

“You have to question the training and development within KCC. It does not produce a good working environment when you see people coming in on a six-month contract and apparently sort things out” – Conservative county councillor Mike Jarvis

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“Why don’t they live within their means, or move down here and see what it’s like to be taxed until they weep? Frankly, we can no longer keep subsiding other people’s spending habits.” Former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie makes friends in the North by advocating a new “Southern” party for the region

 

“I did receive an invitation but told him I wasn’t going to go.” Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless on reports that he was courted by UKIP funder Stuart Wheeler to switch sides

 

“Helen’s exceptionally demanding job requires her to be in London for most of the week, which is where she lives during that time. Her decision to use her rental allowance in London is therefore understandable and acceptable given her circumstances.” A declaration of loyalty for under-fire Maidstone MP Helen Grant from her party chairman James Peace

 

“She is treating the voters of Maidstone with utter contempt. She is exploiting the system to the maximum and she seems to consider her constituency a complete irrelevance. She should do the right thing and resign” – Becky Matthews, a constituent of Mrs Grant’s

 

 

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“Everybody is gobsmacked that they got themselves into a financial mess and did not realise what the situation was. It is staggering.” Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke on the financially-stricken K College

 

“You cannot just click your fingers and fix it. We need to think big and hold our nerve over the decades.” Transport minister Patrick McCloughlin on criticism of the government’s review of aviation strategy. It won’t report until after the election.

 

 

 

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“Following a cabinet decision, it has been decided not to proceed with the trade mission to the USA as it was not considered the best use of public funds at this time.” – Kent County Council scraps a planned trade mission across the pond

 

“It is a small investment and a real opportunity” – Kent County Council defends the same trade mission to the USA a few weeks earlier.

 

“The structure of Kent commercial services is unnecessarily complex and not fit for purpose, it lacks the appropriate direction and has become untethered from the council.” A leaked confidential report on KCC’s commercial services

 

“Utter madness, irresponsible and ridiculous”. The leader of Kent County Council Cllr Paul Carter on Shepway Council’s plan for a nuclear waste site

 

“Let’s not over-dramatise this.” Paul Carter on the same subject.

 

“Many are in dire need of some TLC”  - Backbench county councillor Mike Harrison raises an important matter of state at a full council meeting. Yes, the apparently poor  condition of the chairs councillors sit on.

 

“It makes us look like the landed gentry” – county councillor Bryan Sweetland (Con) berates the media over its coverage of the expenses of the county council’s chauffeur-driven cars.

 

“Chauffeur-driven” – how KCC’s policy document refers to the authority’s fleet of cars. Five times.

 

“Concurrent strategies and tactics that will facilitate this requirement must be integrated into the broader approach.” A gold-medal winning piece of jargon from Kent County Council’s emergency Olympic plan.

 

  

 

"A momentous moment in the county's history" - KCC education cabinet member Cllr Mike Whiting on the proposals for a new grammar school.

 

  

 

“A number of people have said the Kent test is not fit for purpose and could be improved, specifically because there is a sense you can coach for it and if people are willing to devote money to something, they can get an unfair advantage when it comes to getting a grammar school place." Cllr Mike Whiting announces a review of the 11-plus to make it "tutor proof"

 

 

 

 

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“We cannot go around all the institutions of this country, heralding the virtues of direct elections when at the heart of our constitution 825 members are there as a result of some form of patronage.” Thanet South MP Laura Sandys backs reform of the House of Lords

 

 

"The awarding of this prize to the EU brings it into disrepute." UKIP leader Nigel Farage slams the decision to award the EU the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

 

Meanwhile, bears continue to make mess in woods...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: National Politics | Precept

Tories bouyant about police commissioner prospects+ that new job for KCC's ex-boss

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 14 2012

THE Conservatives appeared to be in bouyant mood at the launch of the party's candidate to be Kent's first elected police chief this week.

Hopeful Craig Mackinlay was in plain speaking, forthright mood as he laid out his credentials as a man who would brook no nonsense and would not stand for anything that got in the way of making Kent a crime free zone.

There were references to a zero tolerance approach to drugs and anti-social behaviour and he threw in a populist jibe against what he regards as a proliferation of worthy "partnerships" that he claimed talked a lot but didn't do very much.

(I did think he slightly undermined this when ended up acknowledging that working with councils and other partners was necessary to beat the criminals, though.)

On the charge that commissioners would lead to greater politicisation of policing, he said that there had always been politics in policing as the soon-to-be scrapped police authorities were largely made up of political appointees.

And he threw in a line about how householders should be permitted to do more or less what they liked to defend their properties against intruders.

It was all good meaty rhetoric that went down well with the party faithful - he even got away with saying he wouldn't mind being the most hated politician in Kent if it meant making the county a more secure, crime free place.

Speaking to a few people afterwards, they do seem to think he has a good chance of winning.

One intriguing titbit to come out of the launch was that the party is aiming to have a fighting fund of £70,000 by the time the election comes around; currently they have raised about half of this. I can't imagine many independent candidates being able to raise this amount.

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No wonder Katherine Kerswell is "thrilled." Who wouldn't be?

Less than a year after leaving Kent County Council as its managing director in controversial circumstances but with a payout of £420,000, she has landed another job with a six-figure salary - this time with the government.

And what precisely will her new job involve? Reforming the civil service to make it "sharper, quicker and more agile."

Translated, that means doing more with less people around to do it but of course the government can't say that because it would make it look rather idiotic.

As plenty of people at County Hall can testify, Ms Kerswell has had plenty of experience in this field of "reform".

Many still bear the scars of the scorched earth around Sessions House left by her "Change To Keep Succeeding" programme, which left to a string of senior directors leaving and the introduction of what was described in Orwellian terms as "a new operating model" for the authority.

Even elected members on the ruling Conservative group blanched at some of the changes and are said to have become irked that their voices were being drowned out as KCC, with the machismo of a Mexican wrestler, marched restlessly towards new frontiers.

No wonder this week's news has led the Taxpayers' Alliance to dub her as the "the poster girl for senior public sector staff riding the job merry-go-round."

Still, nice work if you can get it, as they say.

 

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Categories: Politics

Live long and prosper: KCC and its executive payoffs

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, June 17 2012

There was, inevitably, a certain amount of spin and bluster as KCC's PR machine sought to put the best possible gloss on the disclosure that KCC's former managing director Katherine Kerswell received a £420,000 payoff after less than two years in post.

It was a pretty thankless task. The efforts to portray it as all part of a well-organised and money-saving restructure will not have persuaded many taxpayers that this was an exercise in well-thought through financial prudency.

Particularly unpersuasive was the assertion that KCC was forced into making the payout because of restrictive employment legislation and because it didn't want to risk a costly employment tribunal. If both sides had mutually agreed that the role of group MD was to be abolished, why would there be a risk of an employment tribunal? If the managing director's post was made redundant, what would have been the statutory entitlement to redundancy pay for her 18 months in post?

A similar argument about restrictive employment law was made when KCC admitted it had paid £365,000 to its former highways director Adam Wilkinson, who left after a year in post. It doesn't appear many lessons were learned.

KCC's problem is that it has form in this area. And it is not a distinguished track record.  Some might consider that it has at times been almost dysfunctional in dealing with executive pay - there is a suspicion that the de fault position for County Hall politicians when they are confronted by a high-profile personnel difficulty is to throw as much money at it as possible to make it go away.

The council employed Katherine Kerswell at a time when it knew full well that financial storm clouds were gathering for local government and central government was rattling a few cages about town hall fat cats.

Indeed, after the departure of Peter Gilroy - who, lest we forget, received a one-off payment of £200,000 on the day he left the job - the Conservatives actually discussed not appointing a successor to save money but eventually decided it was a step too far. (Mr Gilroy's £200k actually cost the taxpayer £408,000).

Her appointment was hailed as a "worthy successor" to Mr Gilroy but back then, even Ms Kerswell would not expecting that in less than two years she would be on her way out.

The public explanation is that her departure was a result of the restructuring operation she had masterminded with KCC leader Paul Carter to slim down the authority in the face of budget cutbacks and in particular to chop away at the top-heavy management tiers. You could say she became a victim of her own operation.

Behind the scenes, however, there was said to be growing disgruntlement (whether legitimate or not, no-one knows) among some in the Conservative group about the former MD and that came to a head during the Conservative leadership contest last October - two months before it was announced she was to leave.

It is worth remembering KCC's lamentable attempt to deny that its MD was to leave - issuing a statement flatly contradicting the reports - last November, then just a week or two later confirming that she was - events that hardly gave the impression that KCC had been engaged in a properly and carefully considered exercise.

Whatever contract KCC signed with Katherine Kerswell, it was clearly one that failed the taxpayer. So, who approved it and who signed it? When the council complains that it doesn't have the resources for some services, taxpayers should perhaps remind it of one of the reasons it may be a little short of money.

Looking ahead, Conservatives at County Hall may well find that when they come to next year's local election and - as they surely will - tell us that Conservative-run councils cost you less, voters on the doorstep may be just a tad cynical.





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Categories: Local Politics

KCC leader fires salvo at local press for 'biased' reporting: a response

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 3 2012

Relations between politicians and journalists can often be uneasy ones, characterised by mutual suspicion, a lack of trust and, just occasionally, a touch of paranoia.

Politicians often think we are out to get them and are working to some kind of hidden agenda. And the word that sometimes gets bandied about is that we are 'biased'.

It is a word that KCC leader Paul Carter used when he fired off a New Year salvo at the local media in general just before departing for a month long break to participate in a vintage car rally to South Africa.

Paul Carter's New Year article>>>

In a piece, which for the most part was a look back over the year, he ended with a short section 'looking forward'. It began with a pledge that he wished to "improve our relationship with the local press."

This laudable aim was then rather undermined by a series of comments that together amounted to an attack on those that he wished to foster improved relationships with.

The article claimed that 'some stories have been particularly biased against KCC' and although he stopped short of specifying which ones, it is pretty clear that he was referring to the controversy surrounding the departure of managing director Katherine Kerswell.

Acknowledging that there had been 'several high profile issues' in the last few weeks, he claimed that the media's 'constant sniping at KCC 'impacts on morale for our hard-working staff' and 'the consequence will inevitably be a knock-on effect to frontline service delivery.'

If this was intended to be the start of his desire to improve relationships with the media, it was not only misjudged but perverse.

Perhaps the most risible comment was his appeal to the media to play stories with a 'straight bat' and give 'credit where credit's due' - and to let the public 'actually decide for themselves'.

This from an organisation that has over the years accrued a reputation for evasiveness and PR spin that might make even Peter Mandleson blush.

Unfortunately for KCC, its own unwillingness to play with a straight bat has contributed to a sense of distrust - which was only made worse by the debacle over departure of managing director Katherine Kerswell. 

KCC moved heaven and earth to persuade everyone, including its own staff, that nothing was going on when it was common knowledge that discussions were already underway about scrapping her £197,000 post.

Its initial statement responding to media queries was a classic piece of Orwellian double-speak, a contrivance of misinformation that - while strictly accurate -  was as far removed from 'playing with a straight bat' as could be imagined.

Equally ludicrous was the claim that our 'constant sniping' was threatening front line services by damaging morale among staff.

Does KCC, which never lets us forget that it is one of the biggest authorities in the country and the county's largest employer, expect us not to report job losses and the potential consequences for residents because of the squeeze on public spending - not to mention huge pay-offs for directors on six-figure salaries?   

Nothing has damaged morale at County Hall more than the lamentable way it dealt with events leading up to the decision to scrap Katherine Kerswell's role. The evidence came in some of the scathing comments posted by staff on its own Intranet site about her departure and reported pay-off, showing that many felt duped by KCC, their own employer.

Uncomfortable though it can be for politicians, our job is to hold them to account for their actions and decisions and ask the questions that the public - as taxpayers - would want answered.

It is not to suppress information although you get the sense that KCC sometimes thinks it should be.

It is true we are often sceptical - not biased - and if KCC wonders why we are, it really does have its head in the sand far deeper than even we imagine.

 

 

 

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Categories: Kent Village of the Year | Localism

Why KCC will have to come clean over its pay-off to departing MD Kerswell

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, December 13 2011

Not for the first time, Kent County Council has shown that when it comes to transparency, its view of what the public has a right to know depends rather on what the circumstances are.

It will not, we are told, be disclosing the details of the severance package it has agreed with its departing managing director Katherine Kerswell because it is bound by a confidentiality agreement. Ah, the good old confidentiality clause.

Perhaps with all the frenzy over trying to come to an agreement with Mrs Kerswell, the authority overlooked its new obligations to publish such information under the transparency regime that, to his credit, the communities secretary Eric Pickles has insisted all councils must follow.

Specifically, KCC appears to have not given much thought to a change in the Audit and Account Regulations 2009 that ensures the public is entitled to much more detailed information about the remuneration of senior council staff.

This places a requirement on councils to disclose how much senior employees have earned in salary, fees and allowances, bonuses and "the total amount of any compensation for loss of employment paid to or receivable by the person and any other payments made to or receivable by the person in connection with the termination of their employment by the relevant body."

In other words, everything about the pay and perks, as well as pension value, of senior staff for the financial year - including their names if they are earning more than £150,000.

So KCC will have to detail the sums involved in scrapping the group managing director's role when it next publishes its full accounts - probably around June.

This does, of course, give the council the advantage of hoping that enough time will have passed for everyone to have forgotten about it but I suspect that may be a vain hope.

So, why doesn't KCC grasp the nettle instead of hiding behind this fig leaf? One of the reasons is that it has form when it comes to eye-watering pay-offs to departing staff, most notably when it agreed to pay former chief executive Peter Gilroy £200,000 on the day he left the authority as part of the package agreed when his contract was extended by a year.

So, it undoubtedly wants to avoid a further clutch of embarrassing headlines.

Its own avowed approach to transparency is - and I quote from the county council leader Paul Carter - is that "it is enormously important that residents of the county who pay substantial taxes know where their money goes. We have no problems with that at all."

Could there be a more compelling case for disclosure of how taxpayers' money is being spent?

KCC is forever telling us how much its controversial re-structuring has saved the taxpayer. And its report proposing the deletion of the post of managing director emphasises how much it will save by not paying her salary - £265,000 a year.

If it can be so transparent on these matters, we are surely entitled to know the other side of the coin.

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Categories: Nu-Venture | Precept

Did KCC's 'urgent' personnel committee to discuss future of its MD comply with the rules?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, December 7 2011

While KCC keeps its counsel over the future of its managing director Katherine Kerswell amid the on-going swirl of rumours and speculation, some questions arise about the recent behind-closed-doors meeting where the issue was discussed.

KCC held what was described as an 'urgent' meeting of its personnel committee last week. It gave no advance notice of the meeting and produced no advance agenda and has yet to produce any minutes or reports from it. It has, however, recently posted a link to the meeting on its website (after the event) - which you can see here

So, was it consistent with the Access to Information regulations that set out the obligations of councils when it comes to holding and giving notice of any committee meeting, regardless of whether the business of that meeting is discussed in open or closed session?

The legislation states that principal local authorities must give five working days notice of any meeting it plans to hold and must additionally provide agendas, reports and background papers.

Even if part of the business to be discussed in private, the agenda of any meeting has to set out in advance what confidential or exempt items are to be discussed.

That certainly doesn't appear to have been the case here. And the legislation provides no cover to councils on the grounds of the urgency of the meeting - items of business can be added to an agenda as 'urgent' but there is nothing about 'urgent' meetings being able to sidestep the legal requirements.

Some of these points were raised last week at the meeting by the opposition Liberal Democrat member Cllr Tim Prater who questioned (during the public part of the meeting) whether KCC was being compliant with its legal obligations.

Like me, he wonders whether the council has fallen short of the Access to Information regulations.

So, could KCC have been able to hold its meeting under its own constitutional rules? Even there, it would appear there are questions as its own procedural rules for council meetings are broadly the same as the Access to Information Act.

The constitution says all meetings will be advertised five working days before they take place although shorter notice will be permitted 'in exceptional circumstances' - such as a meeting to consider a revised budget.

The constitution also talks about the copies of agendas and reports being available five days before. So, nothing at all so far as I can see about 'urgent' meetings. 

Back to the Access to Information Act and a further requirement which relates to the publication of information after a committee meeting. Under this, councils are required to publish the agenda, minutes and any reports.

Even where items are exempt or confidential, there is an obligation to produce some summary of the item without disclosing the exempt details. To date, KCC has not done so - although it appears there are no time limits on this.

The irony is that as managing director, Katherine Kerswell initiated the authority's own transparency crusade under which the citizens' rights to information were supposedly to be enhanced.

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Categories: Precept

Exploring all the options: Has Osborne cleared Thames airport plan for take off?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 30 2011

He couldn't quite bring himself to utter the words 'Thames estuary' or 'Boris Island'.

 

But George Osborne has done enough in his budget statement to ensure that the idea of a new hub airport in the south east has not been completely grounded. Indeed, there are some who believe he has engineered a situation that will encourage proponents of such schemes rather than deter them.

 

The telling phrase he used was that the government intended to 'explore all the options.' Had he wanted to sound the death knell for either Boris Island or Lord Foster's £50bn vision, he could have said so - just like he did by ruling out any further consideration of Heathrow.

 

A flat denial could have ended the persistent speculation and would have given some solace to the county's MPs who are deeply hostile to the idea and fear that the government is not helping their re-election prospects.

Several have suggested that George Osborne is merely trying to help his friend Boris as he seeks to secure another term as Mayor of London.

 

Others have gone further with theories that should Boris return to the House of Commons as an MP, he will be joining forces with Osborne when he takes a tilt at the leadership.

 

That might be a motive but I am not wholly convinced. If you polled Londoners on the issues they have most concerns about, I'm not sure you'd find aviation high on that list (except in west London). Tube fares perhaps.

 

I suspect the government doesn't really know whether it wants to see a new airport off the north Kent coast.

But it's worth reading the National Infrastructure Plan published by the Treasury.

 

It notes how, since 2005, the performance trends on airports in relation to capacity, access and availibility - as well as service quality and reliability - have all gone down. For other transport modes, they have either stayed the same or improved.

 

That is not an argument for Boris Island or Lord Foster's scheme but as Mr Osborne said, the UK risks falling behind countries like China and Brazil who are building infrastructure schemes at a lick.

Precisely the kind of point that Boris has been making.

 

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There was a meeting of KCC's personnel committee on Monday at the highly unusual hour of 5.30pm. I cannot tell you what was discussed as there was no advance agendas or papers - as there normally would under Access to Information rules - as it was an "emergency" meeting, meaning such rules can be bypassed.

 

Still, let's speculate about what might have been discussed behind closed doors. If recent events are a guide, some might think the councillors summonsed to attend were discussing the way the authority might be run in future and the option of doing without a managing director.

 

We may have to wait a little while for this to be confirmed but it may not be long. Meanwhile, KCC's managing director Katherine Kerswell "is and remains" in her post even though not many people have seen her around County Hall in recent weeks.



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Categories: Precept

Call in Poirot: The Mystery of County Hall's MD

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 21 2011

When Katherine Kerswell was appointed as KCC’s new group managing director, she spoke of her delight at joining an authority in “such an exciting role.”

 

The leader of the council, Paul Carter, said how “enormously impressed” the appointment panel was by “her breadth of vision and energy and her absolute commitment to placing Kent citizens at the heart of the services we deliver.”

 

She certainly came with a reputation for doing things a little differently – she had become something of a You Tube viral sensation in her previous role at Northamptonshire county council after encouraging staff to “taste the strawberry”.

 

Apparently, it was an attempt to encapsulate the ‘flavour’ of  the council’s services.

 

Barely one year on from this optimistic beginning, rumours are rife that the Managing Director - described as the biggest job in local government by Cllr Carter - is poised to depart.

The welter of speculation around County Hall has not been helped by KCC’s reluctance to say terribly much other than issue a bewildering and cryptic statement that says Mrs Kerswell “is and remains” the managing director. Which is factually accurate but doesn't really say an awful lot.

 

Intriguingly, this was also circulated to members of the Conservative group with the note: “The current line is as follows…” – rather implying that there are likely to be new lines coming.

 

The council won’t, incidentally, even comment on whether she is at her desk.

 

The circumstances of her reported departure remain a little unclear. If she is to leave, why is she going?

 

And, of course, if it transpires that she is, what pay off will she get? Some insiders have suggested a figure of close to £1m.

 

(Given the authority’s new-found enthusiasm for transparency, it will be interesting to see whether we will be told how much or a gagging clause is inserted preventing anyone speaking about it?)

 

Whatever account KCC chooses to give publicly, there appears to have been some kind of falling out between her and the political leadership.

 

It is certainly the case that Conservative councillors felt the direction KCC was taking was being led more by officers than by them. This was partly the reason why there was a leadership challenge. I’ve been told that there was a pledge by Cllr Carter to tackle this when he addressed the group in when he was challenged for the job.

 

There was also political disquiet over aspects of a far-reaching restructuring of the authority, which was supposed to slim down the number of top officers but made only marginal changes at the top.

 

The shake-up led to the departure of a string of senior directors with years of experience which cost the authority £350,000 in redundancy payments.

 

Temporary gaps were filled with a series of costly interims and consultants.

 

Known as the “Change To Keep Succeeding” programme, it was backed by the Conservative administration despite unease that it was being done at the same time as KCC was dealing with huge budget cuts and an expected 1,500 job losses.

 

It is not uncommon for council bosses to leave their jobs before the end of their contract. It happens frequently – and commonly, it is a personality clash that lies behind it.

 

What is worrying about this, however, is that it has happened barely a year after Mrs Kerswell took over the reins of what is the largest county in the country.

 

We do not know what the plans are for a replacement – or, indeed if there will be one – but as things stand, official information is in short supply and in an information vacuum, you end up with rumours and speculation.

 

On the other hand, if it is to do without a chief executive as is widely reported, perhaps that may not be such an issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

The austerity era begins at County Hall

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, October 11 2010

Every time I venture to County Hall, I half expect to come across county councillors dressed not in suits and ties but hairshirts. These are grim times for councils and KCC, as one of the biggest, is bracing itself for considerable upheaval as it confronts a budget black hole of £340m.

The "big ticket" item at today's cabinet meeting - as it was described by leader Paul Carter - was the plan to slim down the number of directorates that deliver 300 services to 1.6m people, which will mean far fewer senior managers. County Hall's re-organisation will see eight directorates cut to five and far fewer bosses, which many will argue is no bad thing.

KCC cuts directorates to five>>>

It's not yet clear how many management posts are to be deleted and we're unlikely to know the fine detail until December. Some of the names of the new directorates may confuse residents. If you've got a problem with the state of your road or pavement, you'll be dealt with by the Enterprise Directorate, for example. (I half wondered whether this had something to do with group managing director Katherine Kerswell being a fan of Star Trek).

There'll also be a Customer and Communities Directorate, which is described as the "directorate of the front line" and appears to be focusing on extending the Gateway programme, which has seen the development of various centres delivering different services.

One of the most fascinating elements of a late report tabled to the meeting was a section detailing the responses of an informal consultation on the shake up - or "the first bold step".  Responses were clearly mixed and although there were many that were positive, a number were revealing about the perception of KCC's management culture.

The various summaries included references to corporate management team in-fighting; the fact that some felt KCC was "controlling" and another comment expressed discomfort over the Orwellian dimension to the authority's determination to "communicate as one voice."

While most staff accepted KCC was "hungry for improvement" clearly not all agreed it was always happening. "We are sometimes dazzled by our own brilliance" said one respondent, while another said "we don't deliver but strategise well." Ouch.

KCC perhaps wouldn't have chosen precisely this time to embark on a major re-organisation but its hand is being forced by circumstances.

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What goes around comes around. At least it does in local government.

A few years ago, councils were told that they should integrate childrens' social services departments into their education departments, leading to the creation of childrens' services department. The move followed various government inquiries into child abuse scandals, notably Lord Laming's review into the Victoria Climbie scandal. Now KCC - and it is not the first - is moving the job of protecting young children to a new directorate that once again will look after all social services.   

 

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Categories: Councils | Local Politics | National Politics | Politics

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