All posts tagged 'Kent-County-Council'

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

County Hall balances the books but worse is to come

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 14 2014

In the end, there wasn't quite as much political drama as there might have been at Kent County Council's budget meeting.

After seven hours of debate and the usual slew of opposition amendments, the figures remained exactly as they did before 84 members trooped into County Hall to consider the best way of spending £1.6bn of public money and whether to back the first council tax rise in three years.

The ruling Conservatives had managed to diffuse a potential flashpoint by dropping its original plans for a cap on the popular children's Freedom Pass.

If the new plans did not completely neutralise the opposition parties, they did enough to ensure that potentially disaffected backbenchers in their own ranks did not rebel.

Indeed, it was pretty obvious that the Conservative group were under instructions to rally round the beleaguered cabinet member David Brazier, who has come in for a lot of flak for the way things have been handled.

We were told - not altogether convincingly - that far from being a humiliating U-turn, the heroic Mr Brazier deserved credit for having 'listened to the people' and responding accordingly with different plans. (Or a U-turn...)

There is also some talk of bringing in a pay-by-installments scheme to ease the burden on parents who have to buy more than one pass. It remains a tricky issue for KCC however: the cost of the post-16 pass at £400 is likely to prove too much for many and given the bleak financial outlook for councils, it may be something that KCC will be forced to revisit.

It was interesting to see some strange political alliances among the opposition parties - notably UKIP teaming up with the Lib Dems and the sole Green councillor - and although their efforts to amend parts of the budget were all voted down, I suspect we will see more of this opposition rainbow coalition.

It was also interesting to see that the Conservatives have clearly decided to go on the offensive against UKIP.  The role of chief tormentor has been handed to Cllr Jeremy Kite - also the leader of Dartford council - who relishes verbally duffing up the Ukip group in the way he did with the Lib Dems.

In a sense, this rather flatters the 17-strong UKIP group, who six months on since the county council election are beginning to show signs of being rather more effective in their role than they have been, notwithstanding the occasional naive amendment.

The main message coming out of County Hall is that while the books are balanced this year, there is worse to come.

Leader Paul Carter indicated that the need to save a further £90m in the next two years was likely to result in more pain for taxpayers. Whether the "Facing The Challenge" programme can deliver transformation without cuts to key services remain to be seen.


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Kent County Council carried out an extensive consultation over its budget plans this year and succeeded in getting many more people to respond than it has ever done before.

One interesting finding was that while residents clearly understood the need for restraint and broadly accepted the need for a council tax hike, when it came to whether there should be more privatisation or outsourcing to save money, only 13% supported the idea.

Underpinning this scepticism was the belief that private companies ultimately are more interested in how much money they can make from contracts rather than the quality of the services the provide.

KCC's transformation agenda envisages the council doing much more outsourcing and privatisation and is currently in the first stage of examining the level of interest there is among contractors to run services, including libraries.

The issue is whether, if contractors are not interested in some of these services, KCC feels able to continue with them given the financial cosh it is under.



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Categories: Politics

County Hall goes into reverse gear on Freedom Pass

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 7 2014

It would have been a surprise had Kent County Council not acted to address the mounting opposition to its planned changes to the Freedom Pass. 

The ramifications of imposing a £350 cap on a new smart card became obvious the moment the council announced the proposal to limit journeys, leaving parents to find the rest once children had spent up to the cap.

The key question that KCC has not answered is why no-one - either politicians or officers - realised that its new scheme hardly represented value for money for parents, especially those living in more rural parts of the county. Did no-one get a calculator out and investigate the cost by factoring in bus fares to and from a sample of different locations?

Certainly, the opposition parties were swift to raise the issue but failed to get much of an explanation when they did. Even when they suggested limiting the pass to just school journeys, the were told it would not save enough money.

So, the answer has to be no and in failing to spot the shortcomings, KCC contrived to get into a mess all of its own making. One explanation might be that the council was not required to carry out an equalities impact assessment because the scheme is a discretionary service and did not need one.

Another possibility is that KCC rushed its decision, conscious that it needed to curb the costs of the Freedom Pass as part of its contribution to an £82m savings package that has to be signed off next week.

Politically, it has been a bit of an embarrassment, despite presenting the U-turn as an illustration of its willingness to listen to residents. The Conservative administration has not exactly covered itself in glory and there were - as there always are - rumours of backbenchers planning to revolt. 

There was also the threat of a rainbow coalition of the opposition parties, who had held meetings to discuss a united effort to block the changes at the budget meeting and could, with the help of a couple of Tory backbenchers, inflicted what would have been a damaging defeat.

Politically, the ruling administration at KCC still sometimes seems to operate as if it has a huge majority and still seems to think that in any political battle of wills, it will always prevail. On this occassion, it came perilously close to a defeat. A climbdown now rather than defeat in the council chamber was chosen as the least-worse option.

No-one under-estimates the financial cosh that KCC is under but the crude way it went about saving money on the Freedom Pass - a flagship scheme and one that has proved hugely popular - suggested its usually astute political antennae were not, his time, switched on. 

 

 

 

 

 

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County Hall goes into reverse gear on Freedom Pass

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 7 2014

It would have been a surprise had Kent County Council not acted to address the mounting opposition to its planned changes to the Freedom Pass. 

The ramifications of imposing a £350 cap on a new smart card became obvious the moment the council announced the proposal to limit journeys, leaving parents to find the rest once children had spent up to the cap.

The key question that KCC has not answered is why no-one - either politicians or officers - realised that its new scheme hardly represented value for money for parents, especially those living in more rural parts of the county. Did no-one get a calculator out and investigate the cost by factoring in bus fares to and from a sample of different locations?

Certainly, the opposition parties were swift to raise the issue but failed to get much of an explanation when they did. Even when they suggested limiting the pass to just school journeys, the were told it would not save enough money.

So, the answer has to be no and in failing to spot the shortcomings, KCC contrived to get into a mess all of its own making. One explanation might be that the council was not required to carry out an equalities impact assessment because the scheme is a discretionary service and did not need one.

Another possibility is that KCC rushed its decision, conscious that it needed to curb the costs of the Freedom Pass as part of its contribution to an £82m savings package that has to be signed off next week.

Politically, it has been a bit of an embarrassment, despite presenting the U-turn as an illustration of its willingness to listen to residents. The Conservative administration has not exactly covered itself in glory and there were - as there always are - rumours of backbenchers planning to revolt. 

There was also the threat of a rainbow coalition of the opposition parties, who had held meetings to discuss a united effort to block the changes at the budget meeting and could, with the help of a couple of Tory backbenchers, inflicted what would have been a damaging defeat.

Politically, the ruling administration at KCC still sometimes seems to operate as if it has a huge majority and still seems to think that in any political battle of wills, it will always prevail. On this occassion, it came perilously close to a defeat. A climbdown now rather than the 

No-one under-estimates the financial cosh that KCC is under but the crude way it went about saving money on the Freedom Pass - a flagship scheme and one that has proved hugely popular - suggested its usually astute political antennae were not, his time, switched on. 

 

 

 

 

 

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County Hall goes into reverse gear on Freedom Pass

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 7 2014

It would have been a surprise had Kent County Council not acted to address the mounting opposition to its planned changes to the Freedom Pass. 

The ramifications of imposing a £350 cap on a new smart card became obvious the moment the council announced the proposal to limit journeys, leaving parents to find the rest once children had spent up to the cap.

The key question that KCC has not answered is why no-one - either politicians or officers - realised that its new scheme hardly represented value for money for parents, especially those living in more rural parts of the county. Did no-one get a calculator out and investigate the cost by factoring in bus fares to and from a sample of different locations?

Certainly, the opposition parties were swift to raise the issue but failed to get much of an explanation when they did. Even when they suggested limiting the pass to just school journeys, the were told it would not save enough money.

So, the answer has to be no and in failing to spot the shortcomings, KCC contrived to get into a mess all of its own making. One explanation might be that the council was not required to carry out an equalities impact assessment because the scheme is a discretionary service and did not need one.

Another possibility is that KCC rushed its decision, conscious that it needed to curb the costs of the Freedom Pass as part of its contribution to an £82m savings package that has to be signed off next week.

Politically, it has been a bit of an embarrassment, despite presenting the U-turn as an illustration of its willingness to listen to residents. The Conservative administration has not exactly covered itself in glory and there were - as there always are - rumours of backbenchers planning to revolt. 

There was also the threat of a rainbow coalition of the opposition parties, who had held meetings to discuss a united effort to block the changes at the budget meeting and could, with the help of a couple of Tory backbenchers, inflicted what would have been a damaging defeat.

The ruling administration at KCC still sometimes seems to operate as if it has a huge majority and still seems to think that in any political battle of wills, it will always prevail. On this occassion, it came perilously close to a defeat. A climbdown now rather than the prospect of losing a vote on its budget next Thursday was probably regarded as the least-worst option.

No-one under-estimates the financial cosh that KCC is under but the crude way it went about saving money on the Freedom Pass - a flagship scheme and one that has proved hugely popular - suggested its usually astute political antennae were not, this time, switched on. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cry Freedom - the Conservative budget dilemma over the Freedom Pass

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 31 2014

Kent County Council must have calculated that its plans for a £350 cap limiting the use of the Freedom Pass would trigger some controversy.

But any hope that it could ride it out and persuade parents and children that the new arrangements still represented a good deal is failing on quite a spectacular level.

Mounting pressure over Freedom Pass changes>>>

If you wanted an illustration of the backlash, you don't have to look very far. Two petitions calling for a re-think have already attracted about 8,000 signatures. One has been started by a Conservative councillor in Shepway, which must be pretty galling for County Hall.

Even schools are encouraging parents to get on the case, sending out messages on social media linking to the petitions.

There are mutterings in the corridors of County Hall that some backbenchers are not terribly impressed and speculation that come the budget meeting, the opposition parties will join forces and try to block the changes.

KCC's dilemma is that the scheme has proved too successful and as a result, is proving a drain on its dwindling resources. Not many councils could sustain a discretionary service costing £13m a year to run given the relentless pressure on their budgets.

It is doubtful, however, that hard-pressed parents who fear they will have to fork out hundreds of pounds once the £350 cap is reached will have much time for the distinction between mandatory and non-mandatory services.

Containing school transport costs is undeniably a big issue for Kent, partly because it is such a large county.

One of the key principles behind the Freedom Pass was that it was designed to enhance the concept of parental choice when schooling was concerned. It is impossible to know, but there will be many parents and children who factored in the availability of the Freedom Pass when making choices about schools.

The scheme was also lauded for its impact on cutting congestion during the school run and environmental pollution around towns but we are not hearing much about that, despite it being an integral part of KCC's "Growth Without Gridlock" agenda.

It is only two years since the county council made an equally unpopular decision to end a scheme that gave help with transport costs to those attending grammar schools and church schools, depending on how far away they lived from the school.

At the time, the Conservatives justified the decision by saying that it would not be an issue because...of the introduction of the universal Freedom Pass.

That decision also rankled with county councillors and Conservative MPs and continues to do so - about a year ago, under pressure from backbenchers, KCC initiated a review to see if they could restore some limited help to pupils but again emphasised that the Freedom Pass neutralised the impact.

A working group was set up but that has not reported on options and no-one seems to know if it will.

Many parents say they would be happy if the pass could be used just for the purposes of getting children to and from school, dropping the "leisure" use element that allows it to be used seven-days a week for any journey.

KCC is unlikely to want to get bogged down in changes which could create a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare. One of the virtues of the scheme has been its relative simplicity.

Either way, the council is in a political bind and the irony is that it is paying the price not for failure but success.

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Gove proceeds with caution over grammar plans

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 25 2013

There is some restlessness at County Hall over the length of time it is taking Michael Gove to decide on plans for a 'new' grammar school in Sevenoaks.

Politically, this delay is confounding those who think that if the Conservative party - and indeed Mr Gove - want to improve their stock, this would be a fairly straightforward way of doing so. (Especially as UKIP is making a clear commitment to restore selection).

Behind the scenes, it would appear the issue troubling the Department for Education is the same one that has troubled Kent County Council.

Namely, the question of whether the proposal is legal, given that there is a prohibition on opening new selective schools.

The argument of campaigners and KCC is the scheme represents an extension of an existing school to meet a demand for selective places, caused largely by demographic factors.

But the argument is clearly finely balanced. KCC wanted to assure itself that its case was solid by engaging the services of a specialist education lawyer.

It will not disclose the lawyer's advice. In response to a Freedom of Information request, it said the advice (which cost £6,150) was confidential and it was not in the public interest to release it.

In doing so, however, it implicitly acknowledges the issue of legality is one over which there may be persuasive grounds on both sides.

The reply to our request stated "it would not be in the public interest for privileged legal advice to be revealed to a party who can then use that advice to further his or her own case. Releasing the advice would mean making it available to opponents of the annex scheme - effectively using public money to fund both sides of a potential judicial review, referral to the Secretary of State or to the Schools Adjudicator."

Clearly, the advice provided to KCC was that the case could be argued both ways and it would be a surprise if the advice the DfE is getting did not say the same.

Frustrating as it is for those supporting the plans, you can understand why the DfE is treading carefully.

Given that grammar schools still stir up political controversy, Mr Gove will want to ensure that any decision he takes is watertight and won't trigger any protracted legal wrangling.

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The news that Thanet South MP Laura Sandys is to stand down at the next election has come as something of a surprise.

She is a well-regarded MP and judging by the reaction to her decision, considered to be highly diligent on behalf of her constituency.

It presents a tricky situation for the Conservatives, who will be acutely conscious of the speculation that Thanet South has been a seat that UKIP leader Nigel Farage may have his eye on.

Laura Sandys has never made any secret that she is on the pro-European wing of the party. It will be interesting to see whether local Conservatives opt for someone who veers in the other direction.

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Categories: Precept

Will voters be charged by Labour's energy pledge?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 26 2013

After its 2010 meltdown, where it lost all its MPs in Kent, Labour has been pondering just how it can overcome the "Southern Discomfort" phenomenon that has seen voters desert the party in droves.

Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices is one designed to encourage voters to think that Labour understands the pain of "hard-working" families.

Superficially, it looks attractive and is likely to appeal to those who open their monthly bills with their hands over their eyes.

It also plays into the perception Labour is keen to create that the Conservatives are more on the side of big companies and that it is the party that is standing up for ordinary families.(If you are looking for a parallel Conservative policy, the council tax freeze has the same aim).

On the other hand, there is the charge that the plan represents some kind of return to old-style Labour politics and greater state regulation of the kind that led to anti-competitive price controls.

The faultline with this line of attack is that many feel the lack of regulation and intervention by the government was one of the prime reason for the banking crisis and the current state of the economy.

Alarmist talk from the industry that the plan risks power cuts and the artificial inflation of fuel prices before a freeze has taken some of the shine of the announcement.

But Labour will calculate the public antipathy to the vested interests of big corporate organisations and the feeling  there are market monopolies will help its efforts to woo back disaffected voters.

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Why would you be interested in a report titled "Constitutional Amendments To Reflect The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings And Access To Information) (England) Regulations 2012 - unless, of course, you are a fan of brackets?

Well, one reason might be that within it is a recommendation that just might make it more difficult for the opposition parties at County Hall to challenge and hold to account the ruling Conservative administration.

Why? Because under rule changes voted through last week, if a county councillor wants to "call in" a decision taken by the cabinet, or an individual cabinet member, they will no longer be able to do so on their own.

Instead, they will have to get another councillor to support the request to call in the decision - and that second person cannot be from the same party.

According to KCC, the change is required because the current rules are not clear and "does not provide sufficient guidance for members as to when and why a call-in might be used".

Now, in reality it probably won't be too difficult for a councillor to persuade a colleague to support a call in request - and it shouldn't be forgotten that Conservative backbenchers also like to call in decisions to scrutinise.

Nevertheless, it adds to the impression that sometimes KCC is not as keen on being held to account as perhaps it should be.

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And on that theme, it looks as though KCC has been rather heavy-handed in responding to criticism from one of its public health managers who had the temerity to speak out over the authority's pension investments in tobacco companies.

The individual has now been threatened with disciplinary action after making the comments - the council contending on rather thin and Orwellian grounds that she had made "unauthorised statements" to the media.

Talk about over the top. Why is the council so fearful of people expressing opinions?

A shocking example of the control-freakery sadly all too prevalent at County Hall where any "on message" deviation seems to result in a North Korean style crackdown.

No wonder some staff say they work for a paranoid organisation.

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County Hall's latest transformation. Plus:Can the Lib Dems connect in Kent in 2015?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, September 17 2013

It probably tells you something about the complexity of Kent County Council's latest re-organisation - or "transformation" - that the report setting out what is in the offing requires a 'Transformation Plan Roadmap' to explain it.

Libraries an care homes set for privatisation?>>>>>>>

It is, rather like the roadmaps that politicians refer to in the context of the Middle East, convoluted, involving three phases and three themes and within these, two stages. Got that?

But amid the rather dense jargon of 'integration service redesign' and 'alignment of services into groups', key phrases leap out.

One of these is "market engagement". This is a subtle term. KCC is saying that it will examine every service to see whether someone else can run it better and cheaper.

It wants to avoid saying that it is out to privatise everything because the politicians know how sensitive people are to the notion that businesses have, as their bottom line the returns they can make and the interests of shareholders.

KCC underlines this cautious approach by saying (in bold type) of its new role as a 'commissioning authority' that there will be "no ideological or professional bias in regards to who may provide services."

In other words, if a non-profit making charity, voluntary group or other social entrepeneur can do the job, KCC will consider it.

The challenge here is that the  big operators in the private sector have a kind of stranglehold on the public sector by virtue of the economies of scale they can offer that a smaller social enterprise or voluntary group may not.

This is important because KCC's reorganisation is driven by the need to make £240m of savings in three years.

For example, someone may come in and offer to run and improve Kent's network of libraries but if they are not going to do so for less money than the council currently spends, frankly KCC will not be interested.

Where does that leave the group of residents who say they have a plan to run their local village library?

KCC can point to the outsourcing of its youth services to back up its claim that a mix of providers can work but the scale of this latest plan is completely different.

It is very hard to see how back office functions won't be outsourced to one of the big players like Capita.

And procurement is not a cheap process. Inevitably, legal fees and consultants' charges add to the bill to the taxpayers - as Cornwall discovered when it went down a similar route.

Initial costs for Cornwall's outsourcing project were put at £375,000 - not an insignificant figure. Two years later, it had risen to £1.8m. The result - the leader of Cornwall council lost his job.

No wonder KCC leader Paul Carter, in a foreword to the report, states: "Failure is not an option."  

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How will the Lib Dems fare in Kent at the next election? It will be a mammoth task to persuade voters they are a better bet than either the Conservatives or Labour (or even UKIP).

But there will be an intriguing battle in Maidstone and The Weald, where the party is expected to focus its energies and believes it has an outside chance of causing an upset by defeating Helen Grant.

A foretaste of the kind of campaign we are in for came last week. Lib Dem activists ambushed Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who was in town for a Conservative fundraising event, over the controversial Oaken Wood decision.

It is perhaps a sign of the Lib Dems' determination to do well here that David Laws is coming down next month to rally the party at an association dinner. No doubt the first of many visits by big hitters before 2015.

The constituency's prospective candidate Jasper Gerrard seems to be taking to the battle with great enthusiasm and energy. As a former journalist, he clearly has some understanding of what makes an eye-catching campaign stunt.

But a well-run campaign that discomforts your opponent and makes good copy is good as far as it goes.

Just ask Neil Kinnock.

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Categories: Politics

Emergency stop: county councillors slam on the brakes in mileage row

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 19 2013

There are times when County Hall - and county councillors - operate in a parallel universe entirely detached from real life. Occasionally, someone somewhere throws a bucket of cold water over them and they come to their senses.

The decision to perform an abrupt U-turn over a proposal to increase their travel expenses by close to 50% rescued them from a public relations disaster that would have done terrible damage to their reputation. I imagine it took several icy buckets to bring them round.

But let's be clear about it. Had the council's members thought they could get away with it, they would have done. It was only the media coverage that persuaded them them to engage reverse gear rather rapidly.

Indeed, in a Conservative group meeting before yesterday's full council meeting - described as rather ugly by one source - opinion was fairly evenly split with some arguing that they should vote to accept the hike and take the flak.

KCC has fought tooth and nail with HRMC for close to two years over the matter and as I blogged earlier this week, leaders had sought top level meetings with HRMC to press their case.

The option should never have even got to a vote but the fact that it did goes back to a meeting of the authority's selection and member services committee - attended by the leaders of all the parties - where the report was tabled. Instead of seeing a red warning light and the sound of a very large klaxon, the committee supported the idea and that is why it came to the full council meeting.

Perhaps inevitably, rather than any expression of contrition, the leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter sought to deflect some of the criticism coming councillors way by implying that the media coverage failed to set the issue in context. (He issued a similar plea over the furore about the departure of former managing director Katherine Kerswell, urging the media to play with a 'straight bat').

Whenever the issue of councillors' expenses and allowances was raised, he complained, the media "had a field day" and set about writing stories about "snouts in the trough" - even though that particular phrase has not been used in any of our coverage, or indeed, anyone else's.

He suggested the media ought to "help us" by properly explaining the issue to residents. Which of course we did - although not perhaps in the way he and others would have wanted.

Still, at least there was one wise head in the Conservative ranks. Cllr Jeremy Kite, the leader of Dartford council, said it was no-one's fault but KCC's that it had got the issue so spectacularly wrong and the media had done precisely what was to be expected. He at least got that perception matters as much as anything in politics and there was nothing at all that looked good to the public about this idea.

There are some issues where Kent county council seems to have a particular blind spot and this is among them. Despite the retreat yesterday, the issue hasn't gone away. If the authority has any sense, it will see the wisdom of taking a very large barge pole and going nowhere near the subject for the next four years.

But it won't. And we will be there to help explain the "issue" when it next surfaces.

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What will be the point of voting for county councillors at the next election?

Not my question but one posed by the Labour backbencher Tom Maddison during a more thoughtful debate about the Conservative administration's £240m savings strategy which will see the council recast as a "commissioning" authority - meaning more privatisation and outsourcing.

The point here was that if KCC does go down this route, what will be the function of elected members. It is a good point. If KCC simply becomes a local goverment CostCo - trading and contracting services - just what will they do?

You may just as well have a management team and let them get on with the job. Which is why the commissioning approach raises important issues about local democracy and the view of some that it will see the "local government ethic" disappear. As Liberal Democrat leader Trudy Dean put it, many choose to work in local government because they are attracted to the idea of working in a sector wherethe service matters, not the profit.

They don't want to end up in the private sector where the bottom line for companies is ultimately what they can get for their shareholders rather than what they can do for communities.

And what will KCC do when things go awry with contractors, as is bound to happen? It won't have the staff left to step in and will simply have to find another private consortium to do the job.




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Categories: Politics

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