All posts tagged 'Liberal-Democrats'

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

Is the cost of FOI really too high? Plus: Why Labour are cautious about the elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, April 21 2011

Politicians are prone to grumble that Freedom of Information requests cost too much time and money councils and others spend dealing with them - particularly from the media - might be better put to other uses.

But how much of a burden is it? And are the costs really making a significant dent in the finances of public bodies?

Kent County Council produces some interesting data on the issue which suggest that some of the assertions from politicians might be over-stated.

In 2010, KCC dealt with 1,539 separate requests - about three times as many as when the Act first came into force in 2005. It estimates that the hours spent dealing with these requests was 4,779 and the average cost of dealing with a request was £78 - compared to £71 the previous year.

But the bulk of requests did not come from journalists. The media accounted for 16 per cent of all requests; private individuals accounted for 58 per cent and companies 18 per cent. The costs of dealing with 246 requests from the media were £19,188. In the context of KCC's annual £2.4billion budget, that represents 0.00007995 per cent of its total spend. Now, to me that's pretty small beer.

It's far less, for example, than the £1.7m KCC has to spend on members allowances and expenses each year which, we are usually reminded, accounts for 0.07 per cent of its budget.

But the issue is not just about costs, it is about value. It strikes me that a lot of the information that is elicited by journalists has brought into the public domain data and information of bona fide public interest. That our politicians grumble about it rather reinforces this point.

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Ed Miliband was cautious to  play down Labour's prospects in Kent at the council elections on May 5. You can understand why. Although there are some hopes the party may wrest control of two or three councils - Dover, Thanet and Gravesham are being targeted - the party is starting from a very low base after being wiped off the county's political map over recent years, culminating in the catastrophic general election last year when they lost all their remaining MPs.

The view is that despite the cutbacks and continuing recession, the disaffection with the coalition government has not yet reached a point where people are out to give it a serious bloody nose. More like a gentle reproach. The Conservatives have also been fortunate that the backlash has been more pronounced against the Liberal Democrats over what the public perceive as broken pledges.

So I don't see major upheaval in Kent happening in a fortnight. What will be interesting to see is how the Lib Dems fare. Candidates appear desperate to detach themselves both from the leader Nick Clegg and in some cases, even the party. I'm told that election literature from some candidates in north Kent carefully avoid mentioning who they are standing for. 

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Categories: ema | Local Politics

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