All posts tagged 'Paul-Carter'

The Friday Five: The week in Kent politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 21 2014

It has been  busy week on the political front in Kent this week. Here's my round-up of the five key stories affecting the county:

1. Chancellor George Osborne took plenty of people by surprise when he dropped into an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBCthat he was planning to build the first 'garden city' in north Kent at Ebbsfleet. But how 'new' was this?

His comments about a city for 15,000 new homes were not dissimilar to an announcement made by the government two years ago - only this time the number of homes was a little lower and there was a promise of an Urban Development Corporation to oversee the development.

That sparked some concerns that a quango would bypass the democratic planning system and the views of local councils. Still, Osborne sees it as an important symbol of the government's determination to build more homes - and took aim at Labour's failures in the past saying its track record was "more ebb than fleet". Alright, not the best joke but not bad for the politician who many see as having had a sense of humour bypass. 

However, some of the shine was taken off when it emerged that parts of the area where new homes were planned could be at risk of serious flooding.

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2. Many have tried; many have failed. Yes, the fate of Manston Airport hangs in the balance as its latest owner stunned many with an announcement that it was to close. A 45-day consultation with 150 staff is underway and many see it as the end of the road for the site, at least as an airport. MPs and council leaders rushed to denounce the proposed closure but there are signs that this time, the end is nigh. The airport was bought by Ann Gloag, a Scottish businesswoman, for £1 last November and there seemed to be the prospect of a brighter future.

But the transformation team brought in to assess its prospects apparently concluded there were none. Now, there are whispers and rumours of the site being sold for housing development.

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3. Could the picturesque Weald of Kent prove to be the new Texas? Unlikley though it may seem, the prospect of parts of Kent sitting on a huge oil bonanza have been raised in an as yet unpublished government commissioned report from geologists.

It is said to conclude that huge energy reserves could be under The Weald. Stand by for a rush for black gold and the sight of people dispensing with their tweeds in favour of  ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots. Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley gave the news a qualified welcome but some of his colleagues were rather reticent.

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4. If it wasn't exactly a give-away budget, Chancellor George Osborne sprinkled enough goodiesaround to keep his party happy and set the backdrop for the next election - astutely delivering some good news for the sort of disaffected Conservative supporters who just might be flirting with UKIP.  

For Kent, there was news of an extra £140m for flood defences; confirmation of the Ebbsfleet 'Garden City' scheme and news of more duty on fixed odds betting machines. 

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5. County Hall has been a little quiet but we did get news of changes in the Conservative-run cabinet.  Although it  was hardly a reshuffle. In the light of the "Facing The Challenge" re-organisation, the cabinet has been tinkered with so that the ten-strong group is aligned with the smaller number of directorates. Opposition parties were quick to query why, if the council was slimming down so much, was it necessary to keep ten politicians in the executive overseeing just four directorates.

One notable change in the cabinet will come in August, when Cllr Jenny Whittle, the well-regarded cabinet member for children's specialist services, goes on maternity leave.  Her job will be taken by Peter Oakford, who was elected to the council last year.

That in turn will leave the cabinet as an all-male group. There are some who think that once Paul Carter has had his fill of the job, Jenny Whittle would be well-placed to succeed him. 

 

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Welfare Reforms, County Hall And The Sound of Shredding

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, December 5 2013

If you have passed by County Hall in the last couple of days and heard machinery whirring into action, it may well be the sound of copies of KCC's report into welfare reforms being shredded.

The report and its contents were due to have been discussed by a backbench watchdog cabinet scrutiny committee on Friday (6) but it has been taken off the agenda.

KCC leader Paul Carter intervened to withdraw it after a closer reading of its conclusions, saying that it was not well-evidenced (debatable,in my opinion) and he had asked for it to be rewritten.

Politically, you can understand why he was anxious about its findings, which explicitly linked the government's welfare reforms to rising rates of homelessness, crime and the use of food banks.

He clearly realised the report - which cautioned that the findings were "tentative" - would be seized on by other parties to undermine and embarrass the government over its flagship reforms.

The irony is that in withdrawing it, the county council has only succeeded in drawing more attention to it than if it had been left on the agenda.

From a PR perspective, it was not the greatest triumph.

Inevitably, the council now stands accused of suppressing a report because it has politically unpalatable conclusions. It wasn't too long before opposition parties leapt into action to accuse the leader of "playing politics."

When I first spoke to Cllr Carter on Monday, he was circumspect about the conclusions, arguing there had yet to be a direct causal link between the reforms and rising homlessness.

At the same time, he accepted the package of changes introduced by the government could be a "significant component part of increasing homelessness and the start of migration into the boroughs and districts" -  adding that it was "early days" and the trends would be monitored.

That struck me as a perfectly reasonable response. Clearly, he later had a chance to reflect on the contents and concluded it would be better if it was rewritten.

The difficulty with this is that the new version will inevitably be contasted with the first draft - and KCC risks being accused of a whitewash on top of trying to suppress findings because they are politically uncomfortable.

The fact the report was written at all is because county councillors asked for it. It represented the first six-monthly account "to help monitor and update on these impacts."

Councillors have rightly decided they need to be kept abreast of the reforms and how they are impacting on Kent and vulnerable groups.

The problem they now have is wondering whether anything that is presented to them represents the impartial expert view of officers or has been massaged by politicians before it gets into the public domain.

You can join the 3,000+ people who already have and  read the report here.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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You Got Mail: read the expenses correspondence between Kent County Council+tax inspectors

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, August 29 2013

Kent County Council has one or two blind spots when it comes to how it spends taxpayers' money - executive pay has, in the past, been among them - but it certainly had the blinkers on when it engaged in a tussle with tax officials over their expenses.

 

The tussle, as we have reported, centred on a ruling by HRMC that county councillors should be (and should have been) paying tax on their mileage claims from home to County Hall.

That the council's leader Paul Carter took the issue seriously and was reluctant to accede to the instruction is underlined not just by the fact that it paid £5,000 for independent advice.

It is graphically illustrated in the correspondence he exchanged with HRMC chief executive Lin Homer, which you can read at the end of this posting.

It was, as it transpired, a one-way correspondence as HRMC Lin Homer delegated the job of replying to a flurry of letters from County Hall to an unnamed "complaints officer" - so junior, apparently, that his or her name cannot be disclosed under Freedom of Information laws.

Kent County Council's case rested on its contention that county councillors should not have their mileage claims from home to County Hall taxed because they regularly worked from home.

Mr Carter asserted in his first letter that members "spend a very significant amount of time working at home" but, because of safety fears, few regularly saw constituents there.

This latter point is important because HRMC said seeing consituents routinely at home was the basis on which it permitted mileage claims not to be taxed.

Actually, few councillors that I know regularly see constituents in their own homes - and not many avoid doing so because thy are anxious about doing so alone. Much of what they do is - rightly - out and about in their wards or electoral divisions.

They may read correspondence and council agendas but hardly on a scale which could be described as "significant" and certainly not enough to justify calling their home a place of work.

(Many teachers spend considerable time "working from home" but I think heads and indeed council chiefs would balk at being asked to pay their travel expenses as a result. Even some journalists occasionally do...)

And we should not overlook the fact that some of this "work" will be party political, which should definitely not be tax deductible.

It is arguable that given that some members may qualify under the HRMC's ruling and not have to pay  tax that KCC will face some additional administrative work.

But given that there are only 84 elected members, it hardly seems overly burdensome. The county council has plenty of experience in dealing with this sort of bureaucracy.

HRMC was clearly unconvinced by the argument that "councillors get a very modest allowance" and rightly so. "Very modest" is not how most people would see a yearly allowance of close to £13,000 a year for every member.

Read the KCC expenses correspondence between the council leader Paul Carter and HRMC:

Paul Carter to HRMC1.pdf (73.77 kb)

 

Paul Carter to HRMC 2.pdf (23.87 kb)

 

Paul Carter to HRMC 3.pdf (36.49 kb)

HRMC to Paul Carter 1.pdf (31.40 kb)

 

 

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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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The wrong road - why KCC should engage reverse over bumping up expenses

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 17 2013

The taxman does not generally have many friends and Kent County Council is certainly not among them.

After a long wrangle which has been going on for more than a year, HMRC has told the authority that its 84 elected members should be paying tax on car journeys they make from home to County Hall.

The county council's response? It has set out an option to increase the mileage rate councillors can claim to compensate for the 'loss' caused by the tax deductions they will have to suffer.

Unfortunately for KCC, this particular option - which will be voted on on Thursday (18) - comes just one week after leaders announced they would be looking to make a further £240m savings from 2015 and would be looking to outsource many more services to avoid going bust.

So, the timing is not great and neither, whatever the arguments that may be made, is the perception that this amounts to a ruse by the council to ensure that they are not left out of pocket by HMRC's ruling. Inevitably, it would be the taxpayer picking up the estimated £50,000 more it will cost.

KCC's case that members should not pay tax on car journeys has turned on its contention that for many councillors, their home doubles as a place of work and consequently trips should be treated as business trips.

It is certainly true that many members do work in their own home (as indeed do many others employees who do not get any such tax relief) but HRMC said that unless members "routinely" saw constituents in their home, it did not class it as a workplace.

You can argue the case both ways, although my own feeling is that while many members do work at home, not many routinely see constituents at them - at least not as frequently as HMRC believes would be necessary.

(And no employer that I have come across subsidises travel from home to work.)

The HMRC guidance is pretty clear, saying that: "The fact that a councillor chooses to do some work at home - for example, reading council papers or completing correspondence - does not make that home a distinct place of work for the purpose of claiming tax relief on travel expenses."

All of which leaves county councillors in a quandary.

The one point where I have some sympathy is that certain members incur much more by way of expenses in travel because of where they live. Wear and tear on their cars is arguably more and so too are their petrol costs.

KCC says one other option might be to have some geographical banding, paying higher rates to those who live further away. That runs the perverse risk of incentivising more travel and the "meetings culture" too many town halls still cling too.

The county council's own report on the matter reveals just how seriously it has taken the issue.

It records "numerous representations" made to HRMC and disclosing that "members asked officers to delay implementation whilst a further approach was made to HRMC at the most senior level" only last month.

So, an idea of the priority they have given it.

I am less convinced by the argument that if this has to be accepted by the county council, it will somehow deter people from standing in local elections.

Members qualify for a pretty generous basic allowance of £12,800 already and in making this argument, KCC inadertently betrays that most of what members do takes place at County Hall rather than in their own divisions, which perhaps ought to be the case.

Cabinet members certainly do have to be at County Hall regularly, as do opposition leaders but it is less the case for backbenchers.

So, it will be interesting to see how county councillors vote and which of the options they back at Thursday's full council meeting.

I sense they may be gently applying the brakes and going into reverse gear, which wouldn't be a bad idea.

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There is a certain irony that to determine what they should do about their mileage claims, 84 members will travel to County Hall on Thursday to have a debate and a vote.

Wonder how many will car share?

 

 

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Doing more with less - Kent County Council's £240m funding gap

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 10 2013

Doing more with less has become a familiar challenge for all councils in recent years, particularly since the coalition decided budgets for local government would not be protected in the same way as schools and defence and foreign aid.

Kent County Council is to try and square the budget circle and address an estimated £240m funding gap through yet another "transformation" that will involve it becoming primarily a commissioning authority.

Translated this means it will get others to provide services rather than deliver them itself. 

It already does a lot of this anyway and it is not a new approach. Outsourcing, to use the jargon, is commonplace across local authorities. KCC leader Paul Carter was keen to emphasise that he and his colleagues are open-minded about who should run services and if a social entrepeneur was a better bet than a large conglomerate then the council would look at it. The council will be acutely conscious of the problems other councils have had in trying to recast themselves as "virtual" organisations or hiving off everything that moves to the private sector.

He also underlined that the council was not planning a "slash and burn" approach to discretionary services.

A report setting out the approach does hint, however, that the council will be creative over its definition of what amounts to statutory services (those it has to provide), saying "wherever possible, we will seek to redefine and benchmark our baseline definition of what statutory services mean in terms of cost, quality and scale for the people of Kent. Where such services are not considered to be a high priority, KCC will provide appropriate de minimis funding to meet its legal obligations and may even seek to have those legislative requirements removed."

It adds that the council "will not prioritise spending decisions purely on the basis that services are statutory."

Translated, this appears to mean that KCC will only spend the minimum it needs to on some services based on how important residents think they are, which could be problematic.

The notion that it could seek to have statutory obligations removed is intriguing and is the sort of thing that could end up in messy court challenges.

We don't know what exactly is in the pipeline but some familiar arguments are being rehearsed over privatisation. Opponents say private companies are interested only in the bottom line - money - meaning they are much more likley to cherry pick the most lucrative or viable. And just because you outsource a service, it doesn't mean you no longer have any responsibility for it: KCC will still need people to manage contracts and make sure the job is being done and for councillors the task of being the checks and balances to make sure things do not go awry.

Supporters say services can be much more efficient under the private sector and less costly to run. Either way, KCC hasn't done much more than set out its strategic approach. A second report setting out options will be published in September, although sources say much of it has already been written. 

Whether these options will genuinely protect and even enhance services will rather depend on which side of the political fence you sit.

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As the official opposition at County Hall, UKIP has to date been rather quiet. Its 17-strong group has not exactly been vocal and there are one or two whispers that it is rather too close to the Conservative administration. Which would be understandable, not to say something the Conservatives would be keen to encourage.

So, what does it think of the county council's commissioning strategy? Its leader Cllr Roger Latchford said that in the circumstances, the strategy provided the best way forward for the council but the party would scrutinise things as they came along.

Meanwhile, a rather different tone was struck by Swale UKIP councillor Mike Baldock, who tweeted that KCC’s approaoch was “a sure route to poor services and less value for money - exactly what people don’t want to see. A failure in other councils.” Not exactly singing from the same hymn sheet.

 

 

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Conservatives ring the cabinet changes. Plus:Labour leadership battle

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, May 9 2013

County Hall is a febrile place just now after the dust settles on the election that saw the ruling Conservatives come within a whisker of losing control. UKIP has confirmed its leader will be Roger Lachford, the former Conservative deputy leader of Thanet council.

But there are developments involving the other parties, too:

A Conservative cabinet reshuffle is underway and is expected to be officially announced later today.  Leader  Paul Carter has been forced to rejig his top team after the defeat of education cabinet member Mike Whiting. If my sources are correct, that job will go to the well-regarded Cllr Roger Gough, who interestingly is a Sevenoaks councillor and will take control of the council's efforts to open a new grammar school annexe in the area.

One of his key tasks will be to win over Michael Gove who for some reason many Conservatives find hard to fathom has stuck his oar in and decided the site Kent wants should be offered to a free school instead.

After the election hammering, Gove may just be open to the idea that it might not be such a bad thing to be seen to be supporting the scheme, given the fact that UKIP now seems more enthusiastic about selection than the national Conservative party.

The other change likely is that Cllr John Simmonds, who has the finance portfolio, will take on the job of being deputy leader, replacing the long-serving Tunbridge Wells councillor Alex King. Another interesting move (he will retain the finance job) and a sign of complete rapprochement between the two. We don't yet know why Alex King has gone but he has been in hospital with a fractured leg.

Over in the Labour camp and an unexpected leadership contest is looming. Cllr Mike Eddy, who regained the seat he lost in 2009 and was the former opposition leader before the party's meltdown is to challenge Gordon Cowan for the job of leadng the 13-strong group.

He says he has "unfinished business" but denies his bid for the role implies he feels that the party under-performed at the election, having forecast that it could capture 20 seats.

It will be interesting to see if any other names enter he fray - there is some suggestion that Cllr Roger Truelove, returned to Swale Central, could throw his hat in the ring. I am not sure a leadership contest is exactly what Labour need just now.

It might give the impression they are a divided group and it could be better to wait and see how UKIP acquits itself as a formal opposition group.

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A sea change: is the political tide really turning UKIP's way?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, May 5 2013

UKIP did not win control of any councils and three quarters of people who turned out did not actually vote for them. But it is a measure of the impact it had on the political landscape on Thursday that it has succeeded  in becoming the talking point in the debate about whether the the political map of Britain has been radically redrawn.

No mean achievement for a party dismissed as clowns, loonies and fruitcakes by their opponents.

The Kent County Council election  results and reaction>>>>

Nowhere was their success more shocking or stunning than Kent where against even the most optimistic predictions they came tantalisingly close to depriving the Conservatives of securing control of County Hall for the first time in two decades. From a standing start, they took seat after seat from the Conservatives, who were paralysed with anxiety that their grip on KCC was being loosened. To end up with more seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats and become the formal opposition was truly staggering.

There are lots of reasons why UKIP did well and it may be that in Kent, sensitivities around issues like immigration and asylum seekers were more pronounced and resonated more with voters than elsewhere. It is telling that the areas where they did particularly well - Thanet and Shepway - are both places which have had deep rooted problems with economic deprivation and have also been areas where the impact of new communities have been seen and felt at first hand.

In fact, while the party did target Thanet, it did not have a concerted campaign in Shepway yet nearly pulled off a clean sweep of all five seats with very little canvassing. Gains in Swale - another area where the recession has hit - were also notable.The exception is the affluent west Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, where it also won seats.

More than that, UKIP has tapped into widespread voter antipathy and disenchantment with mainstream politics and mainstream political parties: its success has a lot to do with people regarding it as anti-establishment; anti-elite and somehow outside the system - a perfect repository for protest votes. But it has also tapped into a major issue that the big parties have spent too long pussy-foting around - Britain's role and future in the EU. The unwilllingnes of the main parties to be explicit (particularly in terms of time scale) about when people might be given a say has been devastating for them.

But after the euphoria of Thursday's results, there comes the cold reality of the consequences of suddenly finding yourself elected to office.

UKIP county councillors will troop into County Hall next week for an induction programme that will remind them that as locally-elected representatives, they will not be able - much as they like -  to spend the next four years banging on about an EU referendum and immigration. They will all be receiving allowances of around £13,000 to represent constituents whose interests may well be rather more parochial but no less important  - the state of their roads, school places, families dealing with difficult social services issues and planning.

The ability of UKIP to build on the momentum that it has will not be based on how loudly local councillors shout about the need for a referendum on Europe. If they want to be more than a flash in the pan and establish a secure position as a genuine political alternative, voters will need to be convinced they can tackle and influence policy in ways that affect - for the better - the 300 different services that Kent County Council provides. It will also be interesting to see how and if the 17-strong group, all newcomers with one or two exceptions, to the world of local government, remain a cohesive unit.

Parties that achieve success quickly and unexpectedly can sometimes find it awkward adjusting to the demands of being elected to public office and it was intriguing hearing in private how some Conservatives at KCC are already speculating over the prospects of "turning" some of the new UKIP councillors and returning them to the Tory fold.

The other challenge, allied to this, is that UKIP's USP - a movement outside the political system - has actually been undermined by their stunning success. They are, in a sense, no longer outsiders looking in at mainstream politics. If they believe the hype and really do consider they are part of a four-party system, then the consequence is that people will at a council level particularly be judging them on what they actually do rather than on what they say.

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For the Conservatives in Kent, the election was a sobering moment. Only once in its history have the Conservatives lost control of County Hall, back in 1993. That they came within a whisker of losing outright control last Thursday was a discomfiting experience, to put it mildy. In one sense, they were not being punished because of their track record over the last four years but were being punished for the perceived failings of the coalition, which is what they had expected.

But I do think that the party has to do more than blame the dismal results on mid-term blues. Senior Conservatives in Kent have been quick to turn their fire on the national leadership, with KCC leader Paul Carter being particularly damning - accusing some in his party at Westminster of acting more like Lib Dems than Conservatives.

Implicit in this is the idea that the party's woes can be dealt with by a lurch to the right. I am not so sure. The received wisdom so far as general elections are concerned is that they are won and lost in the middle ground. Tony Blair won three because he realised that in places like Kent, classic middle England territory, you had to appeal to the centre ground to deliver victory. 

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Labour has insisted that it is satisfied with the progress it has made in Kent but it fell short of its key objective: recapturing all the seats it had lost back in 2009.

For it to have shown it was making real advances, it should have won more and the fact that it has secured too few to even be the official opposition at County Hall is not where it wants or needs to be. Ed Miliband staked a lot by coming to traditional Tory heartland during the campaign but on these results, it seems the party still has a Southern Discomfort issue.

Their one hope may be that over the next four years, there will inevitably be  a handful of by-elections. The Tories need only lose a few seats for the arithmetic to be changed in a way that just might lead to the authority having a different rainbow coalition.

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We expect the jungle drums at County Hall to be beating with news of a Conservative cabinet reshuffle within a few days. The defeat of the well-regarded cabinet member for schools Mike Whiting means there will have to be changes. Education remains one of the key roles and there are many awkward issues looming, not least trying to persuade Michael Gove to back the KCC plans for a new grammar school.

The other gossip surrounds the future of the deputy leader Alex King, who was unable to be at his count after breaking his leg. It could be that his tenure as the reliable second-in-command could be coming to an end. If it is, perhaps the role could go to the Sevenoaks councillor Roger Gough - well-thought of, intelligent and potentially a good foil to the rather direct style of the current leader.

But I also think he'd make a good education cabinet member. And whenever I make these predictions, they usually turn out to be well wide of the mark so you might be advised to disregard them...

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

Are politicians finally grasping the nettle of elderly care? Plus: How many voters asked for the Home Office leaflets on Kent police race?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 4 2013

Politicians profess to care about many causes - and many are genuine about it - but the causes they espouse most vigourously are often the ones that connect most directly with voters and ones that can yield quick returns.

Which goes some way to explain why successive governments have opted to kick into the long grass the tricky issue of how society will deal with - and pay for - the increasing number of elderly people needing care in the coming years.

There are signs that the head-in-the-sand approach adopted by ministers may very slowly be changing. The issue is getting traction after years in which the Treasury particularly has had its collective head in the sand deeper than most.

The Dilnot Report, which set out reforms that it said would relieve many of the anxieties caused by the uncertainty of knowing how they will pay for care when they need it, has been gathering dust amid warm words from all parties about how they endorse the principles but are still considering how best to set a cap that would limit how much we pay.

Former care minister Paul Burstow stepped into the fray this week with a suggestion to means test winter fuel allowances to release the £1.7bn needed a year to fund a cap of £35,000 on the amount people would have to pay for their care. He was roundly criticised but whatver you think about his case, he has at least outlined one way forward - which is more than anyone else has done.

In Kent, the Conservative leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter has initiated a petition to Downing Street calling on the government to implement the Dilnot reforms by 2015 (before the election), arguing the £1.7bn bill is "a price worth paying" for the horrendous costs many will face when they are older.

 

Opposition parties may quibble about the fact that KCC is pushing this at a time when it is making £18m in savings from its own adult care budget but if the petition helps to generate debate and focus on the ticking time bomb, it deserves to be supported.

Many Conservatives are privately bewildered by the government's unwillingness to tackle the issue at the same time as ring-fencing money for things like International aid and apprehensive about how they will be explain to voters what the policy is when they are out canvassing support for the elections in May.


The issue is particularly pertinent for Kent, which has a higher elderly population than many parts of the country. By 2026, there will be about 658,000 people in the county over 50; compared to about 537,000 now. The demographic trend is only going in one direction.

 

And even politicians get old.

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To say the voters of Kent were underwhelmed by the first election for a police commissioner would be something of an under-statement. A turnout of 16.5% was hardly a sign of voter engagement.

In an effort to get people interested, the Home Office did, during the campaign, produce leaflets for each area detailing candidates' election statements. You had to formally request these in writing as the government dtermined it would be too expensive to allow every candidate a free mail shot.

So, of the 1.2m voters in Kent, how many requested a copy of the one for Kent, which contained 16 glossy pages? In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Home Office has revealed that a grand total of 4,712 leaflets were ordered by residents thirsting for information about who was after the £85k a year job.

Across the country as a whole, 120,361 leaflets were ordered.

And the cost to the taxpayer of printing and distributing these broachures? A total of £191,862.96



 


 

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Categories: Politics | Precept

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