Thanet, and the district councils of Canterbury, Dover, and Shepway, are proposing single council for East Kent.
It will not be a unitary council, as that would require both government and KCC support, neither of which appears to be readily available.
The alternative is continuing as we are, with increasing budgetary deficits to find in the years to 2025 and beyond. Thanet council would need to find an additional £15m or so by increasing fees, charges, and council tax; and/ or, reduction in services. This is the very real and ongoing impact of the years of Tory austerity, reducing the monies coming to councils such as ours by some 40%.
The plan proposes a merger of three Conservative controlled councils, with UKIP’s only controlled district council. It will have to decide between a strong leader and cabinet executive model, or a committee model. It is fundamental reform of local government, sharply reducing the numbers of highly paid directors; something the public have wanted to see for many years. In that sense alone it is something to be proud of.
This is in sharp contrast to the way KCC does its business, recently crying crocodile tears over the unfairness of their poverty stricken senior directors having to make do on a mere £197,000 per year. You can buy a not so small house every year for that in parts of East Kent.
And therein lies the rub. For too many years Kent County Council has been the fiefdom of the West Kent Boys Club, run by and for the wealthier parts of our great county.
If you are a personal assistant working with a disabled person in west Kent, you get paid more per hour than in east Kent, for the same job in the same authority.
Just last year KCC finally ended the iniquitous zoning of care Home fees, where for many years you got paid some £46 more per week for the same resident in west Kent over east Kent.
The business case
Which is in part why the published business case explores:
- Economic potential
- A stronger East Kent voice
- Economies of scale, and resilience
- potential for greater investment in East Kent
- £6.8m of savings within two years
- Transitional costs recouped in a year
- Improved and consistent customer experience
- Enhanced quality of service
This business case, structured to the government treasury model, clearly identifies projected savings required to 2025 and means a budget reduction of some £60m between the four of us by 2025. The best part of £42m can be achieved through this proposed merger alone.
The East Kent districts already have a well-established track record of collaboration and shared services and a new single council should improve and streamline these services. Given the significant recent changes to the funding of local government we are all clear things cannot continue as they are.
Essential to the success of this project is devolution from district to parish and town councils. Assuming all 4 councils approve moving to consultation on March 22, in part, this has to be about the additional things parish and town councils need to take on board. Local matters, parks, gardens, toilets, places where those extra touches of local pride and identity give residents daily pleasure. Local planning powers, garages, conversions, extensions and planning decision for say up to five house developments. This can be done, others have already achieved recognition for the success of devolution regimes to parish and town councils.
There have been comments about the varied possibilities for council tax harmonisation. No final decision has been taken at this stage, and we include three illustrative options in the consultation document, to give our residents an idea of the likely impacts on council tax bills.
Councillors will decide on Wednesday 22 March whether to move to public engagement and consultation. I am proud that the only UKIP led council in the country is the talk of local government reform less than two years after taking office.
East Kent is big enough for economies of scale; small enough for local knowledge; big enough to attract greater investment, small enough to be accessible; big enough to be a significant economic geography; small enough to know where help is needed.
I commend to you the proposal for an East Kent Council, and hope you will join me on this exciting adventure. Local, but effective, government for the 21st century.