According to reports, Councillors in Shepway voted 18 to 8 to reject the proposed consultation on the 4-way merger. Councillors in Canterbury decided not to vote at all; an indication of their serious reservations about the plan. Councillors at Dover voted narrowly (22 votes to 18) to go ahead with the consultation. And it is reported that Thanet councillors voted by a large majority to hold a consultation, although the actual number of votes for and against have not yet been published. But with 2 out of the 4 councils (Shepway and Canterbury) having in effect vetoed the public consultation exercise on the super council, I can’t see how Dover and Thanet can go ahead with what would now be a pointless and expensive consultation exercise.
My understanding is that the main reasons why Shepway and Canterbury councillors appear to have got cold feet about the merger is because they were concerned about the restricted nature of the proposed public consultation about the plans and the democratic deficit which would result from the culling of a huge number of elected councillors which, it was argued, might result in the new organisation becoming out of touch with the communities it served, just like Kent County Council. However the main reason for reticence, I have been told, is the astronomic debt which would be inherited by the proposed super council.
Working with colleague bloggers at ShepwayVox we exclusively revealed, in an article we jointly published on 18 February 2017, that the estimated total debt which would have to be managed by the new super council would be in excess of £1billion. Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils have never challenged our figures because they know that they are correct. There’s a link to this article and the debt figures at the bottom of this post.
Huge inherited debt was the reason why Ashford Council pulled out of the merger talks earlier this year with its leader councillor Gerry Clarkson reportedly saying he was concerned about the “financial woes” of the other 4 councils. I have been told by someone who was there, that discussions at the meeting of Shepway Council last night also raised the spectre of the, as yet unquantified, compensation payment that Thanet Council will have to make to the former owners of the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park. My understanding is that the former owners of the park have submitted a compensation claim in excess of £20million and that Thanet Council has appointed barrister Mary Cook to head up of a team of CPO experts to resist the claim at a cost estimated to be approaching £100k. I can perfectly understand the reluctance of councillors from Canterbury, Shepway and Dover to sign a blank cheque for a multi-million settlement deal which is likely to have to be picked up by their constituents.
My view is that the proposed super council was a badly conceived, hastily put together, undemocratic, dogs breakfast of plan which deserves to be booted out by east Kent councillors. However, I’m on record as supporting radical local government re-organisation in East Kent and my views haven’t changed. I firmly believe that Kent County Council should be abolished and its powers devolved to a series of new unitary councils based upon mergers of no more than three district councils. These new unitary councils should have councillors elected on the basis of proportional representation and the voting age for electors to the new councils should be reduced to 16. I also believe that the such changes should, unlike the prosed super council, include the fullest public consultation and a binding referendum of people in the affected areas.
Link to super council super debt article