In the 4 years since the last KCC election our 87 county councillors have been paid the astronomic total of £6,632 million in expenses and allowances. In Thanet our 8 KCC councillors (7 UKIP and 1 Labour) have been paid a total of £456,483. That’s an average of £57,000 each which is nice work if you can get it. But the question must be asked whether the people who voted our KCC councillors into office are getting value for money. I’ve done some research and I don’t think so. Here’s why.
Attending meetings. I began my research by submitting a freedom of information request to find out how often KCC councillors turned up to meetings. I was astonished to get this reply “It is the policy of Kent County Council (KCC) to not record this information because it was felt that to do so would not accurately reflect the contribution that an individual Councillor makes to the Council” So let’s get this straight KCC are saying that it’s not important to provide information about how often a councillor attends meetings. Surely voters have right to know how often their councillor becomes engaged in making policy on important issues through debate and discussion at KCC meetings?
Recorded votes. In parliament most votes are recorded and it’s fairly easy to find out how your MP voted on issues you are interested in. At KCC recorded votes are exceptional so it’s impossible to know how your councillor voted on social services, education, highway, planning or most other issues.
Reporting back KCC used to operate what were called “area committees” which were held quarterly in each of the 12 KCC district council areas including Thanet. The meetings brought together all the KCC councillors for Thanet and senior KCC officers from the different county council services to engage with the public about what KCC had been doing, what it’s future plans were, and to listen to local people and answer their questions. The area committees provided an important element of democratic public scrutiny, but were abolished shortly after the 2013 KCC elections and have not been replaced by another system.
The lack of meeting attendance records, recorded voting, and official systems for councillors to report back to voters means that KCC councillors are less democratically accountable to their constituents than our Westminster MPs, our district and even our parish councillors! What makes me angry about this lack of democracy and accountability is that the county councillors themselves (Labour, Tory, UKIP, Lib Dems) agreed without protest to the abolition of the area committee system and the ending of meeting attendance recording. Presumably our KCC councillors are happy to accept the shameful label of being some of the most unaccountable and anti-democratic politicians outside of North Korea!
Some people might argue that the money saved by abolishing the area committees and record keeping is better spent on protecting education and social services which have suffered massive cuts at the hands of the Conservative and coalition Governments in recent years. I have some sympathy with this argument. But I would also have expected our KCC councillors to have stepped up to the plate and took their own actions to improve their massively reduced accountability to their voters.
Had I been in their place (or should I be elected in May) I would have implemented my own “accountability action plan” which would have tackled KCCs growing culture of unaccountability and lack of democracy which would have made me the most democratic councillor in Kent. Here’s my plan.
But Thanet’s KCC councillors (and many councillors in other districts too) didn’t do a thing to address this EU style “democratic deficit”. Instead they sat back on their arses, doing virtually nothing to proactively engage with the communities they are supposed to serve and took few actions to make themselves more publically accountable . In Ramsgate this was most evident on matters of great public importance such as the well-attended public meetings about the industrialisation of the Port of Ramsgate, meetings about Pleasurama and the Live Animal Exports protests to name but a few where our Ramsgate KCC councillors were nowhere to be seen. Which seems a bit strange when UKIPs 2017 election manifesto describes its councillors as “community champions”.
So do we get good value from the £57,000 average payment made to our current Thanet KCC councillors? Well if your measure of value is how accountable and publically engaged your councillors are - no I don’t think so!
Can this unacceptable situation be improved? Yes! By voting me for KCC on 4th May and electing someone who cares about democracy and public accountability and who has a plan to be the most democratic county councillor in Kent!
Published and promoted by Ian Driver, Independent Candidate, KCC Election, Ramsgate Division. 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs CT10 1BX