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Gale's View - Time to call 'time' at County Hall?

March 9th 2016

The future of Kent County Council as an institution is back on the agenda and there is, in East Kent at least, a wind of change blowing the corridors of local government power.

When we were offered the chance to adopt unitary authorities in Kent back in the late 1980s I and most of my parliamentary colleagues at that time had our doubts about the likely success of abandoning the Shire County model and moving to smaller unitary units that removed a tier of government by combining the roles of County and District or City administrations.

By the next County Council elections we shall have had nearly two decades of unitary experience in the Medway towns to learn from and the signs are that the experience has, in the main, proved successful thanks to strong and pioneering leadership and a cross-party support for the creation of a local Medway Towns political community.

At the end of last week the North Thanet Conservative Association selected, at its Annual General Meeting, and from a very strong field of candidates, those who will stand to represent us at the County Council elections next year.( At the same meeting I, myself, was honoured to be re-adopted the fight the North Thanet or newly named Herne Bay Seat in 2020.) Every one of those offering themselves for election, those chosen to stand and those who were not, will one day make excellent representatives at County level and some are already active in local government. They would, though, all be equally capable of serving the community within a unitary authority. We are blessed with a deep pool of abilities, both experienced and younger, and I do not doubt for one moment that other major political parties would be able to make the same claim. I think that we would have no difficulty whatsoever in identifying more than sufficient talent to lead and to run East Kent were we to adopt the unitary model.

It is already the case that, to achieve economies of scale, a number of services are shared between Shepway, Dover, Thanet and Canterbury and the time has arguably come when we should accept that if Medway can make a go of it as a unitary then so can we. My friends in Bromley and Beckenham take as much pride in being Kentish Men as I do in being accepted, after thirty-three years of residence, as an adopted Man of Kent. We should not, though, confuse the delivery of services with County identity and if we can provide more bangs for the Council taxpayer`s buck by cutting out one level of government and getting together then the time has surely come for us to do so. Any change will, of course, need to be orchestrated with care to ensure that we do not throw a viable baby out with the bathwater but I sense that East Kent`s Members of Parliament and very many party political Leaders at local Council level are ready to make the move.

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