In the 4 years since the last KCC election our 84 county councillors have been paid the astronomic total of £6,632 million in expenses and allowances. In Shepway our 6 KCC councillors (3 UKIP and 2 Conservative & 1 Green) have been paid a total of £350,900 (see above). That’s an average of £58,483 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.
I began my research by submitting a freedom of information (FOI) 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”
The irony here is that KCC Cllr Gary Cooke (Con – pictured), KCC cabinet member for democratic services said “There was no legal requirement to publish attendance records but could still be accessed by the public through Freedom of Information requests”. Strange then a FOI did not produce the figures when requested.
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 a right to know how often their councillor becomes engaged in making policy on important issues through debate and discussion at KCC meetings?
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.
KCC used to operate what were called “area committees” which were held quarterly in each of the 12 KCC district council areas including Shepway. The meetings brought together all the KCC councillors for Shepway 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important element of democratic public scrutiny, but were abolished shortly after the 2013 KCC elections and have not been replaced by another system.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 six KCC councillors and all the other 78 Cllrs 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.
Set up a KCC Cllr website and include my voting record, and write monthly reports about what’s happening in and for the Folkestone West Division Residents.
Publish my expenses and attendance allowances on a monthly basis.
Organise Public Meetings to discuss KCC & Shepway Council issues.
Campaign against unpopular KCC, SDC & Government Policies, such as large scale development, cuts to the 8 schools budgets in the division, the state of our roads etc.
But Shepway’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 pro-actively engage with the communities they are supposed to serve and took few actions to make themselves more publicly accountable . In Shepway this was most evident on matters of great public importance such as the well-attended public rallys about the the building of 26,292 homes, meetings and protests about the closure of Pent Valley and the parking charges protests to name but a few where our Shepway KCC councillors were nowhere to be seen, except KCC Cllr Martin Whybrow. Which seems a bit strange when UKIPs 2017 election manifesto describes its councillors as “community champions”.
So do we get good value from the £58,483 average payment made to our current Shepway KCC councillors? Well if your measure of value is how accountable and publicly 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 & Promoted by Bryan Rylands Flat D Avenay Court Folkestone CT20 2LN
All the information above is my own and does not represent the views of the Shepwayvox Team who have kindly allowed me to use their blogsite.