By Andrew South & David Wimble
A ‘super council’ comprising the four main district councils in East Kent may become more than a twinkle in their eye as they begin to consider the business case for unification – which would make East Kent Council the largest of its kind in the country.
If approved local authorities in Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet would be abolished, paving the way forward for a single East Kent Council
Developed by Local Partnerships and the Local Government Association, the Business Case is assessing the pros and cons of a new single council and identifies the following opportunities if a new single council were created:
• Economic potential – East Kent is already recognised as a distinct economic area
• A stronger East Kent voice with greater influence at a national and regional level
• Greater economies of scale, greater resilience and more chance to secure funding
• Greater scale to borrow and increase investment in East Kent
• Approximately £6.8m of savings could be achieved within two years
• Transitional costs are expected to be recouped in just over a year
• Potential for greater savings
• Improved customer experience – consistent approach across our services for residents and the potential for improved value for money
• Enhanced quality of services for residents
We asked the leader of our own Shepway District Council, David Monk where he stands on the possibility of the district being swallowed up by a greater power.
“There are two main drivers for us to form a single East Kent Council – one is resilience and one is political clout,” he told us.
“Resilience comes from the savings that can be made by creating a new council and the political clout comes from the voices of more than half a million people.”
So that’s all right then. We wonder what say we might have on the prospect of a dilution of local government influence and power.
Approval was originally given to commission a Business Case by five East Kent councils in July 2016. Ashford Borough Council has announced it no longer intends to be involved in the creation of a single council, but remains strongly committed to working closely with any future new council.
Meetings will now be held to formally consider the four-way Business Case and provide an opportunity for members to consider the local implications. This is before a decision is taken by each council on Wednesday 22 March as to whether to move to the next stage of public engagement.
Cllr Chris Wells, Leader of Thanet District Council and spokesman for the East Kent districts, said: “The Business Case clearly identifies that the creation of a single East Kent council is an ambitious but logical next step for our councils. The East Kent districts already have a well-established track record of collaboration and sharing services and a new single council could improve and streamline our services. With greater scale and resources, it could transform services at a higher quality and lower cost to residents, and strengthen our position economically.
“Members at each council will now have to seriously consider the implications and to determine whether we continue to the next stage. Given the significant changes to local government, we are clear that things cannot continue as they are. It is now for members to consider what happens next.”
Local resident Kevin Beale told The Looker; “This is not exactly a new idea – there was talk of Shepway and Dover Councils joining together about eight years ago, which seemed to make a lot of sense. But then it came to the nitty gritty and both chief executives wanted to stand down, with the end result of tens of thousands being spent on a feasibility study, only for it to be dropped!.”
After public engagement, if the councils decide to form a new council, approval would be required from the Secretary of State. Should this be granted, it is anticipated that a new council would legally take effect in April 2019, with elections to the new council taking place in May 2019.
Andy Bennett from New Romney, told The Looker; “On paper this is a good idea. It will save money on all levels like procurement, and there would be a huge saving on running four civic centres, but I think the idea is flawed. For starters, who would run it and where would it be? We are already run from the ivory towers of Folkestone, who seem to forget about us on the Marsh unless there is an election in the air. Giving our Council Tax to a bigger group of people will be bad news for us. In fact, I think we would be better off micro-managing our own district, otherwise we might as well split the County Council into two and say job done! But I guess then we would not have all the jobs for the boys for district councillors. So it does have its up side!”
The Business Case documents, background information – including council reports and a list of Frequently Asked Questions are available to view on each council website, so have a look at: www.shepway.gov.uk.
What do Looker readers think of the possibility of an East Kent superstate. In particular, how do you think this would affect the Marsh economically and in terms of public services? Would we have even less say in how the council is run or is there strength in numbers? Let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org.