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Council chiefs clash with government over schools

Off the Record

Behind the scenes at County Hall with political editor Paul Francis, Regional Press Awards UK’s weekly newspaper journalist of the year

• Just who should be keeping an eye on Kent’s academy and free schools? It isn’t local education authorities – much to their dismay. Now council chiefs from across the country say they should have the power to hold them to account. A report by the Local Government Association’s Children and Young Person’s board says parents are frustrated when they make a complaint or raise a concern about these schools – only to be told the council has no powers. Among the board’s members is KCC leader Paul Carter. The call has not gone down well with the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

“Academies take power away from politicians and bureaucrats and give it to the heads and teachers who know their pupils best,”

said the Department for Education.

• No politician likes to relinquish power, and it seems county councillors are digging in for a battle of wills with the Boundary Commission. It is reviewing the size of the county and whether there should be any change in the number of members, currently 84. Councillors believe the size of Kent actually might justify having more, rather than fewer, elected members. Even UKIP, which traditionally tends to think we have too many politicians, has signalled it doesn’t feel there is a case to reduce the numbers. One of its county councillors, Cllr Mike Baldock, told a committee examining the issue:

“With the population of Kent increasing over the next five to 10 years, 84 is too low.”

Not sure how electors will respond to that – especially as the cost of having more County Hall politicians will increase the bill for taxpayers, already at about £1.7 million a year in allowances and expenses. Unfortunately for KCC, the Boundary Commission will have the last word.

• Ann Widdecombe, the much admired former MP for Maidstone and The Weald, has shrugged off suggestions that she might join UKIP. In a national newspaper interview she gave the idea short shrift.

“I’d rather form my own party than ever join UKIP. We could call it the Widdy Mob.”

• Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulOnPolitics for all Kent’s political news.

Herne Bay Gazette, June 19th 2014

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