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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

• With another year of public sector austerity on the cards, Kent County Council has announced a consultation handing over its 99 libraries to a charitable trust. This represents a major change from two years ago, when the ruling Conservative administration agonised over closing many to save money but got cold feet. The trust model is not new – KCC is actually behind many councils in looking to go down this route-and it has its pros and cons. On the obvious question about whether libraries will close, KCC says it “envisages no changes at the present time”. It goes on to say there are no plans to change opening hours and customers “should” see no difference. Keen linguists will note the interesting phrase “at the present time” and “should” rather than will.

• When county council officers published a report last year on the possible impact of the government’s welfare reforms, it was hurriedly withdrawn by county council leader Paul Carter. He was unhappy that the report had linked rising homelessness and increased use of food banks with the reforms. An updated 36-page report published this week strikes a more cautionary note, concluding: “The extent to which these [homelessness and food banks] are caused by welfare reform changes, remains unclear.” We think that goes under the “hedging bets” file. I Election news. Janice Atkinson, Ukip prospective candidate for Folkestone and Hythe, issues press releases on a prodigious scale. A recent one took to task her main rival, the incumbent MP Damian Collins for his poor record on tabling written questions in Parliament. Cue a response in which the MEP finds her own voting record in the European Parliament under fire. Only not from Mr Collins, however. The retaliation came from Labour, who stepped into the row. Yes, Labour defending a Conservative to have a go about Ukip. It is going to be a long election campaign.

• Tweet of the week from Ashford MP Damian Green: “Have just seen a Telegraph online article using a picture of me from I think 1998! I don’t miss the tie but could do with the hair back.” Damian, Off The Record empathises.

• Kent County Council’s former managing director Katherine Kerswell continues to cast a shadow over County Hall. She left the job in 2011 but her £420,000 pay-off after 18 months in the role continues to be cited as the definitive example of the public sector executive gravy train. An announcement by the Conservatives of a plan for a cap on executive payouts duly saw the media rake the coals again over the eye-watering sum she received.

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

Herne Bay Gazette, January 15th 2015

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