Political blog, September 2: KCC in clear over business activities and how could grammars be phased out?
There will be some relief and satisfaction at County Hall
that a probe by auditors into its commercial enterprises has pretty
much cleared the council of any wrong-doing, as our
business editor Trevor Sturgess reports.
The inquiry came about after some businesses complained that KCC
enjoyed some kind of unfair advantage when bidding for
contracts through its own companies such as Kent Top Temps Limited
and Kent Top Travel.
According to the Audit Commission's report,
which you can read
here, the authority has acted lawfully and no evidence found
that KCC cross-subsidised its commercial operations to give them a
competitive advantage - the main gripe from other private companies
competing for the same contracts.
Of the eight recommendations made by the Audit Commission
about what KCC should do as a result of the inquiry, there were two
of particular interest.
The first was based on the revelation that when it came to
paying its invoices promptly to Kent Top Temps, KCC appears to have
been dragging not just its heels but its feet. Auditors discovered
that of Kent Top Temps debtors, KCC was the biggest, owing
£1.5million to the company - of which £1.2million was outstanding
for between one and four months.
The second was the recommendation that KCC do more to be open
and transparent about its commercial activities - or in the
report's words "seek to maximise disclosure of information on its
commercial undertakings, subject to proper commercial
KCC, to be fair, is now taking steps to do this. But I
can't help thinking that its reluctance to put more
information into the public domain at the outset of this row helped
contribute to the suspicions voiced by other companies.
The report came under the spotlight when it was presented at a
meeting of KCC's Governance and Audit Committee
Trading Activities Sub Group (yes, I'd never
heard of it either) yesterday when there was some intelligent and
probing questions from Conservative Cllr Chris Wells and Lib Dem
Cllr Tim Prater about its contents. It's a pity therefore that this
committee will only be meeting a few times a year.
Is there a way in which grammar schools could be
phased out at little cost and minimum disruption? According to the
campaign group Comprehensive Future there is.
It argues that given that now there is a cross-party consensus
that selection should not be extended, the only question is how
could it be achieved.
its solution? Basically, to gradually turn all grammar schools
into comprehensive schools starting on a date determined by the
Government, dispensing with the little-used ballot regulations that
currently allow parents to trigger votes on the future of selective
schools. Only one such ballot has taken place in the ten years
since it was put on the statute books.
Read our story here>>>
It has the merit of simplicity for sure - but I can't see
grammar school supporters and the Conservative party being enthused
by the idea.
Up at County Hall today and definite evidence that the
summer holidays are drawing to a close.
Members of the cabinet gathered for a closed-doors meeting to
consider some of the key policy issues looming over the next few
months, including a potentially difficult budget.
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