Published: 00:01, 10 February 2017
The Conservative leader of Kent County Council (KCC) has accused council chiefs in east Kent of using a planned merger as cover for a bid to break away and secure complete independence.
Cllr Paul Carter has delivered an uncompromising attack on the four councils who have proposed a ‘super district’ saying it is part of a wider agenda to become a unitary authority, taking control of all services.
Shepway, Thanet, Dover and Canterbury have set out a plan to merge and become a single district, a move they say would save money and mean better services.
Ashford, however, decided against joining them, with council leader Gerry Clarkson saying it was not in the borough’s interest to do so.
Mr Carter also claimed there was growing dissent among many Tory councillors.
He said: “I think it will be interesting to see if councils vote for their own destruction
"That is going to be a big decision.
“I am hearing there is considerable anxiety in all political ranks in the four authorities.
“I have always said we should work together to deliver the most effective and efficient services.”
The outspoken remarks are a foretaste of what could be an attritional political battle between the two sides
Speaking for the first time about the merger proposal, Mr Carter said: “I am concerned by rumours the real intent is for a unitary council for east Kent… there is a national campaign being led for super districts as phase one then smaller fragmented unitaries as phase two.
“I’m not going to quote names, but many have said to me ‘of course, you realise this is phase one of our unitary intent’.
“If district councils were to say they were going to merge district services and sign allegiance to the county council and did not have any unitary tendencies over the next 10 or so years, then I would be relaxed.
“But I am totally opposed to a new unitary.”
He said the councils involved had not approached KCC to discuss other options for closer working together and collaborations on shared services.
“It would be good if they had a conversation with KCC about how we might want to support them in the delivery of their back office services.
“There haven’t been any invitations in that direction.”
There were no plans to submit any bid for the county council to become a unitary.
He said a report commissioned by KCC to examine the ramifications of splitting up Kent into unitaries concluded it would involve huge costs.
The four councils are to hold special meetings in March to decide whether to push ahead with the bid, which would require government approval.