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Our political editor Paul Francis looks back at the Conservative Party Conference and council tax rises


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Dancing MPs, levelling up and more council tax pain...just another busy week in English politics.

Here’s our political editor Paul Francis with his take on events…

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the ‘priority’ for the country would be to reduce doctor and hospital backlogs (Jacob King/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the ‘priority’ for the country would be to reduce doctor and hospital backlogs (Jacob King/PA)

There is no doubt the Prime Minister is genuine about his desire to rebalance the economy and ensure there is equal opportunity for all regardless of where they come from.

He is right when he says that the UK has a lopsided economy; right, too, that levelling-up is needed to address the great disparities between socially-deprived communities and those that are economically buoyant.

As he said in his speech: “There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others. Levelling up works for the whole country – and is the right and responsible policy.”

So, we have to take at face value the declaration that the government is determined to extend the programme nationally and not just on those red-wall seats in the north that were held by Labour but are now Conservative after the crushing defeat inflicted on the party led Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

The issue is that you can’t tackle regional inequalities just by sloganeering. At some point, the government will have to come up with funding to those areas blighted by long-term unemployment, high levels of social deprivation and underperforming schools.

"The Prime Minister may be talking the talk but needs to show that he is walking the walk - somewhere in the direction of Kent..."

And if we are to believe the government, there are some painful decisions ahead in the Autumn budget to get the country’s public finances sorted.

This does not augur well for Kent, which the Prime Minister appears to think can be lumped in with the prosperous south east and has none of the deprivation levels afflicting the north.

Take child poverty, for example: recent data indicated there are 104,951 children in poverty in Kent. This has increased by 2,247 since 2015, according to latest research for the year 2019/2020.

Poverty levels in Thanet rank alongside some of the country’s poorest towns and cities despite efforts over many years to improve its fortunes.

There is a legitimate concern that scarce resources may see money diverted away from Kent, risking the possibility of making poverty even greater.

The Prime Minister may be talking the talk but needs to show that he is walking the walk - somewhere in the direction of Kent.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Picture: PA/Aaron Chown
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Picture: PA/Aaron Chown

SO, now that the conference season has closed, what conclusions can we draw about the state of the party leaders?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivered a 90-minute epic, not quite in the league of Fidel Castro but it went on so long, it was hard to remember exactly what he said at the beginning.

Which may have been the idea.

On balance, it was a speech that steadied the helm and asserted his authority over the party but it didn’t provide a compelling alternative that on its own would be enough to win over floating voters.

As for Boris Johnson, he rattled through a 45-minute long speech at breakneck speed, with plenty of gags and alliterative flourishes and a heavy emphasis on levelling up; he careered from one thing to another, the abrupt switches making it all rather hard to follow and leaving you with the kind of queasy feeling you get after an amusement park ride.

Council tax bill
Council tax bill

HOW much will next year’s council tax bill be? We won’t know quite yet but what we do know is that yet again, Kent County Council is likely to have to plug a spending gap of between £40m and £60m, partly because of unavoidable spending pressures and partly because the government is not expected to give councils more by way of grants to meet some of these demands.

So, the likelihood is that there will be a sting in the tail next year.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), says under government spending plans, a rise of at least 3.6% on council tax bills will be needed annually to keep services at pre-pandemic levels.

And extra cost pressures and demand may mean bills rise by up to 5% through to 2024/25.

The problem is - or has been - that the government effectively caps how much bills can increase - this year it was set at 2%. If the same cap is put in place this year, average bills would add an extra £28 per year to the KCC element of the bill for a typical band D property.

It leaves very limited room to balance the books - apart from cutting services.

Tom Tugendhat and Michael Gove dance at the Tory party conference Picture: @johnjohnstonmi
Tom Tugendhat and Michael Gove dance at the Tory party conference Picture: @johnjohnstonmi

WE are not sure it can rightly be called a highlight but the sight of Kent MP Tom Tugendhat and minister Michael Gove throwing some shapes on the dance floor at a conference party certainly got a lot of attention.

Perhaps the pair were parading their moves in the hope Strictly Come Dancing might come calling...

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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