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Paul on Politics: Row over NHS pay and cash boosts for Kent Police and Margate


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If it is true that budgets are always a bit of give and take, it is also true that they are as much about what is omitted as what is included.

And after what was a budget that in the immediate aftermath seemed to have gone down well with Conservative MPs, some of the shine has come off as a result of the pay award for NHS staff, with a growing backlash at the 1% on offer.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced plans to support self-employed workers (44880729)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced plans to support self-employed workers (44880729)

The odd thing is that the Treasury appeared to have been caught on the back foot over an issue that must have cropped up when the Chancellor’s team rehearsed different scenarios in the run up to this week’s statement.

Critical newspaper headlines turned the screw with variations on how the “clap for carers” during the pandemic had become a “slap for carers.”

The row has opened the door to Labour to capitalise on the issue at the Chancellor’s expense and the question is how - if it can - the government row back and come up with a solution without looking as if it has been pushed into a corner by the opposition.

With key local council elections looming in May, the ballot may turn out to be a referendum on the NHS rather than the views of voters on the quality of a range of other public services.

Pothole blitz

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(44880971)

Which brings us to the exciting news of another “blitz” on the county’s badly pot-holed roads. Kent County Council has announced that it is to embark on another onslaught on potholes.

The timing of this announcement might look rather suspicious to some as we are shortly to enter a period of purdah - that is the restrictions imposed on councils designed to stop them from taking decisions that might just be construed as politically helpful to the party in control.

According to the county council, last year’s ‘blitz’ saw repairs on 49,945 potholes; contrasting with 54,000 fixed in 2018.

Jam today but not yesterday

Back in 2016, Kent Police was told that the £577,000 it had incurred in managing Operation Stack would not be reimbursed by the government, despite it being a national issue.

Lorries filled the roads of Kent after France closed it's borders
Lorries filled the roads of Kent after France closed it's borders

The then Kent police and crime commissioner Ann Barnes expressed her dismay at the government’s refusal to use discretionary powers to make up the shortfall.

"Operation Stack is acknowledged as a national problem now and yet policing services in Kent have been put under strain to deal with it. Local taxpayers should not have to pick up the bill," she said.

Some four years later and the Home Office announces that it is allocating £14m to Kent Police to meet the costs of the disruption at the Channel ports over Christmas and the New Year.

Responding to the news, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said: “I am delighted that the Government has provided this funding to Kent. I have always believed that the costs of policing national issues should be met centrally, not just by Kent council tax payers. I am pleased that ministers have agreed to this request.”

Class divide

How should schools spend money allocated for catch-up classes and summer schools?

The Department for Education slipped out interesting guidance for how areas like Kent where there is a selective system might choose to spend it:“An example of this activity might be for grammar schools to support families with targeted selection test familiarisation work and/or support in English and maths.

"Schools which select by ability will know their traditional feeder schools, and selective schools and feeder primaries are asked to work together to identify which disadvantaged children might be supported in this way.”

You can see the argument but with figures that point to Kent having one of the worst attainment gaps in the country, with pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds some 22.4 months behind their peers at GCSE levels, perhaps the money should be directed to tackling that.

Pork barrel politics

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. (44880807)

The government decision to award millions of pounds to towns it says need investment has led to claims of political favouritism.

Among those to benefit are towns in the constituencies of the Chancellor and the local government minister Robert Jenrick, both of which represent seats where levels of deprivation are not as acute as other areas.

Margate is also among those selected for a share of the funding pot - and you couldn’t argue that it doesn’t need investment.

Interestingly, Canterbury is also among those listed where the levels of deprivation do not place it in the top third of deprived regions. It is, of course, a highly marginal seat where the promotion of its need for a share of “levelling up” investment could have other motives.

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