The former head of Kent County Council (KCC) has questioned the transparency of the authority’s leadership.
Sir Paul Carter, who led the authority from 2005 until 2019, received two rounds of applause after criticising the approach of the current top table, led by Cllr Roger Gough.
He spoke up during a debate about KCC’s strategy - titled Securing Kent’s Future - for coping with its financial pressures as a result of government cuts to funding against a backdrop of rising costs.
The authority’s own auditors, Grant Thornton, estimate KCC must find £86m in savings in 2024/25 on top of tens of millions of pounds this year.
Sir Paul said: “Now having spent three years as a backbencher, every year I feel more and more distanced from what is going on in the organisation and that really isn’t healthy.
“We need more transparency and more scrutiny. Members of all parties need to know what’s going on.”
Backbench Tories have been privately expressing their misgivings about how decisions are taken at cabinet level claiming there is little consultation with members of the ruling group.
Yesterday we reported how councillors had accused the Tory leadership of being “in denial” about the strength of feeling about its plans for tip closures, after refusing to take the proposals off the table amid a huge backlash.
During his short speech, Sir Paul received two rounds of applause from all parties inside the council chamber yesterday afternoon (Thursday, November 16).
Sir Paul added: “I hope this will be taken in goodwill and that we can move forward and adopt much of what I have just said because I believe it will add enormous value to help us get out of the perilous financial situation that this authority finds itself in.”
Thanet Labour member Cllr Barry Lewis said Securing Kent’s Future is five years too late, claiming to have urged action against mounting financial pressures for a long time.
In a scathing attack on the Securing Kent’s Future report, Cllr Lewis said: “Nobody on your (Tory) side believes this rubbish.
“This report is a report of failure. It’s a disgrace what’s happened to this county in the past five years. You have destroyed this county by your non-action.
“Why haven’t you done it in the past five years? Bring back Paul Carter, please.”
One Tory backbencher said later: “Sir Paul got it spot on. We don’t feel as if we are in the loop half the time, just presented with decisions that have already been made.”
In response, Cllr Gough did not address Sir Paul or Cllr Lewis’s criticisms directly but he said that KCC’s position was better than many other councils facing bankruptcy.
But the authority had to face the realities of its position, especially around the rising cost of services such as adult social care and school transport provision, he said.
He said: “The obligation on us is to both raise that issue and at the same time here to do things that are in our control, within our competencies to seek to ensure we keep this council working and functioning and, above all, deliver services to residents.
“We seek to have transparency on this. We were early in bringing this forward compared to other councils across the country.”
His deputy Cllr Peter Oakford said: “This is not a Kent County Council problem, this is a local government problem. All local governments around the country are suffering and facing the same challenges we do.
“We are still here, we are still operating and we are here to stay.”