Kent can still reap the rewards of the government’s devolution agenda without being broken up into new councils, according to one council chief.
Cllr Alan Jarrett, the Conservative leader of Medway council, said the existing arrangements could survive intact despite revelations that talks are underway among virtually every district and borough council about the possibility of creating new “super councils.”
Speaking on KMTV, he told KM Group Political Editor Paul Francis that Kent was not losing ground in the race for new powers and extra funding under the government’s devolution agenda.
“There are often comparisons with the Northern Powerhouse but what people lose sight of is that was ten years in the making. It hasn’t just happened in the last few months,” he said.
“Medway is talking to some of the districts and KCC to see what is possible in terms of the offers that might come down from central government and what we might do in return. These decisions are complicated and varied.”
Talks about combining with other councils were not about forging new unitaries, he added.
VIDEO: Paul Francis talks about super councils and academies in his latest show.
“For me, [unitaries] are the most effective model of local government. We are a one-stop shop for everything.[But] the work we have been doing with the leaders of Swale, Gravesham, Dartford and Maidstone is talking about what we could do as a sub-unitary level and co-operate more closely without actually becoming a unitary.”
UKIP county councillor Mike Baldock, also a guest on the show, said there should be no change to the current two-tier system, which worked well.
“When you go to unitaries, the ratio between councillors and residents becomes too big.”
He denied that Kent was risking turning down extra government funding in “devolution deals” that could be used for improving transport links and taking control of health budgets.
“Extra money tends to come with extra responsibilities which are not covered, so it is a bit of a double-edged sword. I am all for Kent to have more responsibilities from London provided we have the money to deliver them. We still need a strategic over-arching authority.”
The KM Group recently revealed that five east Kent councils - Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet are in exploratory talks about merging to become a “super council.”