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Probe into KCC activities 'not enough'

Kent County Council logo
Kent County Council logo

by business editor Trevor Sturgess

The imminent publication of a probe into the county council’s controversial commercial activities may not be enough to satisfy critics.

Kent County Council expects an Audit Commission report to be delivered to County Hall in the next few days.

It will then be discussed by a sub-committee before going to the council’s full Governance and Audit Committee on September 16.

KCC says it will be published about eight days before that crucial meeting. But councillors are quietly confident that it will give them a clean bill of health.

The council commissioned the inquiry in the wake of a barrage of criticism from company bosses who accused KCC of competing unfairly with their own businesses.

KCC has always claimed that it set up its own companies to reduce costs and by making a £4m profit from these activities ease pressure on the council tax.

But Kent Top Temps, a recruitment business, Kent Top Travel, a coach and bus operator, Inside Out, a property maintenance business, and a landscaping operation have been singled out for particular criticism.

Members of the KCC - Hands off Business campaign group argued their case to the Audit Commission earlier in the year.

They have been pressing for early publication of the report as a way of demonstrating “transparency” of KCC’s commercial activities.

They have always claimed that not enough information about these activities has been in the public domain.

They recently met council leader Cllr Paul Carter to express their concerns.

Jack Parkinson, chairman of recruitment group HR-GO, based in Ashford, is furious with KCC for competing with his own business.

He believes the Audit Commission will “sit on the fence” and says the exercise has been “a waste of time.”

He is concerned that KCC appear to have advance knowledge of the findings. “Why do they know all about it before it’s been issued?” he said.

He said the commercial acvtivities made a mockery of the council’s new Backing Kent Business campaign. “We’re all playing this game and pretending that KCC is helping local business but they are certain,ly not helping ours - they are competing with us.”

Desmond High, a director of EMC Finance, said he was willing to wait and see what the report said, but added: “KCC clearly has an obligation to drive prices down but at the same time it shouldn’t be doing it by shafting local businesses.”

Roger Gough, KCC Cabinet Member for Corporate Services said: “KCC commissioned the Audit Commission review and encouraged private sector companies to explain their concerns to the Audit Commission, so that these could be independently and rigorously examined.

“This was to put to bed these concerns once and for all. We expect to receive this report in the next week and it is our understanding that these concerns have not been upheld in any way.”

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