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Busy week at Kent County Council ahead of May elections

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It has been a busy week at County Hall. Suspiciously busy, some might argue, based on an uncommonly high number of press releases alerting us to the unstinting efforts of county councillors from the Conservative administration to improve the lives of voters.

Among the proliferation of announcements was the news about mobile libraries and the “roll out” of the first of five new vehicles that have “hit the road” and, according to the press release, will mean the council can maintain “the excellent customer services residents expect.” Coming to a marginal seat soon, no doubt.

Voters will be heading to the polling stations this May
Voters will be heading to the polling stations this May

We were also alerted to the exciting news of “the largest ever survey” of customer satisfaction levels with rubbish tips. Guess what? The survey found that 95% of the 9,000 who responded were either satisfied or quite satisfied with the council’s household waste recycling centres.

The tsunami of good news continued, with an announcement that the council intends to offer compensation to school children who have - because of lockdown - not been able to use their bus pass quite as much. There will be a £100 refund for those who paid up-front for the Travel Saver Card and £30 for those who already have a discounted charge.

And showing its commitment to recycling, there was news of the publication of the council’s “forward works programme” for roads which inevitably referenced the latest “pothole blitz” which was the subject of a separate announcement about an £11m “road surface preservation programme” which - get this - starts next week.

The backdrop to this woefully ill-disguised flurry of good news announcements is, of course, the council election in May.

Under the rules of what is now called the “pre-election period” but is commonly known as purdah, councils should not do anything that might be construed as politically partial during the official election period, which - you’ve guessed it - gets underway next week.

It's been a busy week at Kent County Council HQ
It's been a busy week at Kent County Council HQ

Of course, KCC has done nothing that contravenes the guidance but you would not call this blunderbuss PR approach terribly subtle.

The wave of good news coming from County Hall strangely omitted any up-date on customer satisfaction levels of the much-maligned “parklets” initiative, those pop-up seats that resemble a pile of old boxes the county council has installed in various high streets.

It’s hard to find anyone outside KCC who has a good word to say about them. Perhaps, rather like the pop-up cycle lanes, they will be decommissioned sooner rather than later. Maybe even before May 6.

Lorry park latest

The fact that many of the forecasts about Brexit gridlock have largely proved inaccurate has not stopped the county council from its quest to find alternative sites for a lorry park to help in the event of a major incident.

Its difficulty is that with the former Manston airport site being stood down and the use of the Sevington site at Ashford for customs checks, the fact that key components of Operation Stack are now out of the equation has raised the obvious question of where lorries may go if there is an incident.

KCC is pressing the DfT to come up with a solution that involves a holding area outside Kent - which many would support. Good luck with that, as they say.

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