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A railway shake-up; a cabinet reshuffle at County Hall and who has slashed its paper bill? Our political editor rounds up the week in politics:


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Despite a comprehensive win at the recent county council election, the leader of the Conservative administration Cllr Roger Gough was forced into a cabinet reshuffle that he may not have anticipated.

Losing two big hitters to the Green Party in Tonbridge was probably not something he would have necessarily factored into his calculations.

Cllr Roger Gough
Cllr Roger Gough

Still, as one door closes another opens, so it was a recall for Cllr David Brazier who was slotted in to the cabinet as the politician in charge of Kent’s roads and transport.

He has had the job before but was relinquished of the role in 2015 after the wheels came off a rather botched plan to switch off streetlights to save money.

The new man is also very keen on cycling so it will be interesting to see if he champions the cause of making the county more user-friendly to those who get about on two wheels rather than four.

And perhaps we can expect to hear rather less about “pothole blitzes” as his predecessor was so keen on publicising.

Could there be less 'pothole blitzes'?
Could there be less 'pothole blitzes'?

There was another Conservative cabinet recall for Gravesham Cllr Bryan Sweetland - coincidentally he too once held the roads and transport brief - but his new post is as cabinet member for “Communications, Engagement, People and Partnerships” which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue and is a little fuzzy about what it actually is. At a guess, it is probably something to do with getting people to be more interested in the work of the county council.

Defeats in unexpected places ought to remind the Conservatives that that the traditional bedrock of support it has enjoyed in recent years has steadily been diminishing and it needs to find alternative sources of support: It might usefully start by examining how it was that the Green Party managed to mobilise voters in parts of the county where, until now, the Conservative dominance had remained unchallenged.

On the railways: When the railways were privatised by the Conservative government, the argument was that a state controlled network was incapable of delivering what rail passengers wanted.

Handing over franchises to run trains to private operators would resolve this as consortiums would be incentivised to improve services.

At that time, British Rail was a byword for inefficiency; a moribund organisation that was incapable of providing reliable services and was the butt of jokes about not even being able to provide a decent cheese sandwich - even though in the last year before privatisation, some 8m were sold.

Two decades on and the government has finally determined that the franchise model is not working as it should and the rail network should be taken back into public ownership.

Well, partly: now that franchises is a dirty word, the Government will offer what are called ‘concessions’ to rail operators. This change of direction is not exactly a full scale re-nationalisation but has the virtue of simplifying the system, according to transport minister Grant Shapps. “This will still be with the involvement of the private sector, running the concessions, running the actual trains, but they get paid for running those trains on time, keeping them tidy and clean, and it will be a single organisation selling you the tickets and running the timetable.”

Grant Shapps has plans for the railways
Grant Shapps has plans for the railways

For most rail commuters in Kent, the shake-up will be judged on whether ticket prices can be held down, especially on High Speed services, where season tickets eye-wateringly high.

A big bailout: Meanwhile, there was at last some good news about Eurostar, which has been rescued with a £250m bailout from investors.

The less good news is that while services will now be resumed between London and Paris, they still won't be stopping at either Ashford or Ebbsfleet as Eurostar would be sticking to its plan to effectively mothball the two international stations until 2022. The transport minister Grant Shapps insisted “it’s not our company” and its difficulties were “the shareholders’ problem to resolve”.

While that may be true, not having a seat at the Eurostar table means the government has very little by way of clout to make the case for services to be put back on track rather sooner.

Savings: It is fair to say that many councils don't see eye to eye with the Taxpayers Alliance, the self-appointed public spending watchdog that likes to highlight their alleged profligacy with public money.

But what's this? A survey shows that KCC has cut its spend on printing by 71% over the past year – from £1,344,136 to £383,404, saving taxpayers £960,732. We wondered why we weren't getting so many leaks...

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