Published: 06:00, 20 December 2019
After victory at the election, what will a Conservative government mean for Kent?
Political Editor Paul Francis examines some of the key issues on the Prime Minister’s to-do list.
The Conservatives made the recruitment of an extra 22,000 officers one of its key manifesto pledges but faced claims it would only make up the numbers lost during the period of austerity. While Kent Police numbers have fallen, as they have nationally, crime commissioner Matthew Scott announced in September he would be finding the money for an extra 188 officers.
Kent Police Federation chairman Neil Mennie said any increase was welcome but there were concerns, among them that the force could struggle to recruit officers because of the better salaries paid by the Met. The London weighting means the starting salary for officers joining the Met is nearly £3,000 higher than other forces.
He said: “It’s about getting the recruits in and retaining them. We hope that it is not just an electoral commitment but a government one. Kent is certainly in a better position than many other forces and are determined to get the recruits in.
"We are all fishing from the same pool of recruits. If you are living in North Kent, you may look towards the difference in salaries offered by the Metropolitan Police. Is it achievable?I hope so but it is a heck of a challenge.”
The NHS was a key battleground in the election campaign with the Conservatives taking on Labouron what is normally considered its strong card. The arms race over a new hospital in Canterbury dominated the campaign, along with a controversial pledge by Boris Johnson to recruit 50,000 nurses and 6,000 GPs. But not everyone is convinced. Nursing unions said the figures were misleading as the target relied on 18,000 currently working in the NHS to continue to do so.
Medway MP Dr Julian Spinks, chairman of the Kent Medical Committee, said: “It would be fantastic if we could find 6,000 GPs and 50,000 nurses. As to the 40 new hospitals, it is difficult to find out what the government is actually doing. It is more about plans to possibly look at new hospitals.
"On GPs, Jeremy Hunt said in 2015 there would be 5,000 more GPs the following year; we currently have 1,008fewer than that. And the government has not said if they are full-time equivalents or not. Often the pot of gold turns out to be fool's gold.”
As to the possibility of a new hospital for Canterbury, any decision seems a long way off with the Department of Health rowing back on earlier claims that it is among the 40 rebuilding projects.
Two key issues for Kent will be on the government's radar: the impact of Brexit on the county’s road network and the timetable for the new rail franchise for Kent's rail services, which has been delayed.
The Freight Transport Association says hauliers are not only concerned about Brexit.
Heidi Skinner, policy and public affairs manager at the FTA said the government should not overlook the importance of the local road network.
She said: “We need to look at Kent as the corridor county that it is, with so much freight moving through the ports and Channel Tunnel out of the UK, so it is absolutely vital for international connectivity.
“But it is equally vital that the local road network works properly. We often talk about the local network as being north to south but we need to make sure freight is able to go from east to west. If you are travelling from Ashford to Tonbridge,the route is not particularly freightfriendly.”
Motoring groups echoed that.
Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said: “For all the focus on our motorways, most journeys by Kent’s residents – are local. We have a five year-funding settlement for the motorways, now we need to see financial certainty for councils so they can adequately maintain the routes they are responsible for and which, for too many years, have been the poor relation to the strategic network.”
For rail commuters the question of a new franchise is in limbo after the government scrapped the latest attempt to offer a new contract for Kent rail services. Ministers said the two bids to run rail services - including one from current operator Southeastern, did not provide value for money.
Unions say the delayed franchise underlines the flaws in privatisation. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The cancellation of the competition for Southeastern shows yet again that the privatised rail system is broken and coming apart at the seams.”
For many, however, the key issue continues to be the eye-watering ticket prices for those who rely on the High Speed services.
Care for the elderly and vulnerable
Despite promising to reform the way care of the elderly is funded so families could be “spared the injustice” of having to sell their homes, the Conservative manifesto made no explicit commitments.
Nadrah Ahmed of the Medway-based National Care Association said the government had to grasp the nettle.
“We have got to stop dithering around. There is a plan for the NHS; we need the same for social care.”
There was a case for examining the thresholds at which families had to meet the costs while the idea of some kind of care insurance to cover care later in life was worth exploring.
“If we are going to have that, then it needs to be something that people pay into on the day they start earning, not when they are in their thirties or forties. That would be wrong as at that age, many people have other financial burdens, like mortgages and children going to university.”
The government has said it will set up a cross-party group to discuss the way ahead.
Brexit and Operation Brock
The likelihood of the new Parliament passing the EU withdrawal Bill offers the tantalising prospect of the government lifting the controversial contra-flow on the M20.
James Hookham, of the Freight Transport Association, said that if the Brexit bill was approved by Parliament, the cliff-edge scenario of leaving without a deal could be avoided.
That would mean the contra-flow along the M20 - part of Operation Brock - could be lifted at least until the end of next year as negotiations take place between the EU and the UK.
He said: “For trade and logistics, things carry on during the transition period as normal; for Kent there would be no difference. It is a pain lifting the barrier out and in again but think of the difference; you could remove it until the end of next year. I can't quite see there being a problem; given what it has put Kent through, it would be a big gesture."
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