Swale Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Ben J Martin has joined Lib Dem Group leaders from across the country to write to the Secretary of State for housing communities and local government, Robert Jenrick MP raising concerns about the Government’s up coming white paper on Devolution and Recovery, due to be published in September. The letter signed by Council Leaders and Senior Councillors from 28 authorities sets out a number of key concerns.
In July Minister of State, Simon Clarke said that the paper would include “creating more elected Mayors in England, giving them and existing Mayors the powers they need to lead economic recovery and long term growth, and more unitary local authorities.”
The white paper is rumoured to include plans to abolish England’s 192 borough and 26 county councils replacing them with around 30 unitary authorities.
Cllr Ben J Martin said “As a Liberal Democrat I am all for devolution, but what is currently being talked about is not devolution, its increasing centralisation. Local people deserve local representation, any move to unitary councils must be as a result of local desire not forced on councils by central government. Council’s up and down the country have spent much of the last few months dealing with the impacts of the COVID crisis."
Ben continued "Now is not the time for top down reorganisation of local government, with the ongoing COVID pandemic and a potential no deal Brexit on the way. Boris Johnson’s government should be concentrating on protecting public health, delivering a fairer, greener recovery and getting a Brexit deal not reducing local democracy.”
If the plans to replace local councils gets the go ahead Kent could be reduced to 1 or 2 unitary authorities from the current 12 districts meaning decisions about areas like Thanet or Swale could be taken in Sevenoaks or Maidstone. The proposals could also see the total number of councillors in Kent severely reduced.
The full text and list of signatures of the letter can be found here.