Coun­cil halves its bill for trips across world

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - OPINION - by Paul Francis

County coun­cil­lors mak­ing less vis­its to for­eign shores but still cost the tax­payer more than £20,000

TRIPS abroad by se­nior county coun­cil­lors, in­clud­ing vis­its to China, Amer­ica and Hun­gary, cost the tax­payer more than £20,000 last year, we can re­veal.

The de­tails of more than 20 for­eign vis­its made by se­nior coun­cil­lors were re­leased to the Kent Mes­sen­ger Group un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

They show coun­cil­lors trav­elled to a se­ries of des­ti­na­tions for var­i­ous con­fer­ences, sum­mits and fact-find­ing mis­sions and to drum up busi­ness in­vest­ment.

But the num­ber of vis­its abroad fell by about a third com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year, with far fewer elected mem­bers leav­ing th­ese shores on coun­cil busi­ness.


Half of KCC’s 10-strong Con­ser­va­tive cabi­net made no trips at all, com­pared with just two who did not in 2005. The costs have also fallen sig­nif­i­cantly from about the £50,000 that was spent in 2005.

Coun­cil lead­ers have again in­sisted that forg­ing links with other coun­tries is bring­ing in­vest­ment into Kent and help­ing to im­prove ser­vices.

The trav­els of lead­ing county coun­cil­lors in­cluded a six-day trip to China in Oc­to­ber by ed­u­ca­tion cabi­net mem­ber Cllr John Sim­monds and four coun­cil of­fi­cers that cost £2,850.

Dur­ing their stay, the group vis­ited var­i­ous cities and prov­inces in­clud­ing Shang­hai and Chongqing.

Ac­cord­ing to KCC, the visit en­abled “the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence at all lev­els as a con­tri­bu­tion to the en­rich­ment of school ed­u­ca­tion and [the] dis­sem­i­na­tion of best prac­tice on ed­u­ca­tional is­sues”.

Cllr Sim­monds was ac­com­pa­nied by coun­cil leader Paul Carter and schools boss Gra­ham Badman for a three-day trip to Lis­bon at the start of 2006. The group was there for a fo­rum for Euro­pean lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers or­gan­ised by Mi­crosoft.

Dur­ing their stay, which cost just un­der £1,000, KCC se­cured a pledge by the com­pany to con­trib­ute £250,000 to plans for a new sec­ondary school academy in Rom­ney Marsh.

A three-day visit in March to the pop­u­lar hol­i­day re­sort of Cannes in the south of France by Cllr Alex King, deputy coun­cil leader, and Cllr Gra­ham Gibbens, for­mer cabi­net mem­ber for re­gen­er­a­tion, cost £2,033.

Ac­cord­ing to KCC, it pro­vided “a cost-ef­fec­tive method for pro­mot­ing Kent’s in­ward in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties” and an op­por­tu­nity to forge “new con­tacts of in­ter­est for Kent”.

KCC’s ef­forts to build on links with Vir­ginia in Amer­ica saw se­nior coun­cil­lors make sev­eral trips across the At­lantic. They in­cluded vis­its to dis­cuss the ul­ti­mately failed plans for di­rect flights from Manston’s Kent In­ter­na­tional Air­port and KCC’s in­volve­ment as a spon­sor of the Smith­so­nian Fes­ti­val in Wash­ing­ton.


In Oc­to­ber, Cllr King spent five days in the cap­i­tal hold­ing meet­ings with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the au­thor­i­ties in Vir­ginia to dis­cuss the flights plan, which has now been scrapped. The trip cost £3,263.

In De­cem­ber, Cllr King spent five days in Hun­gary meet­ing re­gional gov­ern­ment lead­ers to dis­cuss KCC’s links with the coun­cil of Bacs-Kiskun. The trip, also at­tended by two coun­cil of­fi­cers, cost £1,030.

In the same month, county coun­cil­lors Mike Hill and Richard Long, along with five coun­cil of­fi­cials and jour­nal­ists, at­tended a launch event de­tail­ing the route of this year’s Tour de France through Kent. The trip, which was sub­sidised by SEEDA, dis­trict coun­cils and the Of­fice of The Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, cost £2,074.

PLANS for a re­vamp of Kent County Coun­cil’s cham­ber could cost the tax­payer more than £60,000.

County coun­cil­lors have backed a makeover to equip the coun­cil cham­ber at Maid­stone’s Ses­sions House with the latest tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing 50in plasma TV screens and high-tech re­tractable dis­play screens.

KCC in­sists that the in­vest­ment will help its ef­forts to get more peo­ple in­ter­ested in coun­cil meet­ings, at the same time as re­plac­ing out-of-date au­dio and com­puter equip­ment in­stalled 20 years ago.

County coun­cil leader Paul Carter said: “We have got to go about our busi­ness in a pro­fes­sional way.

“We are run­ning a big busi­ness here and we need ap­pro­pri­ate fa­cil­i­ties.”

A re­port set­ting out the back­ground for the in­vest­ment, con­sid­ered by coun­cil­lors on Fri­day, states: “This is part of a process of mod­ernising the author­ity and bring­ing the demo­cratic process nearer to the pub­lic.”

The coun­cil’s shop­ping

list in­cludes two 50in plasma screens, which KCC says will al­low coun­cil­lors and those watch­ing coun­cil meet­ings via the In­ter­net to view re­ports and pre­sen­ta­tions.

The screens, to­gether with two new clocks, will cost an es­ti­mated £7,195.

But the most costly el­e­ment of the re­vamp will be the es­ti­mated £27,000 to equip the cham­ber with three re­tractable screens and pro­jec­tors, al­low­ing county coun­cil­lors to see the word­ing of amend­ments and mo­tions they are de­bat­ing.

The screens would also be used to show pre­sen­ta­tions by guest speak­ers.

A fur­ther £8,831 will be al­lo­cated for a video con­fer­enc­ing fa­cil­ity, al­low­ing the coun­cil to “in­ter­act with other coun­cils and agen­cies”.

A re­port pre­sented to the coun­cil’s cross-party se­lec­tion com­mit­tee says that coun­cils are be­ing urged to do more to in­volve res­i­dents in their ac­tiv­i­ties.

It states: “It [the mod­erni­sa­tion] needs to be seen in the con­text of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment White Pa­per, the drive to cre­ate more vis­i­ble and ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship, to en­hance demo­cratic le­git­i­macy, im­prove pub­lic ac­cess and en­gage cit­i­zens.”

One coun­cil­lor made it as far as China

Glam­orous Cannes was the des­ti­na­tion for one coun­cil­lor

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