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Mega Council

Canterbury Side Street Jan 2017

Residents should be given a say on the final decision

Plans are being drawn up to merge Canterbury City Council with three other East Kent councils, Thanet, Dover, and Shepway

If the merger goes ahead, this mega council would be responsible for 750,000 residents. It would not be a unitary authority, as Kent County Council would remain largely unchanged. However, there would no longer be a Canterbury City Council as we know it, and the number of local councillors would be cut by around two thirds. This mega council's main offices could be in Folkestone, Dover, or Margate.

Your Liberal Democrat councillors have strong reservations about these plans. The needs of Thant and Dover for example are very different from those in Canterbury. And a council for the whole of East Kent would be much more distant from our residents.

The council has now published the results on the consultation here.

As as local party we think the proposals put forward should be put to the people of Canterbury in a referendum before being taken any further.

If you'd like to support this petition please sign here.

Cllr Mike Dixey - leader of the Lib Dem councillors group provided a detailed rebuttal of the plans in the full council budget debate - full response here.

Update 23 March 2017: Last night, Shepway council voted against the plans for a merger, and as such plans for the consultation process are on hold. Canterbury council did not vote after hearing the result from Shepway. Dover and Thanet voted in favor of the plans.

Why we oppose the East Kent Council merger:

1) It's not local

Local councils should represent local people. Do we want our council offices in Dover or Thanet? Do we want Folkestone councillors deciding Planning applications in Whitstable or Margate councillors deciding licensing hours in Canterbury? The Lib Dems have always had a clear policy of localism and the devolution of power to a local level. An East Kent district council flies in the face of localism.

2) Why do it?

The Conservative government has starved local government of money. They want to control everything from Westminster. They would love to reorganise local government but know it would be catastrophically controversial. This is why local councils are being forced to reorganise themselves. Of course, if we get it wrong Westminster will blame us. We are being forced to do Westminster's dirty work but what's being proposed here looks like an unholy alliance between Conservative and UKIP councils.

3) It's undemocratic

Canterbury councillors already represent more residents per head than most councils. This may treble that number. Your local councillor will not be able to deal with local issues or properly represent local people. Canterbury and East Kent residents will be disadvantaged compared with much of the rest of England. Residents are to be given no say in this decision. At the very least it should be decided by a local referendum.

4) It's illogical

It is likely that parliamentary constituencies in the area will be reorganised. Canterbury will be merged with Faversham and parts of Swale. Whitstable and Herne Bay, currently in different parliamentary constituencies, will form a new coastal seat. Yet this new East Kent council will exclude Swale so yet again there will be no continuity between central and local government. The merger starts off between the wrong partners.

5) Money

This is all about saving money. Canterbury is the wealthiest council of the four. We have no idea how much the other councils will have to save. There seems little doubt that we will end up propping up their finances. At a time of extreme hardship that is something we cannot afford to do. The planned merger shows huge savings but we all know that a reorganisation on paper rarely delivers the savings promised or the same level of service. Much more information is needed on this before a rational decision can be made.

6) Will it save our services?

Local councils have to provide certain statutory services like emptying bins. However, emptying bins once a month rather than fortnightly would still probably be legal! We also provide discretionary services like museums, sports pitches, swimming pools and parks and gardens. These are under threat. The argument is that this merger will save money but there is no guarantee that our local assets will be saved. Might Thanet councillors vote to close our swimming pools in order to keep Dreamland open?

7) The business case

The merger will cost almost £7m up front. Ashford have already pulled out and intend to go it alone. We are told we need to save £8m between 2018 and 2024 but we have no idea how realistic this figure is just as we have no idea what any future government will decide. Nor do we have any idea how much Dover, Thanet and Folkestone have to save. So even the business case is uncertain.

Conclusion

Our conclusion is that the arguments in favour of this merger are far from clear and that it may well do more harm to our district than good. It is neither logical, democratic, nor local. The financial case is far from proven. In any event this should be finally decided by local people rather than a small group of local councillors.