Cllr Paul Cooper represents Maidstone South on Kent County Council and is the Chairman of Maidstone and the Weald Conservative Association.
My first few weeks at County Hall have been a rather bizarre experience, which I can liken only to those first few days at grammar school. As the youngest member of the Conservative Group, it only reinforced this feeling. I was therefore delighted to hear one of the oldest figures at County Hall, speak up in the Chamber and encourage us to look at how we can attract future younger members. I feel it is especially important not just to have young faces at the council, but also for outsiders to come along and provide fresh thinking and ideas.
These are difficult times for local Government. Funding from Central Government has been cut dramatically all the while the demand for services, particularly Adult Social Care, are rising dramatically. I’m rather proud of the job which the Conservative Administration at Kent County Council has done over the years of meeting targets for reduced spending, whilst providing an exemplary service to the county. Such excellent service has been provided over the years by the prudency of the administration in cutting unnecessary expenditure.
It was in the spirit of standing up for fiscal prudency that I refused to accept IT kit provided by the taxpayer to assist me in my new role. Upon starting, all new councillors were given an option of an iPhone, plus one other device. I represent an area in Maidstone which has some of Maidstone’s most deprived residents, and many of my electors simply wouldn’t be able to afford such expensive items. I tweeted my reasons for turning down a free iPhone and iPad, and this was picked up by two local newspapers and the Daily Express. To my surprise, many councillors took my stand as a personal insult, rather than celebrating new ways to reduce costs.
If all 81 Members of the Council were to take a free iPhone and iPad this would cost somewhere in the region of £80,000. Reducing such expenditure would allow a whole street to go without paying Council Tax for a whole year.
I was originally told that due to security I wouldn’t be able to use my own device. I found this staggering, and I simply didn’t want to carry around another phone. However, the advice that I was given has subsequently proven to be incorrect, and indeed, it is possible to install the correct security on my own personal devices. I imagine that more people would have turned down devices had they been aware about the option to use existing devices. I don’t necessarily have an issue with devices being available, I admit that there are those who may be unable to afford expensive IT kit. My principle point is that, whenever possible, we should look at alternatives with much lower costs.
As a Conservative, I believe in prudency. I feel it is always right to question taxpayer expenditure on ourselves, whether it be the number of free-lunches, expensive decoration or other such grandiosity. I sincerely hope that all administrations take a long hard look at themselves, and answer honestly whether there really is no more fat to trim.