Kent transport

Kent County Council officers refuse in-person meetings ‘because they are cold’

Council officials refuse to attend meetings in person because they are “cold”, one Tory has claimed.

Thanet rep Trevor Shonk made the comment before storming out of a meeting because a highways official was not present.

Trevor Shonk, advisor to Thanet. Photo: Kent County Council

The Conservative adviser said: ‘I have a whole host of issues to discuss. There’s no point in me sitting here because there’s no officers to talk to. So I’m going to pack my bags and go home.

“It is absolutely shameful that we are giving up our time and I have heard apologies from KCC [Kent County Council] that they can’t go out because they are cold. These people are on different planets.

“I’m trying to represent Ramsgate and Newington and right now I’m hitting a brick wall.”

The problem arose because Thanet District Council (TDC), unlike other authorities, does not have the technology to simulcast a meeting live on YouTube and have someone speak virtually.

Thanet District Council does not have the technology to simultaneously host a live stream and have someone speak virtually
Thanet District Council does not have the technology to simultaneously host a live stream and have someone speak virtually

This means that anyone wishing to speak at one of its meetings must attend in person.

But no one from KCC did so when Thanet’s Joint Transport Board (JTB) met earlier this month.

Councilors were due to discuss a 30mph speed limit on Nash Road in Margate, among other matters.

The JTB hearings, which are held four times a year, see district councilors discuss issues with a KCC officer – who would usually be the highways district manager, Paul Valek.

But the meeting on Thursday June 9 was derailed when it emerged that a manager would not be present, without apologizing for his absence.

“I believe in Elon Musk’s point of view if you don’t show up on a Monday we’ll assume you quit…”

Cllr Shonk came out and the other members were even more damning about the situation.

Committee chair Cllr Rosalind Binks (Cons) said: ‘I believe Elon Musk’s point of view if you don’t show up on a Monday we’ll assume you quit.

“The officers should be here. I know it’s not practical to come in the evening but I think it’s part of the job on some level.

Cllr Rosalind Binks
Cllr Rosalind Binks

She also confirmed that her squabble was not with officers, but KCC Cabinet Member for Transport, Cllr David Brazier, who she said told officers not to be present.

Closing the meeting, Thanet Cllr David Hart (Cons) said: “I think it’s a shame that the officer isn’t here, but maybe the cabinet member [Cllr Brazier] should be here instead.

“Actually someone should be here because if we have a problem I can go to an officer and I was going to talk to them about a few things tonight.

“If the cabinet member wants to stop his staff from coming here, then maybe he should get up and come here.

Advisor to Thanet David Hart
Advisor to Thanet David Hart

“The officer we have is a really good guy, works really hard for this area and we’re very lucky to have him, but I think he’s doing a disservice by not showing up.”

Responding to the claims, a KCC spokesperson said the decision was not made by Cllr Brazier.

“Decisions on how to manage the most efficient and effective use of staff time are taken in each local authority by senior officers, not members of council,” the spokesperson said.

KCC Transport Cabinet Member, Cllr David Brazier.  Photo: Wayne McCabe
KCC Transport Cabinet Member, Cllr David Brazier. Photo: Wayne McCabe

“As a council, we are committed to participating in the Joint Transport Boards (JTBs), which are a key mechanism for discussing how we can develop our infrastructure to help keep Kent moving safely.

“Technology allows us to do this virtually for day-to-day activities in a way that respects the environment and reduces travel time to and from meetings.

“Unfortunately, Thanet District Council is currently unable to offer KCC a virtual platform while simultaneously broadcasting the meeting live to the public.

“While we will always respond to any concerns raised at JTBs outside of the meeting, we encourage Thanet District Council to introduce a system which allows virtual participation by KCC.”

Meanwhile, a Thanet District Council spokesman said he would ‘encourage’ anyone wishing to speak to the council to do so in person.

“We live stream all of our public council meetings so that as many members of the public as possible can view the proceedings,” the spokesperson said.

“There is often a high level of interest in the items discussed at JTB meetings.

“We do not have the capacity to run ‘hybrid’ meetings (meetings with virtual and in-person participants that are also simultaneously live-streamed to the public). To do so would require significant financial investments in our AV equipment . .

“In June 2021, KCC officers accessed a Thanet JTB meeting remotely, which meant we were unable to live stream the meeting, depriving members of the public of the opportunity to observe.

“As we are unable to hold hybrid meetings, we always encourage external participants to attend JTB meetings in person to present their reports and answer questions from advisors.”

Cllr Shonk was approached for further comment.