Gravesham Council merge controversy

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:02 04 July 2018

A move to merge Medway Council’s licensing department with Gravesham Borough Council has been brandished as “somewhat astonishing” by councillors.

Officers have suggested a “full service licensing service” with Gravesham Borough Council (GBC) – covering taxis, gambling premises and street trading – as an extension of the current interim “shared manager” arrangement.

The two councils already have a number of joint services, but this would be the first to be based away from Gun Wharf. Members of Medway Council’s licensing and safety committee raised such concerns last night (June 26).

Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab) said: “Looking at the figures, Gravesham are doing far less work than us in licensing and have far less responsibility because they are a borough council, not a unitary authority.

“I find it somewhat astonishing that we’re handing over responsibility for our licensing to come under Gravesham council.

“I cannot support this. If we want to come under one umbrella with Gravesham, then that’s fine – but we should be leading the show, not the other way around. They are a borough council, they are not a unitary authority. There is no way I’m supporting this.”

Cllr Mick Pendergast (Ukip), a pub landlord in Lower Stoke, also raised doubts about the quality of work currently carried out in Gravesham, which has three members of staff. If approved, Medway’s eight members of staff will be transferred to GBC’s books.

He said: “I hold a personal licence in Medway, and my other half has a Gravesham one. Her rules and regulations are on one page, ours is over six or seven pages.

“Are we going to water down our services or are they going to bring theirs up to our standards?”

It is hoped the merger will deliver financial savings for both authorities, as well as bringing “resilience” to both councils.

The proposal was agreed by the committee, although all three Labour members abstained. Cllr Pendergast (Ukip) voted against. It will now go before scrutiny before being decided by full council.

Perry Holmes, chief legal officer, said previous mergers between the two councils had been “seamless” and was confident it would be the same again this time around.

He added: “Although there is less activity carried out by Gravesham, it’s the same activity, it’s the same legislation, it’s the same decision making, it’s the same premises, it’s the same sort of challenges we face here – it’s just a smaller area.

“Gravesham members have made clear that given the fact that in two instances its their stuff that has come this way, they wanted to see some good work going the other way and we’ve responded to that.

“Welcome to the world of partnership working, there has to be some give and take if these things are to work.”

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