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Kent County Council spending £7.6k a year to rent out office space in Brussels, Belgium

Kent’s largest local authority has questions to answer over its decision to spend more than £7,000 a year on office space in Brussels, critics say.

At a time when Kent County Council (KCC) is seeking more than 200 redundancies in an effort to save tens of millions of pounds, it is paying 9,000 euros (£7,600) on rent in the Belgian city.

Kent County Council has defended its decision to spend 9,000 euros renting office space in Brussels. Photo: StockKent County Council has defended its decision to spend 9,000 euros renting office space in Brussels. Photo: Stock
Kent County Council has defended its decision to spend 9,000 euros renting office space in Brussels. Photo: Stock

The cash-strapped Conservative-run authority contends it needs the facility to carry out “collaborative” work with European partners to secure external funding.

But one opposition councillor accused the leadership of “profligacy” and urged KCC to spend taxpayers’ cash in Kent.

Labour’s Margate member Barry Lewis said: “It’s typical of Tory priorities. They are profligate with taxpayers’ money. Kent taxpayers’ money should be spent in Kent not in Brussels.”

Former Conservative leader Sir Paul Carter said: “In the past, there was an argument for having a presence there when you were trying to sort European grants and so on.

“But, post-Brexit, I can’t see the justification for having an office in Brussels but if you can find me one, please let me know.”

Sir Paul Carter said he can’t see the argument for keeping an office post-BrexitSir Paul Carter said he can’t see the argument for keeping an office post-Brexit
Sir Paul Carter said he can’t see the argument for keeping an office post-Brexit

KCC Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Antony Hook, said while there may be a business case for having office space in Brussels, questions need to be answered about how often it is used.

A KCC statement said: “KCC does not own nor operate an office in Brussels. Instead, it rents a small space in the Brussels office of Hauts-de-France, one of the French regions, at a cost of 9,000 Euros per annum.

“This is used for collaborative project work, such as with the continental local authorities which make up the Straits Committee, and is kept under regular review.

“The Straits Committee is a voluntary partnership with French, Belgian and Dutch local authorities that was launched post-Brexit to provide a framework for co-operation in areas of mutual interest. KCC’s involvement is overseen by the Cabinet Member for economic development.

“In September 2023, the Government announced the UK would join the EU’s £80 billion Horizon Europe research programme, with Kent organisations eligible. Between 2014 and 2020, Kent and Medway organisations received more than £20 million from EU Interreg 2Seas and Channel funding programmes that operated in the Straits Committee area.”

Margate county councillor Barry Lewis says taxpayers’ money should be spent in Kent not in BrusselsMargate county councillor Barry Lewis says taxpayers’ money should be spent in Kent not in Brussels
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis says taxpayers’ money should be spent in Kent not in Brussels

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has asked if the office space is occupied full-time and, if not, how often it is used. LDRS also asked if KCC intends to keep the space. KCC has not responded to those requests.

Cllr Hook added: “I would say that there is probably a business case for having somewhere in Brussels but it really depends on how much it is used. If it’s only being used once a year, for example, then that’s appalling. Those are the questions that need to be addressed.”

LDRS reported this week KCC is seeking to make around 200 posts redundant as a result of the introduction of the government’s flagship ‘family hubs’ model.

The council, like many other authorities in the country, is having to find tens of millions of pounds in savings in order to stave off having to issue a section 114 notice, which is effectively a declaration of bankruptcy.

Councils are arguing central government has squeezed funding while costs of key statutory services, such as adult social care, have rocketed in recent years.

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