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Move to exempt under-25s from council tax

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

Care leavers under the age of 25 are one step closer to being exempt from paying council tax.

Members of Kent County Council have agreed to pursue proposals brought forward by the authority’s young people’s council, made up of young people who have been in social care.

Young adults who are leaving the care system are more likely to become homeless than their counterparts.

To address this imbalance, members of the young people’s council has called for care leavers living in Kent to be exempt from council tax until their 25th birthday.

Council leader Paul Carter said: “It won’t cost massive amounts of money and this is something, I think, we all would like to happen. We intend to get there as fast as possible.”

The council will approach the 12 district and borough authorities after discussing the plans at the full council meeting on Thursday.

Young care leavers in Wales and Scotland are exempt from paying council tax up to the age of 25.

Manchester, Southwark and Nottingham councils have also put a similar waiver in place.

The biscuits bridging generation divides

These biscuits help to bridge the generational divide
A community project in Kent is bringing young and old together with the help of biscuits and dancing. 
The "Love Grows" projects aims to encourage friendships between generations and challenge the perceptions of what it is like to be young or old.

Stroke centres closure approved

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

Patients will be “desperately let down” by a transformation of the way stroke sufferers are treated in Kent, according to a county councillor, after his colleagues gave the go ahead for the NHS to close three hospital units.

Stroke centres in Tunbridge Wells, Margate and Medway, will be closed following the decision by members of the Kent County Council health overview and scrutiny committee.

Councillors narrowly passed a motion to build three specialist hyper-acute stroke units in Maidstone Hospital, Darent Valley Hospital, in Dartford, and William Harvey Hospital, in Ashford, to treat patients across the county.

However the committee outlined concerns that closing the stroke units in Tunbridge Wells, Margate and Medway could impact travel times, staffing levels over the long-term and increase inequalities.

Six councillors voted against the plans to accept the reconfiguration, including former Swale Borough Council leader Andrew Bowles.

He said: “There has been a continual drift towards downgrading services to the east end of the county.

“I cannot be convinced of this even though I would like to do what is right for the majority of my residents.”

Today's local news website headlines

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Kent Online: Self-harm at record level in Rochester Prison

The Argus: Lion and Lobster pub in Brighton to host beach themed street party

Get Surrey:Cystic fibrosis University of Surrey student studying to find a cure for her condition

Hastings Observer: Historic buses roll into Hastings

Mid Sussex Times:Warning over toxic caterpillars across Sussex which can cause a painful rash

Chichester Observer:Chichester community spaces given a £19,000 funding boost

Worthing Herald:Shoreham Airshow Memorial: Pictures show the story so far as the 11 arches are erected

West Sussex County Times:Thieves steal village brownie pack’s scarecrow

Brighton & Hove Independent:Fundraisers abseil for Blind Veterans UK

Eastbourne Herald: Road closed for more than five hours after serious accident on A27 Pevensey Bypass

Brighton and Hove News:Planning inspector overrules council on seven shared houses in Brighton

'Do not approach' murderer on the run

Bob Dale

BBC Live reporter

Police are warning people not to approach a convicted murderer, who has gone missing.

Joseph Bagley, who is 66, was jailed for killing a taxi driver in 1978.

Joseph Bagley
Surrey Police
Police say Joseph Bagley has links to Surrey and Kent

He had been living in Maidstone after his release on licence for life, and was last seen in the town on Sunday morning.

He failed to return for his curfew.

He has links to Kent, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Scotland, and detectives say anyone who sees him should call 999.

I believe that he could lash out if he feels threatened, or that he is going to be returned to prison, so I am asking the public not to approach him."

Detective Inspector Mark ParrySurrey Police

Missing teenager not seen since Saturday

Lizzie Massey

BBC Live reporter

Jessica Bitmead
Family handout

Jessica Bitmead, 17, was last seen in Medway at about 20:00 BST on Saturday.

She is about 5ft tall with a slim build, long brown hair and brown eyes.

She was last seen wearing blue jeans and a black jacket.

She is known to frequent Kent, London and Essex using the rail network to travel around.

PC Martin Brown from Kent Police said: "We are concerned for Jessica’s safety and urge anyone with information about where she might be to contact us."

Safety concerns for missing Dartford teen

Lizzie Massey

BBC Live reporter

Oluwatimilehin Alabi
Family handout

Oluwatimilehin Alabi, 17, was last seen in the Dartford area at 08:00 BST on Friday .

He is believed to have links with the London area.

PC Mark Graham, of Kent Police’s Missing & Child Exploitation Team said: "We are concerned for Oluwatimilehin’s safety and we would urge anyone with information as to his whereabouts to contact us."

He is between 5ft 6in and 5ft 7in tall, of medium build, has brown eyes and black hair with highlights.

He was last seen wearing a grey Adidas tracksuit, a white T-shirt with red sleeves, a Nike black cross bag and black Nike trainers.

Almost a third of children need MMR booster

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

A baby catches measles from somebody who did not have the vaccine
Getty Images

Nearly a third of children in Kent need their measles vaccination booster, figures show.

The World Health Organisation states 95% need to be vaccinated with the MMR jab to ensure the highly infectious disease does not spread.

Director for Public Health in Kent, Andrew Scott-Clark, said uptake of these vaccinations is “critical” to protect vulnerable people.

He noted people expressed concerns about the jab on social media.

However, claims the MMR vaccine causes autism have been disproved and the doctor who made the conclusions also struck off.

The vaccine has been proven not to cause autism
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There have been three confirmed cases of measles since January, which were all linked to travel.

Consultant in health protection at Public Health England South East, Dr Claire Winslade, urged parents to check the immunity of their family - especially before going on holiday.

“Children should receive two doses of MMR vaccine for maximum protection," she added.

Council launches knife crime probe

A man holding a knife behind his back

An investigation into the causes of knife crime has been launched in Kent to find the best ways to tackle the problem.

Relevant agencies are being invited to provide evidence and possible solutions to Kent County Council (KCC).

Police, council employees, youth workers and schools are on the list of suggested witnesses who could be called to give evidence from June.

KCC Chairman Paul Barrington-King said: “This is a contagion growing in Kent. We feel the full brunt of this.

“At the end of this journey I want all of us, regardless of political creed, to walk away from this and saying it’s a job well done.”

Kent council makes £1m from road closures

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

Road closed sign
Getty Images

Kent County Council makes £1m per year from utility companies closing roads.

Companies are charged a daily rate of up to £2,000 for disrupting traffic on busy roads or during rush-hour.

The scheme is intended to improve planning, encourage companies to arrange repairs outside of peak periods, and incentivise work being completed as quickly as possible.

If businesses only plan to close a lane, this fee is reduced to between £300 and £800.

Southern Water paid to close Horn Street in Folkestone for four months to upgrade the local sewer.

Councillor Martin Whybrow said: "It was looking to be a very long closure for a pretty fundamental road, it was done much quicker than intended and I think it was very much welcomed by residents."

Man charged to appeal housing decision

A wheelchair user was charged £75 by Kent County Council to appeal a decision about joining its housing register, a watchdog has found.

The Local Government Social Care Ombudsman said the man told the council his current home was unsuitable for his needs and wanted to join the register to bid for an accessible property.

The council rejected his argument that he needed an extra bedroom on medical grounds and then told him there would be a £75 charge for a review of the decision.

The ombudsman, Michael King, said: “If the council routinely asks people to pay a fee on any decision where there has been an assessment by an independent medical adviser, people are potentially losing their right to ask for a review at no cost.

"Many people in the area may have been discouraged from asking for a review by the outlay."

The ombudsman found the man had not missed out on bidding for any suitable properties and recommended the council apologise to the man and pay him £250 for the distress caused.

New approach to tackle gang exploitation

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

Kent County Council is set to team up with the NHS and police in a bid to safeguard children from being exploited by gangs.

It comes after a review found the current process does not “work effectively” and should be abolished.

Going forward health professionals and the force will attend council meetings which discuss the safety of vulnerable children.

KCC has also launched a new programme for social care called Change for Kent Children which will target “at risk” young people.

Knife crime stock
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It is hoped this will reduce county lines gangs and knife crime.

Councillor Michael Northey said: "Where family relationships have broken down, gang membership gives young people a sense of belonging.

“Of course they are being exploited."

Kent failing children with special educational needs

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

Teacher and pupil (generic)

Top council officials have apologised following a “distressing” Ofsted report for children with special educational needs.

Kent County Council cabinet member Roger Gough, corporate director Matt Dunkley and Glenn Douglass from Kent clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) shared their regrets about the “poor” services provided for the vulnerable children.

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found “too many" young people do not get the support they need.

Inspectors wrote that parents and guardians “are rightly upset, angry and concerned".

Mr Gough said: “This is very distressing.

“That’s a dangerous reality and this is something we come across all the time."

The report detailed how some schools in the county are not “willing” to accommodate young people who need extra help.

Mr Dunkley said mainstream schools must provide services for these children, as not all pupils require specialist schools.

Every child with a special education needs is evaluated for an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP), which outlines the support need.

Inspectors also found 61% of parents and carers in Kent do not receive their plans within the legal 20-week time frame.

Today's local news website headlines

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KentOnline: Thieves steal hundreds of pounds from Wildwood Discovery Park near Canterbury

The Argus: The Old Market and Brighton Women's Centre team up

GetSurrey: Staines school to scan pupils for knives following rise in knife crime

Hastings Observer: Wet and windy start to day in Hastings and Rother

Mid Sussex Times:Burgess Hill town centre redevelopment: Residents invited to open day

Chichester Observer: Goodwood pilots to fly silver spitfire around the world

Worthing Herald: Adur Repair Cafe set for launch in Shoreham

West Sussex County Times: Broadbridge Heath bypass closes as downgrade begins

Brighton & Hove Independent: Trainlines between Worthing and Littlehampton blocked after person hit by a train - Chichester lines also affected

Eastbourne Herald: New drug cabinet provided to DGH by Eastbourne charity

Brighton and Hove News: Vine Street restaurant given alcohol licence despite neighbour concerns

Severe accident: A26 Kent both ways

BBC News Travel

A26 Kent both ways severe accident, from Powder Mill Lane to East Cliff Road.

A26 Kent - A26 St Johns Road in Tunbridge Wells closed in both directions from the Powder Mill Lane junction to the East Cliff Road junction, because of an accident.

To report traffic and travel incidents dial 0330 123 0184 at any time

Council leader defeated by protest party

Caitlin Webb

Local Democracy Reporter

The Conservative leader of Tunbridge Wells council has been defeated by a new party set up in protest to a multi-million pound development.

David Jukes lost out to Lucy Willis of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance (TWA) by more than 400 votes in a shock result.

TWA gained five seats in total which has been seen as a symbol of support against £90m plans for a theatre and council offices in Caverley Square.

Compulsory Purchase Orders for the project have been approved by planning inspectorate Graham Dudley due to a “compelling case in public interest”.

Chairman of the TWA, Bob Atwood, previously ran the council with the Conservatives before he was ousted in 2012.

He said the result illustrates how people are feeling "discontented" with their existing councillors, mostly because of the theatre project.

The Lib Dems also took five seats from the Conservatives. Despite losing 12 seats, the Tories have maintained control as only a third of the seats were up for grabs.

Rail passengers urged to check before taking trains

Bob Dale

BBC Live reporter

Rail passengers wanting to travel over the bank holiday weekend face extensive disruption because of engineering works.

Network Rail maintenance workers
Network Rail

On 5 May buses will be replacing trains between Lewisham and Dartford, as signalling is upgraded.

There will also be replacement buses between Sevenoaks, Paddock Wood and Tunbridge Wells because of track maintenance.

Signalling upgrades also mean replacement buses between Lewisham and Orpington on 6 May.

Third Tory council leader loses seat

A third Conservative council leader has lost his seat in Kent.

Swale Borough Council leader Andrew Bowles was defending his position on Boughton & Courtenay ward, where two seats were up for grabs. The Tories lost both to the Green Party.

Canterbury's Simon Cook lost his seat in Kent. And John Jukes, the Conservative head of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, was also eased out, falling to Lucinda Willis, of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance.

The Tories still have overall control, but with a majority slashed from 32 to eight as the alliance and other independents, together with the Liberal Democrats, made substantial gains.

Tories win seat after tied result in Tunbridge Wells

Drama at Tunbridge Wells, where they had to draw lots to determine the winner of the Paddock Wood West seat.

Conservative Matthew Bailey and Labour's Raymond Moon both received the same number of votes - 289 - but Mr Bailey was elected after the pair drew lots.

The Tories have regained control of the borough council, although not all results are yet in.

Canterbury council leader out but Tories still safe in Tunbridge Wells

The Conservatives, who have a healthy majority in Tunbridge Wells, have retained control of the council.

But Conservative Canterbury City Council leader Simon Cook has lost his seat.

The full result there is not expected until later.

‘It’s not OK to feel that way’

Lauren Moss

Education and social affairs correspondent, BBC South East

The Kent charity Hygiene Bank is helping families struggling to afford basic toiletries.