They make deals with failing ferry companies and property speculators wasting £millions in taxpayers money in the process. They are incompetent. Supporting plans and investing public money in airports, ferry and container terminals and railway stations which most people know have no sustainable future. They pour huge amounts of money into dodgy joint venture organisations like East Kent Opportunities which will never pay back investment value. They allow the over-development of our rapidly disappearing greenfield land. They agree senior management restructures which cost hundreds of thousands in redundancies payments and gagging orders, only to revert back to the old structure less than 3 years later. They conduct their business in secrecy. They won’t allow the public to film meetings. They vote through rules permitting councillors to procure gifts and hospitality up to £99.99 without the need to declare these inducements. Some of them are corrupt, using inside knowledge and influence to make personal profit. Others are dismissive, rude and downright insulting towards the public who elected them.
And when Independent, non-party political, Members of the Council Standards Committee warn that their behaviour threatens to bring the Council into disrepute what do they do? They round on these well intentioned volunteers, reject their report and bully them mercilessly until they resign in disgust.Quite frankly the political leadership of Thanet Council is more suited to North Korea than Northdown Road
And it’s not just me saying that. Read the local papers. Read the blogs. Read the Facebook pages. Listen to and watch the news reports about Thanet on TV and Radio. Virtually anyone with an opinion about Thanet Council and its political leadership is massively critical.So why is it like this?
Well in my view the way in which the Council is being managed is the cause of a lot of the problems we are seeing. For the past decade or so, Thanet has been run by what’s called a Leader/ Cabinet system. Which means that the current Leader, Clive Hart, and his team of 5 Cabinet Councillors make virtually all of the important decisions about how TDC is run including how the Council’s multi-£million budget is spent.
More and more people are now thinking that this system of political management is wrong. It concentrates power, influence and decision making in the hands of too few people, It allows for the domination of a single political party. This means that decisions are unlikely to be made on the basis of a proper balanced debate. It means that alternative views and ideas are not taken seriously. It means that it’s much easier to make mistakes and bad decisions.
The other problem with this system is patronage. Cabinet members depend on the good will of the Leader to keep their posts and their lucrative responsibility allowances, Council officers are reluctant to disagree with political leaders for fear of their jobs. This often means that Council Leaders and Cabinet members often become surrounded with yes mem and women who, because seldom dare to question or disagree with their patrons.
This type of unhealthy relationship can have disastrous impact upon the quality of decision making and can even lead to councillors and officers turning a blind eye to bad practice, misconduct and corruption by Councillor Leaders and Cabinet members.
But don’t take my word for it. Several senior Thanet councillors have confided in me that they had serious doubts about Sandy Ezeikel’s activities when he was the Council leader. Others have told me that were desperately unhappy about the Pleasurama and TransEuropa decisions. But despite these worries and doubts, they all admitted to keeping quite because they were worried about how their positions in the Cabinet or on other committees might be affected if they broke ranks. In Thanet we are all living with the consequences of a flawed system of political management at the Council which has led to incompetence, corruption and poor service delivery.But it doesn’t need to be like to this.
The Localism Act 2011 gives residents the tools to fight back against corrupt, incompetent councils like Thanet. Using this piece of legislation its possible to force the Council to abandon it undemocratic, secretive, Leader/ Cabinet system of management and replace it with something better. The committee system.This approach to managing the Council puts a stop to a tiny cabal of councillors from the same political party exercising all the power. Power is spread out to several committees and backbench councillors from all political parties become engaged in making decisions. It’s even possible for members of the public to be co-opted on to committees to give councillors the benefit of their specialist knowledge and experience. An inclusive approach to decision making means that wiser choices are made and it also destroys the power of patronage.
So how do we make this happen. Simple. We must raise a petition asking the Council to change the Leader/ Cabinet system of management to a committee system. The petition must have a minimum number of 4869 signatures (5% of registered electors). If this figure is achieved and the signatures verified then the Council MUST hold a referendum of all voters. If the change is approved then then Council must abolish the Cabinet/ Leader system.
Funnily enough a campaign to make such a change has just begun on Canterbury. Many people across Canterbury have become heartily fed up with the way the City Council politicians are managing things. They are now collecting signatures to force a referendum on the introduction of a democratic committee system.Well I say if democracy is good enough for Canterbury its good enough Thanet!. So lets go to work.
If you are interested in becoming involved in starting a campaign to pettion for change please get in touch with me. This would be a non-party political campaign. It’s purely about making our council more democratic, accountable and effective. So whatever your views, Whatever you affiliations e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s time for change in Thanet.
Do you want to be part of it?