Monday, 30 March 2015

Pleasurama P*ss Take

On Friday March 13th Thanet Council announced that it had signed an agreement with builders Cardy to complete work at the Ramsgate Pleasurama seafront development. According to the Council’s press release “the agreement will see the scheme built out in accordance with the existing planning consent including a 60 bed hotel, 107 residential apartments, leisure facilities, cafes, shops and even a playground within the Ramsgate seafront site” Like any diligent councillor I asked to see a copy of the agreement so that I could report back to local residents about how much money the council was going to receive from Cardy, what the time frame for completion of the development was and any other matters related to the works. Here is the e-mail I sent to on 17 March Dear Mr Bolye I am writing to you as the Council's Monitoring Officer to set up a meeting to inspect the new Pleasurama/ Royal Sands development agreement with Cardy which  was signed last week. I look forward to hearing from you on this matter. Yours sincerely. Councillor Ian Driver   
Despite a follow up e-mail my request was not answered. I called the council last Friday afternoon and this morning stressing how important my request was because I am having a meeting tomorrow night at which I hoped  to update residents about the Cardy deal. Following these phone calls I was sent this Dear Councillor Driver
I understand that you have made a request to inspect the above contract.
Mr Boyle advises that the document cannot be inspected at this time. Whilst it has been signed, it has not been completed and is therefore still commercially sensitive. Please let me know if you have any further queries.Kind regards,Ciara Feeney Senior Litigation Lawyer & Deputy Monitoring Officer Thanet District Council

So despite issuing a press release and shouting from the rooftops that the agreement with Cardy has been signed, the Council is now using weasel words to suggest that, although signed,  the deal has not really been completed and that it remains confidential.  Seriously you could not make this rubbish up. This is public land (at least for a couple of  days longer). Residents have a right to know exactly how much money has been raised by the deal with Cardy, what the terms of the agreement are  and how long it will take for the project to be completed. But no! Once again TDC  in its high handed arrogant  manner are dismissing the concerns of residents and treating them like fools.  What has Thanet Council got to hide? What secrets are they keeping from you? Why can’t the terms of an agreement they triumphantly heralded 2 weeks ago be made public. Like North Korea, Thanet Council is fixated with secrecy and making deals behind closed doors. Like North Korea Thanet Council is not fit for purpose. To put end to this secrecy and lack of accountability vote Green on May 7th. We promise to end the culture of secrecy at TDC  and make the Council accountable to local taxpayers. We promise to reform the council and end this arrogant disdain for residents.   Its time for open, honest and accountable government. Its time to Vote Green.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Thanet District Council = Thanet Interim Council

Green Party Councillor and South Thanet Parliamentary Candidate, Ian Driver, has called for Thanet District Council (TDC)  to have its name changed to Thanet Interim Council (TIC).
His tongue-in-cheek comment follows a Freedom of Information revelation that the Council’s  10 most senior posts are being carried out by 7  interim managers, or covered by 3 lower graded  staff “acting up” to cover the senior-level vacancies.
The interim posts are Director of Community Service, Director of Corporate Resources, Head of Legal Services,  Open Spaces Manager, Management Accountant, Strategic Planning Manager, Frontline  Services Manager The acting-up posts are Chief Executive, Head of Communications and Head of Financial Services. The cost of the acting up-arrangements is £41,487 per year plus pension contributions. The cosy of employing interim managers is usually in the region of 15% more than the  salary of a permanent employee which assuming an average salary of £70,000 for each the 7 posts would be £ £73,500. This gives a total additional cost of at least £114, 987 to cover the 10 vacant posts.
Said Driver “I have never heard of a council without a full-time permanent senior management team in place.  To have the entire senior officer team made up of interims and acting-up staff  must be unique in annals of local government history. Managing the Council in this way puts TDC at great risk of system failure, catastrophic mistakes and errors and poor service delivery because those covering the posts will have little knowledge or experience of Thanet and the councils procedures.”  

He added “the collapse of the previous senior  management structure was brought about by an ill-conceived  restructuring exercise  which drove out several talented officers. There were also  problems with the reputation and image of the Council following the damning independent Peer Review last year  and appalling political mismanagement by the Labour Cabinet which led some senior officers to move on.   As a result Thanet District Council has been transformed into Thanet Interim Council and  taxpayers have had to pay significantly over the odds to cover the senior vacancies. I sincerely hope that new and capable officers are  quickly employed to turn the Council around following the recent recruitment exercise. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Close Ramsgate "Ghost Port" & Rethink Its Future

Almost 2 years ago TransEuropa Ferries went bust owing Thanet Council £3.4 miillion. After weeks of demanding answers from the notoriously secretive Council I eventually found out  that this staggering mountain of debt was allowed to build up over a 3 year period  because the Council’s Labour (and previously Conservative) political bosses had agreed a secret deal with  TransEuropa Ferries allowing them to use  the Port of Ramsgate without having to pay any fees.
The Council said it would try its best to find a new operator to replace TransEuropa but 2 years later there’s no sign of a ferry service. This is hardly  surprising when you consider that Dover Harbour is currently undergoing a major £120million investment progamme which will improve existing facilities and massively expand its ferry and cruise liner capacity. Further north the Thames Gateway freight terminal recently opened for business. It has massive freight handling capacity and is much nearer to customers than
Ramsgate.  It’s clear that there is no way that Ramsgate Port can successfully compete against these neighbouring maritime giants. That’s why 2 years on from the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries no replacement operator has come forward and the only activity at the Port are a few small ships unloading aggregates for the Bretts concrete plant and of course the notorious Joline Ship of Death plying its barbarically cruel live animal export trade to Europe.

To keep the port open costs Council Tax payers over £1.5 million every year, with virtually no income to offset this astronomic cost  I’m inclined to think that the time has now to come to close down the Port  and use this money for more important things such as building desperately needed social housing. However I’m not suggesting that by closing the port we turn our back on Ramsgate’s historic maritime tradition. I strongly believe that with imagination and vision Ramsgate Port could be transformed into a driving force behind the future regeneration the town. With the right ideas and a  good business plan, it could create  hundreds of new jobs and business opportunities and inject  £millions into the local economy But as we all know Thanet Council and its Labour and Conservative politicians are desperately short of imagination and vision.
Just after TransEuropa went bust, the Council began work on the Ramsgate Maritime Plan which was supposed to be a blueprint for a brave new future for the Port. But the development of the plan was flawed. Instead of having a well-publicised  public consultation about the future of the port and allowing residents the opportunity  to put forward ideas and suggestions,  Thanet Council chose instead to consult with small  handpicked groups behind closed doors. No effort appears to have been made to look at what other councils had done to rejuvenate their ailing ports. No effort appears to have made to secure the services of  experts in seafront and port regeneration who could have shared their knowledge, expertise, experience with the Council. No work was done on developing a properly costed budget for improving and developing the port and no work carried out about how funding could be secured to pay for new development at the Port. To be frank, the development of the Ramsgate Maritime Plan was a wasted opportunity and the published report was an expensive waste of time which totally ignored the competitive world in which the port operates, sticking instead  with old-fashioned ideas who’s days were long over. This probably explains why the Council’s best suggestion for the port is to allow the  O’Regan Group’s to set up a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing facility, despite the concerns of many residents who are worried about the pollution risk of industrialising the port site.  
But it doesn’t have to be like this. If the ferry and freight business are no longer a sustainable option for Ramsgate Port then surely it’s time to look for new markets and products which might turn a profit. And what better option than transforming the Port into a leisure focused marina which could be incorporated into the Royal Harbour. Marinas have been operating very successfully for many years at Eastbourne, and Brighton. They have created hundreds of jobs and business opportunities for local people.  Ramsgate has several  advantages which would  help a marina to succeed. First it’s much nearer to Europe than Eastbourne and  Brighton and is therefore likely to attract more continental visitors. Second, unlike Eastbourne and Brighton  the marina would be located right next to Ramsgate town centre meaning that visitors would spend money in  local bars, cafes, restaurants and businesses. Third Ramsgate is a gateway to the beautiful Kent countryside with Canterbury and Sandwich in easy reach and just over an hour to London by train. Fourth we have the world-class Turner Contemporary on Ramsgate’s doorstep and soon Dreamland, with Thanet’s fabulous beaches thrown in for good measure.

I believe there is a powerful case to close Ramsgate  Port, and in  conjunction with the Royal Harbour  transform it into a modern, state of the art, environmentally friendly  marina. This is an idea that a Green Party led Council would explore. We would set up a working group  which would include  local people, businesses and industry experts to  develop ideas, draw up plans and budgets for a modern marina in Ramsgate. We would consult fully with residents about the plans and we would secure funding through Council borrowing and developing partnerships with the private sector to pay for this transformative development.  Without a bold and imaginative plan for the Port of Ramsgate it will gradually deteriorate  and decline haemorrhaging £millions of taxpayers money  in the process. It’s time to be brave and seize the opportunity  

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

O'Regan Plan:Incompetent Thanet Council Tears Up Its Rules

Several weeks ago I submitted a freedom of information (FOI)  request to Thanet Council. I asked  for copies of any notes or minutes related to the 5 meetings which took place  between the O’Regan Group and the Council about  its proposed concrete block and waste wood processing operations at the Port of Ramsgate. I was told I couldn’t have these documents as they were commercially confidential.  I appealed against this decision and won,but I still didn’t get the documents! 
According to the reviewing officer the council was wrong to have ruled that the minutes and
notes were confidential because no notes or minutes were taken in the first place!   I was utterly astonished! It’s simply inconceivable that any organisation, other than the most disreputable dodgy cowboy outfit, would hold 5 meetings with a potential business partner and not take any notes or minutes.  No wonder Thanet Council has been described as dysfunctional. But it get’s worse! The failure to take notes and minutes was a flagrant breach of Thanet Council’s own rules!
Following my exposure of the TransEuropa Ferries  secret £3.4 million  debt scandal in 2013 the District Auditor launched an investigation. His February 2014 report made it clear  that he was less than impressed by the Councils incompetent record keeping of its meetings with the failing ferry company. He recommended that the Council should “keep contemporaneous notes of key discussions with commercial partners”. Thanet Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel also investigated the TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt scandal  and came to similar conclusions about taking notes of meetings with commercial third parties. The Council’s Governance and Audit Committee; its Cabinet; and the full Council all unanimously endorsed the recommendations  of the Auditor and the Overview and Scrutiny Panel, especially those related to the need to keep notes and minutes of meetings with external businesses.
But just 4 months after the council adopted these extremely important recommendations they were totally ignored by council managers  who should have known better. Instead of following Council  policy and delegating a member of staff to take notes of the meetings with the  O’Regan Group it now appears that at the 5 meetings which took place in 2014 managers failed to exercise their responsibility to ensure that this was done. If true,  this is gross misconduct and those responsible should face a disciplinary investigation.  I have now submitted a formal complaint to the Council Monitoring Officer which I copy below. I have redacted the names of the officers concerned.
This serious abuse of process is the latest in a long history of incompetence and maladministration at the council which contributed toward the TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4million debt scandal, the Pleasurama debacle, the flawed Local Plan consultation process,  and what appears to be  a disaster in the making with the  Dreamland project. The more I think about Thanet Council’s serial cock-ups; the employment of an army of “interim” managers with no loyalty to the area;  the  incessant reports of bullying of junior staff;  and Labour’s pathetic political management of this shambolic mess, the more I am forced to agree that Thanet Council is a local authority in meltdown which is no longer fit for purpose.

 Dear Mr Boyle
I am writing to you to submit a formal complaint about a most serious lack of record keeping by the Council. My complaint relates to a FOI request I submitted several weeks ago requesting copies of notes and minutes taken at the 5 meetings held  between the Council, the O’Regan Group and its agents last year. You had originally advised me that any such notes/ minutes would be commercially confidential and that I would not be able to have copies. I submitted a request for an internal review and heard back  from Ms.  2 days ago. She  informed me that Mr.  the  had informed her that no notes/ minutes had been taken at any of the 5  meetings because they were “informal”. I was astonished and extremely concerned by this reply. It is my view that all meetings with prospective business partners should be properly minuted so that there is no scope for misunderstanding at a later date and in order to ensure that the Council’s business dealings are transparent and open to scrutiny.
To have had 5 meetings within a relative short  time frame suggests to me  that these meetings were not informal. The fact that O’Regan also submitted pre-planning documentation to the Council whilst meetings with the Council were still  taking place also indicates that these meetings were in fact formal and had moved on to the stage when business negotiations were taking place.   Furthermore, the presence of ex-council employees Mr Doug Brown and Mr Brian White at these meetings should, in my opinion, have required detailed notes of the meetings to have been taken whether they were informal or not. Taking such notes would have ensured that any  allegations of impropriety, exploiting past relationships with former colleagues for commercial gain etc could be demonstrated to be entirely  false  Failure to have taken notes  will serve  to fuel speculation about what happened at the meetings which may damage the reputation of the council. This was in my opinion a very serious failure by those officers involved in the meetings.
As you are  aware my complaints about how the Council mis-managed the TransEuropa Ferries £3.4million secret debt scandal led to an investigation by the District Auditor. Amongst other things, the Auditor expressed his concern about the extremely poor record keeping by the Council. So concerned was he about this matter that he recommended to the Council “the need to keep contemporaneous notes of key discussions with commercial partners”.
The Overview and Scrutiny Panel who conducted its own separate  investigation into the TransEuropa Ferries £3.4million secret debt scandal was also worried by the Council’s culture of not recording meetings with external businesses It noted that “Members acknowledged that some lessons had been learnt from this incident; particularly the need for efficient record keeping of engagement with third parties and within Council when transacting important Council business (including commercial transactions)”.
The Governance and Audit Committee noted that the “district auditor has recommended that contemporaneous notes of key discussions with commercial partners and between the senior management team and members of the executive are kept. The Council agrees with this and formal notes are now being taken at key meetings”.
 If it is true that no notes or minutes of the 5 meetings between  the O’Regan Group, its agents and the Council were taken, then officers have clearly ignored the advice of the District Auditor; the wishes the Overview and Scrutiny Panel; the Governance and Audit Committee and Council itself who also endorsed the Auditor’s recommendations . This is an extremely serious situation which merits a thorough  investigation by the Monitoring Officer .
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Yours sincerely 
Cllr Ian Driver 

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Thanet Council's Triumphal Press Release 1 Year Ago
Readers of my blog will know that  I am 100% behind  Dreamland and believe that it will  play an important role in the regeneration of Thanet, But I have also  been critical about the way in which the Council has managed this project. I have said, and have  been proved to have  been  right, that the much touted April 2015 opening of the amusement park was unrealistic. I have argued that the budget is inadequate and complained that there is insufficient contingency to pay the costs of the final Compulsory Purchase settlement which is yet to be decided. I also said that the long lease which is being negotiated with Sands Heritage is likely to be extremely long and tantamount to giving the visitor attraction away to the private sector; when the original plan was to have a not-for profit organisation operate the park.  A trustworthy council insider recently advised  me that questions about the finances of park operator, Sands Heritage, are reportedly being asked  and that the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has invested several £million into this  project,  is not too amused by the amusement park shenanigans. Which brings me nicely to the purpose of this post.
3 weeks ago, I attended a councillors briefing meeting about Dreamland. At this meeting councillors were told that TDC would be signing a legal agreement with Sands Heritage in a matter of 2-3 days. On signing this agreement Sands Heritage would officially become the operator of the Dreamland Amusement Park.  I remember feeling uneasy about this meeting. Something in my water told me it was not quite right. Apart from being very short meeting, there seemed to be an  unspoken sub-plot at work with  officers going to extraordinary lengths to re-assure councillors that they had done everything by the book and took as much advice as possible on their dealings with Sands Heritage. So strange was the meeting that I took the unusual step of tweeting about it.
Well 3 weeks later there have been no self-aggrandising press releases from Council Leader Iris Johnston claiming that her single handed efforts  have  succeed in securing the Dreamland project. So I took the liberty of emailing  the Council’s Head of Property and Regeneration, Edwina Crowley,  for an update on why the legal agreement which councillors were told 3 weeks ago would be signed  in 2-3 days,  had not materialised.  Here’s the correspondence

From: Ian Driver []

Sent: 09 March 2015 13:29
To: Edwina Crowley
Subject: Dreamland and Sands Heritage

Dear Ms Crowley
2 weeks ago I attended a members briefing meeting at which Councillors were told that a legal  agreement would be signed with the Dreamland Operators within 2-3 days. Please tell me if this agreement has been signed. If not, could you please tell me why the signing of the agreement has been delayed and what the reasons for this delay are. I look forward to hearing from you. Yours sincerely Councillor Ian Driver

Dear Cllr Driver,
Thank you for this, the agreement have not been signed, as the legal agreements are not finished.  Unfortunately it will take a bit longer than we had planned.

I must say I was less than impressed by the rather curt one line reply from Ms Crowley. I have now asked her for a full explanation as to why what I was told would take only 2-3 days has not been accomplished in 3 weeks!

I may be worrying unnecessarily and everything might be hunky-dory. But those niggling doubts I had at the councillors briefing meeting 3 weeks ago have come back to haunt me.  Are there any legal difficulties with the drafting of the agreement with the Sands Heritage? If so what.  Are negotiations with Sands Heritage taking longer than expected and what are the sticking points?  Are the Dreamland funders concerned about any aspects of the agreement with Sands Heritage? Has the Council’s  due diligence of  Sands Heritage revealed any concerns?  Either way a 3 week delay in completing something which a senior officer advised councillors would only take  2-3 days and a rather disrespectful  e-mail  have got me to thinking that sweet dreams might not be being dreamt in Dreamland 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Green Party Driver Supports Protest Against Thanet “Benefit Sanctions Tsunami”

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South Ian Driver  has called for an immediate end to benefits sanctions and says he  will be joining a national day of action against sanctions called by UNITE the Union on 19 March. The day of action will include a protests outside the Margate Job Centre Mill Lane at 10am. Said  Driver “Thanet’s Jobcentre bosses have unleashed a sanctions tsunami” against  the district’s benefits claimants. During the
2 year  period from October 2012 –  September  2014, Thanet’s Jobcentre managers have sanctioned  5,718 Jobs Seekers Allowance claims; that’s an average of 240  sanctions per month which is a sanction rate 52%  greater than  any other district in the Kent County Council area  and accounts for over  21% of all sanctions decisions  in Kent (1).
Said Driver “even allowing for Thanet’s high unemployment, the number of sanctions are massively  disproportionate when compared to other areas of Kent. I can only assume that the is because Jobcentre bosses in Thanet are more inclined to apply sanctions  than their colleagues  elsewhere in Kent. I suspect they are operating unofficial sanctions targets and  putting pressure on frontline staff  to sanction first and ask questions later. Either way the statistics for Thanet suggest that something very unusual and unfair is happening. The victims of this approach are most likely to be vulnerable and disabled people especially those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. I will be seeking an explanation from the Job Centre Regional Manager about this ”.
Such is the level of concern about benefits sanctions that a Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee was set up in January 2015 to investigate the  issue. Detailed evidence has been presented to the Select Committee by the  leaders of several influential campaign  groups and charities; the Public and Commercial Services Union and former Job Centre workers which identifies a widespread regime of unofficial, unfair and discriminatory  sanctions targeting; front line staff be bullied by their managers to refer claimants for sanctioning for the minor of issues. 
Just last week the influential campaigning organisation,  Church Action on Poverty, which   represents 6 different churches produced a major report “Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions” which has called the a major review of the sanctions regime and the  immediate suspension of benefits sanctioning for claimants with children. 

Said Driver “there is no doubt in my mind that some of the most vulnerable people in Thanet are being abused and forced into the most severe hardship and poverty  by the insensitive and hard-line approach  of senior Job Centre bosses. I sincerely hope that the Select Committee will recommend   a root and branch overhaul of a system which is clearly unfit for purpose and dangerous to boot”

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Greens condemn Local Plan as “invitation to developers”

Thanet Council's Draft Local Plan which designates four large greenfield sites for housing is an open invitation to developers to add to urban sprawl to the detriment of local communities, says Thanet Green Party in their public consultation submission which can be found on Green Councillor Ian Driver’s blogsite at the link below.

In their submission the Greens oppose plans to allow nearly 5000 new homes to be built at Birchington, Westgate, Manston Green and Ramsgate, and  the Party calls for priority to be given to given to building on brownfield sites. “Building on brownfield sites in towns and villages helps to sustain local shops and public transport,” says the Party's official response to council's 16-year plan for Thanet.
It points out that although the owners of Manston Airport have not yet announced their detailed plans for the site, they have indicated that they want housing and commercial development. “The owners' intentions could greatly affect the proposals in the Draft Plan, particularly those for housing, as the Manston site has space for a substantial number of homes on brownfield land.,” says the Party.
The Greens reject the time-limited “top-down” approach to the area's economic and social development and call for continual dialogue between planners and the local community. Plans should be flexible according to how the area develops in the future.
“Planning must be organic, responding to needs as they arise. This does not mean that there should not be objectives -- but there must be flexibility in the path to achieving them. Designating large areas for housing on greenfield sites is not only environmentally unfriendly, it is putting the cart before the horse,” says the Party.
More forward thinking is needed to meet the challenges of global warming through the provision of zero-carbon and zero-energy homes. “Such homes in environmentally-friendly areas are good for the world, good for the country, good for people. Why shouldn’t we have them?” the Party asks.
On the need to reduce traffic in our towns, the Greens propose park-and-ride schemes, better public transport, 20 mph limits on some residential roads, and more dedicated cycle tracks and paths for walking. The Party says: “For too long, motor vehicles have dominated our cities. Our streets need to be reclaimed for the majority of people who do not own cars.”
It rejects the proposal for the new £14 million Parkway Station which, it says, is likely to attract future applications for housing developments in the immediate surrounding greenfield areas. “Car users from Discovery Park and the wider areas of South Thanet should use park-and-ride linked to the better-serviced Ramsgate Station,” says the Party.
To attract more tourists to our seaside towns throughout the year, more imaginative planning is needed , such as indoor pools and other leisure facilities which would be havens against bad weather. The Party also calls for development of a Ramsgate marina to replace the struggling Port, based on studies of successful marinas in other parts of the country.
Commenting on the Plan, Green councillor Ian Driver said: “The Green Party is the only political organisation in Thanet to have a held a public meeting on the Local Plan and to have submitted comments to the public consultations. The other political parties have sat on their backsides and have done nothing!”
The Green Party,  along with thousands of local residents, believes that Labour’s Local Plan will lead to the massive overdevelopment of Thanet. Although we need more housing, we are of the view that 4-6,000 units will suffice and that the proposed 12,000 is way beyond what is really needed. At least 1,500 of these homes should be social rented properties and none should be built of greenfield sites. We also share wide public concern about plans for a Parkway station at Cliffsend. The station is being proposed to
serve the thousands of new, but totally unnecessary, homes which Labour Thanet Council hopes to build on green field sites around the Westwood Cross, Manston Green and Cliffsend. Building Parkway would rapidly lead to Cliffsend being  swallowed up into urbanised extension of Ramsgate”.

Friday, 6 March 2015

TDC Leader Johnston Didn't Listen to #HearMyVoice Campaign

Today  I attended a Parliamentary Hustings   at the Clifonville Community Centre. The meeting was organised by East Kent Mencap. It was part of Mencap’s national campaign #hearmyvoice which aims to make politicians more aware of the second class treatment meted out to  people with learning disabilities such as  unfair exclusion from school; massively disproportionate unemployment; lack of support with daily living; low life expectancy; unfair benefits sanctions; poor care from the NHS; bad housing; abuse, bullying and hate crime. A lot of work went into organising the meeting and it was extremely well attended with about 70 learning disabled  people in the audience.This was undoubtedly the best hustings meeting I have been to. It was lively with a lot of interjection and some of the most difficult questions I have been asked so far in the campaign many of which related to the unfair treatment faced by learning disabled people in Thanet. Sadly what would otherwise have been a very successful meeting was, in my opinion, spoiled by the antics of Thanet Council’s Labour Leader, Iris Johnston. Quite naturally being a political meeting with wannabe MPs from across the political spectrum, Thanet Council came in for a lot of criticism from the audience and speakers alike. This was entirely legitimate and has happened at all the hustings meetings I have been to. 

Clearly people wanted to know what their  prospective parliamentary candidates think about the local council. 
Johnston was quite clearly unhappy about some of the comments and questions about Thanet Council and became more and more agitated throughout the meeting. She also took copious notes about these exchanges and began to frantically attract the attention of the meeting's Chair. The Chair allowed her speak and she proceeded to give an incredibly defensive speech about her record as Thanet Council’s leader and a potted history of what she had done to help disabled people in Thanet over the past 20 years. Clearly she took the criticisms which had been made about the Council very personally. But Iris Johnston had not been invited to the meeting to defend the record as Leader of the Council. Nor is she  standing as an MP. So her views and opinions were inconsequential and were not asked for. Thankfully the Chair of the meeting quickly realised that the ego-fuelled Johnston was trying to hijack the meeting and after a bit of  a struggle was able to shut her up and get her to sit down.  This was supposed to be a meeting which would empower learning disabled people in Thanet. This was supposed to be a meeting at which learning disabled people could let their prospective MPs know how they feel across a wide range of issues. Not at meeting at which Irtis Johnston could wax lyrical about how good she believes herself to be. 
Through her insensitive actions, Iris Johnston  demonstrated today that she  wasn't listening to Thanet's   learning disabled community. She didn't appear  interested in  listening to what some of the most discriminated and badly treated people in Thanet were trying to say to their prospective MPs.  For Iris Johnston it was all about defending her fragile wounded ego.

Mencap launched the  #hearmyvoice campaign to overcome the exclusion of learning disabled people from politics and decision making - and about time too say I.  But sadly Iris Johnston’s actions today demonstrates that learning disabled people have a long way to go because the only voice Iris Johnston heard today was her own!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

O'Regan Plans: Ramsgate Councillors Stab Community In Back

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet, Ian Driver, has accused Ramsgate’s   ‘political establishment’ of “betraying the people they were elected to represent”. His comments follow revelations that Ramsgate Town Council (RTC) and the town’s County Councillors failed to respond to a consultation about KCC’s Minerals and Waste Local Plan (MWLP) last summer. The MWLP regulates the aggregate industry in Kent, and lists Ramsgate Port as an aggregate processing site. This designation means that the O’Regan Group’s controversial proposal to locate a concrete block manufacturing plant at the port, which was opposed at a packed meeting of over 300 townspeople earlier this year, is in fact likely to be approved.
Opportunities missed KCC invited Ramsgate Town Council (RTC) to comment on the revised MWLP last summer. This would have provided RTC with an opportunity to raise issues about the sensitive environmental sites close to the port and the port’s proximity to tourist and residential areas, allowing planners more discretion to reject unsuitable applications such as the O’Regan proposal.  However, minutes of RTC meetings reveal that the issue was never discussed by the Labour-controlled body, and KCC records show that it did not make a consultation submission.
KCC’s consultation took place between July and September 2014. This is the period in which the O’Regan Group held its first 3 meetings with Thanet Council about its proposals for the port. It is believed that Ramsgate Town Councillor Mike Harrison who, in his second job as a Thanet District Councillor, is responsible for overseeing the management of the Port, knew about the KCC consultation and the talks with O’Regan.
Councillors ‘failed in their duties’
It’s also believed by some that Ramsgate Town Councillors David Green and Rick Everitt, who are also Thanet District Councillors with responsibility for Planning and Finance, would also have known about the O’Regan talks and the KCC consultation. If this assumption is correct, why didn’t Harrison, Green, and Everitt insist on RTC participating in the consultation and put forward suggestions which would have made it much easier for planners to reject unsuitable developments at the port?
But it wasn’t just the failure of RTC and its politicians which let residents down. UKIP’s County Councillors Trevor Shonk and Martyn Heale, and Labour’s Parliamentary hopeful for Ramsgate and current County Councillor, Will Scobie, appear to have failed in their duties as public servants too.  Heale, Shonk and Scobie attended a meeting at Maidstone’s County Hall where KCC’s Minerals and Waste Local Plan was discussed and the consultation timetable approved.
If they had read the reports, they would have realised how important the MWLP was in relation to planning policy for the Port of Ramsgate. They would have recognised that the consultation process offered them a chance to put forward suggestions to try to balance industrial use of the port with the environmental, residential and tourist issues in the surrounding area. Records show that Heale, Shonk and Scobie, unlike other County Councillors, did not do this.
Said Driver: “The O’Regan controversy sadly demonstrates that Ramsgate’s politicians are shambolic failures who are not fit for public office. Instead of engaging in processes which could have protected the town from a development nobody wants, they sat on their backsides and did nothing. Instead of trying to fight for the interests of the people who elected them, they have stabbed them in the back. These so-called politicians have brought themselves into disrepute - and in 8 weeks’ time you can replace them with Green councillors who will be pro-active, carry out their duties with care and diligence, and  put the interests of the community first!”

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Stand Up to UKIP: Keep Your Gob Shut & Vote Labour

I went to the Stand Up to UKIP demonstration in Margate yesterday and considering the foul weather  I was surprised by the number of people of who turned up. The Police reckoned it was 200-250 but I would say more like 400, which makes it one the biggest demonstration Thanet has seen in a long while  And so it should be because the UKIP National Conference was taking place in Margate’s Winter Garden on the same day.
The atmosphere was lively and positive and like all good demonstrations there was a chance to meet long lost friends and acquaintances, exchange news and catch up. I took lots of photographs and video which is becoming a bit of a hobby of mine and was impressed by the colourful banners, the  line of marchers stretching all the way along the seafront and the  noise of the drummers and the chanting. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good demonstration to lift your spirits. People motivated and passionate about a common cause coming together at the same place and the same time  generates an emotional energy which you don’t find in many other human activities. If you haven’t experienced this before I strongly suggest that you go to a demo.
Things turned a bit sour outside the Winter Gardens where a group of right-wing Britain First supporters goaded the marches and caused a minor scuffle, but apart from that the march went well. Yet I must confess to having felt a bit let down by the rally at the end of the march. Maybe I am becoming more cynical as get older. Maybe I’m a miserable killjoy. But I just felt that the rally had no cutting edge, no rallying call, no focus.
True,  I agreed with all the speakers about how nasty  UKIPs
bigoted little England vision is. I was impressed with the passion and conviction with which  many of the speakers expressed their fears about how UKIPs anti-immigration crusade threatens to divide society and open the doors to very dark political developments in this country. I also agreed entirely with one of the  speakers who suggested that the rise of UKIP was largely the  product of the Government’s austerity programme. But there was still something missing. That was the failure to confront the fact that one of the supporters of Stand Up to UKIP, the Labour Party is, in its own way, just as anti-immigrant and just as austerity minded as the Tories and UKIP.
Three  days before the Margate march and  rally took place Labour’s Yvette Cooper was doing the rounds of newsrooms slagging off the Coalition Government for allowing net immigration to reach  298,000; the highest level in 10 years.  She promised anyone who cared to listen that Labour would become the toughest, arse kicking, anti-immigrant party on the block. Borders would be tightened and more strictly enforced; our EU neighbours would be encouraged to do likewise; UK entry requirements would be reviewed and made much more demanding. Not a word did she utter about the well documented evidence that immigration brings major economic  benefits to the UK. Nor did she talk about how immigration has added massively to the cultural wealth of our country. Not even a passing acknowledgement of  the fact that on  balance it’s  more beneficial to have immigration than not. Nothing whatsoever was said by her to suggest  that immigration had any merits whatsoever.
But  what made me most angry is Labour’s lack of action about the EU’s decision to withdraw funding from the Italian Navy which had been used to patrol the Lybian coastline and rescue immigrants in danger. Using this money the Italian Navy rescued an estimated 150,000 immigrants last year and in so do doing probably saved tens of thousands of lives. Now that the funding has gone far fewer ships are patrolling and the reduced patrols are being restricted to just 30 miles off the Italian coast. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has slammed the EU for its actions. So has Amnesty international. They claim that  thousands of men women and children will drown because of this decision. These  are some of the most vulnerable people on our planet who have been forced out of their homes because of war, famine and poverty; who have been abused, raped and  tortured;  lost loved ones; and have been forced to make long and dangerous journeys across Asia and Africa  to find safety in the west. Many people have described  the withdrawal of funding as the most inhumane act to have ever been carried out by the EU. Others, myself included, see this decision  as nothing less than the murder of innocent people by state decree.  But apart from a few solitary soundbites over the past 4 months,  Labour has more or less ignored this appalling human tragedy and totally failed to galvanise public opinion against this morally reprehensible act whihc is supported by our Government. Incredibly an Early Day Motion to Parliament criticising the Government  for its support for the EU action submitted on 12 February has attracted the signatures of 13 Labour MPs. That’s just 5% of Labour’s  258 MPs. I wonder why?
And therein lies my unhappiness with the Stand Up To UKIP rally yesterday. Surely if you are attacking UKIP for its appalling policies on immigration, then you must also  attack other parties, including  Labour,  who’s policies on immigration are hardly any  better. Agreed UKIP is the main villain, but this should not absolve the Labour Party, who out of fear of losing Parliamentary seats  to UKIP has  become  stridently anti-immigrant,  from any criticism.  And that probably explains why forces within Thanet Stand Up to UKIP tried to prevent me speaking at the rally yesterday and why Labour Parliamentary hopeful Will Scobie shamefully failed to say anything of the remotest significance about immigration at a rally who’s entire purpose was to defend immigrants from the politics of scapegoating and persecution.    
If you are going to Stand Up to UKIP  you must be consistent and also stand up to those  parties who from lack of principles and naked electoral expediency, imitate UKIP. Which means no more keeping your gob shut and voting Labour.