Friday, 30 October 2015

Manston Airport: Labour to the Rescue?

So Thanet Council’s UKIP Cabinet voted 5 votes to 1, last night, not to pursue the Compulsory Purchase of Manston Airport with its US indemnity partners RiverOak. Does this mean it’s the end for Manston Airport? No far from it!  Many more dramas are yet to  be played out before this controversial political issue is finally decided.

The first of these dramas will be about numbers. If my maths are right UKIP, following recent defections to the Democratic Independent Group (DIG) and the Conservatives, now has 27 councillors. The Conservatives with the addition of ex-UKIP councillor, Emma Dawson, have 19, DIG 5, Labour 4 and Independents 1. This means there are 29 non-UKIP councillors on Thanet Council. Enough to overturn last night’s Cabinet vote not to pursue the CPO.

Leader of the Thanet Council Conservative Group, Bob Bayford, has already called for a coalition of councillors to be established to save Manston Airport and continue to pursue the CPO. Key to this coalition will be TDCs 4 Labour councillors. Without them the pro-Manston opposition will only be able to muster 23 votes which would be insufficient to bring down the UKIP Cabinet and overturn last night’s decision.  Of course there is the possibility that more UKIP councillors might defect to the DIG or the Conservatives, or that other UKIP councillors follow Vince Munday’s lead and resign from TDC forcing by-elections which UKIP might then lose. But in the short term the ball is firmly in the court of Labour’s gang of four.

My information from several trusted sources deep inside the Thanet Labour Party is that their councillors are highly likely to back Tory Leader Bayford and his pro-Manston coalition. This is hardly surprising because TDC councillor and former council leader, Iris Johnston, is herself   a supporter of Manston Airport. And I don’t think it would be difficult for her to persuade her colleague councillors Jenny Matterface, Michelle Fenner and Peter Campbell to back her in supporting Bayford, especially because Labour probably believes that it could cynically manipulate a coalition with the Conservatives to try to rebuild electoral support following their absolute trouncing by UKIP in the May elections.

However, one of the key issues underlying the Manston Airport controversy has always been environmental, especially the noise and atmospheric pollution which would result from the operation of a busy 24-7 freight-hub as proposed by RiverOak. Surely Labour would not be willing to support a coalition whose only aim is to facilitate the re-opening of an environmentally damaging airport in the middle of what is hoped to become a revived and rejuvenated tourist destination? Indeed it was Labour who gained massive electoral support in the 2011 council elections, especially in Ramsgate, because they rightly and properly opposed night flights to and from the airport on the grounds of noise pollution. It seems utterly inconceivable that the remaining four Labour councillors could jettison their environmental credentials in favour of joining a pro-airport coalition with the Tory’s and disgruntled ex-UKIPers.

But since when have Thanet Labour Party and its elected councillors ever cared about principles and honesty, especially when it comes to environmental matters. In February of this year I posted an article on this blogsite which documented how  the then ruling Labour Group on Thanet Council had torn up its 2011 election manifesto promises about protecting Thanet’s environment, by  dumping its commitment to prevent building on green field sites and reversing its opposition to the environmentally damaging Parkway  Station

Johnston, Fenner, Matterface and Campbell were all senior Labour councillors at this time and were instrumental, through their actions, in reneging on these important Manifesto promises so why should they  be in the least bit  bothered about jumping into bed with supporters of a polluting airport if this might ultimately bring them electoral success.

Finally it’s interesting to speculate how, if my information is true, a pro-airport coalition of Labour, Conservative and ex-UKIP councillors  would be viewed by new party boss Jeremy Corbyn who’s powerful  anti-austerity and pro-environmental policies place him in implacable opposition to Tory’s and former Kippers. And then of course what about the tens of thousands of new Labour supporters who have joined the party because they desperately want to begin work campaigning against and defeating the Conservatives and UKIP. How will these young energetic idealists react when they discover that Thanet’s old school Labour power brokers are doing deals with the enemy simply to protect their political arses and keep drawing their allowances? As a left of centre idealist myself, I know I would be infuriated and would work tirelessly to deselect any such traitor from their councillor position.

So the next episode in this unfolding drama  may well be Thanet Labour, though an alliance with it class enemies, coming  to the rescue of an economically unsustainable and massively  polluting airport, purely out of self-interest, greed and hunger for the power it routinely abused when last in control of the council. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Constitutional Crisis? 3Million800 Reasons To Have One Says Me!

The French have a saying the more things change the more they stay the same. And so it seems in politics, especially in the Labour party. Because all of a sudden the newly elected left-wing Corbyn leadership wants to play it all respectable just like the right wing fools they so recently ousted. Instead of using its strength in the House of Lords to support the Libdems rarely-used "fatal motion" which would scrap the proposed tax credit cuts  altogether, Corbyn and his pals will split the vote by backing a rival motion calling for the changes to be delayed pending an independent analysis of their impact and until transitional assistance is put in place.

Wasn’t it Corbyn and McDonnell who, just a few short weeks ago, were chastising then then party Leader Harriet Harman for not opposing the tax credit cuts?  Surely their wrecking motion in the Lords is doing Harman’s dirty work by  dividing progressive forces and allowing the Tories to drive this vindictive bill through the middle. So much for all the self-righteous  talk of a bright new socialist future,  when Corbyn and McDonnell have more or less said to the Tories let’s work together on tweaking and making more palatable these nasty vindictive cuts, instead of practising what they so recently preached and opposing the cuts  all-to-fucking-gether.
And their pathetic excuse for behaving like Harman  is that by not  backing the LibDems the Labour Party will heroically rescue the country from a major constitutional crisis with the lords pitted against the Commons. But hang on,  I thought Corbyn and his comrades want to abolish the undemocratic Lords. Surely  helping to provoke an almighty clash between the 2 houses of Parliament would be exactly what they want as it would hasten the demise of the non-elected ermine wearing fuckers who get £300 a day for doing nothing much at all.  Not to mention the fact that the living standards of 3 million of the poorest people in the country are, in my book,  somewhat more important than 800 odd unelected posh fuckers  playing at  politics in a mdieval building falling down around their ears. Surely Jeremy there are 3 million 800 good reasons for Labour to provoke a constitutional crisis?
Until today I genuinely believed Corbyn when he said new politics was on its way. Now I’m not too sure. Instead of building alliances with other progressive groups on issues of critical importance to the nations poorest, he plays the typical tribalistic party games of his predecessors dividing  the vote like an old-fashioned sectarian Labour boss.  Instead of properly opposing a nasty vindictive attack upon some of the nation's most vulnerable,  he now offers to mediate its implementation with the Tories. And these retreats and sell outs are all justified on the grounds of not breaching a constitution which no fucker understands and which makes no difference even  if they did. And the sad thing is this, that what Corbyn and McDonell are doing today is  precisely the same thing that Neil Kinnock did in the mid  80s –  insisting the Labour Party remains law abiding, constitutional and reasonable whatever the price might be – which was then of course the selling out of the miners and the stabbing in the back of  progressive councils fighting rate capping. 30 odd years later the price of parliamentary respectability is the likelihood that Labour will sell out  3 million of the country’s poorest to protect a medieval institution of 800 privileged gits. 
Sorry to say it but my confidence in Corbyn as a transformative force in the Labour Party has rapidly declined in the past few days. And I’m sure that Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham are now pissing their pants  laughing at the shambolic farce they will soon overthrow. Thankfully there is a Green Party waiting in the wings for those soon to be disillusioned Corbynistas to join. 

Constitutional Crisis? Come on Jeremy there's  3 million 800 compelling reasons to bring it on! 

Won't Get Fooled Again? Or Will We Jeremy?

Benefit Sanctions: Hounded to Death But No Review

Earlier this year the Work and Pensions Select  Committee conducted an inquiry into benefits sanctions. Committee members studied and discussed reams of documents and spent several days listening  to, and questioning,  evidence presented by senior civil  servants, politicians, trade unions, charities and campaign groups. The Committee, made up of 5 Conservative MPs, 5 Labour and 1 LibDem  wasn’t very happy about what it learned. This was made clear in the main recommendation of their report which was published in March 2015 and which said  We recommend that DWP commission a broad independent review of benefit conditionality and sanctions, to investigate whether sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately, in accordance with the relevant Regulations and guidance, across the Jobcentre Plus network. This review should be established and report as soon as is practicable in the next Parliament

 Just last week, the Government, in the guise of Iain Duncan Smith,  responded to the Work Pensions Committee Report saying that it had no intention of setting up an independent review into whether sanctions are being applied “appropriately, fairly, or proportionately”.  Bearing in mind the nature of the evidence which the Work and Pension Committee had considered, this decision was utterly amazing. Witness after witness demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that an unfair, unjustifiable and wholly disproportionate  sanctions regime prevailed within the Jobcentre service.   Evidence was presented which revealed that senior Jobcentre managers  were operating “unofficial” sanctions targets at offices across the country. Frontline Jobcentre staff were being bullied and cajoled by their bosses into meeting these targets for fear of disciplinary action and poor work appraisals. Furthermore, some of the most vulnerable benefit claimants, those with mental illness, learning disabilities, poor literacy, or substance addictions, were being singled out for sanctioning because they would be soft target who would be unlikely to fight back against the punishments.

It was revealed that sanctions were being imposed for the smallest of offences such as being just a few minutes late for an appointment and that appointment dates and times were being deliberately manipulated so that it would be difficult  for claimants to attend, providing another excuse to sanction. There was also evidence of massive discrepancies between the sanctioning rates of different Jobcentres indicating that managers were applying the rules inconsistently. In short,  the Committee’s  findings revealed that within the Jobcentre system there is a powerful culture of sanctioning in which claimants are deliberately targeted and set up to fail and that a disproportionate  number of vulnerable claimants fall victim to this bullying and vindictive culture. I can vouch for this being true as I had personal experience of an effort to sanction me after losing my job in 2013. Thankfully it failed.

But if this isn’t bad enough the Committee also heard evidence from charities and churches about the appalling human impact of sanctioning. Especially how already extremely poor people were being forced into destitution and hunger when their meagre JSA was stopped. How many of those sanctioned were not told about how to appeal or the fact that they could claim emergency help to tide them over, and how many people faced bailiffs and  eviction because housing benefit payments were often (and unlawfully) stopped when JSA was sanctioned. But worst of all is immeasurable despair and anxiety that was heaped upon the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of, often vulnerable, claimants who wondered how they would get by without any money. And sadly some of these people took their own lives as a result of the brutal treatment meted out to them by a Government department.  

Tally-Ho Fucker
So for Duncan-Smith to say on behalf of his Government that there will be no independent review of a system which is clearly rotten to the core and causing significant financial and emotional pain is a fucking disgrace. But there again why should I be surprised. The ongoing tax credit scandal, which I have been writing about, shows the Tory Government  to be  heartless, cruel and vindictive towards the poorest and most vulnerable in society. It is they who are being forced to pay the price for the greedy and reckless actions of well-heeled bankers and speculators who were insufficiently regulated by successive Conservative and Labour Governments.
From a Thanet perspective I posted a blog  about benefit sanctioning in September where  I reported that during the 2.5 year period, October 2012 –  March  2015, 6,342 JSA claimants from Thanet were sanctioned;  an average of 49 sanctions per week. This figure is much higher than any other district in the Kent County Council (KCC) area and accounts for 21% of all benefits sanctions decisions in the KCC boundaries. I said that “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 stand by these words, but sadly the Government’s refusal to launch an independent  review into the appropriateness, fairness and consistency of the benefits sanctioning system  will give a green light to  the bosses of the  Ramsgate  and Margate Jobcentres to  continue to operate their nasty bullying  and vindictive sanctioning system with impunity.

Last but not least in my previous sanctions blog I said that “I also think that the Government should  be forced to reveal how many people have died following the sanctioning of their benefits,  just like the recent figures related to deaths following  work capability assessments”. This is something which the Work and Pensions Committee also asked the Government to do. Well surprise, surprise, just like the request for an independent review of the  sanctioning system  the Government have said no. Why because it would quickly  be established that through their  enthusiastic, huntsman-like pursuit of  vulnerable benefit claimants, Jobcentre bosses have bullied and hounded people to their deaths.  Tally-ho you fuckers.  

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

MPs Gale & McInlay Shit On Thanet's Poorest

Thanet is one of the most deprived places in the country. Unemployment is much higher than the national average, wages are amongst the lowest in south east England and the Government’s recently published Indices of Deprivation rank Thanet as the most deprived local government area  in Kent, the second most deprived local government area in the south east and the 35th most deprived area in the country. Being so deprived it would be reasonable to assume that many families in Thanet receive tax credits to provide them with a basic standard living. And so they do. The latest Government figures estimate that 16,400 Thanet families receive working and/ or child tax credits. One of the highest rates of tax credit payments in the country. 11,300 of these families include working adults employed mainly in low paid and part-time jobs. 21,000 children in Thanet live in families receiving tax credits. These statistics reveal the alarming extent of poverty and deprivation in Thanet which verges on the Dickensian

For MPs Roger Gale and Craig McKinlay to vote to reduce tax credits is nothing less than a kick in the face for tens of thousands of the poorest men, women and children in Thanet. For these families tax credits are an essential source of extra income which just about enables them to get by. To reduce these payments will make life incredibly difficult for people who are already struggling hard to make ends meet.  And don’t be fooled by David Cameron and  George Osbourne's promises that most people receiving tax credits will be no worse off because the cuts will be offset by the Living Wage and increases in personal allowances. This is simply not true. The much respected think tanks the Resolution Foundation and the Institute of Fiscal Studies have both calculated that even allowing for the Living Wage and the increase in personal tax allowances, most recipients of tax credits will be much worse off. Many up to £1,300 per year. Research by the House of Commons Library and the Trades Union Congress supports this conclusion as well.  
So deep is the concern about the impact of tax credit cuts, that many charities and campaign groups have spoken out. Citizens Advice, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Child Poverty Action Group and Carers UK, to name but a few, have all criticised the Government for cutting the income of some of the poorest families in the country. It beggars belief how Roger Gale and Craig McKinlay, who both enjoy the benefits of well paid jobs in Parliament, can have the gall to vote to shit on some of the poorest families in their constituencies, when there were plenty of other options to reduce government spending, such as taxing those more able to afford it, or ending the £120 billion Trident Missile replacement programme. Shame on the both of them.

Extract from Hansard 20 October
That this House calls on the Government to reverse its decision to cut tax credits, which is due to come into effect in April 2016. NOES Gale, Sir Roger Mackinlay, Craig

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Vibration White Finger Scandal. Thanet Council Cover Up Safety Review

I have posted 2 stories about the emerging Vibration White Finger scandal at Thanet District Council. Reportedly, up to 20 staff in the Grounds Maintenance and Cemeteries team have contracted this debilitating, painful and sometimes career-ending condition. This awful condition results from the prolonged (months and years) over use of vibrating equipment. The problem emerged late last year and early 2015, forcing the Council to take the unusual step of reclassifying the level of corporate health and safety risk from low to high. A clear sign that something was seriously wrong. Doubts that the Council was complying with Health and Safety law emerged with the decision, in March 2015, to hand over the management of TDCs Corporate Risk Register to the East Kent Audit Partnership. A move suggesting lack of confidence in the underlying evidence which had previously been used to classify health and safety as a low risk function. It was also announced in March that the Council would be conducting an investigation into its health and safety management procedures.

Today it has emerged that this investigation may now have been completed. In a report to be discussed by Thanet Council’s Cabinet meeting on 22nd October, it is noted that “the Health and Safety of our staff, residents, visitors, and volunteer and community groups is a key priority and we have undertaken a fundamental review of how this is managed and controlled in partnership with an external advisor. This is part of a culture change to ensure that we fully understand what out statutory responsibilities are and that suitable controls are in place to protect staff and the public”. The statement  that the Council needs to “fully understand what our statutory (heath and safety) responsibilities are and that suitable controls are in place protect staff and the public” suggests to me that it is highly  likely that those staff who have contracted vibration white finger, may have done so because of the neglect of Thanet Council and some of its managers who either didn't know or didn't care less about what the law said on this matter. If this is true then Thanet Council could be forced to pay our £millions in legal fees, compensation and fines in what is likely to become one of the biggest local authority health and safety scandals in many years. Its worth bearing in  mind that  such massive payments are unlikely to be covered by the council insurance policies which are likely to be invalidated if TDC has failed to follow legal requirement in managing the health and safety of its staff.

I have asked for a copy of the of the health and safety review report but my request has been turned down by council officers. This refusal is, in my view, a disgraceful effort to cover up what is an extremely serious matter which the public and council staff have a right to know about! I trust that if the affected staff are being represented by trade union, that its legal team will be demanding a copy of this report.


Tax Credit Cuts: 16,400 Thanet Families Made Poorer

Later today MPs will vote on whether or not to cut  tax credits to the low paid and unemployed. Former  Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet , Ian Driver, has  said that at least 16,400 families in Thanet  are  likely to be affected by this decision, including his own. According to the latest Government figures 8,500 families in the South Thanet parliamentary constituency and 7,900 families in North Thanet, receive working and/ or child tax credits. If the cuts to tax credits are approved today then, in April 2016,  most of these families will see significant reductions in their household incomes. Said Driver “Prime Minster Cameron has claimed that tax credit cuts will be offset by the introduction of the Living Wage and increases in tax allowances and that most families will not be worse off. This is simply not true.
The Resolution Foundation and the Institute of Fiscal Studies, both highly respected think-tanks, have worked out that most  people in receipt tax credits will actually be worse off, with many families  losing up to £1,300 a year. And just last  week the House of Commons Library published a research paper which also concludes that there will be many more losers than winners when child and working tax credits are cut next April”.
He added “Thanet was recently ranked as the 35th most deprived local authority area in England and Wales with rates of poverty amongst the worst in the country. To cut the standards of living of 16,400 families, who are already struggling desperately hard to get by, is utter madness and will  massively increase the deprivation already faced by tens of thousands of local men, women and children. This is not a sensible way to promote much needed regeneration and economic growth in Thanet ”.
Lets not forget that the economic recession was caused by the reckless gambling of  bankers and speculators and by  the failure of Labour and Tory  politicians to properly regulate the greed-driven  financial markets. These are the culprits who should be paying the price for the recession and the budget deficit, not the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Instead of cuts for the poorest, I call on the Government to increase taxes for the wealthy, to close tax loopholes and end the £120 billion Trident missile programme”.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Democracy Theme Parks & Subsidized Shag Pads

So its going to cost an estimated £29 million to repair Big Ben. Plus an eye watering £7 billion to refurbish the House of Lords and the House Commons. Fuck that says me. There must be better, more cost effective,  ways of running our democracy without having to pander to the whims of our coseted and greedy MPs. And there is!  My plan is to close down the Houses of Parliament and send the MPs  back to their constituencies.  They will then have  decent teleconference facilities and computing equipment installed at home or in their office,  and hey presto we have a virtual parliament, where debates, committee meeting  and voting all take place via webcams and computer screens which will be managed by civil servants.

True there might be the occasional need for  MPs to meet face to face but this could be done at one of the many  conference centres across the country and the MPs could be housed in BnBs. But for most of their working time MPs would be based in their constituencies. This would make them much more accessible to their electors. It would also save a fortune on second homes, expenses and subsidised eating and drinking. We could also get rid of the expensive medieval  pageantry surrounding parliamentary procedures such as state openings and all that unnecessary dressing up bollox in tights, wigs, frock coats and ermine robes.

OK I accept that the Houses of Parliament are a symbol of our  democratic tradition so I wouldn’t want  knock the place down. In fact I support spending £4 or £5 billion doing the old place up. But rather than let the MPs back into the building, let’s turn Parliament into a Disney style Democracy Experience theme park with an entry charge of  £20 or so. There would be a democracy museum, conducted tours and actors pretending to be famous parliamentarians and re-enacting historic debates.  You could even have videos and pictures taken of you striking a pose in the speakers chair or at the despatch box (for an extra charge). McDonald’s , Pizza Hut, and Starbucks could rent space for flagship outlets and there could be a Weatherspoons or two. Rooms could be rented out for weddings, corporate hospitality, parties and film production. The nearby Portcullis  House could be converted from MPs offices into a luxury “democracy experience” hotel with staff dressed in 17th century gear and lots of Black Rod and King and Queen look-alikes. The money generated by the Democracy Experience theme  park could be used to repay the refurbishment costs of Parliament and cover a lot of the costs of home-working MPs. So there you have it. A modern virtual parliament financially  supported by a Democracy Experience theme park. It’s a win-win. Unless of course you are greedy grasping fucker of a parliamentarian who thinks you have divine right to have a state funded London shag-pad, furnished by the taxpayer, and unlimited access to subsidized food and booze.   

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Annexe Elitist Grammar Schools

The Government’s decision to allow the opening of a grammar school annex in Sevenoaks got me thinking about our education system and its future.  My starting point is the inescapable truth that Grammar schools are state funded bastions of privilege which perpetuate discrimination and division in society.  Every last one of these 164 state subsidised leg-ups for the privileged should be closed down right now. Along with the fee paying, so called,  public  schools and all those  schools funded or controlled by religions and last but not least  the semi-privatised free-schools and academies that are popping up all over the place. Getting rid of all of these discriminatory, bigoted and divisive schools and replacing them with a single state funded education system would be the best day’s work anyone could do for the future of our kids.

Our education system should be system which nurtures, supports and develops children, allowing them to achieve their full potential and contribute to society. Instead  £billions of taxpayers cash is  wasted every year  paying for a fragmented  and dysfunctional system which writes many children off at 11,  promotes religious inspired  intolerance,  and discriminates massively against students  from low income families, female students,  disabled students, LGBT students,  and students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.  Unless you are lucky enough to be an offspring of the sharp elbowed middle classes, the chances are that the English education system will seriously fuck-up your life chances, especially if you receive free school meals.

There’s virtual unanimity that having a good education is the key to social mobility and having better life. So why have successive Labour, Tory and Coalition governments sat on their arses and done fuck-all to properly sort out a system that wilfully excludes, discriminates against and fucks-over a huge number of our children. And despite what they tell you, it’s not the teachers or parents who are to blame for this appalling educational achievement gap, it the unfair way in which our schools are structured and resources allocated to them.

And although I’m angry about this criminal waste of talent, I’m not that surprised by lack action to tackle this injustice.  Because the politicians and senior managers who oversee our education system are the beneficiaries of this glorified crock of shit. These privileged middle-class managers and politicians with their inflated salaries, massive pensions, car allowances and expenses accounts all did well out of this  criminally unfair system. The last thing they want is to have their privileged positions challenged by the sons of daughters of great unwashed.  And whatever bullshit they may spout about extending educational opportunity don’t believe a word, because statistics demonstrate that a good education is restricted to the sons and daughters of the privileged who, like their mums and dads before them, get all the best jobs and take all the positions of power and influence in society. A better, fairer society with increased social mobility can only be achieved by destroying the discriminatory, bigoted and privileged based school system in this country.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Labour, Tory & UKIPs Manston Airport Deceit

Although I don’t support the CPO of Manston Airport, I don’t support lies and deceit in public life either. And sadly, with the exception of Roger Gale, it’s my view that Labour, the Tory’s and UKIP  have deceived, lied and misled the people of Thanet about saving Manston Airport simply to win votes at the May elections.
Where’s my evidence? Back in early 2013, before Infratril sold Manston Airport to Ann Gloag, officers of Kent County Council began work drafting a document called Unlocking the Potential: Going for Growth. This document was destined to become an important strategic guide for the work of the newly formed  Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP).
KMEP describes itself as an organisation responsible for developing and driving forward plans for the economic development and regeneration on the Kent and Medway area. Its board is made up of representatives of Kent and Medway businesses, especially developers, financiers, house builders and interestingly  Discovery Park’s external PR consultancy company, Pillory Barn. From the public sector is Paul Carter leader of KCC, the leader of Medway Council and the leaders of 6 Kent District Councils. Thanet and Dover District Councils share one seat on the board and, I believe, attend alternate meetings. The chief executives of the Kent District councils sometimes turn for meetings of the KMEP.
KMEP feeds its ideas and suggestions into another economic development organisation called the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) which covers the Kent, Sussex and Surrey areas. Like KMEP the SELEP is made up of representatives from the business world and the public sector. Kent’s public sector is represented at SELEP level by Paul Carter. The job of the SELEP is to apply to central government for funds to pay for major economic and regeneration projects. In 2014 it successfully secured £46 million for projects in the south east including money to build the Ramsgate Parkway Station at Cliffsend.  
Returning to “Unlocking the Potential: Going for Growth” the 71 page document includes lots of exciting and interesting ideas to develop and regenerate Kent and Medway’s economy. Clearly a lot of hard work and thinking had gone into its production.  But interestingly, for a document focused entirely on developing business, creating jobs and generating wealth, it doesn’t mention Manston Airport once! There lots about the importance of HS1, Dover Harbour,  Ramsgate Port, Parkway station, Discovery Park and  road infrastructure, to the East
Kent economy, but not a word about Manston Airport. The only mention of Manston (not the airport mind) in the entire 71 page document is that the Manston/Thanet Central Island area had been designated as a strategic “place for growth” for Kent and Medway. This is quite remarkable because every single economic development document produced by Kent County Council until the publication of “Unlocking the Potential” had stressed the strategic importance of Manston Airport to the economic well-being and development of the county. But in early to mid 2013 it was unceremoniously relegated to the dustbin of history. So how did this happen?
Well this is what I think. “Unlocking the Potential” is a major piece of economic planning by anyone’s standard.  Months and months of work must have gone into preparing it. As part of its preparation there would have been extensive discussion and consultation with senior politicians and managers from the 12 Kent District Councils and Kent County Council. This would almost certainly have included senior members of Thanet Council’s Labour controlled Cabinet and its top officers. It’s utterly inconceivable that during these consultations and discussions these extremely powerful people didn’t talk about Manston Airport.  Likewise the authors of   “Unlocking the Potential” would also have consulted with Kent’s  business community  including the then Airport owners, Infratril. There’s little doubt in my mind that between them, the businesses, the council managers and the politicians, including Thanet’s top officers and Labour Cabinet members, agreed that Manston Airport was no longer a strategically important economic asset for Kent, hence its utterly remarkable airbrushing out of Unlocking the Potential” and the designation instead of Manston/ Thanet Central Island as strategic Kent growth area.  My version of Unlocking the Potential” is dated 19 December 2013. So it’s reasonable to assume that sometime toward the end of summer Kent’s political and business power brokers had all agreed that there was no future for Manston Airport and that along with the surrounding land it should become the Manston. / Thanet Central Island strategic Growth area. I guess that knowing about this new thinking and strategic re-designation would have been interesting and exciting news for any potential purchaser of the airport.
And surprise, surprise, just as “Unlocking the Potential” said,  proposals  for large commercial and industrial developments, a new railway station and thousands of new homes on or around the former Manston site and surrounding Thanet Central Island area  are now an important feature of Thanet’s  Draft Local Plan.  And the political bosses  who were privy to  discussions about “Unlocking the Potential”, and the drafting of the Thanet Local Plan are the same politicians who in  April and May 2015 sought votes on the basis of saving the airport, when they knew damn well that it was finished. And there’s  little doubt in my mind that the new boys on the political block, UKIP,  were not unaware of this too. After all they are the second largest political group at Kent County Council and had 7 councillors elected for the Thanet area in May 2103. It’s simply not possible that UKIP KCC councillors were not consulted or briefed about “Unlocking the Potential” and  the future of Manston Airport because KCC and Paul Carter were the driving force behind its production.
So there you have it. In my opinion the people of Thanet have been lied to and cynically deceived by Labour, the Tories and UKIP about saving Manston Airport when these parties knew all along it simply wasn’t going to happen. And to make matters worse Thanet Council has spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer’s money, on officer’s wages, legal advice, and consultant’s reports in order to create the misleading impression that they were actually trying to progress what is turning out to be a fantasy CPO.
I have written on my blog recently about bad and abusive governance at Thanet Council and how we need to fundamentally change the council to root this out.  But the abuse of power, the deceit, manipulation and lies don’t stop at Cecil Square. It’s clear that Kent County Council has played a disreputable role in the Manston Airport affair. This is why Thanet should break away from KCC and become a unitary council in its own right. It’s also very clear to me that strategic economic planning should not be left  to secretive, unaccountable organisations like the KMEP and SELEP, but devolved down to a local level where plans and strategies can be decidedly democratically with the fullest community involvement. Although I don’t support the Manston CPO I do support democracy, accountability, openness and honesty especially when it comes to developing plans about our, and our children’s  economic future in Thanet.   

 Ohh I almost forgot - its nice to have some music to accompany a dull blog posting so never mind the Manston Bollox here's Johnny Rotten of the  Sex Pistols suggesting you might have been cheated


Monday, 12 October 2015

Thanet Council: Time For A Shake Up?

THANET COUNCIL NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE. I’ve been arguing for a long time that Thanet Council is not fit purpose. It’s got a shameful record of mismanagement and incompetence. It wastes tens of £millions of taxpayers money.  It’s secretive and unaccountable. It’s out of touch with the people its supposed to serve and many of its elected councillors are a total waste of space. And it not just me saying that. Virtually everyone I speak to doesn’t have a good word to say about TDC. Even the Local Government Association described the council as being dysfunctional and toxic. But that’s hardly surprising when you look at TDCs record

  • £3.4 million wasted on TransEuropa Ferries secret fee deferral deal
  • £2.6 million in compensation and legal fees paid  to live animal exporters for unlawfully banning their trade – with more expensive claims in the pipeline
  • £2.2 million spend on massive overspend to the Dreamland – with even more to pay out on the Dreamland Compulsory Purchase Order
  • £millions likely be  spent on paying out fines, legal bills and compensation to its own staff for serious breaches of health and safety laws
If what wasn’t bad enough promises appear to be being broken about Manston Airport, the council seems determined to over develop Thanet and turn our greenfields into building sites. Kent County Council seems free to bully TDC into doing its bidding.  And instead of becoming a successful and thriving place to live, Thanet is now one of the most deprived, poverty stricken local authority areas in the country. So how do we put end to decades of misrule by a council and councillors who are clearly not fit purpose?

IT’S THE SYSTEM. Much of the blame for Thanet council’s appalling track record rests with the way it is managed. Thanet Council has what is called a Leader and Cabinet   system of decision making. Councillors elect a Leader, who then chooses 4 or 5 Cabinet members, from the same political party, to help the Leader run the Council. This small team of Councillors  make 95% of all the decisions about how your Council Tax will be spent.  Often it’s a single councillor from this small group who makes decisions.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE SYSTEM? Having decisions made by a small group of people, or even by one person, is supposed to mean that the Council can act quickly and decisively.  But in practice it produces the opposite effect. Decisions made without sufficient thought by people from the same political party, without proper consultation and without a proper and balanced debate, is bad decision making. Bad decisions then arouse resentment and anger from local people. We've seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –
  • The local plan and the threat of massive overdevelopment
  • The selling off of Thanet’s historic heritage  
  • The demolition of the Little Oasis Skatepark in Margate
  • The mismanagement of the Manston Airport issue and many, many more  
Many political experts have warned about the dangers of concentrating too much power into the hands of a small group of people from the same party.  Some of the pitfalls include the  Leader  using   the power of patronage to surround him/herself  with yes men and women. Officers being fearful of disagreeing with powerful politicians because they might lose their jobs.  Lack of challenge means that a culture of fear can quickly be established leading to bad decision making, poor behaviour and even corruption. We have seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –

  • The jailing of ex-Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel for misconduct in public office
  • The  reports of the Local Government Association Peer Review and the Independent Standards Committee Members about the poisonous and toxic culture at Thanet Council
  • Ex-Cabinet members allegedly  nobbling  investigations into serious  misconduct
  • The development of a culture of secrecy where decisions are made behind closed s
WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE? The Localism Act 2011, gives Councils the option to change their decision making system from a Leader/ Cabinet system to a Committee system or a Directly Elected Leader system.  

A COMMITTEE SYSTEM would replace the Cabinet with several committees each dealing with a particular area of council work such as housing, refuse collection, environment health, street sweeping etc. All councillors serve on one or more of these committees, and the committees make recommendations about spending and polices to the full Council for its approval. Under this system

·        Decisions would be more thoroughly debated. More councillors from all the political parties would be involved in these debates leading to a more balanced decision.
·        Members of the public with specialist knowledge and experience can be invited to serve on Council committees to advise councillors.
·        There would be greater transparency - key information and the real reasons for decisions could no longer hidden by a small group of powerful politicians or a single person.
A DIRECTLEY ELECTED LEADER unlike current council leaders who are elected by councillors from their party, would be elected by the whole of Thanet. This makes the leader directly accountable to local people and not to any political party. The leader

·        Can appoint a cabinet to help him/ her run the council
·        Can appoint committees to advise him/ her on decision making and make recommendations for action
·        Can appoint members of the public, or representatives from  community groups to advisory roles
·        Can ensure that his/ her cabinet and any committees cross party and provide balanced advice and recommendations
·        Is held to account for his/ her actions by  elected councillors through scrutiny committees

WOULD IT BE BETTER? No system is perfect but the committee system or the directly elected leader have many advantages of the way Thanet is currently been managed such as -

·        Decisions would be more thoroughly debated. More councillors from all the political parties would be involved in these debates leading to a more balanced decision.
·        Decisions would be informed by a greater range of knowledge and experience
·        Members of the public with specialist knowledge and experience can be invited to serve on Council committees to advise councillors.
·       There would be greater transparency and more accountability  

HOW CAN WE MAKE THE CHANGE?  If we got enough signatures on a petition, the Council would be forced by law to hold a referendum in which local people could vote on replacing with current system with a Directly Elected Leader or a Cabinet System. The number of signatures needed would be 5% of the electorate - at present that's 4,997.

ARE OTHER COUNCILS CHANGING?  About 40 Council’s in England have already changed from a Cabinet to a Committee system including Nottinghamshire County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, Newark and Sherwood District Council, Kingston and Sutton Council. A campaign to change Canterbury City Council from a Cabinet to a Committee system is already underway and they are close to getting the required number of signatures to force a referendum.