Monday, 30 May 2016

Dreamland Administration: Labour's Nightmare Labour's Fault

News that Margate Dreamland’s  operator, Sands Heritage,  has gone into administration is unsurprising. This was a project which, from the beginning, had political and managerial incompetence writ large across it. Based on my previous writings about Dreamland over the past 2 years here’s  a summary of some of the key issues.

Labour and Conservative councillors engaged in a constant stream of bad mouthing and undermining of  the Dreamland Trust, the organisation  originally supposed to be  running  the theme park. Senior  council  officers less than supportive of the Trust, excluding it from l decision making even though the Trust  was the Heritage Lottery grant recipient. The selection of a park operator was a  highly questionable exercise which had to be carried out twice and which resulted in the appoint of a company with little experience of running an amusement  park. Challenges to the probity of the operator selection process which led to Sands Heritage’s second application to be the  park operator being ruled out of consideration on the basis of secret legal advice.  Warnings, from external property consultants GVA Grimely that the Dreamland project was high risk withheld from councillors by TDCs ruling Labour Cabinet and senior officers.  Councillors  misled and misinformed  by officers and Labour Cabinet members about progress on the Dreamland project. Relations between Thanet Council and the Lottery Heritage Fund (HLF), who invested £3.8million into the Dreamland Project, almost broke down with HLF threatening to withhold grant payments because TDC was withholding information. A reckless drive to open Dreamland as quickly as possible,  even though works to the park were not competed and the Scenic railway not ready. The misuse,  by Thanet Council, of £550,000 HFL grant funding.  Threat of legal action by Sands Heritage against Thanet Council leading to the payment of £900,000 compensation by TDC. TDC effectively “giving away” the Dreamland site to Sands Heritage with a 7 year rent-free period and rental  kick-in clause which means that its highly unlikely that any rent with ever be paid at all during the 99 year lease term. This means that the £7-£8million of TDC taxpayers invested in the project will never be recovered.

Although I hate to admit it, responsibility for this litany of disaster, incompetence and  maladministration rests not with the  council’s current UKIP leadership, but firmly on the shoulders of the previous Labour administration. It was former Labour Leader, Iris Johnston, who pushed this project through at a recklessly dangerous speed, despite warnings of risk,  in the hope of securing  political kudos  in the run up to the  2015 elections. It was serving Labour councillors Michelle Fenner, Peter Campbell and Jenny Matterface and wanna-be “revenge”  councillor David Green who supported Johnston’s ego-fuelled dash to prematurely open the park. Johnston, Fenner and wanna-be “revenge” councillor Green were all members of the Labour-controlled Cabinet  who oversaw the  disastrous project management of the Dreamland project, but failed to challenge and scrutinise the incompetence and secrecy which was a feature of this saga.

I have always supported, and continue to support,  the concept of Dreamland. Planned and managed properly this project could be a powerful engine  for economic regeneration in Thanet. But sadly Dreamland  has been blighted by ego, personal ambition, self promotion,  political manipulation, incompetence and maladministration and maybe even some dodgy dealing as well. We now face the very real possibility of the administrators having to lock the gates and close  down Dreamland which would be an unmitigated disaster for Thanet residents and waste of £7 – 8 million council tax payers money. I truly hope that Council Leader Chris Well is able to stop this from happening.
My other Dreamland writings -

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Labour Candidate's "Revenge" Insult - 450 Hits & Counting

My post about  Labour’s Newington  by-election candidate, David Green, and what many believe to be his insulting comments about seeking revenge on the voters of Newington ward for rejecting him in 2015,   has had almost   450 hits in less than 24 hours. The level of interest shows that it was absolutely right to publically disclose  his  inappropriate and, what I believe to have been, downright disrespectful comments

As I expected, several tribalistic old skool Labourites have put party loyalty before the truth and tried to defend the indefensible by claiming that I quoted Green out of context. Well this is the exact quote from the widely leaked internal Labour document  “I don’t like losing, and want my revenge”. Following the tried and tested advice of my old English teacher Mr Manthorpe let’s breakdown and analyse this short sentence to see what it actually means.

The first part of the sentence says “I don’t like losing”. So what is that Green lost? Well his statement makes it perfectly clear that it was his loss of the 2015   Council election in Newington Ward which he didn’t like. The second part of the sentence says “and want my revenge”. This can only mean that  he wants revenge on those responsible for his loss in Newington ward in 2015. Those responsible for his loss of that  election can only be the voters of Newington ward who chose not to vote for/ elect Green. So,  thanks to Mr Manthorpe, it’s evident that David   Green is unhappy/ angry with the voters of the Newington ward who didn’t vote for him last time around  and that he has chosen to become Labour’s   election candidate in Newington Ward in 2016 so that he can seek his revenge on those who  had the audacity not to vote for him before.

If anger about an election loss and a desire for revenge on voters are Green’s primary motivation for seeking public office then God help us! And God help us also that misguided members of the Labour Party seem to think Green’s comment was acceptable and seek to justify/ excuse what he wrote. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Green
foolishness appears to be acceptable to many of his Labour  Party comrades. Until 2012 I was a member of the Labour Party and witnessed at first hand just how much councillors, MPs and the Labour Party leadership took for granted the support of voters in deprived, often neglected and run-down, urban areas such as parts of Newington, Northwood, Central Harbour and Eastcliff. This arrogant sense of divine right to rule meant that little attention was paid to the needs and aspirations of people living in  less affluent areas. These people were cynically left behind and neglected by a Labour Party who was entirely focused on feting well-off  middle Englanders.  Then along came UKIP which, although I politically oppose, did, and continues to do, an incredible job of winning the votes of disaffected former Labour supporters in Newington, Northwood and similar places throughout the country.

Bur rather than learning  from their mistakes and instead of trying to re-connect with the communities they have left behind and ignored, what does Thanet Labour do? It imposes upon the people of Newington  an election  candidate who appears to be  angry with them and who wants to take revenge on them. This reminds me of some type of medieval feudal baron punishing the serfs and demonstrate to me just how far the labour Party has to travel before it can become a party of the ordinary man and woman. And on that point I’m surprised and disappointed that Green was able to have been selected as  the  Newington candidate in the first place. Surely the new left-leaning, Corbynite,  recruits to the Thanet  Labour Party should have put forward candidates of their own to oppose representatives  of the right wing old skool  establishment such as Green. What about Jackie Walker or another powerful socialist voice? Because this is exactly what’s  needed to rebuild support for progressive policies and ideas  in our urban working class areas, not David Green chastising the voters for throwing him off the throne he assumed was his by divine right! Should a more connected and inclusive Labour Party with strong socialist/ environmental policy become a reality – which personally I doubt – then even I might apply for membership!
I will be looking at Mr Green’s record whilst in  power at TDC in a forthcoming post.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Labour’s Newington Candidate Disrespectful & Insulting of Voters

I don’t like losing, and want my revenge
Former Thanet Councillor, David Green, has been accused of  “insulting the people of Ramsgate” for comments he made in an internal Labour Party document.
Green, who was selected yesterday  to be Labour’s candidate in the forthcoming Ramsgate Newington by-election, said in a statement which was distributed to over 200  Labour Party members that he “didn’t like losing”  the election in Newington ward in 2015 and  he hoped  to be selected again because  “ I want my revenge”.

Ex-TDC Councillor and blogger on local affairs, Ian Driver, said he had  been contacted today (Friday 27 June 2016)  by several  angry Ramsgate Labour Party members who passed the internal document on to him and asked him to make their views known.
Said the Driver “the people I have spoken to are disgusted by Green’s comments and regard what he said as an insult to the people of Newington for exercising their democratic rights to reject him in 2015. I totally agree! What Green said is arrogant, abusive and highly improper. The Labour Party should suspend the selection process and investigate Green’s comments. Surely there must be rules which prevent someone motivated by revenge and anger against the electorate seeking public office?”

“The people I have spoken to today,  who are mainly new members of the Labour Party  supportive of Jeremy Corbyn,   approached me as a well-known, outspoken,  left wing figure  to express their views because they fear being  bullied or suspended if they raised this matter themselves inside the Labour Party. I’m happy to help and I say again that a so called-politician who produces a statement which says
 “Karen Constantine and I fought the (Newington)  ward  well (in 2015) but were swept away by the UKIP surge and airport sentimentality… I don’t like losing, and want my revenge”

is  insulting and dis-respectful of local people who chose not to elect him. Green should be made to stand aside for someone else who  shows more respect for voters.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Thanet's "Criminal" Council Faces Health and Safety Prosecution

How unlucky can you get? Within a week of  being feted  by the Local Government Association for improving the way its  run, Thanet Council is now on the way to becoming a common criminal!  According to an announcement on its website TDC is now facing  a criminal prosecution for breaking the Health & Safety at Work Act by causing 20 or so of its  staff to contract Vibration White Finger.  The  police have also been handed a report which  alleges  that some former senior TDC officers may have defrauded  the EU of  £165,000 (see my previous post)  and, my sources tell me, a further payment  of several £100,000 is being made to the live animal exporters  in compensation for TDC’s illegal  banning of  their trade, bringing the total compensation bill toover £6million.   Where else in the world of local government is there  a council so incompetently managed and as criminally reckless as TDC?  Forget the previous descriptions of TDC as toxic and dysfunctional -  that was being polite! -  TDC now surely deserves its  new epithet  of Thanet’s “Criminal” Council.

But returning to the news of the Health and Safety White Finger prosecution,   I have  previously posted  several articles on this blog about the background to this - here
and here

To recap. Incidents of Vibration White Finger,  a debilitatingly  painful and potentially career ending, industrial injury began to surface amongst TDCs  grounds maintenance workforce in 2014.  White Finger is a condition which develops following prolonged over-exposure/ use of vibrating equipment such as road breaking drills,  hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, brush cutters, chain saws etc. So dangerous is this condition that the Government introduced the Control of Vibration  at Work
Regulations 2005 which place a legal duty on employers to carry out risk assessments to identify and take all practical steps to minimise any vibration related  risks to staff. The regulations also set vibration exposure levels for staff  which employers are required to monitor. These legal requirements are not one off actions, but an ongoing responsibility of the employer, especially in organisations where the use of vibrating equipment is common, such as TDCs ground maintenance and the cemeteries. If these regulations are followed then no member of staff should ever contract White Finger and face the ruin of their health and the ending of their working life.

So what happened? Well it would appear that TDC may not have properly complied with the 2005 Regulations  and the Health and Safety at Work  Act including the possibilities that it failed to carry out vibration  risk assessments; failed to  monitor staff exposure to vibration; failed to  train staff on the dangers of working with vibrating equipment and how reduce risk; failed to properly maintain, repair or replace vibrating equipment and provide suitable safety equipment. Decisions made by TDC’s Governance and Audit Committee in early 2015 including the upward revision of the Corporate Risk Register’s (CRR) Health and Safety risk factor from low to high  and the decision to remove the control of the CRR from service Directors and hand this responsibility over  to the East Kent Audit Partnership also suggest the possibility that health safety records relating to vibration at work  (and possibly other issues too) might have been falsified by Council officers.

But, speculation aside, its clear that something, possibly many things, have gone badly wrong because why else should somewhere in the region of 20  members of staff contract a serious work related condition which , if  the proper precautions were being  followed, should have been totally avoidable. Well we should get the answers soon enough. The Health and Safety Executive has conducted an 18 month long investigation into this matter and TDC also commissioned an external Health and Safety expert to investigate as well. The findings of these investigations should be  revealed during the forthcoming prosecution of TDC. One interesting point in this respect  is TDCs website  statement about the prosecution which says that  The council is alleged to have contravened the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 between 2005 and 2014”. This is an astonishing statement which suggests that TDC may have been flouting Health and Safety laws and regulations for 9 years!  Why wasn’t this spotted sooner ? What checks and audits were being carried out on those well paid managers (many of whom have now left the employ of TDC)  who were supposed to be implementing the safety checks and protecting the health of their staff.  9 years of  harming the health of your staff paints a picture of an organisation which is corporately negligent  at the highest levels – councillor  and officer.

Which brings me to next point. Health and Safety law allows not  only for the prosecution  of the employer e.g TDC, but any individual managers  who through their acts or omissions have caused death, injury or ill-health of their staff. I sincerely hope that if the HSE finds any individual culpability those responsible are hauled before the court and forced to account for and be punished for, any illegal actions they may have committed.

Last but not least, when setting its budget for 2016-17 Thanet Council was mindful that its serial criminal actions with regard to live animal exports and white finger were likely to cost it dearly. Knowing that these costs would be uninsurable it was decided to re-allocate £1.6 million of its reserves to cover any payments relating to legal action. Not that I’m an expert but I simply don’t believe that  £1.6 million is anywhere near enough to cover the legal fees, fines and compensation related to the white finger scandal, let alone any outstanding live exports compensation. It also worth noting that under new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which came into this force this year, TDC can, depending  on the severity of the case, face an unlimited fine. By anyone’s standards failing to protect the health of up to 20 staff over  a 9 year period, is pretty serious – so   I doubt that the fine will be of the 50 quid order.

But lets not forget  – Thanet “Criminal” Council’s corporate  incompetence and  mismanagement and the actions of some its officers may be utterly astounding –  but these actions have caused very serious pain and misery for 20 or so members of staff who have been  badly let down. I hope that the prosecution gets  them justice and exposes those who have badly fucked up their health when they should have actually been looking after it.  

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Thanet Council: £2 Million Grant Fraud & Mismanagement

Earlier this week the Government’s Internal Audit Agency (GIAA), which was set up to combat fraud and corruption in the public sector, produced a report of an investigation into Thanet Council. The investigation looked into allegations, made by a whistle-blower, that an EU grant of £165,000 for specialist dredging works at Ramsgate Port had been misused.

According to the GIAA investigation report, a number of senior council officers appear to have conspired together to dishonestly mislead the EU about how this large grant was spent, and rather than telling  the EU that the grant  had  not been used for the purposes it was intended  and offering  to return the money, these senior council officers instead decided to keep the cash in the hope that its  misappropriation would not be discovered by EU Auditors.

The GIAA, as you would expect, were less than impressed by the actions of these senior officers. They said that their investigations had unearthed “sufficient evidence of intent to defraud”  and they recommended that their findings should be reported to the Police “as a potential fraud case”. I totally agree and hope that those who were involved are dealt by the courts as quickly and as sternly as possible.

But this is not just a matter for the police. Thanet District Council also has a responsibility to ensure that its staff and councillors behave in an honest and lawful manner and don’t become involved in fraud and corruption. And on paper, at least, this appears to the case. First, there is TDC’s Officer Code of Conduct which, amongst other things, requires that

·      Employees must ensure that they use public funds entrusted to them in a responsible
and lawful manner.

·      Employees must report to the appropriate manager any impropriety or breach of

 Then there are the Council’s financial procedure rules which say that

·        All Members and officers have a general responsibility for taking reasonable action to
provide for the security of the assets under their control, and for ensuring that the use
of these resources is legal.

TDC also has an anti-fraud and corruption policy which says that

Thanet District Council takes its responsibilities for protecting public money very seriously. It recognises that the public has the right to expect that the Council’s Members, Senior Management and employees shall:

·        At all times fully comply with all the legislation to which they are subject;
·        Conduct business in a totally honest and ethical manner;
·        Take all appropriate actions where fraud and corruption is suspected.

Finally there is a whistle-blower policy which says-
Thanet District Council is committed to the highest possible standards of propriety and accountability in the conduct of its activities for the community. This Code is intended to help employees who have serious concerns over any potential wrong‑doing within the Council involving matters such as where: 
·              a criminal offence (for example, fraud, corruption or theft) has been/is likely to be committed
·              a miscarriage of justice has occurred or is likely to occur
·              public funds are being used in an unauthorised manner

In addition to Thanet Council’s robust anti-fraud policies it’s interesting to note that at least one of the officers involved in the alleged fraud was a senior finance manager. This is the person who according to the GIAA investigation wrote a report about the EU grant  entitled “Request for carry forward of ERDF funding dated 24 April 2008”. According to the GIAA  this report “instead of recommending repayment of the funds weighed up the likelihood of the project being audited and the Council being found out” . The author of the report was (and probably still is)  a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). CIPFA’s Standards of Professional Practice which apply to all its members say that
Should members receive, or uncover, evidence of the possibility of fraud or corruption, they should promptly report the matter to the appropriate person identified in their organisations’ established reporting procedures.

So despite working for an organisation which had in place a broad range of robust anti-fraud policies and procedures,  and despite one of the alleged fraud perpetrators being a member of  a professional accountancy organisation which encouraged its members to report fraud and corruption, this was not enough to prevent £165,000 being dishonestly used for purposes it was never  intended for. Why?
Well one of the things which surprises me about this case  is that those involved were at the top of the TDC “food chain”. They had years of managerial experience and were fully aware of TDCs policies and procedures and professional ethical codes relating to financial management. To deliberately flout these rules was a very risky thing to do which could have had disastrous, career ending, consequences for all of them. 

I can only assume that to take such risks those involved must have been extremely confident that they could get away with it. Getting away with it means that they had calculated, as the GIAA report confirms, that there was little chance of their dishonestly being detected via external audit. More worryingly, it also means, in my view, that the conspirators may have had, or thought they had, the support of their bosses and possibly also TDCs political leaderships (at that time Tory) in acting dishonestly. Finally, taking ethical risks and behaving dishonestly has also been attributed in many studies of corruption and fraud, to be the result of pressure and bullying from above. Is it possible that in Thanet there was, at this time, a culture of aggressive, bullying management by senior officers and politicians? Some people working for the Council at the time have told me that there was. So its clear that a variety of influences were at work  which, either singly or combination, persuaded otherwise responsible senior council officers, to allegedly defraud the EU. 
But this is not an isolated example. The  £165,000 misappropriation of this EU grant is not the only case of dodgy grant management  at TDC. In 2011 £603,000  worth of EU grants had to be paid back to Brussels for mismanagement/ misuse. In 2014 £70,000 worth of EU grant had to paid back to Brussels for the same reason. It’s  likely that  a further £700,000 may have to be paid back to the EU for failures of the  Kent innovation Centres Project and of course more recently TDC misused its Dreamland  Heritage Lottery Grant to the tune of £567,000!
Clearly there is an ongoing saga of massive incompetence mismanagement and fraudulent abuse of external grants worth at least at least  £2 million  at TDC which despite, promise after promise of doing things better, never seems to happen. I think there is clear case for a major enquiry here.  

Thursday, 19 May 2016

"Criminal" Council Steals £165K & Gets Caught

Several years ago Thanet Council was awarded a large  EU grant to fund  specialist dredging works at Ramsgate Port. The dredging was to be  carried out between 2005-08 in order to  increase water depth to  allow  access for  larger ferries.  Interestingly  “the key objective of the investment was to retain the TransEuropa Ferry Service” at Ramsgate  which, as we now know,  went bust in 2013 owing TDC £4.3 million as a result of the Labour/Tory  approved top-secret fee-deferral deal with the ferry company.

A whistle-blower made contact with the EU  advising  them that the specialist dredging work  had not been carried out  and that Thanet Council had  knowingly misused the EU  money for other, non-approved,  purposes in breach of grant conditions. The whistle-blower provided the EU with various documents which supported his/her claim of misuse of grant monies including internal documents and extensive correspondence.

After several years of passing the buck  between EU and UK authorities the file eventually ended up on the desk of  the Government’s  Internal Audit Agency (GIAA)  which  began an investigation into these extremely serious allegations in the autumn of  2015.  Evidence  that the grant had been misused was so overwhelming that TDC had no choice but to fess-up and admit to the GIAA  that no “dredging campaign had been carried out to deliver the project objectives  i.e enlarging the turning circle and dredging of berth 2 and 3”.

What amazes me  is that very senior TDC officers knew about this all along. In a 2008 top-secret internal report entitled “Request for Carry Forward of ERDF Funding”, written by a  TDC finance boss,  it was stated that the Council was  “unconvinced that we could prove that the expected  outputs of the project had been delivered. There was therefore a very real possibility that were the project to be audited we would be required to  repay some or all of the funding awarded”.  

But, rather than  proposing that TDC act openly and honestly;  admit to the EU it had failed to deliver  the project and offer to repay the grant, the report instead “weighed up the  likelihood of the project being audited and the Council being found out” , reckoned that the chances of being discovered were low and suggested that  the Council should keep hold of the dosh. This is an action which most reasonable people would describe as dishonest, corrupt, fraudulent or stealing.

So who were those officers who appear to have conspired to misappropriate £165,000 of EU funding?  Well sadly the GIAA report has redacted their names, probably because it is recommending that the police investigate, what is likely to be, a case of fraud or misconduct in public office. Also most of those  involved have now left the employment of TDC. However I am sure that there many people out there, myself included  who know who these  officers were. I’m saying nothing as my recent experience with Thanet Council and the High Court (about which I will be writing shortly) as taught me a bitter lesson. But if there is any justice we should  all know their names when they are dragged kicking and screaming before a judge to account for their dishonest actions.

In the meantime I understand a cheque for £165,000 is on it’s to Brussels.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Ramsgate Live Animal Exports: £11 Million Reasons Why I'm Backing Brexit

Former Green Party councillor and 2015 South Thanet Parliamentary candidate, Ian Driver,  has  announced that he will defy his party’s policy of remaining in the EU and campaign instead for Brexit.  
Driver’s announcement  follows news that  Thanet District Council (TDC) has paid out almost £6million in compensation and legal fees following its 2012  decision to suspend the export of live farm animals from the Port of Ramsgate.
According to figures released on Thursday (5th May)  £4,692,630 in compensation payments have been made  to  companies involved in the export of live farm animals from the port of Ramsgate.  A further £454,220 has been spent by TDC on its own legal fees, bringing the total to £5,146,500.

It is understood that TDC has yet to settle a number of outstanding compensation claims related to the suspension of live animal exports from Ramsgate port which could take the final  compensation costs  to over £6million.

It is estimated that further  £5 million, at least,  of taxpayers  money has been spent on the costs of: 

  • deploying DEFRA  Animal and Plant Health Agency  (APHA) officers to supervise each the of 115 shipments which have taken from Ramsgate and Dover since 2010 involving  over 350,000 animals facing long journeys of several days,  in cramped conditions with limited access to food and water
  • the costs of policing the 100 plus lawful protests at the ports of Ramsgate and Dover which take place at every shipment; the costs to TDC of  employing additional security staff whenever there is a shipment;
  • the costs of preparing and holding at least 20 largely unsuccessful,  court cases related to  live animal exports which have taken place since 2011.
  • the costs of  police surveillance  against anti  live animal export campaigners. At least one of whom, Ian Driver, is now, because his of activities  included on the  Polices’ so-called  Domestic Extremist Database (1).

This takes the total costs to UK taxpayers of supporting a trade’ which most people oppose on the grounds of animal cruelty, but which is supported by the EU, to at least £11milion over the past 5 years.

The suspension of live animal exports from Ramsgate Port, which led to the astronomic compensation payments  was imposed,  by then then Labour controlled,  TDC in September 2012 after 47 sheep, judged to be unfit to travel, had to be destroyed at the  port.

 At a High Court Hearing in December 2013 Mr Justice Birrs declared that the suspension “was an unjustifiable  breach of Article 35 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union” which “breached a fundamental element of the rules governing free trade in the EU”. The judge concluded  that “in my judgment the council is liable to damages to the claimants”.

Driver, one  of the founders of the campaign against live animal exports from Ramsgate said   “I’m astounded by the latest revelations. It seems likely that that the final bill for TDCs suspension of  live exports from Ramsgate could easily  top £6million!  That’s  £45 for every man woman and child in living in Thanet”. This appalling and unfair situation is a direct result of our loss of  law making powers to the EU.”

“But what makes me most angry is that some of those  who have  benefited from the  £4.6 million compensation payments are  likely to be the same people  who were convicted at Dover Magistrates Court in 2014 of animal cruelty offences related to the events which led to  the suspension of live exports from  Ramsgate in 2012”.

“In all conscience I cannot vote to remain in the EU when it actively endorses industrial scale animal cruelty by permitting this medieval trade and then rewarding the perpetrators of  that trade with compensation payments akin to blood money when its interrupted because animals died in transit. Furthermore,  EU rules have forced British state to deploy, at massive public expense, thousands of police officers to enable a trade,  most people don’t approve of, to take place,  and some of those people who have campaigned against it now find themselves with criminal records  and  classified as domestic extremists.