Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Ramsgate’s Trojan Horse Ferry

Tomorrow night’s meeting of Thanet Council will be taking the rare step of approving a Urgent Individual Cabinet Member Decision. The decision was taken by Hunter Stummer-Schmertzing councillor for Ramsgate Eastcliff Ward and Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Enterprise Services and is to spend an additional £279,000 on repairs and refurbishment of the out-of-service berth 3 at the Port of Ramsgate. Bringing the total cost of repairing and recommissioning the berth to £664,000.

The justification for repairing and recommissioning berth is to ensure that the berth is operational in readiness for new cross channel ferry opportunities from Ramsgate. The use of the phrase new cross channel ferry opportunities is worth examining closely. It suggest to me that the Council do not have a ferry operator lined up and that the  £664,000 investment in recommissioning berth 3 was a speculative investment in the hope that TDC gets lucky and finds a ferry operator with spare capacity. But something is clearly in the air, because today a dredger was spotted in Ramsgate Port presumable preparing to dredge the port in readiness for a large ship to use the recommissioned berth  3 or berth 4/5. So what can be happening?

Well I don’t personally believe that a cross-channel ferry is coming  to Ramsgate at all. I think that this statement of intent has been used to deceive and mislead local residents and lull them into a false sense of security. In my opinion the current works to the port, including the recommissioning of berth 3, are to prepare the Port of Ramsgate to play a major support role in the dredging of the Goodwin Sands which aims to provide 2.5million cubic metres of aggregate for the redevelopment of Dover Port.

Sometime in December it is expected that the Government’s Marine Management Organisation will grant Dover Harbour Board (DHB)  a licence to dredge the Goodwin Sands. DHB are on record as saying that if they get their licence they intend to begin dredging in the spring of 2017. Co-incidentally, the Urgent Individual Cabinet Member Decision to be discussed at the council meeting tomorrow night says that “It is essential that the project (the recommissioning of berth 3) is completed before next spring”. I would bet  that before too long the withdrawn Brett Aggregate’s application for a an aggregate washing plant at the Port will be resubmitted and that Ramsgate Port will rapidly become the aggregate supply centre for the 3-year £200million Dover Harbour expansion project.

Of course this is all speculation on my part but I publically challenge the powers that be at Thanet Council to deny what I am claiming is the truth. 

Local Plan Consultation P**s Take

The Thanet Local Plan is probably one of the most important documents to have been produced by TDC in the past decade. The 1037 page document sets out TDCs proposals for regeneration, infrastructure requirements, environmental protection and new planning policies covering 15 years until 2031. It also includes controversial proposals to re-designate Manston Airport as a mixed use development site and to build more than 17,000 new homes in Thanet to meet predicted housing need in the district. This is a document which shapes the future of Thanet for our children and grandchildren and which will attract widespread interest and extensive comment when it is put out for public consultation in January 2017. And it’s the public consultation which I’m concerned about.

On 17 November TDC’s UKIP controlled Cabinet approved proposals to have a Local Plan public consultation of just six weeks. Now I don’t know about you, but reading, understanding and making comments on a complex, technical and extremely long document in just six weeks, whilst bringing up a family and all that goes with that, is a bit of a tall order for me and I guess tens of thousands other people in Thanet as well. Almost every other council in Kent recognises that their residents have busy lives and have allowed more time than Thanet for public consultation on their Local Plans. Canterbury allowed 10 weeks, Dover and Ashford 8 weeks and Kent County Council also allowed 8 weeks for public consultation on its Minerals and Waste and Local Plan. But here in Thanet it’s just six weeks.

Failing to take account of the needs of local people when conducting one of the most important public consultations in Thanet’s history is, in my opinion, a shameful and undemocratic abuse to power by UKIP and a massive slap in the face to Thanet’s residents. But it’s not just the UKIP Cabinet who seem to think riding roughshod over residents’ rights to be fairly and properly consulted by the council is OK. Take TDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel  (OSP) which is made up of Tory, Labour and backbench UKIP councillors who are supposed to hold the Cabinet to account and double check its decisions. Well they met on 21 November to consider the Local Plan and the Cabinet’s proposed consultation time-frame. Several of the OSP councillors were rightly angry about having received the massive document just one week before their meeting took place and complained that this was insufficient time for them to have read and understood the document properly and to have developed any useful ideas and suggestion to put forward.  But not a single one of them Labour, UKIP or Tory made any comment about how unfair and undemocratic it was to expect busy local residents to read and comment on this 1,037 page missive in six-short week. Once again the spineless windbags who pass themselves off as councillors hypocritically demonstrated that their personal convenience to have their documents delivered early was much more important than the convenience of the people they are supposed to represent who will be afforded a totally unreasonable consultation period of just six weeks.
Sadly it’s not legally binding, but in July this year the Government’s Cabinet Office published advice about public consultation which sets out best practice for public authorities when conducting major public consultation. The advice suggests that consultations timescales be  proportionate to  “nature and the impact of the proposal” under consideration. Well allowing for the size , technical detail and complexity of the local plan document and the major impact it will have upon Thanet’s current and future residents for years to come, I would strongly argue that a 12 week consultation period would be fair and  proportionate. Anything less will make it very difficult for individuals and organisation to make worthwhile, well-thought out comments. By not allocating sufficient time to consultation we are likely to end up with a weak and insufficient Local Plan which doesn’t command public support.

The Local Plan will be discussed again by  TDCs Cabinet on 8 December when  final arrangements  will be approved for the  public consultation in January 2017.  Lets hope that the UKIP  Cabinet will change its mind and  allow fairness and  democracy to prevail and agree to having a 12 week consultation on the local plan. After all it was the 2015 UKIP Election Manifesto which promised  that the party would “give local people more control over planning”. What better way of walking the talk than by allowing a 12 week consultation period on the Local Plan.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Legalise cannabis for chilled-out, not hard, Brexit

On US election day, not only did  Donald Trump, in one of the biggest electoral upsets in a generation,  beat Hillary Clinton to become American President elect, but the people of  California, Massachusetts and Nevada also voted to legalise the production, sale and use of cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes  in their respective states. This brings the number of US  states who have legalised cannabis for medical and  recreational purposes to  9. About the same number have legalised cannabis for medicinal use only. Who would have imagined that just a few years ago the US was the  leader of the international war on drugs, but now its quickly becoming the world capital of legalised spliff.

So what about the UK? Well as someone who has used cannabis and several other recreational drugs I think it’s time for the government legalise the production, sale and use of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use as quickly as possible. There are many powerful financial arguments to justify this and also lots of social and health reasons too. But let’s begin with by looking at the economics of legalisation.  

First it’s costing an absolute fortune to police cannabis. According to data I obtained from Kent Police they issued 6,072 cannabis related cautions and warnings in the five years between 2010 and 2015. During the same period 4,170 people were charged with cannabis related offenses including production, supply and possession. That’s a grand  total of 10,872 cautions, warnings and charges related to cannabis production, supply and  use, which is the  equivalent of  6 Police actions  per day over 5 years.  Medway topped the league of Police actions against cannabis with 1772 warnings and charges issued during 2010-15. Thanet was second with 1,182;  Maidstone third with  1,176 and Tonbridge and Malling fourth with 927. Dover had the least recorded cannabis related crime with only 446 Police warnings and charges between 2010-15.

Assuming the  average Police  cost of dealing with a cannabis related incident, including officer time and associated overheads,  is about £300 then Kent Police have spent  £3.26 million between 2010-15 on policing cannabis use in the county. But that doesn’t take into account the cost of intelligence gathering, surveillance, forensics, planning and executing raids, preparing and submitting evidence to the courts which I estimate will bump up the total cost of policing cannabis in Kent to at least £10 million over the 5 year period which works at to be £2million per year”.

Is this money well spent? I don’t think so!.  The 2015-16 Crime Survey of England and Wales estimates that 6.5% of  16-59 years olds used cannabis at least once during this 12 month period. Applied to Kent, which has an estimated population of 1,019,000 16-59 year olds, this means that at least 66,235 of the county’s residents would have used cannabis during 2015-16. Yet during this period  Kent Police  issued just 792  warnings, penalty notices, and charges, sometimes  dealing with same person more than once.  This is a detection rate of just 1% at a cost of more than  £2 million per year. These figures demonstrate that despite a massive investment of public money the war against cannabis in Kent has most definitely been lost. I think it would be safe to say that every other Police Force  England and Wales is in the same position. Just imagine how much money could saved on policing costs if cannabis was to be legalised. In fact a growing number of senior police officers and Police and Crime Commissioners are now beginning to openly talk about this.

But it’s not just police budgets which will benefit from the legalisation of cannabis. Making the production, sale and use of cannabis lawful would generate massive additional taxation streams worth  hundreds of £millions a year.  Earlier this year a report commissioned by the Liberal Democrats estimated that the legalisation of cannabis could raise £1billion a year in extra taxation. A report published just this week by the highly regarded think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, estimated that a legalised cannabis industry would be worth and estimated £7billion a year. And in the USA we now have some real life examples of how much tax can be raised from a legalised cannabis industry. According to figures produced by the US state government of Colorado, taxes, licences and fees generated $52.5 million (£43 million) in 2015. This is a state which has only one twelfth the population of the UK. Just image how much tax could be raised in the UK though the legalisation of cannabis. This single  measure could generate enough new income to  offset most, if not all of the costs associated with leaving the EU and give us, in more ways than one,  a relaxed, chilled-out, Brexit instead of a hard one” 

Last but least legalisation of cannabis would reduce the power of the criminal gangs and violence associated with the drug. Legalisation would create tens of thousands of new jobs and business opportunities. A regulated cannabis industry would allow the control of the super-strong skunk variety and it would also provide health benefits for millions of people.  In my opinion the financial, social and health benefits of legalising and regulating cannabis massively outweigh any of the risks

 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Criminal Council Fined £250k

In her summing at Canterbury Crown Court yesterday, Judge Norton said she was deeply saddened by the plight of  15  Thanet Council staff who had contracted Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVs) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) because of a systemic failure to manage health and safety at the council. She said that Thanet Council’s failure to exercise its duty of care towards its workers had had a devastating impact on the lives of  the  workers who had contracted these debilitating and painful conditions. Not only had their ability to work been badly affected, but their ability to enjoy family life and leisure time had also  been destroyed by the effects of industrial injuries which could have been avoided.

For over 45 minutes the court listened in silence as the barrister for the Health and Safety Executive described  the events which led up to this criminal prosecution.  Seldom have I heard such a catalogue of  incompetence, maladministration and dereliction of duty. Headed by £90,000 a year Director of Operations, Mark Seed, who left TDC on the grounds of ill-health, a few weeks after the HAVs situation became known, the barrister recounted  how a chaotic and dysfunctional management  team totally ignored the safety and welfare of the staff is was supposed to protect. He listed example after example of  shameful and unacceptable actions by management, which a  more reminiscent of a 19th century Dickensian workhouse than a, supposedly modern, 21st century council including

  • No staff training on the dangers of HAVs and how to reduce risk over an 8 year period.
  • No council safety polices on HAVs and risk  reduction
  • Grounds maintenance managers had little or  no training on how to conduct HAVs risk assessments and developing HAVs risk reduction strategies
  • HAVs risk assessment documents  produced by East Kent Human Resources were totally inadequate and not fit for purpose
  • No HAVs risk assessments carried out in 8 years
  • No health screening of staff at risk of contracting HAVs
  • Health and Safety Audit warnings in 2012, 2013 & 2014 which identified the lack of HAVs risk assessments were ignored and not acted upon by Director Mark Seed and not onward reported to elected councillors on the Council’s Governance and Audit Committee.
  • Staff required to use vibrating equipment for  up to 7 hours a  day 5 days per week over prolonged periods of time without a break or rotation of duties. This resulted in staff being significantly over exposed to dangerous levels of vibration.
  • Departmental and Council Health and Safety committees which were chaired by Mark Seed never discussed HAVs even though vibrating equipment was extensively and frequently used by grounds maintenance staff.
  • Purchasing of new grounds maintenance failed to identify the need to procure  low vibration models.
The barrister said that a report commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive and produced by a specialist safety adviser concluded that there had been a “systemic failure” of Thanet Council’s health and safety management.

Considering that the HSE produced extensive and  overwhelming evidence of culpability and harm and that the failure of the Council had been a prolonged and deep-seated failure I was disappointed that TDC was only fined  £250,000 plus costs of £18,000. TDC managed to avoid a much higher fine, by pleading  mitigation on the grounds of having a reduced budget and depleted cash reserves. Which is a bit rich considering that just the day before the court case Council Leader  Chris Wells had said on BBC Radio Kent that he was happy with the council’s budget and reserves situation. But whilst the fine is an important part of justice being seen to be done, it’s the damages payments which will be made to the staff that really matter. I sincerely hope that these payments will be fair and proper compensation for the  devastating impact that HAVs will have on all aspects of their lives .

Although now over, the court case has raised some important questions. Why did the trade unions appear to have failed to raise the issues of HAVs exposure and the lack of  HAVs risk assessments with management  through the council’s safety committee structure before the injuries were detected in staff?    Why did  the council’s internal audit team fail to detect persistent  non-compliance with the HAVs risk assessment requirements until it was too late. Why were democratically elected councillors on the governance and Audit Committee  persistently mislead by officers (including  Mark Seed)  about the lack of HAVs safety assessment and training and constantly told that Health and Safety was a low corporate risk, until it was too late?

The biggest question is why the HSE decided not to  take out a criminal prosecution against former Director  Mark Seed. Comments made in court yesterday, including a statement by TDCs Barrister suggest  that his actions and inactions  contributed towards this terrible tragedy. Perhaps the HSE felt that that Seeds actions or lack of action were not of a level which would have led to his conviction. Either way Mark Seed has shown no contrition for his role in this sorry state od affairs. His Linkedin page of today (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/mark-seed-803032b6) says that he was responsible for “managing council wide health and safety as chair of council health and safety committee”. Perhaps he should change it to say say that his performance in carrying these safety duties has  been  criticized by barristers at Canterbury  Crown Court and that he may have played a contributory role in the contraction of HAVs by 15 members staff. Perhaps he should also sorry.

What happened to TDCs grounds maintenance staff is, despite an unreserved apology from the council, totally unacceptable and unforgivable. Sadly I fear that the managerial  dysfunctionality and incompetence  described by the barrister is not confined to the grounds maintenance department  who were plain unlucky for being out. Consider the spectacular fiasco that is the Margate Dreamland project, consider the illegal actions of the Council over the live animal exports ban and the incompetent management of the Ramsgate Pleasurama project. All of these issues point to a council which endemically dysfunctional and mis-managed at the hifghest of levels. A shake-up is required along with some long overdue departures

If any of the HAVs victims want to contact me I would very much like to talk to you about your experiences and perhaps publish your stories on this blogsite.  This will be done in the strictest of confidence and fully protecting your identities. My contact details are at the top of this page.

 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Bretts No Checks


Brett Aggregates concrete batching plant  at Ramsgate Port has, to the best my knowledge, never had an environment impact assessment, even though Thanet Council correspondence implies that it has  and even though its rules say it should have had.
In a letter to Brett dated 28 October 2010 TDC planner, Doug Brown, suggest that the “Council Harbour Master  had made  a report to English Nature (now Natural England)  with regard to the batching plant proposals. He then asks Brett  “whether you  have a copy of correspondence from the Harbourmaster confirming he would  make the report ..  this would give me confirmation of how environmental implications were addressed”.

Because the batching plant became operational in 2010, I assumed that Mr Brown had received satisfactory confirmation that the Harbourmaster had reported to English Nature. I also assumed that because the plant was operational English Nature had been reassured by the Harbourmaster’s communications with them and had no objections to the plant.  However I wanted to see for myself  what the Harbourmaster actually said to English Nature and submitted Freedom of Information requests to TDC, KCC and Natural England  to obtain  a copy of  his submission to English Nature. All three organisations have now replied  to me confirming that they have no record of a report or submission  by the Ramsgate Harbourmaster about  Brett’s concrete batching plant at the Port of Ramsgate.

This is odd because TDCs 2006 Local Plan, which was in force at the time when Brett Aggregates set up their concrete batching plant  requires that developments in and around the Ramsgate Port area must have an environmental impact assessment. The relevant sections of the Local Plan are -

·       Policy EC9 Ramsgate New Port says “all land-based facilities at the port should be subject to an “acceptable environmental assessment of the impact of the proposed development”.

·       Policy EP5 Air Quality Monitoring says “development proposals that might lead to ..a significant deterioration in local air quality resulting in unacceptable effects on human health, local amenity or the natural environment will require the submission of an air quality assessment

·       Policy EC8 Ramsgate Waterfront says “all proposals must ensure the integrity of the nature conservation interests within the adjacent Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Special Protection Area, the Special Area of Conversation and the RAMSAR site is maintained

If the council had followed its own polices when Brett had requested to set up its concrete batching plant I would have expected officers, or perhaps consultants,  to have  produced reports addressing these policy requirements. This information would then, I presume,  have been collated by the Harbourmaster for sending on to English Nature. It now seems very likely that none of this ever happened and that the Brett concrete batching plant has been operating for almost 6 years without any environmental assessment  ever being carried out about its impact on the nearby protected marine areas or the town of Ramsgate and its residents. This is not only a very serious breach of the council’s policies, but it also means that we have no way of knowing if the batching plant is causing pollution.

I have submitted one final Freedom of information request to Thanet Council just to be 100 percent certain that TDC has nothing on file about the environmental impact of the Brett concrete plant. If it doesn’t then its policies require it to have one carried out as quickly as possible.

 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Council Pays Tax Dodgers £Millions

Thanet District Council (TDC) has paid £millions to a temporary staff recruitment agency which is alleged by the Guardian newspaper to be involved, along with several other temp agencies, in “aggressive tax avoidance schemes” which are reported to cost the exchequer hundreds of millions a year in lost taxes  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/15/revealed-temp-agencies-avoidance-scheme-costs-taxpayers-hundreds-of-millions

HRGO Recruitment, a large nationwide temporary recruitment agency (http://www.hrgo.co.uk/about) ,  has provided  Thanet District Council with its refuse collectors and drivers and street sweepers for at least 5 years. It has offices on Queen Street Ramsgate.
According to the Guardian the company operates a system whereby its workers’ contracts are transferred from a single employment agency into a web of thousands of tiny companies that benefit from the tax breaks. These tiny companies employ just 2 or 3 workers. The mini-companies, qualify for a “£3,000 government subsidy called the employment allowance, which can only be claimed once by a company and was designed to help very small businesses create more jobs or increase wages. The mini employment companies can also generate an additional windfall by charging VAT at 20% but paying it back to the government at about 12%, exploiting arrangements designed to free very small businesses with revenues of less than £150,000 a year from red tape”.

I have checked TDCs  invoice payment spreadsheets and discovered that during  the 12 months between September 2015  and September 2016 the council paid £1.5million to HRGO for providing refuse collectors and drivers and street sweepers. To the best of my knowledge, Thanet Council has been using HRGO to provide its staff  for at least 5 years, if not longer. “This means that the Council  may have paid somewhere in the region of £8 million to HRGO. Out of this large sum of money it’s possible that tens of  thousands of pounds, if not more,  in PAYE and VAT may have  been avoided by HRGO”.

Thanet Council has a legal duty under Section1 of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 to check to ensure how its contracts  might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area”. The Council’s internal Purchasing Guide advises staff that they must take into account this legal requirement when entering into contracts. If a company is using aggressive tax avoidance techniques, as HRGO is alleged to be doing, its  actions will actually detract from the economic,  social  and environmental well being of Thanet because less money is available to invest in our schools, housing, social services, environmental  improvements etc. I will be asking Thanet Council to provide me with a full explanation of what due-diligence it conducted into  HRGO and whether it was aware of the company’s alleged  tax avoidance practices and if so what action it took”.

I also wonder why Thanet Council chose to employ its refuse collectors and drivers and street sweepers via employment agencies for so long. These are mainly permanent jobs which should be carried out by staff directly employed by the Council. I can only assume that the Council chose not to directly employ them to avoid paying pension contributions and sick pay which are part of the  council terms and conditions of employment. This is clear discrimination and prejudice against blue collar workers and I’m astonished that this practice flourished under a Labour controlled council which  said it was opposed to zero hours contracts and supported strong employment right, whilst hypocritically allowing alleged  tax-dodging employment agencies to provide their staff.   

Following the Guardian revelations MPs are now calling on HMRC to close the tax loopholes which allow companies such as HRGO to get away without having to pay their fair share. Personally I hope these tax dodgers are heavily fined and forced to pay back what owe the tax authorities. I also hope that Thanet Council will now end its contracts with HRGO and offer permanent jobs to those staff provided by this shameful and disreputable company.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Thanet’s £100K Dreamland Dream Team


Developments  at Margate’s troubled Dreamland Amusement Park took an interesting turn today. I was informed, by a reliable source, that barrister Mary Cook of Cornerstone Chambers in London  has been appointed by Thanet Council to head up its Dreamland Dream Team.  Supported by David Conboy and Graeme Tully of property  consultants GL Hearn the Dreamland Dream Team   will try to negotiate a  compensation deal with the former owners of the amusement park who, to the best of my knowledge, have been paid just £750,000 by Thanet Council for the purchase of the site. I understand that the former Dreamland owners have submitted a compensation claim to Thanet Council in excess of £16million.

According to a bio published on Cornernstone’s website Mary Cook has considerable CPO experience. She advises and appears for both acquiring authorities and objectors at public inquiries held to consider compulsory purchase orders made under a wide variety of statutory powers; town and country planning, urban regeneration, housing and highways, by Government departments, local authorities and other promoters. She also advises on claims for compensation for compulsory purchase and appear in the Lands Tribunal in such cases. Other inquiry work undertaken includes appeals concerning purchase notices and applications for certificates of appropriate alternative development under the Land Compensation Act 1961”.

GL Hearn’s website says that David Conboy “is a key member of the CPO team who joined GL Hearn as a CPO Surveyor in October 2008 having previously worked for District Valuer Services (DVS), a department of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). David has successfully represented a broad base of clients in the negotiation of claims for compensation on behalf of land owners and occupiers facing acquisition and the valuation of land/property scheduled to be compulsory acquired”. Graeme Tully’s bio says that his  “specialist area is the planning, development and delivery of major mixed use town centre and area wide regeneration projects, where he is one of the UK’s leading advisors to both private and public sectors”.  

Putting together a specialist CPO negotiating team of such a high calibre will,  I think, leave Thanet Council with very  little change out of  £100,000. The choice of the Dreamland Dream Team members is a clear indication that Thanet Council are involved in high stakes discussions with the former owners and that they are taking the £16million compensation claim extremely  seriously. Even if, as is usually the case, a meet-in-the-middle compromise deal of £8-10 million is eventually agreed with the  former owners, I  wonder how TDC will be able to  pay now that its cash  reserves are so dangerously low (see my previous post  here    )

Compensation in the order of £8-£10million  means that Thanet council taxpayers will have paid a total of  £20 million towards the purchase and restoration of the Dreamland Amusement Park. That’s the equivalent of £145 for every man, woman and child living in Thanet. Add on to this over £10million funding from Kent County Council, the Heritage Lottery  Foundation and various Government grants and the  total public money invested into the Dreamland project is an astounding £30million!!!

And for what? A Park with its main attraction, the iconic scenic railway, non-operational for more than half the time the park has been open. A park with its operator Sands Heritage in administration. A park with its  leasehold agreement with Thanet Council and most of its rides in hoc to a tax dodging, offshore, Cayman registered  hedge fund and the High Sherriff of Bedfordshire. And with  the Dreamland Trust ,who is supposed to represent the community interest  in the park,  remaining pathetically and shamefully silent about these unacceptable fairground shenanigans.

By anybody’s standards Margate Dreamland has been unmitigated fuck-up. The people who have paid for this £30million public investment have been badly let down by Thanet Council’s politicians and senior officers; by the park operator;  by the Dreamland  Trust. If these incompetent fools had any remaining vestiges of decency they would have apologised and resigned ages ago. But of course they have no shame and don’t understand the meaning of  public accountability.  

I have said before and will say it again there must be an independent public enquiry into Margate’s  Dreamland Nightmare and those responsible should be named and shamed. No hiding behind a Dreamland Dream Team to protect your arses fess up your failings and face the music.

Talking of music here's 10cc's take on Dreamland - Art for Arts Sake Money for Gods Sake 

   

Council's catastrophic cash crisis caused by Labour

The cost of the 2011-15 Labour administration at Thanet Council is still being paid, this time in what could easily become a catastrophic cash crisis which could render TDC technically insolvent.

A budget report, scheduled for discussion at Thursdays Cabinet meeting reveals that TDCs cash reserves, which are set aside to pay for emergencies and   unexpected events, will be reduced to £6.6million in the 2017-18 financial year. Comparison with neighbouring council’s and advice from the Local Government accountancy body the Chartered Institute of Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA), suggest that TDCs reserves  should  be at least 3 times greater than has been allocated for 2017-18. According to the report a council the size of Thanet  “would normally hold in excess of £20million” in reserves. However, allowing for the financial risks faced by TDC, the report warns that even  £20million “may be on the low side” of what may be required to manage some of the difficulties the cash-strapped council is likely encounter.  
The report lists a series of major financial blunders for depleting TDCs reserves including

  • The secretly approved TransEuropa Ferries  fee-deferral deal which cost the council £3.4 million.
  • £6 million spent on legal fees and compensation for TDCs unlawful  banning of live animal exports from Ramsgate Port
  • An overspend of over £3  million  on the Margate Dreamland project including a compensation  payment of £900,000 to Dreamland operator Sands Heritage
  • The forthcoming prosecution of Thanet Council for breaking Health and Safety laws which could be extremely costly. 

The report states that the council “carries significant risk by holding such low levels of reserves” and could easily find itself in a position where it “faces a substantial liability which cannot be funded without unplanned actions that could damage services”. In signing off TDCs annual accounts for 2015-16, the council’s external auditor expressed his concerns about the perilous state of TDC finances and recommended the council  to  “take a prudent approach to addressing the budget gap and identify cost savings and income generation to replenish reserves to help manage the known and unknown financial risks”.

This report is extremely worrying.  It confirms what I had suspected for a long time; that the council is in a vulnerable financial position and is unprepared to deal with forthcoming multi-£million claims against it. First there is the ongoing prosecution of Thanet Council for alleged breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act  and the serious physical damage caused to around 20 TDC staff. The court fine and compensation payments which TDC will have to pay could possibly amount to several £millions, taking  a large chunk from  TDCs already depleted reserves. Also, TDC is yet to agree a final compensation payment to the former owners of the Margate Dreamland site which,  I am led to believe, could easily be in excess of £10 million.

The blame for this unacceptable and totally avoidable financial mess rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of TDCs previous Labour administration who, in my opinion, recklessly squandered close to £14million of taxpayers money  by breaking the law over live exports and being forced to pay compensation, for massively overspending on the badly planned and incompetently managed  Dreamland project, and defying economic logic by secretly propping up a failing ferry company for more than two years without telling anybody.

I’m disappointed that instead of fessing-up an apologising for their incompetence and instead of investigating the appalling record of senior Labour councillors over  their mis-management of Thanet Council’s finances during the period 2011-15, Thanet Labour Party has allowed some of those responsible to continue in office as councillors or to occupy prominent party positions. This is outrageous. It demonstrates Thanet Labour’s contempt for local people and shows  just how arrogantly out of touch they  are  with the local community. I would have hoped,   with the reelection of Jeremey Corbyn as Labour Leader, that the old skool gang of self-serving lazy fuckers that masquerade as socialists would have been booted out of the party  long ago for creating a toxic legacy which has made the party almost unelectable in Thanet 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

High Sherrif’s Posse to Raid Dreamland?


Documents  published on the Companies House website reveal that  Charles Whitbread of the Whitbread  brewing family, and the current High Sherriff of Bedfordshire (http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/council/high-sheriff/charles-whitbread.aspx),  loaned £500,000 to a company called Southeast Retail Limited in March 2016.  Southeast Retail owns the Sands Hotel in Margate and one of its directors and part-owners is Nick Connington who is also a director of Sands Heritage, the operator of the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park.

The High Sherriff who is appointed by the Privy Council and acts as the Queen’s representative in Bedfordshire, has secured his £500,000  loan to Southeast Retail by placing a charge on most  of the Dreamland Amusements Park’s fairground rides including the Big Wheel  the Cyclone Twist, the Swing Boats and the Helter Skelter. If the loan is not repaid then the High Sherriff can muster a posse, mosey on down to Margate and seize the  fairground rides. And the risk of that possibility looks to be growing.

According to Companies House both Sands Hotel Margate Limited and SouthEast Retail have failed to submit their annual accounts which were deadlined fir submission  by late September 2016. Almost 2 months after the deadlines elapsed  and nothing appears to have been submitted. Late submission of accounts is often seen as a symptom of a company in financial trouble and Companies House treat late submission extremely seriously  here’s what they say

“Failure to file confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is a criminal offence which can result in directors being fined personally in the criminal courts. Any criminal proceedings taken as a result of non-filing of confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is separate from and in addition to any late filing penalty imposed against the company for filing accounts late. The registrar may also take steps to strike the company off the public record if these documents are delivered late. There is no late filing penalty imposed on confirmation statements or annual returns that have been filed late. Failure to pay the late filing penalty can result in enforcement proceedings”.
So the question is will the High Sherriff of Bedfordshire and his posse be  riding into town in the near future to seize his goods? If he does Dreamland will be left without most of its rides, apart from the Scenic Railway which isn’t working anyway. Yeee haaaa!! Ride them Dreamland cowboys!!

 



Thanet's Child Poverty Shame

Former Thanet Councillor and Citizens Advice Manager, Ian Driver, described as “deplorable and shameful” news that Thanet has the highest rate of child poverty in south east England. According to a report produced yesterday  (8 November) by the Campaign to End Child Poverty (an organisation made up of more 100 children’s charities, child welfare organisations, faith groups and trade unions    ), over one third (34.4%) of children in Thanet are living in poverty. Based on the latest population figures, this equates to almost 11,500 children up the age of 18.

This is the highest rate of child poverty out of all of the 67 local government areas in south east England. Hasting was second highest with a child poverty rate of 32%; Southampton was third with 29.9%; Dover fourth at 29.9%; Shepway fifth  at 29.4% and Portsmouth sixth at 28.9%. The figures show that 18 out of 23 electoral wards in Thanet have child poverty rates of over 20% indicating the depth and spread of this problem. The 5 Thanet wards with the highest rates of child poverty are Cliftonville West 48.49%; Margate Central 47.57%; Newington 43.97% Eastcliff 43.49% Dane Valley 42.98%.

Said Driver “these deplorable and shameful statistic should be a wake-up call to Thanet and Kent County councils and Central Government. They must work together to  develop plans to regenerate Thanet and tackle once and for all the deep seated economic malaise which has blighted the district for two generations. It’s totally unacceptable that one third of our children are being brought up in poverty. Poverty is a well-known cause of educational under achievement and reduced life chances. Our politicians, civil servants and public services  cannot stand by and allow 11,500 children to  have their  futures blighted through no fault of their own”.

He went on say that “Central Government should make available extra funds for major infrastructure investment in Thanet including the reduction of  HS1 journey times to London to less than an hour; the transformation of  Ramsgate’s port and seafront into a leisure focused visitor destination with a modern 21st century marina.  We also need to support  the development  of the former Manston Airport site into a thriving commercial and industrial park and the further expansion and growth of the ex-Pfizer site at Discovery Park as a home for high-tech companies. Last but least the Government should designate Thanet as an Enterprise Zone, allocate funding for several thousands of  desperately  needed affordable rent council homes in the district. These measures will encourage business to invest in Thanet and  create  decent, well paid, paid jobs Thanet so urgently needs and which will help to reduce and eliminate the appalling situation of one third of our children living poverty”

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Ramsgate Port Industrialisation Outrage Continues

In my last blog post I wrote about the secrecy and lack of public consultation surrounding the development of the Ramsgate Maritime Plan under Labour in 2014 and UKIP’s continuation of this arrogant and undemocratic approach in relation to its plans to transform the port into a heavily industrialised facility. I warned that industrialisation of Ramsgate  port, especially UKIPs plans for a freight terminal with a capacity of up to 1million HGVs per year and the expansion of Brett’s aggregate processing and concrete batching operations would be disastrous for the town.  The risk of damaging pollution would be high.  The threat to  Ramsgate’s reviving visitor economy would be serious and the long-term economic viability of  a freight ferry operation  extremely doubtful in view of Dover Harbour’s massive £200million  expansion programme  which begins next year.

Little did I know, when I was writing the article, that this muddleheaded plan was anything more than a failed £6 million funding bid to the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) which would hopefully be cast to one side and forgotten about now that the powers that be have rejected it.  Well it hasn’t been!  And just like the mythological Hydra which sprouts new heads when one is chopped off, the plan to industrialise Ramsgate Port has come back again – this time in the form of a document called “Economic Growth Strategy for Thanet” produced I am told at a cost of £55,000 by external  consultants.

To be discussed next week at a Cabinet meeting  by TDCs  political leaders, the Economic Strategy includes a section glamorously described as Transformational Initiatives. Top of this list are proposals for Developing the Port at Ramsgate.  But there is nothing remotely transformational or glamourous about these proposals. They are no more than a rehash of  Labour’s secretly  developed Maritime Plan of 2014  and UKIPs failed £6million  funding bid which was humiliatingly  rejected by  the SELEP a couple of months ago.

Once again these discredited proposals for the port are not analysed and tested as to their viability or sustainability. There is no mention of any market testing or demand analysis for a RoRo freight ferry service at Ramsgate. Not a word is said about what the  environmental and pollution implications of a freight ferry service and  expanded aggregate/ concrete batching operations  at the port might have on the town and its protected marine sites. Nor is there any analysis of how an industrialised port and seafront might impact upon Ramsgate’s visitor economy and whether or not more jobs will be created or destroyed in the long-term by embarking upon the proposed changes at Ramsgate Port. And not a word is said about the massive £200million expansion of Dover Harbour which begins next year and how competition from Dover and also the new London Gateway Freight Port on the Thames Estuary  might impact upon ferry services from Ramsgate.

Last not but least I was unable to find a single mention of the phrase public consultation anywhere in the Economic Strategy document. Like Labour before them, TDCs UKIP leadership appear to be determined to push through badly thought out  plans which are not evidence-based; which haven’t been properly risk assessed;   which lack economic analysis and which are hugely unpopular, without any public engagement and without consideration of any alternative ideas for the future of the port and seafront.

This is bad governance in the extreme. The risk of failure is high and the consequences of failure for local people would be massive. Pushing these proposals through would also be grossly hypocritical. As I mentioned before UKIPs 2015 election manifesto says that the party is committed to bringing more transparency and openness to local government; that the community is the boss, and that local people will have more power over planning. Well here we are in the only council in the UK controlled by UKIP and everything they have promised about being a force for democratic good has been thrown out the window in order to push  through plans for Ramsgate Port which are economically and environmentally dangerous without any public consultation and without any discussion of alternatives.

Just like Labour the LibDems and the Conservatives, UKIP is firmly part of the political establishment they falsely claim to be challenging. They lie, cheat, bully and deceive just like of the rest of them.  And like the rest of the political  establishment they only listen  to themselves, unless of course their seats at the council are  threatened by people power