Friday, 30 January 2009

INTERFERING WITH STANDARDS BOARD

One of the things I frequently see posted on Thanet blogs is a cycnicism about the standards of councillors. It's well known that the poor behaviour of some councillors has lead to Standards Board investigations and findings.

One of the things that most frustrates and disappoints me is the low standards of conduct and behaviour by some Thanet councillors. There appears to be no respect for the Standards Board process just an attempt to say or do whatever helps an individual no matter what the damage is to the corporate image of Thanet.

I have heard a rumour that some councillors may be seeking to avoid proper procedures. I have notified my Group Leader. He is quite properly immediately reporting it to Thanet Council's Monitoring Officer and Chief Executive to see if there is any truth to the information I have received.

I hope there will be no more tarnishing of Thanet's reputation by individuals who put themselves before the best interests of the community.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

TORIES NORTH AND SOUTH - FOOT IN MOUTH!

"Southampton, along with the rest of the South East of England is chronically underfunded and much of the taxes we pay are transferred to the north of England." says

Jeremy Moulton, Conservative PPC, Southampton Test, 8/9/2008.

"The reason that the Government have refused to fund the scheme is that they intend to prioritise London and the South East in terms of infrastructure over the next four years."

David Mowat, Conservative PPC, Warrington South 8/9/2008. (Mowat was talking about new capital building of bridges / roads in the North West.)

Perhaps Laura Sandys South Thanet Conservative PPC could advise which is the correct view? I'll "Tell Laura" and let you know what response I get.

Hat tip to Richard Williams, Leader of the Labour Group on Southampton Council.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

MARLOWE MOVING ON UP - PROUD TO BE DIFFERENT

Have you seen how much the Marlowe Academy is achieving?

Pay a visit it is open and welcoming. Start with the library, aimed at children but serving all. It also has a soft play room for under 5s.On a Saturday you will find the school bursting with activity, rock music, and theatrical performances.

Before Christmas I saw Ramsgate Stagecoach Theatre School perform Glad Rags. Thanks to Cllr. John Kirby who “invigilated” as this was part of a world record attempt for simultaneous performances.Architecturally the school is stunning and the wall displays provide a very positive atmosphere. In many ways it feels more like a place of work than a school, then again a lot of work does get done at school.

Look at the statistics, results up, attendance better, the added value provided is the best in Thanet.Anecdotally I hear excited stories from parents about flexible staff an outstanding pupil focussed head teacher Ian Johnson. A breakfast club and after school club mean children can be at the Marlowe from 8.30am to 5pm. Several parents have told me how this allows them to work more hours, look after other children or study for qualifications.

Don't just take my opinion, I read this in the "Thanet and Kent Insider" from David Foley, Chief Executive, Thanet & East Kent Chamber of Commerce

"The Marlowe Academy is a serious school making excellent progress in its magnificent new buildings. The Principal, Ian Johnson, can call on the support of Caroline O’Conner, Business Development Leader, Liz Hubbershaw, head of the sixth form, and a first class management team to lead their students to a bright future. Increasing success in their GCSE results and the professionalism of their business outreach programmes do not mean that the school is immune from human frailties. Tim Scott of Multimedia Services was visiting the Academy recently when he witnessed a remarkable exchange which went something along the lines of the following. “Why are you not wearing your school uniform? You know the rules and there are no exceptions”, the teacher explained sternly. “But, you should know…” “I do know”, continued the teacher, “and you should know that school rules are there for your benefit. You must wear your school uniform in school and on the way to and from school.” “I know that”, spluttered the unfortunate object of the criticism, “but I think I ought to point out to you that I am the new maths teacher”. It’s not only policemen that are looking younger."

Looks like a leaky roof was fixed while the sun was shining to me.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

YOU DIDN'T HEAR IT FROM ME - SCRUTINY 2

Now here's a curious thing. I can blog about tonight's Overview and Scrutiny Panel anytime up until it started at 7pm and anytime after it finishes but not during the meeting. The same applies to Full Council. I must not relay the proceedings of the meetings. Why does Thanet have this rule?

Might something be broadcast sending hordes of people from their armchairs to protest at the Scrutiny Panel? Well members of the public rarely attend and are as rare as dahlias flowering in my garden in winter. Indeed after the meeting has started the Council often locks the doors so if a member of the public arrives late that's it.

Probably the most contentious issue in Local Government in the last 12 months has been the tragic death of Baby P. Yet talking to 2 of my friends who are Haringey Councillors Sheila Peacock and Emma Jones, they were clear that they would broadcast proceedings even of the most difficult and turbulent meetings.

The meetings were broadcast via the internet and this stream was taken by television so millions saw local democracy in action. In my view partly as a result of the broadcasting of these Haringey Council meetings the Council Leader and Chair of Social Services resigned. They were held to account for the failings on their watch.

Yet much as I would love to keep you keenly informed about the "Allocation of £50,000 funding to the East Kent Cluster by Kent and Medway Improvement Partnership" (Don't you just love local government jargonese?). I can't, at least not while we are talking about it.

When we discussed the controversial China Gateway you dear reader should have been able to sit at your laptop and monitor us. Sadly Thanet Council chose to exclude you from what should have been an open democratic process.

We have the technology, but the will to be open is not part of the current culture of Thanet Council.

HAZEL BLEARS LISTENING TO THANET - LIVE BLOG

I was invited to a meeting of Labour Councillors with Hazel Blears the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Local Government. Kent is well represented with my fellow councillor Dave Green, plus Mike Eddy and Angela Harrison from Kent County Council and Liz Green (here with Hazel) wearing both her Thanet and Kent hats.

I've been a fan of Hazel for a long time. She always speaks with passion, frankness and optimism. Whenever I see her speak I always walk out with more energy to campaign. Hazel was a councillor for 8 years so she knows about front line service delivery.

During the Labour Party Deputy Leadership campaign she came down to Ramsgate and gave a very impressive performance.

Hazel gave a brief talk on current issues emphasising the need for more recycling. She spoke about needing a "can do" local authority that responded to what local people wanted.Showing an awareness of Thanet Hazel said how Tories had put over an image of being Green but had actually done very little to deliver on this agenda. She wanted the UK to work with Obama investing in green technologies.

Hazel highlighted how Tories were advocating cuts in services and further housebuilding. David Cameron's view that cutting spending rather than fighting the recession reminded her of Thatcher's "Unemployment is a price worth paying". The "Let the recession take it's course" line was reminiscent and would hurt the most vulnerable most.

Angela Harrison from Sheerness opposed the Boris Johnson proposal for an airport in the sea. Mike Eddy picked up how Kent County Council claimed credit for the Labour government funded school building programme. He also questioned why Kent CC spends so much money on its press and public relations.
I asked about Manston Airport and why London and Kent Tories were advocating airport expansion in Kent at the same time as the national Tories were opposing Heathrow. This was inconsistent and I asked for a coherent regional strategy for London and the South East on airports.

Hazel emphasised that every single secondary school in Britain was being refurbished. On Kent's publicity Hazel said that if that was the local decision on the best way to spend money then Labour councillors should campaign to expose cuts and increased charges whilst publicity budgets remained large.

On Tory plans to expand airports in Kent while opposing a third runway at Heathrow, this was just hypocisy. Pretending to be Green in one place but pushing airport expansion elsewhere. Airports were necessary for economic growth, the Tories were trying to ignore this fact.

More questions from other Labour councillors.....
Bus passes for retired people welcomed but it was noted that Tory authorities were complaining about the cost. (I note this again is Tories not welcoming a Green initiative). There was a call for more work with young people to engage them more with Civic society. The idea of a quota of council seats for people under 40, say 5-10% was suggested. (A big problem for Thanet councillors if this was brought in!)

Hazel wanted more representative councils and recognised how unrepresentative most councils were of their local communities. She wanted accreditation and certificates for people giving skills in the community such as school governors. Hazel noted how Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea had vibrant campaigns on getting councillors from different parts of the community to stand for election. Hazel also wanted Youth Mayors in every authority so that politics could engage more with schools and colleges.

Hazel said the introduction of free swimming was simple and popular, as was the free bus campaign. These should be more publicised as great Labour achievements. They also helped the poorest most, that was why the Tories opposed them.

More questions from councillors

Desire for better websites and information, plus better publicity on the Keep Warm programme. Slough wanted better census figures to get more accurate grant settlements from central government. Liz Green complained about Tories taking credit on schoolimprovements and new schools like Ellington, when the money was from the Labour government and had been opposed by Conservatives. She talked about Thanet Council allowing shops to move to Westwood Cross and doubling the whammy by hitting High Streets with parking charges.

Hazel asked for further information on the High Streets, and the nonsensical attempts to blame it on the credit crunch when Tory Councils kept parking charges and didn't use their planning powers to influence development.

Monday, 26 January 2009

SCRUTINY COMMITTEE 1

Thanet Council's Scrutny Committee is hard to explain. Most councillors sit on one committee, some more. Scrutiny is mine. It's purpose is similar to that of a Select Committee at the House of Commons, or an internal audit in a large organisation. We are supposed to act as "critical friends", to look at issues in greater depth, and to er well scutinise them.

We have no power, only in theory influence. We can set up sub-committees to look at matters in greater depth. I am on the Scrutiny sub-committees for the Airport, and Recycling.

When I came on to the Council in 2007 it was a widely held opinion that previous Scrutiny Committees had performed poorly. The answer to this from the Conservative Group was to put Conservatives in as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Committee. Previously Labour was allocated at least one of these. I was highly critical of this move. Even minor positions where councillors serve on local voluntary groups were allocated purely on the basis of Party rather than knowledge or ability.

In effect the vision was one of a one party state. Culturally this sent out a clear message that this was an administration that did not welcome constructive criticism. In my view this put the interests of the Cabinet ahead of what was best for a healthy local democracy in Thanet.

After a year of this there was a change in 2008 to having Labour Cllr. Mike Harrison as Vice-Chair of Scrutiny Committee. Partly because of comments I made at Council and Scrutiny Committee, a few external appointments to local voluntary organisations have been allocated to Labour members. However, they are few and far between.

I think it shows a regrettable mindset that the Conservative administration considers it more important to appoint somebody with a Tory Party membership card, rather than letting hordes of Socialists get their hands on water drainage committees or archaeological trusts. Thereby surely lies chaos with my comrades potentially allowing sewerage outfalls to destroy historical remnants. We will fight them even on the disability charity board is the attitude.

Sometimes this ends up with the absurd situation where a Labour Councillor gets elected by the community on to the same voluntary bodies where Conservative councillors have poor attendance records.

One thing I have advocated at Scrutiny Committee with my belief in Freedom of Information, is that attendance records at meetings are compliled for all elected members. This would cover Full Council, all committees and sub-committees plus the outside bodies and voluntary organisations that councillors sit on.

There is no reason why this could not be published on the web and be regularly updated.A little Web 2.0 please so constituents can be quickly aware of when anybody goes missing in Central America or elsewhere.

You can draw your own conclusions as to why the majority of my fellow Councillors oppose this opportunity to be more open and accountable to their electors.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

DAN’S THE MAN TO FIGHT CRIME

There are about half a dozen days a year when I wish I still had a car. Friday was one of them with howling winds, driving rain that almost seemed like hail. I got drenched cycling to St. Mark’s Church in Pysons Road, Northwood. Kindly Reverend Chris Skingley who generously hosts meetings let me bring my bike out of the storm into the building.

I was attending a meeting of the Northwood PACT (Partners and Community Together) to address the problems at Coleman Crescent Rec.

It was great to hear that all our hard work campaigning means that a second Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Anne Finch will be joining the Northwood police team. As a relative newcomer the real credit for this goes to my colleague Cllr. Liz Green and Steve Ladyman MP both of whom have been pushing for this for years. Both were present at the meeting.

What a great servant to the community PCSO Dan Mimran is. Almost every single local resident who was present talked about the great difference he has made in the last 9 months. His drive, enthusiasm, and hard work have made a real difference. He has been very keen to involve as many people and agencies as possible.

Like me he recognises there are communication problems at present around the Rec, and he is doing all he can to improve this. Dan is very accessible so if you want to report or discuss and crime or anti-social behaviour matters in Northwood Ward call him on 07772225981. You can email him on

56523@kent.pnn.police.uk

He's waiting for your call/email!

Next time anybody tells me that Police Community Support Officers do not make a difference compared to police officers, I will ask them to come and meet Dan and the community he serves so conscientiously.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

PROGRESSIVE LONDON - OBAMA IS COMING

Work takes me to the Progressive London Conference at the TUC. It is a bit of a Ken Livingstone love in. I am wearing a 20 year old "pre-Blair" tie with the Liberty logo, that goes down well. Went to an excellent session on Public Services where Stephen Cowan, Leader of the Opposition Hammersmith Labour Group told terrible stories of the Tories cutting services and selling assets.

The significance being that David Cameron has appointed the Conservative Council leader to be his top advisor on Local Government. More on this in the future.

Very interesting session on blogging inspires me to post live for the first time!

Most inspiring moment of the day is Harriet Harman's announcement that Barack Obama is coming to London on 1st April - must see what I can do with my diary...

Friday, 23 January 2009

THIS TOWN IS BECOMING LIKE A GHOST TOWN

This fellow Thanet blogger’s post made me think.

Cllr Ezekiel said: "I am extremely sad to hear the news. The company is a friendly, family-run business. I extend my sympathy to the staff. You only have to walk down to the Old Town to see how Margate is improving but because of the credit crunch and the lack of support from central government we can’t make the things we want to happen, happen."

“Margate is improving”? I wish this was so, but being in denial helps nobody. Here’s a little team exercise for Thanet’s Council’s Cabinet. Cllr. Jo Gideon can walk down the centre of Ramsgate. Cllr Roger Latchford can do Birchington. Cllr. Wise can walk Northdown Road. Cllr Zita Wiltshire will look at Broadstairs. Cllr. Shirley Tomlinson takes Westgate. Then they can all walk down Margate High Street together with their Leader Council Sandy Ezekiel.

Then each in turn can complete the sentence “Leader, Margate High Street is in much better shape than my local High Street because……”

We can make it a Thanet version of the Emperor’s new clothes shops….

I can see Gap, Next, River Island,…..

It is uninformed and shows a lack of local knowledge to try and blame the credit crunch.

In 2006 Tim Hance, managing director at retail agency Leslie Furness, said

“Marks & Spencer pulled out of Ramsgate and then out of Margate, and it has decimated the town centres,” he further said “We have had a shop available in Margate town centre for three years (i.e since 2003) and, even with competitive terms, there is no demand for it. It has polarised those towns.”

Does Cllr Ezekiel when giving quotes not recall Margate’s sad decline has been going on for years?

Shops have been closing in Margate for years before the credit crunch as Michael’s photos show. Here’s my analysis of why this is. The overwhelming reason is Westwood Cross. I remember being briefed soon after my election in 2007 on retail leakage. Retail leakage is the amount of pounds spent outside of the area you live in. I can’t remember the figures but Thanet had one of the highest leakage rates in the country. That’s money, jobs and investment going to Canterbury, Bluewater etc.

So a development like Westwood Cross was a good idea. It has been very poorly designed and executed as anyone living on Margate Road in Northwood can tell you. We took some of Canterbury’s retail spend but got free added traffic congestion. I will post on this mess in the future. However, the decision in principle was correct, even if the execution has been poor.

Thanet’s shops have a further problem they are up against the sea. So whereas most shopping towns can draw customers from 360’ seaside towns only have half that 180’. Margate also suffers because it is so close to Northdown Road, in Cliftonville so effectively another flank is chopped off to draw customers in from. Then all those residents on the south side of Margate can go to free parking at Westwood Cross as easily if not more so than Margate High Street. This leaves as core shoppers, those living in the centre of Margate, plus people in Westbrook to support all those shops. That’s simply not enough people to keep the current number of retail premises going.

Margate used to be a destination for shopping but it is becoming less and less so. The more shops close, the less people come, then more shops close….it is a very vicious circle. More than a decade ago I was a board member of the Michael Heseltine inspired Deptford City Challenge. I really wish I was not writing this, but in my judgment and with over a decade’s experience working to regenerate Deptford High Street things will get worse with Margate High Street before they get better.

The Turner Centre is coming will it save Margate? The desire to redevelop the Old Town is laudable but it has not been strategically thought out. When shops close in the High Street one alternative use would be for restaurants, cafes etc. This has happened elsewhere. However, if you are encouraging “café culture” only a few hundred yards away there are not going to be enough customers around to sustain both areas.

If Cllr. Ezekiel is suggesting more money to “save” the High Street then there becomes a battle between the pedestrianised area and the Old Town as to which area will be more viable. The problem is this “competition” will be artificially funded by grants to try and save one area and redevelop the other. I cannot see how there can be enough customers to sustain sufficient retail or food/drink outlets in both areas. The Council needs to decide either, is it marginalizing the pedestrianised area and encouraging everything to flock towards the Turner Centre. Or will it try and sustain what is already in the pedestrianised area and stop trying to redevelop the Old Town? As Cllr Ezekiel has said there is not enough money to do what he wants so which is his priority?

In the last decade the money spent via the internet has gone from 0 to 15%. That’s 15% less shops whatever way you look at it. Look at the way travel agents have declined and merged when up against Ryanair, Lastminute and Expedia etc. This is a national phenomenon and it grows bigger every year.

Thanet Council needs to be clear about what has happened. Westwood Cross has sucked through “retail leakage”, the life out of Margate High Street. Did the same officers who advised me quite rightly that it was important to keep pounds in Thanet; not recognise that on a micro, smaller level Westwood Cross would suck pounds out of local High Streets? It is not as if there were not hosts of letters in the papers predicting this at the time.

The honest realistic approach is one of managed decline; let’s call it “managing change”, is that a sufficient euphemism? All the shops that are closing in Margate do not do so lightly. Whose judgment on the future of shops is better, retail analysts who are about making money, or a Council who are about spending money (quite rightly – that’s our job!)?

If the Council spends money on regenerating shops in Margate High Street it will be pouring money down the drain. There are some measures that can assist, but they are marginal and cannot change the fundamental economics of the situation. Some shops will close permanently and will change in use to office, residential or other. Nobody can be Canute against a sea of retail change.

Here’s a hard job for a Council Officer. Write a proposal to the Government Office of the South East, asking for more money for Margate High Street. Here’s a start

“We have made a bit of a mistake. We did not realise that developing Westwood Cross would affect Margate High Street. Can we have a few hundred million to buy up Westwood Cross and close it down to help the High Street please?..................”

That would help the High Street but wake up and smell the coffee, it is not going to happen and a few quick plasters of public spending on the bleeding High Street will not stop shops haemorrhaging.

Look at that quote again from Cllr Ezekiel he blames a

“lack of support from central government”

In the last 10 years there has been a 39% increase in real terms in money from Central Government to Local Government, how much more money does Cllr Ezekiel want? Can he provide a figure?

However, if it is Cllr. Ezekiel’s sincere and accurately quoted view, and he wants more central government money then he should start by publicly condemning David Cameron for calling for cuts in central government money for Thanet. That would be real leadership. Leading for the best interests of Thanet, and Margate High Street; not the best interests of the Conservative Party.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

MORE INVESTMENT IN SCHOOLS IN RAMSGATE

I have been very proud as a Labour Party member to see the vast programme of school repairs, improvements and the building of new schools in the last 10 years. Asked for my comments on the government money being spent on an extension to the south of Christchurch Junior School in London Road, I am all in favour. Delighted to see this will extend the front entrance area and provide a community room too. I hope all my Conservative Council colleagues will ignore their national Party’s proposals to cut government expenditure in favour of tax cuts, and support this investment for the children in our community too.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

PARK CONSULTATION DATES STILL SECRET

Today's Your Thanet has an update on the disgraceful state of Coleman Crescent Recreation Area.

I am still in the dark about when the Consultation will take place. The newspaper says the consultation will start later this month. Well it's the 21st today it would be a courtesy to find out when the consultation will start. I am meeting local residents who live around the park on Friday,

I will also post dates for the consultation when they are no longer secret.

Good consultation should involve as many people as possible, and to give the maximum time to consider plans properly. Sadly Thanet Council is still just talking and not acting.



Tuesday, 20 January 2009

A HERO FOR THE SOUTH-EAST?

What do Kentish men and women have in common with people in Hampshire or Buckinghamshire? Compared to most parts of the United Kingdom the South East has little regional identity, or even clearly defined boundaries.

One person who we should commemorate is Sir Keith Park. Commander of 11 Group Fighter Command, his squadrons earned him the title from the Germans the Defender of London. This included Thanet's Manston. He was our Nelson of the skies but is little remembered. Here's a recent feature in the Telegraph from Norman Tebbit and Tony Benn

The Marshal of the RAF, Lord Tedder said after the war:

“If ever any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I don’t believe it is recognised how much this one man, with his leadership, his calm judgment and his skill, did to save not only this country, but the world.”

There is a petition now for a statue to honour him. I have signed, I hope you might click here and help commemorate a true hero.

THANET COUNCIL PUTS JOURNALISTS BEFORE COUNCILLORS?

One of the most common refrains I hear from Cllr Sandy Ezekiel, Leader of Thanet Council and his Deputy Cllr Roger Latchford is that they want to work together with all councillors, and if only Labour councillors would agree that they are right on pretty much everything then the world would be a far better place.

Since being elected to the Council in May 2007 the state of Coleman Crescent Recreation Area in my ward Northwood has been a major problem . Last March I went to a meeting with Council Officers about the future of the Rec. I was briefed with my fellow ward councillor Liz Green about potential plans for a community centre, housing and a MUGA (Multi Use Games Area). We both wanted to consult local residents on what they wanted for the Rec. It was agreed to consult local people. At a meeting with local residents in November they all complained about how the Council was neglecting the Rec. Whitehall Residents started a petition.

Local journalists can make a real difference. This story appeared. The Council responded to Your Thanet. Your Thanet called me for a comment. They had heard that the Council was promising a consultation, would I like to comment? I knew nothing. I am pretty sure a Cabinet member would have authorised this response to the newspaper as it was a press matter, as would a senior officer.

Common courtesy says that as this affects only 1 ward that the 3 ward councillors should be notified of what is proposed in their ward. I had the Council’s response read out to me and it sounded promising, a consultation soon. I welcomed this and was told the Council would be sending a further response.

I will be picking up a copy of Your Thanet on Wednesday morning to find out exactly what the Council plans to do on the Rec. Wouldn’t a copied email have been quicker, simpler and politer?

To summarise:

Almost 1 year to set up a pretty simple consultation exercise, why?

Local councillors consistently excluded from this process, and kept in the dark about what is going to happen in their ward.

Local residents experiencing anti-social behaviour throughout this delay, and kept in the dark too.

The Council taking action only when the matter is raised in the press.

I am disappointed with the performance of Cllrs. Ezekiel and Latchford.

Actions speak louder than words.

Monday, 19 January 2009

I AM VOTING TO PAY MORE TAX FOR MORE POLICE


There’s a consultation out at present by Kent Police on how much to increase Council Tax for policing.

I am voting for Option 2 – INCREASE BY 5%

Improvements over the next 3 years, providing an Extra “Task Team” for Thanet, and further measures to reduce crime and increase public confidence.

Option 1 is INCREASE BY 2.5%

No growth and improvements and will almost certainly require significant reductions in policing numbers.

You can express your views by emailing mark.gilmartin@kent.pnn.police.uk by 29th January.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

RAMSGATE LIBRARY AND TUTPUP

I visited the temporary Ramsgate Library in Cannon Road car park for the last time yesterday. The staff their have done a brilliant job in difficult circumstances. A big thank you to Linda, Cheryl and all the rest of the team who have spoilt the people of Ramsgate. I am looking forward to the new Library opening in 2 weeks time. It's good that all the shelving in the temporary library will be going to improve Cliftonville Library.

Thanks also to Lynda Howard in Thanet Housing for sorting out the heating for a pensioner in Northwood this week.

On a totally different subject do you use the site tutpup? This brilliant free site is great for teaching children from 4-11 Maths, Algebra and Spelling. They play online 1 minute long games against children from all over the world. The levels get slightly harder as they win more games. Not only does it help with Mathematics and English, but they will also learn the flags of the world as they play children from across the globe. It also introduces them to the idea of time zones, did they win that game against a child in Australia because they were tired, and should have been in bed? There is minimal advertising. Go on set your children or grandchildren up.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

RAMSGATE TOWN COUNCIL ELECTIONS DATE SCHEDULED

I have heard from a very reliable source that the date for the Ramsgate Town Council election has had to be changed.

It will now be held on June 4th 2009.

This is because the law now states that the election must be held at the next
'electoral' date.

On Thursday 4th June all votes will be verified, then the Kent County Council count for the Ramsgate seat will be started on Friday 5th in the morning. Once this is finished the Ramsgate Town Council seats count will then take place immediately afterwards so results will probably be declared Friday afternoon.

The European Election votes will be counted on Sunday 7th.

I am concerned this will now means a triple header election with probable confusion
with the three ballot papers, not to mention postal votes!

Voters will be using a proportional representation system for the European elections. They will then vote for 2 members for the Ramsgate County Council seat. Then they will vote for 2 or 3 councillors depending on their ward. Similar situations have caused problems elsewhere in the country notably in Scotland where almost 10% of the votes were spoilt.

On the negative side a search of the Thanet Council website found this disappointing out of date result. Perhaps they were unhappy with the result of the election?

On the positive side I expect this may raise the turnout hopefully. If Ramsgate had the highest turnout of anywhere in the South East Region that would be a great advert for the power of local democracy.

Friday, 16 January 2009

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

Thank you for all the feedback and the Isle of Thanet Gazette for the publicity. My notes may make more sense when you click on the highlighted words like Gazette to see the link to the item I am commenting upon or referencing.

PS Gazette please don’t stretch my photo to fill a gap, some of my friends thought I had suddenly put on weight. Buy the paper for the true not quite slim-line picture of me! I am learning all about these technical things. Still I’ll take distorting my picture rather than my words.

I am sorry that I got most of the links wrong making things confusing. Often when clicking nothing was there. Many thanks to Michael Child of Ramsgate’s Michael’s Bookshop for spotting this and helping me fix it. I have been a regular buyer of books from Michael, especially his excellent local history titles.

I keep in touch with what he is publishing through Ebay. If you have an Ebay account you can make Michael one of your favourite sellers. His Ebay name is Thanet-Books and then you can receive a fortnightly email telling you about his latest published titles. I find this very useful and it is a great example of how local businesses can use the internet.

For technical advice Heath Woodward of Website Design and Creation in Margate has been a great help. Apart from designing websites, Heath is also a talented writer, composer and performer.

His own musical show Twenty Twenty Seven will be at the Granville in February.

I saw it last year in Canterbury and recommend it.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

REFLECTING OUR COMMUNITY

Interesting article in today's Times about Councils being full of old white men.

Thanet Council is vastly over represented with retired people or those who are semi-retired. In the Labour Group more than half of councillors are retired. For the Independents it is two thirds of their group. For the Conservatives I estimate the proportion as being between a half and two-thirds.

I know we are an aging society but we are a long way short of representing our community. As councillors we should reflect the community we serve. I think there is only 1 councillor under 30 my Labour colleague Kerry Harker.

I am unsure if there are any councillors aged between 30 and 40, certainly none in either the Labour or Independent Groups. There may be a few in the Conservatives, apologies if there are more!

Between 40-50 there is myself and Councillor Linda Aldred in the Labour Group. One of the Independents and maybe half a dozen Conservatives.

So that makes about 46 out of 58 councillors are over 50. I am all for wisdom and experience, I get more every day hopefully. It is not healthy to so disproportionately be biased in favour of older people. It affects our political culture.

I find officers repeatedly fail to understand the need to plan meetings in advance, and hold wherever possible to arrangements. They find it surprising that you may have to do the school run or have to pick up children mid afternoon. Whilst the majority of officers understand that for people who work lunchtime meetings may be best, many are resistant and seem to cling to a 2 hour lunch time period of non-meetings.

We make it difficult for parents to be councillors. Childcare once arranged cannot just be moved back or forward an hour or two, or a day or two. It also still has to be paid for even if meetings are cancelled. I would estimate less than 10 of the 58 councillors have school age children, probably less than half a dozen. Again how can we plan for our future when we make it difficult for this part of our society to participate in the democratic process. By default the expertise we provide is only part of what it should be.

I make this point regularly at meetings and I want to thank Councillor Bob Bayford Chair of Scrutiny Committee who has taken note of these issues, and improved how the Committee he Chairs meets. I hope with time more councillors and officers will understand that they are unintentionally discriminating against women and younger people being councillors.

That weakens the quality of our local democracy.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

GALE TO GO?

I see Conservatives are speculating that Roger Gale should retire.

This is a bit of a problem for Tories. Traditionally a Knighthood for a long serving Tory MP was seen as fairly automatic. Then when MPs retired they often expected to get a peerage. Labour’s reforms of the House of Lords means there are far less peerages to go round. Plus it is hard to see what Gale has done to deserve any reward. Defending his good friend Derek Conway?

Not what I expect from an honourable member.

My money is for him to go on and on and on and on.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

LABOUR COUNCILLOR ADVERTISES PORNOGRAPHY

A bit new to this blogging business, I am struggling with a few bits of the technology. I want this site to be open for Northwood Ward constituents, so set it up so comments could be left. Yesterday, I was pleased to see I had my first comment, so clicked all excited to have a look, only to find an automatically generated advert for pornography. So sorry to anybody who clicked on this, I have now deleted it. Until I can work out how to stop this, I have changed the settings so all comments will be moderated. This might mean a slight delay in them being posted.

Well that’s my defence for the Standards Board guv’

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FOR TORIES ONLY?

One of the great problems as an Opposition councillor is getting information from the Town Hall. Regularly on Scrutiny Committee I have to repeat the same questions over several meetings to get relevant information. My Labour colleagues frequently find the same problem. Recently there was a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats to find out about how many Councils across the country are being hard hearted in the current economic circumstances.

I looked at Kent here are the local figures

Kent Authority...................Court Summons ....Bailiff Visits.... Bankruptcies
Canterbury..............................6,926.....................2,189................1
Shepway................................6,995.........................956...............0
Thanet..............................er.................. there's nothing here......................

Now I know from casework that Thanet does use court summons so there must be some figures somewhere. An efficient well-run authority would have these figures readily to hand. 170 other local authorities readily produced figures.

They are a useful management tool. So 3 possible explanations. The Liberals did not contact Thanet, seems unlikley they wrote all over the country. It could be Thanet’s records are so poor they do not know how many people the bailiffs are sent to visit, or it has the figures but decided to ignore the law of the land and not respond to the Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Having never had a respose to the only time I ever made a request under the FOI I think this is the most likely explanation.

I want Thanet to improve as a Council, it needs to give more priority to Freedom of Information requests and welcome public scrutiny.

Ignoring requests is a sorry and unacceptable state of affairs.

Monday, 12 January 2009

KENT'S LOWER COUNCIL TAX INCREASE - IT MUST BE AN ELECTION YEAR

I see that Conservative controlled Kent County Council (KCC) is promising its lowest increase in 4 years. Could it be there are County Council elections this year?

I am all in favour of low Council Tax increases, it is a fact Labour authorities have the lowest rates across the country.

However, KCC are not recognising that Kent’s economy is struggling with the Global financial crisis. A low 2.9% increase is not good economics. A percentage cut across the board means that wealthier people will hold onto more of their money. They may pay back more of their loans/mortgages or save but they will not spend more in their local economy to keep it going.
How refreshing to see a Conservative authority that understands this. Kensington and Chelsea are giving back £50 to every council tax payer. They are asking them to spend the money in the local economy. By giving the same amount to the poorest and the wealthiest it is a poll tax in reverse. It redistributes wealth, dare I say, it is almost socialist. Their next election is not until 2010. All credit to them for doing the right thing and not sticking to dogma.Which brings us to Thanet District Council next election 2011, cuts in services here already, let's see what comes forward.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

SAVE OUR PARK

Since becoming a councillor for Northwood Ward, Thanet District Council in May 2007 the state of Coleman Crescent Recreation Area has been a recurring problem. Thousands of people drive by on Margate Road every day. I often find myself having to explain where it is (from Ramsgate as you go under the railway viaduct, come up the hill and it is on your left before you get to the lights). The entrance is not advertised so if you blink you miss it.

Local residents have consistently tried to improve it but the Council's response has been poor. Together with local residents I recently publicised the state of the park in Your Thanet

As well as local residents, I am pleased to have the support of my fellow ward councillor (and also Kent County Councillor) Liz Green, plus Steve Ladyman MP for Thanet South. You can see them interviewed about the state of the park

I will be meeting again with local residents to keep up the campaign so parents can let their children play freely without having to worry about anti-social behaviour, needles and dog mess.