Thursday, 3 September 2009

A CONFLICT OF INTEREST?


I have seen a letter from Thanet District Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel inviting Cliftonville traders to a meeting on Monday 7th September at the Bellevue Tavern, Northdown Road at 6pm.
The meeting is to discuss a promotional campaign to encourage local residents to shop locally first. Thanet Council is seeking to support local businesses in 5 shopping areas Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Birchington and Northdown Road.
The aim is, and I quote, to "drive people and sales into your high street area."

Sandy Ezekiel writes "I would like to personally ask you to attend this meeting and give your feedback on our campaign."
He goes on to write

"At this meeting there will also be a chance for you to find out more about Small Business Relief and the Business Rates Deferral Scheme."
Disappointingly Sandy Ezekiel gives the impression that this help for businesses is from Conservative Thanet District Council, and fails to credit the Labour government for these initiatives.
I do not think this has been thought through. Firstly, this is the sort of meeting it is more appropriate for an officer to attend and advise, so that there can be no question of facts being represented in a partisan way. An officer will also have greater professional expertise on these matters than a councillor, and be better placed to answer business owners' questions, and meaningfully consult with them.
Secondly, if a councillor has to be involved then it should be the relevant Cabinet member. I am unclear why the Council Leader has to be in charge of this matter.
Thirdly, and most importantly I am surprised that Cllr. Ezekiel cannot see that he may have a conflict of interest. It is well known that he has business interests in Northdown Road. So if this initiative is successful then he stands to gain economically. Now I do not think for one moment that he has sat down and said how can I use Council resources to help my businesses, but that is the indirect consequence of his actions here.
I also think that he has not given consideration to how people will understand the phrase in his letter that he wants to "drive people and sales into your high street area." In Cliftonville more local shoppers will mean more money for Sandy Ezekiel.
It is this kind of oversight that gives people the opportunity to wrongly state that most councillors, are only councillors for what they can get out of it for themselves. I have written to Cllr. Ezekiel suggesting that he withdraws from this meeting, and finds another representative to take his place. It would be easy to let this meeting go ahead, and then raise concerns afterwards, but I think it is better that matters are out in the open at the earliest opportunity.
Finally, I find this intiative bemusing. I know Ramsgate best and as one of the areas due to receive this promotional shopping campaign I question whether this money is being well spent. There are simple things the money being spent on a promotional campaign could be better spent on. Keeping public toilets open. Cleaning the streets better. It can happen, the beaches are cleaner this year so why not our town centre streets?
This proposal shows a lack of understanding of what shoppers want. They do not want to be caught short. They want public toilet facilities to change nappies. They want to enjoy the experience of shopping, not despair at dirty streets. Thanet Council says it does not have enough money for more wheelie bins. This means that we continue to have the problems of sacks of rubbish being pecked open by seagulls whilst money is spent on a "promotional campaign."
Sandy Ezekiel has asked people to put out their rubbish just before the refuse lorries arrive. A nice idea but unrealistic. There are many people who work night shifts, other unsocial hours or have personal commitments which mean they do not have time to sit at home and wait until they hear the refuse lorry coming. Quite reasonably they expect to be able to put out their rubbish several hours before it is collected. that is what the pay their Council Tax for.
In the League of Gentleman comedy series the town of Royston Vasey has become renowned for the catchphrase "this is a local town for local people" and uses it for their offical website
It seems Sandy Ezekiel is a fan as he writes

"I look forward to seeing you and discussing how we can work together to promote local shopping to local people."
Perhaps there are plans for Cliftonville to twin with Royston Vasey as part of this promotional campaign?

9 comments:

  1. This is a bit like closing the door after the horse has bolted - if he wanted us to shop locally why build Westwood Cross and ruin loads of green fields in the first place?

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  2. This is just a little rich, Mark. The Labour Group at TDC has campaigned for some years for revival of the town centres, claiming that that 'their' dream of Westwood Cross would have been less damaging to high street interests. As soon as something is done to try and assist this, you pop up with a line of snide criticism. Given that you recently posted that in your view Margate High street and the Old Town should be shrunk, having fewer commercial interests - advice that presumably stretched to Northdown Road as well, as ever the tawdry labour line is literally to have their cake and eat it...ie oppose everything even when the lines of attack are inconsistent and weak.

    Perhaps you could get Clive Hart to similarly criticise efforts to revive shopping in Northdown Road? Oh, of course, by your own standards Clive will never be able to comment on shopping in Northdown Road again, because of his wife's commercial interests there? Or perhaps just realise how daft it sounds when your own life, neatly featherbedded through public sector tax income, is so clearly removed from the commercial realities the rest of us have to live by!

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  3. Chris has got you with his public sector point.

    Get him back by insisting that Thanet should be democratized by public sector effort.

    I refer of course to the Housing Benefits section liaising with the voters registration section and ensuring that claimants appear on the Voters register so the private sector can at least do credit checks on benefits recipients.

    At present persons can exist for the purposes of taking from the state but not exist for the purposes of duty in a democracy IE to be on the voters list.

    Recently I reecived an email from Police (A proper force IE Not Kent) asking if I had traced an itinerant benefits claimant. In his wake are insurance scams rent arrears where he pockets his LHA unpaid electric and ghas amouinting to thousands. What a game and all enabled by the useless public sector who pay him whilst another part of the public sector (Police) cannot trace him.

    Happily I had traced him and so I provided his address to police. Which is why I then considered it circumspect not to arrive on his benefits scrounging doorstep and extol the virtues of work whilst punching him once per syllable. Plan abandoned ?

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  4. Mark, you do not always talk tosh, but this time, If I were Mary Honeyball, I would be reviewing my office staff.

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  5. Chris you misreprent my view on Margate, my point was that with the rise of internet shopping (approaching 20% of retail now) then there will be less shops everywhere so trying to develop more shops fails to recognise commercial realities.
    That uninformed view has seen Margate have the worst retail performance in the country. My post with hindsight looks prescient
    http://marknottingham.blogspot.com/2009/01/this-town-is-becoming-like-ghost-town.html
    I think public toilets and clean streets promote shopping in high streets, I'm surprised you disagree. I'm also tired of always being told there is no extra money when actually a pot of money can be found for this. Good, but not at the expense of as the gazette shows almost weekly dirty, unkempt streets in Margate. Reality is there is plenty of money for Councils (33% increase in real terms in the last 10 years), it is poorly spent in Thanet.

    Clive wouldn't do what Sandy is because he would have a conflict, that's Labour standards not Conservative standards. I've checked and he isn't invited to this meeting affecting shopkeepers he represents, why is this? Looks suspiciously partisan to me.

    I'm all in favour of efforts to revive shopping but they need to be thought out and TDC's strategy is not.

    As to your point on the public and private sector I am disappointed that you choose to ally yourselves with the ethical standards of Northern Rock, Lehmann Brothers etc whose reckless commercial behaviour has done most to damage the propsects of all shopkeepers.

    Ken you are living by Thanet Conservative Party standards. No analysis, just abuse. It does you little credit.

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  6. Mark, you miss my point, The code of conduct is built around common sense. ie if someone is a shop keeper, it does not stop them talking about shops. If we had it your way, as you are employed by a euro mp, you would not be allowed to talk about euro matters. my point being, get real, and deal with real matters, not political point scoring.

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  7. Ken everybody missed your point because you didn't make it! Your comparison is also bizarre. On your logic as I work in politics I should not express any views on politics. The Code of Conduct refers to financial interests, and that is what we are talking about here.

    We should be looking for the highest standards especially with the chequered history of senior representatives of your group, and that means where people have interests, and they can find perfectly acceptable substitutes (you for example with your planning role) then they should recognise that and act accordingly.

    As to political point scoring, by not inviting the 3 Labour representatives for the area to the meeting Sandy Ezekiel is acting in entirely in that fashion.

    Sandy often talks as you imply about wanting ALL councillors to work together, but the reality is here is yet another deliberate decision to exclude the councillors with the greatest knowledge of the subject purely because they are Labour representatives.
    Will you join with me and criticise that decision and as you put it "get real"?

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  8. Aren't we getting our (Labour) knickers in a twist, Mark! The longer your explanations of your errors and omissions, the more you underline their flaws.

    Your original post suggested that it was wrong of the Council leader to invite traders to a meeting for an area in which he may have an interest. Now you are criticising him for not inviting labour members, one of whom you admit could not attend or speak under your original interpretation of interest rules, to a meeting , which according to you, he should not be at! Perhaps,engage brain before commtting to print might be a good watchword for you?

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  9. Chris my postion's clear the money would be better spent on areas already needing funding such as streetcleaning/keeping toilets open. If the meeting is still to be held it would be most properly run by an officer, if there has to be a lead cllr it should be nobody who has a business interest in the area (eg Ezekiel/Hart)who leads on it (they can attend but should not take a leading role and if speaking they clearly should declare an interest).

    In the light of new information I have changed my mind, surely something we all do?

    The key point here is that we should aim for the highest standards to repair the battered reputation for misconduct that leading Conservative cllrs have brought to Thanet. My post last night again illustrates that the Labour and Conservative Groups operate to different standards in Thanet. As a Conservative cllr can you condone your group's record?

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