Monday, 12 October 2015

Thanet Council: Time For A Shake Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Thanet Council: Two Fingers to White Finger

Apology. This post was written in a hurry and probably reads very badly.
Like most council’s across the country Thanet District Council (TDC) has a Governance and Audit Committee. The purpose of the committee is to oversee the financial and operational management of the council by evaluating performance against TDCs corporate plan and budgets and by considering internal and external audit reports. It also keeps TDCs Corporate Risk Register (CRR) under review. The purpose of the CRR is, to put it crudely, to work out the likelihood of any of TDCs major operations or processes fucking up and causing embarrassment or serious problems for senior officers and political bosses.
On 24 September 2014, TDC’s Governance and Audit Committee met to consider the CRR. Amongst the risks included was health and safety. The officer responsible for managing this risk was, at the time of the meeting, the then Director of Operational Services Mark Seed.  His assessment was that health and safety had a medium to low risk of fucking up – a classification which suggests that Mr Seed and other council bosses were taking care of the safety business pretty good. Or so it seemed!
8 weeks later, at the next  meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee, held on 10 December 2014, councillors were told that Mr Seed now rated the chances of health and safety fucking up as being medium to high. I’ve checked all the paperwork from the meeting but I can find no explanation about why, from being a low to medium risk, Mr Seed had decided that health and safety had suddenly become a medium to high risk. Clearly something serious had gone wrong, but in typical Thanet Council fashion nobody was saying what and nobody was asking why.
On 6th February 2015, Mr Seed left TDC on ill-health grounds. 5 weeks later, on 17 March 2015, the Governance and Audit Committee met. At this meeting, Paul Cook,  the then then Interim Corporate Services Manager explained why the CRR Health and Safety risk had increased from low to medium to medium to high. This was  because  “there was an investigation underway into a potential health and safety failing”. He promised that “once the investigation had reached conclusion a report would be brought to the Governance and Audit Committee for review”.
At the next meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee, on 24 June 2015, there was no report about the health and safety investigation promised by Mr Cook 3 months earlier. But councillors were advised that the CRR health and safety risk factor had been increased yet again. This time to a high risk status. The minutes of the meeting blandly state that the reason for this re-classification was because “a review of (health and safety) practices has been undertaken and there is evidence of claims to be processed. So in a period of 9 short months TDCs  corporate Health and Safety risk evaluation went from being classified as low, to an out of control high risk fuck-up, with the “risk owner”  having  left the council’s employ on ill-health grounds (not that I am suggesting that Mrs Seed’s departure was related to anything other than his health).  Why did this happen?
Simple. The reclassification of the CRR Health and Safety risk from low to high was because it was discovered in late 2014 that a number of staff employed in the Council’s ground maintenance and cemetery teams had contracted Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVs) and that the Health and Safety Executive had launched an investigation into the situation.
For those who don’t know HAVs, often called “vibration white finger” is an extremely serious industrial disease which damages nerves and blood supply in the hand and arm, following prolonged over-exposure to vibration from equipment such as road breaking hammers, lawn mowers, chain saws, strimmer’s and brush cutters. The symptoms of HAVs include numbness, tingling and loss of feeling in the hand and fingers, inability to grip, severe pain and the characteristic whitening of the finger tips. Once you have it HAVs is irreversible and if you have it badly it will end your working life.  
 So serious is HAVs that in 2005 the Government issued the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations. These Regulations place a legal duty on employers who use vibrating equipment to safeguard their staff by carrying out risk assessments to identify dangers to workers, minimise any risks identified by the assessments, and monitor the exposure levels of staff who work with vibrating equipment, act to reduce excessive exposure and provide safety equipment and training to staff. These legal requirements are not one off actions, but an ongoing responsibility of the employer, especially in organisations where the use of vibrating equipment is common, such as ground maintenance and the cemeteries. If these regulations are followed then no member of staff should ever contract HAVs and face the ruin of their health and the ending of their working life.

 So what happened at Thanet? Surely if Health and Safety had been classified by Mr Seed as a low to medium corporate risk in 2014 then it would be reasonable to assume that  the legal requirements of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations were being strictly adhered to and workers were at little risk of getting HAVs. But no! My information from a senior ex-council manager is that somewhere approaching 20 current council staff have been diagnosed has having HAVs. Some with the most serious type others with a lesser serious, but still nasty and debilitating,  type.
The only explanation I can think of for the discrepancy between the CRR risk classification and the development of HAVs in a large group of workers  is because  the information upon which the CRR was based was either misleading, incomplete or possibly a pack of lies told by people who wished to appear to be doing their jobs properly when they were not. Its likely that such misleading or untruthful information was either accepted without challenge, or accepted  knowing that it was false,  by those higher up the decision making food chain  and found its way into the CRR. But  this was not an unfortunate one-off incident. To develop HAVs you must have prolonged exposure to high levels of vibration over many months and sometimes years. So it would appear that despite the CRR assurances that all was well, some managers may have possibly ignored the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 for years and years. It was only when the cat was out the bag that the risk was eventually reassessed to the extremely serious level it is now at.
To damage the health of your staff by not following legal regulations and to provide misleading information to cover up your unlawful actions is not only despicable, but possibly criminal as well. To do this over a prolonged period of time makes the action even more serious. Thankfully any manager who is proved to have acted in such a reckless way can be held individually liable and can be sent to prison. It will be interesting to see if the Health and Safety Executive investigation of Thanet Council uncovers such wilful neglect by TDC managers and if so will they be held individually account?
In my opinion, I think there is a reasonable chance that
managerial neglect will be uncovered by the HSE.  Why? Well at the meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee held just after Mark Seed’s departure from the Council  the minutes record “that it had been agreed with East Kent Audit Partnership (EKAP) (who conduct all of TDCs internal audits ID) that they would facilitate the Corporate Risk Register on the Council’s behalf…. It was felt that this would improve the Register as it complimented the current work of EKAP, and could allow for a more arm‟s length assessment of risk”. Cutting through the Council-speak bullshit this decision means, in my opinion, that the Council had lost confidence in the accuracy and truthfulness of its CRR  and had called in an  external organisation to ensure that there was no fiddling, lying or cheating going on. This reminds me  of the Volkswagen situation where test results were deliberately falsified to hide the truth about the  poor performance  of their diesel engines.  But unlike Volkswagen who immediately fessed up to falsification when they were rumbled. Thanet Council bosses and its then Labour leadership preferred to keep this possible criminal abuse of its health and safety management a secret.
This has been a long rambling post about a very complicated and very serious matter. Much of what I have written is speculative and may or may not be true. But I personally believe that there has been, what appears to be, a most serious neglect of health and safety at Thanet Council and that internal risk management process may also have been abused to cover up this neglect. If this true then Thanet Council may have to pay out £millions in compensation, fines and legal fees. This will not be covered by TDCs insurance policies which do not provide cover for unlawful and criminal acts by the Council or its servants. Just as insurance didn't cover the £2.3 million compensation paid to the live animal exporters because the Council had illegally interfered with EU free trade rules. So once again the taxpayers are likely to have to foot the bill for TDCs serial law breaking. But don’t forget the staff. Up to 20 people, maybe a lot more when you count ex-staff who might have been  affected, have had their health ruined by what appears to be the neglect of their bosses. If its true, its a fucking disgrace and another reason why TDC should be closed down and replaced by something better. A subject I will return to very soon.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Bloody Fox Fur at New Look?

Today a group of local animal welfare campaigners met in Ramsgate to demonstrate outside a stall which, by the stallholders own admission last week, was selling coats decorated with Chinese  produced fox fur. Clearly word had got around about our planned demonstration and the stall was not there today. But we did have a Plan B. Just down the road is a branch of fashion retailer New Look.  Inside we found what were described on the labels as “fur fox stoles”. The staff were a bit surprised by our visit and tried to reassure us that the stoles were not made from real fox fur.
We were not convinced. First there were other jackets and coats for sale in the shop with fur trimmings on which the label clearly described the fur as “faux fur”. Second the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 which  came into force just last week states “that the goods will match the description”, which can only mean that if says its fox fur it must be fox fur. Finally, I passed on my phone number to one of the staff members at the New Look branch who said she would speak to the company’s press office who would get back to me confirm whether or not  the fur was not real. I’m still waiting for the call. I
have course alerted Kent County Council Trading Standards to discrepancy between what the staff said and what the label said. I am sure that Trading Standards will wish  to check whether New Look are complying with the Consumer Rights Act 2015. In the meantime I’m working on the assumption that New Look are a law abiding firm and that their product labelling complies with the Consumer Rights Act 2015. In which case this company must have been responsible for the importation of thousands of fox fur stoles from China. Animal welfare charities such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have documented that appalling brutality and torture of innocent animals is widespread in the Chinese fur industry. So ask yourself would you be happy to buy your clothes from an High Street chain who’s labels appear to suggest that they sell fox fur imported from China and which is highly likely to have been produced by skinning alive and torturing innocent animals.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Ramsgate Maritime Museum Runs Out of Steam & Trust?

The Steam Museum Trust which runs the Ramsgate Maritime Museum appears to be sailing through choppy waters. According to the Charities Commission website the Trust’s annual return and accounts for 2014 are 158 days overdue. This is not the first time accounts and annual returns have been submitted late by the Trust. In 2013 they were 30 days late. In 2010 they were 60 days late. Furthermore the last set accounts for 2011 show the charity to only have £38,187 reserves. Since these accounts were submitted the charity has declared an income of £20,385 and spending of £82,683. By my calculations this means that the Steam Museum Trust must have been £24,111 in the red at the end of the 2013. It will be interesting to see what the financial position of the Steam Museum Trust might actually be if and when it gets round to submitting its extremely delayed 2014 documents. Then there is the issue of the  Trustees who are responsible for running the charity and the
museum. In 2010 the trustees were listed as being Mr M C Listbrain, Mr M Cates, Mrs L A Listbrain. Currently the Trustees are Ms L A Westall and Mr M C Listbrain. Now I’m an experienced charity manager and although I’m not suggesting the Steam Museum Trust and its Trustees are behaving improperly, the late return of documents to the Charity Commission, spending what appears to be all your reserves and being managed by a very small trustee board, are all warning signs that things might not be going too well for the organisation. Indeed, warning signs such as these were clearly evident in the spectacular collapse of the Kids Company charity earlier this year. I have taken the precaution of expressing my concerns to the Charity Commission and Thanet District Council. After all its best to be safe than sorry.  

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Thanet: Incompetence & Austerity Causes Massive Rise in Deprivation

Released yesterday by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Indices of Deprivation rank Thanet as  
  •  -35th  (out of 326)  most deprived local authority areas  in England and  Wales
  •  -2nd  most deprived local authority area in south east England after Hastings
  •  -most deprived local authority area in Kent.
This latest ranking shows that deprivation in Thanet has massively increased during the 5 years since the  Indices were last published  in 2010.  The 2010 Indices ranked Thanet as 49th   most deprived area in England and Wales yesterday’s figures show that the council has slipped back a staggering 14 places in the league table, indicating that economic and social recovery is still proving to be elusive for the Isle.

The Indices calculate deprivation by looking at income levels, employment rates, educational achievement, health care, crime levels, access to housing, and environmental quality within the 326 English and Welsh local authority areas. Most of Thanet’s deprivation is concentrated in the Margate Central, Cliftonville West, Eastcliff, Central Harbour, Newington and Northwood wards. Margate Central, Cliftonville West, Eastcliff and Central Harbour are amongst the 10% most deprived wards in England and Wales

Former Green Party Thanet Councillor Ian Driver, said I am extremely concerned that rather than becoming more successful, Thanet has gone backwards and become even more deprived over the past five years.  This is undoubtedly the result of the austerity measures imposed by the coalition government which led to massive cuts in public spending on schools and colleges, health services, house building and benefits. The coalition also oversaw a huge rise in low paid part time work and zero hours contracts.

Driver also accused Thanet District Council (TDC) of being responsible for causing deprivation. He said “deprivation in Thanet has been made much worse by the appalling  political and managerial incompetence at TDC over the past 5 years especially during the period when Labour was in  control. Thanet under Labour wasted £3.4 million by agreeing a  secret fee deferral scheme  with TransEuropa Ferries which went belly up.  It wasted £3million propping up a loss making ghost port in Ramsgate with no ships. It wasted £3million in compensation for unlawfully suspending the live export trade. I estimate that at least £10million of taxpayers money, probably much more, was squandered  by incompetent senior managers  and  Labour Party political bosses. This money should have been used to tackle deprivation and  improve living standards and life chances for the people of Thanet.

I fear for the future of Thanet as the new Tory Government embarks upon an even more draconian austerity programme than its coalition predecessor. Only a fundamental review of Thanet’s local government structure, coupled with  strong anti-austerity policies, a fairer tax system, increased public investment and getting rid of Trident missiles  can tackle Thanet’s deep seated social-economic problems”.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ramsgate Live Exports: Damages & Legal Costs Set to Rise

Thanet District Council (TDC) faces further damages and legal bills for unlawfully suspending live farm animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate. The six-week suspension was imposed by TDC in September 2012 after 47 sheep, judged to be unfit to travel, had to be destroyed at the port.  The suspension was challenged by the exporters  at the High Court in October 2012. The judge, Mr Justice Birrs, ruled that TDC had unlawfully breached European Union free trade rules and ordered the council  to pay damages to the exporters.

Last month anti-live exports campaigner and former Green Party TDC Councillor, Ian Driver, used the Audit Act 1998 to force TDC to reveal that it had paid out £2.3 million in  damages to the exporters plus  £300,000 in legal bills.
Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Driver, it now appears that damages and legal costs  for suspending live exports are set to rise even further.  Replying to Driver’s FOI Thanet Council has revealed that an  additional £90,000 in legal fees  was paid out  in 2013-14,  bringing total legal costs to date to  £400,000. TDC also admitted that “there are ongoing legal matters” with the exporters but refused to provide Driver with further information because “the council's financial position would be jeopardised if the details of any current proceedings were to be released into the public domain”.
Said Driver “I’m astounded by the latest revelations. It seems likely that that the final bill for unlawfully suspending live exports from Ramsgate could be approaching £4 million. That’s £67 per household”. He added “these damages are nothing less than the payment of blood money to people engaged in what I believe to be a brutal and cruel trade. In fact several of the people engaged in live exports from Ramsgate have criminal convictions for serious breaches of  animal welfare laws. I have recently had discussions with Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, and we are looking at beginning a campaign in the European Parliament to amend free trade rules to take account of  animal welfare issues. This would prevent animal transporters   from being able to claim damages if a port or harbour was to suspend or  ban them for breaching animal welfare regulations”.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Live Exports & The Green Party.

For almost 5 years I’ve  been campaigning to stop the barbaric export of live farm animals from the Port of Ramsgate. In that time hundreds of thousands of sheep have arrived at Ramsgate after long journeys from as far away as  Scotland and  Wales, to be  loaded onto a ramshackle  ex-Red Army tank transporter, the Joline,  for a 4 to 6 hour crossing of the English Channel to Calais. From Calais the animals face further long journeys across France and into Holland, Italy or Spain and sometimes into countries outside of the EU. During these long journeys the animals are forced to endure horribly cramped conditions, temperature extremes,  and limited access to food and water. They spend most of the journey standing in urine and excrement and at the end of it, a grisly ritual slaughter awaits most of them. Whatever way you look at it, the live export of farm animals from Ramsgate is medievally cruel and barbaric. In our so called modern world industrial scale cruelty on a scale such as this should not be allowed.

But allowed it is! Section 33 of the 168 year old Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 requires that every “harbour, dock, and pier shall be open to all persons for the shipping and unshipping of goods”. Similarly, the treaties governing  the operation of the European Union prohibit the imposition of any “restrictions on the import and export of goods” between member states. Despite living in modern times,  animals are still regarded as “goods” which means, according to UK and EU laws, that its permissible for their owners to transport theses poor souls thousands of miles  across the UK and EU in appalling conditions in pursuance of free trade. And massive amounts of taxpayers money and unimaginably huge resources have been ploughed, by the British State, into ensuring that Ramsgate Port, the only port in the UK where live exports for slaughter take place, remains open for  animal abusers to ply their filthy, but lawful, trade.

It must have cost the Kent Constabulary at least £2million to
police the  94 live animal export shipments which have passed through Ramsgate Port since 2011. Dover Harbour Board Police are likely to have spent close to a million pounds managing the 40 or so shipments which have passed through their jurisdiction since 2011. This doesn't include the costs associated with planning police operations, or of the logistics, transport and intelligence gathering carried out by police.  Next we have legal costs. I reckon a further £2 million has been spent on preparing the ever growing number of court cases involving campaigners, exporters and Thanet Council. Then there’s the cost to the port owners for additional security when shipments take place and the cost to the Government’s Animal and Plant Agency who supervise and check every shipment of live farm animals at the point of loading the transporters and embarkation onto the ferry  at Ramsgate or Dover.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few weeks ago I successfully forced Thanet Council to reveal that it had paid the live animal exporters a staggering £2.3million in compensation for suspending their cruel trade following the death of 47 sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. The decision to suspend the exports was, in my opinion, courageous and morally justified. And in a court case at Dover Magistrates in February 2014, Thomas Lomas and his company, Channel Exports Ltd, were  fined £5,000, ordered to pay £14,000 costs for committing animal welfare offences which led to the destruction of the sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. Lomas was also handed down a 6 month suspended gaol sentence for animal welfare offences. However, the High Court saw things differently.

Despite clear evidence of animal welfare abuse leading up to the death of the 47 sheep, Mr Justice Birrs declared at a damages hearing brought by the exporters in December 2012,  that Thanet Council’s suspension of live exports “was an unjustifiable breach of Article  35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” which requires that “Quantitative restrictions on exports, and all measures having equivalent effect, shall be prohibited”. So we have the bizarre situation whereby the exporters are  found guilty of breaching  animal welfare rules,  yet at the same time being compensated to the tune of the £2.3million for being prevented from carrying out their cruel trade!. But setting aside this perverse legal illogicality, the important point is that that at least £7million of UK taxpayers money and huge state resources, have been poured into actively supporting a group of a dozen or so men, some of whom are convicted animal welfare criminals, from plying a horrendously abusive and cruel from the port of Ramsgate. This can’t be right or fair.

Thankfully over the past  5 years there has been great support for the campaign to stop live animal exports from Ramsgate. We have received the backing of the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming who have helped to publicise the issue. Thousands of people from Thanet and across the country have become involved with our campaign. They have joined marches, attended rallies and public meetings, signed petitions and took part in peaceful direct actions against the cruel trade. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been taken court for standing up against the barbarity. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been subject to years of police surveillance and have been added to the so-called domestic extremism database. But despite the incredible efforts and the determination of campaigners, the evil trade continues and animals are still suffering. So I think it’s time to look at changing tactics  and developing a more successful, hard hitting campaign which will attract more support for  our cause.

Instead of the set piece confrontations with the police and exporters every time there is a shipment we need to look at new more imaginative actions which are not  linked to shipments but which attract regional and national headlines and win more public support. That doesn’t mean we stop protesting whenever there is a shipment. On the contrary we need many more people at port  gate demos. But we also need be taking other actions away from the port and not linked to the shipment timetable to  raise our issues, to win over  more support and have a greater  influence. This could include taking imaginative well-thought out actions across the UK . It may mean  gate-crashing high profile farming and meat/ sheep related events and causing an upset. It could also include taking actions in the  EU  as well! After all its EU rules which cause this cruelty.  Either way the time has come to broaden out our campaign and turn it to a force to be reckoned with just as the anti-fracking movement has done with its campaign of peaceful direct action.

Also we need to be using the political system a lot more. The laws we are fighting are made by politicians. We need to put pressure on politicians to force them to review and change these laws  so that the cruel and barbaric exports of live farm animals for slaughter can be stopped. One of the reasons why I joined the Green Party a couple of years ago was precisely because they oppose animal cruelty and I’m pleased to say that the Party has supported our campaign. Green MEP Keith Taylor has visited Ramsgate and  spoke at public meetings alongside the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming. Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett  joined our march and spoke at our rally in November 2014. During the General election the Green Party published its Animal Manifesto which committed the party to ending live animal exports.  But I think we as campaigners can be doing much, much more on the political front to pressure our MPs and MEPs to make live animal exports a much  higher priority and to begin the process of legislative change.

I have already made contact with the 3 UK Green MEPs, Keith Taylor, Jean Lambert and Molly Scott Cato and am hoping to be able to  persuade them to set up and lead a campaign in the European Parliament to amend the EU treaties and regulations so as to allow opt outs from free trade arrangements on the grounds of animal welfare. They already have, through the Animal Manifesto, a commitment to ending live exports. But I would like to see Keith, Jean and Molly doing a lot more to end this  brutal trade  and what better way than being the leaders of a long overdue  EU Parliamentary revolt on animal welfare.

I'm sure that there are  many  Green MEPs from other EU member states and many  non-Green MEPs in the EU parliament who will work Keith, Molly and Jean,  to build a force for animal welfare  change within the EU. In fact there is a powerful EU Parliamentary Inter-Group on Animal Welfare, of which Green MEP Keith Taylor is a member. This group has recently discussed the export of live farm animals  to countries outside of the EU. I have already suggest to Keith that it might be a good idea for him to suggest that the group should have a special meeting on live exports between EU member  states, especially the UK where a sea crossing is involved. Campaigners from Ramsgate, the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming should be invited to present evidence at such a meeting.  I will also be contacting Caroline Lucas MP  to discuss the possibility of amending the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 and developing support for an end to this cruel trade within the UK  Parliament. I am sure that Caroline should have no problem convincing  Jeremy Corbyn and the newly progressive forces of the  Labour Party to work with the Greens in a joint campaign to end live exports. I will also be trying  to secure a meeting with the Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett to discuss how the Party can raise the profile of the campaign against live exports  from Ramsgate amongst its 65,000 members.

I recognise that politicians and political parties have many conflicting priorities  such as campaigning against austerity, campaigning to protect our environment, defending  human rights and supporting  asylum seekers etc. But the welfare of animals, with whom we share our planet, should not be continually pushed to one side, or seen as less important.
I sincerely hope that by discussing and reviewing our campaigning tactics and making greater use of political processes we can end once and for all a cruel and barbaric trade which has blighted Ramsgate and the UK for too long. Ban live exports.