Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Thanet Council's Historic Fairground Rides Vandalism.

Vintage fairground rides, destined for the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park,  which were purchased using  government grants, have been “left to rot” at  Ramsgate Port says former Green Party councillor Ian Driver.

The rides including  a Corbiere Wheel;   a Junior Whip;  and an American Whip have been stored outside, without cover or protection,  for  a year and have become badly damaged by continual exposure to the elements.

Said Driver “these rides are of great historic importance, some of them are over 70 years old and are amongst a  tiny handful of surviving examples.  The Heritage Lottery Fund  allocated £1.235 million to restore  these, and other rides,  to their former glory for the public to use and enjoy at  Dreamland. But sadly they have been dumped at the port of
Ramsgate forgotten about and allowed to rot and deteriorate. It’s probably too late to restore them now as they have become so badly damaged. This is an insensitive act of historic vandalism by Thanet Council and the latest in a series incompetent blunders  by senior TDC officers responsible for managing the Dreamland project".
Its is understood that in order to make space for the car importation contract at Ramsgate Port, the rides will shortly be moved to another Thanet location where, once again, these valuable  historical rides will be left outside unprotected from the elements. Thankfully I was able to take a few photographs of the rides and their sorry state.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Dreamland Risk Warning Supressed by Thanet Council??

Former Green Party councillor, Ian Driver, has accused senior Thanet District Council (TDC) bosses of supressing warnings about the  “considerable risks” associated with the prestigious Margate Dreamland Amusement Park. In a report dated 5 February 2015, which was commissioned by TDC at the cost of £5,500(1),  GVA Grimely, one of the country’s largest commercial  property advisers,  warned the council  that “there is considerable risk associated with the viability of a scheme of this nature  particularly in a secondary/ tertiary coastal location”(2).

The report describes the Dreamland scheme as having a “substantial risk profile” and being “extremely speculative”. A  SWOT analysis  of the project, carried out by GVA Grimely  identifies “that the risk  outweighs  the benefits”. The risks identified by GVA Grimely include  
·        Margate is not regarded as a key coastal destination
·        Highly speculative in location
·        Limited direct catchment not 360 degrees
·        High cost of the development
·        Need for annual investment to ensure product remains interesting and attractive
·        English Heritage / listed building constraints
·        Development of competition in and around more popular south east locations  with consideration of the substantial scheme planned at Swanscombe for example (£2 billion Paramount Theme Park)
·        Economy and weather
                                                                                         
Said Driver “TDC bosses appear  to have suppressed this important report and kept it secret from elected councillors. No mention of it was made by senior council officers and Council Leader Iris Johnston  at the cross-party members briefing on the Dreamland project held on 23 February 2015, at which I was present. No mention of it was made at the Council’s Governance & Audit Committee held on 17 March 2015 at which councillors reviewed TDCs Corporate Risk Register. In fact, at that meeting councillors  were advised that the risk of Dreamland project failing   “would  reduce significantly” to a medium to low classification   because Sands Heritage had recently been appointed as the Dreamland park operator”(3).

“What has happened here is  utterly astounding” added  Driver, “Top council bosses and, I believe, certain members of the Council’s ruling Labour Cabinet,  were in possession of, or knew about,  a report from a large reputable firm of commercial property advisers  warning of the high risk of  the Dreamland project failing. Instead of acting on the warnings and working to develop contingency plans to secure the project, the report was withheld  from councillors. At least £6 million of council taxpayers money had been invested in Dreamland by TDC, democratically elected councillors have a right to know if this investment is at risk, but they were kept in the dark by  the officer and political leadership at the council. This is plain wrong”
“I have always been a big fan of Dreamland. It’s vitally important to Thanet’s economy. But is becoming  increasing clear now that top bosses at Thanet Council and the Council’s then Labour leadership have badly mismanaged  the Dreamland project. They massively overspent  taxpayers money on developing the project; misused Heritage Lottery funding (HLF); failed to  keep the  HLF properly informed about project progress and the appointment of Sands Heritage (SH) as the park operator; delivered the  flagship scenic  railway  months late causing hardship for SH; had to pay SH about £1million in compensation for handing over an amusement park not fit  for purpose.  Now it has emerged that top council bosses and, I believe, some Labour Cabinet members, withheld  warnings that the project had a high risk of failure and appear to have misled councillors responsible for reviewing TDCs risk register about the level  risk faced by Dreamland”
With incompetence, maladministration and cover-ups of this magnitude, is it any wonder that the Dreamland operator came close to bankruptcy and the future of the attraction remains in the balance?  At least £6million of council taxpayers money has been invested by TDC in opening Dreamland – that’s £45 for every man, women and child.    I think there should be a full independent enquiry into TDCs management of the Dreamland project which will, I hope,  lead to  the resignation or dismissal of those senior officers and politicians identified  as being responsible for this monumental and expensive disaster. The council should, as a matter of the greatest urgency,  also be developing a Plan B to identify and reduce further   risks to this project  and secure the future of Dreamland before its too late”.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Thanet Council’s Freedom of Information Shenanigans

2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. Heralded as a major extension of democracy, the Act has enabled members of the public and journalists to hold to account public bodies such as government departments, local councils, schools, the NHS, the Police and the managers and politicians who run these organisations.

In its 10 years of operation the Act has been used to expose countless instances of injustice, maladministration and  downright criminality the most notable  being the  MPs expenses scandal. Had it not been for the  FOI  Act we would never have known about how hundreds of MPs were maxing out their expenses and allowances to top up their already generous salaries and pensions in a state funded  orgy of naked greed. Thankfully once exposed their reputations were deservedly trashed. Many of these grasping carpet baggers were removed from the Lords or Commons and some, but not enough, were imprisoned for taking a ride too far on the Westminster gravy-train. Yet instead of celebrating the 10th anniversary of the FOI Act and proudly proclaiming its effectiveness in holding public intuitions and politicians to account, the Government instead unveiled plans to weaken this important democratic tool.

In the autumn of 2015 it set up the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information to review the workings of the FOI Act. Members of the Commission include several people who have made criticism of the FOI Act and who appear to be unfriendly towards the democratic principles of freedom of information. The consultation exercise being carried out by the Commission also appears to be skewed in favour of undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act.  Amongst other things, the Commission is canvassing opinion on whether to charge fees for making FOI requests and appeals, whether to exempt  internal  briefings and discussions of public bodies from the Act altogether, and whether to allow public bodies to impose much lower cost/ hours  thresholds for rejecting FOI requests.

Sadly, Thanet Council is one of those organisations which has joined in the anti-democratic hullabaloo to undermine and weaken the  FOI Act. In a response to the Commission’s call for evidence, TDC has shamefully proposed the introduction of a £25 charge for each FOI request made to the Council. It has also proposed the  tightening up of the hours and cost rule to enable the rejection of a large number of  FOI requests, and changing the rules to make  it easier to reject what TDC judges to be spurious/ vexatious FOI requests. You can see TDCs submission here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/487269/Responses_R_-_Z.pdf

I accept that processing FOI requests is time consuming and costly. I also accept that TDC receives its share of vexatious/ spurious FOIs. However the overwhelming majority of FOI requests are reasonable and legitimate. Some FOI requests also serve the extremely important democratic purpose of exposing the incompetence of TDC’s politicians and senior officers, breaking down their culture of secrecy and holding them to account.  For example, the  FOIs I have submitted on Pleasurama, TransEuropa Ferries and the East Kent Opportunities development at the New Haine Road   revealed extensive mismanagement,  cover-ups, abuse of power and bad practice  which former Labour Leaders and top council officers would have preferred to have remained hidden from public view. Indeed former Labour Leader Clive Hart actually cited my use of FOI requests as one of the reasons why he resigned  as Council Leader in 2014 (see http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/ian-driver-statement-re-clive-harts.html )
Most  recently an FOI request from Margate-based campaigner, Louise Oldfield,  has revealed serious mismanagement of the troubled Margate Dreamland Amusement Park project. It’s no exaggeration to say that our FOI laws are a vital component of a modern democracy and should actually be strengthened and extended rather than weakened and restricted as TDC has argued in its submission to the Commission. 

I must confess to being confused as to why TDC has become so hostile towards FOI requests. Its own Constitution makes 18 separate commitments to being open, transparent  and accountable to the people of Thanet. TDCs own Independent Standards Advisers also suggested  that one of the ways of restoring the council’s tarnished reputation and rebuilding confidence in its politicians was “for citizens to be able to access information held by the Council they have elected”. Yet TDC bosses appear,  on the basis of their submission to the FOI Commission, to be hell bent on reducing and limiting openness and transparency and making it even more difficult, especially for those on low income, to get information from their council.

It would also appear that efforts have been made by TDC to exclude elected councillors from having any involvement in formulating its response to the FOI Commission. The Commission invited all UK public bodies to comment on the operation of FOI laws on 9th October 2015. The consultation deadline was 20th November 2015. I have checked the minutes of all TDC meetings between these dates and can find no reference to councillors being asked for their views on this important consultation. I can only assume therefore that important recommendations about the public’s right of access to TDCs  information have been decided in secret, presumably by a small cabal of top officers and cabinet members, who may have vested interests in avoiding public scrutiny.  This is simply unacceptable and undemocratic – all councillors should have had the opportunity to express their views on this very important matter.

But most mysterious of all, I was surprised by the fact that TDCs submission to the Commission appears to have been at odds with what I understand to be its ruling party’s (UKIP)  policy on FOI. According to what I have been able to find out “UKIP supports the right for the British people to find out more from government about how decisions are made, information the government keeps on government business and where the government spends our money. The Freedom of Information Act is an invaluable tool to empower the British people”. (link http://www.confirmordeny.org.uk/?p=117 ) UKIP MP Douglas Carswell also had published in the Daily Mail in July 2015 a long article supporting the FOI Act and opposing efforts by the government and  the Freedom of Information Commission to weaken and undermine it (link  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3166828/This-law-allowed-expose-dodgy-MPs-paedophiles-nuclear-risk-RAF-air-raids-scroungers-s-no-wonder-Tories-want-ban-Freedom-Information-writes-DOUGLAS-CARSWELL-MP.html)

It seems strange to me that a UKIP controlled council would support a submission to the FOI Commission which is at odds with UKIPs  policy on this important matter. Unless of course UKIP policy has changed;  Thanet UKIP councilors are unaware of their party’s policy on this matter; or more worryingly  the submission to the Commission was prepared and submitted by officers without the knowledge and approval of TDCs ruling political group. If the latter is the case then the Leader of the Council has no option but to contact the Commission and withdraw the submission and speak to the officers concerned. I have written to TDCs Leader Chris Wells and Deputy Leader Lin Fairbrass to see if they can throw any light on this matter.

Although this is a long and complex posting surely the bottom line must be that all public bodies must be accountable to the people they work for, especially a public body like Thanet Council which has long history of corruption, incompetence, secrecy, and maladministration. Yet here we have  the appalling spectacle of  what most surely be one of the most disreputable councils in the UK lobbying  the FOI Commission for permission to become even less accountable, transparent and open than it  now is. The people who drafted this submission, have learnt nothing from recent events. They  should be utterly ashamed of themselves. And those politicians who approved this submission  should step aside for those with a stronger commitment to democracy

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Thanet Council White Finger Scandal To Cost You £4 Million?

Reports that Thanet Council has set aside £2.5million to pay compensation claims for over  20 serving and former council staff, who contracted the debilitating Hand, Arm, Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) whilst working for TDC got me wondering about the costs TDC appears to have neglected. These are the costs associated with any prosecution which may be taken against TDC by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or any other interested party.

My understanding is that the HSE will, following an extensive investigation, almost certainly be prosecuting TDC for breaching safety laws and damaging the health of a large group of its workers to whom it owes a legal duty of care. I am led to believe that the prosecution will take place later this year.   Any prosecution which takes place after 1 February 2016 will be conducted under new sentencing guidelines.

The new sentencing guidelines are very tough, and so they should be if employers through their actions or omissions, harm the health of their workers.  For the worst breaches of safety laws employers who recklessly and knowingly breach health and safety laws causing the death of staff or members the public now face an unlimited fine. Clearly Thanet does not fall into this category. However, it is likely that evidence may have been discovered which demonstrates that TDC had ignored safety laws and may have even falsified safety monitoring records. These reckless actions, if proved to be true, have led to a large number of staff contracting HAVS. Under the new sentencing guidelines this means that TDC could face a very large fine, perhaps up to  £1 million or more. When adding in the legal costs of defending a case as complex as this the final bill could easily reach £1.5 million, bringing the total bill for the  HAVs scandal to somewhere in the region of £4 million. That’s an astonishing £29 for every man, women and child living in Thanet. Also bear in mind that Thanet Council’s insurance policies are unlikely to cover a penny of £4 million costs because it’s likely that a court will decide that HAVs were caused by the unlawful actions of TDC and unlawful actions are never covered by insurance policies.

The other issue which interests me is that the HSE can, and often does, prosecute managers (serving or former)   where there is evidence of individual culpability in breaking safety laws and causing death or injury to staff. Not that I am aware that such evidence has been uncovered by the HSE in relation to this incident. However working on the hypothetical assumption that managers knowingly and recklessly breached health and safety laws causing 20 plus staff to contract “a progressive, permanent or irreversible condition” then those individual managers could face between 6 months to 2 years imprisonment and/ or an unlimited fine.

Clearly what I have written here is speculation on my part, but what I do know and what I have written about previously, is that the HAVs scandal at Thanet Council is not a small, insignificant incident, but something much more serious and widespread, with significant health implications for the  20 plus staff  affected. If there have been any failings, if there has been any wrongdoing then the council and those individuals responsible must be held to account and prosecuted, rather than covered up and protected as is normally the case at Thanet Council.

 

Friday, 15 January 2016

Newington By-Election. Why I'm Standing

Here are a couple of short (by my standards!) videos about why I am standing as a candidate in the Newington by election. The big issues are an incompetent council and incompetent political leadership of the council,  and regeneration, jobs and training. These videos deal with the subjects. Hope they are of interest and don't put you to sleep.




 
promoted and published by Ian Driver 45 Sea View Rd CT101BX on behalf of Ian Driver and Andrew Jefferson Green Party candidates in the Newington by-election.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

UKIP Party Whip Deceit. Councillors & Public Misled

Former Thanet  Green Party councillor and 2015 Parliamentary Candidate for  South Thanet, Ian Driver,  has accused   UKIP and  councillor Chris Wells the  Leader of  the only UKIP controlled  council in the country (Thanet District Council)  of  being  “deceitful and  dishonest about  whether the party operates a political  whipping system.” In its 2015 Manifesto UKIP states that its councillors “have the freedom to vote how they choose. We believe the community is their boss and they will not be whipped  to bloc vote like councillors in other political parties”(1).

According to a confidential UKIP e-mail leaked to Driver it appears that in 2015 UKIP’s National Executive  quietly dropped its Manifesto promise not to operate a political  whipping system for its councillors (2).  Dated 4th November 2015 the e-mail from UKIP National Executive Member, Piers Wauchope, to  Councillor  Wells  says  “UKIP council group rules have been changed by the NEC …. The Group secretary now takes on in every way the role of a whip….the duty of a group member (is) to follow group decisions”. Wauchope then makes the astonishing suggestion that by delegating to its council political group secretaries the role of party whip that it is acceptable for UKIP councillors to continue to publically claim that the party still retains “its distinctive no whip policy”. He goes on to say that  “as we are not giving anyone the title of whip, those who think it important may still claim we have no  whips”(3).
At a meeting of Thanet District Council on 3rd December 2015  Councillor Wells was challenged about UKIPs no-whip policy by Tory leader Bob Bayford. Wells appears to have followed Wauchope’s earlier e-mail advice by replying that “that UKIP did not operate a whip”. When pushed further by Bayford about  documents suggesting that UKIP did in fact have “members performing a similar role”  to that of a party whip, Wells replied “that he had not seen this correspondence and was unaware what councillor Bayford was referring to (4)”.Said Driver “I’m  astounded by Wells’ response to the question about the UKIP party whip. Either he had not read Wauchope’s  e-mail  which had been sent to him one month before the Council meeting of 3rd December, or he had read the e-mail, followed Wauchope’s deceitful suggestions and  misled  Thanet’s  55 elected  councillors  about it, in which case he should do honourable thing and resign as Leader and Councillor”. Driver added “UKIP took control of Thanet Council in May 2015 by winning 33 seats on the back of a massive surge of popular support for the party. UKIPs victory was helped by their boast that its  councillors were not whipped and forced to toe the party line, allowing  them to put the interests of  their constituents before party politics. It now appears that this policy was dropped by UKIP without telling those who had voted for its councillors. Worse still members of UKIPs ruling national Executive Committee were advising UKIP  councillors to mislead voters about this fundamental policy change and cover up the fact that its councillors were now subject to a whip. This nationally orchestrated campaign of public deception has resulted in the Leader of the only UKIP controlled local authority in the country  apparently  misleading  to councillors and the public ay a council meeting   about its whipping arrangements. What’s happened in Thanet demonstrates that from highest level down UKIP is deceitful and dishonest and cannot be  trusted to tell the truth”.

Driver said that he will be submitting a formal complaint to Thanet Council’s Standards Committee and demanding a full investigation into Councillor Wells actions.

Since coming to power in May 2015 Thanet’s ruling UKIP party has lost 7 of its councillors. One defected to join the Tory Party. 5 have broken away from UKIP  to form  the Democratic Independent Group and 1 has emigrated  to  Thailand creating a by-election which if lost by UKIP means that the party will no longer control the Council.  
 
UPDATE  10/01/16 4pm. I have just spoken to Councillor Chris Wells Leader of Thanet Council who provided me with the following statement
"The UKIP group at TDC have not as yet even discussed the NEC position and remain at least until that discussion without a whip under whatever name".

This may be true, but the fact remains the UKIP NEC have decided  to abandon the party's  no whip position. But amazingly  UKIP councillors are being advised that's its OK to mislead voters about this and pretend that they still don't have a whip. The words hypocrisy and deceit still ring loud in my ears.

Ends
For more information contact Ian Driver 07866588766 e-mail ianddriver@yahoo.co.uk

  1. UKIP Manifesto 2015 page 59 http://issuu.com/ukip/docs/theukipmanifesto2015/1?e=16718137/12380620
  2. There is no announcement on UKIPs website about its NEC’s decision to introduce a whipping systems for its elected councillors
  3. See leaked UKIP e-mail from Piers Wauchope to Councillor Chris Wells, 4 November 2015  which is attached to this e-mail
  4. See minutes of Thanet Council meeting 3 December 2015 http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=141&MId=4085

 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Thanet Local Plan: TDC Abusing Power to Manipulate Outcome

Green Party candidate at the forthcoming Ramsgate Newington ward  by-election,  Ian Driver,   has accused  Thanet Council of  “abusing its power  to manipulate the outcome” of  its Local Plan consultation.

“The Local Plan is the most important document to have been produced by TDC in years” said Driver. “It sets out the Council’s  policies on housing, employment, industry,  transport and the environment  up until 2031. It will  have a profound  influence upon how our  district is developed  and shaped over the next 15 years” . An early version of the Local Plan was consulted on in February 2015,  provoking  a massive public outcry, including  demonstrations  and marches, when it emerged that 12,400 new homes  were planned to be built in Thanet;  many on farmland in Birchington, Westgate and Westwood Cross areas.  A secret report to councillors (1) has since recommended that the number of new homes required in  Thanet by 2031  should be  raised to 15,600 a staggering 26% increase.

The council received over 2,000 comments on its  early version of the Local Plan, many objecting  to the large number of homes planned for Thanet. It was intended that these comments would be taken into account in a final version of Local Plan which TDC must submit to the Government for approval. A timetable for the publication of the final version of the plan, including a second   public consultation,  was approved  by  TDCs Cabinet on 10 September 2015. According to the timetable the draft final plan would be published in February 2016 and the public would have between 6-8 weeks to make comments on it.  The plan, along with comments from the public, would be submitted to the Government in May 2016 who  would then being a formal  approval process (2).

But according to Driver this timetable has now been changed, with the publication and consultation on the final version of TDCs local plan being delayed until  after 31 May 2016.  The change to the timetable was, “sneaked in under the radar without anyone knowing or being told about it via the executive approval of UKIPs Deputy Council Leader, Lin Fairbrass,  without reference to other councillors” (3) said Driver.  He added: “My suspicion is that this delay has been deliberately engineered so that public consultation on the Local Plan  takes place during the school summer holidays when many  people are away from home or too busy looking after  kids to have the time to study and make comments on a complicated document several hundred pages long. Why do this? Because I believe TDC and UKIP are determined to get approval for its massively inflated housing numbers with the least possible resistance and objection from the public. This is undoubtedly driven by TDCs desire to maximise council tax income following its disastrous multi-£million financial losses on TransEuropa Ferries, Dreamland, Live Exports and the possibility of huge legal and compensation costs for breaking Health and Safety laws”.

Driver also points out that not only will there be a major consultation on the Local Plan but  two  further, and separate,  public consultations on Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) taking place at the same. These are an SPD on Manston Airport which will “set out the planning policy position for different areas of the site, defining the mix of uses that might be acceptable, and establishing design and other planning principles”(4)  and an SPD relating to the  management of several very important and environmentally sensitive Special Protection Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Thanet. Said Driver “running  three major public consultations on  issues of overwhelming  public interest  at the same time is, in my view,  an abuse of the democratic process. To then decide to run these consultations over a short, 6-8 week period, during  the school holidays when many people are away or looking after children appears to be a  determined effort by TDC to deprive hundreds of people of their democratic right to comment on important matters of public policy. This is simply not acceptable”.

Driver claims that “TDCs proposed actions breach the Government’s  best practice guidance on managing public consultation. Although not legally binding this guidance suggests consultation periods of up to 12 weeks should be allowed for  complex issues such as TDCs  Local Plan. It also warns that important consultations should not take place during holiday periods (5).  Driver  points out that  the Local Plan consultation is also likely to clash with a public consultation on Stone Park’s controversial  application for developing the former Manston Airport site which, it was recently  reported, will be submitted to TDC in April. “Stone Park’s application is bound be to controversial and many people will wish to make comments, but how will they find the time, if three other consultations of great public interest are taking place at the same time?”
 
Said Driver “had Thanet Council stuck to its original timetable  of consulting on the Local Plan in February/ March 2016  instead of during the summer holidays the conflict  with other important public consultations would have been avoided. As it stands the people of Thanet now face the possibility a catastrophic consultation car crash with up to 4 major public consultations taking place at the same time. This is simply not fair to local people and is totally avoidable”.

 

Ends
 
For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766 or ianddriver@yahoo.co.uk
 

  1. Ian Driver’s FOI request for a copy of the report about the 15,900 houses was refused by Thanet Council.
  2. See http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/mgChooseDocPack.aspx?ID=4048 open public documents pack item 8
  3. See http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=26169&Opt=0
  4. See 2 above
  5. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consultation-principles-guidance

 

 

 

Corbyn’s New Politics: Same Old Hypocrisy & Deceit.

So despite promising us a new  way of doing politics which is inclusive, tolerant of difference, open and transparent,  Corbyn’s Labour Party  both in Thanet  and in Westminster has demonstrated that  it’s the  same as it ever was:  hypocritical and deceitful.
 
As much as I admire Corbyn and share  his socialist views,  how can someone propelled into a leadership role on the back of promises about promoting a broader  policy debate  in the Labour Party  then take the axe to  Pat McFadden and Michael  Dugher  simply because they took him at his word and expressed differences with him? How can a leader supposedly committed to the promotion of open dialogue move Maria Eagle from her defence portfolio for being open and honest about her views on Trident – which are actually Labour Party policy at the moment.  Even worse, how can a leader who allowed a free vote on bombing Syria now insist that  Hilary Benn must keep his mouth shut and do as  he is  told in order to keep post.  This is not new politics, it’s the same old bullying hypocrisy and deceit commonplace  in  UKIP, the LibDems and the Tories. To keep up the pretence that fundamental changes have been made to the way in which Labour conducts its business is to tell a lie designed to mislead and deceive Labour Party members and voters. What makes this particularly unpalatable to me  is that someone, who I used to respect as a committed socialist, is behaving like a unprincipled hypocrite. I don’t care who you are or  where you stand politically  hypocrisy is hypocrisy and a  lie is a lie. And as much as I  hate saying it socialist hypocrites and liars are no  more acceptable than  Tory liars and hypocrites.

And here in Thanet Labour is no different from its  Westminster bosses. Despite promises by Corbyn and his supporters that his leadership would oversee  a much more  open and transparent  regime in local government, once again we are seeing totally the opposite. Take live animal exports as an example.  When I uncovered the fact that almost £4million had secretly been  paid out in damages to the cruel and barbaric people who organise this trade,  2 former Labour Leaders of  Thanet Council, Iris Johnston and Clive Hart and  former Deputy Leader Allan Poole rushed to the media to proclaim that the decision to break EU Law which led to  the astronomic pay outs  was not theirs but a senior councillor officer, Mark Seed,  who had by then left the employment of TDC. This jaw-dropping exercise in deceit and arse covering would have passed by unchallenged had I not had a copy of the High Court judgement in the Live Exports damages case in which Mr Justice Birrs says although “it was Mr Seed who made the decision  I infer that very considerable pressure was placed on him by the councillors at the meeting. Both councillors present (Cllr Hart and Cllr Poole) had made very clear their opposition to the trade”.

 But it doesn’t end there! Thanet Labour’s desire to cover its backside and distance itself from its  massive political  incompetence whilst  running TDC seem to know no limits. Just before Xmas  at a meeting of the Council  Labour Group Leader, Iris Johnston,  tried to heap all the blame for the TransEuropa Ferries secret fee deferral deal which cost taxpayers £3.4million on the Tories! Johnston’s  North Korean effort  to re-write Thanet’s recent  political  history  contradicts the truth. The fact is, as is well documented in Committee reports and a District Audit Investigation, Thanet Labour Party took over the running of the Council when TransEuropa’s debt stood at £1.7miilion. Members of the Labour Cabinet were briefed by  TDCs then Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal, about the highly irregular, very risky and secret deal with the failing ferry operators. The Labour leadership had the opportunity at this point to end the deal. But no. Instead they allowed the  secret fee deferral agreement to continue, racking  up debts of £3.4 million which were eventually paid for  by Council tax payers. So despite Corbyn’s claims that he will be ushering in a new politics of openness and transparency in local government, the most senior Labour officials in Thanet continue to this day to deceive and mislead the public  about their serial incompetence in running Thanet Council which has cost £millions in wasted council tax. Sorry folks, but as much as I love him, Corbyn is turning out to be  a sham;  as is his talk about the  new politics of inclusion, pluralism, openness and transparency. I’ll leave the last word to the Who.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Ramsgate Pleasurama Flood Risk: Environment Agency Letter.

I am publishing in full a copy of a letter written by the Environment Agency and sent to Thanet Council, almost 8 years ago about the Ramsgate Pleasurama site and the need for a Flood Risk Assessment .
Following the dramatic rise in extreme weather flooding incidents in the UK over the last 5 years and predictions that these incidents will continue to increase,  it is my opinion that it would be highly irresponsible of Thanet Council and building company Cardy, not to have an independent Flood Risk Assessment carried out on the site and the development plans and implement any advice arising from this assessment  before building works commence this spring.
I have suggest this course of  action on three separate occasions between 2012 -14 only to have my proposals rejected or voted down by senior council officers or politicians. I am also extremely surprised that Thanet's Labour Cabinet who negotiated the Pleasurama deal with Cardy less than a year ago did not insist on a flood risk assessment being  carried out as a condition of signing the new development agreement.

If I had a spare £450,000 or so to spend on property, I would not touch a Pleasurama flat with a barge pole unless there had been a full Flood Risk Assessment with any recommended actions implemented. I suspect that most other people would steer clear of buying flats there too without the reassurances a flood risk assessment and resilience and resistance works would  offer. If these flats are built without a risk assessment and if property is damaged and people injured or worse, then Thanet Council and Cardy could possibly be held to have been negligent and could be liable for damages. That would mean we the tax payers would, once again, have to pick up the bill for the incompetence of TDC. But putting aside the financial issues I believe that there is an overwhelming moral case for TDC and Cardy to secure and act on a Flood Risk Assessment before building on the site commences this spring. Surely the health and well being of people living and working at this development comes before profit?

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Fess Up Sands Heritage! How Many Visitors?

On 29th December 2015, 6 days after reaching a £2.9 million debt repayment agreement with its creditors,  Dreamland Margate issued a press release entitled “Dreamland in Numbers”. Unfortunately the numbers published by Dreamland Margate did not include a full  breakdown of how many  people had paid  to visit the attraction in the 6 months it has been operating. Bearing in mind that at least £5million of Thanet council taxpayers money has been invested in Dreamland and that currently the operators, Dreamland
Margate,  are enjoying the benefits of a 7 year  rent free lease courtesy of TDC  , the least  they can do is  to make  full visitor information available to the community which is so generously supporting  them.

I seem to remember that Margate’s other major visitor attraction, the Turner Contemporary, was more than happy to publish its record breaking visitor figures covering  the 6 weeks after it had opened in 2011.  So why not Dreamland Margate? Surely as a publically subsidized  operation Dreamland Margate has a responsibility to be transparent and accountable. I also wonder why Thanet Council has remained silent on the lack of any meaningful visitor information being published by Dreamland Margate? I have been in touch with both organisations asking for the data to be released. Anything less would be disrespectful to  the people of Thanet and may well fuel rumours that Dreamland Margate has something to hide.