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Saturday, 22 June 2013

TUC IN RAMSGATE 23 JUNE 10-MIDDAY OPPOSITE VICTORIA PAVILION

Come and join the People United coming to a town near you. This summer the People United bus will criss-cross England to help ordinary people change Britain for the better.

Two chartered People United buses will set off around the country on a two week tour, starting in London from the People's Assembly at Central Hall Westminster on 22 June and ending on 5 July at Trafford hospital - the birthplace of the NHS - with a party to celebrate the 65th birthday of the now at risk National Health Service.

People across the country are struggling at the moment – so the People United will be offering free advice and information on local campaigns. It will not all be hard work, with fun promised too, members of the public can post their messages on to the prime minister, spin the NHS wheel of (mis)fortune and tweet their ideas for their street.

The country is being run by an out of touch government. That’s why People United – a coalition of unions dedicated to working with communities – is shaking things up.

People United wants the people of Britain to help build the People’s Manifesto. Help share ideas for getting people back into work, boosting wages, improving local housing and the local community as well as protecting our NHS.

The People United buses will head to the following towns in England launching from the ‘People’s Assembly Against Austerity’ on 22 June:

Bus 1: Will head east then north from London, taking in towns across East Anglia, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and the North West before concluding at Manchester.

Bus 2: Will head south from London, through the Medway towns and Thanet, along the south coast into the West Country before heading to the Midlands and on to Manchester.

Find out more

Web: Visit the microsite:
www.thepeopleunited.co.uk
Facebook: Like https://www.facebook.com/ThePplUnited
Twitter: Follow @PplUnited or go https://twitter.com/pplunited

The People United is backed by Unite, CWU, PCS, the TUC and Unison and powered by the People’s Operator

PLEASE ,PLEASE SHARE,LETS MAKE RAMSGATE HIT THE NEWS
Hi All The Wheels on the bus WILL be parked in Ramsgate Sunday 23 June from 10.00 am the bus will then depart for a drive round Margate, Advance party will be on the streets of Thanet all day Saturday Campaigning Event listing People United: Help build the People's Manifesto Saturday 22 June 2013 - Friday 05 July 2013 at 09:00-17:00 People United logoFrom London to Manchester criss-crossing the country Come and join the People United coming to a town near you. This summer the People United bus will criss-cross England to help ordinary people change Britain for the better. Two chartered People United buses will set off around the country on a two week tour, starting in London from the People's Assembly at Central Hall Westminster on 22 June and ending on 5 July at Trafford hospital - the birthplace of the NHS - with a party to celebrate the 65th birthday of the now at risk National Health Service. People across the country are struggling at the moment – so the People United will be offering free advice and information on local campaigns. It will not all be hard work, with fun promised too, members of the public can post their messages on to the prime minister, spin the NHS wheel of (mis)fortune and tweet their ideas for their street. The country is being run by an out of touch government. That’s why People United – a coalition of unions dedicated to working with communities – is shaking things up. People United wants the people of Britain to help build the People’s Manifesto. Help share ideas for getting people back into work, boosting wages, improving local housing and the local community as well as protecting our NHS. The People United buses will head to the following towns in England launching from the ‘People’s Assembly Against Austerity’ on 22 June: Bus 1: Will head east then north from London, taking in towns across East Anglia, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and the North West before concluding at Manchester. Bus 2: Will head south from London, through the Medway towns and Thanet, along the south coast into the West Country before heading to the Midlands and on to Manchester. Find out more Web: Visit the microsite:
www.thepeopleunited.co.uk Facebook: Like https://www.facebook.com/ThePplUnited Twitter: Follow @PplUnited or go https://twitter.com/pplunited The People United is backed by Unite, CWU, PCS, the TUC and Unison and powered by the People’s Operator PLEASE ,PLEASE SHARE,LETS MAKE RAMSGATE HIT THE NEWSSee More

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"FERRYGATE" COMPLAINT TO THE OMBUDSMAN

Today I have a submitted a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about Thanet Council's appalling mismanagement of the TransEuropa Ferrygate  scandal.

I reproduce below extracts from my submission. I would encourage as many people as possible to complain. Please feel free to use some of my words. The Ombudsman website is  http://www.lgo.org.uk/


Please explain briefly what your complaint is about, including dates of any incidents and names of any officers or staff of the body complained about, if known. Please also explain why you are not happy with the response from the body concerned

Background. In 2011, Thanet District Council (TDC) agreed with Transeuropa Ferries Ltd (TEF) a deferred payment arrangement for the use the facilities of the TDC owned Port of Ramsgate. This agreement led to TEF running up a debt to TDC of an estimated  £3.4million over a 2 year period. Knowledge of this agreement was deliberately restricted to a small group of senior Council Officers and elected politicians.

Complaint.  By keeping the agreement with TEF secret TDC acted in contravention of its   Constitutional rules and in so doing prevented  meetings of the Full Council, the Governance and Audit Panel and the Overview and Scrutiny Panel from discussing, reviewing and/ or approving or disapproving the agreement with TEF (I will provide separate & detailed evidence of the particular constitutional rules which I believe to have been broken).

That TDC  failed to seek the advice of the European Commission as to whether its agreement with TEF contravened EU State Aid regulations (I will provide separate evidence of which EU State Aid regulations I believe to have been broken).

That in relation to its agreement with TEF, TDC  has failed to follow it’s  own Financial Procedure Rules (I will provide separate and detailed evidence of the Financial Procedure Rules which I believe to have been broken).

That TDC, in contravention of accounting best practice and the requirement for local councils to be open and transparent about their financial affairs,  failed to explicitly include reference to TEFs debt in its 2011-12 accounts. This failure deprived local people of the opportunity to raise questions with the Council and/ or District Auditor about TDCs agreement with TEF  and the  large and growing debt it had given to rise to by the end of that financial year.

That TDC, in contravention of budget management best practice and the requirement for local councils to be open and transparent about their financial affairs ,  failed to notify its elected  Councillors of TEFs  large and growing with the Council when they met to set and monitor the budget during the financial years 2011 – 12  and 2012 - 13

 Please explain briefly what impact the problems you’ve described above have had on you. For example, has the body concerned failed to provide you with a service or a benefit you are entitled to? Was there a delay before you got the service or benefit? Have you suffered a financial loss? Have you been put to a lot of trouble or inconvenience?

 In April 2013 TEF went into liquidation owing TDC an estimated £3.4 million (the final figure may be greater). This debt is being covered by using some of TDCs reserves and underspends. This reduction in reserves will inevitably lead to increases Council Tax and increased  fees and charges to the public in order to replenish the depleted TDC reserves to the appropriate level.

These increases will, in my opinion, have an adverse financial impact upon me as a TDC taxpayer  and purchaser of TDC services and many thousands of other local taxpayers. These increases will be brought about as a result on serious  maladministration and could have been avoided had TDCs agreement with TEF be open to debate and scrutiny by all 56 elected councillors and the public. 

Although I am an elected TDC Councillor and would not normally be allowed to submit a complaint to the Ombudsman about the Council I am a member of, I understand that I do I have right to complain if I am personally affected by the maladministration of the Council, which as explained above, I believe I am.
What do you think the body should do to put things right?

The Council should review its Constitutional rules to ensure that large and significant debts of over £250,000 to the Council cannot be allowed to accumulate in secret, without all elected councillors being notified of such debts.

 

Monday, 17 June 2013

NO TO MARGATE TESCO SUPERSTORE

Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ decision to give the go-ahead for a 82,000 sq foot Tesco superstore on Margate seafront has been condemned by Thanet Green Party.  Green Party Thanet District Councillor, Ian Driver, said “Less than a month ago Mary Portas was on national TV singing the praises of Margate High Street and it’s massive potential for the growth and regeneration of small businesses. She, like the Green Party, gave evidence to the public consultation on the proposed Tesco development saying it would go against everything positive Margate is and could be.  This ill-conceived decision has put paid to her optimism and it's very likely that more small shops and businesses in the Margate area will be put out of business by yet another Tesco supermarket in Thanet that many people don't want.

“The Green Party has long been campaigning against the overwhelming power of the major supermarkets, which have destroyed many more jobs than they have ever created as well as stifled the development of small business.  We are very disappointed that most TDC councillors have either remained silent on the issue of the superstore or, like  local MP Roger Gale, are supporting the development despite the massive over saturation of supermarkets in Thanet. Even though the Secretary of State has approved the plans this doesn’t mean that the  store will be built and we will be working closely with local campaigners to stop the Margate superstore”.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

FERRYGATE WHO TOLD THANET'S AUDIT COMMITTEE?

On 29 May I attended a meeting of Thanet Council Cabinet to ask questions about TransEuropa. At that meeting the Chief Executive sated that she had briefed the Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee about the issue.
I understand that the Chairman of that Committee has stated that he has never been briefed by the Chief Executive about  Transeuropa. I also understand that the Vice-chairman of the Governance & Audit Committee who  attends all the briefing meetings with her Chairman agrees that she has  never been advised  about this issue. Furthermore, I understand that the previous Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee has said that he was never  briefed about the TransEuropa debt arrangement either.

I recently received a copy of a statement prepared by the Chief Executive of Thanet Council in response to the District Auditor request for her to comment on my questions about this affair. In this statement she says


"The position was also not reported specifically to Governance and Audit as part of the 2011/12 closure of accounts process as it was agreed with the auditors that as agreement had been reached over a debt repayment plan, there was no need to make explicit reference to the Transeuropa debt position within the accounts or make a provision for the outstanding debt".

So here's a conundrum the Chief Executive advises the Cabinet that she briefed the Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee about Transeuropa. Then, in statement to the District Auditor, she says that the issue was not reported specifically to Governance  & Audit. Dooohhhh!


What's going on here? This is all very odd especially because the Governance and Audit Committee plays a central and critical  role in ensuring the good management  of the Council finances. It's terms of reference  require the committee -

To monitor the effective development and operation of risk management and governance in the council (e,g the risk management associated with allowing struggling  Transeuropa to run up a debt of £3.4million);

To oversee the application of the council's governance arrangements for partnership activities where the council is the accountable body (e.g. the arrangement to allow an external partner - Transeuropa - to run up debts of £3.4 million with the Council);

To approve the annual Statement of Accounts. Specifically, to consider whether appropriate accounting policies have been followed and whether there are concerns arising from the financial statement or from the audit that need to be brought to the attention of the council (my concern would be the  large debt with Transeuropa which Governance and Audit should have reported to Council, but which was not reported to Governance and Audit)

It seems to me that by not reporting the Transeuropa issue to the Council's Governance and Audit Committee the Committee's role has been undermined and it has been prevented from properly fulfilling its constitutional function. To  describe this is an extremely serious  issue would be an understatement.

Fortunately we will soon find out what has happened.

I understand that the Chairman of Governance and Audit is to put it mildly very "unhappy"  about the difficult  position the Chief Executive's  ambiguous comments/ actions  have placed him in. He has therefore asked for Transeuropa  be placed on the agenda of the next Governance and Audit meeting on 26 June, where no doubt the Chief Executive will be asked to give a full explanation about her  mixed messages and apparent failure to report serious financial issues and risk  to a body which is constitutionally charged  to oversee these matters .

I have a feeling that lots of people might be coming to listen to this debate. My sources tell me that the meeting has been moved from a box room under the stairs at Fortress Fanet to the Council Chamber to accommodate the heaving throng. Shall I bring my camera to record proceedings. Perhaps not. Cabinet rules only allow the use of equipment that's accredited, Sadly my  equipment has not been accredited for a while. 

TRANSEUROPA SECRETS, LIES & WHISTLEBLOWER REQUIRED

Batten down the hatches and keep schtum seems to the be the order of the day at  Fortress Fanet's Cecil Square HQ.  As I write,  senior officers are fighting  an anally protective rear-guard action to avoid the truth about FerryGate leaking out.

So what's the story and where's it heading?

First,  a small group of very senior council officers and senior Cabinet politicians from the Conservative and Labour Parties decided in 2010 and again in 2012  that it would be a good idea to let Transeuropa Ferries (TEF) use Ramsgate Port for free as way to keep the failing ferry operator afloat and protect jobs. So far so good. Personally I would have supported this plan for a reasonable period.

But the wheels came off when  that same cabal of officers and politicians decided to keep their arrangement with TEF  secret from the 50 odd elected councillors who are not in the Cabinet; from the Council's finance watchdog the Governance and Audit Committee; from the Council's executive decision police, the Overview and Scrutiny Panel and, last but not least,  from the Council Taxpayers of Thanet who have a reasonable expectation that their elected representatives and well paid public officials would  manage the Council's affairs in a transparent fashion.  

 Meanwhile unbeknown to virtually every living person in Thanet,  TEFs debt to the Council was racking up at the astounding rate of  £100,000 every month, reaching a  sphincter-dilating  £3.4 million when TEF finally entered Davy Jones locker in April.

So why was this debt allowed to grow like Topsy? What
checks were conducted by the Council into the financial stability of TEF and whether or not their 3 year investment gamble was beginning to work? What checks were made and what expert advice taken on the highly competitive cross-channel ferry business and whether or not a £3.4 million punt with taxpayers money was risky? What checks were conducted into the background and financial stability of the mysterious Italian investors who were interested in buying TEF and paying off its debts to the Council. When the debt got to the £500,000 - £1million mark why didn't senior officers report it to the Full Council and ask for guidance?  The list of questions about what the Council did or should have  done to protect its investment and safeguard taxpayers money is endless, but no one involved in this sordid  episode is prepared to answer.

I have asked the Council's Chief Executive and Legal Officer to see all the documents and papers relating to this disaster. But my request has been turned down on the grounds that I might reveal confidential information to the public. Damn right I will! This matter is so serious that in my opinion all the documents relating to it should be available for anyone to see.

So where does this go next? Well I will be challenging the Council's refusal to let me see the documents related to TEF with the Information Commissioner. If I win I will publish all the documents. I will complaining to the Local Government Onbdusman about what I believe to be serious maladministration in the management of the TEF scandal. I have already
complained to the European Commission about possible breaches of the EU Laws by senior council officers and councillors. I will be contacting the District Auditor to object to Thanet Council's accounts when they are published later this summer and asking for enquiry. I will of course be trying to get as
much media attention as possible focused on this appalling scandal. But most importantly of all there must be a independent public enquiry into this sorry state affairs. An internal enquiry won't suffice because this scandal involves some of the most powerful people at Thanet Council and it wouldn't be right for them to investigate themselves!


Last but not least I call anyone who has access to any documents relating to the TEF issue, or any inside information about what went on to pass on that information to me. I guarantee you the strictest confidence.  This is a very serious matter and the truth must come out.







Tuesday, 11 June 2013

TRANSEUROPA VIDEO

Thanks to Christine and Norman of Thanet Watch for filming this.

video

PIMP MY PAVILION


One of Ramsgate seafronts most iconic buildings the Victoria Pavilion is about to go under the auctioneers hammer, if Thanet Council's Cabinet has it way. The century old listed building has been leased from Thanet Council by the Rank Organisation since 1969 for the princely sum of £6,000 per year! In that time the building has been a nightclub and a casino and sadly been subject to extensive internal vandalism by  Rank without Thanet Council lifting a finger to force its tenant to repair the damage (estimated to be £millions). For the past  5 years this forlorn and sad building has been boarded up and has haunted our seafront with memories of the splendid past and fear for a squandered future.
Meeting on 20th June Thanet Council’s  Cabinet is likely to agree to extend the remaining lease term (31 years) to over 100 years in order to make it easier/ more attractive for the Rank Organisation or the Council to sell on the lease to another commercial concern.

But hang on a minute. Why should the Cabinet  be giving Rank a get-out-of-jail-free-card by ignoring its past dirty deeds and helping  it to divest itself of a lease it no longer wants without having to pay a penny for trashing the insides of one of the most  important community assets in Ramsgate? This reminds me of the approach the Cabinet and Council Officers have been taking towards failing Pleasurama developer SFP Ventures - instead of taking a tough stance against them for blighting our seafront for a decade they are indulging them to the point of sycophancy.
One other little detail  which seems to have escaped the attention of Cabinet members and council officers, is the opinion of the  local Ramsgate community. Before this lovely and important publically owned  building is pimped out to the highest bidder and taken out of public control for 100 years or longer, surely these must be some sort of public consultation and discussion about what local people think the building should be used for and perhaps insisting that the new tenants make available some community space in this large building.

Also I suspect that the Cabinet and council officers have conveniently overlooked  the Localism Act 2011 which requires “local authorities to maintain a list of assets of community value which have been nominated by the local community. When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, the Act then gives community groups the time to develop a bid and raise the money to bid to buy the asset when it comes on the open market. This will help local communities keep much-loved sites in public use and part of local life”.
Personally, I think that the Victoria Pavilion is one of the most important community assets in Thanet and rather than plan for its immediate disposal to goodness knows  who, the Cabinet should actually be engaging with the local community, as per the Localism Act,  to explore ideas for its future use and to identify funding sources (Coastal Communities Grant, Heritage Lottery Fund) to pay for  the development of these ideas.

Like the  Pleasurama site the Pavilion is an important community asset. Let’s act to keep it that way and take control over its future development rather than sell it to the highest bidder.

The Cabinet meets to discuss this plan on 20 June 7pm Cecil Square offices Margate. Please come along to that meeting to lobby Cabinet members and persuade them not to agree the proposal and have a community consultation instead. I have copied the proposal below.
In the meantime please e-mail Thanet Cabinet members and ask them to defer their decision to dispose of the Victoria Pavilion and instead  begin a  public consultation on its use and ownership by the community. We need to act now before it’s too late.

Here are the Cabinet member e-mails. 4 of the Cabinet members are also Ramsgate  Councillors. I hope that they might be persuaded to do the right thing

cllr-clive.hart@thanet.gov.uk

cllr-iris.johnston@thanet.gov.uk

cllr-michelle.fenner@thanet.gov.uk


 
Proposal for Cabinet 20th June

 Cabinet are asked to consider supporting a possible extension to the leasehold
interest of the Royal Victoria Pavilion, Ramsgate (site plan in Annex 2) in order to
facilitate private sector capital investment. There are currently 31 years unexpired on
the original lease agreement granted by the Authority in 1969 for use of the property.
Expressions of interest have been received for the site from third parties, both directly and via the tenant, but the unexpired period of the current lease is too short to
support the level of investment required to bring the building back into effective
commercial use. The freehold of the property will be retained by the council, but

Cabinet is asked to consider authorising officers to expand the marketing process of
the lease, in conjunction with the existing tenant, for the site, in an open and
transparent method, whilst ensuring best value and probity for the Authority. This
assistance would be by being able to offer an extended lease of over 100 years, if
necessary to the party taking over the building on the basis of a guaranteed
investment from them. The value of this extension would be to support the investment and not to increase the value of the lease to the current lessees. At this stage it is not proposed that the council places any specific restriction on the commercial transfer of the lease as landlord, but clearly any changes to the building and its use would be subject to planning and listed building applications. In considering potential tenants under a longer lease term the Authority will be in a position to consider financial issues against social benefits achievable. 

 

 

Monday, 10 June 2013

TRANSEUROPA SCANDAL THE COVER UP BEGINS

One 2nd of June I wrote to the Council's Chief Executive Sue McGonigal asking to see all the Councils documents relating to the Transeuropa debt scandal. Here is the e-mail I sent to her.

Dear Dr McGonigal
 

I would like to inspect all the documents held by the Council in relation to the decision to allow Transeuropa Ferries to use Council facilities without immediate payment. I would also like to inspect all documents in relation to the monitoring of this arrangement and the repayment by Transeuropa of any monies owed to the Council. I would also like to inspect any reports or background documents held by the Council in relation to constitutional position of decisions related to this matter. Finally I would like to inspect any reports or background documents regarding  the legal position e.g. EU competition laws of the decision to allow Transeuropa Ferries to use Council facilities without immediate payment.I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
 
Yours sincerely
 Cllr Ian Driver

On 7th June Harvey Patterson the Council's legal officer replied to me on behalf of the Chief Executive advising me that I was not entitled to see any of the  documents I had requested because he deemed them to be confidential.

I replied to Mr Patterson on 10 June challenging his decision  here is my reply





Dear Mr Patterson

Thank you for replying on behalf of the Chief Executive to my e-mail to her of 2 June 2013 requesting to see all the documents held by the Council and its Executive in relation to the Transeuropa Ferries debt of £3.4 to Thanet District Council.

I am very disappointed that you have chosen to be unnecessarily obstructive in your response. I am also disappointed that the justifications for your obstructions are ill-conceived and incorrect.

You appear to have denied me access to the information I requested about the Transeuropa Ferries debt for the following reasons

1.      Failure to provide you with a “right to know”.

2.      That as a member of the Council’s Scrutiny Panel I am only able to request information which has already been included in the OSP’s collectively agreed  programme of work

3.      Denying me information because you deem it  to be confidential under the terms of  the Schedule 12A of  the Local Government Act 1972

I will deal with each of these issues separately

Right to Know. I am a Ramsgate Councillor and the Transeuropa Ferries issue relates to the management of the Port of Ramsgate. I therefore have a “right to know” because of electoral geography.  There is a very strong public interest in the Transeuropa Ferries issues as evidenced by extensive press, TV, radio  and internet media coverage.   I have also been contacted by many constituents, non-constituents and journalists  who  wish to hear from an elected councillor how the Transeuropa situation came about and what the Council did/ is doing to protect taxpayers money. I therefore have  a “right to know” on the basis of public interest.

Scrutiny members’ right to information.  Your reply appears to suggest that Scrutiny members are only allowed to see information which relates to a programme of work collectively agreed by the OSP. If this is true then I draw your attention a statement  made in the Friday last  edition of Gazette by OSP Chairman Cllr Jo Gideon which says that it’s not a question of if the OSP investigates the Transeuropa Ferries issues, but when. I also have e-mail correspondence between myself and Cllr Gideon in which she indicates that OSP will be discussing this issue. It is clear that OSP will be looking into this matter and that therefore you should be allowing me to see all the relevant documents so that I can prepare myself for discussion at the OSP.

Notwithstanding the above, I challenge your erroneous view that that members of OSP can only ask for information related to issues which form part of a collectively agreed work programme. This is not the case.

Paragrpah 17 of The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012 (Additional rights of access to documents for members of overview and scrutiny committees) states that

“a member of an overview and scrutiny committee of a relevant local authority is entitled to a copy of any document which—

(a)is in the possession or under the control of the executive of that authority; and.

(b)contains material relating to—.

(i)any business that has been transacted at a meeting of a decision-making body of that authority;.

(ii)any decision that has been made by an individual member of that executive in accordance with executive arrangements; or.

(iii)any decision that has been made by an officer of the authority in accordance with executive arrangements

This regulation does not require, as you incorrectly believe,  that the information requested by an OSP member must be part of a collectively agreed programme of OSP  work before it can be made available to that member. On the contrary the regulation clearly permits OSP members to review and scrutinise Executive decisions on an individual basis, presumably with the intention of referring anything they might discover to the OSP or any other appropriate body. This regulation describes precisely my actions and  I therefore insist you allow me to exercise my legal rights.

Confidentiality

Your decision not to allow me to see the documentation I have requested on the grounds of confidentiality cannot be justified. The fact that there is an extremely strong public interest in how Thanet District Council was able to  secretly allow Transeuropa Ferries to run up a debt of over £3.4 million, mitigates against keeping information about this confidential from Councillors and the public. The fact that much information about this issue is already in the public domain also mitigates against your decision to keep documents secret. The fact that TransEuropa Ferries is  in administration means that there cannot possibly be any commercial reasons to keep documents related to a non-trading company secret from elected councillors and the public.

Finally,  Paragrpah 17 of The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012  states that an OSP  member who is reviewing or scrutinising decisions made by the Council’s Executive has the right to inspect “any such document or part of a document as contains exempt or confidential information”. Once again the regulation does not link the process of review or scrutiny with any  work programme collectively agreed by the OSP. Furthermore the Regulations  also make it clear that that the term “documents means any report or background papers taken into consideration in relation to an executive decision”. Your decision to deny me access to these documents for the reasons you have given is therefore clearly unlawful.

Please note that  The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012 require that inform the OSP in writing why you have decided not to let me have access to the information I have requested.

I would be grateful if you could reconsider your position in light of my comments and arrange for me to inspect all the documents relating to the Transeuropa  support package including the £3.4 million.

If you are unable to comply with my request then please let me know as quickly as possible so that I can take the necessary steps to have your decision over ruled.

 Cllr Ian Driver
 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

TRANSEUROPA SCANDAL MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

On 21 May I wrote to the District Auditor expressing my concerns about the way in which Thanet Council has managed the Transeuropa debt saga. I asked 3 questions.

1. Why was this debt allowed to reach such an unacceptable level?
 
2. Why was the this debt not reported to Councillors much sooner?
 
3. Why was this large and significant debt  not  brought to the attention of Councillors  when the annual budget for 2013-14 was agreed earlier this year?

The District Auditor asked the Council's Chief Executive to respond to my questions. I reproduce the Chief Executive's reply in full reply below. This reply  to my questions provides the most detailed explanation of  events surrounding the TansEuropa debt saga to date. It also raises some extremely serious questions about how the Council managed these events, not least of which is how the people of Thanet and the vast majority of their elected Councillors were kept in the dark about the huge gamble with public money for 3 years, and the apparent absence of robust due diligence into TransEuropa and its Italian Investor. I will be raising these questions in future postings on this blog site.

You could help me by post any questions you may have on this scandal and please, please  let me have any information you may have which you  think is relevant. This is without doubt one of the most serious financial  scandals  to have hit Thanet Council and I want to ensure that the truth is made public!

 
Summary
Detailed discussions began with Transeuropa back in November 2010. At that time Transeuropa wished to review the tariff agreement it had with the council due to escalating fuel prices. These discussions culminated in a meeting in Ostend in March 2011 with both Transeuropa and the council’s Ostend counterparts. Due to the increased fuel prices and the price war being waged between the cross channel operators (particularly as a result of the French government’s deficit funding for Sea France), Transeuropa requested temporary support to ensure the ongoing future of the business. A three month extension of payment terms for fees was subsequently agreed alongside a payment plan to 2014 for existing debt. Ostend also agreed to provide support by temporarily waiving an element of their charges. Transeuropa then entered into discussions with potential investment partners and requested that the deferral of fees be extended until an investment partner was in place. This was agreed subject to regular review and on condition that payments of £80k per month were received in respect of the outstanding debt. Ultimately an agreement was reached with an Italian investor in November 2012 and the council reiterated the need for normal payments to recommence. A third vessel commenced sailings in February 2013. However, in April 2013, this vessel had to be returned to P&O as the promised funding had not been released from the Italian investor. Some of Transeuropa’s creditors subsequently took the opportunity to seize the remaining two vessels causing Transeuropa to cease operations and prompt insolvency proceedings. A sum of circa £3.4m now remains outstanding to the council. This debt can be broken down as follows:

2010/11 £734k

2011/12 £1255k

2012/13 £1188k

2013/14 £225k
 
1. Why was this debt allowed to reach such an unacceptable level?
 
Throughout the negotiations with Transeuropa, the council was keen to ensure the continuation of Transeuropa’s business. The council worked closely with its counterparts at Ostend who were also keen to work with Transeuropa to help secure their future. The council extended its credit terms on the basis that it was both necessary, to help Transeuropa stay in business, and reasonable, as similar arrangements had also been agreed with the Ostend port.

Discussions with Transeuropa began during 2010/11 when the council first became aware of their financial difficulties. A payment plan in respect of 2010/11 debt was agreed in March 2011, together with a three month extension of payment terms for fees. Discussions during 2012 showed that Transeuropa were actively in negotiations with potential investment partners and it therefore seemed reasonable to allow them time to complete these discussions. A sum of £80k per month was paid off the debt in each month from July 2012 through to September 2012 which was a positive sign that the position was improving. Indeed, in November 2012 agreement was signed between Transeuropa and an Italian investment company. The purpose of this agreement was to secure the long term future of the operation and also to provide significant investment in the operating line.

On 22 November 2012 officers met with Transeuropa and their Italian investors. The council was advised that a 4 year repayment plan had been agreed with both the fuel supplier and with Ostend. They also advised that an agreement had been  signed with P&O in respect of a third vessel. The Italians agreed to settle the 2010/11 outstanding debt in two payments of £367k and to pay the balance of the debt over a 4 year period with interest at 3.25%. The first payment was due in January 2013. A draft heads of term was drawn up to reflect this and circulated for comments. All parties agreed that the priority was to get monies flowing again and safeguarding the jobs of all employees associated with the line and the supporting services. At this time, therefore, the council was being given firm assurance that their debts would be repaid.

The introduction of a third vessel to Transeuropa’s fleet, which commenced sailings in February 2013, provided further, material assurance that the new partnership had improved Transeuropa’s fortunes.

However, the payment of the historic debt from the Italians was not forthcoming despite the council chasing by e-mail from February through to April 2013. The Italians also did not provide the promised funding to Transeuropa which resulted in the third vessel having to be returned to P&O. The other creditors consequently seized the remaining two vessels in the Ostend port. There was nothing that the council could do at this stage to prevent Transeuropa ceasing operations.
 2. Why was this debt not reported to Councillors much sooner? Throughout the negotiations, the course of action with regards to the management of the debt was shared with the Cabinet Leader and Finance Portfolio holder in administration at that time. The current administration were also kept in the picture with regard to the debt position. However, as there was every reason to believe that the debt would be repaid in full in the fullness of time, there was no reason to report this in a Cabinet report to members.

The position was also not reported specifically to Governance and Audit as part of the 2011/12 closure of accounts process as it was agreed with the auditors that as agreement had been reached over a debt repayment plan, there was no need to make explicit reference to the Transeuropa debt position within the accounts or make a provision for the outstanding debt. Indeed, the first three repayments had been received at the time of the signing of the accounts which provided the auditors (and the council) with assurance that Transeuropa would honour the debt repayment plan.  

3. Why was this large and significant debt not brought to the attention of Councillors when the annual budget for 2013/14 was agreed earlier this yearAt the time that the budget was set, Transeuropa had entered into an agreement with the Italian investors and the council had no reason to believe that the Italians would not provide the promised funding to Transeuropa under the agreement and also pay the council the historic debt as agreed. There was also no reason to make allowance within the budget for a loss of income from Transeuropa moving forward as it was assumed that the Italian investment had secured the future of Transeuropa’s business.

However, as part of the budget process, the council makes a financial risk assessment of the level of reserves that it should hold. This includes an assessment

of the risk of a major council customer going into liquidation. The 2013/14 financial risk assessment of reserves was shown as annex 2 to the budget report that went to Full Council in January 2013. The table within this annex which assessed the appropriate level of the General Fund balance allowed for a sum of £2.2m in respect of a major customer (including Transeuropa) going into liquidation. This was classed as being a medium risk as it was thought that the agreement with the Italians had helped to mitigate this risk. However, as a result of this and the other risks identified, the Council increased its recommended level of General Fund balances to 12% of the net revenue budget requirement. The General Fund balance is currently at this recommended level.
 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

RAMSGATE PEOPLE POWER


They know how to do politics in Ramsgate. About 30 angry local people turned out to lobby a meeting of Ramsgate Town Council last night to remind their councillors that they will not accept backtracking or double-dealing on the disastrous Pleasurama project.

Amidst calls for his resignation, Cabinet member with responsibility for Pleasurama, Alan Poole, was reminded of the public anger about this issue. He was forced to concede on camera that the freehold of the land would NEVER be passed on to project developer SFP Ventures. The Town Council was also forced to call a public meeting in July to discuss Pleasurama. People Power at its best!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

RAMSGATE PLEASURAMA WRONG DEVELOPERS, WRONG DEVELOPMENT, WRONG PLACE, WRONG DECISION. JOIN LOBBY 5TH JUNE

Thanet Council's decision to allow Ramsgate  Pleasurama project developers more time to secure funding has provoked outrage amongst local people who will be lobbying a meeting of Ramsgate Town Council at 7pm outside the Custom House, Harbour Parade  tomorrow (Wednesday  5 June) from 6.15pm
 
SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd have been the  developers of this £30million luxury hotel/ flats project for over 10 years.
 
In that time little very little work has taken place on the project and local people have been forced to endure a derelict building site eyesore which has blighted one of the most prestigious seafront areas of Ramsgate  for a decade.
 
Earlier this year local people concerned about lack progress with the development  and the negative impact it was having on the seafront set up the Friends of Ramsgate Seafront (FORS) campaign group
 
FORS have organised 2 petitions of local people which have both collected over 1,000 signatures each.
 
The petitions called on the Council to remove the developers for blighting the seafront for over a decade and to rethink what might be developed on the site
 
 
Only last week, in response to the public pressure, the Council had promised an official investigation into  the development  including seeking legal advice to end the agreement with the developers and reclaim the public land. Now the Council appears to have done a U turn and has entered new talks with the developers.
 
Ramsgate Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver opposes the  development and is supporting the lobby along with FORS supporters.
 
He said   "I have some very serious doubts about project developers SFP Ventures and their ability to do the work. I am also very worried about the fact that the project is being built in  a high risk flood zone without a flood risk assessment being undertaken despite  advice by the Environmental Agency to have one. There are also some serious concerns about the stability of the cliff face which will be less than 4 mtrs behind the development. These factors lead me to believe that these are the wrong developers, building the wrong sort of development in the wrong location and Thanet Council is wrong to continue talks with them.
 
for more information contact Ian Driver 07866588766

Sunday, 2 June 2013

"FERRYGATE'S" 3 WISE MONKEYS.



2 months ago Thanet Council Leader Clive Hart wrote an article for the local paper about the imprisonment of disgraced former councillor Sandy Ezekiel. The article assured the people of Thanet that under Clive Hart's leadership the council would be “committed to the highest possible standards of propriety and accountability and will take its responsibility for protecting public money very seriously”.
COUNCIL LEADER CLIVE HART TIME TO GO?
With the emergence of the “Ferrygate” scandal it now appears that Hart’s definition of “protecting public money” meant recklessly allowing a failing ferry company, Transeurpoa, to rack up debts to the Council of £3.4 million which are extremely unlikely to ever be recovered.  It also appears that Hart’s definition of “the highest standards of propriety and accountability” was to have kept the  astronomic Transeuropa debt mountain secret from the people of Thanet and secret from virtually all elected councillors.
If this wasn’t bad enough Hart and  his predecessor Bob Bayford, who originally agreed the “Ferrygate” arrangement, and senior council officers may have  overlooked important parts of  Thanet Council’s Constitution.

According to Constitutional rules governing the management of the Council’s budget, any decision which might be “contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the budget” must be decided upon by a meeting of the full Council. 


BOB BAYFORD DO THE RIGHT THING
In my opinion a decision to allow failing company Transeuropa Ferries to build up a debt to the Council of  £3.4 million over a 3 year period could be nothing other  than a decision “contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the budget.” Yet this decision has never been agreed by or reported to a meeting of the full Council in the three year period that the deal has been in place.
This is an incredibly serious situation. The people of Thanet and most of their elected councillors have in my opinion been misled about a serious and very large risk to public finances. Rules which are supposed to safeguard the Council’s budget, protect it from improper decision making  and promote open democratic governance seem to have been broken by very senior people.

I publically call on the Council’s Chief Executive, the Leader of the Council and the previous leader of the Council to do the honourable thing and resign as they are, or were, ultimately responsible for the sound management of Thanet Council's budget at the time of these events.
THANET CHIEF EXECUTIVE SUE MCGONIGAL
I also call on the Council to commission a full public enquiry into the “Ferrygate” affair. This enquiry must be independent because the main protagonists in this financial disaster are extremely senior politicians and officers who should not be allowed to investigate themselves.

This is the most serious case of local authority mismanagement I have ever seen. It should not be covered up. Those who are found to be responsible for this appalling mess should not be allowed to continue to manage the public purse.

One final question, will what amounted to be a public sector subsidy for Transeuropa be found to be in breach of EU competition rules. If so will an already weakened Thanet Council be forced to pay a fine? I am going to try to find out.

If you know anything about the Ferrygate  scandal, or any other financial wrongdoings at Cecil Square  please feel free to contact me. I guarantee anonymity