Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lenin Returns

One can’t expect to write a newspaper column without criticism, even in the Thanet Gazette and Cllr David Green is worried that his own letter, attacking my rant of last Friday won’t be published there but at least it can find a good home here.

David accuses me of being a Conservative-stooge, parroting the party line but to be honest, I don’t care who’s in charge, as long as they don’t sit on their thumbs and deliver value and justice to the electorate. I would agree that the Council Tax revaluation is a particular dislike of mine, when it’s being suggested by government that because the capital value of people’s property is now greater, they should pay higher taxes, even though they receive no fiscal benefit from the value of their homes beyond the ability to borrow against them. Perhaps if the government that David supports were to rid itself of just some of the million or so civil servants that it has introduced, we might not have to pay such high taxes in the first place?

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s a rosy socialist world of opportunity we live in under New Labour. I should know, I used to work for them in Downing Street!

In an excellent letter, David writes: “Your columnist, Simon Moores contrives to link council tax revaluation, house building and development control in a poorly argued rant that leads to him detecting a lack of leadership in our local council.

Council tax is a Conservative introduced tax based on the relative value of properties in a local area. Its big drawback is that it is not based on the ability to pay, though subsequent Labour governments have modified it to give relief to those on benefits and pensioners. Whilst we have this tax, surely Dr Moores would agree that it is fairer that it be based on the true market value of properties, which is all revaluation seeks to do. Some will gain, equally others will lose.

Dr Moores repeats parrot-like the Kent Conservative line over house building. Over development may be a problem in areas of Kent nearer London, but it certainly isn’t so in Thanet. Currently identified brown field land plus the area around Westwood Cross is more than enough to meet the demands of the S E Plan. In fact we are already building more housing than is required. Westwood Cross housing is a specific response to what we are told are the requirements of inward investors for their staff. What is also needed is much more social housing, currently virtually stagnant, to meet the needs of the 3500 families on the Council waiting list that are currently prey to unscrupulous private landlords.

The Planning and Development Control system in England is based on the principle that citizens should be able to build what they like on land that they own. Over the years various controls have been added to modify this right to mitigate detrimental effects. It is this basic right though that has produced our varied villages and town centres. Dr Moores is rightly concerned about Westgate Seafront. The remedy here is to declare a conservation area, something within the powers of the local Council. Then the council would have more powers over what is built and potential developers would have a clear picture of what is required. Local councillors have failed their residents in this respect.

I can agree with Dr Moores on one point, and that is concerning lack of leadership at the Council. The current administration arrived without a manifesto and has coasted whilst projects in the pipeline from the previous Labour administration have come to fruition. Council officers try to fill the vacuum but inevitably opt for safety first and lack the feeling for what is required locally.”

15 comments:

James Maskell said...

Cllr Green wouldnt want to blame his own party, which has been in power for 8 years and so instead passes the blame to TDC, which isnt controlled by Labour. Hes been in the seat of District Council power himself and should know that TDCs actions and plans are largely controlled by Central Government.

According to Tony Blair, control of energy isnt within the remit of this Government. Is Council Tax along with running the country outside of the Governments remit as well? It certainly looks that way.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a world run by David Green and his compadres be just brilliant! He has the answer to everything and always someone other than himself to blame if there is no way to wriggle out of it. So it is worth remembering that David Green and his colleagues were in power here until 2003. Constantly assailed by the district auditor for their incompetant financial management; overseeing the rundown of West Cliftonville; developing a reputation with funders and partners for lacking in trust and foresight.

Then and now, his senior comrades have been in power in Westminster; fiddling the council grant in favour of their seats in the north; intent on the destruction of our english heritage through their multi cultural nonsense;pouring concrete over chunks of south east england whilst paying £17,000 per house to demolish them in the north.

But its ok, we have 24 hour licensing, fines if someone dumps your rubbish without your permission, and a prime minister who is so star struck he thinks a day hosting Jackie Chan is more important than solving the problems of state he creates.

As always, local labour loves dishing out the dirt and half truth, but squeels like a stuck pig when any fingers are pointed at them. Time we all did a lot more pointing and told real truth about who creates most of the problems we face. The bullies and braggarts of the labour party, thats who.

Chris Wells

Anonymous said...

As a former Labour Voter I must take some of the blame for voting labour into TDC a few years ago, then they did CRAZY THINGS with bad results we are still paying for.
I am so sorry!
I will no longer vote for my geriatric labour councillor Charlie Young, who should retire in favour of someone who DOES SOMETHING for their residents. With a bit of luck we'll get someone different next time.
Mind you the other councillor for my ward is pretty well invisible as far as I can see as well.
Come on James, fill us in, you are in touch with reality about this sort of thing.

James Maskell said...

Thank you Anon for your kind words, its much appreciated. In the past I have held back from calling for resignations or retirements of either of our Cllrs because I understand they both have mitigating circumstances (Cllr Fuller both lives and works outside the ward whilst Cllr Young is old and therefore has difficulties with mobility) and to call for resignations in my opinion isnt being completely fair and isnt going to make things better. However its a real pity when Cllr Young says about the Victoria Lights that "There is no way you can make that junction any safer than it is now".

I didnt want to have to highlight publicly in the papers the Victoria Lights and the hazards there because I was hoping for some semblance of action, but there appears to be little action to speak of. As the article in todays Gazette says, I have written to both Cllrs on this issue. To update, Cllr Fuller did not respond at all, whilst Cllr Young just confirmed that a review is underway and stated his sadness at the tragic crash last month.

I do not feel that Cllr Young should step down though and nor should Cllr Fuller. I believe that they should be given one last chance to do something about this and the other issues relating to Salmestone ward. Salmestone may not be a Cliftonville West or a Margate Central, but it still needs active representation.

Local elections are in May 2007 so about 18 months to go. If the Cllrs fail to take action on the serious issues in Salmestone I believe the residents will do the right thing and replace them with two people who will show leadership and push for real action for the residents.

Clive Hart said...

Just read Chris Wells' schoolboy rant above and ask yourself who is the real bully or braggart in this discussion?

Cllr R Nicholson said...

Cllr Wells attempts to cover his own party's failings by frothing at the mouth over the previous Labour administration. One which was never constantly assailed by the District Auditor. In fact the only serious criticism of TDC was by the Ombadsman who found the previous Tory administration guilty of maladministration.
Labour are in fact proud of what they achieved 1995 -2003 after taking over a "bankrupt" Council, we sorted the finances out and over the period averaged a Council Tax rise of 3%. The Tory target is 50% higher so it's Tories who cost taxpayers money, not Labour.
During our tenure we brought in a large regeneration programme, brought economic development and jobs to Thanet. Many projects are and continue to be successful, Westwood X, the Innovation centre, the Thanet Campus and successfully modernising the housing stock. The Tories have achieved nothing yet except creating more mess in our streets.
As to Labour concreting over Southern England, who was going to, and may still, build housing in Dane Park, the Tories, it was Labour members on TDC who stopped this. Who allows increasing numbers of trees to be cut down, who looks to sell of our heritage and build houses on any piece of land they can, the Tories.
Cllr Wells may have worked at Number 10, Labour creating jobs for all, certainly the last time I was there the place was very clean.

Martin Wise (Cllr.) said...

Can debate the bully bit Cllr. Clive, but there is no doubt that you win all the gold medals for braggart!

DrMoores said...

Gentlemen the rules that govern this side.. i.e. honest, decent, truthful and of course polite are starting to go out of the window in this discussion thread. May I politely remind you of your respective positions within the local community and the example that should be set in online discussions, particularly those governing local politics. Name calling is a definite "No No" and should be avoided at all costs or I will simply delete the comments in the reluctant role of censor!

Martin Wise (Cllr.) said...

Apologies Simon & Clive. Intended with good humour. Clive is more than able to defend himself, and no doubt will!

Anonymous said...

I am not a politician, just a council tax payer but I take issue with R Nicholson over the so called success of Westwood cross - it is just the death knell to our high streets - and also the council housing record - Incredibly TDC are proud of the fact that they have some of the lowest rents in the country - which we, the other inhabitants of the area - are paying for while the council tenants get a life of cossetted luxury at little or no cost to themselves.
I live in a mixed development,some council some private, my neighbours are council tenants, a normal family, not geriatric or disabled, yet they get even a drippy tap fixed for them, all the council houses in our road have just had new double glazed windows and doors,although the existing ones (the same as ours) are perfectly OK.
They have all had their gardens done with new topsoil - we have not, the Mears workforce or other maintenance company vans are to be seen every day doing small jobs on these houses - and all for a few pounds rent which in any case will often be paid by Benefits so its all a freebie.
Now if these tenants were genuinely destitute I wouldn't be moaning but they mostly have SKy dishes outside and pretty new cars - which I cannot afford - and most of them seem to smoke and party pretty hard.
I am told they pay about £70 per week rent ,and that includes all upgrades and repairs, my house costs me £160 per week just for mortgage interest and I have to pay for everything myself, it takes 2 of us working to do it.
Its just not fair, I want to be a social tenant but don't qualify as I am a hard worker and am not dishonestly claiming benefits.
One neighbour here doesn't work claims benefits as a result of not being able to walk because of gangrene in his feet.
However this seems to not stop him playing foorball with his 5 kids in the street.
I could go on and on but won't, it will put my blood pressure up.
Any R Nicholson that is what you can be proud of, killing our high streets and supporting a load of scroungers with cheap rents of luxurious houses.

Martin Wise (Cllr.) said...

With respect to Cllr. Nicholson's comments, I will leave debate about pre 1995 to those who were on the Council at the time.

But to suggest that everything was hunky dory in 2003 is very very far from the truth. As Cabinet member with responsiblity for Resources, it very soon became clear to me that the management of our Council was more akin to a 1970's Reggie Perrin operation, than a forward looking and progressive outfit which was set up to deliver improvements in an efficient and co-ordinated manner.

It is plain fact that when I first walked into the offices of my new service, and asked for the basic monthly budget and other (e.g. staff absence) reports, my request was met with amusement. That simply wasn't how the Council worked. The same was true for the use of performance management tools to deliver improvements in services. The government requires all councils to report on a range of indicators every year, but in many (not all) areas, adherence to this requirement was cursory. Indeed, after our first year, 48% of those reported were qualified at first attempt, i.e. the auditor did not accept they were accurate. This was because information was not collected and used monthly as is normal practice in most organisations, and therefore departments were often scratching around at end of year to collect and report the information required. I am happy to relate that 2 and half years later proper monthly reporting processes for the budget are in place, and for last year, there were no qualified PI's. We publish this, and much more information than has EVER been made available before about the work of the Council, on the TDC website at http://www.thanet.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=773

This is not to deny that there is still much to do, as was confirmed in an interview with the C/E Richard Samuel on this weblog earlier this year. Improving the performance of our basic functions is one of our biggest tasks in the coming year, and having made a start with our monthly service "packs",and quarterly corporate "packs", we about to appoint a service head to help us move forward much faster on this.

It is difficult to do all of these things in one go, because as well as delivering the technical capability to achieve the results we need, there is also a massive culture aspect to address. Councils are not businesses, and have not traditionally been run on the`same lines wrt to management practices and dare I say it - "customer service". Our Conservative administration has put this at the heart of our thinking from day one, and introduced the concept "STEP - Service, Teamwork, Economics and Pride" to Council staff as a philosophy to work with. Embedding it is ongoing in all sorts of directions.

One of the most important issues facing the Council over past years has been its relationship with partners, especially those responsible for the provision of some of our basic services. Last year we took the decision to take the Grounds Maintenenace contract back in house, and believe that we are seeing improvements already in that area. Next year we take back the Street Cleaning and Waste contracts, and together with the introduction of wheelie bins, believe that this will make a huge difference to the problem of rubbish in our streets. Simply having direct control over the work force and equipment will make that job easier, but we have brought in a Strategic Director from the business world in that sector to make sure our aspirations are delivered.

As for Council Tax, over recent years the government has required councils to do more and new different functions, but has not always supported these requirements with new cash. In some ways this is understandable, because all organisations (like humans!) become fat in time if positive action is not taken to slim down. When I first became Cabinet Member for Resources, I suggested to the organisation that we would need to take £1.5 million from the budget over 4 years to redirect to services which would be more visible to the public. In reality, the figure we have had to save just to keep up with central government, and other, requirements has been closer to £3m. For example this year we had to add around £850,000 to our contributions to the staff pension scheme, and for next year the Recycling targets we will be required to meet in the future were forecast to need an additional £1.7m from the budget. Considering that our Revenue budget is around £20m, these 2 examples are huge in percentage terms. Central government requires councils to make efficiencies of 2.5% each year, but we are achieving much more than this..

Just imagine what could be done in this country, if nationally, similar savings could be obtained? If there is a message for the new Tory leader, then this is surely it?

Again, on Council Tax, I make no apology for the 1.5% difference between Cllr. Nicolson's 3% average, and our (so far) 4.5% average. We committed to this figure in my first budget speech in 2004, to send a message to the organisation that increases above this would not be accepted. This was at a time when many Councils were posting increases closer to 10%, and where a near neighbour was almost 30%. The difference between 3% and 4.5% realises a figure of a little over £100,000, and with this money last year we increased the funds available to secure significant new tourism events, for new plantings, to increase the money available to the environmental action team for painting street furniture, replacing waste bins, fixing pavements, etc., etc., and for staff training at the Council. I am proud of all of those things, because they are part of a step by step process that we need to take to help make Thanet a brighter and more pleasant place to live for all of us. Big projects are good, but we also need to focus on all the small things which together make up the whole.

On this line, it is easy for Cllr. Nicolson to claim responsibility for Westwood Cross, Christ Church College, et al. The reality is that the Council does not ususlly tout for this business, but finds it dropped into its lap. The trick is making sure the Council does not mess it up, and also being very helpful and proactive in pushing a project through. There is plenty of scope for debate about who does best this regard, but this is probably best left for another time.

DrMoores said...

I'd like to thank Cllr Wise for providing such a detailed reply. Regardless on one's political affiliation, it's a healthy sign for local democracy when important issues are openly explored and debated in a wide-reaching public forum like this.

Cllr David Green said...

"On this line, it is easy for Cllr. Nicolson to claim responsibility for Westwood Cross, Christ Church College, et al. The reality is that the Council does not ususlly tout for this business, but finds it dropped into its lap. The trick is making sure the Council does not mess it up, and also being very helpful and proactive in pushing a project through. There is plenty of scope for debate about who does best this regard, but this is probably best left for another time."

It most certainly is not easy for Richard Nicholson to claim responsibility for these things. It took very hard work over a number of years both to secure the funds and to turn the concepts into reality. The benefits are enormous for all those looking for work and opportunities in Thanet. Perhaps not for Cllr Wise in his leafy suburbs, which explains why he is busy rearranging the teacups, hoping the bigger benefits will loom out of the mist.

Anonymous said...

The bit that is missing from Cllr Nicholson and Greens comments is the admission that much of what they were able to push for and achieve was on the back of substantial sums of European grants for the area. It is rather easier to put headline projects in place and not add hugely to council tax when such money is coming in. When that source of funds is ending, and the government is reducing support in the south east, then the pressure on council tax is of a totally different order. An order that requires real financial discipline, not a form of financial discipline that can be hidden behind incoming extra resources.

Martin Wise (Cllr.) said...

Disappointed, but not surprised, that you think basic housekeeping is "rearranging the teacups" David. It explains why the financial monitoring was such a mess in your day, and why the very basic infrastructure around our streets was allowed to deteriorate to the point where our towns have become so shabby. There is a place for small projects as well as the larger ones. A lick of paint here, and a flower or two there can make all the difference to perceptions, and don't cost much in comparison to the big schemes.

I have never suggested that Cllr. Nicholson (or yourself) did not work hard to achieve results on the big projects. I applaud what has been achieved. But I did say that the trick is ".... being very helpful and proactive in pushing a project through".

I wonder how helpful those responsible for the very significant projects at Pleasurama, Manston Airport and the Turner Contemporary believe your interventions have been on those subjects?