Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fifty-one Degrees of Separation

It’s not unusual for people to challenge their local council for not achieving more or spending money on issues that are immediate concern to them. I did frequently, when I started this weblog. However it’s always an idea to ask where the money and the resources are to achieve the little things as opposed to the big picture items that concern us all as a community.

Yesterday evening, I was in a meeting where we were looking at many of the more worrying statistics for Thanet. We have a population where 25% are on benefit, with half a dozen wards among the most income-deprived in England. Thanet has some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country and early death rates and mortality from cancer are among the highest in the land. We also have 22% of the population with a long-term limiting illness, a very high proportion of the population suffering from mental illness and the overall qualifications of the workforce are well below the national average.

The statistics of despair are rather longer than I would care to list but they are necessary to add contrast to the criticism directed at local government. Thanet might be mistaken for a hospital triage exercise; it has so many unique problems. In particular, what I describe as fifty-one degrees of separation, in that on the map Thanet is 51 degrees north and only has little more than a restricted 51 degree view of the rest of the country. This means that 309 degrees of opportunity in terms of potential workforce opportunity and economic investment are lost in the sea around us and yet more and more of the nation’s deprived and disadvantaged are being squeezed into our overcrowded embrace.

There are lots of things I would like to see done in my own ward in Westgate and with other ward councillors, I’m lobbying for them. I also recognise that the funding priorities may lie elsewhere and that the council workforce is sometimes stretched. It’s easy to read criticism elsewhere, particularly when it comes to the primitive party political squabbles that interfere with efforts towards any real progress. However, I would ask readers to consider how they might make a substantive difference, working within a tightly-defined local government system and with the limited money and materials at hand.

Everyone and everything is important when it comes to making Thanet a better place for all and I clearly see a strong culture of commitment within the council and its officers. But with every working day a struggle to resolve a host of social challenges on a very limited budget, I’m sure you’ll understand that real progress is often measured inches rather than yards.

With the popular television series, "Rome" now in full swing, I'll finish with an apposite quote for the future from Marcus Tullius Cicero: "While there's life, there's hope."


Anonymous said...

One thing we could try is not to be so obstructive to ideas that stand a chance of encouraging investment into the area like....wait for it......THE TURNER CONTEMPORARY!!

Anonymous said...

I remember at a finance and policy meeting some 7 years ago, a presentation by the finance director (Tony Rush) who said that we , as a council, had saved the Government 30 million pounds in benefit fraud.

My response was, ' what have we done to replce that money in the local economy?

If Thanet was 'defrauding' the country of that money, odds are that it was being spent locally.

In no way am I saying that benefit fraud is correct.

(But the money IS being spent locally)

Ken Gregory said...

Woops, pressed the wrong button,

I have to 'fess' up to the last comment

Anonymous said...

I wandered into upper High St, Margate late afternoon on Saturday and was amazed at the way it has declined in 12 months. Last year many were commenting on the state of the lower High St. Where were the people?
I suspect at Westwood. Cllr Gregory talks of lack of circulation of money (albeit fraudulent income)but cannot see how Westwood's 'very large chain shops' are a one -way conduit for money to leave Thanet and not circulate. A thriving number of High Streets around Thanet provided as much low-skills employment opportunities as Westwood but most importantly re-circulated money within Thanet. The 'big chains' literally import all goods and services and then export takings. It was the failure of TDC to recognise this effect that has lead to a desperate decline of small businesses and services and tatty high streets that look 3rd world. It was only 5 years ago that I used to visit Margate 2/3 times a week. Now I drive through only, as the whole place looks so unattractive. Big businesses get incentives like reduced rates etc; we need to encourage small businesses to return to the High Sts in the same way.

Tony Beachcomber said...

Living in a industrial age, economic growth comes at the expense of the environment. Personaly I think that to acheive real ecomomic growth and sustainability it has to come at some expense to our environment.
There is no point blaming our geographical location, when in reality we all know that if someone wanted to invest heavily in Thanet creating jobs and economic sustainabilty at a huge environmental expense the answer would be no.
Looking at every development that has ever taken place in Thanet there is always a group of persons that will object with the intention of sabotage. These are the people to blame for Thanet's plight not the deprived and disadvantaged.

Anonymous said...

Tony, geographical effect is a core issue!A simple maths lesson for you: lets assume that a 'centre' has a 10 mile radius catchment area for'local'people to visit and spend in. Total area is thus 314 sq miles. If the 'oggin' comprises 300 degrees of this circle, then effective catchment area is reduced to approx 53 sq miles only! To have an equivalent area of 314 sq miles on a 60 degree arc our radius has to reach out to over 24 miles. That in a nutshell is the problem the Doc is talking about.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your detailed "sit report" on the current situation in Thanet. For some time I think we who live in the area could do more to help ourselves. A small example is litter and street cleaning outside our own homes. I live in a very pleasant area of Cliftonville and am continually dismayed that residents walk past paper litter and the odd beer can, outside their housed without picking them up and placing then in their dustbin. I spend a few minutes once or twice a week just doing this, and talk to passers by and try and make my area a better place to live. Weeds and leaves in the gutter and litter removed make the area look good and I feel good about doing it. What does it take just a few minutes, perhaps we should start an "our road" tidy up once a week. Maybe somebody could make it a Thanet tidy-up exercise.

Tony Beachcomber said...

Oh silly me, but then I did go to St Johns.

Anonymous said...

TDC simply has not done enough to revive Margate High Street. This is a large town and it should have a vibrant main shopping street. The High St is now almost a Ghost town and this is all happening on the Council's doorstep! Maybe the long term aim is to demolish the exting structures and then put up a brand new council building hidden by granting planning for a new shopping centre.. Anyway without a vibrant High St, how does the Council expect the Town be regenerated..Ok there has been thousands spent on the old Town, but it is still lacking any people shopping, visiting etc. Millions spent on buying the old M&S building.The High street needs more vision than this Council seems capable of, planting a few more plants and smarting the high st etc will not do the trick. If the High Sreet is revitalised, and more shops are encouraged to open ie with lower rates, grants, cheaper parking etc the locals/visitors will return to Margate. Ramsgate is holding it's own and seems to do well in the lower part of the shopping area. But Broadstairs is suffering with closed shops/businesses changing hands etc. Here the Council is happy to allow events on the Promenade with stalls etc to sell goods directly competing against shops in Broadstairs High ST. The end result is the High St is empty and the Promenade is full of people so there is no balance. The Council has put up Parking charges, how can businesses now compete against free parking in Westwood?. Other towns have Commercial Town Managers enployed by the council to promote the commercial viability of town centres, if TDC employ such people then they need to do more than is currently being done for Thanet's town centres!! Town centres need people of all incomes to make them comercially sucessful.

DrMoores said...

While you make several valid points, we can't ignore the involvement of "market forces". i.e. the council can acquire a property but can't force business to participate, only encourage and there, I suspect is the nub of the problem.

I quite agree we need new initiatives or in other words, have to keep plugging away until one of these tips the balance away from decline and towards regeneration instead.

John King said...

The 51st State of the UK