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."