Sunday, August 19, 2007

Centre of the Universe

Losing two flights to this morning's bad weather around Gatwick and Brighton, gives me a chance to write a quick entry before making an attempt to get Brands Hatch in later on today.

First, I see that Kent on Sunday has our local Labour group, banging-on about training flights at Manston. I'm losing patience with much of what I read about this story, as it's increasingly obvious to me that the extent of the aviation knowledge of those concerned journalists and politicians both, is limited to knowing that an aircraft has a 'sharp end' where the pilot sits and that's about all. So please spare us anymore rubbish on the 106 agreement and talk of hidden deals.

Thanet Extra published an interesting column last week, which informed readers that "Housing benefits in Thanet are worth £53 million a year", while "The entire core budget of Thanet District Council is less than half the housing figure at £21 million each year."

In addition, Thanet is relieved of £24 million of its business rates by the government but still has to pay the administration costs!

You do the sums. When people ask where the money goes, now you know, with 21.7% of Thanet citizens with a "long-term limiting illness" and a quarter of the working population unemployed or economically unproductive. That doesn't leave much left over in the piggy bank for all the projects and priorities that really need doing on the island.

Yesterday, it was reported that "Over a million adults in Britain are known as 'Neets' - not in education, employment or training; their parents didn't work, they don't, and they are having children whose nearest brush with work will be turning the TV remote to Trisha. Until the national debate moves on to Neets, society will continue to suffer the hangover." Locally, this presents us all with a significant challenge to the future of our community and so perhaps central government will be a little less generous in sending money to Scotland and a little more generous in recognising that we could do with some extra help here too!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

As i know you take an interest on all things westgate. The other evening the train to Ramsgate pulled into Westgate and the guard exstanged a few words with the lads hanging about on the platform "we run tings round hear mate" "yeah you should be paying us a tax to stop your train hear mate, init" etc etc all fairly dull predictable stuff although i fail to see why certain young men feel the need to constantly grab their genitals whilst talking, but thats another issue. As the train pulled away they told the guard that some of the boys who had got on had no tickets and he should kick them off and that they were going to Ramsgate. Sure enough two 'boys' walked up past the guard "tickets please" asked the guard "F*** off" one of them bellowed into his face... we aint got no F***ing money have we, he said whilst swigging from a can of fosters. Well you can get off at Margate *uck you etc etc, anyway they did get off at Margate and walked straight past three platform staff and jumped over a gate. Why should the guard have to put up with this? Very sad.

Michael Child said...

The problems that our seaside towns face that differ from towns inland is that when their leisure facilities are allowed to run down, and when they start to go there is a knock on effect that falling visitor numbers mean that the rest follow fairly quickly, without their tourists they are left with a large amount of vacant bed and breakfast accommodation.

The owners of this vacant accommodation are then faced with a stark choice, either to fill their vacant accommodation with people with social problems from all over the country or to go bankrupt.

The solution is to treat our leisure facilities with the same grants funding and protection that we treat our arts libraries theatres and other more middle class leisure facilities.

Also that when local government has the opportunity to site leisure facilities as it has now with the swimming pools that they should be sited on the seafronts and designed to attract visitors.

Perhaps you missed The Thanet Times this week the lead article is that Thanet District Council’s expert in charge of the heritage restoration project on Ramsgate seafront has resigned because he felt that some of the structural work and working practices are so dangerous that a structural collapse possibly involving loss of life is likely.

As someone who has been involved with the largest structural project on Ramsgate seafront which The Environment Agency tell me, will if built to the existing plans, be a dangerous structure I was interested to see this weeks Thanet Extra reported that work is due to start on it imminently.

sue said...

Are we protecting our Arts, libraries and Theatres then? I hadn't noticed that!

Mr Friday said...

In actual fact the Government provide an Administration Grant to all Councils administering Business Rates which, in 99.9% of cases, means that Councils actually administer the scheme for a "profit".

In addition, this Government introduced a scheme relating to business growth incentives which meant that TDC benefited by the tune of over a million pounds this year. So not sure I agree that TDC are hard done by at all as far as Business Rates are concerned. In fact they receive more from the Government than most other Councils out there.

Regular readers will know that I am certainly no Labour supporter but I feel sometimes a little more balanced reporting is in order as this is the kind of misleading article that you would slaughter your opposing Labour Councillors for.

DrMoores said...

TDC may appear to receive more but in real terms, given the gap in finances that has to be made-up, this is still inadequate by any measure, given the levels of need and deprivation in Thanet.

I'm hoping that others, better placed with the finances at their fingertips will address your point Mr Friday.

Anonymous said...

Mr Friday (6:29pm)

I am sorry, but you are totally misinformed. The scheme you refer to relates to (part of) the cost of collection, not the balance of revenue delivered to central government versus the money paid back to local authorities.

The fact is that Thanet, apart from general taxation revenues, delivers £24m in business rates to central government. It gets back £10m, in total.

Fact.

It also has to administer to the highest benefits caseload in Kent, which accounts for one fifth of the Council's clerical workforce.

Also a fact.

The data in the KRN article exactly reflects publicly available data in the Council's own accounts, scrutinised by (apart from me) the Audit Comission's inspectors

Cllr Ewen Cameron

Anonymous said...

Mr Friday (6:29pm)

I am sorry, but you are totally misinformed. The scheme you refer to relates to (part of) the cost of collection, not the balance of revenue delivered to central government versus the money paid back to local authorities.

The fact is that Thanet, apart from general taxation revenues, delivers £24m in business rates to central government. It gets back £10m, in total.

Fact.

It also has to administer to the highest benefits caseload in Kent, which accounts for one fifth of the Council's clerical workforce.

Also a fact.

The data in the KRN article exactly reflects publicly available data in the Council's own accounts, scrutinised by (apart from me) the Audit Comission's inspectors

Cllr Ewen Cameron

DrMoores said...

A further thought on the airport after reading the other comments elsewhere:

Manston is an airport, aircraft take off and land at airports. Here in Thanet, we want a lot more of them, because an active airport means real oppportunity for employment, for people who do not have great opportunity at present. Otherwise why would the council want it, there is no other tangible benefit for TDC.

The Conservative group at TDC, me among them, recognise that proper controls are needed for the airport, but do not believe that the current operations (among them, a single 747 on training circuits) at Manston adversely impacts the quality of life of Thanet residents. The complaints are coming from the same small but vocal group of anti-airport protestors who have always objected to operations at the airport and the story, which keeps on running in different places and publications is really an attempt by the Socialist oppostion to make a big issue out of very small matter for personal political purposes, raising profile, with a General Election very likely in the near future.

Mr Friday said...

I wasn't making any comments about the gap between Business Rates received back from the Government pool and Business Rates collected. This is a national issue which has been raised many times and affects hundreds of Councils - don't turn it into another "unique TDC one" The issue with relocalising Business Rates is fundamentally flawed and I won't bore readers with the details here.

What I was saying is that TDC do benefit from over a million pounds (£1.3 million in fact) cash last year from the LABGI scheme which "rewards" Councils for business growth in their area directly related to Business Rate values. Also, it is a a fact that Councils do receive administration grant for Business Rates (the clue is in the wording - it is for "administering" the scheme) - which is above what it actually costs for "administering" the scheme.

Again, try not to drag the argument into areas such as Housing Benefit etc - try to keep to the specifics of my original comments.

It does worry me that Councillors with their finger on the button seem to be less informed than lay members of the public.

Ken Gregory said...

Mr Friday,

I can understand you wishing to keep to the single issue of payment for administering business rate collection. However, when running a local authority clls must take into account the 'Whole Picture'

All the money that we spend is Ratepayers money, both business and domestic, we are charged with giving 'value for money'. So at the end of the year we must account for all money collected and spent, to the satisfaction of the district auditor.

Central Govt takes the business rate, gives us some back, anfd spends the rest in any way it sees fit.

At present a large slice of Thanet generated cash is being spent 'up north' in the labour heartlands.

The fact is we are being'Taxed' for living in the south.

Anonymous said...

Manston is an airport, aircraft take off and land at airports etc

I don't think you're going to get your argument across by patronising people, Dr M. And we all know you have a vested interest in the airport, so your objectivity on this matter is suspect.

Anonymous said...

I don't think DrM is patronising anyone, just stating the obvious for those who appear to be deliberately blind to it.
What is the vested interest we're all supposed to know about?
I'd love to hear you explain that in detail!!!
His company doesn't even use Manston and we all know that!
Incidently, at least you can put your comments here in real time unlike a certain Labour councillor who censors EVERYTHING as he won't tolerate any disagreement with his innaccurate posts and you certainly couldn't write anything remotely uncomplementary about him.
Such a thin skin for a politician and so much for free speech on his blog! I know, I've tried to post on it.

DrMoores said...

Sorry.. vested interest. We don't operate or keep any of our aircraft at Manston I'm afraid. far too expensive!

Anonymous said...

Mr Friday, I am not trying to start an argument with you. I appreciate your knowledge and attention.

You are clearly well informed, and very thoughtful, and have spent time familiarising yourself with the Council’s accounts.

I wish more people would do as you have done, as the realisation would grow of what a dog’s breakfast of red tape the Labour government have turned local authority funding into.

I am very familiar with the Council’s accounts. Along with Dr. Moores, I am a member of the Governance and Audit Committee. It’s our task to scrutinise and constructively criticise the Council’s accounts, accounting policy, risk assessment, and other factors. We get to do so in front of some very nice people from the Audit Commission, and get marked on whether we are doing so robustly enough.

The scheme you refer to, for those less familiar with the internals of the Council’s accounts, is the Local Authority Business Growth Incentive Scheme. (LABGIS).You are quite correct, in that, at long last, this particular grant has started to respond to Thanet’s growing success in attracting business revenue. The grant in 2006/7 was £1.342m, up from £0.548m the previous year. (see note 39 to the Core Financial Accounts)

It’s been spent.

£1.314m on economic development (see Statement of Capital Expenditure). A small underspend, I freely admit, but the previous two years was certainly not.

LABGIS is deeply unpopular with many local authorities and Councillors (me included). It is based on re-assessment of rateable values for non-domestic property, a laborious and expensive process, which ensures it lags reality by between one and three years. You will have noted the +144% increase from the previous year. But, the cost of collating this data is huge.

It is also an annual, non-recurrent grant. That is to say, it is impossible to know what level of grant will be forthcoming the following year. This makes planning for spending on economic stimulus a very high risk process.

Cutting to the chase, the data is already available, in the form of the Council’s NDR (non domestic rates) revenue – the bit Culpability Brown takes, lock, stock and barrel. Would it not just be simpler to improve the punitive proportion of the NDR we actually get back? This would also ensure that increases in commercial revenue, or, at least, a proprtion of them, actually got spent in the area that generated them. LABGIS sinply cuts this link, in a very costly fashion.

I have tried to find out the frictional cost, for every pound , of all this ridiculous paper shoving by Labour, but, unsurprisingly, no-one seems to have that information. Or is keeping schtum.

With respect, I do not think it unfair to raise the subject of housing benefit levels. It is simply an indicator of the fact that Thanet richly deserves to keep a slightly less unfair proportion of what it collects for Labour. The 19% increase in housing benefits and the 134% increase in housing subsidies from 2006 to 2007 (also under note 39) are hardly a ringing endorsement of Brown’s Booming Britain.

Finally, I feel obliged to correct you on the point that the Council makes a “profit” on commercial revenue collection. The NNDR cost of collection allowance (the bit we actually get to deduct from the £24m we have to hand over) was in fact (here’s a surprise) cut from £191k to £187k this year. This is way below the actual costs of administering the commercial revenue collection service in the area.

Cllr Ewen Cameron

Michael Child said...

I gather that from 28th April 2005 to date TDC have spent a total of
£6,158.43 on the installation and maintenance of the temporary fencing on
the upper promenade at Wellington Crescent.

Seen in conjunction with http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/tdc/report.htm it does not inspire much confidence in TDCs best use financial recorces.

Ken Gregory said...

anonymous of 12 12

Don't I Know about a certain cllr's D notice. or should that be a D G notice. If I post under ny name it does not get reported. If I post on my daughter's computer under anonymous it appears. It seems that the truth hurts

Jeremy Jacobs said...

"raising profile, with a General Election very likely in the near future".

Don't think so Simon. NuLabour are strapped of cash at the moment just like their marketing arm (the BBC)

Mr Friday said...

Cllr Cameron. Thanks for your thorough reply, I do appreciate it and I am not trying to be argumentative at all.

Just one minor point that I can't leave though - the cost of collecting Business Rates - you say £187k is insufficient. How many people have TDC got administering and collecting this tax ? I would hazard a guess at roughly 2 or 3 - maximum 4 so would perhaps argue that the grant is enough to cater for it - even taking into account on-costs, I.T. costs etc.

Anyway, a minor point - thanks for the debate !