Friday, December 07, 2007

Balancing the Books

The Thanet Gazette devotes a great deal of coverage today to the island's fiscal challenges ahead.

Bearing in mind that the total funding we will receive from central government over the next three years us set to fall in nominal terms, and fall further after inflation is taken into account, the council is having to be very cautious with what little money there is available; remember that only 40% of the income comes from the community charge and Thanet is a welfare and grant dependent environment.

So, sixty pence in every every pound of the Council's income comes from central government and that will fall sharply. In addition, the new two-tier system for business rates adds further uncertainty, and an additional and unwanted central government tax on businesses of all sizes.

In the present environment, it's only sensible to examine what the taxpayer wants, against what they can afford, taking a quote from one of Charles Dickens' most famous characters, Mr. Micawber:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

As Councillor Wise says in the Gazette, "Thee council is committed to continuing to fund its core objectives, as well as providing events funding and for popular resources such as the Coastal project" but without a doubt tough decisions in regard to spending priorities lie ahead.

I read in the paper, comments such as "Where does all the money go?" and "The council should spend £75,000 repairing the building" (one of many ) and I ask, what money and whose priorities?

If you were responsible where would your priorities lie. Raising council tax to an unacceptable level in the face of a credit squeeze and a looming recession or trying to deliver the best possible all-round service with what little money there is available?

You tell me?


Anonymous said...

(1) Nationally about nine out of ten working families are on tax credit ... which means they can have council tax benefits means tested

(2) Thanet is mostly giro munchers who moan about the council. The performance of the local benefits people seems to lead to ten out of eleven claimants being paid less than their entitlement.

(3) Over 60s and the minimum pension guarantee should also bring them into means tested council tax benefits.

(4) You cannot promote Thanet as an attractive place for employers to invest. The local workforce does not enjoy a particularly impressive reputation (One prospective investor was known to ask "One weld failure is unfortunate, two is careless but three is stay clear" Meaning the harbour walkway collapse and two other cases)

The local police do not enjoy the trust of prospective investors (What was that area inspection by an HMI all about followed by the Force Head of Special Branch stepping in as area commander ?)

So Thanet flags up questions and provides no answers.

Hence your option is to employ a benefits advice guru, stick up the council tax and have it paid by benefits.

tony flaig bignews said...

Were not children simon, you and your colleagues are doing a crap job as far as Margate is concerned.

Failing to deal with the parking in Margate and now makeing things worse by increasing parking charges so that while thanets fat cats get free parking in MILL LANE the rest of us have to pay more at on street parking bays.

Sort it out!

Little Weed said...

TDC managed to sell off allotments in Ramsgate on the understanding of all Thanet allotment holders that the remaining allotments would benefit. When it came down the the final result less than a quarter of the sale income is going towards the remaining allotments, so as this should be leisure income perhaps it could go towards museums.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it guys and gals, TDC and Kent is bound to come off badly when this Government quite blatantly bribes its 'electorate' oop north by directing funding away from the 'prosperous' south east. the fact that we in Thanet are not all part of the prosperous SE escapes them. TDC has some harsh decisions to make and I for one do not envy the position they are in. Whatever they do will be wrong!

DrMoores said...

"Thanet's Fat Cats" Tony or the council employees who make up the greater part of the local workforce?

You appear to be sloganising in the manner of the 1970's trade unions. You'll be calling them "Bosses" next!

Everything can be done better but you have no true idea of the scale of the challenges facing Margate of which Parking is simply a small part of the picture.

Anonymous said...

How about getting rid of an unelected Chief Exec earning a small fortune? It would be a start.
And please don't give me the "going rate for ability" argument. I will laugh.

Anonymous said...

And while we're at it, we could dispose of the same at KCC and get rid of the tv station and drop the £6.5million on self promotion. Maybe a greater share of our Council tax could go to TDC.

Tony Beachcomber said...

Simon, the proposals to completely cut off the East Kent Maritime Trust grant is like suggesting a beheading to cure a toothache.

The mesum service is what it is a museum service. It provides info to the media from the BBC, Sunday Times and our local papers. It provides information to both visitor and local residents, It management school trips and has a educational package. It conserves the colletion, It provides security for the collection, It displays the collection for paying visitor, It has its own website.

I am now convinced that the council has no idea of how their museum services and collection management work. The very suggestion that a 100k grant divided by 10,000 vistors is a tenner subsidy prooves my point.

I am in receipt of a letter from the deputy leader confirmining that the council records regarding the art collection are not up to scratch as they should be. Also it adds that money will have to spent auditing the collection which now defeats the object of closing the museum service. I know for a fact that art,artefacts and archives managed by the council is in a mess. All the collections combined including Art,Artefacts and archive must have reached the 500k valuation.

Perhaps this is the time to work out a complete statergy of where our local heritage, history and culture is going. The dash for the turner is putting the History of the lives of the people of Thanet on the back burner which is unacceptable, our culure is being neglected.

Personaly I think the council should keep the museums open and use museum resource to audit and value everything TDC owns.
In the meantime the museums could start upping their game and start getting a bit more commercial to bring in income ,which they are starting to do,

The collection should be divided into four collections Ramsgate,Broadstairs, Margate and the villages each covered by a seperate disposal and aquisition policy. Any item not meeting the colection criteria of the above could then be legitimately sold off.

There is so much potential but it needs heads working together not a beheading,

Anonymous said...

A cursory glance at the Government figures reveal that TDC get more grant than just about every other Council in the south of England (except Unitary Councils for obvious reasons) so can I politely suggest TDC actually take the time to learn from other, much better performing councils with similar deprivation levels who operate to a far higher level ?

A starter for 10 ? How about asking neighbouring Councils to run services for us - therefore ensuring a much higher level of competence at a lower rate of expenditure.

There is a big world outside Thanet and some Councils are managing their meagre resources in a far more effective way than just constantly moaning about their lot.

Anonymous said...

The museums, as Tony Beachcomber poits out are not meant to be commercial operations, or are they? We are talking here about a valuable historical and educational resource. I find it amazing that TDC can blithely talk of spending a fortune to 'entertain' the masses with a 'fun-day' like the Roman emperors keeping the 'mob' happy and lets be frank and honest about subsidy shall we?
Dr Moores, what is the present subsidy envisaged per head at the yet to be built Turner Centre? Who will have to meet it? The last time I heard, the subsidy to the visitors to TC would cost between £15 and £20 per head. Is TDC currently paying for the Director and curator of the yet to be built TC and if so what is it costing us tax-payers? Like wise the subsidy per head to Theatre Royal? What has been the subsidy rate on the old M&S building?

This budget move on the museums has nothing to do with a £10 per head subsidy has it? The argument proposed by TDC is utterly inconsistent, specious and glaringly transparent. TDC has other plans of its own for the prime site in Old Town, doesn't it?
Is anyone prepared to tell the council tax-payers the truth on this issue? I await the outcome of this suspicious sub-plot from TDC with interest and I would suggest that others stand-by and obtain details of the Local Government Omsbudman and have their pens ready.

DrMoores said...

Sorry 6:04, your comment is so wildly off-track that it's not worth the effort of a reply!

Anonymous said...

Its owned by business men who will make there profits when they're good and ready. They don't give a flying ---- about Margate or Thanet and are just watching the value of there assets (land) increase while the town goes to ----. Can't believe you don't know this. Easier to blame politicians as "business men" will do your kneecaps when blamed or challenged.

Judge Jeffries said...

We would save thousands if we could stop the vandals. It costs a fortune to clear up after the little buggers and there's not much of a deterrent for them.
How about bringing back public hangings for vandalism. It would provide good old-fashioned family entertainment and solve an expensive problem too!!!

Tony Beachcomber said...

Annon 6:04, When I talk about commercialism at the museum I am talking about museum publications and quality souvenirs not a burger king or express pizza.
The British Museum sells publications etc, to help with it's running costs but then there is always a demand for that type of thing otherwise people wouldn't visit the museum in the first place.
One sellimg point of any museum is nostalgia. History is more or less for Historians but nostalgia is something we all like. I not suggest it is the key to our self inflicted depressed tourist economy but we do to have seaside heritage nostalgia locked away in a time capsule like a post communist east european state that has potential.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I thought I was supporting you and what you propose is consistent with good museum practice. What concerns me is the argument for removing funding is based on subsidy per head. Whilst Dr Moores, quite rightly, ignores my suspicions about TDCs real intentions as they are just that, suspicions, it would be nice to hear from him or any other Cllr out there, the answers to my queries on TDC subsidy per head to TC, M&S and Theatre Royal?

DrMoores said...

The debate we are having involves costs and priorities on a limited budget.

TDC funds a vast range of services for which little of no government grant is received. Some of these include Marketing, Economic Development, Tourism, Visitor Information Centres (VIC's), Events, Museums, Grants to local organisations, Grants to Town Partnerships, Coastal projects, Play, Sport, Policy, Communications, Regeneration, Public Conveniences, Leisure, and Theatres and so on. The list is not exhaustive.

At a time of declining government support where the increase in the central grant is less than the cost of living, it is inconceivable that the above services should not be affected by proper TDC measures to seek efficiencies.

Realistically, I'm told, TDC has always tried to protect these in the past and will continue to do so in the future but the priority has to lie in deliering value for money to Council Tax payers.

Nobody wishes to see any part of our heritage lost or unused, and the stated intention is to ensure that what we have is properly catalogued, archived or displayed in places where they are even more accessible to the public than they are now.

The new Gateway in Margate, Albion House and Ramsgate Library have all been suggested. We could also make far better use of the Tudor House in Margate.

The real challnge in regard to the the current museum buildings is to find a way to use them in a manner which also contributes to our local economy, rather than being a drain on the finances. Would you agree?

Anonymous said...

I am amazed, Dr Moores, that anyone in TDC views the £100,000 spent in 'supporting' our Museums as ' a drain on our resources'. Is it not a cost that can be justified on educational and cultural grounds. It seems to me to be excellent value for money. The 'cafe culture' that TDC is encouraging in 'Old Town' Margate needs places to visit and at the moment TC is still ages away. It has been my personal experience that when funding gets tight libraries and museums immediately come into the firing line. TDC clearly has money to subsidise cultural projects close to its heart(Gazette reports it is now The Turner Contemporary Project Space and will have building RENT FREE!)
Am I alone in having a suspicious mind when you say " The real challenge in regard to the current museum buildings is to find a way to use them in a manner which also contributes to our local economy ...."
I would suggest that a museum should be a historical and cultural repository and an educational resource for youngsters, locals and visitors. I am all for ways to improve our museums as visitor attractions but such an aim is subsidary to their main function.

So TDC would like to split up collections and have displays in Libraries that are no longer libraries to 'release' the prime site locations they are presntly on, for a greater contribution to the local economy? What exactly is the use proposed for these sites when TDC strangles the museums by ending its £100,000 grant to support them? Cafes? Restaurants? Space when TC project collapses for the second time?

DrMoores said...

As ever, the Turner Contemporary has absolutely nothing to do with the existing budget challenges. I want museums, you want museums, we all want museums.. that's agreed. Now tell me who pays? Look at the broader population of Thanet and tell me who visits them as a proportion of the taxpayers and who actually knows they even exist?

Would those same people be prepared to fund the increase in council tax? If you want museums funded then something else will lose out as a result and that's the simple problem facing us with the antcipated shortfall in funds.

Anonymous said...

I accept that TDC has a funding nightmare, largely caused by this apalling Labour Government, but why is it acceptable to allow TC to use premises rent free that cost TDC £2.4 million to purchase and yet TDC has earmarked a saving of £100,000 by withdrawing support from our two museums? I just cannot understand the logic or lack of it involved!

Tony Beachcomber said...

Does TDC really think that by stopping the £100k museum grant they will be saving £100k, I don't think so. For a start TDC will have duty of care for the entire collection which incluiding the Webb painting could potentialy be a collection worth £500k. If the museums do close all the art,artefacts and archive including other items on council premises elsewhere will need to be stored somewhere in controlled conditions. These premises will have to be secure and manned to reduce the insurance costs. Then there is the storage costs of the premises. A council officer will have to be employed to carry out regular audits and monitoring of the collections.
There is no way there is going to be a £100k saving.

Anonymous said...

But what the majority of people want is an ice-rink!!

Tony Beachcomber said...

Considering the largest majority in Thanet are pensioners I do find that hard to believe , what we all want is our tourism and leisure economy back. Something the ruling group on the council campainged on in 2003.