Thursday, January 31, 2008

All Things Being Equal

A further thought encouraged by the "Green Waste" story below.

I like to think that readers will stop-by this weblog for an occasional reality check. Of late, we're seeing far too many half truths peddled around online, like the museum story, the audit commission report and many more, which attempt to encourage people to draw conclusions that have little real basis in fact. I try very hard to get the details right here.

Recently and on another weblog I referred to a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham, often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best."

Where Thanet is involved and the stories you read, William of Ockham has a lesson for us all. The simplest of these being that Thanet is short of money and the economic climate is steadily worsening and costs are rising.

Here at least, you can raise questions and concerns and because of the acceptable use policy in place, you are unlikely to be abused. Criticised perhaps but you may get an answer, a "grown-up" argument and perhaps some action on the subject, like the great Broadstairs fence debate, taken by others who might note your concerns.

I would ask you to think back to a time before this weblog and how you might have been able to express your local worries and opinions then and have them read and taken seriously by those who may be able to help and make a difference?

Like the letter on green waste, by all means please write-in. I can't promise to publish or respond to every email or comment but I do try to either reply, forward or give your concern a hearing or even encourage some debate.

The Great Green Waste Debate

CS from Westgate, has asked if I would put the topic of green waste collections up for discussion. I’m happy to and have added some clarification of the issues, after his letter, that you might like to consider:

"It has been publicised by leaflets and in a free local paper that (Thanet District Council) TDC are considering making a charge for the collection of Garden refuse.

The Leaflets and articles state that whilst the collections are suspended if householders need to have the garden refuse collected they can pay a charge of £6.00 for the collection of up to 3 black sacks.

1) No notification was issued prior to TDC taking all collections back in house,

2) That householders would be restricted to only 5 bags of garden refuse per week (this was previously open on the numbers). Now TDC are intimating that we will be restricted to up to 3 sacks (I think it will be one green bin). I and several people in my road attempt to re-use our bags but at the commencement of TDC taking over this service the men did not return these reusable bags.

Is this not another hit on the retired, elderly and disabled people who’s pensions are under ever increasing pressure. Added to this if we are told to recycle and compost will any consideration be given to the increase in the number of rodents. We are now charged for the services of a rat man to call. I live near a school and used to have the rat man twice a year because of leftovers dropped by the school children during term time. Now I don’t bother I just report to the school that they have a rat infestation.

The Make Thanet Beautiful campaign is a joke who wants 3 bins (Black, Blue, Green) outside the front of their home? Next, there will be a bin for glass. Isn’t more damage caused to the environment by people driving up to the council refuse yard than having one lorry making collections? Don’t KCC & TDC make a profit from most of the recycled products?"

Ed: With a garden to tend, green waste is a subject that affects me as much anyone else. In Thanet, it was always a ‘Pilot project’ and at present, one third of the island has it, with the other two thirds paying for it, which I’m sure you would agree isn’t fair.

As pointed out, the proposed new service will cost £25 to £30 for a large garden waste bin and a further £26 a year for a fortnightly collection. This should also have the result of keeping the streets cleaner during the “Green season” and address the many complaints from residents over black sacks and green bags left lying on the streets where green waste has not been part of the collection.

At present, one can place green waste in a black bin but no side waste in sacks is permitted as this now carries a fine.

In simple terms and with 4% inflation only matched by 1% from central government this year, Thanet Council simply can’t afford to subsidise the service. I will keep repeating that we have less and less money to spend on services and significant challenges to overcome where costs and essential services are involved.

I asked Cllr. Shirley Tomlinson, who has the Cabinet responsibility for the green waste service for a comment and she replied:

“Presently, it’s a popular service that we wish to extend across the island to give all our residents the chance to re-cycle their green waste. It’s not a service we had to supply but we aim to encourage recycling as part of a broader drive by local authorities across the country to help the environment.”

Museum Matters

The wind appears to be blowing from the direction of a Ramsgate weblog today and one local councillor who has been busy raising a petition against the so-called plan by Thanet District Council to close the Ramsgate museum.

It concludes "We will be presenting the petition to our MP, Stephen Ladyman and to Thanet Council. We would welcome letters of support from all who love Ramsgate and its heritage."

You are of course encouraged to read this story and a reply from Cllr Ewen Cameron, which clearly states:

"Nobody is closing the Trust or the museums. We fully understand the pride in both towns, Ramsgate and Margate, in their heritage and history. We cannot continue to give a grant which equates to the Council Tax retained from over 500 band D households.

Cllr Green cannot have his cake and eat it. One moment his is alleging black holes in the Council's budget, the next he is implying an unaffordable grant be contiinued, despite his own bench's support for its withdrawal.We are keen to do everything we can to help the Trust carry on its work. The Leader of the Council is hoping to meet soon with the Trustees to discuss this.

Let's also not forget there are a number of outstanding charitable Trusts which run succesfully, without substantial council funding. The Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial is one whcih springs to mind. It shows it can be done. "

Ed: What amazes me is that we councillors should all know quite clearly what the position is and so I have no idea why a story, whipping-up a frenzy over a "non-closure" should be run. But on reflection, why should anyone be surprised.

The Big Bang

It's reported that teenagers at Whitstable have a new and very dangerous game, which may yet be imported in our direction, given the popularity of YouTube and social networking sites.

Apparently, "Parts of Whitstable were rocked on Tuesday night after a group of youths threw a calor gas canister onto a bonfire on the seafront causing an explosion that sent debris flying as far as half a mile across town.The flying “shrapnel” damaged roofs and cars, and a section of metal was recovered from outside St Peter's Church. "

Something as 'spectacular' as an explosion is bound to attract imitators from the the bored and feckless, so let's hope any remaining beach huts containing cylinders on our part of the coast, are securely locked and that Whitstable's 'Big Bang' was a purely local affair.

Plugging the Gaps

Oil giant Shell, may have recorded the biggest profits in British company history but other news this week's suggests that a financial storm is on the way that none of us will escape.

Firstly, yesterday's warning from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) warning that one million mortgages may be at risk of serious financial difficulty and possible re-possession in the present economic cliamte.

The FSA cites three warning signs on mortgages:

· The loan was taken out for longer than 25 years;

· It is worth more than 90% of the home;

· The amount borrowed is 3.5 times or greater than income .

Over a third of all mortgages sold between April 2005 and September 2007 fall into one or more of these categories. This suggests that more than 2m of the 5.7m mortgages written during this period are of potential concern.

If that isn't worrying enough, then the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), predicts that the national tax burden will be at a 24-year high in five years' time, despite public spending falling to an eight-year low. Families face having to pay £2,900 a year more in taxes by 2012 in order to fund the Government's spiralling spending and borrowing commitments.

The institute, which uses the Treasury's own figures in its calculations, says that while the £8 billion tax rise - equivalent to around 2p on income tax - would be "prudent", the Government is likely to shy away from it, forcing it to borrow even more or spend less.

The taxpayers' support for the Northern Rock bail-out could add £100 billion to net debt - seven per cent of national income - if the Office for National Statistics rules it must be included on the Government books

One more sign of market difficulty, above and beyond that of Northern Rock is that last week, one of the larger commercial property funds (CLOSE) suspended trading indefinitely. Like Northern Rock, there was a run on the fund as investors sought to recover their money and it's had to shut the doors until sentiment calms and it can recover its liquidity. All rather worrying for investors as confidence in the economy declines.

Back in the clouds however, we still keep hearing from No10 and No11 that everything is under control, so that's alright then. However, it wil be interesting to look back on this entry in twelve months time, when my 2007-2008 tax return has gone-in as to what new surprises this year will generate the tax revenues that government now so desperately needs to plug the cracks in the economic dam.

And the chap in the photo? I wonder what he would think of it all?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Road Closed and Almost Open

I’ve had complaints about the recent A28 closure out of Birchington and having been stuck in it myself, I know how much inconvenience it is causing and I know other councillors have also expressed concern.

This morning I called the supervisor at KCC and he tells me that the work should be finished tonight. It appears that our own irritation and frustration over the length of time taken to complete this work is shared by KCC and it looks as if a formal complaint may be made to British Gas. I’m about to send in my own letter to add to the file.

This was in fact emergency work. Like me, you have smelled gas just past the Brooks End petrol station and I understand the main, running beneath the road was in a “dangerous state of repair” and required replacing.

I’m driving that way this morning and so I’ll have another look at the progress but hopefully we will all be able to escape from Thanet, without interruption, by tomorrow morning.

We have the first meeting of the "Joint Transportation Committee" with KCC this week and by coincidence, I'm on it, so it looks as if I'm going to be "Stuck in traffic" for some time to come!

Thanks to reader Barrie Smith for asking me to put some pressure on KCC.

Rule Brittania?

It's widely reported that the Prime Minister personally decided on removing the image of 'Britannia' from our coins, which will be replaced by a new more "Euro" friendly coins soon.

Ever since she appeared on a farthing in the reign of Charles II more than 300 years ago, the image of Britannia sitting on her rock wearing her Greek helmet and flowing classical robes, holding her trident with a lion at her feet has made a continuous appearance on British coins but she's now surplus to government requirements and may have to emigrate in order to find a home elsewhere.

Do you think it's right to tinker with this part of our history or is any idea of 'Britannia' entirely irrelevant in the 21st century world of a devolved United Kingdom?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reader Appeals for Witnesses

One of our readers, Bob Ellender writes:

"I was wondering if you could but this up for disscusion on your Blog site appealing for any witnesses. I know plenty of people read your site and and any help finding this scumbag would be great.

On Friday morning around 11.40 my Wife was assaulted and had her handbag snatched in the alley between Newington juniors and Infant schools as she was going to work the police are involved and have taken statements unfortunately she didn't get a good look at his face but remembers he was wearing a black and white jumper and darkish jeans and trainers. He then ran up the alley in direction of the railway but there are loads of ways he could of gone!

I was wondering if you could put something on your blog site appealing for any witnesses the handbag is black and a shiny black purse, two debit cards and loyalty cards for various shops and household keys with two keyrings on a Samsung D500 mobile phone and a small black and white umbrella.

She has received a broken cheekbone which needs to be seen by a specialist at Canterbury Hospital on Friday and is in shock about the event.

Any help would be appreciated."

Ed: What an awful experience for her. Very happy to help Bob and I hope your wife makes a speedy recovery.

Testing Times on the Road Ahead

Here's a topic from today's papers that is bund to provoke controversy among those of us who drive in Thanet.

"Drivers intending to stay behind the wheel well into old age may have to pass exams proving they are mentally up to it.

Ministers want to ban anyone over 75 who does not pass the exams and they will insist that drivers repeat the series of IQ tests every five years if they want to stay on the road.

The new barriers to elderly motorists will also include an eyesight exam, but they will not have to re-take their practical driving test."

Drivers over the age of 55 take 22 per cent longer to react compared with those under 30 - adding about 25ft to their stopping time at 70mph.

Separate research by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency shows that only one in ten drivers of any age with a "notifiable" condition, such as epilepsy or heart problems, actually admits to it on the form."

In 1975, elderly motorists constituted fewer than one in six drivers on the road, but by 2004 it was nearly half.

On a personal note, I find driving in Thanet considerably more dangerous than flying and I tend to avoid using my motorcycle as much as possible these days after one too many narrow escapes.

What's your view. Should drivers be tested for mental alacrity at a certain age and what metric of acceptable IQ range should be considered as a pass mark.

The Even Thinner Blue Line

If you wonder why it's hard to find a policeman these days, then a leaked memo from Michael Fuller, the Chief Constable of Kent, may explain one part of the problem.

Fuller, has told Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, that Kent is struggling to cope with "migration surges" that are leading to spiralling crime levels.

In a leaked memo, dated Oct 22 last year, Michael Fuller, the Chief Constable of Kent, warned of a "negative impact on performance" if the Government fails to provide enough cash to match the influx of migrants.

Mr Fuller wrote: "As the gateway to Europe, Kent has a unique geographical status which places additional strain on limited resources."

He estimates that 78 per cent of the population growth in the county is due to migration. This has contributed to a rise of more than a third in violent crimes over five years to about 7,800 incidents last year.

Mr Fuller estimated the total additional cost to the force to be £34 million over the past three years, but claimed that increases in funding from the Home Office have failed to keep pace.

He also warns of the soaring cost of translation services, and predicts that he will need 500 extra constables.

His sentiments echo those of Julie Spence, the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, who last year begged the Government for more money.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I've been out "helicoptering" over at Herne Bay golf course this afternoon and the activity attracted in a big Augusta 109, the airborne equivalent of a Bentley, owned and flown by Thanet businessman, Ken Wills, who had been over in France for the day.

Compared with the Augusta, even the Bell Jet- Ranger parked next to it, looked like a modest run-about and with a retractable undercarriage and a time of 20 minutes to Le Touquet the Augusta is one very quick solution to the problem of M25 traffic jams.

When the Chinese delegation arrive in a month or so to look at the site of the proposed China Gateway at the Manston business park I'm sure they will get a very comfortable 'birds-eye' view of Thanet in the process.

A Day of History

A reminder from reader CS, that today is 'National Holocaust Memorial Day'.

"Some 11 million people, six million of them Jews, were systematically murdered in Europe by Nazi Germany during the 1940s. Like the 'Rememberance Sunday' in the U.K. should we not think about those that died? More than 2,000 schools across the UK are expected to hold events to mark the day."

I quite agree with you, CS, it's something we should never forget, particularly in this day and age of 'Holocaust Revisionism'. encouraged by Iran and a number of Arab states. I've met people who were in the concentration camps; heard their stories and seen their camp tatoos and in a climate of increasing intolerance we should never let ourselves forget the inhumanity that man can descend to.

Walk-in Reminder

A quick reminder to any Westgate residents that there is a 'Walk-in' councillor clinic involving me and Cllr Brian Goodwin taking place at Westgate library, this Wednesday, from 10:am to 11:am.

PC Chris Bungard will be present as well to deal with any community policing/safety issues.

A Place for Faith?

I was struck by the headline, opposite, in today’s Kent on Sunday.

In the story, Cllr. Chris Wells, KCC’s cabinet member for education, said he “Broadly agrees” with David Cameron’s defense of parents who fake religious conviction, in order to gain a place for a child in a faith school and that it’s happening in every faith school in the country. He added that “Parents were prepared to jump through hoops” to get their children into a good school.

It would be interesting to see if readers agree with David Cameron. Would you pretend that you had a religious conviction to get your child a place in a good school or are you closer to the other side of the spectrum of conviction like former No10 advisor Alastair Campbell and his partner Fiona Miller, whose view appears to be that one should set an example and send one’s child to the nearest (sometimes inner city) state school, regardless of its standards. What do you think?

Last week, the BBC were out and about attempting to gauge public reaction to the news of council tax rises. What struck me and its frequently reflected in local newspaper stories and on our Thanet weblogs is that not a single man or woman ‘on the street’ interviewed, understood the relationship between central and local government and that only a proportion of local services are paid for by local taxes.

In a heavily oversimplified view, It may be best to think of a local council like a cash-strapped household with the bills going-up all the time. It has fundamental priorities, which for a council can be the likes of social welfare and rubbish collection and a corporate plan which it works towards, which in our case can include the regeneration of Margate and growing the local economy. Where the latter is concerned, if it grows, then there are more jobs and more people paying taxes, a proportion of which are spent on paying for and improving services and so-on. If you have an unusually high proportion of the population unemployed or on sickness benefit then, like any home with the same, there’s very little money to go around and you can’t get credit either.

So when people say, “I blame the council for X & Y” it could well be that the council simply hasn’t the money to spare for anything beyond the items it has budgeted for and the councillors are there to offer a level of democratic oversight on decisions and spending, rather like the shareholders of a large company.

But you wait. There will be more letters in the paper next month asking why the council is spending £30 million of our council taxes on the Turner centre. So perhaps we should ask ourselves why local government is so poor at explaining what it does or is it that the preconception that the public holds is so strong, no amount of communications will make a difference?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Too Early to Test?

Here a topic that might spark some debate. Kent Online reports that “thousands of primary school pupils could be taking the 11-plus test in September under plans for a major and potentially controversial shake-up in admissions arrangements in the county.”

Kent County Council is to push ahead with its plan to bring forward the tests to allow parents to know the outcome before they apply for a place at secondary school. If approved, it would start this year.

The move is in line with new Government guidance on when pupils should take tests in areas with selective schools and is likely to be welcomed by some parents.
But county education chiefs are already facing a backlash among some schools, who say it is too early for pupils to be sitting the test and will place teachers under further pressure.

In a survey conducted by KCC as part of the consultation, 60 per cent of Year Five parents favoured taking the test in September but only 18 per cent responded.
KCC also says "most" schools supported the move although it is understood a signficant number, including all Kent’s Catholic schools opposed it.

A report setting out the plans will be presented to KCC’s Conservative cabinet in February.

One Rule for You - One Rule for Me

So would you trust HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) with any sensitive information or even to be able to do its important job, consistently fairly and accurately? If the answer is 'Yes' I would be surprised.

In March, I'm chairing the ecrime congress again and we'll hear how much worse the online crime problem has become and what is being done to tackle data theft and data loss by government and large companies. This year we have David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, the Directors of the US Secret Service and FBI, several large banks and ironically, the head of the French computer crime unit, making their point. I wonder if the French will have found the missing Société Générale trader by then?

Anyway, from this year, anyone wishing to file a self-assessment tax return after October will have to do so online or face stiff penalties, which is unfortunate if you are still one of the 20% of the population who stubbornly refuse to use the internet.

Worse still, is the news that if you aren't really important; an MP perhaps or a fottballer or a Prince or maybe even a Russian plutocrat, HMRC has admitted that it can't really guarantee that your financial data is secure, so you won't have to file onlike like everyone else. In a statement, HMRC said:

"HMRC online services are designed with security as an integral part of the service. We use leading technologies and encryption software to safeguard data and operate strict security standards.

"A tiny minority of individuals' records, including MPs, have extra security measures over and above the very high standards of confidentiality with which HMRC treats all taxpayers' data.

"The separate arrangements mean they are unable to use the online service."

Read into this what you may but I certainly wouldn't trust HMRC with 'any' sensitive information, given their appalling track record and cavalier attitude to the data protection legislation to date. The expression, 'Unfit for purpose' springs to mind and I will certainly let you draw your own conclusions from that.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grupo Labour Logic

Flicking through the remainder of today’s Thanet Gazette, I rather wonder if Thanet South MP and former Transport Minister, Dr Ladyman, considers the odds of keeping his Parliamentary seat are now so low, that he is now trying to make his case for being elected to Thanet council, maybe as a future leader of the Labour group?

Apparently new job creation in Thanet is a legacy of the previous Labour council and the fault for the closure of Grupo Antolin this month, lies at the feet of the present Conservative council. As a result, we may all thank a former Labour council and a present Labour government for the fall in local unemployment since 1997.

It appears and I quote Dr Ladyman: “The closure of Grupo Antolin is at least partly related to changing production patterns in the car industry but what is clear is that they were allowed to leave without any sort of fight by Thanet council.”

Dr Ladyman added: “The council no longer prioritises job creation and looking for inward investment and has no standing economic development team anymore. We can’t blame anyone but Thanet council for that.”

Now Jeremy Clarkson may have a more ‘down-to-earth’ grasp of the problems facing the car industry and Conservative Group leader Sandy Ezekiel and the Chief Executive of Thanet Council, quite obviously went to China before Christmas, not to attract new business to Thanet in the shape of the China Gateway project but to indulge their taste for Chinese food?

While ignoring the Northern Rock fiasco for a moment, the causes of Antolin’s closure are a matter for the management of the company. And we all know that car-parts production is orders of magnitude cheaper in Eastern Europe these days, in the same way that Marks & Spencer and Barclays Bank rely on cheap Indian Labour for clothes and call-centres. As a Member of Parliament and a former councillor, Dr Ladyman knows very well that the council, funded in part by your taxes, has no powers to intervene in the fortunes of a privately owned business. Councils provide ‘Services’ to business and the local population and all that Dr Ladyman has done is to tell the world that Thanet is not an attractive environment for business.

From where I sit, I can see that the Council has worked hard to build a business-friendly reputation and there’s more than enough evidence from a series of recent initiatives to prove this to any observer.

For heaven’s sake, is he really suggesting that TDC should have somehow bailed-out Grupo Antolin in a parallel with Northern Rock? If that’s the case, you would have had something really important to complain about and no money left over for bins and housing besides!

I wonder if he's learning Chinese?

CCTV for Westgate

I see that the front page of the Thanet Gazette is leading with “Village buys its own CCTV Cameras”, a story involving Westgate and how the residents association and local business fund has contributed to the installation of a camera above Rogers & Hambridge estate agents.

On a personal note, I’m glad to see a camera back in place and it’s very kind of Rogers & Hambidge to allow their premises to be use to mount the camera and store the recording equipment, which is available to the police if required.

At the end of last summer, I visited local traders in Station Road and asked if they would be prepared to contribute to the cost of a new camera in a bid to deal with anti-social behaviour problems outside the stations and opposite the off-licenses. The response was favourable, subject to cost and a great deal of credit goes to PC Chris Bungard for sourcing the right camera for the job at a very attractive price.

It is unfortunate that the community has to dip into its collective pocket these days to find the funds to make our streets safer. Two of the local traders nearby, already have CCTV in place and one more, wider range camera ,is a help when it comes to collecting evidence and perhaps acting as a deterrent to the anti-social behaviour that our towns and villages suffer from on a regular basis.

Here in Britain, we have more CCTV cameras than anywhere else on the planet but “Forests of CCTV cameras in the UK's town centres have failed to have any impact on anti-social behaviour”, an ACPO official told the House of Lords Constitution Committee last week.

Graeme Gerrard, head of CCTV at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said cameras did a good job deterring crimes like theft, for example in car parks. Such criminals are presumably acting "rationally", he said, and will take cameras and other surveillance equipment into account.

"Before CCTV can effectively deter people, they need to know the cameras are there. They have got to be thinking about the consequences of their behaviour," he said.

And here lies the problem. We have less and less money for policing, with even the Police themselves threatening strike action over pay and without a doubt the great majority of those committing anti-social behaviour offenses, don’t give a jot about the consequences of their behaviour!

Gerrard insisted that the proliferation of CCTV cameras in public spaces was being driven by local communities, or rather local authorities and other public agencies.

The public was often left disappointed by CCTV's lack if impact on drunkenness and violence, he said. "... it doesn't deter most crime. I think they are perhaps misled in terms of the amount of crime that CCTV might prevent."

Gerrard’s evidence might have seemed slightly at odds with ACPO's own written submission to the committee, which said: "The availability of CCTV images greatly assists in the investigation of crime and disorder."

Well done however to all those involved in making this effort to address a problem in Westgate which is born of a greater problem in modern society. With luck the groups of youths that hang-around the station in the evening will disperse but to where I wonder?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Game's Up

So Peter Hain, the great survivor, has finally fallen on his sword and resigned, which rather leaves Gordon Brown with a dwindling choice of vaguely intelligent MPs for the top jobs in Government. And who’s to say that Harriet Harman won’t be next?

Dr. John Reid has announced he is stepping down as an MP. Who can blame him when being Chairman of Celtic football club is an even more lucrative career move than being a Government Minister.

Teflon Tony of course left the job as Prime Minister at just the right moment and is now earning a £1 million a year or more doing what he does best, being abroad and is likely to become European President, a role worth £squillions for the right man and who else but Tony could do the job while he’s waiting for a vacancy at the Vatican?

Let me think? Stephen Byers, David Blunkett, John Prescott, Charles Clarke? If you suffer from insomnia, just try counting the number of Labour Ministers caught-up in scandals over the last ten years? In contrast, the last days of John Major’s Government pales into near insignificance.

What you might notice from the sidelines, is now that the writing is firmly on the wall, the game is up and so on in cliché terms, there is a sense that Labour’s elite are looking to their retirement plans outside Parliament as the party faces being kicked-out at the next election by a country sick of crime and spin and deceit and suffocating under red-tape and political correctness.

In ten years, what is really better and what really works? Hospitals, Schools, Defense. Gordon Brown has taken the credit for an economy driven by the monetary policy of an independent Bank of England and the most powerful financial centre in the world, the City of London. Remove both from the equation and what’s left?

As the months pass, watch to see how many of the Labour Party ‘elite’ show signs of bailing-out into a comfortable consultancy role in the private sector. It’s always been the same. Historically, Conservative MPs have come from business and the professions but Labour hasn’t and this is plainly evident when you listen to the quality of debate from both sides of the House of Commons. With a spell in the wilderness approaching and a possible loss of a Parliamentary seat, Labour MPs, many of whom started as career politicians, will have to start wondering what they will do once the monthly salary stops. Go back to being a businessman an author or a barrister? Possibly not in a great many cases.

A good friend of mine left Parliament at the last election. Not a Conservative MP I should add. He saw the light and now holds a senior role in one of the world’s largest IT companies. Looking back on the last two years I doubt he has any regrets either!

It's all rather like the plot of 'The New Statesman' with MP, Alan B'stard, in the Labour Party instead. The game’s is surely up but looking at the mess the pitch is in,(such as Northern Rock) I don’t envy any Government of the future having to play on the surface that’s been left behind, do you?

Ramsgate Needs Wind Power

Good to see Thanet South MP Stephen Ladyman reminding the House about Ramsgate and plans for the London Array:

"Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of offshore wind power, may I ask him something? He will know that the biggest of the planned wind farms 'the London Array' will be located not far from my constituency and that we hope it will be constructed from the port of Ramsgate. If that comes to pass, east Kent, which is an area of high unemployment, could well become the leading centre of expertise in the construction of offshore wind projects. Will he undertake to do everything in his power to ensure that that wind farm is constructed from Ramsgate?"

Government Minister John Hutton (Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform) replied:

"I shall certainly do that, and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to bring that about. All the analysis and the discussion so far today has been about the energy implications of the things that we are talking about*security, climate change and so on*but we should not overlook the prospect that renewable technology and renewable energy sources hold out a good chance of bringing about the birth of a new generation of green-collar jobs in British manufacturing. We should focus on that, possibly not in this debate, but in the months and years ahead. I shall do all I can to work with him and hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that the UK extracts the maximum potential benefit from all such technology for our manufacturing base. We can, should and will do more."

Long Arm of the Law

Kent News reports that eight teenage boys were arrested in early morning raid yesterday s at their homes across Thanet as part of an investigation into £110,000 of graffiti damage.

The teenagers, who are aged between 14 and 19, were woken up by police just before 7am on at addresses in Margate, Broadstairs and Birchington.

They were interviewed at Margate Police Station about 995 offences of criminal damage in the Thanet area.

As well as arresting the young people, the 40 police officers involved in the operation seized various items from addresses including computers, note pads and other personal belongings.

The operation, jointly planned by Kent Police and community safety staff at Thanet District Council, follows damage to public and private buildings as well as in open spaces.

Mark Richardson, community safety manager for Thanet District Council, said: “This sends out a strong and clear message that graffiti done in this way will not be tolerated any longer. The district council has, and will continue to, work side by side with Kent Police to ensure that offenders are caught and dealt with.

“This is part of a targeted and prolonged effort by partners to remove graffiti, carry out enforcement against offenders and look at preventative projects to do it lawfully and without damaging anything.”

Police arrested two 14-year-olds, a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old from Margate; two 14-year-olds and an 18-year-old from Broadstairs and a 19-year-old from Birchington.

Ed: I'm delighted that the Police have taken action, given the appalling blight and cost that graffiti is causing to our community. The next challenge will be to see if the Magistrate delivers anything stronger than a caution, which is hardly an effective deterrent to the graffiti vandals of today.

Let's Move to Scotland

Council tax bills are rising everywhere, well almost. Not a lot in the North of England and not at all in Scotland. Now there's a surprise as we struggle with rising costs and a reduced central government subsidy down to 1% here, in the South of the country.

Leaders of councils across the South East have commissioned a special economic study to highlight the threats they now face from the Government's decision to redistribute money to the North.

Henry Smith, the chairman of the South East County Leaders, said: "Whitehall needs to stop taking the South East for granted."

Local authority leaders said it was well known that northern cities were "swimming in cash" this year.

A spokesman for St Helen's Metropolitan borough council, which is imposing only a 2.5 per cent rise in council tax for 2008-09, said: "The northern councils seem to have benefited much more this year, there is a great deal of muttering from the southern councils.

"We have seen a 5.5 per cent increase in our central government settlement and we are obviously very happy with that."

The Big Mac Diet

It is reported today that "Fat people will be offered cash incentives to lose weight and take regular exercise under a radical Government strategy announced yesterday to tackle the obesity epidemic."

Apparently, Ministers believe that by giving people incentives to do something about their weight now, it will help avoid larger costs associated with treating cancer, heart disease and diabetes caused by obesity. Similar schemes have worked well in America and some insurance companies already offer discounts for people who go to the gym regularly.

Experts say that most of the population will be obese by 2050 unless urgent action is taken and the associated rise in ill health would cost the NHS £50 billion a year.

Other than going to suffer the self-inflicted torture of the rowing machine at Hartsdown gym at lunchtime as part of my New Year's resolution to stay fit, I rather wonder whether the greater population group targetted, will respond well to being offered money for weight loss. Should we be using our taxes, which quite obviously are not going far enough these days - given this year's council tax rises - to fund a national weight loss program? What do you think?

Do you know your own body mass index?

A person with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 is overweight, those with a BMI above 30 are classed as obese. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25.

BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. A BMI of 20 to 25 is considered normal, 25 to 30 overweight, and over 30 obese.

So if you weigh 80 kgs and are 2 metres tall, it's 80kg divided by (2*2) = a BMI of 20

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Count Your Pennies

Prime Minister's questions at Westminster today and in the Commons, Gordon Brown and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, are expected to be accused of failing to prepare Britain for a possible recession. Government borrowing has already breached official limits, leaving little room to cut taxes or boost public spending to kick start the economy.

Commenting today, George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, said: "Gordon Brown could have used the boom years to prepare Britain for the lean years. He failed to take the tough long-term choices and so we are not well prepared to deal with the difficult economic times that may lie ahead."

At the same time, the Governor of the Bank of England warned that that we may be facing most challenging economic environment since the Bank was granted independence in 1997, Mervyn King said that the City must brace itself for more pain.

Not good news then for a Government still struggling with the Northern Rock fiasco and a crisis in health, education, data protection... the list goes on and on. Worse still, for the man in the street, the impact on investments and big pension funds could present a problem for those facing retirement in the near future.

The probability of a change in Government at the next General Election is now higher than ever before but I wonder if anyone would really want the job, given the potential economic and social train-wreck that faces us all in the future, unless a number of very real challenges are dealt with both efficiently and quickly by a government that had shown itself unfit for purpose in many different areas that affect us all. Family Tax Credits and the Child Support Agency being two small examples that hurt people here in Thanet.

The economy, this week anyway, seems to be out of Government's control as world stock markets suffer and perhaps we should worry that at a time of rising prices and inflation, the government needs money and that could prove very painful to the already overstretched tax-payer after the April budget.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

EU Vote - Parliament's Night of Shame

North Thanet's Conservative MP, Roger Gale, has this morning described as "Parliament's night of shame" last night's vote to give the bill that would enshrine the European Constitutional Treaty in law.

Speaking at the House of Commons the MP, who after the vote presented to the House a petition from Kent constituents calling for a referendum, said:

"Every major political party - Labour, Liberal and Conservative - promised at the last General Election to give the electorate the right to vote in a referendum on the European Constitution. Last night we heard weasel words from Foreign Secretary Militant during his attempt, in the Prime Minister's noticeable absence, to justify the unjustifiable. This was parliamentary dishonesty on a scale that I have never previously witnessed and it can only have damaged the standing of what passes for democracy in the United Kingdom.

Over and over again it was demonstrated during the debate that the Lisbon Treaty signed by Gordon Brown is the previous constitution with only cosmetic changes. All of the substance that would create a European Foreign Minister, give the European President a much longer term in office and introduce greater majority voting remain on the table. Those of Kent's MPs who voted to support this further move towards a Federal European "Super-State" are guilty of a monumental breach of trust and will have to be held to account for that at the next General Election - whether Brown calls it this year, in 2009 or 2010.

We shall now target our efforts on securing a vote on an amendment to the bill to introduce the referendum that we know that the people of the United Kingdom want and it will be interesting to see whether those MPs who supported the second reading will, in that vote, have the honesty to recognise the pledge that they gave in 2005 and support us."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Accident Centre

Passing swiftly by another set of demands that a parallel system of ‘Sharia’ law should be implemented in the same well-defined areas of Britain that have caused the Bishop of Rochester recent concern, I was struck by what appears to be an eminently sensible policy statement from the Conservative Party.

The Shadow Home Secretary , David Davis, has pledged that under a Conservative government, “Dozens of health and safety rules will be swept away for police and members of the emergency services.”

He added that the Conservatives would "rebalance" the system so that police and rescue workers were not subject to rules that penalised them for acts of bravery.

In the United States, a country that suffered from the predatory attentions of ambulance chasing lawyers for decades, a ‘Good Samaritan’ law was introduced, “protecting from blame those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill.”

In Britain, we are a country that thrives on blame and so-called ‘compensation’. Simply watch any hour of Sky television during the day or wander past an “Accident Centre” in any high street.

Now I think that allowing emergency workers like the recently sacked coastguard - who appeared in the papers because he climbed-down a cliff to rescue a girl before safety equipment arrived – should be able to make their own decision as to whether they act to save a life and risk their own or injury in the process or wait for appropriate support under Health & Safety guidelines.

About ten years ago, I took a paramedic course at The Stoke Royal Infirmary and then did my practical ‘internship’ at St George’s Hospital busy A&E unit in London. The original purpose was to support the work I was doing as a mixed-gas (Trimix/Helium) instructor trainer in the hostile conditions found at great depth but I also found the experience and training invaluable in the aftermath of several motorway crashes and other serious incidents, - including strangely enough an El Al flight to Israel - while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

During my training, the first part of the emergency treatment protocol was to ask “Is it safe” because there is no sense in becoming a second victim as a consequence of a hasty decision but once the situation has been properly evaluated, what do you do? Do you leave the unconscious and badly broken motorcyclist to die by the side of the M25 because his airway is blocked and nobody wants to or knows how to remove his crash helmet correctly or do you intervene and maintain life support until the ambulance arrives?

These days, I would think twice about helping anyone because I worry about being sued if I did. In training, we were told that “Death is the worst possible form of ill-health” but think back to the floods tragedy last summer, when I young man, with his foot caught in a drain cover drowned, because nobody would take the responsibility of quickly amputating his foot at the ankle, in the event that he might die of blood-poisoning. Instead, he simply drowned in front of the emergency services. What kind of outcome is that?

No, I think that on this occasion, introducing something equivalent to a ‘Good Samaritan’ law is a sound idea before the compulsive and obsessive Health & Safety culture in which we all live, finally hands the lunatics the keys to the asylum and surrenders any notion of personal initiative and common-sense at the same time.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A History of Birchington

Michael's Bookshop has sent me a fascinating re-print "History of the Ville of Birchington" to look at.

Originally published in 1893 by J.P Barrett "The Annals of Birchington" offer a detailed pocket history of the village and its immediate area, starting at the Norman conquest. If, like me, you share an interest in local history, this is certainly a book to have in your collection.

That so much colourful 'history' happened in such a small village, never ceases to surprise.

First Zimbabwe then Margate

"Saint Bob's latest rant creates a storm in 'ugly' town of Margate", the headline in today's Independent newspaper.

The paper writes: "The latest target for the outspoken anti-poverty campaigner is not a national leader or a failed state. It's much closer to home than that. He thinks Margate is ugly!"

The leader of Thanet council, Sandy Ezekiel, challenged Geldof to "spend some time in the town to find out about our regeneration programme" and said the former Boomtown Rats singer would be "an ideal figurehead to help support the drive to revive the fortunes of the resort". He said: "I can't believe somebody of Mr Geldof's stature is saying that Margate is ugly. Of course there are deprived or derelict areas, but we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the country too. Once he's seen those, I'm hopeful Mr Geldof will become a champion for our town. Sir Bob has great connections and knows the value of sustained commitment to a cause – that's where we are with Margate.

"Its regeneration is an important ongoing plan and I am sure Sir Bob would appreciate our ambitions. I'd be very happy to show him around and tell him what we are doing."

This is a story that may run-on for some time and who knows, Sir Bob might accept and become a 'Champion' for the town. Now there's a thought! Rumour has it though that Ramsgate, not to be outdone, is lining-up U2's 'Bono', a potential ambassador of almost equal tact to Mr Geldof.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Boomtown Bob on Margate

I'm possibly the last of the local Bloggers to comment on Sir Bob Geldof's impressions of Margate. The BBC South-east News carries a report, asking local people what they think. You can watch it here.

Sir Bob, who lives near Faversham, was musing over the different contrasts that can be found across the county. He said: “It’s a mad mystery, the battle of the ugliness of Margate against the charm of the beaches.”

The BBC discovered that local people's view of Margate was, on the whole, positive. Have a look at the video - sorry I can't embed it - and see what you think!

You can also find videos of Thanet in "The Good Old Days" here. I'll embed the link in the sidebar as well

Cockpit View

Strangely enough, I was sitting in the medical centre of the CAA Safety Regulation Group building at Gatwick this afternoon, watching the news on a big screen TV with some other pilots just after the incident at Heathrow with a Boeing 777 occurred.

I've embedded an approach view from the cockpit of the same model 777 Boeing, a KLM flight into Schipol, so you can see what happens during the final approach moments. Today's events did give some cause for speculation among those of us watching the news report at Gatwick. It would be strange, if not amazing if both engines from such a modern and reliable aircraft suddenly lost power at that vital moment, so I have some ideas of my own. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured in what could have been a catastrophic event if the aircraft had impacted ten seconds earlier outside the airport boundary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Accident in the Avenue - Police Appeal for Witnesses

There's been a serious accident in Westgate Bay Avenue in Westgate this evening, just past Beach Road. The road has been closed for almost two hours now and I'm keeping the kettle going for some very cold and miserable PCSOs who are keeping the public outside the cordon - tied with blue and white tape to my front gate - and diverting traffic away from the scene, while the police record the scene.

At the moment, I'm unable to glean any more details from the police as to what has actually happened and the nature of any injuries but the same stretch of road has seen, in my memory, five accidents in four years, which is one reason I'm keen on seeing traffic calming measures as both Westbrook Avenue and Westgate Bay Avenue pick-up more and more traffic as a quick run through to and from Margate and Birchington.

On a separate note, I noticed a wind gust of 94mph along the English Channel south-east of Ramsgate this afternoon on the wind map; quite remarkable!


Collision witness appeal....

Police are now asking for witnesses to come forward. A man was in collision with a Ford Ka at 5pm on Westgate Bay Avenue. The man suffered life-threatening injuries and was taken to QEQM. Kent Police’s Serious Collision Investigation Unit attended the scene and is conducting an investigation.

Anyone with information is urged to call the witness appeal line on 01622 798538, or call Kent Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Calls are free and you do not have to give your name.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Deeply Dippy

I'm going quite for a few days, so expect a reduced level of posting until the end of the week.

With another exam at Gatwick with two hours and 71 awkward questions like:

"An aircraft is flying at MACH 0.84 at FL 330. The static air temperature is -48°C and the headwind component 52 Kt. At 1338 UTC the controller requests the pilot to cross the meridian of 030W at 1500 UTC. Given the distance to go is 570 NM, the reduced MACH will be?"

Maths isn't my strength at the best of times, so I need to do some serious revision before hopefully starting on a multi-engine course the week after.

I'll still be dipping-in an out though but you may have to chat among yourselves for a while!

Serious and Organ-ised

In the light of the government's plans to improve the country's poor organ-donation and transplant record, I'm reminded, by one Scottish Health Minister's interview of a sketch from the Monty Python team.

The Minister referred to "Increasing the number of organ-recovery teams" but does this mean something as sinister as groups of surgeons hanging around outside health clubs? After all, Edinburgh was once the epicentre of the body snatching business in the 18th century!

Quite why Scotland was involved in the Sky News interview, I'm not entirely clear unless there's some hidden plan to send our organs north of the border? More likely that in the light of the Peter Haine fiasco, most government Ministers remain sensibly in hiding from the media just in case they are asked any questions on the subject of donations, financial or biological!

Video not suitable for children and those with a sensitive disposition!

Northern Exposure

I see that the Conservatives have received from an opinion poll shows their lead over Labour has widened and indicates huge public support for their tough plans to cut the number of people on benefit. At the same time, Kent on Sunday shows that here in Kent we are faced by a particular benefit challenge and if the figures were sufficiently granular then, I'm quite certain that Margate, Ramsgate and Sheerness would catch the attention of the statisticians.

Strangely enough, even the LibDems, under their new leader, Nick Clegg, appear to be moving towards the policy right and listening to his speech yesterday my first reaction was 'Cameron-lite' as he talked about public service reform, education and hospitals. The LibDems describe themselves as 'The Progressive Centre' party but I'm not sure what this really means other than not being part of the two major parties in British politics.

I mentioned Northern Rock yesterday and like me, I'm sure you will be delighted to hear that the people involved in the biggest banking crisis in modern British history have been rewarded with annual payouts of up to £100,000 each. The confidential payouts, - which total £2.3million for this month alone - are capped at £25,000 per quarter and take effect from this month. The formula means that some staff – those earning £100,000 or less – could double their pay. Which is nice, as I'm sure you will agree.

It's reminds me that the head of HMRC, who 'resigned' after the personal data of 25 million families was lost, swiftly found another job at the Treasury. Which is also nice.

Another piece of news today comes from that paragon of political correctness, The Observer newspaper. - which I used to write for - . Apparently up to a million migrants have gathered in Libya, from where they will attempt to sail across the Mediterranean for Europe and, ultimately perhaps, the UK. Rather too many to fit in the Nayland Rock Hotel perhaps but I'm sure we will play our proper part should they arrive.

The issue is highlighted in tomorrow's BBC Panorama programme, which details how European leaders tried to reach an agreement with Libya, a country that until recently was named by Britain as a state sponsor of terrorism. we might joke about the enormous numbers involved but it raises pressing questions for the countries that lie between Malta and the English Channel, where the majority of economic migrants will be heading. Given the turmoil in Africa and the Middle-east, Europe is now effectively under siege and the defenses, in the shape of the Human Rights Act and immigration services of the EU states are quite inadequate.

If a million doctors, scientists, plumbers and software engineers were coming this way, that might be another matter but Europe isn't short of unskilled migrant labour, what it needs is a new generation of skilled workers to replace the 80% of the workforce that will retire over the next decade. without these, our welfare state will start to collapse under the strain of pensions, benefit and health provision. It's a mathematical certainty. Europe and in particular Britain, has to act decisively before it's too late. I'm not optimistic given the poor track record of achievements to-date.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Behind the Smoke

If readers wish to raise their own subjects for discussion, then I'm very happy to help. One of our regulars, CS of Westgate, has asked if I might gauge your opinion of his argument on the present smoking legislation as it affects 'host families' something we have quite a number of in Thanet. He writes:

"As is known the law changed July 1st 2007 making all enclosed public places and workplaces in England smoke free. As has been highlighted in the local press and on the News several people have been fined for breaking this law, even whilst no visitors/paying persons were in the premises. If one owns a Pub/Hotel/Guest house receiving paying guests etc., no smokers including the owner’s weather they have guests or not are allowed to smoke in the premises.

An anomaly appears in the law.

If one receives foreign students into ones home (they being young and mature students) they are paying guests. This income is taxable. Based on this it is an income and classed as a business.

It has been stated that the law doesn’t apply to host families surely one is doing the same if one has a taxi. One is plying for trade. If one has a pub/hotel etc one is inviting visitors to come and stay therefore the same should apply to host families.


I agree legislation needs to catch up. By being a host family you are inviting /accepting people to come and stay with you this apparently is regarded as a private domestic arrangement. But entertaining family and friends in a pub after it is closed should this not also be classified as a private domestic arrangement?

I must assume that the law also follows for a shopkeeper who owns his own business and smokes in the business when the business is shut. They are liable for a fine just the same

The law is an ass, because a student can be in the same room as a chain smoker or even a couple of chain smokers causing damage to the young person’s health but the couple can be safe in the knowledge that they cannot be prosecuted or fined."

Spot the Ball (Turner) Competition

According to the Thanet Labour Group and Cllr Hart, the sea view, immediately behind the photo at the Rendezvous site on Margate's Fort Hill, will be obscured by some hidden Tory scheme to build a skyscraper or similar building.

However, the Conservative Group, led by Cllr Ezekiel, says this isn't so and as a result, a number of us pitched-up for a group photo this morning to stand on the spot which will allegedly have its view obscured.

Now the photo is online, you might want to look back on it when the Turner Contemporary is built and see who was right. In the meantime, you can use it for a 'Spot the ball' or even 'building' competition!

Councillors Clinic

Just to remind anyone who may be interested and is reading this, that I will be starting a regular clinic, together with my Conservative colleague, Cllr Goodwin and PC Bungard, on the last Wednesday of the month at Westgate Library.

This month it's 30th January at 10am and it's a walk-in affair, using the small room in the foyer on the left as you come in.

If there's anything you need to bring to our attention or require assistance with, then please come along.

For more information on the"Open Democracy", project, please follow the link.

Tank Think Progressively

Three items caught my attention in the newspapers this morning. The first that government has all but ruled out a commercial rescue for Northern Rock after conceding that funding for a deal cannot be found. There was news reported earlier in the week that a further pensions “Black hole” of over £100 million had been discovered, so one can understand why HMRC and the Treasury are seeking to leverage any opportunity, in the next budget, to squeeze more tax from an already overloaded population facing higher oil and energy prices, inflation, interest rates, food prices and so on.

The saving of Northern Rock, which will reportedly cost you and me £650 a year is only one of the dots in a children’s puzzle, which when joined-up, show some kind of picture, perhaps of a smiling Gordon Brown, who knows? However, in this case, it may be argued that saving Labour's reputation was placed above the nation's financial stability and in this example, you and I have been generous in lending £24 billion to the bank to keep it going - which might never be repaid in full. A little like a political loan, which conjures-up an image of an embattled Peter Hain.

Ironically, I’m vice chairman of a political ‘Think Tank’ called the Conservative Technology Forum (CTF) but unlike The Progressive Policies Forum (PPF), through which Mr Hain received tens of thousands of pounds from six different people, employs no staff and has apparently not published any work since its inception in December 2006, the CTF actually conducts research, holds meetings and I was up at Westminster on business last Monday. Perhaps I’m not ‘Progressive’ enough?

A second news item that caught my attention was that the children, who stoned a pensioner, Ernest Norton, to death last year on a tennis court last year while he was playing with his son, have had their sentences quashed.

A retired engineering draughtsman Mr Norton collapsed when a half-brick fractured his cheekbone and he had a fatal heart attack. The gang of boys reportedly ran away cackling: "He's dead, he's dead."

The judge decided that because Mr Norton had a pre-existing heart condition, it could not be proved that the boys were responsible for his untimely death; neither could the bricks and stones.

This rather brings to mind that the young men, who were responsible for the death of Richard Would, the landlord of the Nottingham Castle pub in my ward– reported here - a year ago, are still at large. I met his widow, Lynne and attended his funeral and have a pretty good picture of what occurred that night and what the police did and did not do in the time that elapsed following the attack that led to a fractured skull and his death some months later.

In both these examples justice is not only blind but impotent as well and I note that the full force of the law will be applied against the “Canoe” man, John Darwin, who with his wife, swindled a life insurance company out of £250,000 but what you and I might think of as the prosecution of ‘Real’ crimes are frustrated by inadequate resources, a mountain of paperwork and a Crown Prosecution Service which makes a virtue out of mediocrity!

Conservative leader David Cameron appears to think along similar lines and claimed, in a speech last week in Manchester, that Britain is "creeping" towards a state where violence is socially acceptable. He said aggression was being "feted" - as illustrated by the use of mobile phones to film people being beaten up.

"Society" he continued, needed to be "resocialised" in order to "reclaim our streets" and public areas from gangs.

Cameron said he was not advocating "an army of vigilantes and have-a-go heroes" but said elements of community life had to be rebuilt.

"Our society is creeping slowly, with quiet resignation and muted resistance, to a state of cultural and social acceptance of violence in our country," he said.

"We're collapsing into an atomised society, stripped of the local bonds of association which help tie us together."

Low level disorder, from which greater problems grow, should not be tolerated, he said, while calling for tougher powers for magistrates, more prison places and an end to police performance targets.

Finally another education story related to this week’s local school league tables, - shown below - it appears that parents hoping to ensure places in oversubscribed Catholic schools are behind a surge in "late" baptisms into the Church in England and Wales. I think we can understand why!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Great Storm of 1978

Jeremy Jacobs reminds us on his weblog, "that on January 11th, 1978 storms reeked havoc along the Kent Coast and Margate bore the brunt with it's famous jetty smashed to smithereens."

Photo of Broadstairs lifeboat courtesy of Michael Child.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The League Tables

The BBC revealed today that if, like Brighton College, you find the present 'A' levels too easy and you opt for the International Baccalaureate (IB) instead, then no credit will be given in the latest school league tables and you'll show-up as a failing school, even though the IB is a much tougher exam. The Department of Education doesn't dare let itself be drawn into any comparison I suspect and so ignores it instead!

The secondary school league tables are out today and here's the link to Kent's results..

Pulling a few of the percentage results out - Grammar schools are 'SEL' - for pupils achieving five or more GCSE's including maths and english, we see that:

Chatham House Grammar School for Boys (SEL) 96%
Clarendon House Grammar School (SEL) 96%
Dane Court Grammar School (SEL) 96%

Ursuline College 48%
Ellington School for Girls 30%
The Charles Dickens School 29%
The Hereson School 20%
St George's Church of England Foundation School 18%
Hartsdown Technology College 16%
King Ethelbert School 11%
The Marlowe Academy 7%

You also need to take account of the "Contextual Added Value", explained here, being used by Ofsted inspectors. The way CVA is calculated is highly complex. It involves adjusting pupils' test results by taking account of such things as gender, ethnicity and poverty. It has also been accused of disadvantaging schools with previously high performance and The general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, John Dunford, told BBC News it was the latest example of the way ministers "thrash around from year to year" as they were "desperately trying to find a way to make the tables more acceptable.

Taking Le Pis

Well-done Westgate resident, Barrie Smith, who having seen the recent Eurostar advert for London, lobbied both our own Advertising Standards and the equivalent Belgium Authority and has now received a letter, in French of course, which confirms the ruling that Eurostar have to remove the advertisment.

While it didn't reinforce the true cultural benefits of London, it appears that "L’image d’un hooligan urinant dans une tasse de thé est vulgaire, indécente et socialement irresponsable. Uriner en public est une incivilité notoire, d’ailleurs punissable en Grand-Bretagne," or as I understand it, urinating in public is an offense in Great Britain. The Belgian tribunal clearly don't travel in our town centres on a Friday night as perhaps Eurostar did!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ticket to Ride - Gale Challenges Secretary of State

North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale, has challenged the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, to travel on the Kent Coast line between Thanet and London and to witness the conditions of service for herself.

Speaking during a Commons Debate on the performance of Network Rail the MP said:

"The Secretary of State may make light of the New Year price increases but commuters from East Kent to London have faced a massive hike in their fares and they feel that with trains shorter, overcrowded and with poor timekeeping they are paying more for less.

I would like to invite the Secretary of State to join me on the train from Thanet to London where I will do my best to guarantee her personal safety".

Responding, Ruth Kelly said that she did not need to travel on these trains to understand the problem.

"Commuters are very angry indeed" said Roger Gale after the exchange. "South East Trains are charging more, passengers are faced with the prospect of a reduction in the number of trains to Cannon Street and Victoria and higher fares to St Pancras necessitating a waste of more time and money spent on underground trains to get from the terminus to work. I suspect that if the Secretary of State did face travellers on the morning trains I would have to work hard to protect her".

Since the New Year some trains have been shorter, leading to overcrowding, and have been running late. Network Rail still have to carry out repairs to prevent water entering Herne Bay station before South East can begin work to refurbish the station and the train operator is now claiming that in spite of door locking systems that are designed to prevent passengers from leaving trains outside platforms they cannot run train sets that are longer than the platforms at the stops.

With passengers paying more for the pleasure of standing or sitting on the floor and arriving late feelings are running high and there are already calls for senior management at South East and Network Rail to be replaced.

"The Rail Regulator will be conducting an enquiry into the West Coast Main Line fiasco" says Roger Gale " but on past form no executive or ministerial heads will roll. This is a "NotMeGov" administration that does not take responsibility and you can bet that the Secretary of State will not carry the can for the failure of its re-nationalised service".

A Brief History of Thanet

I recently asked Michael Child about a reference I found in an old guide-book, to a Roman Sepulchre on which the Dent de Lion castle in Garlinge was built.

Michael replies:

"Attached is the original reference from Lewis who was writing in the early 1700s I have scanned the relevant pages for you. See pp 150 *A.D. 1703 Lacrymatory from the Latin supposed to be the vessels in which Roman mourners left their tears in tombs.

I think the writer of your guide book read Lewis and has added bits albeit somewhat diluted.

There have been a number of Roman burial sites found in Thanet mostly dating from the 2nd century, Roman occupation of the uk was from AD 43 to AD 442 with the Wantsum channel defences being most significant in this area."

Dial 99!

It appears that the Kent Police website is "down" today or at least it's as alive as the proverbial 'dead parrot'.

I'm also having problems with the PCSO numbers being dead, so perhaps it's all related!?

When the parrot recovers, let me know!

And Now for Something Completely Different!

The legendary Horace -pictured at Margate Pride 2007 - will be holding a Bangers & Mash quiz in aid of the Cancer Care Appeal, on Wednesday the 6th of February at 8pm at the Fayreness Hotel.

Teams of up to 10 people are invited to take part. Tickets are priced at £8 and include a 2-course supper. There will be 8 rounds of quizzes as well as a round of bingo and a raffle. All money raised from the evening will go to the Cancer Care Appeal at the QEQM Hospital Margate.

Horace writes: "I was wondering if you would like to bring a team of friends or family along?

If you would like to come along and help this worthy cause please call me on 078143 06664 and I will gladly book your table. "

Supporter, Cllr. Ewen Cameron writes: "Mr Horace is a stalwart fund-raiser for the Cancer Appeal, and all funds (not just profits) go to the Appeal. He's also a great entertainer and puts on a great evening! The new Viking Day Unit is, of course, now open, but the Appeal still needs to raise substantial funds to pay off the building costs, so please support it if you are able."

Monday, January 07, 2008

South Thanet MP May Lead National Road Pricing Campaign?

Thanet South MP, Dr Stephen Ladyman, appears to be in the news this week but for all the wrong reasons. Yesterday he was defending a contribution, revealed by 'Kent On Sunday' of a quite proper £25,000 donation by local businessman and supporter, Ken Wills to the South Thanet Labour Party in June and today, he features in 'The Register' which examines his connections, as a former UK transport minister and now an adviser to a traffic-data company.

Apparently, the Register of Members' interests shows that Dr Ladyman receives from £10,000 to £15,000 pa from ITIS Holdings plc. ITIS uses data from various sources to maintain its national traffic-flow database, which produces journey-time forecasts, blackspot updates and so on.

According to the report, "Dr Ladyman undertook not to conduct lobbying of the British government for one year when he stood down from the DfT, and this period will not expire until June. However, he considers himself at liberty to help ITIS deal with European and continental authorities, telling the Times that:

"I know quite a lot of the transport ministers around Europe..."

The broadsheet saw the Ladyman-ITIS* payments as a sign that UK national road-pricing is imminent."

Ed: I'm sure we all know a bit about roads and traffic too and that both became rather more congested and expensive under the last Transport Minister. Didn't we also lose a great deal of personal data as well which was being processed in the United States, as revealed last month, on the same Minister's watch? not his fault though.

Cash & Grab in Broadstairs

Thanet increasingly appears to be the playground of armed robbers.

Kent Online reports Friday's raid on the Nationwide in Broadstairs, where two masked men armed with handguns robbed a security guard who was delivering cash to the building society.

The raiders, who were both wearing balaclavas escaped after stealing three cash boxes from a Group 4 security guard.

Police have confirmed that the robbers were seen carrying handguns but no shots were fired and nobody was hurt during the incident at around 8.30pm.

A police spokesman said it is thought the men drove away at speed from a car park in Prospect Place, possibly in a dark-coloured old-style Porsche or Saab. The area was cordoned off while the car park and nearby roads were searched.The amount of cash stolen is not yet known.

Police say the cash boxes - which are grey with bright yellow stickers and green handles - may have been dumped and have urged anyone who finds them to get in touch. Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 01843 222194 or Kent Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Energy Saving Advice

Just in case you thought energy saving light bulbs were safe, then why does the public sector demand that a room be evacuated in the event one breaks?

It gives a whole new meaning to "going green" and do make sure that you have the appropriate emergency breathing apparatus in the house, just in case. You can find some good Russian surplus models on eBay.

Now just imagine what might happen when some bored teenager decides to start throwing these around for fun or a 'wannabe' Bin Laden mixes a few bulbs with the recipe for home made explosive from the internet?

I'm not convinced the Department of Energy have thought the benefits through as clearly as they should.

Even worse, I've just spotted that the bulb on my desk light is one of these but at least I've scuba gear in the attic and rubber gloves in the kitchen if it goes "bang."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Help Save Pegwell from Over-Development

26 houses proposed to replace 6 homes!

Laura Sandys writes:

"I have been at three meetings in Pegwell held and organised by the local residents in order to object to a development of 26 houses in an area that currently has six homes. The residents of Pegwell are adamant that they will fight to retain the character and quality of the environment in Pegwell and are mounting a highly professional campaign.

However the proposed development in Pegwell impacts us all wherever we live in Thanet. The development is proposing to go beyond the local plan and build on land not designated for development. A very important precedent could be set for all parts of Thanet if this development is allowed to go ahead.

I am calling on everyone in Thanet who cares about our environment to write to the council to object to this planning application. It doesn’t matter whether you live in Thanet, your voice can be heard. Your voice needs to be heard.

Write to the Planning Department at Thanet District Council Offices, PO Box 9, Cecil Street, Margate, CT9 1XZ, quoting planning number F/TH/07/1734. The letters of objection must be in by 21st January 2008.

For further information and to sign the online petition please do visit my website

or ring Marion on 07798677140 or Lesley on 07816611218 to find out how you can help their campaign."

Back to Work Boys

Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, is expected, next week, to reveal radical new ideas as part of a broader plan to encourage the 3.1 million people in long-term unemployment back to work. If he is the next Prime Minister, then such proposals, will without doubt, have a visible impact on areas of higher deprivation and unemployment, which include Thanet.

In a Green Paper on welfare reform, to be launched in Brixton on Tuesday, he is also expected to say that he has not ruled out controversial plans to place time limits on some benefits and will also propose a "screening" regime to identify fraudulent claimants of invalidity benefit, cutting benefits to people who refuse to make themselves available for work and forcing lone parents to seek employment once their youngest child reaches the age of four.

The social security budget currently costs £140 billion a year and estimates puts its fraudulent element as high as 30%.

Both Tony Blair, before he left and Gordon Brown, more recently, announced plans of their own to deal with the problem of long-term unemployment but with a generous welfare state, unemployment, is hard to solve.

By widening access to university education and by growing the size of the public sector dramatically, the Labour government has managed to paper-over one part of the employment problem, although the ultimate consequences will be seen in the approaching public-sector pensions black-hole and a generation of student debt and a dilution of standards at the academic level. However, with maybe as many as a million new workers from Europe now competing for the jobs that the long-term unemployed refuse, I find it hard to see how any policy from any party, is going to have the required impact on the hard-core unemployable.

What jobs exactly are they going to do I wonder? More importantly, with next week's GCSE education results predicted to show that numeracy and literacy figures are even worse than before, what jobs can they do?

It's a problem that defies an elegant solution but one, when one considers the need to grow and sustain our own local economy, needs a campaign, that actually works and which doesn't hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Flying Wales

Prince William wishes to learn to fly, which is nice, although I hear the RAF are a little worried that the cost of training him, will not be replaced by a budget "top-up" to train one of our very expensive front-line pilots. (pictured)

If you want to be an airline pilot, then the cost of training averages about £30,000. It was about this figure this for my last two “apprentices” in 2007, ‘S’ and ‘J’, who both went on to get ‘proper jobs’ , reduced to penury but having got through the crowd on the basis of their qualifications and commercial experience pulling banners around the country in the summer. They and this season’s pilots now have equally staggering personal loans to repay because unlike some other countries, we don’t even part-fund applicants, who still have to get through an academic hurdle which has been compared to “drinking from a fire hose”!

‘J’ for example received his First Officer job only after he paid an extra £12,000 for a type-rating (at cost to the airline) for the aircraft he now flies, even though he already held an Airbus rating he had previously paid for. At Ryan Air, I’m told you pay for your uniforms too!

Prince William wants to learn to fly helicopters with the RAF too. In civilian life, that’s another £30,000 or so (hours and training) to switch from commercial fixed-wing to a rotary and more technical and theory exams as well.

So given that the taxpayer will be funding all this work experience is it the right thing to do in the circumstances when you see £30 million of taxpayers' money spent on a government scheme to help aspiring pop stars to make it in the music industry but no support for airline pilots and the potential tax return on investment that goes to the Treasury over the lifetime of such a career. Successful pop stars frequently domicile out of the reach of the taxman and taxation and the ambitions of princes never make comfortable bedfellows!.

Meanwhile, don't tell the Prince but the recent surge in use of remotely-controlled robot aircraft by US forces for the Wars on Stuff has meant that substantial numbers of American pilots are now being pulled off normal flight status and assigned to drone-driving duty, according to reports. Read on...

What do you think Train him to fly a drone instead? Much cheaper and he could stay at home too!

Good Enough to Fight - Not Good Enough for 'Brum'

Like me, you may have been angered to hear of the story, that returning troops from Afghanistan, diverted because of bad weather on December 23rd, from RAF Brize Norton, to Birmingham International Airport were instructed to change out of their military fatigues on the airport's runway, before being allowed to proceed through the terminal building.

Troops were reportedly told not to be seen in public in their uniforms and last night the Ministry of Defence and management at Birmingham airport blamed each other for the indignity suffered by the soldiers.

The soldiers, only hours out of active operations against the Taleban, were told they could either wait for coaches to take them back to Brize Norton or else travel home via public transport - in which case they must change into civilian clothes before entering the terminal.

The MoD eventually confirmed it has a ban on troops wearing uniform in civilian airports, claiming it was because a small number of airlines ban all uniforms on flights for security reasons.

Or was it because they feared that someone might have been offended? What do you think?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Top Gear PM?

Leo McKinstry who wrote about Westgate in yesterday's Dail Mail, has followed-up today, with a piece on BBC 'Top Gear' presenter, Jeremy Clarkson's manifesto in his bid to become the next Prime Minister.

More than 28,000 people have now signed a Downing Street petition for Clarkson to replace Gordon Brown, which may suggest that some of Clarkson's less radical 'policies', which involve ending our support of the Human Rights Act and "banning Wales" may enjoy a modest level of popular support in Middle England.

It's a good subject for open discussion anyway!

Snow Time

I was supposed to be moving aircraft around for different maintenance issues between here and Brighton this morning but the forecast is for snow and sleet by noon.

Whether, the weather - bad pun - now coming from Siberia will drop snow or sleet on us here in Thanet is difficult to say but looking at the aviation forecast, the probability is high on a line which stretches diagonally from Southend to Brighton, with visibility down to 200 feet, so be prepared, just in case!

But the first cold snap of the New Year is likely to be short-lived, with temperatures here in the south-east reaching as high as 8C by tomorrow. The Siberian weather is due to return early next week, making it one of the coldest winters for twenty years.

The average temperature for January is predicted to be close to freezing, with 0.8C (33.4F) at best, and may even fall, according to one forecaster as low as minus 12C (10.4F) here in the South.

The Rendezvous Role Answered

Recent represenations have implied that there is a link between the de-dualing of Fort Hill in Margate, and the future redevelopment of the adjacent Rendezvous site. This is inaccurate, and likely to lead to unnecessary concerns on the part of the public.

The facts of the matter are that the current Turner Contemporary design has always included the de-dualing of Fort Hill. This is necessary to obtain both sufficient area, and safe traffic access.

The surrounding area freed up above the Turner development will initially be turned to grassland, and the intention is for it to be modelled into parkland. The Conservative Group fully appreciates the value of this vantage point with its views over Margate Harbour and beach, and welcomes the improvement the road scheme may bring.

There is no link to any intended scheme for the redevelopment of the Rendezvous site. To suggest so is veering toward scare mongering.

Any development proposed for the Rendezvous site will have to go through the full planning process. That will not be linked in any way to the de-dualing of Fort Hill.

Fort Hill is currently a stretch of road where dualing serves no purpose. It is dangerous. There have been a number of serious accidents, some fatal, on this road in recent years. The net result of the de-dualing should be improved safety and amenity for the people of Margate and visitors to the area. As a viewpoint above the new Turner Contemporary, this role will become even more important.

Cllr. Alasdair Bruce, a Cliftonville resident, and expert on the Thanet coastline, comments;

"I welcome KCC’s approach, which pays proper regard to environmental as well as practical issues. It will add significantly to the value of this viewpoint, which is currently just a stretch of noisy and dangerous pavement. It’s a key site in Margate, and the road changes will make it available to all".

"I’m surprised by suggestions of some secret plan to permit higher buildings at the Rendezvous site as a result. This is, quite simply, wrong. For the good of the people of Thanet, we must stick to the facts."