As we ease our way into a 2009 surrounded, by a constant stream of economic bad news, there’s one ray of sunshine in the announcement that Ramsgate will be the home of a new fast ferry service to Boulogne next summer. Whether, in a recessed economy, there’s enough potential footfall to sustain such a service from our side of the channel remains to be seen but there’s good news for Ramsgate in a strong Euro that is likely to bring the French flocking back through the port towards Canterbury - and perhaps Westwood Cross - , in the way they did when I was much younger.
I can remember a time when school coach trips went straight to Boulogne by ferry and then abandoned we seasick teenagers to explore the town; the boys to spend their handful of Francs to buy fashionable flick-knives, cigarettes and ‘French’ magazines from the ‘Tabac’ and the girls? I don’t actually know what the girls did as there wasn’t exactly a lot to do in the Boulogne of 1972 but it’s changed a bit since then. Same lethal selection of flick-knives for sale though I’m sure!
As we start the year, Thanet has, I believe, two fundamental challenges to meet, those twin demons which worry people most, crime and decline. Both are very much a consequence of the prevailing economic conditions, which, thanks to a decade of suffering our Government’s own politically correct version of the Cultural Revolution, have delivered a social environment which increasingly mitigates against business, investment and above all, the country’s traditional sense of taking personal responsibility.
One in four councils in England is now reporting an increase in homelessness and more than half have experienced a rise in benefit claimants - reportedly up 37% in Thanet since November - as the recession starts to bite. Everywhere, local councils face similar problems, from Tower Hamlets to Thanet as the irreversible nature of the damage done to our debt-ridden and dependent society becomes clear. In headlong and headstrong pursuit of social equality and fiscal prudence, the ‘wheels have come off the train’ at Westminster. As a nation we’ve fallen among tax collectors and thieves and everywhere one looks, the justice system, education, health, state pensions and more, the clunking administrative machine of central Government, appears to be at best, unfit for purpose and at worst, broken beyond any hope of reasonable repair in the foreseeable future.
So where do we go from here I wonder? Government is going to be desperately short of money this year as tax revenues from struggling businesses start to dry-up. The consequences are bound to ripple through the public sector and rather than streamline the workforce and risk even greater unemployment, it’s far more likely that public services and their supporting budgets will bear the brunt of any costs cutting while thousands of non-jobs or internships are created elsewhere with even more public money.
And people will continue to ask why they will pay higher taxes and receive less in return and the reply will be that our taxes pay for the privilege of being governed and for the privileges of Government and increasingly less for the privilege of shrinking public services.