Saturday, February 28, 2009

Politics In Vogue

It looks as if spring has most certainly arrived today. I had to go and collect a new addition to my small fleet from Brighton this afternoon (the one on the left) and the late afternoon views over Kent and Sussex were stunning.

News from one of our readers is that the Kent Messenger office in Cliftonville is closing. Our anonymous source writes:

"I for one think this will be a sad loss for all involved. The paper will continue but will be produced from KM's offices at Whitstable. While the newspaper doesn't appear to be going under here, it's bad news for those who care about a quality media, particularly in a newsy area like Thanet."

He or she continues:

"Thanet Extra was the first of KM's free papers when it started in 1981 and because the company has never produced a specific paid for paper in the area, the editorial in Thanet Extra has never been a rehash of the previous week's paper, unlike the 'Extras' it produces for other areas, but good, well written material to interest the majority of people. "

Ed: I wonder how may of our readers will miss the 'Extra'. What are your thoughts?

As readers of Thanet Life will know, I have a vigorous on-going disagreement with Thanet Labour's very own fashion victim, Cllr Nottingham, over whether Councillors should dress in an appropriate manner in the Council chamber. Now I'm not talking 'top hats and tails' but past my sell-by-date and being over fifty now, I was raised in a world where it was expected that the people's representatives showed proper respect for their role and for the public they represent, present in the gallery, by dressing, in the case of men, smartly. I'm not saying ties should be mandatory but the emphasis here is on the word 'Smart'.

Cllr Nottingham, being a member of the Nu-Labour fraternity clearly thinks otherwise and believes strongly that T-shirt and jeans, replete with cycling helmet and backpack, illustrates the very best in modern socialist political thought.

He writes on his weblog:

"What do these people think of David Cameron when so often he goes without a tie? Probably if only more people had taken Roger Gale's advice and voted for David Davis.

What do Thanet Tories want? Shirts, suits and ties. When do they want them? Forever."

I rather wonder what readers think? where do we draw the line? Are shorts acceptable in the summer of am I being stuffy and old fashioned? After all, as I mostly live in a Harley Davidson t-shirt and jeans or flight suit, it would be much easier for me to come straight from work and not bother to change.

So what's your view? Old fashioned, Armani, sensible smart or progressive 'grunge'?

I would dearly love to know?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Welcome to Thanet Tosh

An interesting afternoon, I thought, accidentally finding myself on the BBC Kent’s ‘Pat Marsh Show’. (see video clip below)

I was minding my own business setting up the marriage proposal banner for Bluebell Hill at lunchtime, when my phone rang and it was Laura from the BBC, asking if we ever did romantic messages such as proposals. “Funny you should ask”, I replied, “As I’ve got one to do in less than thirty minutes.

With that I was whisked on to a live conversation with Pat about my secret mission in uncharted space or in this case, Bluebell Hill and promised to let them know how it went.

Anyway, Emma agreed to marry Max and I introduced them to Pat and between the three of them, they had a ‘love-in’ on BBC Radio Kent after the flight, so a good result all round I thought!

Back home again and I see that Cllr Nottingham (LAB) is still pounding on about webcasting council meetings without any real idea of what’s required to record a two hour meeting. He writes: “If Thanet Council won't broadcast Council meetings could we get some volunteers to film the meetings.”

He really should pay attention in class or even in council but sadly, he didn’t make an appearance yesterday evening and so missed the announcement at the beginning of the council meeting regarding the whole issue and the council’s intention to explore how we might achieve it. Obviously, nobody bothered to tell him.

I see that Cllr Harrison (LAB), on his weblog, has his own slant on the events of yesterday evening and I’m sure you would quite rightly expect them to be quite different to my own. Clearly, we were sent running for cover by the inescapable and forensic logic of the opposition’s arguments and I must have dozed off during the important bits.

The new General Purposes Committee takes a bashing on the blog and this apparently “May or may not meet in the course of a year”, which is news to me, as I’ve been asked to Chair it with Cllr Crotty as Vice-chair. It has an interesting and valuable role to play in shaping council business, which I will tell you more about a little later, as I have to thrash-out the finer details of its remit next week and meet with council officers to sort-out the dates of the meetings, that reportedly, we aren’t going to have.

So for readers, you can pick and choose what you want to believe. Sadly we’ve lost ECR, whose style I much admired despite our visible differences and for now at least, we’ve lost Cllr David Green for other reasons. However, there’s more than enough news and political analysis for you to choose from by Michael Child, Tony Flaig and more and half the fun I suspect is working out for yourself, what’s true and what is indeed utter tosh!

Have a good weekend!

Bin and Gone

Unless you watch Blogger closely, it has a habit of inserting its own keyword tags at the bottom of an entry.

This morning, I see I've been 'Smudged' by the Thanet Gazette, who correctly spotted the tag 'Paedophile' in a story which has nothing to do with the subject. The initial tag was picked-up with the earlier Gary Glitter story and now Google, which owns Blogger, is being too clever by half!

My thanks to Smudger for spotting the tag and if you find anymore tags, which shouldn't be there, please let me know. The only trouble is that by repeating the 'P' word here, I've probably increased the odds of it happening again.

I've just come in from buying the Gazette as you wil have gathered and have been running around trying to persuade our local newsgaents to take take down the 'Bin Strike' headline displayed outside their shops.

"It's off", I tell them "and you'll only confuse people if you leave it there".

"But it says so on the front page of the Thanet Gazette" comes the reply, "so it must be true"

There's no answer to that!

On reflection, it might have been sensible and cost effective for the council to ask me to fly a banner over Thanet, announcing that the strike was off. But they didn't so I'm off to do a marriage proposal for a girl named 'Emma' over Bluebell Hill instead!

All About Money

More political ‘tosh’ to write about today, this time in the form of a press release issued by Thanet’s Labour group in response to the full meeting on the budget yesterday evening. Fortunately Labour’s latest blogger, Cllr Nottingham failed, to make an appearance in his signature T-shirt and jeans and so we were spared the constant busy tapping sounds of his making notes on his mobile phone.

Quite unable to deliver any cogent criticism of a Conservative plan for Thanet’s finances, delivered by Cllr Martin Wise and that will see quite substantial savings by the council at a very difficult time. Thanet Labour predictably went for the headlines, pouring scorn on the decision to:

“Charge £10 for bus passes to what is term "companions". Enquiries were made and it turns out the charge is for bus passes for carers who have to accompany the disabled!”

Following Labour Leader, Cllr Nicholson’s imaginative attack on the decision, it was Cllr Chris Wells, who quipped: “Cllr Nicholson has trouble with chips on both his shoulders tonight” and sadly, we weren’t spared the inevitable monologue on the subject from the presently ‘blogless’ Cllr David Green, which went on rather longer than I would care to remember.

Labour’s argument was:

“The disabled already face many higher costs due to their illness and this charge will be an extra burden on them and/or those who help and support them. We keep hearing from the Tories how they support the "third sector" but here is proof of their real intents, to squeeze as much out of anyone to cover their financial mess at TDC.”

Looking at the Labour’s cabinet, living as it still does in the pseudo-Marxist, ‘I’m alright Jack’ politics of the past, I for one am thankful that the island’s over-stretched finances are nowhere near their control, if it were, I might emigrate, given the broad collective absence of both fiscal common sense and any true real-world commercial experience.

I would say that wouldn’t I and couldn’t resist a political dig at the opposition. However, an occasional muted chorus of ‘The Red Flag’ and the constant council chamber reminders of the socio-political history of a generation past from the older ‘comrades’, doesn’t do the people of Thanet any favours. I grew up in the seventies too. I even met former Prime Minister Harold Wilson at university but fortunately that was as far as I got with old Labour!

Anyway, I asked Cllr Wise if he would put the record straight of at least his side of it before the local papers start running headlines accusing the Conservatives of kicking the disabled.

Martin, who is Cabinet Member for Finance, Improvement and Customer Service, said:

"The bus permit scheme is legislated and allows for free local bus travel for all pensioners over 60 and certain disabled people. The issue of companion travel is not covered by the legislation, because the Government feeling is that severely disabled customers receive additional financial help through the Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance etc..

"Thanet District Council operates an additional discretionary scheme whereby if a medical professional certified that a customer was medically unable to travel alone at all times, then the companion could also travel for free. The council meets the cost of the journeys made by the companion, whereas the travel for the disabled customer is met by central government grant. This particular area of permits has seen substantial growth in recent years, which was being funded by the Council Tax Payer. It was decided that it was fair to request a contribution to the cost of the companion's travel, bearing in mind that the scheme is discretionary and the travel costs are already paid to the disabled customer through other means.

The alternative was not to allow companion travel at all. This move would have disadvantaged the disabled customers more than requesting a contribution. The permits were offered for free last year on a one off basis, but this was unable to be replicated in 2009/10."

So there you have it. Truth is a relative thing and it shifts quite alarmingly when politics is involved. Last night, we discussed and voted upon a budget and council tax increase for the island that should save millions of pounds over the next four years. God knows, we are going to need every penny thanks to central Government only giving us a 1% leg-up this year.

Concessionary bus passes cost local councils a small fortune and I’m informed we overspent by £180,000 to £200,000 this year. It’s something we have to do as Government has mandated it, regardless of whether councils can afford the scheme or not. I would like for everyone to travel free on the buses but the driving political question is how much of such freedom or generosity can we really afford given the financial constraints that we are now facing?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Big Event 2009

Even though we are in a recession, I see that valliant efforts are being made to ensure that Thanet's 'Big Event' takes place on June 20th & 21st.

I'm sure it's going to be a much tougher climate for sponsorship; cash-strapped Royal Bank of Scotland are certainly out of the picture today but it would be good to see the very popular airshow weekend at Palm Bay carry on with minimal disruption from our strangled economy.

Now I wonder if we could persuade the crazy French Mirage pilots seen in the YouTube video below to make an appearance!? No,wait a moment, someone is bound to complain about the aircraft noise if they did! It looks as if they may have spotted one of the models from the so-called, 'Naked in Thanet' weblog on the way past the beach at Palm Bay in the video!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Splashing Out

If you’re planning to buy alcohol in the near future, and prefer not to have your mugshot made available to the police, best to stock up now. Buried deep within the debate around the s.31 of the Policing and Crime Bill are provisions that will allow the Secretary of State to instruct your local corner shop - or pub - to install CCTV and retain pictures of anyone buying alcohol for at least 60 days. Said pics will, of course, be available to the police on request.…!!

We all recognise that Thanet has a significant problem with under-age drinking and I'm wondering whether readers feel that the installation of CCTV cameras might act as a deterrent or indeed aid police and Trading Standards in their prosecutions of either offending traders or teenagers.

The draft has not yet been approved by Ministers, so it is possible that some, all, or none of the measures included in it may be quietly dropped over the next few months. However, measures range from the fussy (laying down the precise percentage of floor area that should be given over to seating), prescriptive (requiring that staff be trained at least every five years in conflict resolution) to the downright intrusive (requiring that areas where alcohol is displayed be covered by CCTV – and all footage be kept for no less than 60 days).

Filming areas where alcohol is sold, as the Home Office suggest, would imply a much harsher approach to the policing of alcohol sales, requiring shop owners first to fund the installation of CCTV, and then make available to the police footage of their own staff breaking the law.

Is this a tacit recognition by Government that the relaxation of the alchol laws has been the disaster that the NHS and the police claim it is and is this introduction of technology, at a cost to the trader, simply evidence of locking the stable door well after the horse has bolted?

CCTV is all well and good but the will and resources to prosecute offenders has to exist as well and the last time I made a Freedom of Information request, last year, Kent Police told me that they had no record of anyone being prosecuted for the secondary sale of alcohol to minors, which appears to be the most common route; i.e. the older teenager buys the Vodka for his younger mates.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There be Fairies

I’m steadily losing count of the jobs that have been lost in the UK economy over the last week; Vodafone announced the loss of five hundred today. The CBI reports: ‘Retail jobs are being lost at record levels’, and elsewhere, the two Scottish banks that bear a greater part of the blame for the ‘fiscally prudent’ mess we are in look to be needing even more money, with Royal Bank of Scotland apparently needing a further injection of £500 billion of taxpayers' money to indemnify it against the risk of yet more undiscovered toxic debt.

So this morning, in a Licensing Committee meeting, I was somewhat taken aback to discover that the leader of Thanet’s Labour opposition, Cllr. Nicholson, shares Thanet (South) Labour MP, Steven Ladyman’s opinion that the recession is a myth.

The committee had been debating the matter of street trading in Thanet; principally involving vehicle sales and I pointed out, drawing the analogy with Del ‘Boy’ Trotter that in a recession, we might reasonably expect an increase in unlicensed street trading.

In reply, Cllr Nicholson described talk of a recession as “Complete tosh” and either a “Conservative invention” or “Something that the Conservatives should be familiar with.” (It’s not transparently clear which of these it was from the minutes of the meeting.)

A number of councillors exchanged suitable looks of surprise and in my next statement on the subject I properly deferred to” Cllr Nicholson’s legendary grasp of financial and economic matters.”

So there you have it, the recession is “Tosh”, Nicholson says it, Ladyman believes it and of course there are fairies living in the bottom of my garden. It’s only a pity that the Gazette’s ‘Smudger’ wasn’t around to record such an informed and profound comment on our ailing and failing economy.

Cllr Nicholson, obviously enjoys the same forensic grasp of prudent financial reality as Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Bags Out - Not

What local residents will make of the prospect of two, one day strikes by waste and recycling workers, over the next week, is anyone's guess?

On Friday 27th February and Monday 2nd March, a small number of members of the GMB Union will be taking industrial action in a pay dispute. The council has called in the conciliation service, ACAS, in an effort to resolve the dispute and avoid the threatened strike action.

If your black bag collection falls on any of these days, then the advice from the council is to keep the waste until the following week until the normal service is resumed. Please don't leave out for collection where the seagulls may get at them! If you have a wheeled bin, don't put it out until the following week.

So what do readers make of a pay dispute of this kind and at this time? Kent County Council have drawn a line in the sand (see Tony Flaig's Blog) in regard to public sector pay rises and reviews and so do local people believe it is sensible to take industrial action in support of any dispute at a time when so many workers in the private sector are losing their jobs or even taking pay cuts?

To date, the council has been unable to reach an agreement with the Union and so what's your view, given the growing pressures on our local government services budget as the recession bites?

Incidentally, I had a desperate sounding call from the NSPCC today. Apparently, the last quarter has seen such a dramatic reduction in contributions that they are facing a funding catastrophe this year and every little donation, however small is needed. It's a great pity they aren't a bank and not a children's charity I suppose!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jade Loves Jack

I've been up and about over the big wedding this afternoon. I did shoot some video footage from above and you can see the BBC Max Clifford interview and film of the banner here.

More photos here! Call it a message from the people of Thanet if you like!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Outer Limits

Not a day for good news. The price of Gold finally reached the watershed $1,000 an ounce and there's the warning from Tony Woodley of the Unite Union that a British car maker is in imminent danger of failure, with the subsequent loss of 6,000 jobs. Channel 4 News appears to think it may be Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire but regardless of which one it is, the motor industry globally is now in dire straits, with Saab today announcing it is to go into protective administration from its creditors.

This week, I heard Lord Digby Jones warn that the financial crisis may stimulate the rise of the BNP and before the week was out, the BNP have had a shock council election victory in a Swanley, a safe Labour seat. We aren't talking Brick Lane here, it's a 'leafy' Sevenoaks after all and both main political parties must be hoping it's a temporary political abberation, like a sudden meteor strike. But I'm not so sure and we need to understand why this happened and respond to it in a positive manner before we start seeing similar results elsewhere in the country.

The UK stock market was plumbing the depths today and in New York the Dow Jones fell to its lowest point since the Internet bubble burst in 2002. I can remember that quite well, because I was taking part in a TV series, where, together with six other contestants, I was given a virtual sum of £100,000 to invest and the object of the game was to see how much profit one could realise in twelve weeks.

Using my knowledge of technology stocks, I came in second with £480,000 (I think) and announced that I was going to buy a virtual yacht with my winnings but only a matter of weeks after the programme, the value of that same portfolio dropped to around £22,000 as the Internet and technology market came to grief!

I'm getting a similar kind of feeling about the state of the economy at the moment but the worry factor is even greater. One person I know has even predicted that Government may one day announce a withdrawal limit on National Savings but I think that's very unlikely or put another way, we would be so far up the financial creek without a paddle that it probably wouldn't matter if they did.

I read in the Gazette today the story that the council is too mean or worried to webcast the council meetings. What a load of tosh! It's an old story and one I looked into when I started as a councillor.

If you want your council meetings webcast then it's not cheap. We aren't discussing a three minute YouTube clip but a fully duplex high bandwidth facility piped into the offices in Cecil Square. Those readers with a more intelligent grasp of the challenge than the hacks (pictured) at the Thanet Gazumph will realise that paying £15 a month for their 8mb broadband connection is cheap because the 8mb only goes one way. Ask your ISP for 8mb upstream and you'll be paying rather more than your monthly charge.

Now extrapolate that as bandwidth in and out of the council offices and you'll realise that live webcasting invariably comes with a hefty bandwidth bill. So the simple choice is do you want your council meetings televised and if you do are you happy to pay for it or see one of the other council services cut-back to finance it. At this time in our history, I believe we have more urgent priorities to spend our dwindling budget on.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Two Sides to the Argument

In between tearing my hair out studying the 400 page manual for the Garmin 1000, flight management system (pictured) I've been keeping an eye on the on-going airport debate across the local 'Blogs'.

It strikes me that the argument has now become visibly polarised between one group which is vocally opposed to any expansion or development of Manston whatsoever and a second group of often diverse political affiliations and interests, who believe that the public interest is served by a conditional relaxing of the F106 agreement to encourage British Airways to start using Manston for cargo operations.

All parties are of course entitled to their opinions but it should be accepted that a decision has been made and that at present, one level of the discussion involves reversing this in a most undemocratic manner and without any real evidence of consensus other than the online equivalent of shouting.

If the online debate against the airport is liberally populated with vitriol and personal abuse, it's increasingly unlikely that the very people in positions of influence, that a campaign might wish to attract to the arguments on its website will not bother with its content.

So if you disagree with the decision and wish to challenge it, recall the words of Thomas Paine:

"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Green is My Thanet

I was fascinated, if not amused to read Thanet South's new Parliamentary 'Green' candidate, Tim Garbutt's manifesto for the island.

Among the tidbits "As MP I will close the airport", We have the disgusting spectacle of the water being polluted and poisoned and known to all our 58 councillors and civil servants", "Economic desolation as Kent’s Jarrow"and the allegation that:"TDC is a failed council with little purpose beyond tidying up the filing cabinets for the next Audit Commission failure".

Reportedly, Tim also wishes to close Manston airport, put an end to the China Gateway Project and no doubt wishes to grow spinach or build an eco-park where they now stand.

His woeful grasp of politics, Parliamentary procedure and the process of local democracy is further evidenced by his plans, should he be elected, to sack the existing council leader and his cabinet and replace the sitting Chief Executive with his deputy, "To provide a report on the failures to Parliament."

Thanet at this time, needs rather more than a wild green demagogue talking rubbish. If we are to have more 'Green' policies then let's have a sensible debate and a little political homework on the part of the candidate rather than such uniformed drivel on the front page of a local paper.

Local democracy thrives on debate and not empty threats and rhetoric. Tim needs to explain rather more clearly than he has to date, how he will achieve his radical vision for Thanet as an elected MP and of course and very importantly, where, in a near bankrupt Britain, the money will come from to fund his own cultural revolution, once he's had everyone shot that he disagrees with on the council.

I can't wait!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't Shoot the Messenger

Judging by the almost frantic response from Labour's Cllr Clive Hart to the column in today's Kent On Sunday by Cllr Chris Wells, you might think that a county election was around the corner!

Clive looks to have emailed everyone he could think of, me included and perhaps even Gordon Brown, to protest at Cllr Wells' "FUTILE ATTACK ON KCC OFFICERS" (his capitals).

Chris's column makes an interesting and thought provoking read but it doesn't mention Clive which has upset the latter, who says of his political opponent, Cllr Wells:

"Now, with his former role as a Cabinet Member terminated and with the county elections on the horizon, he apparently feels free to cynically chastise our Chief Executive and leading officers at KCC and furthermore, attempts to jump out of his constrained silence and on to a supposed bandwagon for electoral gain."

Laying politics aside for one moment, there's little doubt that there's truth in Chris Wells assertion that : "A dangerous mix of looked-after children and vulnerable adults is stifling Thanet's progress." If you don't agree with the statement, please leave a comment and tell me why or indeed why Thanet and particularly Cliftonville, should be over-represented in having to manage the problems of other councils much further away than the Government's 20 mile regulation for such 'displacement' allows.

Some of us are old enough to remember what the community in Cliftonville, Margate or indeed Thanet as a whole was like before it became a convenient 'fire and forget' target for other authorities.

Anyway, the nub of the problem here is that Cllr Wells is both authoritative and lucid and places Cllr Hart at an intellectual disadvantage at every turn. Apparently Clive thought of it first but I fear the challenge was never expressed so well as by Chris but read the column and decide for yourself whether the former has your sympathy or not.

Pictured, Cllr Hart in Cliftonville in the company of another endangered political species.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The True Cost of Love

It's Valentine's Day and the first in three years where the weather has been good. I should know, because Valentine's Day is normally a busy date in the flying season for my Airads business, as men - and sometimes women - all over the country propose or send special messages - pictured - to their sweethearts with a banner towed by one of my aircraft.

This year, nothing! Several enquiries and for the first time an attempt to pass-off a stolen credit card for a booking. the latter attempt was almost laughable, because my 'other job', as readers may know, involves a specialisation in crime and fraud.

Being suspicious about the telephone transaction for a flight over Bradford, I told the client, who was booking on behalf of someone else - sounds dodgy - I would call her back and then quickly used some subscription-based tools of my own to cross check her details, discovering that she should be 56 years old. As the caller clearly wasn't, I double checked the registered card address, found a related business telephone number and then called the real "Mrs Smith" to double check 'her' authorisation. The poor lady was really quite surprised and concerned to hear she had earlier booked a Valentine's message flight over an address in Bradford for a girl named "Jaan" and I advised the she immediately contact her bank and cancel her Maestro card; probably get on to Equifax too and make sure her identity wasn't being used for other fraudulent transactions too!

I did try and warn the credit card company, after all, I had the bogus client's mobile phone number too but I if you own a Maestro card, there's no way of people like me reporting such a thing and Visa don't want to know either. It's part of the reason why credit card fraud is such big business and policing it is a shambles; there's too much of it happening and so the banks simply absorb it. However, if you happen to be the merchant involved, even if the card authorises, which this one would have done, the funds would have been reversed the moment a fraud was discovered and so its the business that loses heavily and the fraudster that wins.

Ironically, the other job this week was for Greater Manchester Police with a neighbourhood policing message over the city.

Card fraud aside, even my local greetings card shop tells me that while business was brisk this week, customers are seemingly more cost conscious of their choice of cards, "Me to You" love bears et al. So perhaps under Labour even the price of true love is now becoming too high, which may explain yesterday's figures that married couples are now officially in the minority; perhaps because they can't get a mortgage on the cost of the wedding.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Play Nice

I've been keeping an eye on Thanet's many weblogs today; measuring the reaction to last evening's vote on Manston night flights.

Predictably the debate is polarised and frequently abusive, which is disappointing but no surprise. As usual, a small but highly vocal minority are determined to drive their own agenda and are not prepared to accept the council's decision, even though and quite remarkably, it involved broad cross-party consensus and support; highly unusual for politics in Thanet.

I have yet to speak with or hear from anyone in my own ward of Westgate, other than Cllr King, who is against extending the night flights agreement. Rather, public opinion appears to support it as offering a much needed opportunity for Thanet at a very difficult time in our history.

The vocal, anti-airport minority who firmly believe that their's is the 'true religion' and who are busy damning the opinions or characters of others on our local 'Blogs' are doing themselves a disservice. Calm intelligent debate earns both respect and credibility but anonymous abuse simply labels those who use it as cranks whose arguments hold no value.

The vote is won, the decision has democratic weight and its time, I believe, to move on. There are more important matters for us to worry about in this country, on the day that a British bank announced a £10 billion loss. And as for Manston, let's see if British Airways does come and if so, what economic benefits will accrue to the local community as a result.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Fly By Night Decision

One small step for Infratil perhaps but one giant leap for Manston, if indeed we can expect the imminent arrival of British Airways World Cargo, as a result of tonight's council decision to amend the airport's existing 106 agreement to allow night flights.

I voted for the motion as did the great majority of Thanet councillors. The people I have spoken to are almost universally in favour of the idea of BA, the nation's flag carrier, operating from Manston and other councillors of both parties, broadly received the same impression from their own wards.

Laying aside the obvious incovenience and noise of 'out-of-hours' flights, this may still represent one of the biggest opportunities for Thanet in a long time. It gives us a significant brand association and places us firmly on the map, in a way that may yet attract other quality carriers to Manston.

What the future holds in this time of global recession, we can't know but the Manston decision may offer a ray of hope for our local future, the noise of aircraft engines aside. If a little extra noise secures more opportunity for the local workforce then, I for one, believe that's a sacrifice worth making.

Good Shape to Weather the Storm?

Reading Thanet South MP, (Labour) Steve Ladyman's column in the local paper, my jaw bounced-off the table a couple of times, before I turned-on my computer to write this weblog entry.

I’m surprised to see Mr Ladyman so enthusiastically joining his party in a chorus of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ in respect of the increasingly perilous state of the UK economy and its implications for the people of Thanet.

Contrary, to the Bank of England, the CBI, the IMF and quite possibly the MCC and the RNIB, Steve, Gordon, Alistair and a handful of other members of our Government, believe that the UK is "Well-placed" to weather the present recession or was that 'depression'; it's getting hard to tell but there’s a difference.

In a recession, you know somebody who’s been made unemployed in a depression, you’re unemployed too! Very soon I’m going to need more than both hands to count the people I know who have either lost their jobs or look very likely to lose them soon.

Steve appears so deep in denial that he urgently needs a set of scuba-gear and predictably, he points out, that the recession thing was much worse under the Conservatives; conveniently forgetting the promise that 'Boom and bust' were a thing of the past under 'Nu-Labour.'

Following the next election, Mr Ladyman, will, more likely join several hundred other Labour Members of Parliament in a growing unemployment queue; that's unless he's elevated to the House of Lords as a peer of the realm, with its lifetime of lunches, rewards and corporate-sponsored 'consultancy' opportunities. As a retired Member of Parliament, he’ll enjoy an indexed, rock-solid and generous Parliamentary pension that you and I – if we are still working - will have to pay for through our steadily rising taxes. The true responsibility for the near bankrupt debt-ridden mess in which the nation finds itself will pass to others to try and correct over the next twenty years or more if predictions are correct.

The world in which we live, will look a very different place once this turbulent chapter in its economic history has passed, no different in some respects to the painful disruption of the 1930s and 1970s. As a nation saddled with debt and living beyond our means, we are now on a par with Pakistan, as was pointed-out during 'Prime Minister's Question Time' in Parliament last week and even the French are now openly deriding our Gordon's 'prudent fiscal policy' as a recipe for disaster.

In good shape? Well I'm sure you will be Steve but with unemployment growing steadily both nationally and in your own constituency I'm not sure the people of Thanet will see the world through such rose-tinted spectacles. However, Government will not be able to escape the real figures in the pre-budget report and those should put an end, once and for all, the insistence that this is all someone else's fault and that the UK economy can defy the gravity of reckless public spending and institutional banking collapse.

When it's all over, perhaps Mr Ladyman should follow the example of Douglas Adam's novel, 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and entitle his very last local paper column as a sitting member of Parliament: "Goodbye and thanks for all the fish!"

All About Manston

With an extraordinary council meeting this evening, to vote on the controversial subject of night flights at Manston airport, this is not the place for me to indicate my opinion in advance of the debate. I've been email lobbied by a handful of people and I've read through the many Thanet weblogs presenting their own slant on the subject.

While respecting the real concerns of those who have written to me, I continue to be disappointed at the almost frantic hyperbole of the anti-Manston campaign and with it, the equally poor grasp of simple aviation principles, both operational and safety-related found on weblogs which include contributions from both Thanet councillors and members of the public.

While a number of useful and constructive questions have been raised there's a danger that constructive debate will be hindered by exaggeration; 'Never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.'

For reader interest, here's a view of an approach plate for Manston's runway 28 and an interesting litle video for entertainment!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Chimney Hoppers

Based on Clive Aslet's comments in today's Kent on Sunday, I must be one of those Thanet residents who is "Blind, ignorant or mad" and I wonder if we are in the majority?

When writing about plans for the further development of Manston, he writes:

"Every time the weekly 747, a cargo plane from Africa touches down, I say a little prayer of gratitude for the safe delivery of the town and aircrew." He adds: "Planes pass over a town of more than 10,000 souls at little more than chimney height, You can practically count the hairs in the pilot's nostrils as they do so."

Now I wasn't aware that Boeing 747s fall out of the sky over populated areas with any degree of regularity. That's not to say it's never happened but if one takes the UK as a whole, with the busiest airspace on the planet, the safety record of modern aircraft, certified to operate in the UK, is remarkably good and should hardly give cause for deep concern at Ramsgate, Hounslow or even Luton. In fact, last month's 'Miracle in the Hudson', should illustrate this quite well, what can be done with a large passenger aircraft when the engines are suddenly shut down after departure, the most safety critical time of the flight.

Large planes descending over Ramsgate are on a glide path which will ensure that their wheels touch the runway at a properly marked point beyond the threshold. If you aren't descending blind on instruments, then the red and white PAPI lights to the left of the runway will keep you on the glide path for a visual approach. That same glide path ensures that the aircraft is rather higher over the town than Mr Aslet thinks it is.

I don't doubt that aircraft can be noisy, there was a British Airways 'Airbus' doing circuits past my house much of yesterday afternoon but I challenge the implication of some hidden threat to Ramsgate posed by aircraft, doing what they have been doing on Thanet since 1916, taking-off and landing at Manston. I can't recall too many, if any complaints over Concorde using the airport for regular practise and that was noisy in the extreme

This coming Thursday we'll see an important debate on the future of the airport taking place in the council chamber and while the local papers are happy to accept the hyperbole of those opposed to any expansion of Manston, I for one, think its important for councillors of all parties and persuasions to look at the evidence and be influenced by facts and not fears; arriving at a conclusion that one hopes will benefit the people of the island as a whole.

NB. The YouTube video shows the runway for any that may be interested. Video credit to Cllr Bruce when we went to have a look at the Thanet Earth construction site last July!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Totally British Jobs

If you've nothing better to do on a dark February evening and feel tempted to Google the political archives, then you'll find that some twenty years ago, the UK's present workforce skills deficit was writ large upon the wall.

Gordon Brown's famous statement announcing British jobs for British workers has returned to haunt him this month but one has to ask why foreign companies, such as Total, think it more sensible to bus in their specialist workers from as far afield as Italy rather than recruit the necessary skills locally?

Back in the mid eighties, when I first dipped a toe in the political waters, I was asked to join Shirley Williams, Anne Sofer, Dr John Rae and several others in writing a House of Lords report on the UK's existing skills deficit. It was published as a Parliamentary White Paper (or was it Green, I can't quite recall) but it's in the archives somewhere because stumbled upon it quite by accident recently against a Google search against my name.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, those distinguished politicians and academics and this rather wet behind the ears IT columnist, looked at the education record of countries such as Japan and Germany and concluded that good old Britain would be up the creek without the proverbial paddle within a generation, unless Government, of any colour, woke up to the fact that as a nation we were becoming increasingly uncompetitive in a world that demanded a higher level of education and skills from developed nations. At the time, countries like Japan and Germany were churning out ten times the number of university-trained engineers and skilled apprentice jobs.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we've happily been creating millions of expensive finance, service and above all, public sector jobs, at the expense of the skillsets that we need to be competitive and which may go some way to explaining why UK manufacturing is moribund and why some companies might be tempted to offshore their workload or look for their skilled workers from abroad when they can't find what they need at home.

So there you have it, every Government since 1985 has known what it had to do to make this country competitive but none has managed to put in place the urgent programme that we needed as a nation to catch-up and compete on equal terms with our European neighbours, except perhaps in terms of 'Smoking Cessation Officers', Health & Safety Inspectors and of course a legion of overpaid and increasingly unemployed bankers.

"British Jobs for British workers"; it does sound a rather hollow promise twenty years too late.

The Bank that Likes to Say Yes

There are of course more savers than borrowers in this nation of our but the sheer size of the latter's mountain of debt eclipses the savings of the prudent majority; leaving a bleak outlook for those, such as the retired, dependant on their nest-egg to top-up their state pension in their old age.

Unless your savings are stashed in a fixed-rate savings account, the chances are that yesterday's Bank of England rate cut will lead to yet another fall in your earnings from personal savings. For people who live off that interest, the recent round of sudden and sharp rate cuts has been devastating.

But while the average account now pays less than 1 per cent, The Independent newspaper tells us there is no need to accept such a miserly rate. Many accounts still pay more than 4 per cent.

FirstSave, owned by First Bank of Nigeria, is offering 4.25 per cent. Deposits in this bank are reportedly 100 per cent covered by the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme, up to a limit of £50,000, though whether you might have the courage to invest your savings in Lagos are another matter altogether. Still, that said, many of us, including Kent County Council thought Iceland was a good idea at the time.

I tried last week to open an account at the Yorkshire Building Society, which has one of the better rates of interest on their Internet Saver accounts; more than 1% anyway. Anything had to be better than a savings account going steadily backwards at my high street bank and so I duly completed the online forms.

These days of course one has to prove one's identity to any new bank, which speaking from professional experience in my other job, is a pretty useless exercise, given the cheap availability of good forged documents. Anyway, the Yorkshire Building Society, wanted a copy of my passport, preferably endorsed by my solicitor, Mr Inlandi Revendi of Lagos or my bank. Off I went to Margate High Street, where they know who I am and passing over the passport copy, I asked if they might stamp it. "I'm sorry", I was politely told, "the bank is unable to endorse your identity for other financial insitutions."

So this now leaves me in a quandry. Do I forge Mr Inlandi Revendi's signature and seal on my passport copy, using the £2.50 stamp kit available from WH Smiths or simply give up? Quite obviously, the High Street bank wishes to hang on to my savings, much like it would like to hang on to the Government's bail-out cash; less of course £18million of bonuses to its staff. Perhaps like the good businessmen of Oxford, I should try and start my own bank, The Cooperative Bank of Thanet instead. After all, if you own a bank these days you can't really lose can you?