Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Necessary and The Good

The strong wind proved to be an absolute nightmare over Southend airport this afternoon. ‘Under the hood’ and on instruments only, the experience is on a par with riding a ‘rib’-inflatable at speed in choppy water. Keeping the tolerances required to create neat holding patterns and precise descent rates at exact speeds was more like a wrestling match with an octopus.

Meanwhile, the distracting buzzing in my pocket reminds me that I have forgotten to turn my ‘Blackberry’ off and back on the ground, I discover a series of emails from Michael Child, giving me a hard time over last night’s Cabinet meeting decisions on Pleasurama and the Ramsgate Museum, news of which you can find on his excellent press release aggregation site at http://thanetpress.blogspot.com/.

I’m new to Cabinet meetings and at present I'm learning the ropes from watching and listening to the exchanges in the council chamber. Last night’s meeting however prompts me to share a few observations:

From a Local Government perspective what is good and what is necessary are often not quite the same. People call and correspond with me and tell me what the council should do, because they firmly believe its right, even if the dictionary of rules and regulations which governs us has no entry for their particular problem. Invariably and in the present economic situation, councils are now having to do what is necessary. In other words, facing record unemployment and a public sector funding catastrophe, still being denied today by the Prime Minister, councils are rightly doing everything to ensure that essential services can continue to operate without interruption while giving every possible impetus to a hard-pressed local economy.

In distinguishing the good from the necessary, Cllr Wise, did last night make an astute observation, when he suggested, that on occasions and for the benefit of public confidence, we may sometimes have to choose the good over the necessary. Flower beds may be an example of this, in that the council may be cutting back on the number of flower beds or closing public toilets (that are being constantly vandalised) to save public money for other more pressing priorities but sometimes concessions have to be made for public opinion.

The second thing I noticed yesterday, is that our Labour opposition don’t present a sense of being, well, Labour! Instead I have a mental image of a new political group that would prefer the public to think of them as local personalities, Clive and Iris and David perhaps, each doing laudable ward work. This may be preferable than associating themselves politically with the likes of the Labour Party of Gordon Brown, Hazel Blears or Shahid Malik. In a way this is illustrated by a flurry of releases appearing telling us how hard they are working! There’s almost a sense of a General Election in the air but not quite!

What did strike me was a sense of denial over the state of our economy This was some way short of Dr Ladyman’s persistent “You’ve never had it so good” mantra but having to be reminded that as a society, we are all 'up the creek' without the proverbial paddle and that our grandchildren will be burdened with the debts of the last twelve months.

With a hundred thousand people a month being made redundant and little to suggest that unemployment will not rise above 3million next year, you can, if you like, choose to believe that the Conservatives are the ‘Nasty Party’. At least however, there’s an attempt to be honest and pragmatic about the mess we are in and if you don’t believe me, then listen to the LibDem’s Vince Cable as an independent voice of reason. If you think it's getting tough now, then you haven't seen anything yet because we haven't really felt the impact of the public sector financial crisis; only the first ripples of the incoming Tsunami!

I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that here in Thanet, the headline issues involve dealing with a growing burden of deprivation, unemployment and homelessness, triggered by the downturn in the economy. The problems associated with this are visible in eight of the wards in Thanet and when it comes down to our local policy, I like to think that like my Conservative cabinet colleagues, I’m a realist and while supporting some ideas which are intrinsically good I’m more concerned at present, with shrinking budgets and delivering what’s necessary to help the more vulnerable people of Thanet through this national crisis.

4 comments:

Richard Card said...

I agree. Except we must recognise that we are now at the start of copping the consequence of over a century of error.

Didn't Kaiser Bill's advisers before WW1 tell him Britain is finished. Its industry obsolete, its education system effete and in the century ahead and beyond it will be weighed down by what was then called "White man burdens" (The Empire)

From the nation of shopkeepers who defied Napoleon to a nation of counsellors and social workers who could not defy anyone.

Anonymous said...

What a shame to see Margate High Street closing, at the expense of Westwood Cross.

However, common sense, something that has been missing from the Thanet tory Party, would see that multi national companies would not be investing in the local Thanet workforce,but would be employing their own contractors.

That is not an inflamatory statement, but a statement of fact! They do not employ local people, they bring in their people from far and wide.

No money is circulated in Thanet, and no money is invested in Thanet!

DrM. said...

Thanet's Labour politicians like to remind us that they were the architects of Westwood Cross and thatthe Conservative's simply finished the project.

While Margate High Street may be a casualty, Westwood X reflects public demand for modern retail facilities and attracted the companies that were prepared to invest in a space that would accomodate them. In this way, Margate with its limited retail footprint is no different to many other seaside high streets and needs to find a unique way of differentiating itself.

As regards the Thanet workforce, we have a challenge with unskilled labour which is higher here than many other places but reflects a broader skills decline in the UK workforce against other nations. A target for the EU's Lisbon Agenda!

Michael Child said...

Simon sorry to get you on the bounce.

With the press release blog the thing I am missing is the announcements of licensing applications, they are published in the local papers but I can’t find them on the councils website.

With Pleasurama the main thing that concerns me is no one involved, developer, contractor, architect or the council has any experience of building between the foreshore and a cliff face.

The only person who does have any experience of this sort of development is the environment agency technical expert that was consulted and no one can tell me why her advice is being ignored.

As the latest set of plans were produced after that advice and are not compliant with her basic safety recommendations I think cabinet should have taken the opportunity to turn the development down.

I won’t pin you down with a direct question on this one because I really can’t think of a reasonable answer.

With the museum I am just hoping that the council made a mistake and isn’t trying to get out of giving them a firm lease in case they suddenly want the building back.

With Westwood cross I believe looking at why Ramsgate is fairing so much better than Margate, in terms of collapsing businesses, may give some sort of insight into the problem.