Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beachbell Echo

I received a magazine in the post today from the United States, as you can see from the attached photo.

It contains a full report of the events of 27th April 1944 at Westgate and Palm Bay with credit to the work of all those involved in researching and revealing the details of the two Liberator bomber crashes that evening.

The work of the last year has bought to light a number of important details that were not known before and these are now safely part of the historical record, both locally and of course that of the 8th Air Force. and for the families of the brave young men who gave their lives.

My thanks to everyone involved and with the assistance of the Mayor of Margate, British Legion and Margate Charter Trustees, we hope to be able to deliver a formal ceremony of remembrance next year, as detailed earlier in this weblog.

The End is Near

'The end is nigh...' or appears so with The Sun newspaper withdrawing its support from Gordon Brown and Labour after yesterday's Party conference speech at Brighton.

I sat through the whole affair and must confess to have felt more than a little nauseous after Sarah Brown's introduction of her husband, which was so 'American' in style, I'm surprised that the audience were not wearing Democratic Convention hats and munching popcorn as well!

This morning, I was delighted to see Sky's Adam Boulton, pin the Prime Minister down with a question I sent him. I used to work for Sky News and have Adam's personal email address.

Gordon Brown's stated plans for care for the elderly are laudable but who pays? The fear is that Government will find a pot of money from somewhere for three years and then dump the burden in the laps of the already cash-challenged local authorities like Thanet to carry on with from the Council Tax, rather like pensioner bus passes.

Adam asked this question and Gordon Brown gave the answer I expected. That money is already set aside from 'Non-priority' areas and cost-savings in the local Government budget for the next three years but he avoided expanding on the question. Adam replied that local councillors' (one for Thanet) are concerned that the money simply isn't there given the scale of the economies that are presently required and Gordon Brown remarked:"Councillors are always saying there isn't enough money". insisting that the money did exist but once again declined to be precise as to how this would be funded in the longer-term!

All promises, lots of spin and a delusional failure to accept responsibility, any responsibility for what has taken place in our country for the worse over the last ten years. And that' s not just me saying so!

I'm reminded of a Shakespeare passage from 'Antony & Cleopatra' that I learned at school:

"The loyalty well held to fools does make our faith mere folly. Yet he that can endure to follow with allegiance a fallen Lord will conquer he that did his master conquer and earn a place in the story"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Red (Blue) Baron Strikes Again!

I see the Thanet Times ran the story of the marriage proposal I flew for Dan to Sam at Palm Bay on Saturday afternoon. A nice photo (pictured left) and the memorable moment of a lifetime for the happy couple.

Strangest thing though, no passing mention of the pilot's name or even the company involved, simply the cryptic information: "Hired a plane with a banner." Perhaps it was the cartoon character 'Snoopy' in his disguise as 'The Red Baron'?

Given the effort to tie the aircraft, photographer and the reporter up with the location and the exact moment, do I detect an editorial or political bias here I wonder? It's in contrast with a similar story a couple of years ago.

No Rule on How To Write

I see that Computer Weekly has run my column on social media and the public sector:

"The great Ernest Hemingway once said: "There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges", so when it comes to finding a really good read, local government publications can normally be found somewhere near the bottom of any bedtime book choice. Not that town halls don't try very hard to reach out to the public in every conceivable way but by its very nature, even the brightest and most positive news stories from the public sector rarely attract the traffic they might deserve.

Most lately, you may have seen on the BBC Politics Show, criticism surrounding Brighton and Hove City Council, which advertised for a new social media officer with "expertise" on both Facebook and Twitter at a time when other staff are facing pay cuts. The council offered the reason for this appointment as: "Increasing visibility, building our brand and learning about our audiences by utilising social media."

Read on....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Morning After

At the end of last week, I mentioned the recent anti-social behaviour problems we have been having in Westgate and the planned Police initiative to deal with it.

On yet another Mediterranean like day, I've been wandering about my ward with a camera and reached several conclusions:

Firstly, with the seafront busy and the traders enjoying a welcome up-turn in business, it's clear that we are into an unusual post-season litter problem. During the summer, the cleaning teams work vigorously all day to keep the beaches spotless and this year the results have been excellent. However, we are now in late September and enjoying an Indian summer and visitors are visibly free with their rubbish along the promenade and the beach; among them abandoned BBQ's, lager cans and polystyrene fast food containers from the kebab shop in town.

In the town itself, the usual congregation spot for the teenagers is a real mess, as is the station and you can see this from my photos. I will have it cleaned, I hope, by early Monday morning but it illustrates the extended nature of the anti-social problem that these groups of feckless teenagers are leaving behind them. The inside of the station and the tracks are even worse and I don't think the areas between the live rails can be cleaned without a considerable Health & Safety effort.

This whole issue of litter and the costs of removing it represents a significant resource challenge in particular spots across the island, The public want to see clean streets, as do I but we have a sizeable hard-core of offenders who either dump their black sacks on the streets at all times of the day or night, play football with the same 'for a laugh',simply can't be bothered to use a nearby waste bin or refuse to pick-up after their dogs.

Yesterday, as I was orbiting over Westgate and Margate, the scene below was quite stunning. From 1,500 feet you can't see the empty cans of lager or the torn bin-bags. Thanet, in weather like today, looks quite beautiful with sharp contrasts between the land, the beaches and a clear green sea; a Mediterranean scene at its finest. We are very lucky indeed to be living in such a lovely part of Britain and it's a great shame, that a very few people can have such a disproportionate impact on our quality of life and our surroundings.

The Last King of Scotland

Pressure to remove Baroness Scotland from her job as Attorney General continues but it looks as if the Government is having none of it, even swiftly re-jigging the rules last week that allow Scotland, to claim £170,000 from an allowance intended for ministers in the House of Lords who live outside London, when she has reportedly declared her main residence as being inside London for 15 years.

Until last week the 'Lords' assessed a minister’s entitlement based on their home address and yet the Baroness appears exceptional. However, to avoid more expenses embarassment, it's reported the 'guidance' on such matters was swiftly changed the same week that the claim came to light. This is either a remarkable coincidence or very convenient for Baroness Scotland.

Many years ago, I knew the real 'Last King of Scotland', a certain President Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada. You may have seen the film of the same name, which tries hard to capture his dark personality but falls well short. Given the steady decline of standards in public life, it's hard to tell sometimes whether we are living in an advanced western democracy or a third-world 'Banana republic'.

Remaining with Scotland for a moment, I suppose that a General Election offers a small opportunity to register a protest vote for some kind of English political autonomy, having just watched, Gordon Brown, Douglas Alexander and Alistair Darling holding forth on Sky News this morning. I read yesterday that Police at Glasgow airport have been demanding that passengers on domestic flights show their passports on entering the country, which is quite outrageous but permissable under the anti-terrorism legislation that they have hidden behind.

It does appear bizarre and inconsistent to many people that Wales and Scotland have independent Parliaments but not England and that crucial decisions on the future of our own nation can be made by MPs from one side of the border but the arrangement is not reciprocal. Why we had to destroy the Union in the first place and dismantle our collective national identity is a question that still eludes me and I suspect the consequences will prove rather less than satisfactory as time passes!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is There Anybody There?

If you happened to see me floating above a stunningly pretty Margate this afternoon, dragging a marriage proposal banner, then the answer to your unspoken question may be "Yes".
Sam, I'm told by SMS message, agreed to marry Dan, just above the Jet-Ski club on the cliff at Palm Bay. And what a wonderful day he chose to propose to her!

Back in the world of the 'Blogs' I see that Michael Child has spotted an entry from Labour's finest, Cllr Nottingham, in which he appears to endorse the use of council premises for 'Satanist' worship. This did rather cause my eyebrows to raise, reading the quote: "“Several Christians have suggested to me that it is inappropriate for Council premises to be used for events with links to the occult and Satanism. I do not share their concerns."

Whether 'Mystic Meg' clairvoyants or members of the spiritualist church can be so easily lumped into the 'occult' and satanist category may cause some offense. However, with the Labour Party Conference now in full swing in Brighton, it does seem likely, that the only way that Gordon Brown might win the next election is to make a deal with the Devil and I don't mean the 'Prince of Darkness', Peter Mandleson either. So perhaps this is a hint at a new policy direction yet to be revealed by a Party desperate to try anything to stay in power when most of the population want them gone?

This morning I was out canvassing opinion in Dane Valley, ahead of the forthcoming by-election. With my hand on my heart, I can confess to discovering only a single 'strong' Labour supporter, one BNP supporter, no independent vote and the encouraging remainder either Conservative or still undecided; with a significant number of people who said they never voted anyway, which is bad news for democracy as a whole!

If you look at the progress in Dane Valley under the present Conservative administration at TDC, it's easy to understand why people may be more positively inclined towards the Conservative vote. There's 'Sure Start', the allotments, the play area and the efforts that have been directed towards Millmead, in huge contrast with what clearly wasn't achieved under the previous Labour administration.

From doorstep conversation in Dane Valley as elsewhere, it's quite likely that voters will use their ballot to send a strong message to the national parties and to Gordon Brown in particular, the wounded Albatross now wrapped around the neck of the Labour Parliamentary Party.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Westgate Matters

It's been a very long time since I sat at a desk in a university and my how it's changed!

Over at the Chatham campus, it's stuffed-full of ICT, hidden computers that flip-up from rotating desktops, web-access, via the magnificent library, to just about any literary, newspaper or reference resource one can think of and most important of all to someone who lives on caffeine, 'Costa Coffee' and Danish pastries on-demand in the students cafe. All very civilised indeed, as I remember back to studying by candlelight during the power cuts of the great 'winter of discontent' in the late seventies!

More importantly now, some encouraging news for Westgate residents. In last week's Cabinet meeting, both Cllr King and I expressed deep concern over the visible increase in anti-social and intimidating behavior in Westgate's Station Road in recent months, a dramatic rise in reports from 12 to 180 incidents a month, I understand from the latest figures.

The intelligence suggests that the problems are being caused by youths coming into Westgate from other areas, such as Herne Bay and Margate, where vigorous policing has been targetting their anti-social behaviour and criminal damage in the evenings. I suppose we can thank mobile phones and social networking for enabling them to organise so well.

Last week, I wrote to Roger Gale MP to express our concerns and he in turn wrote to the Police Area Commander, Chief Superintendent John Molloy. I'm pleased to report, that today I heard from the Police that they will now be focusing significant effort into Westgate and will be taking positive steps to address the problems; this includes introducing dispersal orders to prevent the large groups of youths, sometimes as many as 30 at a time, congregating outside the station and around Adrian Square.

I will be meeting with Inspector Tutor next week and plan to accompany the Police on one of the evening patrols to gauge the effectiveness of a this much-needed initiative to tackle this very worrying rise in aggravated and organised anti-social behaviour in what was always recognised as one of the more peaceful towns on the island.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Feathers

It's the start of another, Costa del Sol like autumn morning on the beach. We really have been extraordinarily lucky with the weather but with little or no rain, I have noticed that the birds are increasingly stressed and I have seen more dead ones of late than I can ever recall. So if you have a bird-bath or a means of leaving water out , spare a thought for the small creatures who haven't had a decent drink in months I suspect!

Outside in the bright blue sky today, there's clearly very little wind at altitude and this demonstrates the effect of 'Global dimming' in the relatively narrow flight-path from Europe, descending into Heathrow between the Essex and the Kent coasts

You can see how the slowly spreading contrails are merging and acting as a barrier to the sunlight in a singl portion of the sky. Not so much a problem here in Northern latitudes but a prime suspect in the equatorial regions for hiding the real impact of climate change.

A little gem from today's papers: "Drivers who listen to rap or hip hop music in their cars are most at risk of accidents or road rage incidents, a new study has claimed."

This grabs me as a statement of the 'bleedin' obvious'. My experience is normally one of the vibration reaching intrusively into my own car and the invariably young driver, baseball cap pushed sideways, swaying from side to side with the rythm, frequently with a cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other!

Mind you, here in Thanet, I might say we are more at risk from drivers of all ages using their mobile phones and frequently texting while driving. I'm going out shortly and I'm prepared to bet that I will see this once, if not twice in the next sixty minutes and it's worrying when you happen to be riding a motorcycle and the other drive is quite oblivious to your presence.

This week marks the beginning of a new university course. Forget the car, first of all it's very 'un-green' and because simply getting from home to the campus without leaving the house much earlier than I would like would make it impossible. As an example, I had a meeting at Canterbury yesterday morning at 9am and left at 8am; arriving at 8:45. If I had used the car, I suspect I might still be queuing at the Sturry railway crossing with everyone else and so I prefer to take the motorcycle, even with the imminent arrival of the winter weather.

Better go and fill the birdbath before I go then!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wheels for Ralph

The charity fund-raising in aid of "Wheels for Ralph' is still going strong at Minnis Bay despite the unpleasant change in the weather today. Organised by Parish councillor John Worrow and the Birchington Village Partnership, together with the Westgate Pavillion, Ramsgate Bandstand group and number of local organisations, it aims to raise money for a specially adapted vehicle for the severely disabled 2-year-old boy, suffering from a crippling muscular condition called condition called Nemaline Myopathy.

If you can get over to the cliff-top charity event to add your support I'm sure you will be very welcome, there's hot snacks, children's entertainment and more to keep you occupied.

My special thanks today goes to the air-traffic controllers at Manston and the respective pilots of the Eurofighter and Spitfire for their formation low pass along the sands. With the prevailing low-cloud, it wasn't the easiest of targets to spot I'm sure but between the controllers and my cellphone, they choreographed the fly-past perfectly, so many thanks again!

If you are able to make a small donation of your own, then you can find a link to do so online at the website.

Under Pressure

With so much detail now appearing about massive cuts in the Government's spending plans I'm rather wondering if Labour might go for an early General Election after the forthcoming Party conference. You will remember that Gordon Brown had that opportunity once before, when he would most likely have won and then he dithered it away.

Schools Minister, Ed Balls, reveals in The Sunday Times , his ideas for £2billion worth of potential cost savings' in schools and 'elsewhere'. We also have the argument over 'leaked' Treasury documents that reportedly show secret plans to increase income tax by £14.8 billion, 3p in the pound, if Labour survives the coming vote of confidence by the British people.

On a national basis and regardless of the background conference 'wittering' about their own plans for the economy from the LibDem conference in Bournemouth, 2010 is shaping-up to be the start of a broadly unpleasant experience for millions of people, facing the ever present spectre of unemployment or the very real threat of increased taxation.

Locally, the politicial opposition, are in most cases busily distancing themselves from the Labour brand, or busily knitting their own political spinach. Still swimming in denial, they have clearly failed to grasp the harsher implications of the so-called 'Conservative myth' of a recession so vigorously dismissed by their previous Leader earlier in the year.

Reading my notes from the most recent report from the councils benefits section, I see that we had 163 new claims in just two days. At the same time, I see average processing times have increased slightly, largely, I'm told, because the people who are now seeking unemployment benefits have never claimed before and have no idea of their entitlements or how to find their away around the system. These are Tony Blair's new middle classes, hard-working people who may have never before experienced unemployment in their working lives.

As the trend in unemployment appears to be accelerating in the wrong direction, I share the concern of the Citizens Advice Bureau among others. Thanet is already burdened by too high a national position in the statistics of deprivation and as the fallout from the banking failure continues to spread and public money dwindles, Thanet and other councils like it, start to resemble a pressure cooker, over-filled with urgent and often competing priorities.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Big Sky Photos

A gentle north-easterly breeze on Margate sea-front didn't offer ideal conditions for the 'Big Sky' kite display this afternoon, as some of the very large kites, while expertly flown, appeared to be struggling to find enough lift. The overall display was however very impressive indeed and a great day out, supported by the Margate Town Partnership, with lots of people coming to the beach to watch or browse the open-air market.

I've attached a few photos here so you can appreciate how colourful the kites were.

Following a vigorous but friendly political discussion with Margate's top blogger, Tony Flaig, who was also taking photographs, I also noticed some quite impressive gymnastics by a couple of teenage boys showing-off to their girlfriends by doing daring somersaults from the promenade. This lad, I just managed to capture at distance with a 300mm telephoto lens as he came out of his flip. In contrast and nearby, another small gang of less athletic teenagers were openly smoking dope and were quite possibly too stoned to attempt anything more challenging than standing upright!

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the Jungle

An interesting six hours or so in the air today.

First stop was Calais and 'The Jungle', the sparsely wooded area adjacent to the port, for a national newspaper, having a good look at what was taking place in the refugee encampment below.

I was struck by how many blue tarpaulin-covered shelters there were, lean-to's huddling miserably together in a relatively small and dirty space and the presence of scaling ladders visible and badly concealed on top of several.

Most surprising of all is how close the industrial estate and coach park are to the 'Jungle', quite literally on the other side of the bushes. 19,000 refugees are stopped each year by search teams at the Calais side of the Channel, which makes one wonder how many actually get through on their second or third attempt?

Below, there was evidence of organised activity, with one large group of men visibly being directed by a single individual in a leather jacket. Where they might have been going I can't say but there was no shortage of lorries or coaches within easy reach of any passing travel interest.

Back on this side of the Channel, it was back to nuclear reactors, taking in Bradwell Bay and Sizewell B, which I couldn't survey on Monday and then across East Anglia to survey building progress on two brand new prisons; one on the site of the old RAF Coltishall in Norfolk and the second near Peterborough. Mind you, given the present deplorable state of our criminal justice system, I believe we would need to build a prison a month simply to keep up with the demand for places which now sees even the most serious offenders swiftly released into the so-called 'Community' for rehabilitation.

The 'Jungle' is scheduled to be buldozed soon but this will simply displace the problem elsewhere as the French appear disinclined to police the problem in Calais vigorously and instead, blame us for our "Ridiculously generous" benefits system. However, as you may have seen in the news this week, the trail of human misery which ends in Calais at the opposite end of the Channel Tunnel, starts a very long way from Europe and passes through the barren desert of Libya on the way; one reason why our Government and the Italians are so very keen to seek rapprochment with Colonel Gaddafi, large oilfields aside!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Big Sky this Saturday

I just passed what looked like practice for Saturday's 'Big Sky' kite-flying spectacular on Margate beach.

I suspect that the really strong winds may have passed by then but the forecast for the weekend isn't looking too bad and i'm hoping, if the opportunity allows, to go and take in the scene with what looks like some remarkable kites.

This afternoon, I spotted a giant stingray and a blue tortoise floating above the main sands!

Service Interruptus

For anyone inconvenienced by the phone system 'outage' at the council offices in Margate yesterday, you have my apologies. The fault, I'm told lay with a damaged fibre-optic cable, somewhere near Paddock Wood and the service provider, Global Crossing, discovered that not only TDC but many other clients were abruptly taken 'off the air' as a consequence.

Whether this was the common result of an enthusiastic JCB driver digging a large hole or an equally large rodent with a taste for plastic, I don't know, but normal service should, I'm told, be resumed by 9:00 am this morning!

This evening, we have a Cabinet meeting which will present a number of new properties for potential inclusion on the council's asset disposal register. I was struck by local newspaper coverage that in the light of Gordon Brown's speech to the TUC, this week, fails to grasp why this is happening around the country at large.

Simply stated, Government has told local councils, (as I've written before), that with community support budgets from central Government slashed, if they are to raise money to deliver services, rather than raise council taxes, they must sell assets, land, properties, anything that can raise money. It's as simple as this and on a par with the latest adverts on television encouraging cash-strapped viewers to find 'Old Gold' in their homes and send it away in an envelope for cash in return. So while councils are being censured by the local papers for selling assets I would like to encourage readers to imagine what the council services landscape will look like over the next five years in they don't, as much as Gordon Brown tries to play down the harsh impact of his speech to the Trade Unions.

With Thanet Council working vigorously to improve housing stock and availability and particularly in target areas of deprivation such as Cliftonville West and Margate Central (see my earlier Blog on the subject) another measure that readers may not be aware of from the news, is that Government funding for restoring empty homes to use and improving the standard of private sector (privately rented and owner occupied) housing is to be reduced by 20 per cent for 2010/11 from £376 million to £301 million.

The South East England Councils (SEEC) reports that this funding reduction contradicts the findings of a recent Audit Commission report, 'Building Better Lives', which concluded that public expenditure was more effectively targeted on improving existing housing stock than building new homes. However, the Commission found that councils felt pressured into focusing on building brand new housing rather than improve existing stock. 94%of councils have prioritised new and/or affordable housing targets through their local area agreements, but fewer than a third prioritised targets relating to their existing housing stock. This is despite the financial savings, environmental improvements and social benefits of doing so

Key findings in the same report showed that:

- Spending between £2,000 and £20,000 on adaptations that enable an elderly person to remain in their own home can save £6,000 per year in care costs.

- If only five per cent of empty homes could be brought back into use, councils could cut their annual homelessness costs by £500 million

Details are still awaited on how the funding cuts for private sector housing stock will feed through to regional budgets. However, if the reduction of around 20 per cent was to be applied across the board, with all regions being affected equally, the existing South East allocation would fall from £30 million to around £24 million.

In summary then, the cuts that the Prime Minister referred to are already taking pace but many of these are invisible to the public and the consequences won't be felt for some months yet. In some ways it's reminiscent of exploring how many small, paper-like cuts a man can take, before he shows outward signs of bleeding to death.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Final Cut is The Deepest

So there you have it, the 'C' word in all its glory, revealed by Gordon himself at today's TUC conference.

These promised 'Cuts' will impact so-called "Low-priority' Government services rather than "Frontline" services, so that's OK then, except that one Trades Union leader, the RMT's stalwart warrior, Bob Crow, one of my best clients, 'Bless him', was less than generous about the Prime Minister's speech and his failure to enlarge on what "Low priority" services might actually be.

So cuts in public spending will be the order of the day regardless of which party you happen to support, it's just a matter of where such cuts will occur. The Treasury forecasts that public borrowing will reach £175 billion, or 12 per cent of GDP, in the current financial year. In a recession, public borrowing increases as tax revenues fall and welfare spending rises. In a downturn as intense as this one, there is a strong theoretical case for the Government to borrow still more, to compensate for the shortfall in demand. This will only make things more painful for us all in the short-term at least.

The Times reports that Gordon Brown now invokes the Great Depression as a reason for not tightening fiscal policy prematurely. And much of the spending increase planned for next year, of around £30 billion, will be accounted for by higher social security spending and interest payments on government debt. Neither of these can be substantially reduced till economic growth returns. It comments that "Loose fiscal policy carries its own risks. No one knows how far a rapid accumulation of public debt might undermine financial confidence. But to tolerate wide deficits now, financial markets need to be reassured that there will be offsetting tax rises and spending cuts when the economy recovers."

So what does this mean to you and me in real terms? I've been remarking for some time on this weblog that the true impact of the financial train hitting the buffers hasn't been felt yet. We saw the collapse of the private sector and it's only now that we will start to see the heavier rear carriages of the train, the public finances, come off the rails and overturn as the budgets for 2010 onward are scrutinised and prepared.

Any new Government is going to be very unpopular indeed, whether it be this one or more likely an incoming Conservative administration with new ideas on how to balance the books. Options are very limited and local Government as central Government's proxy tax collector and agent for essential local services has even less room to manoever as funding dries up completely or is reduced to a trickle.

In seven months or so people will face a choice; do things differently and more prudently with a far greater emphasis on local accountability or maintain the status quo with the same discredited hybrid, Stalinist, Old, New Labour characters that landed the country in the broken shambolic mess in which it now finds itself. I suspect that the British people are fed-up with a decade of being conned and are aching for change and so, like many readers, I'm looking forward to seeing the country's final judgement on Gordon Brown at the polls next year as collectively, they start to feel the bitter winds of the very same cuts he mentioned for the first time today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Airport Consultation Explained

I’ve been pottering around over nuclear reactors today, busy getting irradiated and carrying a piece of paper from Magnox and the CAA authorizing me to enter these strictly prohibited zones. What did make me a little nervous though is how I might possibly display such a permission document to any passing armed Eurofighter, should anyone hit the big red panic button at Sizewell A?

I discovered, just in time, earlier this morning that one reactor security officer at least was on holiday and hadn’t passed on the information to his relief.

Anyway, now glowing as if I’ve eaten several bowls of ‘Ready-Brek’, I’m back safely in time to read on some of the other ‘Blogs’ some information on the on-going Kent International draft airport consultation, which isn’t strictly accurate and so I’ll try and put it right here.

First off, this report is a ‘draft’ for members of the Airport Working Party to consider before they endorse any part of it. This includes having the opportunity to disagree with anything that is stated or add in anything they feel is missing. The council stands accused of being rather ‘fluffy’ about the detail which is quite complex in parts, so you may be pleased to hear that a ‘plain English’ document will shortly be released, which I hope will answer most people’s questions or concerns on the subject.

This is not a referendum but a consultation in several parts, which will involve councillors, businesses and local groups as well as residents. Council officers will take a mini exhibition to target the harder to reach areas (not accessible to the Gateway vehicle) and most importantly, this will be carried out during evening/weekend hours which is in contrast with what you might have read on other Blog sites.

If you look at the different audiences the Council is trying to reach on this very important subject then it’s true to say that officers are doing everything in their power to ensure that the views of a wide cross-section of the population are being sought and the reason for going to busy places like Westwood Cross and the supermarkets, is to engage with those who wouldn't normally take part in a council consultation. Pollsters MORI, will also be commissioned to compile a postal questionnaire and a telephone survey.

It might comfort some readers to know that the consultation officer lives directly under the flight path and so is working vigorously to ensure that everyone has a chance to express a view. The results will be required for a final report to go to the Cabinet in January 2010 and then a report will then be needed with Cabinet recommendation to go to meeting of the Full Council in February 2010.

The results of the consultation will be quite transparent and will be published online, through local news and media, direct to members and direct to any respondents who have left contact details as part of the consultation.

I hope that clears up any confusion or exaggerated reporting of the facts that you may have read elsewhere!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Politics on the Farm

I thought I would try blogging directly from Microsoft Word this morning as I haven't tried it before, normally making entries, 'on the fly' straight into, spelling mistakes and all.

This morning's weather is such that there's no great incentive to leave the house, other than to walk a reluctant dog and this gives me a good reason to finish reading and marking-up Cabinet papers for next week and finish a two thousand word feature on last Sunday's flight to Milan and the Gulfstream G200 for 'P1' magazine; a bit like 'Top Gear' and I'm no Jeremy Clarkson although I've attached a quick clip of the landing for anyone who might be interestedin such things!

Having flicked through the Sunday papers, I've decided not to pull-out any stories that caught my attention other than remarking that it's TUC Conference time again and Trades Union leaders were reportedly treated to beer and curry with the Prime Minister this weekend in a last ditch effort to gain their support and their funding as a defunct Labour party totters towards a General Election facing the threat of political annihilation at the polls. Listening to Union leaders on Sky this morning, several of whom I know because of the aerial banner work I do, I'm struck by the continued reluctance to grasp the real implications of the £175 billion deficit that Sky's Adam Bolton referred to this morning. There's not a person reading this who doesn't want better schools and hospitals and a decent pension for the elderly but the simple £175 billion question is: "Who pays?"

Elsewhere, Labour continues to try and put the "Class War" card into play, conveniently forgetting the immortal words of Tony Blair, " Were' all middle-class now." While Labour councillors castigate "Tory Toffs" who went to private and public schools, perhaps we could have a list of Labour Ministers or even MPs who haven't used every trick in the book to achieve the very best education available for their own children? Isn't it human nature to try and get the best for one's children, it's certainly a middle-class ethos to aspire or is this now politically incorrect with most of the other values that my generation was raised with; decency, personal responsibility, the work ethic, opening doors for ladies and more! Why I wonder should someone be blamed for being a product of the best education that money can buy; only in Britain does it appear to be a problem. In the United States it's celebrated!

Congratulations to King Ethelbert's School, here in Westgate, for achieving such a marked improvement in their GCSE results. I also went to school here in Thanet and by coincidence, Margate blogger, Tony Flaig was my classmate. I can't recall any of us boys at the time agonizing over our misfortune at not being sent to Eton or indeed, being bright enough to get into Chatham House and yet those were the seventies, when 'Soviet Weekly' was delivered in bundles to the classroom of every school and Margate was twinned with the socialist paradise of Yalta. Class war is a device that Labour uses every time it faces defeat; it's their worn-out excuse for not delivering on the promise to end child poverty, streamline the NHS or deliver a truly world-class education system. In reality the dismal record of this Government can be found in the pages of George Orwell's novel, 'Animal Farm', "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

There's another quote from the same story which also rings true in the last days of Gordon Brown's premiership. One could imagine it coming from Ed Balls or Harriet Harman:

"No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Falling into Arears

I've heard concerns from a number of different sources now that new method of paying housing benefit, the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is not working in the manner which it was intended, to give more flexibility, choice and responsibility to tenants.

LHA was introduced last year, replacing the old housing benefit system for new tenancies. Instead of benefit being paid directly to landlords, it now goes straight to tenants, who are expected to take responsibility for passing on the rent money to their landlord. In practice, The Landlords Association now reports that many tenants choose not to do so and this appears to be causing real problems which are impacting on the already pressed social housing sector.

It's reported that many landlords are facing repossession because rent receipts, which they rely on for their own mortgage payments, fail to arrive. I've heard one story of a landlord who has turned in the keys of a dozen properties through falling into arrears with her own mortgages as a consequence.

The Landlords Association warns that LHA will contribute to a shrinking of housing supply for benefit claimants, as landlords turn away from the risks, with the result of more pressure being placed on social housing, which in turn will affect the most vulnerable tenants and increase homelessness.

Without a sense of the true national extent of the picture, it's hard to reach a conclusion but it does appear clear that among a specific and more vulnerable segment of the dependent population receiving housing benefit, passing the money to the claimant rather than direct to the landlord, is proving far too much of a temptation for those who live for the moment rather than thinking ahead about the rent.

Tiger Tiger

Over at Leicester today flying a promotional banner for the "Tigers" rugby team. Leicester is only 138 miles from Thanet as 'The crow flies' but I'm sure it seem rather longer by road.

From the air and on a lovely autumn day like today, it looks like a very attractive city with lots of green spaces and a very accomodating airfield to operate from too!

With the evening now starting to draw in, the banner season will soon come to end or at least quieten down until April of next year. It still runs through the winter but becomes increasingly more of a probability exercise, each time I fly as the winter weather depressions and shorter days make flying more challenging.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Blogs and Blogging

I see that the council's draft 'Blogging protocol' has now been distributed in draft in advance of it being discussed in committee later this week.

Until today, I hadn't seen anything in writing and as I previously insisted it was a subject for discussion only. Unfortunately, a recent spate of rather crude 'political blogging' has accelerated its urgency and now we have a document which I'm sure the public will soon be reading with some interest.

From where I sit, it's an excellent piece of work which draws on both legal opinion and the councillors' code of conduct, to offer sensible guidelines on one's dual responsibilities as both councillor and 'Blogger' under the law.

What's particularly interesting is the personal responsibility that any Blogger holds for the publishing of anonymous comments, which may be reasonably considered either malicious or defamatory or both. It clearly sets out the legal hazards, risks and the remedies and as a reference document, will, I'm sure prove invaluable to councillors and anonymous bloggers alike.

There's never been any suggestion that I'm aware of, that councillors shouldn't 'Blog'. Rather, with one of two individuals clearly going 'over-the-top' of late with wild allegations and equally wild and inflamatory language, a reference work on the subject and its conduct is very welcome indeed!

It's just a little sad that we need one rather than exercising the more reasonable standards of common sense and courtesy that should remain an unspoken fact of public life!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Over the Alps

While ECR was over in Jersey with a large suitcase, busily withdrawing funds from his off-shore bank account I found myself on a day trip to Milan today, as a member of the flight crew on a positioning trip of a Gulfstream G200.

Fractionally slower than the high-speed train that will debut between London and Ramsgate on Monday, ninety minutes was all it took, followed by several hours of aviation hell, as I caught the 16:50 (delayed to 18:00) Easyjet from Milan's Linate airport back into Gatwick with all the other poor souls squeezed on-board.

From the cockpit of the Gulfstream, the view over the Alps was breathtaking from 37,000 feet, giving way suddenly to the flat plain of Northern Italy and then a sharp right-turn and a radar-vectored descent into Linate.

It's easy to understand why the super wealthy prefer executive jet travel whenever possible. Passport control and travel formalities are a polite nod at both ends and the interior of the aircraft is lavish in mahogany and leather with all possible comforts supplied.

This particular aircraft was scheduled to go on to Frankfurt in the morning and then Istanbul and beyond, finishing-up, I think, in Moscow.

In contrast though, I have to tow a banner for Leicester Tigers rugby club this week, not quite as exciting as the idea exploring Istanbul and with it, the temptation to stow-away was almost irresistable!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Inside Thanet

As much for my own reference as anything else, this latest information from the Thanet & East Kent Insider.

It reports that the the average median wage for a full-time worker in a Thanet workplace is just £384.40 whereas for a Thanet resident it is £426.80 [Nomis 2008].

From figures such as these it becomes abundantly clear why economic regeneration is such a high priority objective, particularly when one sees Thanet's overall position in the indices of deprivation.

The collective challenge we all now face, is that with public spending to be slashed to unprecedented levels, every practical opportunity has to be taken in order to make our small island attractive to inward business investment and with it, any opportunity for new jobs and skills.

Glancing briefly at the statistics in the illustration and shrugging them off simply isn't an alternative, when you consider the future consequences of such a large unskilled workforce, almost a quarter of the population in households with no working parent and our over-reliance on the public sector as the largest local employer.

So when opportunities, such as The China Gateway appear or even the more controversial suggestion for further development of the airport, perhaps we should be taking a more sanguine and pragmatic view of the future and what we expect from our own place in it?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Lost and Found

Not many people today have heard of Charles Montagu Doughty, the great desert explorer and a contemporary of the equally famous Arabist, Sir Richard Burton.

In 1876 the young Charles Doughty set out to cross the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. His goal was the "lost" Nabatean city of Madain Saleh the magnificent sister city to Petra in Jordan. Several years of his life were spent in what were later called his "wanderings": explorations of a terrain little known to Europeans, the discovery of the remains of the vanished city and detailed accounts of what he discovered there, with particular attention paid to the local geology.

I've noticed that the BBC 2 documentary, 'The Frankincense Trail' with the embrassingly naive, Kate Humble, looks as if she is to visit this same spot, ringed by sandstone cliffs in the northern desert of Saudi Arabia. I was once lucky to see this almost thirty years ago, while following the path of T.E Lawrence and the abandoned remains of the Hejaz railway; carrying a well-thumbed copy of the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.

Thirty years ago Saudi Arabia was even more closed than it is today and while unlike Burton or Doughty, the risk of discovery didn't carry the automatic risk of execution, simply getting to the site, even with the permission of the Minister of the Interior, was a struggle, on account of many local Bedouin police being quite unable to read, the tense situation with Israel and the unnerving habit of checkpoint guards of wanting to confiscate the travel authorisation document.

The only means of travelling around at the time was in a battered Volvo estate in rough local disguise, camping out in the desert to avoid attention. Today, with the remains of the city now a world heritage site, it's a little easier if the Saudis will grant a visa and you don't have to grow a beard either!

There is a third Nabatean city along the spice route as well but this one is almost completely unexcavated and I forget its name. I stumbled across it mountain biking in Jordan about ten years ago.

What the BBC's Kate Humble will make of it all is anyone's guess and I would be surprised if she spots the old railway engines from the First World War, gathering dust in the remains of the Turkish garrison station.

Joined-Up Solutions

While ideas on trying to be as cost-effective and practical as possible with our ICT budget may have proved a little tedious for Thanet's Labour opposition during last month's council meeting, I see that this week's Computer Weekly has picked-up the broader public sector theme that: "We need to be more joined-up, increasingly smarter in the way in which we integrate different processes and innovative in the way in which we use our existing solutions and partnerships with other authorities."

When the Lights Go Out

With the year now accelerating into increasingly darker evenings, I read today that “Demand for power from homes and businesses will exceed supply from the national grid within eight years”, according to official figures.

Apparently, our problem, here in Britain is caused by the scheduled closure by 2015 of nine oil and coal-fired power plants victims of the EU directive designed to cut pollution.

In the next couple of weeks I have to visit Bradwell, Sizewell and Dungeness, nuclear reactors also scheduled for decommissioning and over the next decade, one third of Britain’s power-generating capacity needs to be replaced with cleaner fuels.

As it is most unlikely that any new nuclear power stations will be built before 2018, any drive for renewable forms of energy in particular the wind farms springing-up around our coast here in Thanet, is unlikely to meet the gap left.

The admission that Britain will face power-cuts is contained in a document that accompanied the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Transition Plan’, which was launched in July.

I can still remember studying by candlelight in the 1970’s and perhaps history may yet repeat itself in 2018?