Friday, October 30, 2009

Tony for Prez

Tony Blair's hopes of becoming President of the new Europe appear to be fading fast and even the best efforts of Thanet's Labour group to support him, may not be enough to tip the balance in his favour.

I've been busy re-reading George Orwell's novel. '1984' this week and I'm struck by some uncomfortable the parallels with our present Government. Here's a couple of quotes for you:

"The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen. As compared with last year, there was more food, more clothes, more houses…. More of everything, except disease, crime and insanity."

Orwell appeared to be cynical about Labour, even in the forties, before it was 'New'. One conversation in the book is written in a political style characteristic of our most socialist of blogging councillors: "Lackey of the bourgeoisie, flunkies of the ruling class! Parasites that was another of them. And 'Yenas… 'e definitely called em 'yenas. Of course e' was referring to the Labour Party you understand."

So try re-reading 1984 and you might think that political correctness had replaced 'Doublethink', 'Thoughtcrime and 'Newspeak'. Orwell's worst fears for the future of British society, led by 'The Ministry of Truth' and the apostles of socialism appear to have come true, in a matter of ten short years from Blair to Brown.

You will have seen on the news that Britain is still caught in recession while the USA appears to have broken free with many other countries. By pouring 100's of $billions of dollars into the economy, President Obama appears to have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat but one economist I was listening to this morning suggested that we might have to throw another £100 billion at our own economy to have the same result. However, the potential risks and consequences of £250 billion of debt are almost too awful to contemplate. A Bank of England economist on Channel 4 News said last night that in a war, you don't think about how much it costs but of how quickly you can win and that is, where we appear to be today.

But remember, Orwell's 1984 was written in 1949, when Britain was struggling to deal with the aftermath of the Second World War and from a purely economic perspective, things aren't looking much different. Still, there's always the possibility of Tony for President and that's bound to make us all feel much better about the future!

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power" - 1984

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clocks Back

The clocks are back, sunset, my watch tells me is at 16:48 and Ottos, the world's oldest dog (pictured) can enjoy a well-deserved nap.

Sunday, is however a workday for me for the next month or so, as I've a project in Abu Dhabi to complete and it's a normal day of the week, until about midday, because of the time difference. Thanks to the internet and 'Skype' calls however, my phone bills are rather lighter than using good old BT.

Yesterday evening, I dropped in to the cabaret cancer charity event at the Westgate pavilion, organised by our most colourful of local characters, 'Horace' and Birchington parish councillor, John Worrow. It was very good indeed, supported by Margaret Sheldrick, the Chairman of TDC, with some excellent and very amusing local talent on display. Kevin Crace is doing a wonderful job restoring the Westgate pavilion to its former glory and I would recommend visiting some of the events there to enjoy the atmosphere.

Walking back through the village, later that evening, aside from three bored teenagers at the bus stop, it was absolutely quiet and in marked contrast with previous weeks. I now have many of the traders on email and rather than simply 'doing the rounds' for a chat, I'm hoping that they can keep me abreast of any changes when they need to.

Councillors Goodwin and King are working on the Westgate Christmas lights. These and the celebrations we have when they are turned-on, have been a great success over the last two years with great personal generosity shown by Darren Ellis but this time, thanks in part to the economic climate surrounding donations, we have a shortfall, I'm told, of £1,500 that we are trying to make-up.

Councillors can make a modest contribution from their own special community fund, of £500, which we are all happy to do but an application has gone to the Margate Charter Trustees to see if there's a little financial support available there and I know that the traders and businesses have been asked if they can spare a little extra. I'm optimistic that we will reach the figure but the community will have to work fast, as it's almost November. I'm sure that Cllrs Goodwin and King will keep me informed of their progress and I will post any updates here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the QT

What a stunning morning! The autumn colours remind me of New England.

Yesterday evening, I was over at St Saviours church in Westgate, where the Reverend Tom Barnfather was welcomed by the local and faiths community as the new priest. Cllr Tom King welcomed him on behalf of the Westgate Residents Association and I'm sure readers would like to join all of us in welcoming him to his new Ministry in Westgate.

Strangely enough, during the service, it was promised we would all be home in time for the BBC's highly controversial Question Time. I won't make any other comment, other than to say that I still believe, in the interests of impartiality and political debate, that it was right and proper to allow Jack Straw to take part in the programme!

What perhaps interested me more yesterday, was the Director of Public Prosecutions, speaking out against the plans of an incoming Conservative Government to derogate from the European Human Rights Act and introduce a British Human Rights Acts instead, with the intention of doing away with the catalogue of abuses of which we are so familiar.

One such example is reflected in the efforts now of four Home Secretaries to repatriate the Afghan hijackers to diverted an aircraft to Stanstead. Each removal order has been quashed by the courts, despite the fact that Britain has expended much effort and too many young soldiers lives, ejecting the Taleban from Afghanistan. The hijackers remain with full welfare entitlements, even though there appears to be no sound reason to let them, other than a generous interpretation of their rights under the European Act. Parliament now has no control over European law interpreted by our judges. However, other countries simply interpret the law to suit their own national and political purposes, the French being a prime example.

I would be interested to know if readers think this is a good idea or take the side of of the DPP?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It’s a Sign

I'm pleased to say that The Swan Inn in Westgate was granted permission by the council's planning committee yesterday evening, to have its back-lit fascia sign after a bit of a struggle. To cut a long story short, it has had a sign for many, many, years but has also now fallen inside the Westgate Conservation Area, which has a policy against such things. Anyway, together with ward councillor King, I spoke in favour of the application and I'm delighted that the committee sensibly interpreted the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law, as I requested.

Westgate itself remains quiet in the evenings and so the dispersal order and the action I took around the station last week, appears to have achieved its objective and has, I hope, sent the right message out to the small group of young people who have been responsible for most of the incidents in recent months. The great majority or teenagers here in Thanet behave responsibly and sensibly but thanks in part to poor parenting and adolescent boredom, like so many other parts of the country, we have a problem minority with interests leaning towards vandalism, public nuisance and alcohol and Government has no real answers when it comes to tackling the unhappy consequences of twenty years of bad social policies

On a lighter note, I took delivery of one of Amazon's 'Kindle' electronic readers yesterday and in a matter of minutes had downloaded, wirelessly and quite free, many great classic works to read when time allows, entirely free. Marx, Herodotus, Kipling, H.G.Wells to name but a few. I find the screen reads very well indeed and there's the added bonus of being able to import PDF documents. I can see a future when council documents are delivered this way. Presently, we use reams of paper but now I can drop the contents of an entire council meeting into a small, searchable reading device. It has to be the way forward but then we still have some councillors who won't use email at all and that has to change. Its really time I believe, to challenge any elected representative if he or she is not prepared or even willing to use the simple mass communications' tools of the 21st century; much like asking why a councillor wouldn't have a phone number in the 20th century!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Patch Policing

The Home Office has this week, launched a national interactive crime map for England and Wales that gives residents statistics on local crime figures and details on neighbourhood policing online at .

The online map figures are for all crime, including burglary, robbery, violence, vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour in their area which I assume includes the Isle of Thanet.

Viewers can compare one police area with another, compare figures over a three-month period against the same period for the previous year, and see annual crime rates.

If the site were working – which it's not, as I write, because it's 'crashed' you would, in theory, be able to see details of your neighbourhood police team, local policing priorities and information about forthcoming local events such as crime prevention meetings and local 'PACT' surgeries. I can't wait!

Crime mapping is part of the national 'Policing Pledge', which sets out standards and commitments on police response times, neighbourhood policing community engagement and time spent "on patch".

Back to the subject of the Westgate bench briefly, Sgt Connor tells me that since it was moved, the anti-social behaviour in Station Road has ceased and the evening are now quiet, which I would describe as a good result. This is of course part of a series of measures and I'm quoted in the local paper as saying that I'm not prepared to surrender Westgate to a minority of 'yobs' without a struggle and clearly, swift and decisive action has had the desired effect. I know that some elderly residents are concerned by the removal of the bench but when I explain what has actually happened to make Westgate a safer place at night, the 'Blitz' spirit comes in and they are supportive of the measures, even though it temporarily inconveniences them.

Back in Computer Weekly today, I've a few words to say on overcoming resistance to change and in particular, the public sector. With budgets now so tight that they resemble a can of sardines, the most immediate challenge is having sufficient funds available to deliver a whole raft of technology-related projects and I fear that the public sector will now start to fall rapidly behind the curve, with a consequential impact on services in the future.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

One Plan and Another

I'm presently struggling with a new university course and with it, the impact of technology on our society and indeed, its future. For reader interest, I'm putting up a YouTube video, 'ShiftHappens' which is well worth watching for lovers of statistics.

Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan have also written a book, 'The Plan - twelve months to renew Britain' which I'm trying to read and finish this weekend. Already half-way through, I would recommend it to anyone.

I've just ordered the first of Amazon's 'Kindle' readers for the UK, so I'm looking forward to a future of being able to buy and download many thousands of books, newspapers, periodicals and publications, wirelessly into the hand held reading device, which can hold thousands of books in its memory.

The Big Bench Story

Here's an update on the Westgate bench story for anyone that might be interested in its whereabouts.

As a Conservative, I support the view that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people who are likely to be affected by them. On Monday the Residents Association with Cllr King, agreed to the plan to have it removed following a brief presentation from SGT Connor and me on the measures now in place to deal with the rising anti-social behaviour problem in the town.

On Tuesday at the PACT meeting in Westgate (Police & Community Action), the same course of action was agreed, with traders present and both KCC Councillor Burgess and Cllr King.

On Wednesday the bench was removed into storage. It needs repair and I asked the council officer responsible if she would try and contact the family of Mrs. Tree to whom it is dedicated to let them know why. Otherwise, I would like to see it positioned overlooking the seafront next season, a recommendation that was welcomed by the Residents Association. I have attached a picture of it for any readers that may not recall the condition is was in! The newagent's headline refers to the kids stealing a mobility scooter and placing it on top of the bus stop opposite one night.

Presently we have a problem with the idea of the Piggy Bank Nursery putting a lighter weight bench outside during the day and removing it in the afternoons because of insurance and Health & Safety issues but 'Milly's Collectables' has very kindly offered to let tired elderly residents sit on the sofas for sale outside her shop and these have the added advantage of being undercover. I have passed this message to the surrounding traders so that they can pass it on.

This Saturday morning, I visited the shops in Station road and the support for the bench's removal was unanimous. Simultaneously, closed circuit TV was being installed and tuned-in outside the station, a temporary installation but none-the-less it's still CCTV coverage. Traders tell me that they are against the return of the bench until such a time as the anti-social behaviour problems are fully resolved and they feel that returning it to the same spot would not be a good idea, given that it acts as a focus for such behaviour from teenagers and drunks and or both.

The dispersal order around Westgate starts this coming Tuesday and runs until 16th April next year and SGT Connor's TASK team of Police officers will be present for some weeks to come. Since the bench was removed on Wednesday, she tells me that Westgate has been quiet and has thanks the council for such a quick response in accepting her recommendation.

I understand that Cllr King has now changed his mind and believes that we were hasty in removing the bench so quickly and would like to see it returned. My own view is that as a community dealing with a remarkable rise in anti-social incidents over a very short period, it was important to act quickly and decisively in partnership with the police and the traders to recover our town centre. I'm happy, like the traders to see the bench returned in the future when Westgate is back to its peaceful self but having within just over two weeks, managed to arrange a police presence, CCTV a dispersal order and the removal of a problem item of street furniture, I think we should allow a little time for the measures to take effect before we react arbitrarily to a handful of complaints about the removal of the bench.

I'm very open to suggestions and immediately available to both email and comments on the subject made here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Natural History

The local Blogs seem very quiet at the moment. Either everyone has become very bored with the exercise or there isn't that much to report on the long dark slide towards Christmas and 2010.

Briefly, I stumbled across more evidence of the growth of our Police state this week, with two stories. The first from a friend of mine from Westgate, who visited the Natural History Museum in London and who like me, owns a Gerber multitool. In his case, rather like a Swiss Army knife, it was in his bag but the security lady at the museum concluded from the look of him, that he must be a dodgy character or potential terrorist, because she stopped him and asked him to turn out his bag.

Spotting the Gerber multi-tool, she said she would have to confiscate it as a weapon but he stood his ground and told her she had no right to do so. She insisted that she did and the Police were called. Ironically, when the Police arrived, expecting perhaps to find Osama Bin Laden, they took one look at the Gerber and told the security guard not to be silly as the penknife was within limits and that it was not being used or displayed as an offensive weapon. She then started arguing with the Police but in the end, my friend got his multi-tool back and was allowed to enter the museum. So this time around, the Police showed some common-sense, which is refreshing but it is a little worrying that Museum security guards appear to be losing theirs, in this example anyway.

The second example surrounds the 2012 Olympics. I've already had several enquiries about flying advertising banners around the Games from the United States but enquiring of the CAA and the 2012 Organising Committee, I was sent a rather large document to read and digest.

This explains that our Government will shortly be enacting secondary legislation to "protect" the commercial interests of the 2012 Games sponsors. In a nutshell, you need to think back to the Beijing Games and the heavy-handed approach of the Chinese authorities. This legislation will be 'catch-all' to prevent, 'Ambush Marketing' within broad geographically defined areas and the airspace surrounding them.

So, let's say you try and wear a Pepsi-branded T-shirt within that defined area of London or perhaps Weymouth or Manchester or any other sporting venue. You could, in principle be arrested. Try flying a banner or displaying a flag or a travelling road-sign with the same and you certainly will be and if it's a 'Free Tibet' flag then I suspect that will be caught under the legislation as well.

Coca Cola and Nike are of course OK!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moving Along

I took the question of the Station Road bench and associated anti-social behaviour problems to the Westgate Residents Association this evening to receive their views on what should be done about the problem of it being used as a congregation point for large groups of teenagers in the evening.

As well as Cllr Tom King chairing the event, with Kent County Councillor, Robert Burgess present, Sergeant Lara Connor, who is heading the Police Task Team, also dropped-in to brief those present on how the anti-social behaviour was being tackled and to lend her voice to the request that the bench should be re-located elsewhere.

To cut a long story short, the consensus is that in principle, the existing bench, presently sited outside the Piggy Bank nursery, should be repaired and moved to a more attractive spot, perhaps overlooking the beach. In its place Cllr King and I have agreed to fund from our councillors special allowance, a second bench, of a much lighter construction, which the owner of the nursery has kindly agreed to take in during the evening and put out during the day. This way, we believe that elderly residents will be able to use it as intended as a resting point during their shopping and the anti-social element will be denied its use in the evenings and will no longer congregate outside the off-licenses.

On Tuesday, I'm also meeting with the station manager and will be asking for a bright light outside the station, which will also make it unattractive as a gathering point. I would add that none of this is offered as a solution to Westgate's current teenage problems but it's a start in reclaiming the village back in the evenings from the groups of troublemakers who have appeared in the last couple of months.

Should anyone have any objections to this solution, then here's a good place to bring them to my attention.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Facts and Fiction in the Twilight Economy

Skimming through the comments on Thanet's other weblogs, such as From 'One End of Kent', 'Eastcliff Samantha' and the 'Thanet Star'; I never fail to wonder, at the 'Flat Earth' approach to the political and economic situation that we read in Thanet. Many people confuse Central Government, Thanet Council and Kent County Council budgets and responsibilities and wildly inaccurate, misleading or anecdotal figures may be presented as 'facts' and much like the good news coming from an embattled Gordon Brown, are somewhat distant from the truth.

It's a personal opinion but why so many people struggle to grasp the scale of the country's economic problems and indeed, forcefully deny them, I don't know. Britain now has close to £200 billion of public sector debt. We can claim the highest levels of personal debt of the developed economies and our public sector pension schemes are tottering on the edge of collapse, with a black hole threatening to swallow them by 2012. The money that you and I pay in Council tax barely covers the costs of essential services and for everything else, local councils rely heavily on central Government funding, which has, to all intents and purposes dried-up to a trickle; the Treasury instructing Local Authorities to sell their assets in a 'fire-sale' in order to try and plug the emergency funding gap. Once the car-parks and isolated empty spaces have gone, nobody really knows what will happen and many if not most local councils can no longer afford the maintenance burden of 'legacy' sites, buildings, parks and museums which lose money.

I warned you about 'facts' earlier but the other week, I roughly estimated from one set of figures, given in a presentation to local councillors, that every man, woman and child in Thanet receives, in terms of the total public service provision a figure close to £7,000 a year.

Britain is heavily reliant on revenues from the Scottish oilfields and the financial services economy. In fact, if you remove these and the city of London from the national economic equation we couldn't punch our weight in the G12 economies at all. The last twenty years has seen an enormously successful economy build-up around de-regulation and 'The Big Bang' to the point where we became over-dependent on a single sector; ignoring the decline and loss of manufacturing, research and more. Today, rather like the Rome of 2,000 years ago, we are principally consumers and export our language and customs, act as a global hub for financial transactions and watch helplessly while businesses move to the Pacific Rim or even the Irish Republic in search of new opportunities or a favourable tax regime.

Here in Thanet, as elsewhere in the country, every penny of public money is being scrutinised with an attention to detail which is possibly unprecedented in modern times. You've heard it from Gordon Brown and you've heard it from David Cameron and harsh fact #1 is there isn't enough to go around and maintain what the public have been comfortably used to for the last twenty years. In a deprived and highly leveraged benefits dependent environment like Thanet, the challenges for local Government are going be proportionally greater than elsewhere. So when people talk in terms of their council tax paying for x and y and z it only works when Central Government, like a generous uncle, make-up the difference each year. If that doesn't happen, local Government is no different to any working family with rising bills to pay and where the principal wage-earner is suddenly facing a dramatic cut in take-home pay, with no hope of an 'Ocean Finance' loan either!

This is where I suspect the differences between Labour and Conservative policies will polarize over the next five years. On a local level I suspect there are two quite distinct views. The first of these involves making every conceivable effort to balance essential public services, as many as possible with this much reduced income, much like any working family. The second argument says that the economy will slowly recover over the next five years and every possible effort should be made to make Thanet as attractive to business and tourism as possible, retaining sufficient economically viability to meet any upturn when it happens. This may mean of course, attempting to balance those same social priorities and demands as before but squeezing them even harder than many people would like, to leave enough of a reserve for some on-going investment in our collective future. The alternative is of course, is to arrive at the other end of this bleak economic tunnel in the same tough conditions as we entered it.

Much like the frank speaking you heard from the Conservative Party Conference last week, this involves the public's sense of what's important and what's not in terms of financial priorities for them and for local Government; i.e. some public toilets may have to be closed today but for purposes that may be for the greater good in protecting more critical service priorities now and in the future.

What do you think?

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Partly Wired Society

Sitting here on the campus at Chatham this afternoon, discussing technology and education, I'm reminded of a piece I wrote for The Observer newspaper almost exactly nine years ago.

It started:

'Welcome to the aftermath of the old economy. In the race between Europe's new 'just-in-time, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week' super-states, we are in danger of losing our ability to manage the expectations of an increasingly wired society. Technology can help fulfil our ambitions, but it doesn't do much for people who can't afford ambition.'

In almost a decade, a great deal has changed in terms of universal access to the tools of the information economy but the results are not perhaps quite what we expected.

Something to think about on my motorcycle on the way home!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Party Time

I've been out doing something unusual over a high security prison near Birmingham today and will be curious to see if it makes tomorrow's papers, which are bound to be dominated by David Cameron's speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

One might expect to see the Labour Party cringing after Cameron's swinging attack on the Government; "Who has made the poorest poorer? Don't you dare lecture us on poverty!" As Channel 4 News commented, "The Tory Party has become the party of the poor and Labour is now the 'Nasty Party.'"

I'm sure that people, having heard the speech and Cameron's furious attack on Labour's record on poverty, will reach their own conclusions. I'm equally certain, we'll hear from Labour's 99th most popular Blogger, that our Labour Government is doing a really wonderful job, is giving Thanet more than enough money to deal with its growing challenge of social deprivation and that we should all be grateful for the mess the country is now in. It's not what I hear from people, either in my own ward or surprisingly enough, in Dane Valley either, ordinary working people sick to death of the half-truths, lies and spin that comes from a discredited Party desperate to hang on to power at our collective expense!

Whatever your political views, we have a debt crisis to solve and hard times ahead and we should all be ready for the fast-approaching changes in our lives that this will bring.

I had a call today from the Westgate PCSO who told me that the dispersal order for the village has been set back a week because of a statutory obligation to post the measure publicly in advance. There does seem to be some debate over the future of the bench I mentioned in earlier posts and so I suggest that if you have an opinion to air, one way or another, you come along to the Residents Association next Monday evening.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bench Press

I've been at the ecrime 'Mid-year' Forum in London and arrived home a little earlier this evening at Westgate station, far from impressed – as you may not from my 'Tweet' on the sidebar, to discover around fifteen to twenty teenagers gathered around the problem bench outside the station.

Expecting to find the promised Police presence, I was disappointed that I had to call and request a visit and a car was promptly sent in the direction of Westgate.

As far as I'm concerned as a local councillor, 'Zero tolerance' to Westgate's anti-social behaviour problems means just that and that implies a constant presence on a regular basis until the problem is solved. Perhaps with the appearance of dispersal orders this Friday, we'll see a little more progress.

With the support of the traders and Councillor King to remove the bench and planters (Councillor Goodwin is away) I'm going to put the matter to the Westgate Resident Association next Monday evening where it can be properly debated. Quite clearly the bench outside 'The Piggy Bank' nursery is acting as a focal point for a persistent community problem and we need to resolve it, one way or the other. However, thinking back wistfully to my youth when retired residents used to rest there may be a little fanciful. Many residents will be only too familiar with the two or three of our better-known and more colourful recovering alcoholics being cared for in the community, who can normally be found sitting on the bench breaking their thirst or possibly even the benches at Adrian Square or at the corner of Sea Road and Westgate Bay Avenue. I'm not convinced that the people of Westgate have any sentimental attraction to this image of the village that this particular seating scarred and battered arrangement presents to either passers-by or the children in the adjacent nursery.

Residents views are welcomed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Task Team in Westgate

It's close to 10pm and I've been out in Westgate tonight with the formidable Sgt Lara Connor and her TASK Team of officers.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my concern at the astonishing rise in anti-social behaviour incidents and even a robbery in Westgate in the last month or so and I'm delighted to say that this week, the dedicated Police unit started vigorously patrolling Westgate in some force, ten hours a day, targeting the groups of teenagers who are behind the problem and this evening, taking a number of the younger ones home to surprised parents with a strong message.

A dispersal order will come into force on 9th October but until then the police and the PCSO's are making life difficult for the teenagers who have been using the area ouside and inside the train station to congregate and drink. As I came home this evening, most had been pushed out towards the seafront with their cans of 'Stella' confiscated and poured away into the gutter.

There is however a carrot as well as a stick on offer and PCSO, Craig Raisbeck, is organising football at Hartsdown on Wednesday night and even bowling for teenagers who are prepared to leave the streets for something a little more challenging.

From speaking with the Police and PCSO's this evening there are a couple of things that I would like to see done and I'll be seeking the support of my colleagues, the two other Westgate councillors, Tom King and Brian Goodwin.

Firstly, the Police would like to see the bench outside 'Almost News', moved somewhere else, as this is acting a congregation point opposite the station. Secondly, they would like to see the 'planters' outside the station moved or taken away, as these also act as seats for the kids,. They are also frequently vandalised and have turned into huge outdoor ashtrays, so I'm inclined to agree with the sense of trying to do something with them.

Finally, the railway company needs to be persuaded to put a very bright light outside the station entrance to deter the teenagers from congregating there at all. It's an intimidating, shadowy place at present and not really what we should have, as both the cash point and the bus stop is are in front.

From what I've seen this evening travelling around in the patrol car, the initiative appears to be working very well and the problem teenagers, most known by name to the Police and some with a long history, appear to be getting the message. Most certainly, I'm not prepared to see the centre of Westgate become a place where people don't feel safe after dark and I've been promised regular reports on the progress of the operation and any arrests that have been made.

Finally, CCTV outside the station would be an ideal deterrent but that's a far more difficult challenge to overcome at present.