"All anybody wants from technology", wrote Douglas Adams, "is for it to work," and I did rather feel that way at tonight's full council meeting which was scheduled for an inaugural pilot webcast.
Councillors Campbell, Wells and Jarvis were wearing unusually bright and colourful ties, which could have been a contributory factor and even Cllr Nottingham wore a tie, a gesture worth noting in its own right. I was wearing my best suit, clearly displaying the logo of the local business acting as sponsor and several councillors were sporting new hair styles, including one who is normally quite bald. Better still, everyone was on their best behaviour to welcome Labour's councillor Sandra Hart to the chamber and there was a palpable sense of Christmas goodwill, reminiscent of that famous temporary truce on the Western Front in the First World War.
In fact, the problem that prevented the webcast had nothing to do with the internet and the cameras, which were both working as they should be. It was to do with the ageing and frayed wiring microphone system in the chamber, which performed properly during the dry run yesterday evening but simply declined to cooperate tonight. I put it down to Murphy's Law and some strange quantum probability effect, which causes technology to fail, when enough people are relying on it to work at a critical moment. Given the absence of sound, I authorised the "pulling of the plug" on the web cast rather than deliver a silent movie to the public. Naturally we'll have an inquest and look to have it working next time around but the chamber microphones will continue to present a problem because in the present economic climate the budget simply doesn't exist to completely rewire the council chamber.
Just a couple of points I would like to highlight from tonight's meeting. Councillor Wise reminded members of the opposition that the disabled facility grants come from capital funding rather than revenue funding. What this means is that unless councils sell assets as instructed by government, then they cannot raise the capital needed to fund such programmes the same is true for capital receipts for sports funding. The second point involves EuroKent and Cllr Ezekiel pointed out that Thanet is obliged to build 600 new homes somewhere and if the opposition can come-up with a better idea of where these should go then he would like to hear it.
Good news of course from tonight surrounds the £12.4million of funds allocated from different sources and grants for the regeneration of Dreamland and I'm sure many readers will welcome the sight of it reopening in two years time.
On a completely different not, I notice that Richard Eastcliff is accusing Thanet South's Laura Sandys of being out of touch with local information when he writes:
"Two two causes for celebration this week. First, the 'news', as brought to you by the Blue Rinse candidate for Thanet South, that 'the life saving air sea rescue service based at Manston is set to be relocated to the Midlands at the end of this month.' Er, 'what air sea rescue service based at Manston?', you may ask. Clearly, however, that was not a question the intrepid reporter at yourfannitinnit could be bothered with."
I know something about this subject having flown the Coastguard Islander aircraft out of Manston. (see photo-stream) The role at Manston is principally a reconnaissance task, monitoring the channel shipping lanes. However, the Islander is able to fly low and slow and carries infra-red cameras and rescue equipment that can be dropped into the sea to survivors and this includes a dinghy. Of late, I understand that a number of missions have involved the rescue capability although it is not the principal role.
This reconnaissance role is now being moved back to the Midlands and the Islander is to be replaced by the much faster Cessna 406, which does not carry rescue equipment and is a pure shipping lanes reconnaissance aircraft. As a result, we won't have a rescue capable aircraft within immediate reach and will have to wait on either the Belgian Coastguard helicopter or the RAF rescue helicopter out of Suffolk. That 30 minutes difference between climbing into a life raft dropped by the Islander from Manston or floating in the sea waiting for a helicopter, to arrive could prove critical and this was Laura's quite appropriate concern, which I'm sure many readers will share.
In fact, the Coastguard and the Home Office are now reportedly looking at a multi-agency approach to maritime surveillance and my information suggests that unmanned drones, a cut-down version of the US Predator, sitting above the South coast of England, 24-hours a day, will soon be on the cards.