Friday, December 31, 2010

Here and Now

A few random New Year's Eve thoughts before I set-out for a cycle ride an attempt to shift a week's worth of indulgence over the Christmas break.

2010 was the year that the public became bored with 'blogging' as much in Thanet as anywhere else. While rumours of its death may be premature, as people search for other means of expression, such as Twitter and increasingly Facebook, the citizen journalist is here to stay or perhaps the remaining survivors who had something to offer the curious.

In Thanet, the 'blogosphere' has been decimated since its height, with the 'mysterious' disappearance of Eastcliff Richard among others. Codes of conduct aside, several local bloggers, anonymous and otherwise, discovered in 2010, that the laws of libel and defamation extend to them as much as anyone else and the same is true for anyone leaving anonymous comments on their weblogs, as several recent courts cases have demonstrated. A court order is now sufficient to reveal the owner of any weblog, who remains accountable in law for the content and the process of defense can prove both stressful and expensive, in the many thousands of pounds, as several bloggers have discovered. What this illustrates only too clearly, is that offering a platform for single-issue anonymous nutcases is a risky strategy in the pursuit of a rather vague notion of free speech and that if one is prepared to publish a false or mischievous allegation as a 'citizen publisher', the costs of defending such a statement can be equal to the value of one's home.

2011 may offer some rays of sunshine with a stock market now back to where it was before the crash but there's no doubt it's going to be tough for all of us with a rise in VAT and excise duty on petrol forcing us to reconsider the value of the humble bicycle over the cost of petrol. I've two aircraft to operate as well as a car, so the consequences of a bigger fuel bill will be painful for my own business much like any other that depends on fuel prices. However, if we look to the opposite side of the Irish Sea and the VAT hike in the Irish Republic, things could be a great deal worse. The Labour Party and the Trades Unions simply don't grasp that to support a huge public sector of the type that has been built-up over the last decade, somebody has to pay for it and as the outgoing Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, wrote, with a small note for the incoming David Laws in May: "There is no money."

I will concede that there's an ideological struggle at the heart of policy this coming year. The Conservatives believe in smaller government with a larger and healthier private sector; think of Shanghai or Hong Kong as examples and Labour believes equally firmly in big 'Government' with lots of expensive non-jobs, with magnificent gold-plated pensions, the one's you see advertised in the Guardian newspaper, which suck the lifeblood out of the private sector in the form of taxation and regulation. A fundamental consequence of all this is the pensions 'Black Hole' where every penny you and I pay in council tax will soon be absorbed by the public sector pensions commitment of a rapidly retiring population without swift action to remedy the problem, which this Government now recognizes. Of course the Unions are having none of it and the RMT have already booked me to fly a banner over a Trades Union march in 2011, which is somewhat ironic, as I'm sure you'll agree.

So do I have a New Year's resolution? To be honest, other than shaking-off the Christmas dinners, I haven't thought of one yet. Be more patient with the opposition's rather limited grasp of the economy and local government finance perhaps? I'd be a little more encouraged if I thought any one of them read the Economist magazine or even shared an occasional copy!

Perhaps I'll think of something novel on my cycle ride!

May I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Walk this Way

Walking through Westgate village earlier, I see the Thanet Gazette is attempting to sell papers on the back of a headline outside the newsagents: "Top Councillor in Plane Banner Woe." Very catchy I though and I had to smile. "Read all about it!"

Remaining briefly with the subject of banners, I've a marriage proposal booked for Thursday but it's looking rather unlikely as the rest of Kent, which includes Rochester airport, still appears to be buried under snow. With the Xmas holiday to kick my heels it's more than a little frustrating gazing out at a uniform gray view of the world from my window.
Each new year is interesting in its own right and 2011 should be no different. Let's not forget as well the end of the world being forecast for December 2012 as well, which doesn't give us much time to get things done! Come May, everyone will have their chance, through the local elections to express their feelings on national politics. In reality, one shouldn't be a forum for the other but invariably, this is the case and by then, many people will have forgotten that the present government is working quite hard to tackle the complete mess, both social and financial, left by the previous regime.

Here in Thanet, we've had to tighten our belts, because like everywhere else in the country, the good times of Labour spending everyone else's money on generous public services, without regard to the consequences, are over. For interest, here's a link to a report by The Economist magazine but at the Cabinet level we have to make some tough decisions on what we can afford and where local priorities should lie, given the large cuts in central government funding. By sharing services with neighbouring local authorities, such as IT and Human Resources, we hope to achieve economies of scale that will make a significant contribution to the bottom line of the council's budget and I'm hoping that further efficiencies across the council's service structure, will shield much of the population from the true impact of reduced central government grants.

The Economist points out, quite correctly, that the 'councils most reliant on central government grant because they are in poorer areas with populations requiring more help, would have been hit far harder than those in better-off parts which raise a higher share of their spending from council tax. The solution has been to group councils into four bands (according to their reliance on central funding) and to set limits to cuts within each of these bands.'

Perhaps the most fundamental question of all for the people of Thanet is that of who you want to run your council and carry you through the tough times ahead? Is it the present Conservative administration of which I happen to be a junior member or an untried and broadly unqualified opposition, which carries with it, a great deal of ancient, socialist political baggage, as we are constantly reminded in the local press? I'd simply say in conclusion that we can't spend money that we don't have and this coming year is one that demands an attention to detail and finances, in a way that may not have even been seen before in local government.

I may write more later as the muse takes me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Accident Black Spot

A nasty car crash outside my home in the last thirty minutes,as one car appears to have pulled-out from a side road in the path of an on-coming Mercedes in Westgate Bay Ave. Two fire crews are busily involved in cutting-out one of the drivers with ambulance crews giving on the spot medical attention.

This part of Westgate where Westgate Bay Ave meets Westbrook Ave is a well-known accident black spot and I plan to re-approach our KCC councillor, Robert Burgess and the council's Joint Transportation Committee to revisit the proposal for traffic calming measures.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's Snow Problems

Reportedly, Santa has had problems with icy runways and cold reindeer this year but with the help of Google maps, The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has employed all its hi-tech equipment to follow Father Christmas as he, and his reindeer, travel the globe delivering presents.

Seen rushing down the Thanet Way towards Manston on two-wheels, earlier today, where reindeer and air-freight are being prepared, hopefully nothing will fall off his sleigh en-route to his North Pole depot!

I've a marriage proposal booked, to fly around Leeds castle on New Year's Eve but having lost two similar flights due to the bad weather and snow last week, I'm not optimistic about next week. Normally it's very quiet at this time of year but unusually I'm seeing more proposals than I've seen in the past.  Hopefully, Santa, with his near Harrier-like capabilities will succeed tonight undaunted by the threat of heavy snow being forecast with a Met-Office weather warning for the South-east.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Raining and Cold

Time to write something I suppose!

I'm trying to find the courage to leave the house and venture into the teeth of the howling gale and freezing rain outside for some last minute supplies from the village. I'm finding that people I have been calling on business today are very sensibly somewhere else, Spain and Hawaii to name but two! There is of course nothing to beat the beach at St Mildred's Bay at Christmas, I tell them but they remain understandably unconvinced and I can't blame them, having been gazing at a sea view from my room at the Officer's club in Abu Dhabi only two weeks ago!
I see that the flu is starting to spread again and its hardly surprising at this time of year as the population presses together during the frantic shopping period, inadvertently giving the virus the critical mass it needs to explode. Much like putting a grain or rice on the first square of a chessboard and doubling the number with every subsequent square. Before you reach the last square the earth will have been completely buried by rice grains a mile high!

The Thanet Gazette has discovered or perhaps will 'reveal', that I dropped a marriage proposal banner in a garden in Brighton in June, a bizarre accident, caused by a failed steel attachment cable, in which nobody was harmed. The unmarried owner of the house was somewhat surprised to have a  proposal flutter down from the blue, much like a parachute and hang from her roof. The woman who the proposal was for, standing on the end of Brighton pier actually said "Yes" and the local Brighton Argus paper covered it then as a 'happy ending' story but much like the sinking of the Titanic and the outbreak of the Second World War, it's taken the Thanet Gazette a little time to catch-up. An entry for 'Smudger' on Friday I suppose and hardly headline news!

Quite possibly and like me, readers may know people who have had the Christmas holidays ruined by the weather and are still waiting for flights from Heathrow or Gatwick. I've heard some real horror stories over the last week and for many, the experience has been deeply distressing, particularly where small children were involved in the fiasco. Good reasons in the eyes of many to have a thriving local airport here at Manston to save on that lottery of a trip to the London airports and the extortionate costs of parking when one arrives!

I'm waiting for Skype to make a recovery after its big network outage yesterday. Like many readers I've a number of international Christmas calls to make and Skype's the preferred option at this time of year!

Finally, I've been asked to draw your attention to the council's budget consultation for 2011-12 'Make it count'. This year the council is facing a large cut in central government funding. We now have to decide how to allocate our funds to ensure that our limited resources are targeted towards the areas that are most important to local people.

To take part in the consultation please go to to complete the online survey. Alternatively you can collect a hard copy survey from your local Thanet library council office or can request a copy by e-mailing or calling 01843 577120.

The consultation is open until Friday 21st January.

Footnote: Having just read the fabulous 'soar-away' Thanet Gazette, it's reported I was carrying two passengers on the flight referred to above. If that's true, I would certainly like to know who 'they' were! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Waste and recycling collections suspended

Waste and recycling collections in Thanet have been suspended today (Monday 20 December).

Although crews were able to make it into the council’s depot, it was too dangerous to get the refuse freighters out. The freezing temperatures have turned the layers beneath the snow into ice, causing vehicles to skid dangerously.

Mark Seed, Director of Environmental Services, said: “Although our staff have been able to get into work, the problem is getting our trucks out on the road to do the collections. We have 26 ton vehicles and once those start to skid on an icy road, it’s almost impossible to stop them. The last thing the council wants is an accident and, in this weather, we simply can’t take that risk. Our freighters also have to collect from side roads, which are often not cleared of snow and can be exceptionally dangerous. We will do everything we can to get the collections back on track as quickly as possible when the weather improves, and the fact that our crews working as usual during the Christmas week this year, including Bank Holidays, should help.”

If you are on a wheeled bin collection and were due to have your waste or recycling collected today, please keep your bin outside. The council’s refuse crews will try to get out to people, as soon as weather allows.

For those on black sack or blue recycling bag collections, please take them in to stop animals or seagulls attacking them. Please do not leave them outside overnight. Please put your bags back out for collection from 6am each day. Priority will be given to collecting black sacks, as soon as services resume.

With paper and cardboard collections, please take these inside and keep them until the next scheduled collection.

The council's website has a section on frequently asked questions when bad weather affects collections and we will always place the latest updates on disruption to collections on the council’s website, with information also available by calling 01843 577115.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Westgate Fun Day 2010 – Snowed Out

I've just come in from patrolling our local Westgate Christmas 'Fun day' and must have resembled a snowman! I can't recall a snow fall as heavy as this in a great many years and the side-roads are rapidly becoming impassable.

Great credit goes to the local traders for organising this annual event and the people out this afternoon, huddled in the blizzard conditions, who are supporting it but it's become too much of an environmental challenge. As I left, some of the entertainers were breaking down their stands, realizing that if they don't escape soon, they may be here for the weekend!

Several inches of snow are forecast to fall in the hours ahead and I suspect that the conditions are now so bad in the rest of Kent, where there is still the remains of earlier snowfalls, that the roads and pavements may not be cleared as effectively as we might wish. Would advise readers not to go out by car unless they really have to in order to avoid accidents. Already where I live cars are having problems in Westgate Bay Avenue.

I will be going back at about 4pm  to see how it's progressing once the snow stops, if it stops!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

I've been floating above the snow-covered Suffolk countryside this morning over a stately-looking pile at place called Ellingham, where WikiLeak's Julian Assange is hiding from a small army of satellite vans and press photographers camped among the trees. It's bitterly cold out there and I'm only just getting the feeling back in my hands after putting the aircraft away. Somehow, I don't think Assange is likely to skip bail without someone noticing or him leaving footprints in the snow but I do feel sorry for the world's press as my aircraft's outside thermometer was showing -10 degrees Celsius at 1000 feet.

Last night we had a meeting of the council and it was a bizarre, 'Alice in Wonderland' experience from where I sat. I've arrived at the conclusion that Thanet Labour group's strategy is to simply interrupt, disrupt and heckle in council meetings, in the hope that nobody will notice their complete lack of substance, political or intellectual. As an example, we spent almost an hour debating the sale of Montefiore tennis courts and an accompanying petition raised among local residents by councillors Poole and Fenner.
I conducted an asset review earlier in the summer (July 15th) and among those being scheduled for removal from the disposal register were, well you've guessed, Barnes Avenue car park and the Montefiore tennis courts. Both of these involved village green applications but while the WASPs of Westbrook have been happily working Barnes car park through with me and Cllr Latchford towards a happy conclusion, Labour's Cllr's Poole and Fenner busily maintained the myth of Montefiore tennis courts being knocked down for flats without actually making any effort to find out where the application stood before they whipped-up a petition against it!

In a scene reminiscent of Edmund Blackadder trying to explain simple mathematics to Baldric, council leader Bob Bayford tried valiantly for almost an hour between bouts of heckling, to explain to councillor Poole that Montefiore was as dead an issue as the famous Monty Python 'Dead parrot' sketch but without much luck.

Now I wouldn't dream of interrupting or heckling a member of the opposition in the chamber to in an attempt to score cheap and completely irrelevant political points; it's not something I would wish to indulge in. Here, perhaps! However, if you care to watch the video of the meeting when it appears online on the council website, you'll witness Cllrs Hart, Johnston and Poole, employing this tactic so often that the council meeting went on from 7pm until the watershed of 10:30pm. This represents poor service for the people of Thanet. We live in a challenging time and there is a great deal of serious work to do locally which is worthy of equally serious and 'informed' political debate, rather than repeat the constant litany of what Labour did in 2003 or how awful the 'LibCons' policies are or indeed how the recession and the crisis lies with the 'failure of the global banking system' and nothing whatsoever to do with a Labour Government that raided our pensions and both borrowed and spent more than it ever received in tax income.

As I wrote in my last blog entry. I really don't care if the consequence of a Labour administration is the promise of a socialist paradise as it's never happened anywhere yet. I don't really see anything to be proud about other than ghastly failure an empty treasury and hard times for all. Elected, part-time politicians like me, have a difficult job to do and I hope that readers trust that it will be discharged as responsibly and efficiently as possible and preferably without the kind of juvenile interruption witnessed last night. Alternatively, in May 2011, the people can vote to replace the present administration with the present opposition Labour cabinet, for which simple double-entry bookkeeping remains a mystery.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kapital Performance

I've just written the following for the letters page in the Your Thanet local paper, as I'm disappointed in the out-dated political rhetoric that constantly appears from the opposite side of the council chamber:

I have the greatest respect for Iris Johnston as a hard-working ward councillor but having read her letters in 'Your Thanet', week on week I really do have to remind her and her Labour colleagues, that in a matter of days, it will be 2011 and not 2003.

I'm a new councillor and cabinet member serving my first elected term and I'm confronted with immediate and pressing challenges, thanks to the perilous state of the national economy left by an outgoing Labour government. In case we should forget or suffer from the political amnesia afflicting many of Thanet's opposition councillors, the total public sector debt – described in an earlier entry this week - is about £159 billion and the costs of bailing out the banks totalled another £78 billion.

In 2009 -2010 the last government which coined the term, 'no boom and bust', spent more on welfare than it received in income tax and if we were now to try and sell every house and flat in the UK to balance the books, we would still be a £trillion in debt. In fact, we are accumulating more interest on the last government's debt than all the country's mortgages put together!

I'm really not that interested in what Labour claims it did for Thanet in the distant or even recent past, as its government carelessly built-up the record levels of public debt that my grandchildren will have to pay for. In the council chamber, I've heard opposition councillors address each other as 'Comrade' and the former leader of the opposition describe the recession as a 'Conservative invention' and frequently I have to wonder if they've yet caught-up with the 21st century 'realpolitik'.

Karl Marx may have enjoyed his summer holidays in Margate as did Friedrich Engels, in Broadstairs, as they collaborated on the principles of what became the Communist Manifesto but they've gone now, as has New Labour and Gordon Brown. 'Old Labour' here in Thanet, really need to get over it, rather than remind us, at every opportunity, of the glory days of socialism, when Soviet Weekly was delivered to every Thanet secondary school and councillors enjoyed fraternal visits to Yalta in the Ukraine.

Thanet needs its politicians to plan for the future, live in the present and not obsess over the distant past, so please Cllr Johnston, no more reminders about Maggie, the 'global collapse of capitalism' and the socialist paradise that Thanet once enjoyed under a Labour administration, because we've more important things to worry about!

Christmas Wishes

There's always a danger of missing someone out of my Xmas card list and Linked-in tells me that I'm connected to 7,097,288 people, which is a lot of cards and about £1.8 million worth of stamps.

Somehow, I don't think Jason our hard working local 'postie'  (pictured) would thank me if only 1% of seven million people decided to send me cards in return, neither would BT if they were e-cards. So this year, as in previous years, I'm following a hybrid virtual strategy for my Christmas greetings. So if I've missed you out, my apologies and please accept this virtual e-card, wishing you and yours the very best for Christmas holiday and a happy and prosperous 2011 ahead!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks Andy

The toughest part of being a politician these days is that one can no longer say what one really thinks of any subject anymore, even as a purely personal opinion, for fear of outraging someone or some group, who will then proceed to fan the flames at any opportunity. More frequently than not, such outrages are taken or quoted completely out of context or simply 'parsed', so that two relatively innocent sentences can appear damning when selective quotes are placed next to each other. I'm not describing any particular incident or example here but simply reflecting my own view that the public are not well-served when our rather sinister culture of political correctness stands in the way of honesty and open debate. Once upon a time this island was proud of its national sense of open and liberal democracy but today I wonder what remains.

A friend of mine was, until relatively recently, a Member of Parliament for a northern city and not a Conservative I should add. He once complained to me that the politics of the Indian subcontinent were more pivotal in his selection process rather than local issues. This was a subject he couldn't pass public comment on and he became sufficiently disillusioned to stand-down after a single term. I don't wish to debate the rights and wrongs of what he said but rather that as a Member of Parliament he felt unable to share what some observers might perceive as a legitimate concern over a sensitive subject.

Watching the lunchtime news today, I was somewhat outraged myself by Labour's Andy Burnham playing the role of students champion and condemning the coalition for their cuts. All this without saying for one moment what labour might have done should it have won the May election.

For anyone who might have forgotten, including Mr. Burnham, as an extravagant nation we are approximately £4 trillion in debt, (that's a consolidated figure as the total national debt - accumulated over many years - is about £848.5 billion.) which is a very large figure indeed. The total public sector debt, which is now being tackled is about £159 billion and the costs of bailing out the banks totaled another £78 billion. In 2009 -2010 the last government spent more on welfare than it received in income tax and if we were to try and sell every house and flat in the UK to balance the books, we would still be a £trillion in debt. In fact, we are accumulating more interest on the last government's debt than all the country's mortgages put together! Meanwhile, Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, this weekend, praised 'heroic' immigrants on benefits who send welfare money home to family members.

Just to remind readers in conclusion, in Scotland, 61% of jobs are state-driven, in Northern Ireland, that's 73% and in Wales it's 77%. For a decade, Labour robbed the private sector to build thousands of non-jobs in the public sector and the consequence was state monopolies, a rapidly sliding education system with Sure Start a failure and standards in secondary schools have plummeting below nations such as Poland and Estonia. A health service with the worst outcomes in the advanced world and a national debt that our grandchildren will still be paying-off many years into the future. So you decide on who we should trust to run the economy given the size of the financial disaster that we have inherited and for which we have to thank the New Labour experiment.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Black Spot

The remains of yet another stolen car, arson incident, on the sea front grass, just to the west of Westbrook's Barnes avenue car park this morning.

It's another Mercedes, this time a 4*4 and completely burned-out in a sooty black mess, now covering my dog's paws. The only means of identifying the vehicle was the manufacturers badge on the bonnet.

I've spoken with the police who are aware of it and will be placing a tape around it later and have asked for the council to remove what's left of the vehicle on Monday.

Although the area under the cliff is well-hidden from the Royal Esplanade, I'm surprised that nobody head or saw anything. Looking at the tracks on the grass above the cliff, it looks as if whoever stole the vehicle did a little 4*4 driving practice before it was set ablaze!

Although the police will not concede a pattern of crime without proper supporting evidence, as an amateur sleuth, I would be inclined to see a potential connection between two stolen Mercedes cars burned-out in exactly the same spot in a very short period of time.

If you did hear or see anything on Friday night, such as a fuel tank exploding in the vicinity of Barnes avenue car park, please do contact the police with any information you might have. I'm concerned that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place without a purpose and wondering when we'll possibly see #3 if the car thief isn't caught.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Turner Contemporary Stands Tall

I've been along the cliff top in a bitterly cold wind to take a photo of the Turner Contemporary free of  scaffolding and proudly dominating the Margate harbour arm with the world's largest wind farm showing behind it, as the gallery goes through the final touches in preparation for its opening in April of next year.

I'm looking forward to seeing what changes the opening of the Turner may bring with it and the impact this may have on Margate as the summer of 2011 progresses. At that time I should revisit this entry with the benefit of hindsight, given that we have local elections taking place May as well.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

All About Money

I read that Tony Flaig, over at Big News Margate, this morning is exercised over local museum closures, a very old story, the reasons for which, I feel have been given in some detail, if not here then elsewhere in the past.

He writes:

"One particular omission that ought to be rectified is the abysmal decision by local conservatives for whatever reason to close the local museums particularly Margate's, I can only imagine of what pettiness or spite bought on that decision, perhaps Cllr. Bob Bayford leader of the council could redeem his apparent contempt for the Isle's citizens and do something positive."

It's all about money Tony or more importantly, the lack of it! The public sector debt may have passed you by but I'm sorry to say that thanks to the consequences of building-up around £160 billion of deficit, we in Thanet are now around £20 million short of funds and we have to make very hard decisions between what is 'nice to have' and what 'we need to have' to keep wheels of local government services rolling. Just as an example and I've given it here before, £11 million is the estimate for simply keeping all of our historic buildings repaired and we don't have enough for that hidden in some undisclosed piggy bank either!

I'm afraid that Tony Flaig and cynics like him are simply going to have to trust leader, Bob Bayford and my other cabinet colleagues to do everything possible to keep all of our essential services running smoothly and uninterrupted with a large slice of our grant budget now gone. We need to remember that as a community facing many different challenges, Thanet is and always has been highly subsidised by central government and while I for one would be delighted to see all our museums open and thriving, at this time, the money that this would involve (with each of a small number of  visitors being subsidised by about £10 a head)  would be better spent, I believe, on more visible and essential local services that the community as a whole would benefit from.

Finally, to put it all in perspective, Council Tax raises around £9.75 million annually of which we get to keep less than 20% as we have to pay for other county and centrally delivered services. The total council budget requirement adds up to around £44 million of which the local council has to raise around £21 million locally from fees, charges etc to plug the gap, which has just become much larger by almost £5 million a year.  Cut the Government grant, as has happened and we have to choose where we can afford to spend what little we now have available with the greatest return for the local community and if its museums you want, rather than public toilets or street-cleaning or shorter waiting times at the Gateway, then do please let me know.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Margate Parade and Westgate Lights and Fun Day Postponed

I've just heard from Phil Myhill that the Westgate lights and fun-day event has now been postponed until Saturday 18th December; a sensible decision considering the weather.

A note from Mick Tomlinson, the Mayor of Margate has also come winging in my direction. He writes:

"After some deliberation, the Mayor has reluctantly decided to cancel tomorrows Christmas Parade due to the weather. Kent Police have issued a warning that the weather will worsen this afternoon and overnight. The band that has been booked has advised us that it would not be able to get to Margate, and there is a strong possibility that if the weather did not improve, that the Schools would not be open, and the Students could not be expected to attend if the school was closed.

The Mayor feels that it would be a terrible shame for all the hard work that the students have put in to not be seen, and after discussion the Procession has been rescheduled for as a New Year Parade on January 7th at 17:00."

I'll keep readers informed here or by Twitter (@simonmoores) of anything else weather-related. The Thanet council offices will now close at 3pm this afternoon so that staff can get home safely.

Thanet District Council are 'Tweeting' updates on a regular basis and so if you use Twitter please follow them as 'ThanetCouncil.' If your'e a councillor of any party and are unfamiliar with the term then now's a good time to introduce yourself to the technology to save logging in and out of the council email system.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Blanket of Snow

Back to a frozen Britain and hour or so ago from a much warmer Abu Dhabi. The 'fast' train from St Pancras turned into a rather slow one as it negotiated deep snow across the Kent countryside and struggled into Margate fifteen minutes late. Meanwhile, I heard at the station that no trains from Victoria had arrived in our direction in a couple of hours.

Thanet appears relatively unscathed in contrast to the thick snow I witnessed through the rest of Kent, which appeared to thin-out around Minster. If we have any more, as forecast overnight then I suspect we may see a repeat of last year's chaos, although the County Council appears much better prepared than it was before.

Have a thought for the small creatures in you gardens. An early cold snap proved deadly to countless thousands of birds and small mammals last year and so if you can put anything out for them it could be the difference between life and death if these unseasonably cold conditions continue. Meanwhile, as you can see from my photo of just over twenty-four hours ago, there are warmer places to dream about on these dark winter evenings!

The great Sheik Zayed  Grand Mosque stands just opposite where I was staying at the Armed Forces Officers Club and it's a longer walk than it looks. An incredibly impressive feat of architecture both inside and out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

BT’s Broadband Answer for Thanet

For the benefit of Cllr Mike Harrison and others concerned by what appears to be a second class broadband service here in Thanet, I've just had a reply from the Head of Government Relations at BT, who I happen to know with another of my 'hats' on. I'm most grateful that she took the time to answer my question and to clarify BT's plans for broadband 'deprived' areas such as our own, she writes:

"Sorry for delay in getting back to you.

I think the first point to make is that we do not cap the speed of broadband at our exchanges as you suggested in your article. As part of BT Broadband we always provide the best speed that a line can support, but we can't guarantee a certain speed. Speeds aren't fixed, and the rate mainly depends on the particular phone line and how far a customer lives from the telephone exchange. Speeds will also fluctuate as the number of people using the network changes.

We give customers an estimated speed for their broadband when they place an order. For example. the estimated speed for broadband to the Ramsgate Youth and Community Centre, High Street, Ramsgate, CT11 9, telephone number 01843 592014, is 6Mb. We advise customers who are not getting the estimated speed for their line to report it as a fault to their provider who can report in turn to Openreach if the problems is with the BT line. Openreach engineers can then investigate and make sure that the line is supporting the best possible broadband speed given its electrical characteristics.

BT are investing to install ADSL2+, the next generation of broadband equipment offering speeds of up to 20Mg, at exchanges across the UK. To date, Thanet (Margate). Ramsgate and Herne Bay exchanges have been enabled and Broadstairs is in the roll-out and will be enabled by March 2011.

There are also live Ethernet nodes at Thanet (Margate), Ramsgate and Herne Bay, which offer highly reliable, flexible and un-contended fixed Internet access services over a wide range of technologies and leased line connections to business users.

BT is currently installing fibre optic technology offering broadband speeds of up to 40M/bits in several locations across the country. To date we have announced over 620 telephone exchanges where we will be installing this technology by the end of 2011 and plan to roll out to exchanges covering over 60% of the UK by 2015. Herne Bay has been announced in this roll-out. We plan to start offering service from this exchange from September 2011 and over 16,000 customers it serves will be able to benefit. Unfortunately, other exchanges in Thanet have not been included in these plans to date. The 'final third' of the UK is mainly made up of the more rural, less populated areas, and is more challenging to reach.

The government has suggested a minimum 2 M/bits across the UK by 2015, and funding was announced by the Chancellor in the recent spending review statement. As you are probably aware, each of the pilot four areas announced by the Chancellor will be allocated around £5-10m from a total of £530m funding announced to support the roll-out of broadband between now and 2015 to areas like this that the market alone will not reach. We will look at this as more detail is announced and will continue to explore all options that might bring broadband to more of our customers.

Selective Opinion

I see from today's Thanet Gazette, that plans by the council (presently under consultation) to introduce 'Selective Licensing' of rented properties in the most deprived wards in Margate and Cliftonville is encountering stiff resistance from landlords. The local paper reports one view that such a measure might be 'illegal' and the landlords' association claim that there is no evidence to link the density of privately rented properties and social landlords with prevalent anti-social behaviour and crime statistics.

Without offering any opinion, I am aware of a number of such selective successes elsewhere in the country, which have stimulated the idea of introducing it in Thanet. Looking at my notes from a meeting earlier in the year, I see that 84% of dwellings are flats, 45% involve single persons and 57% are indicated as not meeting a decent homes standard; with 21% of residents living there less than a year. Annual turnover approaches 30%.

Last month, I watched a BBC Panorama programme on rented social housing with some interest but I'm equally interested in reading and hearing the views from all sides when it comes to the real challenge of making those more deprived areas of Cliftonville and Margate, with such high levels of disability, incapacity and benefits, a safer, cleaner and more decent place to call home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Westgate Renaissance

I was deeply disappointed to see that the public toilets in Westgate were expensively 'trashed' this week and in the most disgusting manner imaginable. With public money in increasingly short supply, this type of primitive vandalism hurts the community that has to pay for the repairs and begs searching questions about the disturbed mental state of the youths responsible.

Westgate residents may have noticed over the past couple of months how much more vibrant the village has become in the middle of a recession. A very good new coffee shop in Fredericks, a new family butcher and green-grocer and a Somerfield transformed into a Co-op to name but a few changes with more to come.

In times like these, what helps a business survive is being different and catering to niche local needs, instead of attempting to compete with the larger retail chains. This is the problem that Margate High Street has suffered badly from, while Birchington and Westgate, to a lesser degree, have managed to maintain a local identity and loyalty.

There are still a couple of empty spaces in Westgate and talking with a friend last week, I fondly reminisced over Howes, the hardware shop that I recall was the magical  source of paraffin and all household hardware items, much like a more modest version of Goodwins in Westbrook. If people 'shop local' then the whole community benefits as successful small businesses improve the look and feel of the town. So perhaps we have a small Westgate renaissance underway, which would indeed be something to celebrate in the run-up to Christmas 2010.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Very Wet Parade

A very wet Remembrance Sunday parade at Westgate today, admirably organised by Mr Geoff Shaw Case and the Reverend Tom Barnfather, despite the weather. Our small town was very privileged to have the United States Air Force Attache, Lt.Col Ahmed in attendance (Pictured with Cllr Tom King) and when the ceremony was finished, I walked him over to the memorial plaque on the clifftop, past the pavilion, which commemorates the crews of two Liberator bombers lost in April 1944.
As the Mayor of Margate's representative today, I would like to thank all those who attended the parade, service and reception and made it possible from faith, veterans and community groups, as well as a stoic crowd of onlookersand children in the steady rain. It demonstrates how communities such as our own represent a public tide of support for the sacrifices of our servicemen and women both past and present in protecting the common principles of liberty and democracy that we share as a nation.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not Forgotten

With Remembrance Sunday this weekend, I will be joining our community alongside my fellow Westgate councillors, Cllr Goodwin and Cllr King, laying a wreath from the Margate Charter Trustees at the War Memorial in Sea Rd at 11:30.

I'm reminded of a friend, now 91 who has two of his books sitting on my bookshelf. A true hero and World War II veteran; a former pilot whose remarkable personal qualities and heroism express the spirit of those times.

Steve Stevens DFC is famous for his wartime exploits flying Beaufighters into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, as described in his book Beaufighter over the Balkans. After the war Steve went on to help found Mission Aviation Fellowship and this weekend, The Sunday Mirror plans to honour Steve and a wartime comrade of his with a centre-page spread.

Steve, I'm sure I share the sentiments of all my readers in acknowledging your courage and spirit and the sacrifices of your wartime comrades, so many of whom you left behind, in giving us the freedom we enjoy today and frequently take for granted.

Local Performer

One poor chap is desperate for me to fly his marriage proposal around Leeds castle today. In this wind, he's going to be disappointed but as I told him, "It all works out in the end" and with a little patience, the weather will break over the coming week and he won't have to 'pop the question' in a howling gale!

Perhaps it's something to do with November, who knows but another romantic, living in the unexplored wilds of Norfolk asked if I could do the same up around Cromer. But even that pales in contrast with suitor No#3, who asked if I could fly to a spot near Bradford with a proposal at 8pm. "She won't be able to see it," I said, "it's dark" but he hadn't thought of that! Maybe there's a new market for luminous advertising, or huge flying signs, like those in the Sci-fi cult movie, 'Blade Runner."

Cabinet last night and standing outside the Gateway in Margate, a solitary middle-aged lady was singing loudly, a can of something cheerful  gripped tightly in one hand. At both the bus stops, the new Samsung 'Galaxy' tab was being advertised by Tesco, only £500 for Christmas and incongruous I thought, in the circumstances and the location. Worlds apart but close enough to touch in a brief passing image of modern society.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Freezing Rain

It's showing 5 degrees outside and a big change from last week's balmy 18 degrees. Passing Nash Road, a little earlier, I was concerned to see a group of miserable-looking horses, heads bowed against the freezing rain, huddled together in the corner of a waterlogged field and not all wearing turnout coats to keep them warm. I would have thought in these conditions it would be sensible, if not humane, to keep them in the stables!

Later this evening it's the monthly meeting of the Westgate & Westbrook residents association and I understand that KCC councillor, Robert Burgess, will be delivering a quick update on the future of Westgate fire station. I can't really offer to report more than I said last month other than comment on the impact of last month's Comprehensive Spending Review. Many people I speak with still struggle to grasp the real implications of the spending cuts ahead and I'm frequently asked: "Where's my council tax gone?" The answer is of course that it only paid a fractional amount of the cost of local public services and the really big balance of funding came from central government and the county council.

Thanet is strangely enough in a better financial position, in terms of its reserves, than many of its coastal neighbours, thanks to good housekeeping policies but with £21 million to find over the coming four years, the starting balance may appear more than a little irrelevant and the figure too large to imagine.

This is a subject that reaches beyond politics but I'm sure that it's one that won't avoid it in the months until next May!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Blast from the Past

I'm sure that many readers recall Oasis Airlines from Hong Kong and Gatwick doing their circuit training at Manston, a couple of years ago, before the airline fell victim to the recession. I just stumbled upon this company 747 training video on YouTube, seen below, which with the airport presently a topical subject may provoke both interest and comment together! In the video you can watch a simulated engine failure and how it's dealt with in the cockpit

Friday, November 05, 2010

Whose Benefit?

I see the Thanet Gazette reports this morning that benefit fraud in Thanet is on the increase and 'Has almost doubled' on last year. I won't say by how much otherwise the Gazette will complain that I'm depriving them of their 60p for you to find out and in any case, this blog is reportedly so dull that you must have arrived here by complete accident along with several hundred other political tourists today.

In fact, as the cabinet member for benefits, I was at the interview reported by the paper but predictably remain the 'invisible man.' What I said, should anyone be vaguely interested, is that tackling benefit fraud remains a high priority and it's a problem that has consequences for all of us paying our council tax, because if there's an overpayment, with a 40% - 60% split with the Department of Work & Pensions, if we don't recover the money, we lose it. When you consider for a moment that we are facing a £21 million shortfall in our local budget over the next four years, a big growth in benefit fraud doesn't go unnoticed.

In many cases, overpayments can be accidental, because people forget or simply omit to inform the DWP or council of a change of circumstances but like many councils, Thanet is seeing cases where very large sums are claimed fraudulently, sometimes in an organised manner and that hurts us all, as a community struggling to makes ends meet at a difficult time.

I have a zero tolerance approach to benefit fraud and I'm sure readers will feel the same way. I've an excellent team of officers working hard to tackle the problem but Britain has a generous welfare system which is and always has been open to abuse, as reflected in the 30% or so more National Insurance cards than there are members of the working population. Fraud on this scale raises uncomfortable questions about our society and the way in which we have moved from responsibility to dependence in a generation. What we need to do is somehow address the root cause of a problem that successive socialist governments have been unwilling to tackle. However. Like the housing benefit debate in London, this is going to raise strong feelings and may risk dividing an already divided society even further.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Margate Twinned with Rio de Janeiro?

I visited Rio de Janeiro on business a few years ago and had a wonderful time, walking around with a constant smile on my face at the vibrancy and colour of my surroundings.

Yesterday, I was amazed, nay, even stunned, that Frommers travel guide 'Has placed the seaside town and the surrounding area alongside top global destinations such as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Stockholm in Sweden. Frommer's writers and editors have classed the Kent coast among the dozen most desirable destinations in the world for 2011.'

As a Thanet councillor and Margate Charter Trustee I'm delighted and council leader Bob Bayford and South Thanet MP, Laura Sandys are both quoted in today's Daily Mail. Laura adds:

'Well we join Brazil and Chile in Frommer's top 12 international destinations. This is fantastic news for Thanet and shows that our environmental beauty, our historic tourism, our sandy beaches and the character of each of our towns shines through.'

Frommer's Guide, which is one of the most reputable international travel guides, said that "there is plenty to keep visitors going over a long weekend, from quirky independent shops to worthy eateries to stylish boutique hotels."

I'm sure this accolade will attract more than a few comments but in difficult times, it gives us all optimism for the future, with under a year until the opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Manston Night Flights - An Open Letter to Clive Hart

Dear Clive

The headline in today's Thanet Times, 'Labour's 'NO' to flights at night', leads many to believe the policy of Thanet Council's Labour Group is now one of total opposition to 'any' night-time flying activity at Manston airport.

If this is the case, I am disturbed and surprised. Most of your group have previously accepted, and voted for, some night time activity. The fact that the current s.106 agreement, which was drafted and approved under the previous Labour administration, made specific provision for a future night-time flying policy and demonstrates Labour's consistency over the past decade. Indeed, the working party which oversaw the drafting of this agreement included some of your current and most senior councillors.

For the sake of clarity, I formally invite you to publicly declare your position. This needs to be a simple 'Yes' or 'No' to the question ' Does the Labour Group on Thanet District Council completely rule out night-time flying activity at Manston Airport?'

At the moment, the 'No to Night Flights' lobby appear to believe you are solid supporters of their position. The remainder of the Island's population deserves to know whether this volte face is really true.

Kind Regards

Bob Bayford

Thanet Labour Disqualified from Taking Part in Manston Night Flight Decision?

I was disappointed to read in today's Thanet Times the news that the Labour Group has predetermined its position by coming out against any night flying from Manston airport.

As this is a planning-related matter, I suspect, that they will have precluded themselves from taking part in any future debate that might decide the night-time flying policy from Manston.

The council's position on the matter was clearly explained in its press release yesterday and indicated that Thanet District Council continues to have a  measured and open-minded approach to this very important and complex issue.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Your Call

Noticing the vigorous political debate taking place on Big News Margate, I left a comment pointing out that here in Thanet, the consequences of Labour's unrestrained borrowing spree has left us in Thanet, short of approximately £21 million pounds over the next four years; a 28% reduction as council leader, Bob Bayford wrote in his Thanet Gazette column on Friday.

You'll notice the artwork on the left from the start of the recession when Gordon was promising to solve the fiscal deficit problem but In fact since we had the figures following the Chancellor's spending review over a week ago, the figure does keep increasing, incrementally, as we discover new grants that won't be forthcoming, in what is a highly benefits dependent area of the country.

A quick mental calculation estimates that the additional burden of debt shared between every man woman and child in Thanet at roughly £140 or a challenge to deliver four years of  public services with, as Bob wrote, only three years money available to pay for them in the form in which they presently exist!

In an earlier entry, I warned readers that the landscape of local government and the welfare state is about to experience an unprecedented change, call it a tsunami if you like, which will change it forever; value for money being at the very top of the list of priorities.  And when people ask me where their council tax has gone, I gently remind them that it's only  represents income of around £9.75 million of a total annual expenditure locally of around £45 million, of which a large chunk goes towards crippling public sector pension commitments. The balance of funding comes from central government and county grants.

The Labour opposition is of course remaining very quiet about the size of budget cuts they would have been forced to make, just to pay the enormous annual interest on the national debt.

With this weeks fierce debate over housing, whose party manifesto pledge was this you might ask?

‘Housing Benefit will be reformed so we do not subsidise people to live in private sector accommodation on rents working families couldn’t afford.’

The author was one Ed Miliband!

With local elections only a matter of six months away, the people of Thanet will have to ask themselves which political party can best navigate our community through this tough financial  period in our history and bring us out of the recession, prepared for a new future and still afloat and solvent. Left to a local Labour Party, who still deny the existence of a deficit, I believe we would risk sinking our small boat quite quickly but Thanet's future rests very much in the hands of voters in May, perhaps more so than any time in the last thirty years!

Friday, October 29, 2010

So You Want Fast Broadband

I've been trying for some time to have Thanet's broadband speed improved and have even tried taking the matter up with BT's public affairs people directly. Clearly they don't quite know where we are on the map but you can help the process along by voting for an upgraded exchange on their website. If we gather enough votes, we might just get what we need one day and make the island just a little more attractive for business than it is at present!

As a brief reminder that progress can be slow for some of us, this is what I wrote in The Observer newspaper, ten years ago this month:

"In many respects this threat mirrors the socio-economic gaps in PC ownership today and raises the unacceptable prospect of second-class access to the information super-highway. In Britain, where a quarter of homes are believed to have access to the internet, one can sit comfortably inside the well-connected embrace of the M25 and imagine the benefits of the new dot-communism reaching equally in all directions. But look less than a hundred miles into the South East, as far as Margate perhaps, and the gap between new- and old-economy imagination and aspiration starts to resemble a chasm."

I concluded:

"The new 'knowledge economy' will be a harsh environment for the common man. While a universal grasp of and access to ICT will emancipate more people in the device space of the web, one must question whether UK Online can deliver a central part of its vision in time. Can it swiftly produce the army of skilled and educated experts required to run tomorrow's new economy today?"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Expenses Mate

The General Election may be over but the expenses scandal continues to run elsewhere. I've just read that David Cameron will plead with European heads of state in Brussels to freeze the EU's budget over the next financial framework, given that that the UK's deficit is 11.4% of GDP and Cameron's policy, to knuckle down and work hard to reduce this shortfall, before lavishly spending elsewhere, is commendable.

However, setting a fine public example to the rest of us, Guido Fawkes reveals that ten 'deficit-denying' Labour MEPs have voted against a freeze in the EU’s budget. What is it, he asks, that could possibly make them want to defend the status quo? Well in the last year alone as you may guess, these fine examples of socialist principle have claimed £786,478.66 between them from the taxpayer. Even more infuriating is the fact that over a hundred grand of that went to the MEPs wives and families, conjuring in my mind a happy family picture of the very successful and really quite wealthy, Kinnock political dynasty once again.

Meanwhile, over at Big News Margate, the 2011 local election race appears to have started early in Dane Valley. In the absence of Eastcliff Richard, Tony Flaig is once again speaking his mind, with  his political sights now firmly focused on fellow blogger, Mark Nottingham, (who happens to be the political agent for Labour MEP, Mary Honeyball)  now reportedly deselected by Labour from his Northwood seat, with the local  Party keeping curiously quiet about the grounds for such a remarkable decision.

I'm sure by the time the local elections come around, it will all get very interesting and we'll be hearing the constant argument, that the state of the national debt was nothing to do with Gordon Brown and borrowing beyond our means as a nation but completely the fault of the rich bankers instead.

In Passing

I had to go to Broadstairs and back at 10pm last night and aside from nearly mowing down a young 'hoodie', cycling without lights towards me on the wrong side of the road in Westbrook, offering me a cheery "F** off" and a single finger greeting in passing, I did notice something else unusual.

Between Cliftonville and Westbrook, in pockets, such as near Harold Avenue, the Winter Gardens, the harbour and the Nayland Rock there was an unusually high number of young people out with bull terrier breeds. What struck me was that these weren't owners out taking their dogs for an evening walk in the way that you or I might understand it but young men from their late teens to late twenties, seemingly 'hanging about' with their friends, some with two of these big dogs with the obligatory harnesses.

The RSPCA in Kent reported last week that they were being overwhelmed by the numbers of dogs of this type of breed now being abandoned and what struck me in passing was that the dog owners were young, quite possibly unemployed and likely to feel the full force of the budget cuts yet to come.

On  Friday, I noticed an unusual variation on the guide dog training theme, when I walked with my own small dog to the bank in Margate. On the promenade at Westbrook by the crazy golf, there were two of our more colourful 'recovering' alcoholics out for a stroll, one drinking a can of Stella and the other from a bottle of Whiskey. They were being guided along the seafront by a magnificent American bull-terrier, straining at its harness and of the three, the only one that was even faintly sober!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Severn Visitor

An interesting warship moored offshore between Westgate and Margate this afternoon. Enlarging the photo I can see what appears to be 'F282' which should make it HMS Severn an offshore patrol vessel and one of the survivors of a steadily shrinking but proud Royal Navy which once dominated the world's oceans.

What she is patrolling off Margate for is off course anyone's guess. I'll accept humorous suggestions in the comments section! I can think of a few myself.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Try Your Luck

"An interesting reaction to the Government's 'Comprehensive Spending Review' on the 'Labour Uncut' weblog: Not just me then who though that the new Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, shot the Party in both feet and then only narrowly avoided shooting himself in the process.

"We fell into a trap. The CSR saw us out-thought, out-spun and out-positioned. First casualty of Osborne's cuts: the Labour party…Wednesday was a slow motion car crash. For months people have been warning that our failure to articulate a coherent position on deficit reduction would cost us dear. Dismissed as siren voices, they were ignored. So we drove, unblinking, into the wall."

Regardless of political affiliation however, with interest payments on the national debt, reportedly equivalent to 100,000 teachers a year, times ahead will be tough and perhaps tougher than many of us would like to imagine. What we need to quickly establish is what services people value most over others because it's clear that the universal public sector safety-net of the past which carried the burden of a bloated welfare-state, is about to evaporate for many people. We can debate the fairness of it all until hell freezes over but with £160 billion of debt to clear, it's likely to be a very short argument. In several conversations I've had this week however, I don't think the message has yet reached many of the most vulnerable parts of our society, possibly because some people don't watch the news or read the papers in the way we might think they do. The cuts are something that will happen to other people.

When I speak to some of the traders in Westgate, they tell me money is shorter than ever before and last evening, shopping at our shiny new Co-op store in Station Road, I came across two girls of about ten to twelve, asking passers-by if they wanted to win a prize with a card-game. Fascinated, I asked them what this was for and they said they were trying to raise some money to buy their mum a birthday present. "How much have you raised so far", I asked. "Sixty-seven pence" was their answer. So I pulled out some loose change and joined the game to see what happened next.

If I drew an ace, they told me I would win a prize and so I picked a card and got lucky, a red ace of diamonds. One of the little girls searched in her backpack and withdrew a very battered quiz book. "Here's your prize", she said. I told her to keep it and just then another councillor appeared. I explained what was going on and said to the two girls that it was a little late to be running card games in the streets. "We'd better scarper", said one to the other and off they went into the dusk. I would love to have introduced them to Alan Sugar as potential 'Apprentice' material but in many ways my heart was warmed by the idea that they were both out trying to raise a few pennies to buy their mother a birthday gift rather than a six pack of Stella Artois which is only too often the case among the older teenagers these days.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Late for the Big Match

Back from Old Trafford to find lots of comment spam on this weblog. Why on earth people bother to do this I really don't know but clearly, somewhere out there in the world, there are people paid a pittance to leave comments in tortured English promoting fake watches, drugs and worse on the off-chance that some reader would think: "That's a really good idea, I could really use some fake Viagra" and go online shopping! But people do and in large enough numbers to make it lucratively worthwhile for the sinister crime gangs that hide behind the shadowy anonymity of the Internet.

At Manchester United this morning after the big game the evening before and Wayne Rooney's future is the talk of the taxi drivers. I had the full ten minute lecture about the club, Beckham, Rooney, nightclubs, girls, you name it from a driver who has seen it all.

The area around the quays is vaguely Dubai like with brand new, modern buildings springing-up quickly enough to confuse the taxi drivers; Manchester Media city, with the Imperial War Museum and the football stadium dominating the view. I had a quick and unrestricted wander around the hallowed football ground at an early 8am this morning, pictured on my iPhone, before doing my short talk. Then it was straight back to pick-up the aircraft, programme in the route and make a run through some rain clouds for home, past the eastern side of Birmingham, as high as possible to pick up a tail-wind towards Daventry and the edge of Luton's airspace at Bovingdon, before asking Heathrow radar for a transit to the south side of the Thames across London City, sliding past the now rapidly growing Olympic site at Stratford. Door-to-door in about 2:15 mins from the 'Munich Tunnel' entrance to landing back in Kent.

It's quite unfortunate that the scheduled Flybe flight from Manchester and Manston doesn't leave at what I would describe as sensible business times, otherwise I would much rather have let someone else do the flying at less cost. Mind you, doing it oneself is a privilege that most people can't enjoy and avoids all the unpleasant and stressful airport hassle in-between of tedious waiting and intrusive security and of course a dull seven hour car ride.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Little Excited

The media, I see, I getting all excited by the inclusion of 'cyber-warfare' and the threat from 'cyber-terrorism' as a clear and present danger in the Strategic Defense Review.

It's a topic I have some familiarity with – next stop Abu Dhabi around the same subject - and we all have good reason to be concerned as the internet groans under the weight of ever more increasingly sophisticated attacks from state and non-state actors.

A couple of years ago I gave a lecture in Milan on what the Chinese were up to in terms of massive industrial espionage efforts against the largest European engineering companies such as Rolls Royce. On the Russian side, it's more a matter of organised crime, which can just as easily be switched to military use with an alleged nod from 'the right people' in their own state security apparatus; the cyber-attack in Estonia being a good example.

It's not really the kind of thing that would worry us much, here on the north-eastern tip of Kent as with the Comprehensive Spending Review almost upon us, there a much bigger concerns for most of the working and non-working population. Still, it distracts us from the reality of being a nation in a war we can no longer afford, as our troops, faced by a near impossible task, slug it out on a daily basis with the Taleban, who have both time and history on their side together with an almost unlimited number of young, indoctrinated volunteers, from the Madrassas in Pakistan and surrounding Islamic states.

I'm up at Old Trafford to speak at a conference held there at the end of this week. Wonder if I'll see Wayne Rooney!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Glimpse in Time

Last week, I chaired a meeting to discuss the introduction of a conservation area in Cliftonville. There was of course, some talk of the history of the area and I'm reminded of posting some excerpts from Black's East Kent Guide of 1909 in an earlier 'Blog'.

It's a wonderful little book offering a time capsule peek into a bygone age. It writes:

"Merry Margate can boast some advantages not possessed by its rival neighbours. The varied character of the place is a striking feature; monotony here there cannot be and its indented coastline and the combination of old-fashioned streets with modern suburbs, admit of as striking contrasts as the many sorts and conditions of visitors who flood it in the season like a deluge.

The town is somewhat lacking in one thing, colour, though this year 1899 has bought about improvement in this respect. Its best feature on the other hand and one less easily acquired is the excellent bathing. The sands indeed are splendid and the visitor is not surprised to find that here, in 1790, the earliest bathing machine first put to sea."

The guidebook describes a very different world to that we are used to with quite different views of the town and the seafront, shadows of which still remain in the architecture and the landscaping that defined Margate as one of Britain's most popular seaside resorts, with a daily queue of packet steamers from London embarking and disembarking thousands of tourists from the harbour arm.

Don't forget you can find a gallery and slide show of old photos of Thanet that I have uploaded for readers here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Pupil Called Gangster

The bleak picture of London secondary-school life revealed in an internet blog by Katharine Birbalsingh, the teacher who became a star of the Conservative Party Conference with a speech about the chaos in the education system has been taken off-line but you can still find it in the Google cache if you happen to be interested

Oxford-educated Miss Birbalsingh, criticises the well meaning socialist experiment that has so badly damaged our education system and describes the ‘madness’ in her academy school, comparing it to the notorious prison Alcatraz because ‘none of the kids choose to go there’.

It's worth watching, as I know from both personal experience and from what teachers and lecturers have told me, that much of what she says rings uncomfortably true.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Spot the Balls

The new Labour Shadow Cabinet has been announced and I'm a little perturbed, not by the fact that former postman and trade unionist, Alan Johnson has been made Shadow Chancellor or that Ed Balls has been given home affairs but by the reappearance of Sadiq Khan as Shadow Chancellor and Shadow Justice Minister.

Given Mr Khan's less than favourable record one might ask how on earth the man would have been placed anywhere near our rather tatty-looking justice system but stranger things have happened under Labour in the past and will do so again in the future, I'm quite sure and the strong Trades Union influence on this shadow team won't be lost on the media as time passes.

Former Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and New Labour midfielder, Jack Straw, took a personal 'pop' at the Shadow Cabinet election system:

“… if you are in the shadow cabinet it is elected, I, from a position of complete neutrality, said to my colleagues, I survived and prospered under this system for ten years, but I just tell you, it is barking mad, for arithmetical reasons as well, it is a daft system, and what it means is that of the eighteen or nineteen people in shadow cabinet, probably a dozen capable of being in the Cabinet, half a dozen are not and if and when we have a Labour government some of those who thought this is a meal ticket in to the proper Cabinet will be sorely disappointed.”

In our  class-obsessed society, it's revealed that half the Shadow Cabinet went to Oxbridge and 40% of them were privately educated. The Tories also point out that all of Ed Miliband’s “new generation” Shadow Cabinet members were on the government payroll when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Eighteen were ministers Mary Creagh was a Government whip. Of the top ten Shadow Cabinet members, not one of them chose Ed Miliband as their first choice in the leadership election.

Strangely enough all of this 'politicking' reminds me of an iconic scene from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' which suggest that while time passes, politics changes very little!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

It’s a Big Number

Another party conference and endless hours of political analysis yet to come on both the BBC and Sky News, interspersed by footage of ducks swimming along the submerged fairways at the Ryder cup in Wales.

Now that 'Red Ed' has been put to bed – forgive the pun- It's David Cameron's turn with the Government's spending review now less than three weeks away. The recent IMF and CBI figures on economic growth give some room for optimism but the scale of public debt and the measures that are going to be necessary to reduce it, will fall on all our shoulders as its revealed the Government owes more than £1 trillion for the first time in its history.

I will remind readers that the former leader of Thanet's Labour group, described talk of a recession as "Complete tosh" and either a "Conservative invention" or "Something that the Conservatives should be familiar with." (It's not transparently clear which of these it was from the minutes of the meeting concerned.) That was of course in February 2009 and since then the true size of Labour's legacy to the British people is almost too awful to imagine.

The total outstanding debt of central and local government reached £1000.4 billion in March. The grim landmark was revealed in deficit figures that are only released once every six months. They come three weeks ahead of what are expected to be the most brutal public spending cuts on record when George Osborne announces the outcome of his spending review in the Commons. Britain's state debt is now equivalent to 71.3 per cent of GDP. Under the 1992 Maastricht treaty "excessive debt" is described as 60 per cent.

It's hard to imagine what a £1 trillion is but this total is the equivalent of a family's entire borrowings, including mortgage, credit card debt and other loans, before savings are taken into account. In the last financial year alone the Government borrowed £159.4 billion or 11.4 per cent of GDP. Total debt rose from £800 billion in March 2009 and simply paying off the interest on the debt is crippling us, although in contrast with Greece and the Irish republic, the outlook could be far worse than the £120 million a day of interest we are presently saddled with.

Everyone I talk to believes that something has to be done about the size of the debt but everyone is fearful over the measures yet to be announced. The last government embarked on a massive public-sector job-creation scheme funded by borrowing. Arguably, it hid the sharp decline in the private sector and manufacturing – Liverpool being a good example – by creating an unwieldy and intrusive bureaucracy with a horde of 'quangos'.

This month, I'm up, at the Manchester United ground conference centre, speaking at the manufacturing industry conference, arguing that the vast majority of workers continue to be employed in traditional jobs. The new job types created by technology represent a relatively small fraction of employment and often tend not to last very long. Governments hold firm to the belief that the economy will continuously generate jobs within the capabilities of the average worker and that this process will continue indefinitely. History has shown that the more technologically advanced an industry is, the more capital intensive it typically is; as a result, it employs relatively few people. However, outsourcing, increased automation and the highly-competitive global economy have forced European governments to hide the reality of private sector decline in a constantly expanding public sector. When the banking bubble burst and plunged much of the world's economy into recession, the evidence couldn't be swept under the public sector carpet any longer.

Where we go from here is hard to fathom but regardless of political affiliation, the policy consequences of the last decade will be felt by the generation ahead of us.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

As High as a Kite

It's the annual Kite festival on Margate sands this weekend and if the weather holds, it's well worth a visit.

At noon, in time to catch a good weather window, I was towing a banner advertising the event between Birchington and Broadstairs, with an orbit of Westwood Cross thrown-in for good measure.

Some of the kites are pretty high up and needed to be treated with some caution, one small one in particular being at a thousand feet, which forced me to keep a very respectable distance from them all as I orbited between Dreamland and the harbour arm, before breaking off, from time to time to visit other areas of Thanet.

If anyone has a picture of the aircraft and banner, please send it over.