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.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Due South

The number of Hazel Blears fans out there can possibly counted on the fingers of one hand and this week,  impish Hazel, who was last in hot water over her rather unusual expenses, described her Labour party as 'Wicked and malicious', or did she? Best judge for yourself in this interview as the lovely Hazel ducks and dives in every direction in an effort 'not' to answer a direct question.

As one party conference closes with its new leader able to sing the party anthem, 'The Red Flag' from memory, another is about to start in Birmingham and today, Ed Miliband appealed to the BBC unions not to black-out David Cameron's speech in the interests of fair play. Mind you, if they did, I suspect it would be one more nail in the corporations' rather bloated coffin.

When I first became a councillor, I was struck by the title, 'comrade,  I occasionally heard members of the Labour group call one another but I read in today's fun-filled and not to be missed, Thanet Gazette, that Councillors Clive Hart and Mark Nottingham now plan to throw their names in the Labour hat as potential parliamentary candidates to fight the sitting South Thanet MP, Laura Sandys.  I'm sure the good voters of South Thanet will be delighted and comforted by the news and the unavoidable political shenanigans yet to come, as Labour under Ed Miliband, re-invents itself once again, campaigning as a party further to the left than its been before in a generation.

"Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here."