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.


Tony Beachcomber said...

Well the answer to that is simple, of course essential public services take priority over Museums. However, I think that this is not a green light to abandon a Museum service or Heritage provision altogether.
The Margate Museum closed three years ago and the whole landscape of local government finance has unavoidable changed.The easy option is to point fingers and lay blame or defend the indefensible which does blight any reasonable debate as to what are we to do.
As in the case of the Margate Museum there is now a case of no turning back and it would be a folly to go back to as we were. In the three years since the Museum closure so much has changed with the whole subject of the History and Heritage of Margate entering a renaissance thanks to the Turner Center. Thanet District Council is sitting on a huge assett of art, artefacts and archive which can be utilsed with a bit of fresh thought to capitilise on the new renaissance. The problem with the Conservatives on TDC, I sense the white flag has already been raised.

DrM. said...

Tony, I would very much like to see a thriving local museum and as a keen amateur historian I think that it serves an important role in protecting and projecting our local history. However, until the finances improve I really can't see how we can achieve this without robbing Peter to pay for Paul!

Michael Child said...

Simon I think all you have to do is grant a reasonable lease for Ramsgate Maritime Museum, it’s on the cabinet agenda but is a restricted item so I can’t tell if the council intends a reasonable lease, or is once again offering something that either they can’t deliver or is unworkable.

A charitable trust wants to run this museum and looking at their website you can see all the signs of trying to negotiate with the council.

I would say what they need is a minimum of 25 years so they are eligible for grant funding, a rent free period in lieu of repairs to the building as they as a charitable trust would be eligible for a grant to repair it (the council wouldn’t) and a rent related to the museums takings.

DrM. said...

Michael and Tony
I'm supportive of museums and I'm sure that's true of everyone I know. However, I'm also mindful of process, accountability and finance which tend to make matters that might appear outwardly 'simples' drawn-out and often frustratingly convoluted where public assets are involved.

Michael Child said...

Simon you are a reasonable bloke who does make an effort to reply to comment and I know you must have plenty of other things on your plate, I am managing business and children too in these interesting times.

But the council owned assets of which this building is one are a bit of a sore point here in Ramsgate.

Looking from the sea and starting from the left, The Motor Museum, deserted because of similar council prevarication – I knew the owner, several million pounds worth of historic vehicles and he thought he was doing us and the council a favour – sad really, the building is now beyond repair.

The Town Partnership Building, the Ramsgate Society wanted to use it to provide free public information and to coordinate their shelter scheme, the council asked them for a full commercial rent.

The Eagle Café empty now for years and deteriorating, why doesn’t the council enforce the terms of the lease?

The Royal Victoria Pavilion, I took a look inside the other day, it’s a wreck.

Albion House, I noticed today that one of the upstairs dormers is about to fall out, once again the council offered it to Ramsgate Town Council under such unfavourable terms that the went to a commercial landlord.

The Pleasurama site, what is it the council have spent so far on it, but they can’t face up to the fact that they have made mistakes, adjacent to it a commercial developer is having to build a metre higher because of the flood risk. The state of the cliff is a joke in the town.

Nero’s demolished by the council.

Marina Swimming Pool demolished by the council.

DrM. said...

I'm sure you don't expect me to pass public comment beyond saying such matters are dealt with properly and with regard to the council's responsibilities

Most frequently the answer surrounds the simple matter of who pays for the resources or indeed the repairs or expense.

I'm not convinced that you have grasped the seriousness of the financial situation facing local government for the 2011 - 2012 year ahead.

Michael Child said...

Simon I also have to be careful about to much detail in public and quite understand your position.

So look at it another way take the assets I have listed above all too important just to be run for commercial gain, all in the council’s hands for many years, through good and bad economic times.

Suppose you had been running these as assets of a public company and now they are all to a lesser or greater extent derelict how would you explain the situation to the shareholders?

You see in a way, we the electorate are the shareholders.

tony flaig bignews said...

Having just spotted this posting, its worth mentioning that you refer to a bigger problem and side step cheese paring and what I assume to have been petty decision making in relation to Margate museum.

The crisis in public spending was looming when I spoke to you about the decision to give senior officers fat increases for no good reason while shafting the middle ranks to pay for it.

You said if I recall correctly councils had no choice but to pay ever more lunatic(my words) salaries to senior execs, proof that you are part of the problem in the public sector, rather than suggest that senior officers try to get a job elsewhere at public sector pay rate, you I guess and your colleagues just rolled over.

You might simply trust your leader Bob Bayford, your that sort of person, I don't, having seen reports of how he views the local electorate.

What your post refers to the are the big numbers, we are talking small numbers and you know it.

You and you colleagues before mishandled Turner, Dreamland, the museums, in the good times the conservatives made a pigs ear of things.

DrM. said...

Tony (F)

At times you display the most alarming naivety in pursuit of you single issue argument on local politics. I can level with you, as I have tried to do in the past and attempt to describe the challenges in an uncomplicated manner and you then take both chalk and cheese and proceed to make an omlette from then.

You conveniently forget that we reduced the number of top level posts and associated costs with a saving of almost £250,000 and this process continues. It's not a question, as you put it of 'shafting' the middle-ranks but that we are bound to pay, under union recognised scales the salaries that go with each job.

In fact, as I may have written before, Thanet has been below par in contrast with equivalent authorities and we incrementally but reluctantly,increased the remaining salaries to the median level and still saved money as a consequence.

Finally, simply telling senior officers to 'Get on your bike' doesn't work either for a number of reasons. We could try constructive dismissal and associated compensation for one, redundancy costs for another and so on. each option being very expensive indeed and hardly practical given that it would involve the decapitation of the management system with some very good officers involved.

As for 'mishandling' any particular topic Tony, as you have no idea of the detail involved, just a set of your own opinions, it makes little sense to come to that conclusion. As little sense, I might add as rather contrived and out of context'reports' delivered by members of the opposition of how Bob views the local electorate!