Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's on a Weblog So it Must be True

While I’m being pilloried elsewhere for reportedly encouraging the concreting of the Westbrook Undercliff at Barnes car park, I see from their website, that the Westbrook WASPS, have now achieved ’Village Green’ status, so congratulations on their efforts and in particular for taking the time to come and discuss the environmental project they had in mind, which received my encouragement. Alternatively, you might believe another story I was told, that I was supporting a secret planning application to build a lorry park down there and that my efforts were frustrated by the presence of rare grasses and migrating Turnstones.

Looking around Thanet, it occurs to me that with the disappearance of Eastcliff Richard; the latest gossip I heard this week, being that he went one step too far in upsetting one of our local businessmen, Thanet blogs are in some kind of tabloid-style circulation war and some of these really appear to believe, that a few hundred ‘visits’ a day somehow puts them on an equal par with the local paper or maybe even the Daily Star.

Now if people wish to visit and read what I write and I’ve been doing this here in Thanet since 2003, then that’s fine but there is a danger of taking oneself too seriously, me included and a passing responsibility for those of us who choose to write our personal weblogs to explore the 'truth' or at the very least have a passing interest in it, rather than be tempted to repeat hearsay as ‘fact’, as a means of attracting web traffic.

Ever since aliens landed at Roswell in New Mexico – That’s true isn’t it? – The public have loved conspiracy stories and in Thanet we appear to love these more than most, particularly where local politics and the council are involved. In reality it’s all a bit mundane. Local government is a large, complex and frequently unwieldy machine built-up over more than a century. Councillors and officers are presented with a number of levers to pull, which in turn, perform certain actions with the expectation of predictable outcomes but the results of constantly adding in new ‘software’ in the form of legislation, occasionally means it doesn’t do quite what one wants.

What I’m saying here, is that local government is principally rules-based and politicians are presented with choices, negotiating a maze of regulations in a direction we hope will most serve the public good. We try and make things better with the tools and funds that we have available but society and the economy don’t stand still and so targets are constantly moving, budgets decline and outcomes frequently change.

My message to anyone reading is that if you’re concerned about something then you have an absolute right to ask questions of your politicians. However, if you’ve already made up your mind on a subject then you may not always receive the answers you like. On occasions, confidentiality rules, whether these may be commercial or personal, for one good reason or another, such as data protection, may preclude delivering the answer you may be seeking not because there’s any particular culture of secrecy but because Parliament and not your councillors or your local government, has wisely decided that some answers like in the public domain and others don’t.


Readit said...

The blogs are a great 21st century tool for communicating with your local politicians (where available) and exploring their views, but not well suited to the traditional local authority organisation.

Your assertion that the general public only have the right to ask questions of their politicians is somewhat condescending, the general public have a right to their own viewpoint and an expectation that elected politicians will carry out the electors wishes not the politicians own agenda.

The main gripe I hear from people on the sunny side is that nobody LISTENS.

DrM. said...

Democracy, it's a tricky subject to understand at times. Politicians are elected to legislates and represent the electorate but that doesn't always include carrying out all their wishes as this might prove harmful to the public interest.

Andrew said...

One of the dangers of being placed in a position of authority, whether elected or not, is that condescension becomes the default setting. Office managers, company directors, MPs, they all succumb in the end. Yet curiously enough in the case of elected representatives, their acceptance speeches invariably include a reference to how humble they feel to have earned the trust of the people.
Simon. I don't think many of us believe in conspiracies - except your latest version regarding ECR, which I suspect is fairly close to the truth (and I bet most of know which businessman is being referred to). We do think that there's a problem with trust. We can't do anything about. That - it's up to you politicians to work out how to regain the trust of the people. A good start would be to recognise that there a few of us here who do care, have a modicum of understanding and also have a university education from the days when that meant something. Stop talking down to us.

DrM. said...

Andrew, then I'll expect those readers with a university education to display it with insight and factually accurate arguments which everyone can enjoy. However,sometimes I also explain my thoughts in a manner, which far from being condescending, is able to reach a much broader church than those, like you, who have lucky enough to have attended university.

Anonymous said...

Andrew..... Well said !

Simon, You have somewhat of a following on these weblogs, scanning them all they all know of the DR.
The fact that you are the only one throughout the entire council who bothers to get involved does speak volumes to those of us who can also be bothered.

It somewhat puts into focus the fact that other councillors are either too scared to get involved or they are too scared of the technology, dinosaur politics in fact.
At least we have one voice in council who can wave the flag of technical advancement, maybe you should run some courses and bring your fellow councillors into the modern world.

Andrew said...

Unfortunately - QED. And as I've pointed out before, I'm broadly on your side so Heaven knows what tone you adopt with those against you.
You didn't address the issue of trust whilst launching into your previous put down.

Andrew said...

Thank you 1401. When I first came across this blog I thought how refreshing it was to find a local politician and businessman willing to engage in argument with others. I still feel the same way and if the mayoral option had been chosen last year I would have supported him if he had chosen to stand. This council needs a good clean out and a major influx of new blood would go a long way towards restoring local confidence.
New technology is not the obstacle for most of the others - they don't reply to letters either. No, I'm afraid it's arrogance and contempt in the main.

Anonymous said...

I am with the good Dr on councillors, in the main, doing their best within the limitations imposed on them but I also have some sympathy with Andrew's 'need for clear out' suggestion.

Unfortunately, most working age folk are too busy with careers, mortgages and raising off spring to consider local council office. The result is that many councillors come to the role when they are probably past their preferred sell by date. I still reckon they do their best but they perhaps do not have an abundance of energy and, as a result, sometimes are unkindly referred to as old duffers.

Unfortunately, however, until more of the critics offer themselves for public office it is a situation that is likely to continue.

Andrew said...

1521 I think you're probably right.
I agree that they are doing their best but we are setting a fairly low bar here. In all honesty the people deserve better
So, given that we're likely to be stuck with Old Duffers for a few years yet we have to be sure that they are better advised and better able to take advice. Council officers need to be of the highest calibre and all involved need to be fully committed to honest and open communication.
It's a sad fact that the only councillors who answer my emails are Chris Wells, Alan Poole (because he knows me) and Mark Nottingham (because for ward matters he is very good). Simon of course responds to posts - the rest; silence.

ascu75 aka Don said...

Andrew I have to agree about not even answering e-mails I seent a test emails to all councilors a few years back and got only if I remember correctly 3 in reply.

Simon I have always found your posts interesting and readable. I never had the benefit of a university education but with todays degrees I probably had a better education than most.

Bluenote said...

And the unfortunate Mark Nottingham, despite taking the trouble to respond on ward matters, is ousted for having ambitions that clashed with those of Labour's leadership.

Mark was also one of the younger ones with potential to go on but, that, sadly, is local politics. You must not be a threat to the leader even if he is the king of duffers.

Michael Child said...

Simon I think so much of the problem with local democracy is that it isn’t what it says on the packet, the party system that may work at national level frankly at district level just doesn’t.

In the first place most of the candidates either get elected because they are in safe seats, or because of a national swing, usually away from a national government either because it’s performing badly or because of a protest vote.

The people who wind up running and leading the council for the most part have run under a party banner in safe seat, they havent been chosen by the electorate as democracy implies, but have been chosen by the leaders of their political group, themselves.

Past local performance mostly doesn’t determine who gets elected, if the conservatives win in Thanet in May, it won’t be on the merit of having done a good job, but on a mixture of people’s feeling about the national government and a fear that Labour may do worse.

When elected councillors soon find that they either tow the line of their leadership, or sink and the line of their leadership is to a very great part something that has been formed by council officers.

At the moment the national government is trying through the localism bill to put the decision making powers with local people, what is in fact happening is that officers and safe seat councillors are trying to ensure that this power is given not to local people but to local government.

The mayoral consultation was I am afraid just a symptom of what is a much larger problem and one I think will probably eventually result in change of system.

We have had eight years of Conservative rule in Thanet, long enough for a strong administration to at least get to grips with fundamental issues like council assets, website and to produce some sort of tourism strategy.

Apart from essentials like street cleaning, rubbish collection, harbour dredging and maintenance the cliffs promenades and street furniture that the council has responsibility for, things we should take for granted, there is little else ordinary working people see.

Andrew said...

Mark might have been an objectionable character - although we only have other politicians words for that - but he was a dedicated and reasonably effective ward councillor. As Bluenote says, he was also young and we need young in the next council.

Bluenote said...

Michael, do you seriously think a bunch of well meaning independents would actually do any better. They would still fit the same criteria of having enough time to devote and, in consequence, the retired would still dominate. It then follows that they would be called old duffers by those who love to complain.

Andrew said...

I think Michael and I agree that if we had been allowed the elected mayor option then we might, and it's a big might, have had a mayor who was willing to pick a Cabinet from the best people available rather than what we will have, which is those with the longest tongues and the biggest stoop.

I don't think he was blowing a trumpet for the Independents but even a dyed in the wool, well to the right of the Conservatives chap like you should just wonder how, in a Conservative-dominated county such as we live in, this end has become so run down. I have no doubt that you will blame the last Government, and to an extent you are right, but the place was going to the dogs when John Major was in charge as well. I've lived here 22 years and it's been a steady decline throughout.

DrM. said...

Other than a decline in the tourist economy and the changes in the national economy it may be argued that over the last 15 years, areas of Thanet have been treated in a similar manner to neighbours such as Hastings and Dover. Uncontrolled immigration pressures and the outsourcing of the most deprived and vulnerable, individuals, families and children, from overstretched London authorities to cheaper accomodation in Coastal towns with empty hotels.

Local authorities were unable to resist the tide and as a result became increasingly benefits dependent micro economies, constantly firefighting growing social and economic problems that central government had no idea how to tackle effectively as it continues to grow the public sector and grow the national debt

But that's my opinion which I suspect is shared by many others

Michael Child said...

No I don’t Bluenote, if I thought I knew the solution I would suggest it, what I am saying is that eight years of Conservative administration has failed here in Ramsgate, I am not saying that independents or Labour would have succeeded.

Perhaps the biggest blight on the town has been the Pleasurama development, frankly the cabinet failed the town on this one, and still don’t seem to be able to come up with a solution, work happens on site, on and off, but the plans don’t make sense. I think it’s now over a year behind the latest revised schedule and still no one seems to be able to order a proper independent survey of the cliff (repaired at a cost to the council of £1m and visibly a disaster) and flood risk, the EA experts ignored because officers followed the rules, as if this would hold back the sea.

They are putting up a new development next to a metre higher because it has had a flood risk assessment.

The harbour also is visibly silted up and falling apart, nearly all of the council owned assets are derelict.

In all of this failure the council then rigs the leadership consultation, all of the people who managed to find this well hidden consultation said they wanted to try the elected leader option and this was ignored.

This has ceased to a case of choice and become one of desperation, what do you think the solution is, I am just an ordinary businessman trying to run a business in what was a viable location. And yes there have been unavoidable problems everywhere. This a tourist town and I have watched the council demolish all the beach huts, remove all the seafront parking, keep the museum shut for two years over some interdepartmental spat, the list goes on. The last one being the Pavilion, a council press release saying that work to repair it was near completion prompted me to go and look at it, derelict.

DrM. said...

Michael I've said it several times already. The consultation was not 'rigged' as you put it. rather it was followed to the letter of the advice given by the Minister, the contents of which is on record which you know well. So please no more conspiracy theories of this kind on my weblog if you will and the same with the cliff. You are starting to sound like Rick banging on forever with allegations that the IRA had some loose connection to Thanet councillors

Michael Child said...

Right Simon assume I agree with every word you say, we now have Conservative government at national county and district level, so what’s the plan for Ramsgate? Or would it be best for me to just move?

Perhaps I could suggest painting out some yellow lines, there used to be a lot less and a lot more traffic here.

Perhaps we could have some of the beach huts, like the other Thanet towns.

DrM. said...

Best approach your county councillor about yellow lines as that normally falls under KCC and they arebput there for a reason and normally that follows a drawn out traffic assessment

Beach huts comes under TLF but we only have so many and these are sited where income from them is maximised. There is some discussion in regard to getting more for the more popular family bays but once again budgets prevail

There's considerable effort made to ensure a balance of investment between all three of the larger Thanet towns and while Margate you might feels receives more spend, much of this may actually involve government grants aimed at solving the Socio economic challenges there which colour the island pink. You have to remember that in real terms of council tax et al!, Thanet has very little real income and what exists is always focused to achieve the optimum, even if you don't recognise it

I would also say that there has been a dramatic change of style and focus under the new cabinet and it's may be better to judge us on what we do rather than what others may have done before last May

Andrew said...

Rigged is probably too strong a word. A combination of inertia and self-serving croneyism is closer to the truth. The whole thing was handled incompetently - how long did you all spend discussing it at December's extraordinary meeting? The ministerial advice is just a fig leaf; you'd have tried to find a way to ignore it if it had come from a Labour minister.
The reason why this won't go away and why it still pops up on blogs across the Island is back to trust. This is a national, if not international problem, but the parliamentary goings on of the last few years have tarred all politicians with the same brush. Only politicians can put this right.
Change in style. I suppose that the previous leader has been replaced by someone who is a bit less exotic but that's all.
I don't know the answers - I wish I did - but restoring faith in politics has got to be somewhere near the beginning of the process. This blog, and others like it, are part of that process.
It occurs to me as I finish that your response will focus entirely on the first paragraph.

Bluenote said...

Andrew, you are right about the problems of Thanet but their roots go far deeper than the life span of our recent councils.

The inability to adjust to a change in holiday patterns when the Brits discovered Benidorm kicked it off. Decline in local traditional industries like fishing, merchant service and mining played a part followed by hoteliers and guest house owners grasping at the 'dole by the seaside' community.

Many of these problems are reciprocated elsewhere and the Isle of Anglesey is almost a dead ringer. Loss of fishing, holiday trade and major industries linked to an influx of benefit dependent refugees from the big towns of the North West. Add property prices inflated beyond local affordability by retirees from Manchester and Liverpool and you get the picture.

Anglesey has had a Labour MP and council for a long time now but no solutions and that despite a politically sympathetic government at Westminster for much of that time.

Go to Ilfracombe and count the overweight dads with Man United football shirts and carbon copy kids. They are not Devon natives but more 'dole at the seaside' folk. So it goes on around our coasts where ever you have seaside towns with a surplus of guest house accommodation left over from an earlier era.

The solution I simply do not know, but I am convinced it is beyond the capabilities and resources of local councils. It needs national input, team work and local goodwill but, at present at least, the necessary funds to back that up are not there.

So we go on slagging off one council after another, however hard they try, to what end. At least, for the moment, the Pfizer situation seems to have focused national and county level government to the areas plight. We can but hope.

Bluenote said...

In my last comment please delete reciprocated and insert replicated. Guess it must be an age thing or maybe comes from reading too many military police reports wherein, on one occassion, one stalwart NCO arrested and incinerated the accused.

Readit said...

I have read this thread with great interest, after a rocky start with Simon threatening to take his ball away if you don't play by his rules. Eventually some real discussion about Thanet's problems began to emerge.

We are not all going to agree on cause and remedy but intelligent debate on real issues is definitely the way forward.

Andrew said...

I do like the incinerated malapropism!
I'm afraid you've hit the nail pretty squarely on the head. There is clearly no quick fix and unlikely to be any solution whilst the whole country is in such a mess. I am only sure of one thing - to paraphrase Simon's byline: "welcome to the aftermath of the old politics". We can't continue with a system that is so polarised.

1 o'clock Rob said...

Simon why doesn't the Council/TLF simply mark out more areas 6ftx6ft and 8ftx8ft and allow more people to put their own beach huts on the prom? We looked at renting a hut but in the end built our own for less than either Quinneys or Eagle Sheds could sell one! If you allowed more people to use their own huts you'd make money for nothing, 50 beach huts @ £300 for 6 months = £15,000, multiply by 10 bays and thats £150,000 for simply marking out the prom and providing toilet facilitis that are either already there or could be a couple of porta-loos!

Is it me or does TDC/TLF continually miss the mark on maximasing the revenue from 20+ miles of coast?

You could still look at renting beach huts, why not get into talks with Quinneys/Eagle Sheds/Florada and see who'd be willing to provide huts free to TLF for rent money in return?

DrM. said...

Interesting idea which I have passed on and up h chain!

Andrew said...

For some reason Rob's suggestion and Simon's response gave me a feeling of great optimism.

1 o'clock Rob said...

I know Andrew... shocking isn't it!

For all Simon's faults he does listen... sometimes :P