Monday, February 28, 2011

Lost in Translation

I was just reading the opinion section in the Thanet Extra  free paper, with my jaw bouncing off my desk. According to Mr Rochester of Ramsgate, Pfizer's sudden exit from Sandwich was caused by 'Thanet Council's refusal to allow the company's request to develop part of the plant.' 

So it must be true then, it's in the paper, which gives it printed credence. Of course, the editor would have checked the details first or at least believed there might be some grain of truth in the story; well you might have thought so but for one small but very important detail.

Pfizer sits in Sandwich which is not in Thanet or under the planning control of Thanet Council. It may share our Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys but that's as far as it goes and I've certainly never heard of this before.

Mr Rochester goes on further to lay a share of the blame for the closure and the loss of jobs squarely at the foot of Thanet Council, which I'm sure you will read with proper outrage, if you happen to have a copy of the paper.

I only mention this story because it's not unusual  in the least. I read stories on an almost weekly basis in our local media which frequently have their own bizarre departure from the truth. From time to time, I even discover things about myself that I never knew!

So, dear reader, next time you read any local outrage or interest story spare a thought for the other side of the argument should the argument even exist at all or whether its simply an exercise to fill a little extra printed space in the newspaper!


Michael Child said...

Ah Simon you are truly privileged to get this paper on a Monday, it seldom turns up here before Wednesday.

The Pfizer issue is a difficult one for the local press, in one sense they have a national story and if they can get a special take on it then it will be picked up by the nationals enhancing the papers kudos, but the real decisions were take abroad by an international company following an international trend.

The problem is that R&D is moving to countries like India that have a cheaper an highly educated workforce and for that matter a more relaxed attitude to planning.

The writing has been on the wall for a number of years but I don’t see there is much TDC or Dover council could have done about it.

If there is any local leverage that Pfizer as an international company may take some notice of it is the enormous cost of the remediation of the site if they can’t find an alternate use.

The part of the site that was used for manufacturing is likely to be contaminated and I don’t think that they will be able to just walk away from it, if there is anything that TDC can do I expect it will be because of their involvement with Pegwell Bay.

What worries me the most is that there will be some half potted scheme for the site that fail relatively quickly and negate Pfizer’s responsibility, leaving us with another power station, hoverport or tip on this environmentally sensitive site.

If the local press has any power left then it is this issue they ought to be pressing not looking for a local scapegoat.

Andrew said...

"What worries me the most is that there will be some half potted scheme for the site that fail relatively quickly and negate Pfizer’s responsibility, leaving us with another power station, hoverport or tip on this environmentally sensitive site.".

Michael is spot on here. Pfizers cannot be allowed to walk away from this one and this would be just such a way of this happening. Do the Environment Agency have to be involved I wonder?

Bluenote said...

I too read the newspaper with the subject letter and wondered about Mr. Rochester. Is he really so badly informed or ignorant of local council areas of responsibility, or simply a politically motivated mischief maker. With local elections in May why not introduce a story that somehow TDC caused Pfizer's decision to go. After all some folk will believe it because they want to.

More surprising is that the newspaper printed it without checking the facts. Publishing opinion is one thing, and the media must have the freedom to do that, but statements of fact should be checked if journalism is to be at all responsible. Evidently not so in this case.

1 o'clock Rob said...

I'm pretty sure Pfizer is aware of their obligations. As Simon so correctly points out the site closing has nothing to do with TDC and slo nothing to do with KCC... it has everything to do with Globalisation but that is a different topic for a different type of political forum.

Having spoken with several people who work in the middle to top at Pfizer they informed me that nothing could be done to save the site from closing, R&D has been cutback at nearly all their sites across the globe.

Andrew said...


Not really on thread but about communication.

I think there would be some mileage in you writing a blog explaining purdah in the run up to the elections. Exactly what you can and can't do and say; I for one only have a hazy idea of the rules in this respect.

DrM. said...

Good idea Andrew, remind me in a couple of weeks can you? Thanks!

James Maskell said...

It is odd that such stuff is published. It has been known for years that Pfizers was slowing shutting down due to the changes in the industry.

Shinguard said...

Very lazy journalism but to be fair a lot of people are unsure of the Thanet border or whether they are in the Thanet North or the Thanet South constituency especialy since the recent changes.

Now if only we had a decent map, maybe the editor of the Thanet Extra could print one for us all?

Andrew said...

Whilst I appear to be in Good Ideas mode.
A concise explanation of the lease issue would be beneficial. How leases are involved with asset disposal, how long the leases are now, how things have changed over the last few years and why they have changed.

DrM. said...

Andrew, the most fundamental change is the treatment of long leases of 25 years or more as part of the overall asset disposal process.

The emphasis is now very much on consultation as part of such a process to avoid circumstances where the council is seen to be over-riding the wishes of local people without proper consideration of their arguments.

Andrew said...

OK, I'm sort of with you. This is obviously directly related to the MFC issue as well as the P Word that we're not allowed to mention :-)

If I understand you correctly what you're saying is that long leases are now being treated as an asset. Presumably they weren't before - was this change a consequence of the Conservative coup d'etat? So, in the case of MFC, who owns the lease now and who wants to own it once the development is completed?

DrM. said...

Let's just say it's a relatively recent change!

Hartsdown is a public asset (the council) and is governed by the same except with one important condition passed by cabinet, that reflects public interest and that I have written elsewhere; consultation is required for any lease over any period.

Michael Child said...

Simon relatively recent is all very well, the first I heard of this was when the council wouldn’t grant Ramsgate Maritime Museum a long lease that it had promised to because of the over 25 year consultation rule.

But surely this either has to be a rule with a definite start date, with any leases granted after that date being open to review or just a guideline that the council uses when it is convenient to them.

If it is a definite rule could you please give the date when it started?

Oh and sorry about teasing you over the hat.

DrM. said...


I have asked for the exact date but understand, I cannot write my weblog freely if you are going to interrogate me down to exact dates.

I'm informed that you have just sent in a lengthy and detailed FOI request and I simply cannot and I have asked before.. cannot respond to multiple emails almost each and every day, requesting detail on matters that interest you and quite possibly nobody else here!

Michael Child said...

Simon I should make it clear that all the foi requests I have ever sent the council can be counted on the fingers of one hand and I only make them if all else fails.

I start as I am here by asking for an off the record answer, then if nothing happens an off the record question to an officer.

After this if I see no alternative and only when I think the issue is important enough to effect a lot of people do I make an foi request. With developments my rule of thumb is that if it is in a prominent site and larger than The Turner Contemporary then it may warrant a foi request.

The problem over “detailed” is that because the council take so long to answer them I have to make sure I have covered every possibility, there is no chance for sensible dialogue when if ask for some information and they can take nearly a year to send it.

To elaborate on this if I was to ask the council the question I have just asked you about when this rule came into effect and they didn’t answer me until next February, I would have to put in a second request asking which leases they had issued after the date they revealed to me and from past experience that could take until the end of 2012.

So when I make a request to the council I try to make it so that I don’t immediately have to make another one based on the information in the first one.

You have to appreciate that the sort of information that I am asking for, in this case, when the council changed the rules governing the leases that they issue, then this information effects a lot of people, this information should be available on the council’s website and should have warranted a press release when the rules were changed.

DrM. said...


I understand the Leader of the Council called you to personally explain the issues surrounding the lease on the Maritime Museum and hopefully that should have answered most if not all of your questions.

Anonymous said...


When I contacted Environment Agency a while back re the question of the sub-contractual standards of pipe and vessel welds on the Pfizer development site I gained the impression that EA already had an investigatory team concerning Pfizer issues.

My information was that Pfizer took penalty clause compensation from the contracting engineers but in essence dumbed down the standard to the standard of work achieved which site weld inspectors had refused to sign off as meeting standard. This implied to me that Pfizer knew that production from the site might only be in the shorter term. I know nothing about weld fatigue etc but I imagine some sort of time based risk assessment was done and the site OK'd for the duration Pfizer expected it to be operational.

What interested me was the account attributed to one site weld inspector who spoke with site welders who had previously been employed as production welders by Petbow generators. Although I heard no suggestion of deliberate nobbling at Pfizer the essence of the story from the site inspector is that former Petbow men in conversation detailed methods "Old Petbow tricks" in which sub-standard welds were done and not able to be spotted by the company test and quality control regime.

Pfizer would not reply to correspondence about the dumbing down of construction standards. Police refused to trace and interview the site weld inspector about the sabotage history at Petbow. And I wrote to the Environment Agency merely as a precaution against the Pfizer site being a potential environmental hazard which they should evaluate.

DrM. said...

I would like to thank 'Retired' fo his comment but surely he can't expect me to publish allegations about Pfizer which he admits are only hearsay!

More importantly allegations of this nature might be considered libellous and I really don't wish to be the subject of an action by a multi national company!!

Andrew said...

Confusion over consultation start dates, unexpected introduction of Maritime Museum and coyness over the circumstances surrounding change of management - I smell scandal, cock up or cover up here. Time to start paying more attention.

DrM. said...


Not quite sure where 'Confusion' comes in as surprisingly enough, I don't have an exact date to hand, this being my personal weblog rather than a public font of all knowledge regarding TDC. At this rate, someone will be asking me how many dog bins are broken along the seafront next!

As for the rest of your comment, believe or suggest what you like, because I haven't the inclination, or the time to be drawn into a response!

Andrew said...

I don't think we need an exact date, just a timeline. Were the rules changed before or after the Museum was denied a long lease - since it looks as if they were changed because of the Museum it shouldn't be hard to remember.
And somewhat appropriately the "I am a human" funny word for this comment is "ships".

DrM. said...

26th July or thereabouts as part of the revised Asset Management Strategy!

The Maritime Museum has a long blogging history elsewhere and appears to be in progress from what I'm told so I won't lend it any more space here. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment either.

Michael Child said...

Thank you Simon for the information, did you mean 26th July 2010 or 2009?

This is a quote from an email I received from the council in February 2010.

“The position regarding the Clock-Tower Building, occupied by the Steam Trust is as follows. The subject was discussed by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny (Asset Management Working Party) in view of the length of lease sought by the Trust.”

With relation to your pervious replies the difficulty here is that you are different from the other bloggers, in as much as you are privy to council information that we are not.

In an ideal world the council’s information department would have a forum where major local issues could be discussed openly on the internet, it is the perception from outside the council, is that the councils information department exists exclusively to control the information that is available to the public.

I suppose in a way even that would be mostly unnecessary if the council published all of the information it held, apart from the information that would be refused in a foi request, as the council receives it, onto its website.

This could be achieved with considerable savings in costs to the council, by the council insisting that all information sent to the council, was supplied in preferred file formats, with the council levying a charge to commercial organisations either sending information on paper – so it has top be scanned in – or in a file format that has to manual converted for web publication.

In this instance I would say that you are as much a victim as the rest of us, in as much as the changes to such a fundamental rule about the way the council conducts its business, should have been publicised and the rules governing the way the council rents out its properties should be clearly and openly available on the council’s website.

The discussion I had with the leader of the council isn’t pertinent to this issue as it relates to a lease of less than 25 years and not the older lease that council didn’t issue due to the new rules. However it demonstrates very clearly what I am saying about information that you are privy to and we are not, put the shoe on the other foot for a moment and consider the situation if I was privy to your conversations with the leader of the council and said to you. “Simon. I understand the Leader of the Council called you to personally explain the issues surrounding such and such an issue, and hopefully that should have answered most if not all of your questions.” By way of an answer to a question you had asked me on a blog

DrM. said...

Before people start asking questions, there are things I can discuss in public and other things that I prefer not to in a public forum which might involve commercial confidentiality or other reasons.

Now, if I choose to confide or share information offline for clarification and then see that discussion being continued here, I may choose not to publish it to avoid the personal compromise between a private blog and a public role.

I would expect most people to understand why!