My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Broadstairs Folk Festival's Blacked-Up Racist Shame

Last year I accused the organisers of the Broadstairs Folk Week  of being institutionally racist. This year I call them out again for providing financial support for, and endorsement of, Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform.

The Folk week  organisers have, for many years provided, free event  tickets and free camping to Morris dance troupes who participate in  festival events which,  for dancers who stay the week, is worth about £300. 

Whilst I don’t object to this practice,  I do object most strongly to some of this financial support being provided to blacked-up Morris dancers and troupes, who engage in behaviour  which many people find offensive, degrading and down-right racist.

Whatever folk dancers and musicians  might say to justify “blacking-up” there is a growing body of academic research which has clearly established that this  practice is largely based upon cruel racist mimicry  aimed at degrading and humiliating other  human beings. Thankfully we live in a modern,  increasingly diverse,  country in which more and more people don’t think racial lampooning or mimicry is funny or acceptable anymore.  

Over the past 40 years “blacking up” by TV, stage, and cinema performers has all but disappeared with most people regarding it as distasteful and inappropriate. Yet despite pubic disproval blacking-up has survived and is flourishing within the Morris dancing and folk music community including, to its shame, the prestigious Broadstairs Folk Week.

Last year I tried to reason with Festival Director Jo Tuffs and her board of trustees. I wrote to her suggesting that the Broadstairs Folk Week charity publicly dissociate itself from the “blacked-up” Morris dancers, exclude them from performing  at all official events,   and withdraw all financial support from Morris dance troupes who black-up. This is something which, in the face of growing public concern,  the organisers of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival  did in 2016.

Sadly,  Jo Tuffs never had the courtesy to properly reply  to my e-mails on this important  issue, or to take up my offer to address her trustees.

This year I am trying a different approach. I will be submitting a formal complaint to the Charity Commission about what I believe to be the institutional racism of Jo Tuffs and her trustee board. 

I will also be writing to all of the Broadstairs Folk Festival’s  corporate and public sector sponsors such as the Vattenfall, Shepherd Neame, the Arts Council of England, Kent County Council and many more,  who together provide more than £70,000 in grants, sponsorships and donations. 

I am sure that many of these sponsors and donors will think twice about funding a festival which uses their money to provide financial support  for Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform.  Being associated with  such distasteful activities is likely to be something which will worry the festival funders and which could cause them considerable reputational damage.

Furthermore,  public sector funders such as the Arts Council and Kent County Council must, when making decisions such as awarding grants,  abide by the Public Sector Equality Duty which requires them to 

   (a)eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act; (b)advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; (c)foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

Once they find out about how Ms Tuffs and her trustees have been using the grants they have  approved to provide financial support for Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform, I am sure that the public sector  will looking again at whether they continue to fund the festival – and rightly so.

Broadstairs Folk Festival has for  the past 2 years been losing money and its cash reserves are, for an event of its size,  becoming dangerously depleted. It would be wise of Ms Tuffs and her trustees to bear in mind what the financial impact of continuing to support blacked-up Morris dancers might have upon the future of the festival.

As I did last year, I accuse  Festival Director Jo Tuffs and her board of trustee of being institutionally racist. She and her trustees should be ashamed of themselves for supporting and encouraging behaviour which many people find offensive, degrading and down-right racist. This support damages Broadstairs and threatens the future of festival.

But there’s still time to put it right – publicly dissociate the festival from blacked up Morris dancing – exclude blacked-up Morris dancers from all official events – remove all financial and other inducements such as free festivals tickets and camping  from blacked-up Morris dancers.

Shrewsbury Folk Festival did it. Why not Broadstairs? 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Ramsgate & Manston A Tale of 2 Ports.

I reported yesterday that over the past 8 years Thanet District Council has wasted an astronomic £26million of tax payers money  keeping open,  what must be, the most unsuccessful sea port in the known universe. 

At most other councils the incompetent fools who allowed such a financial disaster to happen –  both managers and politicians -  would have been sacked or deselected from office long ago. But not at Thanet Council where the normal rules of management and politics  don’t apply. Where a regime of secrecy and cover up prevails,  and abject and expensive failure is seen as a  virtue  which should be rewarded instead of a problem which should be  rooted out. 

Yet, paradoxically, when it comes to privately owned Manston airport, the Council thought nothing of investing almost £100,000 of tax-payers money in commissioning two separate reports, into its long-term economic viability.  Why did  the incompetents  who run TDC fail to realise that a local authority,  unfortunate enough to be home to both a failing airport and a failing seaport,   should  undertake urgent  investigations into both of these important economic problems, rather than just one?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Ramsgate Port is 99% water, whilst Manston Airport is 100% dry land.  Dry land provides solid  foundations on which to build thousands of council tax generating homes , whereas  the English Channel is not known for its executive style housing estates. In other words Manston is, as far as the bosses of TDC are concerned,  a much more lucrative development proposition than the sleepy ghost port of Ramsgate – even though its been  haemorrhaging £millions in losses for the past 8 years.

This unrelenting focus on the future of  the Manston cash-cow has meant that several opportunities to undertake a serious analysis of  the long term economic viability of Ramsgate Port  and to  develop alternative uses for the site  have been ignored by those who have been employed  or elected to promote the economic well-being of Thanet residents.

In 2014, TDC’s  then ruling Labour administration  approved the Ramsgate Maritime Plan. The plan was developed secretly, behind closed doors.  Local residents  were totally excluded from the process. There was no public consultation whatsoever. No serious economic analysis of the Port’s future was produced or commissioned by those preparing the Plan,   and the only  external people involved in discussions about the Plan were Port users like Brett Aggregates. Not surprisingly the final product  was biased, non-evidence based, and advocated the wholesale industrialisation of the Port.  A wise proposal for a tourist town with several marine protected areas.

In 2015 Ramsgate Town Council had its  chance to put things  right when it took on responsibility for developing a neighbourhood plan for the town. But three years later, those tasked with job of  manging the development and publication of the Ramsgate  Neighbourhood Plan are nowhere close to achieving their objective.  Shamefully, they have also failed to produce any work of significance on the Port and failed to  organise any public consultations about  one of the most important issue in Ramsgate – its Port. This is a serious dereliction of Ramsgate Town Council’s duty  to the residents it claims to serve and  questions need to be asked about the poor management of the  Neighbourhood Plan and indeed whether Ramsgate Town Council and those who run it are fit for purpose. 

The only time the public has had any opportunity at all to discuss the future of Ramsgate Port has been when they were opposing plans to industrialise the Port. Such the O’Regan Group which in 2015 hoped to develop a concrete block manufacturing plant at the Port. Or Brett which unsuccessfully  sought permission in 2017 to massively expand its  aggregate and concrete production operations at the Port. These two important struggles served to generate many new ideas and proposals for the Port such as  the development of a Maritime village and a modern 21st Century Marina on the site. 

Up until now  Thanet Council bosses and elected  councillors  have taken no action to promote or encourage an important community debate on the future of the Ramsgate Port. Yet when it comes to Manston Airport expensive reports are produced and debates and consultations a plenty are supported.

Enough is enough! £26million is a lot of money, especially for small cash-strapped council like TDC. I say its time for a for TDC  to commission an independent investigation into the long term economic viability of Ramsgate Port as it currently operates and to explore the feasibility of alternative uses. On the back of such an informed analysis there should be a major public debate and consultation and the production of a new, balanced and evidence based Maritime Plan for Ramsgate. If its good enough for Manston Airport its good enough for Ramsgate seaport.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Port of Ramsgate's Astronomic £26million Loss

I accuse Thanet Council – its senior officers and political leaders – Conservative, Labour and UKIP of irresponsibly and incompetently wasting £26million of council tax payers money over the past 8 years by keeping open Ramsgate Port – a ghost port with next to no customers. 

According to Thanet Council’s latest draft accounts, Ramsgate Port made operational losses of £1.868million. Combined with  annual operating  losses run up by the Port every since 2010 that’s a grand total of £19.5million lost by the Port over an eight year period. 

On top of the operational losses a further £3million has been spent repairing  and refurbishing the Port’s berths between 2016-17  and in 2013 the Trans Europa Ferries fee-deferral deal, which was kept secret from the public by both  the Conservative and Labour Council administrations, cost a further £3.4million.

All of this adds up to a staggering £26million of council tax payers money. Put into  perspective this huge amount of money works out to be the equivalent of £186 for each of Thanet’s estimated 140,000 residents. 

The message couldn’t be clearer – the large and continuing financial losses,  and the failure of a new operator to come forward to resume cross-channel ferry services following the collapse of Trans Europa 5 years ago means that Ramsgate port, just like Manston Airport, is finished! It is commercially unsustainable and has no future in its current form. 
Had it been in the private sector, a financial performance as disastrous as this would have led to the closure of the port years ago and, more than likely, the resignation and sacking of those responsible for not tackling the problem.  

Yet senior council officers and successive Conservative, Labour and UKIP political administrations at Thanet Council appear to have been  in total denial of the harsh economic facts revealed by their own accounts. They have buried their heads in the sand and, in the opinion of many, irresponsibly continue to waste £millions of taxpayers money keeping open a ghost port with virtually no ships. 

These appalling loses  are hardly surprising  bearing in mind the fierce competition faced by Ramsgate from nearby ports such as Dover, which is now in the middle of  a £200million, three-year,  expansion and modernisation programme.  Less than 70 miles away, the port of Tilbury recently  announced a £1billion growth programme,  and the highly successful, state-of-the-art,  London Gateway Port will shortly be increasing its capacity too. It doesn’t take a business genius to realise that there is absolutely no way that Ramsgate Port can survive in market dominated by expanding giants such as Dover, Tilbury, and London Gateway.

Instead of wasting yet more public money. the senior officers and politicians of Thanet Council should face up to reality and begin the urgent task of reviewing the future of Ramsgate Port and deciding what would be the best uses for this important piece of publically owned land. The last time this was done was in 2014 when TDC’s then ruling Labour Group drew up, in secrecy  and without any public consultation whatsoever, the Ramsgate Maritime Plan which proposed the wholesale industrialisation of the port, especially the expansion of the aggregate business at the port. 

This time around there should be a serious programme of extensive public engagement and consultation about the future of the port . Unlike Labour’s secretive and biased 2014 Maritime Plan, the views of Ramsgate residents should be accorded top priority, instead of being relegated to insignificance in favour party political dogma and the narrow commercial interests of those who may benefit from an industrialised port, such as the aggregate trade.

Whenever the public have been allowed to express their views about the future of the port, such as the public meetings to oppose the O’Regan plans to develop a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood recycling operation at the port in 2015, or more recently Brett Aggregates proposals to expand their activities, the overwhelming view of local residents is opposed to the industrialisation of the port.

Many people at these packed public meetings expressed their concerns about the impact of an industrialised, dirty and polluting port upon the nearby marine protected nature  areas and the danger posed to air quality for people living in Ramsgate. Others were very concerned about the impact of a heavily industrialised port upon Ramsgate’s seafront and the historic Royal Harbour and how this could damage the recovery of the town’s tourist industry. 

Most people now believe that allowing for the continuation of existing fishing,  windfarm and ship repair operations, the future of Ramsgate Port should be leisure focused rather than industrial.  

This is a  view which is supported by the fact that over the past 8  years Ramsgate Royal Harbour has made profits of £2.4 million which clearly demonstrates that the economic future of Ramsgate Port and Ramsgate seafront should be  based upon tourism and leisure rather than the dirty and polluting industrialisation which has been unashamedly promoted by successive Conservative, Labour and UKIP controlled administrations at Thanet Council. 

Last but not least I believe that the long-standing culture of secrecy surrounding the management of  Ramsgate Port and the Royal Harbour and the  total exclusion  of the public from this process is an insult to democracy which speaks volumes about the controlling top-down, approach  of council bureaucrats and their Conservative, Labour and UKIP political bosses. 

I have long argued that the Port of Ramsgate and the Royal Harbour should be managed by a Harbour Board made up of Ramsgate councillors and independent members of the public which meets in public, which publishes all its reports, and which consults with local people on its business plans and strategies. This is exactly how Whitstable harbour has been managed for 15 years. So why not Ramsgate? 

I recommemd that you read Steve Coombes' articles about Ramsgate Port in the facebook groups Nothing Concrete at Port Ramsgate