My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Friday, 31 August 2018

Ramsgate Port: losses increase by £3/4 of million!

On June 28th Ramesh Parshar the Council’s Head of Financial and Procurement service e-mailed me a spreadsheet detailing all of the income and expenditure for the Port of Ramsgate in the financial year 2017-18. The data was provided to me under the terms of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 which requires a council, during its annual external audit, to  allow interested parties to  “a) inspect the accounting records for the financial year to which the audit relates and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, receipts and other documents relating to those records, and b)make copies of all or any part of those records or documents”.

The information provided to me showed that in the financial year 2017-18 total expenditure at the Port of Ramsgate was £2,879,360.88 and total income was £1,101,605,37, which means that the Port lost £1,868,755.51. Until now this has been the figure I have used in all my postings about Ramsgate Port’s appalling financial performance.

But it now appears that this appalling financial performance was more appalling than anyone imagined – three quarters of a million pounds more appalling to be precise. According to the Council’s accounts for 2017-18 which were approved by the Governance Audit Committee in July, losses at the Port of Ramsgate in 2017-18 were actually  £2,637,000 not £1,868,755 as I had previously reported. 

That’s an increase in losses  of £768,245 which you, through your council tax are paying for. Worse still the size of loss in 2017-18 is greater than in in 2016-17. In 2016-17 Port losses were recorded in the audited accounts as being £2,249,000. In 2017-18 the losses are reported as being £2,637,000. This means that annual losses in 2017-18  increased by £388,000 or 17% on the previous year.

In terms of the losses racked up by the Port of Ramsgate over the past 8 years my previously reported figure of £19,500,000 was therefore wrong and the actual figure is £20,268,245! Here is a revised chart showing the losses made by the Port over the previous 8 years. These figures have all been extracted from the Council’s externally audited and officially  approved accounts.

I have asked the Council to provide me with an explanation about why  the figures it provided to me on June 28th  about the Port’s finances were so wrong and what were the reasons for the three quarters of million pounds discrepancy. I’m not holding my breath. TDC is after all one of the most secretive local councils in the known universe. 

Clearly, all the promises made by senior council officers and politicians about turning around the fortunes of the Port of Ramsgate are nothing but bollox  pure and simple. The situation is actually deteriorating rather than improving which raises some very important questions about the capabilities of those tasked with  managing it - officers and politicians. The recent public meeting called by the Ramsgate Action Group  answered this question by overwhelmingly passing a vote of no confidence in those same politicians and officers.

I am sure the people of Ramsgate and Thanet wish to know how much longer they will be forced to prop up, through their  council tax payments,  a port which by any standard is insolvent. Over the past 8 years keeping open the failed Port of Ramsgate has cost the equivalent £143 for every man woman and child in Thanet. How much more will they have to pay for this  expensive, mismanaged port? Surely its time for an independent, external investigation into what is probably one the biggest financial scandals in recent local government history?

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Ramsgate Port The Financial Facts: £28 Million Lost!

The Ramsgate Action Group (RAG) has called a public meeting tomorrow night (Wednesday 29th August) at the Oddfellows Hall, 142 High Street, Ramsgate at 8pm. The meeting will be discussing the Port of Ramsgate and its management and I shall be there to video it so that those who cannot be there can at least hear and see what was said.

In the run up to the meeting I thought it would be helpful to summarise some important facts about the Port which may have a bearing upon tomorrow's discussions.

Huge operational losses

For each of the last  8 financial years Ramsgate Port has made large operational losses.  These losses total £19.5 million. That’s the equivalent £6,678 per day, every day, over 8 years. Or £203,125 per month, every month over 8 years. The losses in the table below  are based on official Thanet Council figures taken from its  annual accounts which were inspected and signed off by an independent auditor.

TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt

In 2009  Thanet Council’s ruling Conservative cabinet agreed a secret deal with struggling TransEuropa Ferries to defer all its fees and charges  until times got better. Councillor Bob Bayford who is the now the Leader of the Thanet District Council was party to this secret deal. In 2011 the Labour Party took control of the Council. The new Labour Leader Clive Hart and his cabinet decided to continue the fee deferral deal and decided to keep this deal secret even though TransEuropa’s debt was, at this time,  £1.7 million and growing fast. I understand that the port authorities in Ostend operated a similar fee deferral deal with TransEuropa Ferries.

In April 2013 TransEuropa Ferries went bust. The Council tried its best to keep its losses secret and it was only through my Freedom of Information requests and some good inside sources that I was able to expose the secret deal and the huge £3.4 million in unpaid fees and charges. Ostend Port authorities were aware of the risks involved in a fee deferral deal and had placed legal charges on the ferries and managed to recoup some of their losses through the forced sale of the ships. Thanet District Council did nothing to secure its interests. Nor did Thanet Council prevent the last ferry sailing from Ramsgate Port when officers already knew that the company was bust.

This £3.4 million loss was picked up by council tax payers. 

Live animal exports £5.1million compensation

On 13 December 2013 Thanet Council imposed a temporary ban of the export of live animals for slaughter even though it had in its possession at the time legal advice stating that it did not have the power to impose such a ban and that the Council could be liable to pay compensation if it banned the trade.

At a High Court hearing in December 2013  judge, Mr Justice Birrs,  concluded that  the decision to ban live exports was made by Mr Mark Seed (a previous TDC Director) but that “very considerable pressure was placed on him by the councillors at the meeting. Both councillors present (Cllr Hart and Cllr Poole) had made very clear their opposition to the trade. They wanted the trade to be stopped

Mr Justice Birrs ruled that Thanet  Council had, by banning live exports,  breached Articles 35 and 36 of the Treaty of the functioning of the European Union  and was liable to pay compensation to the live animal exporters for illegally  preventing their trade.  Once again, the Council desperately tired to hide the scale of the compensation payment it had to make and the losses it had incurred though stupidity and incompetence. Once again, using Freedom of Information legislation I forced the Council to reveal that it had paid our £5.1 million in legal costs and compensation to seven people engaged in the trade.

Ordinarily Thanet Council’s insurance policy  would have covered some/ all of the £5.1 million legal and compensation costs to be paid to the exporters. However, I was tipped off by an insider that the Council submitted its claim too late and that the insurers had disallowed the claim. Using  Freedom of Information legislation I forced to Council  to admit that this appalling incompetence was true.

For lack of insurance cover the Council tax payers of Thanet  have therefore been forced to pay the £5.1million compensation payments.

Grand total of loses

Adding together the operating loses, the TransEuropa ferry loses and the Live Exports loses the total loss racked up by the grossly incompetent management of the Port of Ramsgate Port during these 8 years is  a staggering £28million! 

That’s the equivalent £9,589  per day, every day, over 8 years. Or £291,666 per month, every month over 8 years.

These losses are very close to those made by Manston Airport when, in May 2014,  Ann Gloag decided to close it down. Unlike the airport where private finance covered the losses, Ramsgate Port’s loses are being paid for by the district’s council tax payers. This works out to be £198.50 for each of Thanet’s 141,000 men women and children.

Just image how this money could have been used – providing desperately needed social housing, improving street cleaning, and many other useful things.

Bearing in mind these  figures do you believe that senior officers and senior councillors have made a good job in managing the Port of Ramsgate. I think their record over the past 8 years speaks for itself.

See you at the meeting I hope, where the public will decide.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Brett's to blight Ramsgate Seafront for 45 years?

After running up operating losses of  £19.5 million over the past 8 years, plus the loss of £3.4million in  unpaid TransEuropa  Ferries fees and  £5.1million live animal exports compensation payments,  many people, myself included, have begun to support the idea of  transforming insolvent  Ramsgate  Port into a leisure focused  modern marina/ marine village.  Such a transformation will, I hope, turn around the Port’s fortunes, and instead of losing £5,000 a day it may eventually begin to generate profits,  provide jobs, training,  and business opportunities,  and help to regenerate Thanet’s ailing economy.

But we shouldn’t get too carried away by the exciting possibilities that  a re-invented Ramsgate Port  might offer  because it’s now beginning to become  clear that its transformation into something new, vibrant and economically viable, might not be as straightforward and as quick to achieve as many  people would have hoped for.

This is because the incompetent fools responsible for managing the Port of Ramsgate including  council officers, and a  succession of senior Conservative, Labour and UKIP politicians – have thorough appalling mismanagement and blinkered, short-sighted,  thinking,  not only lost close to £30million  of tax-payers money, but created a toxic legacy  which will hold back the urgent task  of restoring the Port’s  fortunes as a modern, state of the art, leisure focused  business.

The biggest problem is that presented by the Brett
Aggregate concrete batching plant which occupies almost a quarter of the Port.   Not only did the Council permit Brett’s to begin operations at the Port without  the benefit of an environmental impact assessment,  but it also gave the company the benefit of an extraordinarily long lease on its site.

The lease, which the Council was forced to provide to me under local audit legislation,  was signed in 2009 and allows Brett Aggregates to operate its concrete batching operation at the Port  until 2029 – another 11 years from now!  Worse still the lease provides options for  Brett Aggregates to continue to extended their tenancy up until, but not beyond,  16 April 2054. That’s another 36 years from now!

In the meantime, Brett Aggregates can,  of course,  apply to the Council   at any time to extend the area of land it occupies at Ramsgate Port,  as indeed it attempted to do in 2016  when it unsuccessfully sought permission to expand its  operations at the Port.

I think that most people would agree that the presence of a noisy, dirty, potentially environmentally damaging, aggregate operation at the Port of Ramsgate for the next 36 years, will  be a major obstacle to its transformation into a leisure based facility.

Those who   drafted and approved this lease were clearly very foolish people.  They failed to take into account  the long term decline of the Port in it’s current guise as a traditional commercial/ industrial  entity, which was clearly becoming evident in 2009.  They failed to consider the need for alternative uses for the Port and the need  to have a flexible leases which  allow the Council to respond to changing circumstances. Instead Brett’s and their aggregate business were granted what amounts to a 45 year lease!  

Apart from this extremely  generous  lease, Brett Aggregates long term occupancy of the Port is immeasurably strengthened  by Kent County Council’s  Mineral and Waste Local Plan 2013-30 (KMWLP)   which was approved by KCC in 2016. This plan provides legal safeguards and protection for wharfes and railheads which host aggregate landing, storage and processing operations and disallows other, non-complementary development from taking place nearby.  The list of 16 safeguarded wharves and rail depots in Kent includes Ramsgate Port and, curiously, most of the safeguarded wharves and rail depots host a Brett business!

The KMWLP was subject to a public consultation exercise  in 2015. With the exception on myself,  not a single Thanet politician at this time including MPs, prospective parliamentary candidates, county and  district councillors from Conservative to Labour to UKIP made any objections about  the Port of Ramsgate being designated  as a safeguarded mineral wharf, or any  proposals that such safeguarding be applied flexibly to take account of changing circumstances. 

The failure to comment on this matter was all the more extraordinary when it is remembered that, in 2015, Ramsgate was up in arms about proposals from the O’Regan Group  to locate a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood recycling plant at the Port.  Even worse Ramsgate Town Council which supposedly represents the interests of local residents also failed to make any  comment on the proposals to safeguard the  Port as a site for the notoriously polluting aggregate industry.

Earlier this year a partial review of the KMWLP took place which re-considered the safeguarding of Kent’s mineral extraction sites and it’s mineral wharfs and railheads and which included a period of public consultation. Bearing in mind the failure of Thanet’s political establishment to seize the opportunity to influence the development of this  important policy in 2015, it would be reasonable to assume our councillors wouldn’t wish to be caught with their knickers down for a second time. 

But no! As unbelievable as it might seem, history repeated itself. Just as in 2015, not a single  MP,  county or  district councillor from Ramsgate or Thanet submitted to the public consultation any comments about the safeguarding of Ramsgate Port as mineral wharf.  And, to it’s shame, for a second time,  Ramsgate Town Council also failed to do so.

As in 2015 there were, once again, compelling reasons for our politicians to  demand a flexible application of the mineral safeguarding policy at the Port of Ramsgate. In 2017 there had been a huge public outcry, including 2 packed public meetings,  against Brett’s unsuccessful efforts to expand its aggregate processing operation at the Port.

Furthermore,  by 2018 it was even more apparent, than in 2015,  that the long-term future of Ramsgate Port as an industrialised operation was becoming very doubtful.  And most importantly by 2018 public opinion had become much   more supportive of  a leisure focused future for the Port than it was in 2015.  But as
is usually the case in Thanet our MPs and councillors were asleep at the wheel. They missed what was a major opportunity to influence planning policy at the Port which would have made it much easier to transform it into a new environmentally sensitive leisure focused facility which could  generate income and jobs for Ramsgate.

Because of the incompetence and irresponsibility of politicians – Conservative, Labour and UKIP, to develop forward looking plans and policy for Ramsgate Port we now have a  situation whereby  the fifth annual review of the KMWLP published in May 2018 states that “continued robust safeguarding of the available wharf capacity in Kent is therefore considered imperative ….. especially in light of a recovery in demand for aggregates and with increased projections for housing and overall infrastructure into the future”.

This suggests to me that it will be very difficult indeed for Brett Aggregates to  be evicted from Ramsgate Port in the foreseeable future to make way for its  leisure focused transformation. This is entirely the fault of council officers and Thanet’s political establishment who together approved a 45 year lease for Brett aggregates  and, who together, y failed to influence and change restrictive mineral planning polices at the Port. The result of these failures a dirty potentially polluting, aggregate plant may be blighting Ramsgate’s seafront for another 45 years. Surely this is the last thing a town which depends upon the tourism and leisure industry needs?