My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Monday, 18 February 2019

Margate's Dreamland Hotel F**ks Off Planning & Tax Rules

TDC officers are right to recommend that an application for the development of the 124 bedroom Dreamland Hotel on Margate’s seafront be refused. A detailed 38 page report to be discussed at the Council’s planning committee on 20th February catalogues multiple breaches of development policy which must be remedied before this large structure can be built in such a prominent and sensitive location. 

I would like to add another important objection as to why the Council should refuse planning permission for the hotel. My objection is nothing to do with the size, location, and appearance of the building, but its ownership. 

The Dreamland Hotel, along with the Dreamland Amusement Park and several other properties in Margate are owned by hedge fund, Arrowgrass Master Fund, which is registered in the Cayman Islands, an infamous offshore tax haven. Several other properties in Margate are also owned by companies or individuals with links to Arrowgrass.

Like Amazon, Google and Starbucks, Arrowgrass and its associated companies are, because of their offshore status, able to avoid paying £millions in tax every year. In my book that’s £millions which could have been used to fund the NHS, education, social care and housing. 

Although, shamefully, legal, I believe that it is immoral for companies like Arrowgrass to avoid paying  taxes, and instead use this money to stuff the pockets of its already super-rich investors, shareholders and directors. 

If a Dreamland Hotel is to be built on Margate’s seafront it should not only comply with planning policy but should also be owned by a UK registered company which pays its fair and full share of taxes, like the rest of us. 

I hope that all members of the Council's Planning Committee will do the right thing on 20th February and vote to refuse planning permission. I also hope that despite Arrowgrass' thinly veiled threats via its mouthpiece, Guernsey registered  Margate Estates,  that to reject the planning application will jeopardise Margate's regeneration are treated with the contempt they deserve.   

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Ramsgate Ferry Contract A State Secret

The terms and conditions of the Government’s £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight to operate a cross channel freight service from Ramsgate are now a closely guarded state secret. As are Government documents about the due diligence exercise which was conducted into Seaborne. 

This is a company who’s claim to fame is having zero previous experience of owning, leasing, or operating any sort of ferry. This is a company who’s credibility as a serious ferry operator has been widely ridiculed in the local and national media, and who’s many previous promises of delivering a ferry service from Ramsgate always seem to miss deadlines. 

On 7th January I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department for Transport requesting a copy of the Government’s contract with Seaborne Freight  and copies of all documents relating to the due diligence conducted into the company. I received a reply to my FOI on 4th February. The Government declined my two requests on the grounds that the information I had asked for might breach commercial confidentiality. This means that these important documents have now been officially classified as state secrets! 

The refusal of the Government to release this information is anti-democratic in the extreme. We are talking about the potential investment of £13.8 million of taxpayers money into a company with credentials and claims which many people have questioned and doubted. Surely the public interest requires that this information is published so that the voters of Ramsgate and the rest of the country can judge whether or not a wise and sensible decision has been made by the Government. 

The recent announcement that the owners of Eurotunnel are considering suing the Government for compensation for allegedly mismanaging the way in which it awarded these freight ferry contracts, may be the reason why the information is being kept secret. Or maybe, it might be because these lucrative contracts probably amount to an unfair Government subsidy to commercial operators which could result in the imposition of huge fines by the EU. 

Whatever the explanation, the Government appears to be determined, at least for the time being, to keep information about the Seaborne Freight ontact and the due diligence firmly under wraps. I believe this to profoundly undemocratic and contrary to the principles of open government, public accountability and transparency. 

Astonishingly the Government agrees with me! In its Local Government Transparency Code 2015 the Government states that -

Transparency is the foundation of local accountability and the key that gives people the tools and information they need to enable them to play a bigger role in society” and that - 

The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by local authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality….. Local authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for local authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code”

Surely if local government is being ordered, by its Westminster bosses, to publish its contracts in the interest of public accountability and transparency, then why not central government too? 

To refuse my request to disclose the Seaborne contract and the due diligence documents means that the Government has, hypocritically and cynically, contravened its own published advice. It has also, in my opinion, breached the Freedom of Information Act and ignored well established case law which require the documents I have requested to be disclosed. I will be appealing against the Government’s decision but this will take months. However I am confident that I will win.

In the meantime, many people are speculating about whether Seaborne Freight will ever deliver a service from Ramsgate Port and, if so, whether that service will quickly collapse into bankruptcy like TransEuropa Ferries did 5 years ago. 

Interestingly, TransEuropa was kept afloat (forgive the pun) for three years by a secret fees and charges deferral agreement with Thanet Council and the Ostend Port Authority which amounted close to £10million. This public money was lost when the company ceased trading in March 2013. Could it be the case that history might repeat itself and that a company with no significant assets and no track record of operating ferry services, is also kept afloat by a huge publicly funded subsidy of £13.8million only to go bust later owing taxpayers £millions?

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Ramsgate Port: Little Interest In Ferry Services: Losses Continue

Secretive Thanet District Council (TDC) has been forced, by Freedom of Information laws,  to reveal to me the level of interest in operating  a ferry service from the Port of Ramsgate. According to the data provided to me, 22 meetings have been in held in the 2 year  and 7 month period   between March 2016 and October  2018 with 5 separate ferry operators.

Three  of the ferry operators are  from EU counties - Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Two of the operators  are from the UK.  Four of the  operators appear to have quickly  lost  interest in setting up a service from Ramsgate and have not engaged in meetings with TDC since 2017.

The remaining operator, which I believe to be UK based Seaborne  Freight  has been talking to the Council for more than  2 years about operating a freight ferry service from Ramsgate. Between July 2016 and October 2018 the company has held 14 meetings with TDC.

I don’t know about you, but 2 years of discussion and negotiations seems an exceptionally  long period of time  to agree and set up an operational ferry service from the Port of Ramsgate.  Is it possible that Seaborne Freight has  failed to convince the powers that be at TDC that it can operate a viable cross channel ferry service from Ramsgate?  Whatever the explanation might be for these prolonged talks, one thing is clear,  there has been very little interest in operating a ferry service from Ramsgate Port. And I think it’s extremely unlikely that any sort of service is likely to be  established in the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, the question must be asked what the officer and political leadership of TDC intends to do to stop the haemorrhaging of council tax payers  money into  a port which has failed and which is technically bankrupt. Surely now is the time to commission an investigation into alternative, leisure based uses for the Port instead of continuing to pile up astronomic operating losses which currently total more than  £20million run up over  the past 8 years. Ramsgate Port in its current guise is without doubt economically unsustainable. How much more money will tax payers be forced to pay out to keep this ghost port open? ow much mor

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.