It might have played an important role in helping to save Margate’s Dreamland, but that was then and this is now. Last Tuesday’s poorly advertised and badly attended (less than 50 people by my estimation) open meeting of the Dreamland Trust at Margate Winter Gardens, showed just how out of touch, complacent and irrelevant this once highly regarded organisation has become.
The new chair of the Trust, Bernie Morgan, tried hard to create the impression of a dynamic leader with new ideas but in truth she appeared to lack vision, had no new ideas and seemed perfectly content to be overseeing an organisation which, to put it politely, is a shambolic mess. Its public facing website is hopelessly out of date. Trustees who resigned long ago are still shown as being members of the board. Her predecessor, Nick Laister, who ceased to be the Chair of the Trust three months ago is still listed on the website as occupying that post. Basic information about the Trust like its aims and objectives, minutes of board meetings, policy documents, activities and performance reports and its accounts have not been published on the Trust website. Worse still an expensive publically funded survey about Dreamland and the work of the Trust was advertised on its Facebook page 2 days before the closing date and not at all on its website. The new Chair has had 3 months to put these important organisational problems right, but has clearly failed to do so.
It’s often said in management circles that an organisation which does not have an up to date public face and which demonstrates an arrogant disregard of accountability by failing to publish its governance and performance documents, is an organisation which is dysfunctional and unfit for purpose. This is a view with which an overwhelming majority at last Tuesday’s meeting appeared to agree with including several former Trust staff who lead a barrage of criticism of the Trust including calls for the resignation of the directors.
The main focus of the criticism was the Trust’s lilly-livered failure to stand up to, and speak out against, the massive incompetence of Thanet District Council and Sands Heritage in their management of the £22million publically funded Dreamland amusement park. The Trust was condemned for remaining silent about the premature opening of Dreamland in June 2015, before the iconic scenic railway was operational and for its continuing silence over Sands Heritage inability to get the scenic up and running for almost 16 weeks following its latest problems. Concern was also expressed about the Trust’s lack of comment over the selection of Sands Heritage as the theme park operator despite it privately having serious concerns about the appointment process. Some speakers were surprised that the Trust failed to make any public statement about the collapse of Sands Heritage into administration and for failing to put forward alternative plans to run the theme park. Several speakers suggested that the Trust was no longer for fit purpose and that it needed to fundamentally review its role to include a stronger element of public scrutiny of Dreamland and holding the council and park operator to account.
Personally I thought the audience, whilst clearly angry, let the Trust off the hook lightly. Its new chair and directors were clearly disinterested in the points which were raised, condescendingly batting away questions as being none of their concern or outside their paygrade. To me this approach signified that the Trust is out of touch with the community and its ideas and aspirations for Dreamland, especially the need for the management and development of this publically funded £22million project to be held to account and for the people of Thanet to know that that its money has been well spent.
On a positive note, the new chair said that she will be recruiting new directors for the Trust. I’d go one step further and say to the chair, that on the basis of their recent performance she should sack all the existing directors and replace them as well. Either way, every effort should be made to ensure that all new directors should be passionate about Dreamland , in touch with community thinking, and determined to hold Thanet Council and Dreamland’s operator to account on behalf of the public. It was good to see that the anger and frustration of the audience was sufficiently powerful to force concessions from an otherwise arrogantly dismissive top table, who promised more our fear than good-will, to hold another Trust open meeting in 5-6 months time. At this meeting they promised they would present new proposals about how the Trust would operate. I sincerely hope that these proposals will include a powerful element of public scrutiny of the management of Dreamland and its increased public accountability. Anything less would confirm my view that the Dreamland Trust and its directors are unfit for purpose and should be got rid of.
One final observation about the meeting. Only one of Thanet's 56 elected councillors, Mick Tomlinson, was interested enough in the work of the organisation to make the effort to turn up to the meeting. And Councillor Tomlinson is no friend of the Trust, having made some strong criticisms of it at briefing meetings when I was also councillor. I guess this lack of political support at Tuesday's meeting underlines how irrelevant the powers that be regard
the Trust and why they were excluded from the decision making for so long without so much a murmur a public protest. The new Chair and new directors have certainly got a big job of work on their hands.
Here's my video of the meeting