My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Ramsgate Labour’s Election Fundraising Charity Rip-Off. Candidates Apologise

So Ramsgate Labour Party’s candidates, Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara have apologised for their unethical, and possibly unlawful, syphoning off of charitable donations intended for homeless and deprived people and then selling them to fund their campaign to be elected to Kent County  Council.

But it was only after the intervention of the BBC, the Sun,   Kent online political editor Paul Francis and the publication of my blog post on 25th February that they were forced to fess up and offer their apology. Since I published my exposure of this appalling and unethical  fundraising tactic, my blogsite story has had almost 21,000 hits  which
demonstrates the strength of feeling about this emotive issue.  I have also been contacted by many people from the Ramsgate Labour Party and elsewhere who have expressed their distaste and anger that Constantine and Ara could have sank so low as to have sold donations destined for vulnerable and homeless people in order to fund their own personal political careers. I agree.
I find it hard to accept that this was a genuine mistake. Most people recognise that taking charitable donations destined for vulnerable people and then selling them for personal gain is morally and ethically wrong. So why did Constantine, Ara, and Peet choose to do it? I can only assume that they  didn’t care and don’t share the moral and ethical values that the overwhelming majority of people subscribe to.
As a lifelong socialist who has campaigned all of my adult life against injustice, poverty and discrimination, I’m sickened and disgusted that prominent members of the Ramsgate Labour Party, who claim to hold views similar to mine, thought that it was OK to advance their political careers on the back of filthy lucre raised from the sale of charitable donations intended for vulnerable people.  
Where’s the socialism in that comrade? Where’s the sensitivity, compassion and moral principles people expect from prominent members of a party which is allegedly dedicated to social justice?  Even the, well-respected, former Thanet Council Labour Leader Richard Nicholson called in a Facebook comment Constantine and Ara to resign. I’m sure that many people, myself included, agree with Richard Nicholson.  I’m also sure that Labour Party Leader Jeremy
Corbyn would also be appalled about the actions of his party colleagues. They are certainly not part of Crobyn’s much heralded new-politics, but more akin to old fashioned self-promotion at the expense of others which has discredited our democratic system and has led to a growing disenchantment with politics.  
Sadly Constantine and Ara are not the first, or the last, politicians in Ramsgate to have been caught engaging in highly questionable election campaign tactics. The Tories and, more recently UKIP, have also been accused of serious breaches of election rules and ironically Constantine was one of their most ferocious critics when they were caught. However the difference in this case is that I would have expected much higher standards of behaviour from members of the Labour Party and am bitterly disappointed that the Party has taken no action against them.
 Hopefully new candidates might emerge for the Ramsgate KCC election who are open and honest and who will put the interests of local people before their own self-interest and self-promotion.
BBC Newsroom South East 27 Feb

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Breaking! Ramsgate Labour Candidates RipOff Charity Donations To Fund Campaign

Would you take donations intended for  charitable purposes, sell them, and then use the cash to finance your political  career? Of course not!  Most people know that doing something like this is morally wrong and deplorable. It would be like walking into a pub, or corner shop, distracting the staff and pinching the charity collection box. An act which would sicken most people and provoke anger and outrage against the lowlife scum who did it.
But as improbable as it might seem, this is what  Ramsgate Labour Party’s Kent County Council candidates, Karen Constantine, Raushan Ara and their election agent, Kaz Peet, tried to do, until they were caught red-handed by a national newspaper.  Here’s the full story – sorry but its long and complicated

The Donation.
In September 2016, London based charity, Food for All, (charity no. 1077897) announced on its Facebook page that it had received a donation of £250,000 worth of expensive handmade Lush cosmetics via an organisation called the Kindness Offensive (TKO). Food for All works with homeless, vulnerable, and deprived people and says it provides 900 free hot meals a day, six days a week to people who are homeless or are in conditions of need”.   When I spoke to David Goodfellow from TKO , he told me that when Food for All collected the Lush products it was made clear to the charity that these products were for the use of their service users and should not be used for resale or raffles. 

The manufacturer of the cosmetics donated to the Kindness Offensive (TKO) and then to Food for All, was Lush. Lush is a highly respected, ethical, company, well known for donating to charities and campaigning groups. Lush attaches stringent conditions to its product donations. Its website says that donated products can only be used for the benefit of “service users (clients/ patients) of homeless shelters, hospices, women's refuges, children's groups, overseas aid etc. We prefer to direct our products to the above vulnerable groups, and we do not give products to other charitable groups, including schools and religious groups ------ Please note that these products cannot be used for fundraising (such as raffle prizes), gifts or handouts for supporters, or be sold”.

Ramsgate Labour Party “syphons off” Lush. On 7th February 2017 at a warehouse in London, Ramsgate Labour Party officials, KCC election candidate Karen Constantine and her agent Kaz Peet, met Jennie Matthias, the manager of Matchless Gifts, a London based charity shop operated by Food for All. Also present at the meeting was Food for All trustee Peter O’Grady.  The purpose of the meeting was to hand over a large consignment of Lush cosmetics to Constantine and Peet  to be sold and raffled to raise funds for Ramsgate Labour Party’s  campaign to get Constantine and Ara’s elected to Kent County in May 2017. This was the second lot of Lush products handed over to an official of Ramsgate Labour Party in less than a week. Labour Party election agent and press and public relations officer, Kaz  Peet, had already received Lush products from Matthias and posted about it on her Facebook page on 4th February. 
These are the self-same Lush cosmetics donated to Food for All by TKO which should only have been used for the benefit of their service users and most certainly not for the benefit Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to have Constantine and Raushan Ara elected to Kent County Council. 

In a short video filmed in the warehouse shop manager Matthias can be heard saying “We were fortunate enough to have been given thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds worth of Lush and within that what we do is to give out to charities and good causes and one of the good causes, and one of the good causes which I stand for, happens to be the Labour Party”.
Matthias’ comments are clearly at odds with the terms and conditions on which the Lush products were donated to Food for All by TKO. By any stretch of the imagination Constantine, Peet and the Ramsgate Labour Party are not poor, destitute or homeless and they should never have been given products which were explicitly destined for the use of vulnerable people.  In my conversation with David Goodfellow (TKO) he told me that he was “livid” with Food for All for abusing the terms and conditions on which the products were donated to them. He said that  TKO would no longer make donations to Food for All, and that their actions brought  into disrepute the amazing work by so many other organisations and the reputation of Lush who had been fantastically generous.   

Lush For Labour” Sale.
The syphoned off Lush products were stuffed into Constantine’s car. Several pictures of her car full to the gunnels with Lush products were published by Constantine and Peet Facebook Page on 7th February with the capitations

·        Coming back to Ramsgate with a boot full of delicious Lush products - kindly donated by Food for All to the Labour Party KCC Campaign - to replace UKIP in Ramsgate with Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara in order to Build a  Fairer Future. We will be putting together some fantastic  raffle prizes with this lot!”

·        Support for the Labour Party KCC Campaign from Food For All and Jennie Matthias”.

·        Bringing home the fund raising booty”.  

Within a day of the Lush cosmetics arriving in Ramsgate, Constantine advertised on Facebook that a “Lush for Labour" sale will take place on 18th February at 2.00pm! At The Churchill Tavern”. All Lush goodies will be heavily discounted!!!”.   Her daughter posted on Facebook saying “Going to be selling a whole range of Lush products, hugely discounted, at The Churchill Tavern at 2pm on February 18th. All proceeds go towards the local Labour party campaign! So you'll smell angelic for a splendid cause”. A copy of an  e-mail given to me by a concerned member of the Ramsgate Labour Party dated 12th February alerts all party members to the fundraising sale of Lush products at the Churchill Tavern on 18th February and advises members that there will be “a fantastic raffle featuring a divine "Lush" products basket worth £500!!!” at an election training event of 18th March.

On 18 February the sale of the Lush cosmetics took place as planned.  A short video posted on Facebook shows lots of people in attendance. Pictures posted on line show vast quantities of Lush product on sale.  At the end of the afternoon Constantine posted an announcement on Facebook saying “we raised over £500”. Comments on the video suggest that half of the Lush products were left over which I assume will be sold off and raffled at a later date, or given away to Labour Party election campaign volunteers.  In a post on Facebook Jennie Matthias says “I am so happy that you were able to raise what you did and hopefully more in the not too distant future, PLEASE can you make sure that ALL your volunteers get something for themselves also as it very much in keeping with what we do, much LOVE to you all from our team and especially me Jennie Matthias xx” 


So there you have it, donations of expensive handmade Lush cosmetics which both Lush and TKO explicitly required to be passed on to homeless and deprived people, were knowingly “syphoned off” from a registered charity by Constantine, Peet, Matthias and O’Grady with the clear intention of being  sold and raffled to raise funds for Ramsgate Labour Party's Kent County Council election campaign to get Constantine and Raushan Ara elected to Kent County Council. 

Morally & Ethically Indefensible.  
Constantine and Peet must have known that Food for All was a Charity. In fact they were photographed standing with O’Grady and Matthias, next to a Food for All Van which had the organisation’s charity number emblazoned across it. Like the overwhelming majority of the population, they must have also known that it’s morally and ethically indefensible to take goods  from a charity, which had been donated with the express purpose of helping homeless and deprived people, and then selling  these products to raise funds for their own election campaign.   Most people would regard these actions as being heartless, uncaring, and insensitive. These are certainly  not the actions that most people would expect our countenance from aspiring Kent County Councillors.

The fact that Constantine, Ara and Peet are members of the Labour Party makes their apparent lack of ethical judgement appear to be even worse. The Labour Party was founded over a century ago to fight for a better life for the poor, the marginalised and the homeless. Yet here we have 3 senior and active party members who seem  to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to deprive vulnerable people of charitable donations and to use these donations to fund and promote their own political careers. Surely their  actions cannot be anything other than diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy and principles of the Labour Party?  
Thankfully, it would appear that Labour Party do not share Constantine, Ara and Peet’s less than scrupulous approach to fundraising. The Labour Party Rule Book for 2016 requires election candidates and elected representatives to “uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity in public life”.  I hardly think that using charitable donations intended for the poor and  deprived to fund your own political career qualifies as upholding "the highest standards of probity and integrity" . Something which I hope will be taken into account when, and if,  the Labour Party launch a full investigation into what many people believe, were the  shameful actions of these  party members.

Finally, Constantine claims to be a magistrate. According to a conversation I had with a member of staff from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, magistrates must adhere to the Judicial Code of Conduct which, amongst other things, requires judges and magistrates to act with probity and integrity both in court and as part of their everyday life. I think that most people would agree that syphoning off charitable donations destined for homeless and deprived people in order to raise money for your election campaign, falls massively short of the standards of conduct expected from a member of the English judiciary and is likely to been seen as  bringing the magistracy into disrepute. 

Regulations & Law. 
It’s not just ethics and morals which are at issue here, but also Charity and Election laws which may have been broken by Constantine, Ara, Peet, Matthias and O’Grady.  Let’s begin with charity regulations. The Charities Commission, which is responsible for regulating England and Wales’ 167,000 registered charities recently published a guidance document “Charities, Elections and Referendums” which says that
·        Charities must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. Charities must  not donate funds to political parties

  • Charities should be especially wary of associating or becoming associated in the minds of the public, with a particular candidate or political party.

·        Charities must never support particular candidates even if those candidates belong to a range of political parties.

·        Charities must not assist candidates with their election campaigns, financially or otherwise

By handing over charitable donations to help Ramsgate Labour Party fund its campaign to get Constantine and Aras elected to KCC, Food for All has almost certainly broken Charity law. I’ve alerted the Charities Commission to what I have uncovered and I assume it will launch an investigation which could lead to Food for All being struck off the Charity Register and deservedly so!  
It’s also possible that Constantine, Ara and Peet may have acted in breach of election law as well. The Electoral Commission’s publication Local Elections in England May 2017: Guidance for Candidates and Agents sets out the rules for managing an election, including fund raising. It begins by warning that “the election agent has the main responsibility for complying with these rules”, but that “candidates also need to be fully aware of the rules, and ensure that their agent is following them”. So at the time of becoming an election agent, or an election candidate, the onus is on you to familiarise yourself with, and understand, all the regulations and rules governing the election. Ignorance of these rules is no defence if you make mistakes.  
The guidance on accepting donations says “If you take donations that you can’t legally accept, you may commit a criminal offence and we may apply to the courts for it to be forfeited”.  By donations the Electoral Commission means “money, goods or services which are given: towards your candidate spending and have a value of over £50. Some examples of donations include: a gift of money or other property”. The guidance adds “When you receive any donation of more than £50, you must immediately make sure that you know who the donor is and that the donation is from a permissible source”.

Well from the comments posted on Facebook by Constantine and Peet it’s evident that they knew that the Lush products had come from Food for All and that they knew that Food for All is a charity. So what does the Electoral Commission say about accepting donations from a charity?  Here’s what they say “charities are not usually allowed to make political donations under charity law”. So it would seem that the donation of Lush products to Constantine and Ara’s campaign was not a permissible donation and that the donation should, in accordance with Electoral Commission guidance,  be returned to the donor (Food for All) within 30 days. This might be a bit a tricky as half of the donated cosmetics were sold on 18th February. I assume that when impermissible donations are sold to raise cash then the cash raised by the sale of these products must also be handed back to the donor,Food for All. 
I’m amazed why Constantine and Peet  failed to realise that by taking and selling a donation from a charity, they might be breaking election law.  Peet is the Labour Party Election agnet for South Thanet and almost certainly must have had specialist  training on managing elections and election fundraising. Peet also stood as a Labour candidate in the Northwood by-election in 2016 and must again have had some training on election law.  Constantine is already a Thanet District Councillor and has fought 2 election campaigns in Thanet. She also claims to have studied at  Harvard Law School in the USA.  Surely  through their training, studying  and election campaigning  they must have gained a detailed understanding of election law  and realised what they were  doing was unethical, unlawful and wrong?

I’m also astonished why no-one else in the Ramsgate  Labour Party appears to have spotted  what is,  at the very least,  highly questionable,  and at worst,  potentially illegal , fundraising practices employed by Constantine, Ara and Peet. In fact very experienced and senior Labour figures actually backed them. Former Thanet and Kent County Councillor, David Green posted “well done you” on Constantine’s Facebook page in response to her Lush fundraising efforts. Ramsgate Labour Party Treasurer Graham Redwood posted jokingly on Constantine’s Facebook page about her Lush escapades “Now all we need is someone with a bathtub that fits 970 and we can have a mass CLP bubble bath!” I’m also surprised that Labour Party election agent for Thanet North, Keith Veness, “loved” one of Peet’s Facebook posts about the donation and sale of the Lush products. Veness is a very experienced election manager  and was Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s election agent for many years.  I can’t understand why, through his use of the Facebook love tag, he appears  to have endorsed actions which he surely must have known to have been highly questionable, if not illegal. 
This apparent neglect of election regulations by Constantine, Ara and Peet and they failure of the Ramsgate Labour to scrutinize and check upon their actions,  is a very serious matter which threatens to undermine public confidence in the conduct of democratic elections. Rather than brush this extremely important matter under the table and pretend it didn’t happen the Labour Party must launch an immediate investigation into what happened and why.

This is especially important because Constantine has been one of the most vociferous critics of Ramsgate MP, Craig MacKinlay’s alleged election expenses malpractices and has made many public comments about UKIP’s alleged lack of electoral honesty. Yet here we have someone who appears, on the basis of the evidence I have set out in my article, to have been  be acting in a similar manner to those she has publically criticised. Hopefully there will be no whitewash or cover up by the Labour Party. Our democracy must be open, transparent and fair and the Labour Party along with all other political parties, must ensure that it's candidates and agents play be the rules.

The Cover Up.
Unbeknown to Constantine, Ara and Peet the national press was taking an interest in their “syphoning  off” of  charitable donations and the subsequent unethical  and possibly unlawful “Lush for Labour” sale to raise funds for their KCC election campaign. I understand that a journalist from a national paper made contact with Constantine and Peet during the afternoon of Monday 20th  February asking  questions about what they had been up to with the Lush cosmetics. Within an hour of the journalist’s calls election agent  Peet had posted on her Facebook page “Happy to announce that Saturday’s sale of Lush products was so super successful that we are able to give a nice donation to not 1, not 2, but 3 local charities”. 

Apparently  worried by the trouble she might be  in and presumably anxious to get herself Constantine and Ara off the hook, she announced that some, or all, of the cash raised from the sale of the Lush products was destined to go to 3 local charities - the Salvation Army, Oasis and the Thanet Volunteer Bureau, instead of going, as originally intended and advertised, to Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to get Constantine and Ara’s elected to  KCC. They hoped that this rapid change in destination for  the Lush sale cash,  plus storm Doris and the Stoke and Copeland by-election results would spike the newspaper story. They  were right. The national newspaper never published. 
But in some ways this manoeuvre has made things much worse and may have backfired on Constantine, Ara and Peet.  Labour Party members and many others who bought the Lush products did so on the clear and well-publicised understanding that all the proceeds from the sale were going “to the Labour Party KCC Campaign - to replace UKIP in Ramsgate with Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara. However, apart from Peet’s Facebook post on 20 February, there appear to have been no other posts on social media from any of the trio giving a plausible explanation as to why it was suddenly decided to pass on the proceeds of the Lush  to local charities instead.  No doubt many of those people who thought they supporting a worthy cause are now wondering what happened to their money and why.
The truth is that Constantine, Ara, and Peet were caught red-handed by the national press engaging in what was an unethical, and possibly unlawful, election fundraising activity. Instead of being open and honest to all concerned and admitting that the national press had caught them out, they appear instead to have tried to the spike the newspaper story,  save their reputations and hopefully protect their political careers by giving the misleading impressions that it was they who had suddenly decided to pass the Lush sale cash to local charities, rather than the intervention of the national press.

My belief that this is the case is supported by the fact  that Constantine issued, via her union the GMB, a statement to thejournalist on 21 February which says that I fully apologise for not knowing the election funding laws regarding charities. Once the law was made clear to me and I realised there was a mistake I took immediate steps to ensure monies raised - £415 were donated to local charities. I am sorry that this happened and unreservedly apologise. This will not happen again”
To the best of my knowledge this statement has not been published on social media or anywhere else, which indicates to me that this was a “statement of last resort” by Constantine intended to limit damage to her reputation if the national newspaper had published the article, but to be kept under wraps and never allowed to see the light of day if the article wasn’t published.   

Democratic elections are a very precious civil right and those people presenting themselves as candidates and election agents should never seek to gain advantage by cheating and manipulating the system. Anyone caught doing so should be punished by the courts and/ or disciplined by their political party. 

What I have discovered and written about here is straight from the horse’s mouth and based upon pictures, comments and Facebook posts published by Karen Constantine, Kaz Peet, Jennie Matthias and others. The actions of these individuals have in my opinion been reprehensible and unethical. Had it  not been for the intervention of the of national press  Constantine, Ara and Peet would, I believe, have continued to fund Ramsgate Labour Party’s KCC election campaign by  selling off charitable donations intended for the use of vulnerable people. 

Constantine’s apology is hollow and meaningless. She has not said sorry to the hundreds of vulnerable people who, through her actions, have been deprived of products destined for them. Nor has she apologised to the many people who purchased the Lush products in good faith believing that the fundraising sale was legitimate and their money would go to the Ramsgate Labour Party KCC election campaign. Last but not least she has not apologised to  Lush for damaging their reputation by suggesting via her “Lush for Labour” slogan, used  presumably without the company's permission, that it supports the Labour Party. 
The Labour Party rule book says that its election candidates and elected councillors,  MPs & MEPs should “uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity in public life”.  I don’t think Constantine, Ara and Peet come anywhere close to meeting this standard. I believe that the Labour Party should suspend the trio and immediately launch a full investigation into their activities. If it was anything to do with me I would recommend that they all  be expelled from the party, or disallowed from  standing  as Labour candidates because I don’t believe that people who attempt to syphon off charitable donations to  fund their own political careers are  fit to occupy public office. 


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Thanet Council’s £8million Insurance “Difficulties"

It looks as though Thanet Council are having difficulties claiming from their insurance companies, forcing taxpayers to pick up a massive bill, possibly as high as £8 million, which they shouldn’t have had to pay.

First there was the live animal exports compensation payment of £5.1million. The Council confirmed to me via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request I submitted earlier this year,  that they held an insurance policy which provided financial cover to pay for any legal costs and/ or  compensation payments which may have to be paid   for any unlawful or  negligent actions by its offices and/ or elected members”. The council confirmed to me that it had submitted a claim under this policy to cover the costs associated with live animal exports compensation, but that this claim was rejected by the insurers. Why?
Well I tried to get an answer but, in its usual secretive way, TDC refused to tell me, arguing that the information I had requested was exempt under Section 43 of the FOI Act. This defence is utter nonsense and I will appealing against TDCs decision to hide the truth about this failed insurance claim. Perhaps they may  eventually be forced to tell the people of Thanet  the reasons why the insurance claim was rejected  and why must pick up a massive and avoidable £5.1 bill. Perhaps the council had made an administrative error such as, for example,  forgetting to submit its  claim within the insurers prescribed time limit. Hopefully we will soon find out.  
Which leads me nicely to the next alleged insurance “difficulty”. Readers of my blog and the local press will recall that last December, at Canterbury Crown Court, TDC   picked up a criminal record and a £250,000 fine for breaking Health and Safety laws. Over a period of almost 10 years TDC had flouted a series of very important health and safety regulations and as a result a group of approximately 20 staff contracted Hand, Arm, Vibration Syndrome (HAVs) a notifiable industrial disease. The working, leisure and family lives of all of these staff has been seriously damaged and, in some cases, utterly ruined by what the Judge at Canterbury court agreed was Thanet Council’s institutional neglect of staff safety and its duty of care. These member of staff are rightly due compensation payments for the impact that TDCs appalling neglect had had upon their work and family lives and the pain, suffering and massive disruption they have been forced to endure because of the council’s gross incompetence.
I’m no expert, but taking account of the severity of some of the cases and the legal and medical costs related to the compensation negotiations, I would reckon that the final settlement figure  might be close to £3million.  Under normal circumstances the cost of compensation and associated payments would be covered by TDCs employer liability insurance policy, but I’ve heard rumours which suggest that the insurance company may have rejected the claim and that the taxpayers will, like the animal exports compensation, probably be forced to pick up a bill approaching £3million. The rumours also suggest that, once again, the insurance claim was rejected because of alleged administrative mistakes and incompetence by TDC.
Now before Thanet Council, once again, threatens me with legal action and  tries to bully me into taking down this post, I would like to emphasise that the alleged problems with TDCs employer liability insurance claim is,  as I have said, the subject of rumours. But these rumours come from several reliable sources. However, to be certain of what has happened I have submitted a FOI request to TDC to ascertain if all, some, or none of the HAVs compensation payment and associated costs will be covered by its insurance policy. Needless to say I am not expecting a full, open and honest  answer to my questions and am sure that TDC will exploit every trick in the FOI book  to avoid telling the truth about what could be a very serious issue.
But I will continue to pursue these issues because I firmly believe that public bodies like Thanet Council should be held to account for actions, especially when it might involve maladministration and incompetence. I also believe, perhaps naively,  the public bodies like TDC  should be open, honest and truthful to the people it serves, instead of deceitful and dishonest arse watchers determined to cover up the mistkaes and misdeeds  of senior  bosses and politicians  
After all, it looks likely to me that the people of Thanet may be being forced to pick up an astronomic bill of £8 million rejected insurance claims, which may have been rejected because of massive incompetence and maladministration. That’s the equivalent of £57 for every man, woman and child living in Thanet and we all have to right to know what went wrong and who was responsible

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Super Council May Have £1 Billion Super Debt

According to Kent bloggers, Shepway Vox and Ian Driver, plans to create an East Kent super council consisting of Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils will create an organisation with astronomic debts of up to £1 billion pounds.
A Freedom of information request (FOI), submitted by Shepway Vox, to the Public Works Loan Board (PWLP) , a government organisation which lends money to local councils,  shows that,  including interest payments,  the four super-council partners  have, as of 31st December 2016,  debts totalling  a massive £553.33 million.

Canterbury has the largest PWLB debt owing £281.26 million including interest payments. Dover the second largest at £141.87 million including interest; Shepway third at £93million and Thanet fourth with £36million.
But  according to former Thanet Councillor, turned blogger, Ian Driver,  “the actual debt will  be much greater  as each of the four councils are certain to have taken out loans with banks and other  financial institutions over and above their PWLB borrowing. Each of the four councils also have to service large pension fund shortfalls as well.  We will be submitting Freedom of Information requests to the four super council partners seeking figures for their non-PWLB debts including interest payments and it wouldn’t surprise me if the total  debt owed by Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet councils turns out to be in excess of £1billion”.
The huge super council debt is one of reasons why Ashford Borough Council pulled   out of negotiations with Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet, with its Leader, Councillor Gerry Clarkson, reportedly saying he was concerned about the “financial woes” of the other 4 councils.
Said Driver, “if it goes ahead, the establishment of the proposed super council will be the biggest political change in East Kent since the local government re-organisations of the 1970s. The super council will be the largest district council in the UK, serving a population of over 600,000 people, this is twice the size of the average London council. Because of the scale and importance of the change the partner councils should be as open and transparent as possible about their respective financial situations and this should include the publication of full information about all their debts. Shepway Vox and I also believe that the super council is such a fundamental democratic change for the people of East Kent that there must be a binding referendum on whether or not it goes ahead”.  

Manston & Ramsgate. A Tale of 2 Ports

Many people, myself included,  have argued  that Manston Airport and Ramsgate Seaport are economically unsustainable and that they should both be shut down and used for new purposes which will bring benefits for the people of Thanet.
In the case of Manston Airport 2 reports about its economic viability have been commissioned by Thanet Council (TDC) from aviation consultants Falcon and Avia at cost of approximately £100k. The evidence included in these reports has been used by TDC as justification to change the former airport site’s planning designation from aviation only to mixed use. This proposal is now part of the public consultation on TDCs Local Plan and if agreed will allow the council’s planning committee to approve housing and commercial developments to be built on the former airport land.  But what about Ramsgate’s seaport?
Well the approach couldn’t be more different. Having lost an estimated £7.6 million in the 4years  (see my article of 29th December since the collapse of Trans Europa Ferries in April 2013, and facing the prospect of overwhelming competition from Dover Harbour, which begins a £200million improvement and expansion programme later this year, not a penny has been spent by TDC, on commissioning a report on the future economic viability of Ramsgate seaport, nor has there been any public consultation about options for its future use.
It’s astounding that a council which adopted an objective, evidence based, approach towards determining the future of Manston Airport, which it doesn’t own, has not applied the same rules to working out what might be the best options for the future of Ramsgate port, which it does own.  It’s even more astonishing to compare the massive amount of officer and councillor time spent on writing reports and discussing the viability and future of Manston Airport over the past 3 years, with the miniscule time and effort expended by TDC, its officers, and councillors on considering the viability and future of Ramsgate Port.
Last but not least we have  UKIP Council Leader, Chris Wells’ oft-repeated mantra that TDCs current financial problems result from his Labour Party predecessors having recklessly squandered  £14.5 million of taxpayers money  through poor planning and bad decision making. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, Wells is now hypocritically aping Labour by making his own reckless decisions about Ramsgate port  based upon guesswork and wishful thinking rather than solid evidence. Without any independent economic analysis of the future viability of a commercial port operation at Ramsgate, without any consideration of, or public debate about, alternative use options for the port Wells is now gambling a rumoured £6million of taxpayers money on refurbishing the port in the forlorn hope of attracting a passing ferry to ply its trade from Ramsgate.
Or does his apparently  reckless spending belie the more cynical purpose of deceitfully sneaking  into the port, under the guise of preparations for a non-existent ferry operation, a massive expansion  in Brett’s aggregate processing  operations and the possible introduction of a  major waste transfer operation at the port to feed an energy from waste incinerator somewhere nearby? I think I know the answer to this and it’s nothing to do with ferries.  
But whatever the truth might be the bottom line is that the people of Ramsgate deserve to be treated with more respect by their politicians. Instead of having major decisions about the future of their  port forced  on them from above by arrogant, democracy-dodging, out of touch politicians, such as Labour’s 2014 secretive Maritime Plan,  there should be a major public consultation based upon impartial,independent evidence about all the available options. That’s more or less what happened with Manston Airport so why can’t it happen with Ramsgate seaport?  
After all UKIPs 2016 local council manifesto said local communities should  have “more say over what happens in your street, village, town and City. We offer an alternative of direct democracy and empowering the people who elect us. UKIP is putting democracy back into local government”. So come on Chris Wells its time to practice what you preach and lets have some “empowering local democracy” in Ramsgate beginning with a an informed debate and consultation on the future of Ramsgate Port instead of sneaking in your expensive, untested and non-evaluated ideas  under the radar.