My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Exclusive Thanet Council Slaps Down It's Ferry Man

Thanet Council has publically slapped down its new Ramsgate Port Consultant Robert Hardy. Appointed, at great expense, just a month ago to resolve the 4 year struggle to find a new ferry operator for the port, Hardy appears to have angered his new bosses by making unauthorised comments about ferry services from Ramsgate in an interview 2 weeks ago.
Speaking to the influential maritime media organisation Shipping TV, Hardy suggests that TDC should purchase and operate its own cross-channel freight ferry and that this something “we might well be doing” and “it’s not as hard as it looks”. Here’s a video clip of Hardy’s comments
In a humiliating slap down for Hardy, Thanet Council issued a press yesterday (Tuesday 25 April) stating that “the Port does not intend to either purchase or operate ships ourselves”. Ouch!
Humiliating Slap Down?
If Thanet Council is not going to purchase or operate its own ships (TDC is almost bankrupt so how could it afford it anyway?), then what is going to happen instead. Well, according to Hardy, there are only a few operators capable of managing a ferry service to and from Ramsgate and “they make a very short telephone  list – Stenna, P&O,  DFS, Grimmladi, Fiinlandia”. He adds prophetically “If you telephone these 5 people you either get a tick next to one of them or the project is on hold”. So does Thanet Council have a tick in the box from a ferry operator? Has Mr Hardy persuaded any of the big 5 ferry companies to set up services from Ramsgate? I don’t think so. If he had succeeded then rather issuing a humiliating slap-down press release, TDC would have been feting Mr Hardy as an all-conquering maritime hero.

I suspect the truth is that there has been no interest in operating a ferry service from Ramsgate and that in Mr Hardy's words "the project is on hold". I also believe that Brett Aggregate's plans to greatly expand the scale of their aggregate operation at the port will be back on the table, the other side of the county council elections. As will secret talks to turn the port into a waste transfer facility. Both of which I strongly oppose.
One final, and massively insulting,  statement in the Hardy slap-down press release is the claim that Ramsgate Port “can now provide  an innovative, cost effective solution that will significantly reduce congestion and CO” emissions”. What utter nonsensical bollocks this is! Goodness knows who approved this statement for publication? Perhaps they had just taken some mind alerting substances because its totally out of touch with reality.
Thanet Council are on record as saying that they want a port that will handle up to 1 million HGVs a year. How can the hundreds of additional daily heavy vehicle movements created by a freight ferry service from Ramsgate reduce congestion and CO2 emissions in the town? How will the hundreds of additional daily heavy vehicle movements created by a freight ferry service from Ramsgate reduce the pollution from nitrous oxide and the deadly PM10 and PM2.5 particulates which the HGVs and ships will be belching out into Ramsgate’s atmosphere. And how will  the hundreds of additional daily heavy vehicle movements created by a freight ferry service from Ramsgate reduce the high number of deaths in Thanet from airborne pollution. Seldom have I seen a public body issue such an ill-considered  press release which describes  a potential pollution nightmare for Ramsgate as something which will reduce congestion and emissions. 
But it's not just the environmental issues I'm worried about its the economics too. It’s clear to anyone who cares to look that if a ferry operator has not come forward to run a service from Ramsgate in the 4 years since TransEuropa went bust,  then it’s very unlikely an operator will come forward now. In the meantime  TDCs own independently audited accounts show that council tax payers have been forced to cover operational losses at the Port of a massive £7.6million over the past 3 years!
In a few weeks times TDCs accounts for 2016-17 will be audited. On the basis of the fact that hardly any activity has been going on the port over the  past 12 months,  I would estimate that another operating loss of at least £2million  will be recorded. This will bring  total operating losses for the port,   in the 4 years since TransEuropa went bust,  up to a staggering £9.6 million!  On top that at least another £3million has been invested in dredging the port and repairing the berths  in the forlorn hope of enticing  a ferry operator who is not coming. That’s a grand total of almost £13million spent on what is, in effect, a ghost port with no future. That’s the equivalent to a subsidy of £176 from each of Thanet’s 68,000 council tax paying households. I sometimes wonder what it will take to persuade TDC’s spendthrift top bosses and politicians that Ramsgate Port’s role as a traditional commercial harbour has long past and that it’s time to look at alternatives.
Perhaps TDCs top bosses and politicians  should take a look at the short video I made a couple of weeks ago (see below), which sets out a future for the port as a leisure area for visitors. I’ve side it before and I will say it again - a leisure focused port would help to kick start Ramsgate’s visitor economy. It could generate £millions in extra income and could create hundreds of jobs and new investment opportunities.  It would also be much less polluting and dirty than the traditional commercial port Most people I speak to now want to see the port transformed into a visitor/ leisure area, so why doesn’t TDC listen, instead of thinking it knows best and wasting £13million of public money. It’s time for a change.
Ramsgate Port A New Future?
What Do You Think?
Post a comment
Promoted and published by Ian Driver, 45 Sea View Road, CT101BX. Independent Candidate, Kent County Election, Ramsgate Division. 4th May.

Breaking News. Alleged Council Insurance Blunder Costs You £1Million?

In November 2016 I reported that Canterbury Crown Court had fined  Thanet Council (TDC)   £250,000 for  breaching health and safety laws and causing serious and irreparable injury to a large group of its  employees.  The court heard how, over a period of almost a decade,  managers at Thanet Council, including some in the most senior positions, ignored and flouted Health and Safety laws resulting in approximately 20 grounds maintenance staff contracting Hand Arm, Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).  HAVS is a very serious medical condition which is contracted through prolonged, over-use of  vibrating equipment. It  can be extremely  painful,  debilitating,  and life-changing. HAVs is  entirely avoidable if management follows well established guidance but  they didn’t; preferring instead to grossly mismanage staff safety and to break the law as well.

Since my post, sources at Thanet Council have contacted me and made me aware of other developments relating to this appalling  case. I was told that under normal circumstances the injured staff would have been paid compensation via TDCs Employer Liability insurance policy,  and that this policy would have also  covered  legal fees and other associated costs. However my sources said that in this particular  case the insurance company had rejected most of TDCs claim and that council tax payers would be forced a foot bill which, I was informed, could easily top £1million.
I was advised that the insurance claim had been rejected because many of the injured staff were previously employed by a private contractor which used to manage TDCs grounds maintenance operations. This contract ended about 10 years ago and the staff were transferred to the employment of TDC.  At the point of transfer TDC should have conducted medical checks on its new staff but this didn’t happen. The failure to carry out medical checks on the transferring staff led, I have been told, to the insurance company arguing that some of the HAVS affected staff may have contracted the condition whilst they were employed by the private contractor and that therefore some, or all, of the compensation payments and associated costs would not be covered by TDCs Employer Liability insurance. This serious error means that, once again, the poor old council tax payers of Thanet might be forced to pick up a £multi-million bill which should have been covered by insurance, but because of mismanagement and incompetence was not.
I tried to get to the bottom of this matter and submitted a Freedom of Information request to TDC earlier this year. I received a reply from Thanet Council last month  and was astounded to read “that Thanet District Council is moving to issue a refusal notice in reliance of s.14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000: Your request is, no doubt, vexatious” and that “there is no legitimate motivation driven by the information in itself you have requested”.  For TDC to argue that a request for information which may reveal serious mismanagement and significant consequential costs to the public is “vexatious” defies logic.  I can only assume that this refusal might have been motivated by a desire amongst top bosses/ politicians  at TDC  to cover up yet further embarrassing  examples of incompetence, albeit several years ago,  which have led to the tax payer picking up an unnecessary  and avoidable bill.
I will be complaining to the Information Commissioner (IC) about this totally unjustified refusal to answer my questions. I am confident that the IC will agree with me that there is an overwhelming public interest in revealing the truth about the rejection of some/ all  of TDCs insurance claim to cover the cost of the HAVS scandal. I will also be complaining to the council’s external auditor when he inspects TDCs accounts for 2016/17 later this year and requesting that he investigates these matters too. Earlier this year I alluded to this issue  on this blogsite and suggested that TDCs insurers had not have met the claim in full. TDC made no comment on this post so I assume that the information I have been provided with is correct. So the question which needs to be asked is how much will the alleged insurance blunder cost you?
Well this is purely speculation on my part, but I reckon it will be more than  £1million. I have broken this down in the table below
Also it has been brought to my attention that so serious is the condition of some of the HAVs affected staff that they have been placed  on “light duties” and that the council has been forced to hire additional workers to carry out their work which would otherwise not be done. This has allegedly been happening for over 2 years and the additional cost to the council is approaching £250,000.  Although, as I have said, these figures are estimates, my forthcoming complaint to the Council’s external auditor and the IC and other Freedom of Information requests I will be submitting about this matter, will eventually reveal exactly how much this appalling insurance blunder and the associated prolonged corporate flouting of health and safety laws has cost  you the tax payers.
But my real anger is not directed at what I believe to be TDCs corporate cover-up culture, but the way in which TDC  failed to exercise it’s duty of care of 20 or so members of its staff who’s health has now been seriously damaged as a consequence of TDCs incompetence.

Promoted & published by Ian Driver, 45 Sea View Rd, CT10 1BX. Independent Candidate, Kent County Council Election, Ramsgate Division, 4th May

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Ramsgate's Child Poverty Scandal

According to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank  the UK is one the richest nations on earth,  yet today we have news that millions of children and adults across our country  are going hungry.  In a  report published this morning by the  Parliamentary All-Party Group on Hunger,  MPs estimated  that 3 million children go  hungry in the school holidays because they don’t have access to free school meals and their parents can’t  afford to buy them lunch out of term time.  Also today the UKs largest foodbank provider the Trussell Trust reported that it had  provided a record 1.1 million emergency  food parcels for children and adults across the UK in the past 12 months. How can we be considered a wealthy and civilised nation when millions of our citizens, including children, can’t afford regular meals?  This is an unacceptable national scandal which is also having a devastating impact on parts of Thanet and Ramsgate.

Figures produced last year show that out the 67 local council areas in south east England, Thanet has the highest average rate of child poverty.  Out of the 84 parliamentary constituencies in south east England, Thanet fares little better with South Thanet, which includes Ramsgate, having the second highest child poverty rate and North Thanet the seventh.  A detailed analysis of  child poverty rates in Ramsgate paints an even gloomier picture with Newington and Eastcliff having rates approaching 45% which are not only amongst the worst in south east England , but some of the worst in the entire county.
These are truly shameful and worrying figures which demonstrate that despite living in a very rich country a growing number of people, including children, are being forced to live in poverty so extreme that they are forced to skip meals. The causes of this poverty include, unemployment, sickness and disability, low wages, increasing rents, energy bills and council tax, frozen and late payment of benefits and  benefit sanctioning.
To solve this problem we need, as country, to invest in providing more affordable social rented housing for those unable to buy their own homes; control rents in the private sector; cap energy prices and  have a fairer system of in and out of work benefits. We also need, especially in deprived areas such as Thanet and Ramsgate, to be investing heavily in regenerating the local economy and creating sustainable, decently paid jobs.
That’s why I support Discovery Park and support proposals for the Stone Hill Park development on the former Manston Airport site. These industrial parks will both attract significant inward investment, host new and growing businesses,  and help to create many more jobs for the area. In Ramsgate there needs to be a major investment in developing the seafront and turning it into a major visitor attraction. This includes the compulsory purchase of the derelict Pleasurama site and its transformation into a leisure area. The redevelopment of Ramsgate Port into a state of art 21st century modern marina with shops, bars, a fisherman’s wharf etc.  A re-invigorated seafront at Ramsgate will generate £millions every year for local economy and provide hundreds of jobs.
Tackling poverty in Thanet and Ramsgate and throughout the country won’t come cheap but it can,  and should be,  paid for by a fairer system of taxation. And if higher taxes for the wealthy means that children aren't  going hungry and that people are no longer being forced to choose between heating and eating then its price worth paying.

Published  and promoted by Ian Driver,  Independent Candidate, Kent County Council election 4th May 2017, 45 Sae View Road, CT101BX

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Ramsgate Air Pollution: Council's Reckless Irresponsibility

Air Monitoring Station Boundary Road
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 6.5 million deaths a year are directly related to air pollution across the globe. Figures published by Public Health England in 2014 estimated that air pollution in the UK was responsible for 29,000 deaths a year. Of these 29,000 deaths 745 occurred in Kent and 90 of these in Thanet – the highest number in Kent. Clearly, being exposed to air pollution can be extremely dangerous and many people are now calling it the “hidden killer”.  But it’s not just the alarming air pollution death rates which are worrying; air  pollution is also responsible for debilitating respiratory illnesses such as asthma and cardio pulmonary  disease which destroys quality of life for sufferers and costs the economy £billions every year.     

Yet despite WHO and Government warnings pollution, especially from motor vehicles which are one of the major causes of poor air quality,  continues to increase across the globe. And Thanet is no exception. Over the past 3 years Labour, and now UKIP, controlled Thanet Council (TDC) have approved policies which are likely to significantly increase air pollution in the district  and which will lead  to even more pollution related deaths and disability. Here’s how.
Ramsgate Port.   In 2014 Thanet Council’s Labour administration introduce the Ramsgate Maritime Plan. The plan was developed behind closed doors with no public consultation and no opportunity for Ramsgate residents to have say about what happens at their port. The main thrust of the plan was to industrialise the port by attracting freight ferries to Ramsgate and massively expanding   aggregate processing operations at the port.
In 2015 UKIP took control of the Council and  proceeded to implement Labour’s Ramsgate  Maritime Plan with great enthusiasm. They unsuccessfully applied for £4million of Government funding to prepare the port for freight ferry operations capable of handling 1 million HGVs movements a year. They supported Brett Aggregates application to develop a large aggregate washing and crushing plant at the port, which many believe is linked to plans to dredge 2.5million cubic metres of aggregate from the nearby Goodwin Sands as part of Dover Harbour’s expansion programme.  I also understand that our UKIP controlled council is exploring the possibility of developing a large waste transfer station at the port where waste shipped in from London, is sorted and then transferred to an  incinerating plant  to generate power.
A port hosting freight ferries, large scale aggregate processing and waste transfer/ incinerator  operations will inevitably be a very polluting port. Dust from the aggregate processing, emissions from the ships, incinerator  and  hundreds, if not thousands, of HGV vehicles which will be travelling to and from Ramsgate every day will make the port a very dirty and noxious place. And the close proximity of the port to  the densely populated town of Ramsgate means that much of this newly created air  pollution will be breathed in by  Ramsgate’s residents  leading to many more unnecessary deaths and increased rates of pollution related  disability and illness.
Ramsgate Parkway Station. Kent County Council’s plans to build a new railway station at Cliffsend will also be massively polluting. With parking for 350 vehicles many people will be encouraged to use their cars to get to the new station. These extra vehicle movements will lead to higher levels of air pollution in the Ramsgate area.   Surely the answer should have been to improve public transport to Ramsgate station and develop more, and safer, cycling routes to and from the existing Ramsgate station.  But our Labour, Conservative and UKIP councillors don’t seem to give a damn about the health of their constituents as they all shamefully back the plans for Parkway Station!  
I’m  on record as strongly opposing plans to industrialise the Port of Ramsgate. I’ve  been arguing for many years for the council to hold  a major public consultation about its future. I believe that there is a powerful argument to transform the port into a leisure focused, rather than an industrialised area. In my opinion this will lead to the creation of many more jobs and business opportunities than freight  ferries , aggregate and waste processing ever could. But the clinching argument about the future of  Ramsgate Port is, for me, that leisure use would be much less polluting and health damaging than  UKIPs plans for massive industrialisation.  Likewise the environmental and health damage caused by the proposed Thanet Parkway station far outweighs any other benefits the station is likely to have.   
Data Source Public Health England
One other issue I want to mention is the question of air quality monitoring. In Ramsgate a remote air quality monitoring station is located at Boundary Road.  The station is almost  10 years old, is hugely outdated, and no longer fit for purpose.  This is because recent research  on air pollution and health has identified particulate matter (known as PMs), as well as noxious gases such as Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide, as playing a major role in causing ill health, disability and death.  The attention of scientists has, for a number of years, focused on some of the smallest, microscopic, airborne  PMs of 2.5 microns or less in size (PM2.5), which are now  generally recognised to be amongst the most  dangerous components of air pollution because they can penetrate far into the lungs. The main source of PM2.5 is from road vehicles, and also some types of industrial emissions. But although the very serious danger posed by PM2.5 has been known about for some time Thanet Council has failed to update its air quality monitoring equipment at Boundary Road to have the capacity to measure PM2.5 in the air. This means that  nobody knows what the levels of PM2.5 are in Ramsgate's  atmosphere and nobody knows what risks of premature death, disability or illness the people of Ramsgate might face.
For a council,  which is supposedly responsible for safeguarding public health, to be promoting major developments they know to be polluting,  and for that council to fail to properly measure and monitor air quality in its area, is nothing less than reckless irresponsibility towards its citizens. If you vote for me in the KCC elections on  4th May I will hold Thanet and Kent County Council to account for their appalling record on managing and monitoring air pollution and public health in Ramsgate and fight for this to change.  

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Thanet Council’s Empty Homes Scandal

Whilst the country is in the grip of what many experts say is a “housing crisis”, Thanet District Council (TDC)  appears to be making things even worse by losing its grip on one of the causes of the crisis – empty homes – which are estimated to number 200,000 nationwide.

According to the latest Government figures the number of empty homes in Thanet reached 899 in 2016. That’s an increase of  168 additional empty homes compared to 2015 when the number stood at 731. This staggering 23% rise  is unacceptable in a district which has the longest housing waiting list in Kent. But it gets worse. The number of empty homes in Thanet is not just the highest in Kent but the highest out of all of the 74 councils in south east England.  Worse still, TDC’s unacceptable performance is not a one-off glitch.  For many years  TDC  has performed consistently badly in its management of empty homes when compared with the rest of Kent.  Official Government figures show that in the 12 year period 2004 -2016 the number of empty properties in Thanet has been between 2 to 3 times the rate of the rest of Kent, with no sign of this shameful situation changing.

TDC may argue that its poor performance is because it is operating in a deprived seaside area with more than the average number of  flats and houses in multiple occupation  and difficult  to trace absentee landlords which makes tackling empty homes quite tricky.  But I don’t accept this. Take Hastings, which faces similar problems to Thanet – it had just 523 empty homes in 2016 -  376 less than TDC.  Consider Blackpool. It had 1,174 empty homes in 2016, which is 275 more than TDC. But Blackpool is much bigger than Thanet  and has much higher levels of deprivation. Also, in 2016,   both  Blackpool and Hastings successfully  reduced their empty properties numbers when compared with 2015, but in Thanet, as I have already mentioned the number of empty properties  increased by 168.
These statistics demonstrate that TDC has deep-seated and longstanding problems in tackling what is a totally unacceptable situation. Either TDC is incompetent in the way in which manages empty properties, or it simply doesn’t have the political will to take robust action to bring the number of empty homes down.  TDC has plenty of carrots and sticks in its arsenal to persuade, encourage and force the owners of these properties to make them fit and available for habitation but for one reason or another it chooses not to so on the scale which is so urgently required.  This failure is scandal. Just image what a difference making just  half of these 899 empty homes available for rent would make.
If you elect me to Kent County Council  I will tackle this scandal of empty homes in Thanet and hold Thanet to account for its long-standing failure in managing this serious problem. I will also make the increased provision of affordable social rented housing in Thanet one my top priorities.
Published and promoted by Ian Driver, 45 Sea View Road, CT101BX .  Independent candidate, Kent County Council election, 4th May, Ramsgate Division

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Thanet Tops Anti-Depressant Prescription Table

In the week when Prince Harry announced that he has suffered from mental health problems it’s  emerged that Thanet has the highest  per-capita anti-depressant prescription rate in all of Kent and the third highest per-capita anti-depressant prescription rate  in south east England.

According to data analysis company Exasol, in 2016, Thanet had an anti-depressant prescription rate of 1.372 per head of population, the Isle of Wight had a rate of 1,376 and Hastings 1.557. Blackpool had the highest rate in the country with 2.11 prescriptions per head of population and the national average is 1.16.  The data also reveals that there was a staggering 38% increase in anti-depressant prescriptions issued between 2011 – 16, with the number increasing from over 46 million to more than 64 million prescriptions in just 5 years.
The research has also revealed that the highest anti-depressant prescription rates are concentrated in the most deprived areas of the county including the towns and cities of north west and north east of England and deprived, run-down seaside areas in south east England like Thanet and Hasting.  It’s clear to me that the Government’s austerity programme; frozen wages; cuts in benefits and public service; increasing  personal debt;  coupled with the growing housing crisis;  have had a massive impact upon peoples mental health forcing them to turn to anti-depressants to get by every day.
The forthcoming KCC election (and now the general election) gives you the choice to vote for candidates like me who will be focused on promoting and supporting sustainable and environmentally sensitive regeneration in Ramsgate and Thanet and who  will be campaigning for the  investment of  more money to provide better housing, education  and social care for the poorer and most deprived areas of Thanet where people have been arrogantly taken for granted  by UKIP, Labour, and the Tories for far too long.
I think these anti-depressant figures are an indictment on the divided and unfair society we live in. Its time to change it.

Published and promoted by Ian Driver, Independent Candidate, KCC Election, Ramsgate Division. 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs CT10 1BX  

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General Election My Thoughts

So Theresa May said she would never call a snap general election then she did. So what!  Why all the fuss?   She’s a politician and like 99% of all politicians she lies  deceives and misleads. It’s in their DNA.  They can’t help themselves. And let’s face it if the boot was on the other foot Labour, the LibDems and UKIP would have done exactly the same. With your main  political opponent at war with itself  and scoring its  worst  poll ratings in almost 40 years I defy anyone, no matter how principled they claim to be, not to have done have done the same as Theresa May.

So the question is what are the issues in this election? Clearly Brexit is, for  many people, the  number one issue.  But  I for one don’t want to see this election become a re-run of last year’s referendum. I voted for Brexit last year for a number of reasons including the way EU treated Greece, the Brussels democratic deficit, and live animal exports. As far as I am concerned we voted out  and out it will be. But having said that I do believe that parliament should be able to scrutinise and influence the terms on which we leave the EU.
But for me the big issue in this election is our divided society. We have become a nation of haves and have nots. For a so-called civilised country, far too many people are living in poverty. Far too many people are being forced to accept poor housing,   inadequate health care and education, abysmal social care and limited job opportunities. Whilst others enjoy the best everything. There is no sharing. There is no equality of sacrifice. There are no broad shoulders bearing their share of the burden. We are also becoming less and less democratic. Human rights are being eroded, Access to justice denied and discrimination increasing.

But sadly the party which might normally have been looked on as the organisation which could have righted some of these wrongs  is almost certainly going to be hammered into the ground on June the 6th. I also suspect that UKIP, having served its purpose, will  go the same way. My expectation is that there will  be a huge Tory landslide on June 6th  which will herald even more austerity and tough times for those least able to cope.
The only good thing I can see coming from this election is left of centre people re-grouping into some type of non-partisan coalition which can build the basis of a new, modern,  progressive political force to tackle the poverty and injustice which plagues our society. I will certainly be keen to be part of something like this.

KCC Councillors Paid £6.5million 4 Nothing?

In the 4 years since the last KCC election our 87 county councillors have been paid the astronomic total of £6,632 million in expenses and allowances.  In Thanet our 8 KCC councillors (7 UKIP and 1 Labour) have been paid a total of £456,483. That’s an average of £57,000 each which is nice work if you can get it. But the question must be asked whether the people who voted our KCC councillors into office are getting value for money. I’ve done some research and I don’t think so. Here’s why.

Attending meetings. I began my research by submitting a freedom of information request to find out how often KCC councillors turned up to meetings. I was astonished to get this reply “It is the policy of Kent County Council (KCC) to not record this information because it was felt that to do so would not accurately reflect the contribution that an individual Councillor makes to the Council” So let’s get this straight KCC are saying that it’s not important to provide information about how often a councillor attends meetings. Surely voters have right to know how often their councillor becomes engaged in making policy on important issues through debate and discussion at KCC meetings?

Recorded votes. In parliament most votes are recorded and it’s fairly easy to find out how your MP voted on issues you are interested in. At KCC recorded votes are exceptional so it’s impossible to know how your councillor voted on social services, education,  highway, planning or most other issues.

Reporting back KCC used to operate what were called “area committees” which were held quarterly in each of the 12 KCC district council areas including Thanet. The meetings brought together all the KCC councillors for  Thanet  and senior KCC officers from  the different county council  services to engage with the public about what KCC had been doing, what it’s future plans were, and to listen to local people and answer their questions. The area committees provided an important element of democratic public scrutiny, but were abolished shortly after the 2013 KCC elections and have not been replaced by another system.

The lack of meeting attendance records, recorded voting, and official systems for councillors to report back to voters means that KCC councillors are less democratically accountable to their constituents than our Westminster MPs, our district and even our parish councillors!  What makes me angry about this lack of democracy and accountability is that the county councillors themselves (Labour, Tory, UKIP, Lib Dems) agreed without protest to the abolition of the area committee system and the ending of meeting attendance recording.   Presumably our KCC councillors are happy to accept the shameful label of being some of the most unaccountable and anti-democratic politicians outside of North Korea!

Some people might argue that the money saved by abolishing the area committees and record keeping is better spent on protecting education and social services which have suffered massive cuts at the hands of the Conservative and coalition Governments in recent years. I have some sympathy with this argument. But I would also have expected our KCC councillors to have stepped up to the plate and took their own actions to improve their massively reduced accountability to their voters.  

 Had I been in their place  (or should I be elected in May) I would have implemented my own “accountability action plan” which would have tackled KCCs growing culture of unaccountability and lack of democracy which  would have made me the most democratic councillor in Kent.  Here’s my plan.   

But Thanet’s KCC councillors (and many councillors in other districts too) didn’t do a thing to address this EU style “democratic deficit”. Instead they  sat back on their arses, doing virtually nothing  to  proactively engage  with the communities they are supposed to serve and took few actions to make themselves more  publically accountable . In Ramsgate this was most evident on matters of great public  importance such as the well-attended public meetings about the industrialisation of the Port of Ramsgate, meetings about  Pleasurama  and the Live Animal Exports protests to name but a few where our Ramsgate KCC councillors were nowhere to be seen. Which seems a bit strange when UKIPs 2017 election manifesto describes its councillors as “community champions”.

So do we get good value from the £57,000 average payment made to our current Thanet KCC councillors? Well if your measure of value is how accountable and publically engaged your councillors are  - no I don’t think so!

Can this unacceptable situation be improved? Yes! By voting me for KCC on 4th May and electing someone who cares about democracy and public accountability and who has a plan to be the most democratic county councillor in Kent!

Published and promoted by Ian Driver, Independent Candidate, KCC Election, Ramsgate Division. 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs CT10 1BX    

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Royals, Ramsgate & Mental Health

As a lifelong republican who normally doesn’t have a good word to say about the monarchy, today I find myself applauding Prince Harry. Why?  Because he has taken the very brave step of admitting that he has had mental health problems. In so-doing, Prince Harry has the joined the ranks of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Bruno and Alastair Campbell, who have played a magnificent role in helping  to  raise awareness about, and break the taboo and prejudice surrounding,  mental illness. A problem which many of us, myself included, encounter during our lives.
This an issue which is very important to the people of Thanet and Ramsgate, because according to the Kent and Medway Public Health Observatory (KMPHO) we have some of the highest rates of mental illness in Kent.  The KMPHO has also identified that Ramsgate wards Central Harbour, Eastcliff, Newington and Northwood have some of highest rates of mental illness in Thanet.
Source Mental Health Needs Assessment Thanet 2014 Kent & Medway Public Health Observatory
This is hardly surprising because public health researchers identified many years ago a link between poor mental health and  poverty and deprivation. Sadly Ramsgate has, by any definition, the highest rates of deprivation and poverty in south east England with benefit dependency, unemployment, low wages, poor housing, pensioner and child poverty being some of the worst in the county. To help to tackle this serious health problem both Thanet and Kent County Council need to be focusing on regenerating  the areas most affected by mental illness. We need to focus on improving  the schools in Central Harbour, Eastcliff, Newington and Northwood, providing  more decent social housing and creating more well paid jobs.
But even if we do this,  successive Conservative and Labour governments  have cut mental health services to the bone. So although we are  becoming more aware and understanding of mental health issues the services to help sufferers , young and old,  are massively inadequate. There is an urgent need to reverse these cuts, especially in areas like Ramsgate and Thanet where the need for excellent mental services are the greatest.
If elected to Kent County Council on May 4th I will work with community groups, health professionals, schools and decision makers to help to tackle and reduce the unacceptably high rates of mental illness in Thanet and Ramsgate.
Published and promoted by Ian Driver, Independent Candidate, KCC Election, Ramsgate Division. 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs CT10 1BX  

Sunday, 16 April 2017

KCC Gifts 4 Councillors Rules = Corruption Charter

In 2013 the well-respected anti-corruption charity Transparency International produced a report called Corruption in UK Local Government: The Mounting Risk. The report identified a number of areas of local government activity where the risk of fraud and corruption was high such as outsourcing services, procurement, planning etc. The report also looked at the totally unacceptable, but widespread, practice of allowing elected councillors to accept gifts and hospitality from constituents, lobbyists and business. It described this practice as a “channel through which individuals or interest groups might seek to corruptly influence members (councillors)” and argued for stricter controls to reduce the payment of “backhanders” to councillors.

In 2016 the Government’s National Audit Office launched an “Investigation into the acceptance of gifts and hospitality” which although looking at Whitehall civil servants is equally applicable to local government councillors. The investigation report said that the acceptance of gifts and hospitality by civil servants “may create real or perceived conflicts of interests” and that accepting gifts and hospitality “creates a perception of biased decision-making”. This a view I agree with and it applies to local councillors too. The report concluded that whilst low value hospitality such as a drink and sandwich whilst at a meeting or function is reasonable, more lavish gifts and hospitality such a 3 course meal and drinks in a swanky restaurant was not. The investigation also said that declaration systems for recording of gifts and hospitality were not very effective and should be tightened up across the civil service.
All of this makes perfect sense to me and I agree with both Transparency International and the National Audit Office that to avoid perceived, or actual, corruption by civil servants or local authority councillors, there must be very stringent rules and tight monitoring system in place to prevent abuse and the spread of a “backhander culture”. But it doesn’t look as though Kent County Council or its elected councillors have got the message.  According to the KCC Constitution whilst council staff are strictly prohibited from accepting anything but the smallest value gift, benefit, or  hospitality,  councillors, on the other hand, are freely able to accept any “gift, benefit or hospitality”  with an estimated value of less of than £100 without  the need to make any sort of declaration.

The rule applies to gifts, benefits, or hospitality from a single or associated source over the course of a 12 month period. So it’s quite acceptable for a councillor to accept gifts of up to £100 during the course of the year from, multiple, but non associated, constituents, lobby groups, or businesses, for services rendered without any need to make declaration. Here’s the relevant extract from KCC’s Constitution.

Gifts and Hospitality
7. (1) You must, before the end of 28 days beginning with the day of receipt/acceptance, notify the Monitoring Officer of any gift, benefit or hospitality with an estimated value of £100 or more, or a series of gifts, benefits and hospitality from the same or an associated source, with an estimated cumulative value of £100 or more, which are received and accepted by you (in any one calendar year) in the conduct of the business of the Authority, the business of the office to which you have been elected or appointed or when you are acting as representative of the Authority. You must also register the source of the gift, benefit or hospitality. 

Now I don’t know about you, but £100 is not a small amount of money. It would buy a good meal in a decent restaurant, tickets for a gig, or some coke, spliff, or sexual services if that’s your inclination. Procuring kickbacks from multiple non-related people or organisations for supporting and helping their causes could provide a councillor with a pretty decent social life, especially if that councillor had important responsibilities and influence. And I reckon the probability that some county councillors are enjoying the high life courtesy of KCCs s ridiculously lax, out of touch, rules about gifts and hospitality is pretty high.
But here’s the rub! Just one page after the dodgy Gifts and Hospitality rules, KCCs Constitution goes on to talk about the principles of public life and the need for councillors to act honestly and with integrity,  arguing that “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.” How can a councillor who is free to take to up to £100 a year from as many  non-related constituents, businesses, or lobbyists he/ she likes  be acting with integrity and honesty? How can an organisation which has rules which permit  this abuse, be seen to be promoting honesty and integrity?
What makes this worse is that KCC councillors have discussed and voted on changes to the council’s constitution on 6 separate occasions since the last county election in 2013. I am unaware of UKIP, Tory, Labour, LibDem, or Green Party councillors making any effort whatsoever to either end or reduce the appalling £100 gifts and hospitality rule. I can only assume that having your snout in the trough is an accepted practice for councillors at County Hall. But has we saw during the 2010 MPs expenses scandal, just because this abuse is permitted don’t make it right in the eyes of the public! 

In my opinion, KCC’s current policy on gifts and hospitality for councillors is irresponsible. It leaves the door open to widespread corruption and it brings KCC and its councillors into public disrepute. Apart from a cuppa and a sandwich at a meeting KCC councillors should be banned altogether from accepting any form of gifts and hospitality. To do otherwise is to promote corruption in public office and facilitate a dodgy payment for favours culture. If elected to KCC in May I will be fighting to have the current policy overturned and a ban on councillors accepting anything other than a cuppa and a sarnie put in place.    
Want to find out more about my KCC election campaign? Please see my manifesto and video here
Published and promoted by Ian Driver, Independent Candidate,  KCC Election, Ramsgate Division. 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs CT10 1BX  

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Revealed Kent County Council's £1 Billion Debt Mountain

When I decided to stand as candidate in the Kent County Council (KCC) elections one of the first things which struck me was the massive scale of KCC. Everything to do with KCC is big. It covers an area of 1,440 square miles. It has a population of 1.5 million and it also has one of the largest debts of any council in the country.

According to figures produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Kent County Council’s debt was, on 31 December 2016, a staggering £929million. Adding in pension fund debt and expensive PPI agreements for building projects across the county the actual debt is well over £1billion.  But focusing on the £929 million worth of KCC loans, more than half is made up of long term loans from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB); a Government run bank which lends money to local councils and other public sector bodies. The rest of the debt is loans from high street banks and other financial institutions.
My colleague blogger, Bryan Rylands, who publishes ShepwayVox, and who is also standing as an independent candidate for Folkestone West in the forthcoming KCC election, has discovered that in the financial year 2015-16 KCC spent 13.2% of its annual council tax income on servicing its £929 million loans. KCCs council tax income in 2015-15 was £560 million. 13.2% of £560 million works out to be £74 million which was spent on loan repayments in one  year. In the 4 years since the last KCC elections the council has therefore spent £296 million in debt repayment. That’s the equivalent of over 90% of the annual Children Services budget which was £316 million in 16/17.
The question must be asked about how this astronomic mountain of debt can be reduced and the money saved ploughed back into front line services, especially services like schools and social care for the elderly and disabled. As an independent candidate in the KCC election for the Ramsgate Division my answer to this question is that a starting point would be for KCC to have an urgent review of its 1788 registered landownings and properties and begin an asset disposal programe to raise some cash. KCC should also be looking at decentralising from Maidstone and co-locating as many of its services as possible in shared offices with the 12 Kent District Councils or other public bodies such as colleges or the NHS. A well-managed working from home policy could also free up property which could then be sold off. There is also the possibility of KCC using its buildings and land to generate power which can be sold to the grid or used to cut  energy bills.  But ultimately, the abolition of KCC and the devolution of its powers and budgets to a unitary councils across Kent is the answer to tackling this huge debt burden. Getting rid of KCC will save £millions each year and it’s a shame that the recently rejected proposals for an East Kent super council didn’t include taking over the work of KCC.

Further Information
ShepwayVox can be found here
A list and interactive map of KCC property holdings can be found here

Promoted and published by Ian Driver, 45 Sea View Road, Broadstairs, CT101BX

Friday, 14 April 2017

Ramsagate High St Demoltion.Driver's Drivel or Perloff's Prattle?

Photo Mike Pett/ Thanet Extra
In November 2013 Andrew Perloff, Chairman of Panther Securities Limited , paid for  a full page advert in the local press to personally attack me for publishing a blog post which criticised his company for mismanaging what I believed to have been  an extremely dangerous demolition operation at 81-85 High Street Ramsgate. 
Mr Perloff said in the advert “Ian Driver reported incorrect information, but in his blog of 6th November his fiction has gone a little too far making some vitriolic and personal accusations. The building did not collapse; it was a planned and carefully thought out demolition. We discussed the matter with the local police, carefully planning road closures and we ensures the site was secured”.
Photo Mike Pett/ Thanet Extra
He went on to denounce me for spouting what he described as “Driver’s drivel”. Almost 4 years later and it has now emerged at Canterbury Crown Court that the demolition work at 81-85 High Street Ramsgate was not properly planned or managed, that the police were not contacted about the road closure and that the demolition work placed “members of the public at serious risk to their health and safety” after parts of the building collapsed onto the road. In the face of  overwhelming evidence of dangerous and incompetent demolition practice Perloff’s Panther AL (VAT) Limited and its subcontractor were  forced to admit breaching health and safety laws. The case continues in May and I hope Andrew Perloff and his company are punished to the full extent of the law for putting the lives of Ramsgate residents in danager.
Perhaps the people of Ramsgate can now decide who was telling the truth about this extremely badly planned and dangerous incident Driver’s and his Drivel or Perloff and his  Prattle?

Here's a link my original post.  I stand by every word