My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Scandal of Margate’s “£1-a-year Seaside Pier”.

Margate’s historic Harbour Arm is being leased by its owners, Thanet District Council (TDC), to local businessman Mr Graham Knight, for £1 a year.

The lease was granted to Mr Knight, via his company Pineapple Properties (Kent) Limited, in 2008. In 2014 the lease was renewed until 2021. This time to another Knight owned company, The Margate Harbour Arm Company. It is understood that this lease was not subject to any form of competitive bidding.

When taking on the lease in 2008 Knight was awarded a grant from TDC, of £150,000 to refurbish the buildings on the pier It is believed that this grant was supplemented by further grants from the European Union and possibly Kent County Council to cover the costs of the improvement works. I can find no evidence of how much money Mr Knight personally invested in the improvement works to the Harbour Arm

There are now 2 bars, 2 restaurants, 2 cafes, 2 artist studios an art gallery and fisherman’s lock up operating from the pier. The pier is now an extremely popular social hub for visitors and locals. Mr Knight, as the leaseholder, receives the rents from all of the businesses on the pier. In addition there are 41 car parking spaces on the pier. Mr Knight receives the income from these parking spaces as well.

I have estimated that in exchange for paying £1 a year rental, Mr Knight receives an annual income of almost £150,000 from the pier based business and the car parking spaces (see below).

Income Amount
Car Parking Fees. There are 41 car parking spaces on the Harbour Arm. Assuming an occupancy rate of 25 spaces for an average of 4 hours per day 360 days per year at average payment of £7.00 £63,000
Rental income from 2 bars, 2 restaurants, 2 cafes, 1 art gallery, 2 artist studios, fishing lock up. Assuming an average monthly rental income of £700 per property = £6,300 per month £75,600
Total £138,600

This is a conservative estimate and its quite possible that Mr Knight receives much more. But even allowing for the insurance policies, the cleaning and maintenance works which Mr Knight is required to do as part of his lease, it’s very probable that in exchange for £1 a year rent, he makes at least £100,000 profit! Mr Knight is a very, very, lucky man to have this incredible gold-plated lease.

I have also discovered that last year TDC paid £14,900 for electricity supplied to the pier and that Knight and the Harbour Arm businesses appear not to have been charged for their electricity usage. I assume that this free electricity arrangement has been in place throughout the life of the 2 leases and I also believe that the water supply to the pier-based businesses is also paid for by TDC.

A single toilet block serves the entire pier, its businesses and visitors. It is cleaned, maintained and repaired by TDC with no contribution from Knight or the pier businesses. Following a tragic death 3 years ago and several serious accidents, railings are now in the process of being fitted along the length of the pier edge. The cost of these works is £100,000. However Mr Knight and the pier businesses have not been asked by TDC to contribute towards the cost of these essential safety works.

There must be an enquiry into why Mr Knight was granted such a generous lease and why this lease appears not to have been subject to competitive tendering when it was renewed in 2014. The Local Government Act 1972 requires Thanet Council to secure the best consideration for property disposals, which includes leasehold disposals, Clearly, in this case, the best consideration was not secured and literally £100s of thousands of income has been lost to TDC which is already seriously cash-strapped. The council tax-payers of Thanet have also been forced to pay out £10s of thousands every year covering the costs water and electricity supplies, toilets and urgent safety works, which should, in my opinion, have been paid for by Mr Knight and the pier-based businesses who all directly benefited this civic generosity.

It’s hard to believe that a council which is rumoured to be considering making £2million worth of budget cuts next year, which may include staff redundancies, is happy to waste massive sums of public money through its unbelievably stupid giveaway lease for the £1-A-Year Seaside Pier

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Ramsgate Port. Brett Bides It's Time on Expansion

 Last November, in the face of strong public opposition, and objections from Natural England about the environmental implications of its proposals, Brett Aggregates withdrew an application to Kent County Council for a “Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use or Development (CLOPUD) for the erection of a sand and gravel washing plant” at the Port of Ramsgate. 

The application to extend the scope and scale of Brett’s activities at Ramsgate Port was, in my opinion, linked to the £200million expansion of Dover Harbour which is set to begin very soon. 

It was proposed by the Dover Harbour Board (DHB) that it would obtain much of the building material required for this massive construction project by dredging 2.5 million cubic metres of aggregates from the Goodwin Sands. The dredging operations, if approved and licensed by the Government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO), will take place 24/7 over a 3 year period. By anyone’s standards this is a very large aggregate dredging operation which will provide those within the industry with an opportunity of securing very lucrative contracts.

Having a sizeable operational base at Ramsgate Port, which is close to both the Goodwin Sands and Dover Harbour, and which could be used to process the dredged aggregate, would clearly place Brett in a very advantageous position to win aggregate dredging and processing contracts with DHB. As would the fact that Brett also has a successful marine dredging subsidiary which owns several large sea-going dredgers. It’s clear to me that Brett’s expansion plans at Ramsgate Port are related to DHB’s huge expansion plans and the profits the company could expect to make from any contracts to deliver this work.

But why gamble your cash and waste valuable time and resources in preparing for a business opportunity which is not guaranteed? Because it’s far from certain that Dover Harbour Board will be granted a dredging licence for the Goodwin Sands by the MMO. And this is precisely why I believe Brett withdrew their expansion plans last year and why the company is now biding its time until the future is clearer.

Well following a discussion with the MMO’s Goodwin Sands Case Officer, and in the words of one of my favourite reggae artists, Johnny Nash, “I can see clearly now” about the decision making process and the timescale for approving, or rejecting, DHB’s dredging licence and it goes like this.

Earlier this year the MMO requested DHB to provide it with further information about how it plans to conduct the proposed dredging operations. DHB is set to provide this information by the end of August. On receipt, the information will be published on the MMO website. This will be followed by a third and final public consultation exercise relating to the new information and whether a dredging licence should be granted to DHB. The consultation process will take six weeks and then the MMO will collate and consider the responses before making its final decision.

The public consultation process will generate a very large response because many people, myself included, are opposed to the dredging plans. The consultation will raise some very important issues about the impact of large-scale dredging on the habitat provided by the Goodwin Sands and the threat to sea life this might pose. There are also concerns that dredging the Goodwin Sands may have an impact on tidal flow and coastal erosion. Furthermore many people are worried about the impact of dredging upon the archaeology of the Goodwin Sands which is reputed to be the site of at least 2,000 shipwrecks and countless crashed aircraft from WorldWar2. The sands are last resting place of literally thousands of mariners and aircrew. Just this week actor, Mark Rylance, who stars in the new blockbusting film, Dunkirk, has denounced plans to dredge the Sands as “disrespectful and insulting” to those who perished there during the war.

The complex and technical, aspects of the new information and the sheer volume of responses to the final public consultation mean that a decision on whether to grant DHB a dredging licence is unlikely to be made until the end of this year, or possibly in the new year. This gives Brett several months to evaluate the chances of a licence being awarded to DHB and whether or not to dust down its plans to expand its activities at Ramsgate Port.

My guess is that because the DHB and MMO are both Government bodies and because the Government is backing DHB’s expansion plans, the chance of a dredging licence being granted is pretty high. This means that the people of Ramsgate need to be preparing for a long, tough, drawn out battle to fight-off Brett’s plans and prevent the port and seafront from becoming a heavily industrialised and potentially polluting area. This is something that most people don’t want.  

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ramsgate Port, Council Leader Wells, FakeNews & FakeSheiks

Soon to be ex-Council Leader  Chris Wells
On 30 July I published an article about how the Port of Ramsgate had lost an eye-watering £17.7million in 7 years and how, after more than 4 of years of trying, not a single operator had come forward with serious plans to re-start a ferry service from Ramsgate following the collapse of Trans Europa in 2013. 

Within 3 days of my article being published, the Thanet Extra ran a story “Baltic ferry company in in talks over Ramsgate berth”. Within a week of my article being published the Kent on Sunday ran a similar story “Port in Pole position for ferries as Baltic firm meets the council”. These articles are, in my opinion, fake news based upon a press release issued by Thanet Council and UKIP Council Leader Chris Wells aimed at distracting public attention away from my revelations about the increasingly desperate financial problems faced by Ramsgate Port and the urgent need for TDC to explore new options for its future.

If TDC and Council Leader Wells were remotely confident about sealing a deal for a new ferry service from Ramsgate then I would have expected them to have made a triumphal, high profile, announcement on the council’s website  about such important news. But they didn’t. 

Instead TDC and Council Leader Wells issued a media statement (see below) which refers only in the vaguest of terms to “discussions with interested parties”. The statement doesn’t say how many interested parties the council has been in discussions with. The statement doesn’t say what form these discussions took. Were they just basic information gathering telephone calls and e-mail exchanges, or  face to face discussions involving serious negotiations? Nor does the statement say when these discussions took place, over how long, and whether or not they are current and on going.

My suspicion is that the discussions referred to in TDC’s and Chris Wells’ media statement were of a very basic, exploratory nature, which took some place some time ago, and that none of these discussions have developed into serious on-going negotiations about the re-introduction of a ferry service at Ramsgate. But just to be sure I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to TDC to find out more about them. I have a feeling that the powers that be at TDC are likely to use their influence to try to block my information request so as to avoid the embarrassment at being caught bang to rights peddling fake news. 

But, when it comes to Ramsgate Port, TDC’s political leaders aren’t averse to media manipulation and the deployment of fake news. In 1982, worried about the future of future of the port, the then leader of TDC councillor Derek Dolding hired a large Chevrolet car, disguised himself in Arabian costume, and drove around Ramsgate Port and Harbour pretending to be a super-rich oil-Sheik interested in investing in the port. Fake news and deception didn’t work then and it won’t work now. The real truth is that Ramsgate Port is in extremely serious financial trouble and it is highly unlikely to be rescued by a Polish Ferry company or an Arabian Sheik. 

It time for TDC to develop plan instead of living in the past an continuing to waste public money

The Fake News Statement

Cllr Wells, Leader of the Council said: “Over the last two years, Thanet District Council has been working on re-establishing ferry services at the Port of Ramsgate. This has included investment in dredging and repairs of the Ro-Ro berths to ensure we are ready for business. The team, which includes a consultant with over 30 years’ experience of the cross channel market, has been in discussions with several interested parties, both in the UK and on the continent, to provide a long term sustainable solution and to relieve some of the traffic issues approaching the Port of Dover.”

Friday, 4 August 2017

Thanet Council’s £5.3 Million Agency Staff Scandal (Part1)

In the past the 3 years Thanet District Council (TDC) has spent an unbelievable £5.315 million on the employment of temporary agency staff! That’s the equivalent of £34,000 per week, every week, for 3 years!

Thanet’s stupendous agency staff binge towers like a colossus over Kent’s other district councils. Its total spending during the past 3 financial years accounts for a staggering 40% of the combined £13,624 million total for the 10 district councils who replied to my information requests.

Thanet Council has lashed out almost 4 times more than its nearest comparator, Shepway Council, which spent £1.613 million on agency staff in 3years, whilst the lowest spender Ashford Council paid out just £294,286 over 3 years which is 16 times less than Thanet.

So what has this crazy amount of money been spent on? Well I’ve worked out that almost £4 million, or 75% of the total £5,313 has been spent on employing agency staff in the council’s Operational Services department which is managed by 4-day-a-week working, “oop-Norf” commuting, £101,000 salaried director, Mr Gavin Waite. My understanding is that this money is used to the pay the wages of street cleaners, refuse workers, and grounds maintenance staff.

But why? What’s the point in employing so many agency staff? Most of the jobs carried out by agency workers are year-round permanent jobs. So why does Thanet Council not employ the agency workers itself? Allowing for employment agency mark-ups/ commission surely it would be much cheaper for TDC and taxpayers to take these workers on as full-time TDC employees? 

Perhaps Thanet Council has a secret policy of having a two

tier system of employment apartheid whereby blue collar staff are employed through agencies with lower pay, fewer benefits and workplace rights, than the relatively better paid, permanent, directly employed, TDC staff. Whatever the explanation might be, as a lifelong socialist, I am totally opposed to the casualization/ outsourcing of jobs. In my opinion this practice directly contributes to the large and growing low-pay scandal in Thanet where average wages are amongst some of the lowest in the country.  

Which brings me nicely to my next question. What did the Labour Party under the leadership of Clive Hart and Iris Johnston do to tackle this unacceptable situation when they were running Thanet Council between 2011-15? Surely as a party committed to tackling low pay and unfair employment practices they would have tried to reduce TDC’s use of agency staff. But no they didn’t. This unfair practice actually began to grow under labour and has continued to do so ever since. I also wonder why the trade unions appear to have done very little to oppose the casualization of work at TDC? Perhaps someone  could contact me to talk about it?

I would also be very interested in talking to agency staff who work for Thanet Council, so that I can gather information about how the system works and what the pros and cons might be. Ideally people working the HRGO agency. Anyone else who has information about what appears to be an excessive use of agency staff by Thanet Council please contact me too. You have my word that any discussions will be confidential and I will use the information as the basis of a future blog.

I will shortly be publishing another blog about Thanet Council’s use of employment agencies and I have some startling revelations which I am sure you be interested in. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Broadstairs Folk Week Racist? Morris Federation & Experts Share My Concerns

It’s a free country and everyone has right to voice their opinion. So when I published my article alleging that the organisers of Broadstairs Folk Week were institutionally racist, I expected and  accepted the strong criticism and abuse which came my way. And I got a lot. Whilst I’m not that keen on abuse, I do not object to, or resent, strongly expressed disagreement. After all I’m not always right and as my kids will tell you I’m often wrong.

But on the question of blacked-up Morris dancers I do not believe I am wrong. In my opinion, the Border Morris tradition of blacking-up to perform is offensive, racist, and unacceptable in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. And for organisations like the Broadstairs Folk Week to officially encourage and financially support blacked-up Morris dancers to visit and perform at the festival is nothing less than shameful institutional racism. That’s why I believe the Festival Director, Jo Tuffs should resign!

And it’s not  just me who believes there is important race

related issue here. So do some  Morris dancers, some of whom have contacted me after the publication on my first article. There a has also been some very serious academic research carried out this issue. I would advise anyone who subscribes to the “disguise” , “chimney sweep”, or “coal miner” explanations of why Border Morris dancers black-up to read Chloe Metcalfe’s article “To black up or not to black up” which was published in the Morris Federation Newsletter of Winter 2013. 

Metcalfe, a Morris dancer herself, spent a year researching a dissertation on Morris dancer costumes for her degree. In that time she reviewed countless historic documents, folk history books, academic articles, and a PhD thesis on the subject of blacking-up in folk traditions. Her conclusion is “that there is a strong link between the introduction of face blacking in Morris dancing and the arrival of minstrelsy from America in the 1830s”. In short the blacking-up tradition in Morris dancing resulted from dancers copying the touring American minstrel shows, who were extremely popular in this country during the Victorian period and, who themselves, were blacking-up to parody Afro-Americans. 

So the historic evidence speaks for itself – the blacking-up of Morris dancers to perform has strong racist links and the organisers of Broadstairs Folk Week should not in any way been seen to be encouraging, or lending support to, a tradition linked to such offensive and unacceptable practices.

Last but not least the governing body of Morris dancing, the Morris Federation, has   become much more sensitive to the issue of blacking-up by dancers. So much so that it has  issued comprehensive guidance to its members. Here’s the link

The Federation warns that many people find blacking-up by Morris dancers very offensive. The Federation also warns that blacking-up may also be a criminal offense under the Equality Act 2010 and blacked-up performers run the risk of being prosecuted. It advises its members that the further “they move away from full black makeup, the further they move away from the suggestion that what they are doing when adopting a disguise is related to race”. The Federation “asks teams that use black face paint to recognise the impact that their disguise may have on their audience, and to consider: using a different form of disguise; changing the colour of their face paint” and points out that “there are alternatives to blacking up that can be just as effective”.

This advice is not new and, I imagine, is fairly well known within the Morris dance and folk music community. As an influential and respected voice within that community surely Broadstairs Folk Week Director, Jo Tuffs, and her organising committee should have publicised the Federation’s advice on its website and it’s Facebook page and warned that it would not support any Morris troupes who failed to follow Federation advice. But they didn’t? Why not? Because the Broadstairs Folk Week has buried its head in the sand and its failure to act on this issue demonstrates that's it is  institutionally racist and brings shame to Broadstairs, Thanet and Kent! 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Broadstairs Folk Week Institutionally Racist!

Broadstairs Folk Week, which is taking place between 11-18 August, is, in my opinion, institutionally racist! It’s organising committee and Director, Jo Tuffs, actively endorse and provide financial support for Morris dancers and musicians from the “Border tradition” who are renowned for blacking-up for their performances. A practice many people, myself included, believe to be offensive and racist. 

Over the past 40 years “blacking up” by TV, stage, and cinema performers has all but disappeared with most people regarding it as distasteful and inappropriate. Yet despite pubic disproval blacking-up has survived and is flourishing within the Morris dancing and folk music community including, to its shame, the prestigious Broadstairs Folk Week.

The festival’s official Facebook page includes several photographs of “blacked up” Morris dancers participating in the 2016 “Big Parade – a family-friendly procession of music, morris and magic” which launches the festival each year. Their inclusion in the parade amounts to an official endorsement by festival organisers of blacking-up and the racist message which this sends out.

The festival’s website encourages Morris dance troupes across the country to visit Broadstairs Folk Week “to busk and take part in our big parade” and “to perform in show spots and run workshops”. In exchange performers receive free festival tickets worth £39 per day and subsidised camping for £5 per night. Some of the Morris troupes taking advantage of this generous offer black-up to perform. To provide those who engage in this offensive behaviour with the equivalent of £39 per day plus cheap camping is nothing less than a disgraceful financial subsidy for racism by the festival organisers and Director Tuffs.

Whatever the historic explanations and justifications for blacking-up might be this practice is no longer acceptable, especially in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. Instead of encouraging and supporting such offensive, racist, behaviour influential organisations and individuals in the Morris dancing and folk music community such as Tuffs and the Broadstairs Folk should be opposing and challenging it.

On 16th July I emailed the festival organisers writing that “to allow "blacked-up" Morris dancers to perform without challenge or criticism is insensitive, panders to racism and is plain wrong”. I pointed out that following complaints in 2016 the Shrewsbury Folk Festival had withdrawn its support from blacked-up Morris dancers and I urged the Broadstairs festival organisers, “to follow the brave and principled stance taken by the Shrewsbury Folk Festival and make a public statement about this totally unacceptable and racist practice before this year’s festival begins”

My e-mail went unanswered so I called the Folk Week office

on 26th July. My call was answered by Festival Director Jo Tuffs who as curt, off-handed and disinterested to the point of rudeness. I followed up this conversation with an e-mail to Tuffs expressing concerns about inaction over my complaint and offering to speak to the festival organising committee about the issue. I have not received a reply to this e-mail. 

I have been left with the impression that Tuffs and her organising committee don’t give a damn about the offence being caused by the Border Morris dancers and are happy to continue to encourage and financially support what many people believe to be the racism in the guise of a tradition by this shameful group of performers. 

Unless Tuffs and her organising committee take immediate action including the exclusion of Border Morris dancers from all official festival events, the withdrawal of free tickets to these dancers and the issuing of a statement dissociating the festival from blacked up dancers, I will contact the Charities Commission to ask for an investigation into whether Folk Week is in breach of its charitable objectives to promote multiculturalism. I will also contact Folk Week sponsors to ask them to reconsider funding a festival which currently appears to be encouraging and supporting racism.

It’s interesting to note that Broadstairs and St Peter’s Town Council, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council provide several thousands of pounds of funding to the Folk Week organisers. When providing such funding councils must adhere to the 2010 Equality Act and its public sector equality duty which requires funding to used, amongst other things, to “foster good relations” between people from different races and cultures and to “eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation”. Allowing public funds to be donated to an organisation which endorses and provides financial support to white Morris dancers who black-up is, in my book, tottally opposed to the public sector duty and if things don’t change Broadstairs and St Peter’s Town Council, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council should no longer fund Folk Week.

 NOTE the overwhelming majority of those who visit, perform at, or volunteer to help at Folk Week are I am sure decent, music loving, non-racists who are coming to Broadstairs to enjoy themselves and I wish them well. 

However the organisers of the festival have a duty to ensure that practices which offend, and which many perceive to be racist, should not in any way be tolerated or supported. I am extremely disappointed by the reaction of festival Director Jo Tuffs to my complaint and believe that she has demonstrated that she is not the right person to deal with this and should step aside to make room for someone who can.