Saturday, 24 November 2012

Saturday ramble

Customers are managing to get to my bookshop today despite the rain, frankly apart from shopping in the multiples, which probably means browsing books there and buying them online from a large company that avoids UK taxes the options are very limited.

The former Alexandra Hotel’s scaffolding has come off sorry about the picture mobile phone in the dark, if it ever stops raining I will go and take a better one.

I managed to get out and get an Isle of Thanet Gazette it seems Cllr Shirley Tomlinson is standing down from her role as cabinet member and offering to stand aside from the Conservative group while she faces her drinking and driving charge.

The Conservative group don’t seem to have found a new shadow cabinet member and appear to be carrying on one down for the time being.

The ongoing Royal Sands on the Pleasurama site is rumbling in the letters, I guess it is looking increasingly unlikely it will ever get over the cliff top. I always thought it would be the safety aspects, particularly building on a high risk flood zone that would do for it. Now it is looking much more likely to be the credentials of SFP the company behind it.

Here is Cllr Driver’s letter from the previous week’s Gazette:

Dear Editor
I read with interest (Thanet Gazette 2 November) Terence Painter’s claim that the developer of the former Pleasurama site at Ramsgate Royal Sands, SFP Ventures UK Ltd, “has a strong track record of (managing) similar developments in Portugal”. I understand that SFP Ventures UK Ltd  also claims   to have managed  large developments in Ipswich and Lowestoft.
I spent several hours Googling to substantiate these claims.  I found no evidence to prove that SFP Ventures UK Ltd  have managed developments in Ipswich, Lowestoft, Portugal or anywhere else for that matter. I also understand that Thanet Council has never been provided with independent, corroborative evidence which demonstrates that the company have managed any building development projects.  
I checked SFP Ventures UK Ltd  vital statistics on the Companies House website. According to it’s latest accounts it had a turnover of £1.9million in 2011. After paying its creditors the company made an operating loss of £859.
These are not the type of accounts  I would reasonably expect to see  from a company which Mr Painter describes as having a “strong track record” of managing large building developments in Portugal. 
SFP’s  lacklustre financial performance, coupled with its  long record of inactivity at the Pleasurama site,   leads me to wonder whether this company is the right partner to work with Thanet  Council to  deliver  this major £36 million regeneration project.
I also discovered on the Companies House website that  SFP Ventures UK Ltd  recently appointed  a second director who is a 23 year old student. Not wanting to sound ageist,  I doubt whether the vast majority of  23 year olds would have the experience, skill or  knowledge to be a Director of a  company which according to Mr Painter has a “strong track record”  of managing large multi £million building projects in Portugal and elsewhere.
SFP Ventures UK Ltd the current developer, its predecessor company SFP Venture Partners Ltd and it’s parent company SFP Services Ltd  (both of whom are off-shore companies which have never been registered at Companies House)  have been involved in the development of the Pleasrurama site for more than 10 years. In that time precious little work  has taken place, apart from turning a large piece of publically owned and valuable real estate into a disgraceful eyesore.
I note Mr Painter’s suggestion in his capacity as SFP’s official spokesman and sales agent, that to overcome the decade of delays your readers “should be shouting at Councillors” to encourage them to reach a new agreement  which includes the Council handing over the freehold of an extremely valuable plot of prime site public land to his clients for the princely sum of £3 million.
I totally agree with Mr Painter about the shouting!  However, I suggest that your readers should actually be shouting at Councillors to encourage them to carefully review how the blot on our landscape we fondly call the Pleasurama development  came about, and  give thoughtful consideration as to whether  Mr Painter’s client is actually the most suitable organisation to continue the development of this site.
Failure to take  a long hard look at the proposed new agreement with SFP might, despite the £3 million, cost the Council and the people of Thanet dear.
 Cllr Ian Driver

I think this is the first time that a Councillor has publicly gone as far as to say the company behind the venture doesn’t appear to exist in any real sense.

I guess this really does leave the onus on those supporting the development to show us some evidence of the other developments this company is responsible for.

Another taxi office opening in Ramsgate town centre, that’s two in two weeks.

Last nights sketch in The Belgian Café didn’t go that well, my excuse being that people kept moving 

I will probably ramble on here

32 comments:

  1. Nice one Ian. I might not agree with everything he says and does, but at least he cares.

    Regarding Shirley, I also understand she'll now be an independent councillor, is that correct?

    ReplyDelete
  2. its time to go back to what the genuine towns folk or ramsgit want on that site not pipe dreams proper indoor swimming pool / ice skating rink etc

    ReplyDelete
  3. at least its two more shops not standing empty making the town look dirty the council do that on there own with the lack of street sweeping

    ReplyDelete
  4. Driver's letter goes straight the heart of the matter. He has said what needed to be said. Though to be fair, Michael has been making the self same points for years.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I look forward to SFP's reply. I would have had more respect for Driver if had also put his points to SFP direct.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John I don’t think he could put his questions to them, I think they are purely a company on paper with a post box.

      Try googling SFP Ventures and then google the address you get, it’s an education.

      I don’t think you could for instance, phone them up or email them, they don’t have a website either.

      You also have to appreciate that the council started dealing with SFP in the Virgin Islands and the UK company was formed several years later.

      Delete
    2. There was also the largest-ever donation to Ramsgate Labour Party of £25k (and the same offer to the Conservatives). Possibly similar offers too for ChinaGate from memory.

      With unanimous votes from councillors and (very well-paid) civil servant silence and no real inquiry into the goings-on, or even viable blueprints, it looks like bungs doesn't it?

      Call the Police in and let them cover it up or make arrests.

      We seem to have the public doing the public sector's jobs for them and paying them too.

      Delete
    3. SFP have an address in Billericay, albeit that the postcode and address do not match. They are either in a business park or a private house just down the road. It does not matter if they have neither phone, e-mail nor website. A good old fashioned letter will have a greater impact, especially if comes from a TDC solicitor. I do not accept that TDC are not in contact with SFP, nor that SFP does not have personnel here in UK.

      Something is not right with this project. It is ripe for a forensic investigation, by journalists or the police. I get the impression that it is all slowly coming on top, and that there are some nervous people out there. Maybe someone will talk.

      Delete
    4. John, TDC do not have to write to SFP they can talk to them in the council chamber

      Delete
    5. Michael, sometimes you are swift to remove comments as potential libel. Is it not also so to suggest that members of the council might also be with SFP?

      Delete
    6. Ken Read is a respected and well known local figure, not an anonymous commentator, so I didn’t delete the comment.

      There is of course the other factor that if the parent company of SFP UK is still offshore, then the identity of senor company members could quite legitimately be secret, as they wouldn’t have to comply with UK company law.

      Delete
    7. Anon 9.52. In 08 or 09 when the previous amendment to Pleasurama development agreement was requested by SFP, the then Chief Financial Officer of TDC recommended withdrawing from the agreement. This recommendation was overruled by the councillors, I will leave it to your imagination why this would happen.

      I believe I have met a director of SFP, I cannot prove it and therefore cannot name that person.

      Delete
  6. Many thanks Michael for another, as ever, entertaining blog.
    Maybe there is now enough ammo [in Cllr Driver's letter alone?] to get a major national newspaper involved ... before Levenson curtails their powers of investigative journalism totally. They may discover and publicise what we cannot or dare not. If the BBC have finished being the news instead of reporting it, maybe they could put one of their people on the case too?
    Just one thing Michael ... please don't knock the internet book sites too hard - for those of us on a fixed and limited income, they mean that we can acquire new books at low cost whilst your own shop provides used examples of older tomes. This world is big enough for both of you [and think of the numbers of jobs, NI, rates, tax etc paid by those big internet book sheds ... they DO contribute to our economy too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Michael do you know if cardy has had any payment from SFP or can anyone answer this

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Slim, my understanding is that Cardy were to put up £1.5m towards the development, so they may not have been due a payment. When they started work on the site Cardys were very communicative, my last communication from them was when they abandoned the site leaving a steel container open. I took them to task over this as I thought it was dangerous, writing to them and finally having a heated conversation with one of their workers who was parked by the site gates. Eventually I extracted a promise fromtheir MD that the container would be locked and it was. Subsequent attempts at communicating with them haven’t elicited any response

      Delete
    2. this may mean that cardy are the losers in all this farce then sfp still not using cash they dont seem to have

      Delete
    3. Slim you have to appreciate the Cardy are not the first main contractor for this development, there have been several previous main contractors that pulled out.

      I guess a great problem here is that the development and its progress has been shrouded in secrecy.

      Why a reputable firm like Cardy would involve itself in a development on an EA designated high risk flood zone, without having the flood risk assessment strongly recommended by the EA is a mystery to me.

      However their involvement only seemed to be tree men and a digger for about nine months so I wouldn’t have though they could have incurred significant losses.

      Delete
  8. I agree with john as a true ramsgitonion I think its time for the police to investigate as money seems to have gone to the ruling party funds???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Private Eye' may be interested in this story.

      There are now some frightened people involved in this debacle. Maybe it is the time for them to speak up, if only to save their own skins.

      Delete
    2. Interesting how Cllr Driver considers a 23 year old as too young to be a director yet supported the appointment of another 23 year old as mayor of Margate. Incidentally, how old was Guy Gibson when he led the Dambuster raid? On another day, we might hear shouts of 'ageism' especially if the dreaded Tories were involved.

      Delete
    3. Do you really believe that both roles are comparable?

      Delete
    4. Probably not, Peter, but it is a bit hypocritical to suggest that one 23 year old is too young for a role whilst another is not. After all, there have been plenty of examples of people in their early twenties launching what were to become multi-national businesses. Check out the ages of Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Allan Sugar when they got started.

      Delete
    5. There is a difference beween a public body (TDC) signing a contract with a reputable company and a public body signining up with a entrepreneur that has no track record. I am sure the audit authorities would not let the public body do this as it would be a risk with public funds.

      Delete
    6. Anon 1:39

      I am afraid you have lost me. The debate you replied to is over the hyprocrisy of suggestimng a 23 year old is too young to be a director but not too young to be a mayor. On your point about TDC signing up with an entrepreneur or company with no track record, that seems to be precisely what they did irrespective of auditors.

      Delete
    7. I think I should point out here that the directors of SFP UK have changed on numerous occasions since it formed in 2006, with none of the initial directors being directors now.

      I think Cllr Driver misunderstood its negative net worth as a trading loss and its liabilities and assets as being its turnover.

      I wouldn’t think that directors of this company would necessarily have any more function than appearing on the list of directors.

      I think age only really becomes a consideration if it is associated with some function.

      Delete
    8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    9. 10.49 comment deleted due to potentially libellous content, I assume you don’t want me institute comment moderation here, or face legal action yourself.

      Delete
  9. I haven’t heard that SFP made any donation to either party, I also don’t think it would be illegal if they had.

    I would imagine it would be easy enough to find out, as I believe political parties keep records of donations.

    Obviously as this was the Virgin Islands company back before the UK company it wouldn’t be possible to find out what monies went where as I believe they wouldn’t have been obliged to keep any accounts.

    John I think if you google the address in Billericay you will find it is the postal address of numerous companies, I lost count after a few pages.

    The two key questions for me in terms of councillor actions, is why did they chose an offshore company with no known track record and turn down the Westciff Park Estates people who wanted to gift the town a new swimming pool there as part of their development. At the time the council councillors and MP said it was because they had no credibility, but as they were building the development opposite the boating pool this seems unlikely. The other is why the Conservative cabinet went against officer advice, which was to pull out in 2009, this advice was given by the then head of finance now chief executive.

    Col in terms of online booksellers, when it comes to ordinary new books I don’t see any real reason why the High Street shops should be significantly dearer when you factor in postage, but they are.

    The real problem is more of a social one, a town without a bookshop and diminishing library services may develop a serious cultural void.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael, yet again you show your bias, highlighting that in 2009 the Conservative council ignored officers advice, but failing to point out that it was a Labour council and MP who went for an offshore company over Westcliff Park Estates at the outset of this saga.

      There seems to be a history of mistakes here over a long period, but to try to attribute blame more to one administration than another, as you do in your comment above, explains why most of us Tories regard you and your blog in the same light as The Guardian. Unfortunately, your odd protestations and claims to floating voter status fall on deaf ears on the right side of the line.

      Delete
    2. Apologies Tom, my understanding is the Labour led council and MP went with a project that was initially in 2002 a project financed by what appeared to be a Swiss bank Société Financière Privée S.A. (SFP) and supported by the brewer Whitbread.

      I still have the presentation document showing an outline plan for a much smaller development including a Whitbread run hotel saying that the financier was the Swiss bank.

      At some time around the change from the Labour administration to the Conservative administration this all changed to the much larger development, higher than the cliff, with no Whitbread involvement, put forward exclusively by SFP Venture Partners a Virgin Islands company with no UK offices.

      I became interested in this because the planning sheets showed the development was about 3 metres higher than the cliff where I often sit and eat my sandwiches at lunch time.

      I tried to object to the planning application at this time, the Conservatives had just come into power it wasn’t however the conservative councillors or cabinet I contacted but the planning department.

      I was told it was too late to object and the obstruction of the view wasn’t grounds for objection, my pointing out that the planning and design statement said the building was well below the cliff only seemed to make them more resolute.

      Delete
    3. Michael, It seems unfortunate that a Swiss Bank has the same initials as "Site of Former Pleasurama".

      Delete
  10. A builder needs experience, skills, a portfolio of competed works and recommendations.

    A politician just needs the recommendations.

    ReplyDelete

Please note comments that may be libellous, comments that may be construed as offensive, anonymous derogatory comments about real people, comments baiting internet trolls, comments saying that an anonymous comment was made by a named real person, boring comments and spam comments, comments in CAPs will be deleted. Playground stuff like calling real people by their time stamp or surname alone, referring to groups as gangs, old duffers and so on will result in deletion. Comment that may be construed as offensive to minority groups is not allowed here either, so think before you write it, remember that the internet is a public place, that it is very difficult to be truly anonymous and that everyone who uses it leaves a trail of some sort. Also note the facility to leave anonymous comment will be turned of during periods when I am unable to monitor comment, this will not affect people commenting who are signed on to their blogger accounts. When things are particularly difficult on the commercial spam front I may turn comment moderation on for periods.

If you feel that someone has left a comment that is offensive and directed at you personally please email me (link on the sidebar) asking to have it removed, you will need to tell which post and the date and timestamp of the offending comment. Please do not reply to the offending comment as I will assume you continuing the dialogue as meaning that you want the comments left there.