Thursday, 21 November 2013

Is Thanet District Council Dysfunctional?

Update here is the audio recording of the meeting.

The question isn’t mine but was put to the council leader by the BBC this seems to be the related article and I guess the dreadful quality picture from the council’s expensive attempt to webcast a council meeting does rather smack of dysfunctional.

This comes from Thanet District Council Independent Members' Report on Standards, already covered here once and in various press releases.

I guess one of the most though provoking articles I have read about this is Cllr Simon Moores’s post

I also guess that this as much about the public’s perception of what is wrong with the council as what is wrong with the council, so for what it’s worth here is my own perception which is both related to what the Thanet public, who I deal with on a daily basis as a retailer and the councillors and officers that I peak to; have to say.

Councillor wise a fundamental problem is that the party politics is prevalent at district council level, and for the most part it has historically only been possible to get elected as a councillor by standing for one of the main parties, Labour or Conservative.  

This has two main side effects, one being that both political parties are obliged to field 52 candidates whether they are suitable or not and that individuals or groups of individuals tend to stand under one or another party, without having the political ideals associated with that party.

The majority of voters appear to be unable to differentiate between the three different councils; county, district and parish. A fair proportion of voters always voting either red or blue, a further group floating either towards red or blue based on their feelings about the national political parties at the time of an given council election. Then there is a group of local people who actually have some idea of the local political scene, understand the functions of the three different councils and even in some cases have some idea of the individual councillors that they may or may not vote for.

Unless you take the view that all red councillors are good and all blue councillors are bad or vice versa, which particularly given the business of both parties fielding candidates for all 52 seats is unlikely to be true, then without looking into the situation properly you my well vote for a bad candidate.

I think the original idea of local democracy was that people would vote for local people that they knew, to represent them locally, I doubt that this has ever actually happened that much. I also doubt that Thanet is particularly better or worse than other areas on this front.

One way or another though, if this was the intention it doesn’t seem to be happening very well here at the moment. Approaching a councillor with a problem is an unpredictable business. There are a few councillors who if you ask them to look into a problem they listen to what you say, look into the problem and then get back to you saying what they have done and what if anything will be done about the problem. There are quite a lot of councillors who listen to what you say, appear to agree that you have a valid local problem and appear to say they will do something about it, they never seem to come back to you and the problem remains. There are also those councillors who tell you that they don’t think you problem is a valid one and they will not do anything about it. Finally there are those councillors who just don’t reply to you.

Obviously this sort of erratic response can cause a lack of confidence.

You know roughing out this blog post while cooking the evening meal I guess the problem – Thanet and I guess nationally - is that the commentators here and the local politicians to a greeters or lesser extent are less likely to be looking towards solutions and are much more likely to be identifying those people who they see as being on the other side of a political, social or economic divide and the trying to score points off them.          

Suppose we were actually looking for some solution here, some unified way perhaps where one could contact one’s councillor about an issue and get a uniform and satisfactory result, something for the political parties to work out? I don’t know really.

Officer wise the problem is very similar, although there seems to more of an imperative for the officer to say something along the lines of. “We didn’t make a mistake so there isn’t a problem.” Even when the problem is as glaring a one as the council owned waterfront property in Ramsgate. 

But back to the question at the beginning. Is the council dysfunctional? Perhaps add to this one. Is the council perceived as being dysfunctional? 

Simon Moores in his replies to his excellent post on this issue says:

“One thought before I return to concentrate on my task, which is predicting the world in thirty years.

Local government, the NHS and virtually every public service you can think of is viewed and shaped through three lenses

1) The avoidance of liability
2) Human Rights legislation
3) Employment Rights Legislation

With these in play at any time achieving substantial progress in any direction is akin to wading through very thick mud.”

I guess these issue also apply to the private sector, although the difference there is that if you don’t do the job as well as the competition you go bankrupt. And I suppose in this area there is a perception that the adjacent district authorities of Canterbury and Dover are doing better. There is talk in Thanet at the moment of forming a unitary authority with these neighbours who are perceived as. What? Successful, less dysfunctional.          

Talking to the council officers I know it appears that many of them are unhappy and se Thanet council as. What? Less Successful, dysfunctional.

There is a council meeting at the moment and i will endeavour to embed some of the tweets from it

I have pasted in the relevant tweets as those in the widget will change with time

  1. You can't blame the media or people for perception . Had hoped for a discussion on embracing change.
  2. @willscobie This isn't about hard work - it's about transparency, accountability & issues that affect real progress for area
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  3. @ThanetCouncil Can you confirm; have Standards Committee resigned? Were councillors filming the public tonight?
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  4. Thanet. Where the council dominates otherwise normal people's daily thoughts and actions in an entirely un-normal, unhealthy way.
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  5. Tonight I went to one council meeting & one boxing event. Guess which one was honourable and did Thanet proud?
  6. Irony of Cllr Martin Wise saying doesn't engage with social media. But has 2 Facebook profiles?
  7. @PaulOnPolitics just clarified for the benefit of the gallery. We have lost control of social media and need to learn to live with it.
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  8. So @SimonMoores lets just have no misunderstandings
  9. @SimonMoores @margatearchi Of course, if we could film meetings, there'd be no misunderstanding, we'd all know what you said
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  10. Cllr Nicholson says he's still waiting for an apology
  11. Cllr Julie Marson gives first speech of evening that makes sense. Stop blaming public, blogs and move on!
  12. .@SimonMoores complains that social media genie is out of the bottle and control needs to be taken back. Simon your blog?
  13. 'No personal slant was intended on any member' Joanne Pearman
  14. Cllr Sandy Hart says report has ruined all the good work the Councillors do
  15. @margatearchi The report is just saying what the public already think! The bad perception of can not possibly get any lower
    Retweeted by Louise Oldfield
  16. Cllr Tom King asks is there a future for a Standards Committee on
  17. Cllr Johnston says authors take their opinions from blogs and tweets and she can't be bothered with it.
  18. Cllr Iris Johnston said she wished this report wasn't first in public domain because of harm to perception of
  19. Will Thanet Councillors stop calling community groups and the public 'gangs'
  20. Will Thanet Councillors stop conducting business on private email accounts?
  21. Cllr Liz Green blames actions of 1 councillor for why they are in this predicament
  22. Let the cameras in!
  23. Did you know there is no right of appeal to Standards Board?
  24. 'I've had death threats and it's not as bad as this report' Iris Johnston
  25. Cllr Iris Johnston says she's been reported many times to Standards and she demands an apology from Independent Members
  26. Cllr Iris Johnston giving a emotional speech tears
  27. Residents are more interested in refuse collection and dog poo than Transeuropa/Animal exports
  28. Cllr Martin Wise endorses the statements from Labour colleagues
  29. Cllr Alan Poole up now. Blaming 1 Councillor for bringing @ThanetCouncil into disrepute
  30. 'My group has no part in the major misdemeanors of the Council' @CliveHart
  31. .@CliveHart Blaming the report for bringing negative press to
  32. Cllr @CliveHart now speaking
  33. 'This fails on all counts' Cllr Michelle Fenner
  34. Cllr Michelle Fenner says the Independent Members report as making sweeping statement
  35. The public struggle to understand the various tiers of the council - @SimonMoores
  36. Frustrated by lack of action to breaches - Joanne Pearman
  37. Joanne Pearman author of Independent Members of Standard Committee report giving a clear intro
  38. At the Standards Committee no filming allowed
  39. I hope @CliveHart Bob Bayford both seek positive improvement and not cheap shots tonight @ThanetCouncil Work together for Thanet's sake

There were no relevant tweets from from TDC which I guess labours the point

I may ramble on here and read through what I have written correcting any errors, at the moment my meal is ready.


  1. Michael, you base your public perception of the council on the opinions offered by people you come into contact with though, I would suggest, a different group of people would offer a different view. I think the truth of the matter is, as evidence by the average turnout for local elections over decades now, that a majority of Thanet's population have little or no view on the matter at all. Elsewhere it will vary depending on location and who you talk to.

    Where I live, and being fairly well known through the council and other local activities and groups, the feed back I get is mainly of satisfaction with the odd minor irritant. In Broadstairs the most excitement is generated by the policing of Folk Week and that was generally regarded as much improved this year.

    Unfortunately, on your blog, a high proportion of your commentators are those dissatisfied with the handling of certain Ramsgate issues yet they see this as reflective of public opinion throughout Thanet. I really do not think such is the case.

    I would not dispute that Ramsgate voting intentions can have a considerable impact on both the parliamentary constituency of Thanet South and the district council balance of power, but who exactly are those who vote over there concerned about. Seems to me that the Conservatives are blamed for historic neglect of Ramsgate properties and the current Labour administration for the on going sagas of Pleasurama, TEF debt and the Pavilion with Allan Poole as some sort of villain in chief. Who exactly would Ramsgate folk vote for or to get read of? Is Ramsgate now destined to turn purple or might the Jolly Green Giant pull a great big surprise?

    1. William, I think you're underestimating the people of Thanet. As the vast majority watch local TV news and / or read local newspapers, I suspect that the vast majority have an opinion on the council.

    2. William the post is the result of the BBC reporter asking the leader of the council and I guess the reporters perception, which was I think based on Thanet District Council Independent Members' Report on Standards, all I am doing here is trying to explore the issue.

    3. Michael, hopefully I am trying to help with that exploration.

      Peter, most people might look at the local news, but the majority still cannot be bothered to vote making their opinion irrelevant. Of those that do vote, all I am saying is opinions vary from place to place and how people are effected by council performance.

    4. So only those that vote are entitled to an opinion??? Many people's opinion is that none of them are worth voting for, which is often my opinion too!

      Anyway, any comment on Louise's twitter feed William?

    5. Peter, unless people vote and take part in the democratic purpose they can think what they like, but they are not doing anything about it. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but, unless they make an effort to bring about the changes they require, the status quo is maintained. Peter, you may well feel that most of the council are not worth voting for, but at least you make your feelings known and take part in the democratic process. Too many people just cannot be bothered regardless of what they may think.

      At the time I wrote my original comment Louise's twitter had not appeared. In essence it is not particularly revealing which is the problem with a very much one liner comment form. I would be more interested in something she writes later covering her impressions of the whole meeting after some thought.

  2. Michael you mention the figure 52? I regret to say there are 56 Councillors elected to Thanet Council. Far too many at least in my eyes. 30 Councillors on a District authority of Thanet's size is enough.

    Laurence Davies

    1. Sorry about that my eye was on the goulash and not on the blog post, the goulash was good, my post i concede is a muddled inaccurate mess.

  3. Louise Oldfield is twittering from the council meeting at the moment, interesting stuff (I'm sure she won't mind me posting the link here though perhaps Michael can embed it in the above post?):

    1. Thanks peter I have embedded her tweets in the post and those of the council's communication team who don't seem to be communicating which to me sends out a clear message about the council's functionality

    2. Thanks Michael. Yes, I also checked out the TDC uncommunication twitter account.

    3. Did Simon Moores really tweet "We have lost control of social media" When did he or anyone else contol it and why should they. They don't "have to live with it", they have to live in the real world.

      Just a small comparison, I moved to Thanet 7 years ago from Ipswich. Before I moved we had household recycling for at least 5 years. Introducing it cannot be blamed on expense, as it only costs once to implement this, it just takes foresight and we got it 2 weeks ago in Thanet.

    4. Presumably Simon is referring to the "blog protocol" that he tried (& failed) to introduce for all cllrs a few years back, though he's obviously forgot that he's been in trouble with his own council himself over things he's written on his blog!

    5. Yet again you imply without substance, Peter, for Simon was not in trouble. If you read on to LTP's comment below he correctly records that the Standards Committee at TDC concluded that Simon blogs as a private individual and not as a councillor, thus placing his comments outside the remit of the council. There was no sanction, but don't let that stop you having a little shit stir as usual at Simon's expense.

    6. I think you owe me an apology here, where Simon in his own words stated " I am now 'Guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute'"...

      So perhaps rather than me being a "shit stir", YOU are suffering from dementia and can't remember as far back as January!

    7. Missed that one, although I reiterate that Standards did rule that Simon blogs as a private individual, not a councillor, and thus his blog posts do not fall within the remit of the council. See your link deals with the issue of referring to another councillor by well known nickname, hardly the most heinous of crimes, but you were right and I duly apologise. On the dementia bit, I reckon I could lose three quarters of my brain cells and still have more than you, but that's not your fault.

    8. Apology accepted... and I'm ALWAYS right! ; )

    9. Are you sure you two aren't married?

    10. Take your point, Barry, for Peter does sound a bit like her indoors with his I am always right stuff. Mind you, I have been in the wrong so often that I kind of enjoy it!

    11. William you do not come across as a browbeaten man so I presume that remark was ironic

    12. Indeed, Barry, happily married for thirty years.

  4. The chair and the independent members of the Standards Committee resigned this evening following a critical examination of their report by councillors present. It was very clear which councillor's behaviour was perceived as a significant challenge to the democratic process at TDC and I note that Cllr Driver claims to have recorded the meeting in direct contravention of the standing rules in place this evening.

    1. Excellent news, we'll all be able to see it now!

    2. What a sad day for Thanet, the only four members of TDC talking sense, forced to resign because they spoke out about what everyone else knows.

    3. Ken they weren't TDC members they were independent lay people.And Simon from a public perspective the message could have been stated once from each side but the continual, dare I say it, bullying coming from some Councillors would have made me resign.

      It would have been better IMHO to have understood what the author was saying but asked her to reword part of it once and once only. The Law of Unintended Consequences has meant their resignation becomes the story and it will not be flattering

    4. Yet another own goal for TDC. Will they ever learn?

    5. Barry,
      They were independent members of the TDC Standards Commottee. That makes them members, I did not say councillors..

      Perhaps the councillors should read it and digest it rather than try to re-word it, I hope their resignation reaches BBC News,.it is about time this incompetence is exposed.

    6. sorry Ken I misunderstood.

      My overwhelming feelings were of being abused

    7. My overwhelming feelings this afternoon after the night before are one of bemusement. If it were the labour members, and it was primarily labour members, who wanted the independent report rewritten then the ridiculous way they went about it most certainly backfired bigtime.
      I have sat in some Council meeting and watched the Labour leader and his deputy acting as if they were in Westminster and not Thanet. I have watched the antics of the Labour deputy at a meeting with over 200 people smirking and making remarks like "well you have only lived here 2 years what gives you the right to have an opinion"
      I have been called "the usual suspects" and have been told via email "FORS doesn't want any development on the Pleasurama site".
      We have a right to be heard that is why protest is the only way to get those in power to listen to the people that elected them. Protest is blogs, twitter, Facebook, emails, discussion, petitions , and direct conversations.
      Saying as several did we do not listen to Social Media as it isn't representative of the people says to many they do not listen enabling those more vocal councillors to make their point as people will rally round him.

      What further destroyed any credibility of the ruling Labour group was the petty minded attitude of Alan Poole who thought it right to get out his camera and start taking pictures of the public gallery. If he thought that in any way funny he is seriously befuddled

  5. In 2009 I stood as an Independent candidate for TDC in the hope of driving a wedge between party politics in Thanet. Since that time there has been an improvement of dialogue with councillors in Ramsgate because of Labour control but the perceived overall image at Cecil St has not improved. There is now no hope for Independent candidates in 2014 because of the antics of some so called independents who have resorted to anarchy in an attempt to expose the hypocracy at TDC. Councillors are so intrenched in their party position that they cannot put on a united front for the good of the district. Councillors are not MP's and should act at all times for the good of the community they serve, not the party they belong to.

    1. Ken, it was 2011 that you stood for TDC. Is your memory getting that bad?

    2. It was late in the day William and past my bedtime.

  6. For the record, Rick, Simon Moore's comment was put on twitter out of context for his full statement made it clear that the council do not control the social media, not that he feels they should. Perhaps you should read his full account of the meeting on Thanet Life.

    Again you engage in your attempt to smear the Tories at every opportunity, trying to imply something untoward in Simon being known by a professor of criminology, that is a university lecturer not a cop, and with the usual unproven stuff about councillors at BTC exercising their right to remain silent. Not in my time I might add so I guess, as often with you, pretty historic if it happened at all.

    Why don't you come right out in the open with your views, form a party with Ian Driver, for he is about due for another change, and stand for election?

    1. William the LTP nom de blog is that of an ongoing spammer, give him an inch and he takes a mile, whether he is Rick or someone using Rick like comments to take over the blog with his particular agenda I don’t know.

      I would think this unlikely as Richard Card has or had his own bloggs with the identity “Richard Card” and I assume that if he commented here he would use that blogger identity.

      Either way there is little point in trying to engage in a dialogue with him as I spam LTP comments without reading them as soon as I see them.

      If he is Richard Card then he wouldn’t be able to stand for election as Richard doesn’t even live in Kent let alone Thanet.


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