Monday, 11 August 2014

The children’s book section in the bookshop gets bigger, I complain to the council and a bit of a ramble.

My work on the children’s section continues, so we now have four bookcases of children’s fiction instead of two, which I think is a lot better.
The next part of the job is to expand the children’s non-fiction which means moving the humour books to another part of the shop.

The idea eventually is to have a much bigger children’s section, but that may take some time.

On to my complaint to the council, here it is:

Hi I wish to complain about the council’s online petition facility.

I am concerned that no effort is made by the council to separate or identify petitioners and those starting a petition, into Thanet Residents and non-Thanet residents or restrict the number of times someone can sign an online petition.

Please see the Manston airport cpo issue as being unrelated to this complaint and as only being used by me because it the most recent TDC online petition and helps me to illustrate areas of possible improvement.   

Although I am not against saving Manston airport, I did note that the petition was started by a non UK resident and that it had been signed both by other non UK residents and by people living within the UK who were protesting against airport expansion elsewhere in the UK, usually where they live. 

All of this meant that when councillors had to decide this important local issue it wasn’t possible for them to gauge the support for the cpo among Thanet residents, who are now funding the various legal stages in investigating the issue.

The norm (that used by KCC and the UK government) appears to be only members of the electoral roll (councils) or UK residents (UK gov) can start petitions or sign them, either online or on paper.

My suggestion would be that when members of the public join the council’s website they have to supply their names and addresses so that the council could verify them. Obviously once the names had been verified they wouldn’t subsequently need to be verified for every petition, which would save the council money. 

People who have already joined the council’s website would need to be emailed asking them to update their details. My understanding is that it is possible to join the council’s website, to sign petitions as many times as one has email addresses at the moment, so this would be an opportune moment to resolve the multiple signing issue too.

I would also refer you to your own document pack from when the council decided on how online petitions should function, which states that the rules for online petition should be the same as those for paper petitions and that the names and addresses for signatories of paper petitions should be verified. 

I believe the situation is generally different for online consultation, where people from outside the area are allowed to take part but their responses are weighted to reflect their geographical location.    


Best regards Michael”


The world of council complaints is a strange one, I think the council officers are as unhappy about the petition system as I am, but they can’t of course justify the officer time they would need to sort it out unless a member of the public complains to them.     

So first I phoned them up and discussed what would be the most useful content of the complaint, to them, to them. 

42 comments:

  1. Couldn't have said this better Michael. doubt SMA will see it the same way though

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    1. They should do Barry as they went to a lot of effort to produce the petition which because the council’s petition system is flawed means that their petition is unverified which considerably weakens their case for saving the airport.

      From their point of view this is made even worse by the night flights consultation being verified, as the council use a different system for online consultations.

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  2. In order to sign an E petition it is necessary to register with TDC. I have just registered under a different email address. I now have two user names. I have just signed a petition regarding the garden of a pub in Birchington using two different user names. Registering didn't ask me for anything other than an Email address and a password. On this particular petition I have also signed the paper petition in the pub. I have just done this to prove that one person can sign as many times as he has Email addresses. I have also just registered with a council in Derbyshire. Unfortunately there are no live petitions to sign. So it seems on the face of it that Epetitions are not worth the keyboard they are typed on.

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    1. SEMBOB it was a friend of mine who is a crop duster in Australia and very pro anything aviation who pointed out to me that he had signed it several times and something about Pommie expletives being a bit, was the word inefficient, well probably not, that first alerted me to the flaw in our council’s ITC.

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    2. In view of my ability to register with a council 250 miles away I suspect that TDC is not alone.

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    3. Did you manage to sign one of their E-petitions several times?

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  3. Thank you Michael. You are helpful as always.

    In truth it will be a tiny percentage of people who fiddle the system with multiple identities. The majority will play it straight and with sincerity. I expect there is a mathematical formula that can be used to compensate for the fiddling few. However, the circumstances of Manston's survival as an airport is not dependent upon the results of this casual survey, or indeed any survey. There is much more to it than that. In the meantime this survey for all its faults remains indicative of the temperature of support. It's hot.

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    1. Not 'is' should be 'are' - sorry

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    2. John I think you may have omitted reading the post which does state: “Please see the Manston airport cpo issue as being unrelated to this complaint and as only being used by me because it the most recent TDC online petition and helps me to illustrate areas of possible improvement.”

      I can't see how a flawed E-petition system can be helpful to anyone and as i said in the post I discussed this issue with council officers prior to making the complaint to ensure that it covered all of the aspects that both they and I would like to see put right.

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    3. Michael,

      No, you are wrong. I did read that bit. I find it difficult to accept your claim that you used the Manston petition for illustration purposes only. You have been banging on about this petition for months. A less charitable person might conclude you were mischief making about Manston. Whatever the truth might be, you quoted the petition and so did I in return.

      You understood the point I was making well enough.

      I am sure the council officers value your input.

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  4. I think we discussed the merits of e-petitions before without getting a consensus however on the matter of Manston I do disagree it is absolutely irrelevant to Manston's owners whether a petition is signed by one person 5 times rather it's her decision whether to leave it shut as she seems wont to do.
    My understanding is an announcement is likely in September over the airports future. I also suspect, with the money she can make, any attempt at a CPO will take years. Look at Dreamland the compensation for the previous owners has still not been determined

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  5. The reason for petitioning the council is to achieve enough signatures to generate a debate within the council and thereby obtain a decision for or against the cause. I am guessing a bit here but if the Manston petition had not passed the threshold of signatures then the whole CPO process would have been dead in the water. Therefore the ability to verify signatures becomes important when the debate threshold is in the balance. In the case of the Pub petition I was number 67 and 68, and of course people are signing at the bar too.

    I suppose it also depends on the theme of the petition as to who can legitimately sign it. Should the Birchington pub petition be restricted to Birchington people, or can anybody who uses the pub be allowed to sign. And given the fact that Council Tax money is involved then anybody in Thanet should be allowed to sign. And what about visitors who like to use the pub while on holiday, can they sign? The same debate on a larger scale applies to the Manston petition.

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    1. SEMBOB the sequence of events were I believe, the council said it would discuss the issue, the leader tabled a motion, Roger Gale encouraged SMA to petition the TDC to discuss the issue. Frankly petition or no petition I think there really was no chance of them not discussing the issue, and as the petition was used to this end, it was wasted.

      I pointed out that the only real course of action that would probably work would be to petition KCC to hold a cpo consultation, no one seemed interested.

      KCC have one of the best legal teams in terms of uk council’s TDC doesn’t even have it’s own solicitor.

      I guess it depends on motives, but if the motives of SMA are to save the airport then petitioning TDC to discuss an issue they were going to discuss anyway seems ineffectual.

      However if the motives were to forward political careers, then it may have been achieved.

      The general rule is people from outside the area of taxation, i.e. people who won’t have to foot any of the bill can take part in consultations, and the results of the consultations are weighted towards the taxpayers.

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    2. That's it Michael, you're spot on once again. You suggest that this petition was nothing more than a clever ruse to forward political careers, presumably that of Sir Roger Gale. You imply that this is all about party politics. Curiously, there is not split along party lines. For Labour (including Will), Conservative, Libdem, UKIP are all of one voice in their support for Manston Airport. Do you not find that odd?

      Anyway you have managed to bring Manston back into discussion, as was your intent from the outset.

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    3. John I had had reservations about how much of the Manston issue was political posturing and how much was a genuine desire to save the airport, but when Sir Roger Gale’s office forwarded this email to me (Suzie normally only sends me press releases for publication on the press release site) I concluded that this is what is happening.

      As a retired civil servant you will no doubt understand the significance of a politician appearing to endorse the proposition that a government officer is incompetent without accompanying evidence to support it.

      From: Suzy Gale
      To: undisclosed-recipients:;
      Sent: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:32
      Subject: Fwd: FW: Item 4 - Cabinet Meeting on Thursday 31st July 2014

      For information only. Please do NOT reply to this email.

      Many thanks. SUZY

      Madeleine Homer is not an aviation expert of any kind, she hasn't consulted the QC regarding the airport, who provided very informative documentation to her five weeks ago, and she has also ignored advice from aviation experts countless times.

      We therefore urge you dismiss this aspect of the advice you have received as there is no scope for inaccurate and speculative guess work by Madeline Homer, who is woefully unqualified to give advice on this matter.

      Kind regards,
      Dave Holland
      Treasurer
      Save Manston Airport Group

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    4. Sorry Michael, Not so in my experience. I do not know what Madeleine Homer said to you, or indeed who she is; but if she was a TDC Officer offering her opinion then she not have done so without prior approval of the Minister (or whatever is the Local Govt equivalent). If she was authorised to speak as an expert then she should expect criticism from some.

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    5. John Madelaine is the acting Chief Executive whilst Sue is indisposed. A very senior officer indeed

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    6. Sorry John I made the assumption that you had been following the TDC cpo issue, anyway in the simplest terms she recommended option 3

      Option 1 was to hand the whole thing over to the lovely people (bankers) at RiverOak, there was of course the tiniest possibility that RiverOak were what their website says they are – property developer’s bankers and that they would build property all over the site.

      Option 2 was to do nothing and let Ann Gloag do whatever she wants with the site. Ian Driver our local Green Party candidate and councillor assures me that this is to turn it into a Highland sheep farm where all of the sheep will become live animal exports for ritual slaughter, which is why he has gone against the Green Party's policy and is supporting option 1, a major air freight hub at Manston.

      Option 3 was to get a firm of professional experts to work out what was legal, viable, and most of all affordable, so that the council, could decide what to do.

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    7. Michael, Ease up the snides. Though your so called option 2. is faintly amusing.

      I have been following the CPO closely. Who is or is not presently the chief officer in TDC I put neither here nor there.

      I have not seen Ms Homer's recommendations.

      I do understand that for you Manston Airport is in the main a political matter and you opinion is so formed.

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    8. John which snides are you referring to?

      If you are following the cpo you will have noted the chief executive is the author of many of the key documents. Her recommendations are included in the document pack for the most recent cabinet meeting, which is published on the council’s website.

      My position in supporting Manston as functioning airport is well documented here and extends back many years.

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    9. Michael, Please stop flip flopping around. You questioned me about my opinions on the civil service in my capacity as a retired civil servant. I gave you my informed answer. I leave you to tell me about the detailed workings of local government.

      Yes, I do know your opinion on Manston but I sometimes wonder whether you do. I notice that sometimes you allow yourself to be distracted by peripheral detail, and that this causes you to miss the heart of a problem. Having said that I immediately apologise. I remind myself that this is your blog and as such you are entitled to tailor your opinions as you please.

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    10. Well John it’s an open blog where anyone can comment, they don’t have to agree with me, as long as they abide by the blog guidelines below. And yes one of the motives of the blog is to get people to develop interests and buy books. Granted it may be a dubious motive as reading can be dangerous and yes it is good for my bookselling business.

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    11. Michael, It's good to hear that your blog helps your sales. I appreciate that running an independent bookshop requires much effort to ward off the discounters. You remark that reading can be dangerous. I will not rise to the bait.

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    12. Reading is especially dangerous when trying to read between the lines.

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  6. Actually, I believe any review of the petition system needs to encompass other issues or concerns, such as how to handle people without Internet or indeed email access, of which there are still a number. Possibly add to that figure, the number of people who might have access, but aren't really up to the level of knowledge or expertise anything like this would need. With the Manston petition, TDC also seemed confused about how, or if, paper petitions could be used, which could exclude a proportion of tax payers that are not online from any petition. Those people can't even use someone else's computer as they need an email address, and they probably wouldn't have the knowledge or understanding about getting one. Sometimes families share email addresses as well, so surely the system should focus on the 'person' rather than email address etc?

    In addition the current online system isn't without fault and confusion for those that do try and use it, mainly with the process of confirming registration it would appear.

    It seems that the decision to keep any paper signatures as simply an indication at meetings rather than to combine any figures is purely down to lack of funds/personnel to enter the signatories and compare.

    I think that some research into other Council's petition systems and suggestions for practical improvements are in order, rather us just complaining the system is flawed though, as there might not be a perfect solution out there.

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  7. John, you obviously missed the TDC press release in June reported on the web site and in local papers at the time:

    Thanet council chief executive Sue McGonigal is on leave of absence.

    Director of Community Services Madeline Homer will be deputising as acting chief while she is away.

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    1. Barry @ Dave,

      Michael was referring to me to life in the Civil Service.

      In the civil service Officials, no matter how senior, do not comment in public on contentious policy matters, especially in writing to members of the public. At most they would speak as spokesperson or source. They would only do so following a written guidance on a 'line to take'. This guidance would have been prepared in consultation with all interested departments and with approval of ministers.

      As I said Michael was refering me to life in the civil service. What little I have seen of local government leaves me with the impression of it being rather disorganised and casual.

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    2. John I still think that you have missed the point here, this has nothing whatsoever to with the chief executive writing to me or any other member of the public.

      This relates to the chief executive’s recommendations to the council and the council’s cabinet, which were made after obtaining independent legal advice.

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    3. You say she did not write to you; that is good. So what is your problem in principle of someone challenging her findings, or is it dependent upon who makes the challenge?

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    4. Nothing at all John, there was no challenge however, just an inference of her incompetence apparently endorsed by the MP, if you support a MP endorsing the position that a public servant is incompetent without some information to confirm this so be it, personally I don't.

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    5. So, Michael, you are saying nothing more than you object to the published opinions of a public servant being challenged. In your case especially if that challenger happens to be a Conservative MP. You are just mischief making, again.

      Caling a person incompetent to form an opinion is a challenge, as you well know. On your other point above: you know very well what snides. Stop wriggling.

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  8. I wonder if it is in Ann Gloag's mind to create a Campus style development bringing together Industry, Education & State of the art sports facilities. At a stroke she would appease anyone who wanted to improve the lot of our youth. Training and education for jobs, joining this to the Science Park at Sandwich along with improved transport facilities at Manston Parkway.

    A regional airport like Biggin Hill could cater for executives along with aviation jobs just not on the scale of a cargo hub.

    A legacy for Thanet and her name, in other words Plan B

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    1. Barry if that is the case the snag would be the expense of conforming to the industrial drainage regulations because of the aquifer. Manston Airport managed to avoid compliance but I don't think an new commercial development there would. I think this is the main reason Chin Gateway never happened.

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    2. so would building many houses conform?

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    3. Barry roofs, gardens and paved walkways can drain into the ground, driveways, road drainage and sewage has to be piped out. It was the large hard standing, loading areas, lorry parks and car parks that were the problem with China Gateway. But housing is easier than anything apart from agriculture, where nitrates in fertiliser have to be controlled.

      Always environmental controls are related to balances between economic benefit and damage.

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    4. So a development such as is found in parts of the states with has gardens built into it might suffice. At least the concept seems to tick a lot of the boxes without massive air pollution

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    5. All very hard to say Barry, strangely when someone complains about building more housing they always seem to have a pleasant house.

      That said we do need jobs.

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  9. Another petition. This attempts to put right an injustice. http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43952.html

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  10. Seems another group the tax payers alliance has waded into the debate http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/waste/2014/06/manston-airports-closure-sad-subsidise.html

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    1. That is back from June though, and doesn't take into account anything to do with the requirement for an indemnity partner that the Council are discussing. Strange it is being brought up again now, but just goes to show how different the situation might have looked such a relatively short time ago.

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