Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Thanet councillor’s allowances in The Daily Mail and a mad bad ramble.

Among this mornings emails was one pointing me at this Daily Mail article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1357034/Councillors-payouts-soared-local-services-face-savage-cuts.html you will notice that Thanet gets a mention.

I have mixed feelings about this one, I suppose on the one hand we have some councillors just doing the bare minimum to get their allowances and I suppose it’s inevitable that some of the councillors have come to rely on their allowances to make ends meet.

Occasionally I hear of councillors using their positions in a way that benefits them financially, this usually involves councillors buying property from the council or getting planning consents that could be construed as dubious.

Over the years the council has attracted a few dodgy individuals like any other part of government, probably best not to go into detail.

I think what The Daily mail is saying is something on the lines of, “is there any relationship between how much councillors are paid and their benefits” well something like that.

Perhaps the way local authorities work is the key to the problem, the change from borough councils to a district council, had certain problems here in Thanet. Not the least of which is that Margate and Ramsgate have a history of being rival towns, that extends back hundreds of years. Having the seat of government in one rival town, governing the other rival town isn’t necessarily a recipe for success.

Possibly the number of councillors that I think was probably carried over from the old borough system is part of the problem. By this I mean would fewer better paid councillors be the answer. Perhaps some sort of test should be applied to those seeking to hold the office of councillor, intelligence or something I don’t really know.

Perhaps part of the problem, that is if you see it as a problem, is the way that councillors are trained to their job, there is a bit of a sense of the foxes running the chicken farm here. The idea of the system we have, democracy that is, is that people have some say in how they are governed. At the moment we keep hearing about the big society, I can’t help Orwellian coming into my mind every time the phrase is mentioned, and not just the farm. So we elect ordinary members of the public to control the way the civil servants run our community and the first thing that happens when the new councillors turn up to represent us, is that these civil servants train the members of the public in how to control the civil servants. Well of course I lied, they must be shown where the toilets are and so on first.

One thing I find when I post this sort of thing is that there seems to be some confusion, among some people between, pay, allowances, expenses, council officers and councillors.

The councillors are our elected representatives and they get a basic allowance plus allowances for added responsibility, like cabinet membership, or even being the leader, not to be confused with the chief executive who is the salaried civil servant. So two chiefs or leaders and then a lot of senior Indians, some elected some not.

Keeping to the Orwellian theme for a moment, here in Thanet we are on the beginning of a great experiment in Conservatism, we have Conservative control at national, county and district level.

This is doubly interesting if you live in a part of Thanet where all of your active councillors are Labour, a very large part of the Animal Farm is the excuse game. Ask a Labour councillor and they say the can’t do anything because the Tories are in charge, this used to be translated to ask a conservative councillor and they would say the can’t do anything because of the Labour Government. Perhaps if we have continued Conservative government at all levels, there will be no more excuses.

The sign of this Brave New World – sorry wrong author – at the doors of perception – damn done it again – you will wake up in the morning to, yes, the sign, and it will be that senior elected members have sent emails to senior civil servants saying. “You’re fired.” While we wake up in the morning to news headlines, saying, senior civil servants have sent emails to front line workers, saying, “You’re fired.” I think this is becoming increasingly less likely. Makes one wonder what happened to our new MPs after being shown where the toilet is and so on.

The problem we have is that we have to get rid of masses of civil servants and essentially the only people who can decide which civil servants to get rid of are other civil servants.

Perhaps this is the time for the Conservatives to look to private enterprise, the problem here is that the civil servants have created a whole sector within private enterprise called the government contractor.

Anyway I will digress for a moment and use my old standby the Pleasurama cliff as an example, I have had a long term disagreement about the state of this cliff with various members of the council, even normally reasonable councillors like Simon Moores get annoyed if I mention the cliff, indeed Simon recently asked me not to mention it on his blog.

One aspect of this cliff that all of the engineers agree on, is that it is dangerous for heavy lorries to drive on the footpath next to the cliff edge. The councillors senior engineer agrees, the councils supervising engineering contractors engineer agrees.

However despite agreeing with me for several years now that we need a sign at each end of this footpath saying “NO LORRIES” the actual business of translating this into a frontline worker putting up a sign, never happens.

So I put the sign business to the health and safety executive, this was several months ago, still no sign, of a sign, no one disputes that we need signs, and my thoughts about this have gone up the lines from inspector, to senior inspector, to principle inspector, all referring back to the same engineer.

Anyway in between writing to various civil servants about Pleasurama and writing the blog post, I performed two small miracles here in Thanet. One was working as a shop assistant in an independent shop, in a Thanet town, I still know a few other people who do this. The other was I took ink, paper and card, and used machinery to turn it into books, some of which will sell outside of Thanet and some even outside of the UK. this is called manufacturing and I am wondering if the fact that I hardly know anyone else who does this could have something to do with the problem.


  1. Peter probably could not bring himself to state the worsening position of shop closures in Margate town centre and that Margate centre has a higher percentage closure rate than any other town in the country.
    This is on the day that the local press has news of the Sainsburys plans for itself, a hotel and 10 more shops at Westwood Cross and the leader of TDC saying what a good thing it was.
    Its looks like the council seems to be power less and not up to the job as far as this is concerned. Going back to whether the elected members should be paid more it looks like they should but less of them are required to concentrate their minds but it also reflected badly on the paid officers involved in town planning.
    I also woundered what has happened to the Margate Renewal Partnership that brings various agencies and TDC together and at one time published plans including those for the centre of Margate. Their website is very much out of date and their mission statement is looking like a pipe dream. Maybe somebody can tell me if this has already run out of steam and I would imagine soon to run out of cash.

  2. Peter thanks I read the article with interest, one thing here that you may not have considered is that I produce books about Margate that I used to sell in the bookshop in Margate.

    There is no doubt that people in Margate want to be able to buy them in Margate, you have places in Margate that would like to sell them, W H Smith want 60% discount delivered post free to their central warehouse, the tourist information office, used to stock them but were sunk by bureaucracy, Museum used to stock them closed.

    19.56 runaway train is what comes to mind. We had a thing called Ramsgate Town Partnership, I tried them to put up the Pleasurama plans and they told me that they dare not as it would offend the council who funded them, the must have done something the council didn’t like though as the vanished some time ago and have left a council owned empty shop.

  3. Maybe we should all take it in turns to mention the Ramsgate cliffs on Simon's blog.
    My wife says that they need to build a hotel at Westwood because it takes so long to get through the junction. Another outstanding example of town planning; where shall we build a traffic hub - oh yes where there is already a traffic jam. And this was all done by professionals.......

  4. Difficult issue the cliff Andrew, I think you perhaps need to look at the latest ground floor plans for the Pleasurama development www.ukplanning.com/thanet ref F/TH/03/1200 it seems silly when you say it but it is impossible to make a link to where they are on the internet.

    The road adjacent to the cliff with the protruding support pillars is two way 4 metres wide and a canyon 22 metres deep. The potential for an accident of some sort there either causing the cliff to collapse or as the result of a collapse is obvious.

    The last time the cliff collapsed here was about 45 years ago, the part that collapsed had just been subject to a detailed survey, pronounced safe by the civil engineers and they were half way through the reconstruction work after the previous collapse when it collapsed again.

    They were two days digging through thousands of tons of chalk and concrete looking to see if anyone was buried in it.

    The problem is that while the cliff doesn’t collapse commenting that it may collapse is inclined to make one appear rather stupid, if you don’t mind this then please by all means do.

  5. TDC apparently has the same cavalier attitude to maintenance at the port, apparently the HSE were not impressed after a recent inspection and after getting rid of their port engineer they are now having to employ a consultant to keep the HSE happy.