Sunday, 12 January 2014

Councillors Diary, Week ending 5th January 2014

Bedroom Tax Loophole
The DWP has confirmed that 4(1)(a) of Schedule 3 of the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006 has the effect that any HB claimant who has been claiming continuously since before 1 January 1996, for the same property, should have their HB rate calculated without the ‘Spare room subsidy’ provisions. In effect these claimants are exempt from the bedroom tax under the current regulations and have been since their introduction in April 2013.
THis does show what a shambles the bedroom tax is and just how much misery it has caused. It doesn't save any money - just causes massive anxiety to thousands of very poor people. Back in 1996 lots of councils hadn't fully computerised their records and lots of tenancy details were still held in paper files. Anyone claiming to have been a tenant continuously from then would have a good chance of being accepted as many councils couldn't disprove it! (7) The requirements of this sub-paragraph are that a claim for housing benefit is made within 4 weeks of the relevant date and where such a claim is made it shall be treated as having been made on the relevant date.

Ramsgate Christmas Window Competition
Ramsgate held a ‘Decorate Your Window’ competition in the run up to Christmas, encouraging shops and businesses to add to the festive cheer with a great window display. Walking around the town just before Christmas there were all sorts of lights, trees and decorations on show, with lots of shops taking part.
Councillor Kim Gibson, Town Mayor, presented the winner’s prize and a runner-up award was given.
Blue Swift Picture Framing in Queen Street was announced as winner for 2013 and owner Jody Anderson was presented with a cheque for £100. Runner up was the Full House CafĂ© in King Street and owner Carlos Hopkins received a cheque for £50 and two tickets to the great new town centre music venue the Ramsgate Music Hall, donated by the owners.
There were lots of cheery sights around town and we especially enjoyed Diva Hairdressers, Nanny’s Attic, Sense, York Street Flowers, Stanley Goldsmiths and Shirley’s Hairdressers. Thanks go to everyone who came up with a great show, and we hope even more will take part next time.
The competition was organised by Town Promoter Suzy Humphries on behalf of Ramsgate Town Council, who are working with and encouraging businesses, community groups and individuals to make Ramsgate a successful attractive destination for residents and visitors alike.
Ramsgate Tunnels Reopening
On 1st June, we hope to reopen the old Ramsgate Air raid tunnels with a great celebration.
Leading the entertainment will be "A Salute to the 1940’s", a fantastic traditional variety show packed with tributes to the stars of the 40’s. Acts include Vera Lynn, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Andrews Sisters and Al Jolson. All held together by Warden Braithwaite the shows very own compere/warden.


Week beginning 6th Jan

Mon TDC Cabinet Agenda Setting
Tue Ramsgate Town Team Meeting
Granville Basement Meeting
TDC Labour Group Meeting
Wed Casework Meeting
TDC Housing Portfolio Briefing
Local Plan Briefing
RTC Planning Meeting
Thu Lunch with RTC volunteers
TDC Destination Management Plan Steering Group
Informal Cabinet Meeting
Boundary Review Working Party
Fri Summer Squall briefing

Week beginning 15th Dec

Mon Meeting with TDC Sports Officer
Meeting with TDC Housing Officer
Citizens Advice Bureau Meeting
Ramsgate Task Force Meeting
Tue Dynamo Day Meeting
East Kent Housing Owners Meeting
TDC Overview and Scrutiny Meeting
Montefiore Heritage Meeting
Wed English Heritage Workshop
Ramsgate Society
TDC Planning Committee
Thu Meeting with Ramsgate Businesses
TDC Local Plan Cabinet Advisory
Meeting with TDC Senior Management/Cabinet
Fri RTC Budget pre-meeting
Meeting with TDC Housing Finance Officers
Ramsgate Twinning Dinner

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Councillor's Diary, Week ending 15th December 2013

Make it Count – TDC Budget Consultation
Thanet District Council has seen its formula grant from central government reduced by 36 per cent over the past three years and significant further cuts are anticipated in coming years, including a like-for-like reduction of 18 per cent in 2014/15.
The council has already made savings of nearly £5m between 2011/12 and 2013/14, while making no increase in its council tax, but further savings of £1.8m are now required to balance the 2014/15 budget and it is increasingly difficult to find these without impacting on frontline services.
To help prioritise resources, the council is urging residents to take part in the latest budget consultation to ensure that the limited funds available are used on the services which matter the most to local people. This consultation launched on Tuesday 3 December.
From Tuesday 3 December the council is asking for residents’ views on their priority services. Visit to take part.

No Use Empty Loans in Cliftonville
Thanet Council’s programme to fundamentally change the Housing Intervention Area in Cliftonville and Central Margate is having encouraging impacts with nearly 200 properties upgraded as family homes or well on the way to being restored. To keep the momentum going and to encourage owner occupation we have developed a scheme to use £1M of grant money to make available up to £20k interest free loans to owner occupiers restoring properties that have stood empty for a number of years. The loans will be paid back over 5 -10 years, with the money being recycled into the scheme.

Ramsgate Town Plan Survey
Ramsgate Town Council has been asking residents about their priorities for the Town in the future. Of the services the Town Council provides, your top 4 were:
Representing Ramsgate on Planning Issues
Visitor Information Service
Events and Events Funding
Decorative Lighting
Of matters that the Town Council may influence higher authorities, your top 5 were (as they say in no particular order):
Restrict development on open spaces (TDC, Neighbourhood Plan)
Improve Parking provision (TDC, KCC)
Improved Leisure Facilities (TDC, KCC)
Increase visible Policing on the streets (Police, Police Commissioner)
Discourage dog fouling (TDC)

On the Buses
Our review of Thanet bus services, highlights are:
96% of buses operate on time
Only 0.2% are cancelled
89% have low access floors
8.1 Million passenger journeys (2% increase)
115 complaints
4 new bus shelters
352 stops with on line timetable information
Getting to Ramsgate By Bus


Week beginning 9th Dec

Mon Labour Party Meeting
Tue Futures for Heroes Launch
Meeting of Montefiore Heritage
Wed TDC Housing Cabinet Advisory
Thu Meeting TDC Cabinet with Senior Management Team
Harbour users group
Ramsgate Town Council Planning Meeting

Week beginning 16th Dec

Mon Meeting of Ramsgate Town Team
Tue Casework Artwise
Casework Granville House Basement
Transeuropa Scrutiny Committee
East Kent Housing Awards
Wed Live Margate Housing Intervention
Planning briefing
TDC Planning Committee
Thu Thanet Travel Forum
RTC Website Editorial
Ramsgate Tunnels Finance
TDC Cabinet/Senior Management Port Master Plan

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Debating the EU

At Thursday’s Thanet Council meeting, we were asked by Cllr Marson to give our support to the Conservative Party’s pledge that if they are in Government in 2017 they will arrange a referendum on our EC membership.
Personally, I have no problem with a referendum, but would prefer it much sooner than 2017 as I consider the prospect destabilising to the economy when we least need it.
On Thursday I voted against debating Julie’s motion on the grounds that it would have been a self indulgent and pointless debate, precisely the sort of politicking that the independent standards board members recently warned us against.
As she is a candidate in next years Euro Elections and I assume a candidate to replace Ms Sandy’s, I can understand her putting the motion forward. I suggest though that it had more relevance to Tory/UKIP politicking than legitimate TDC business.
We have had debates on National issues before, Bedroom Tax, Animal Transportation, Equal Marriage, but in the case of Bedroom Tax and Animal Transportation, they were directly relevant to Council business. With Equal Marriage, we were asked specifically for our opinion by the Prime Minister.
The EU, and in particular the principle of freedom of movement within the EU boundaries does impact on Thanet Council and could usefully be debated. It has an impact on both areas of my Cabinet responsibilities, Planning and Housing. However, any debate needs to be informed by facts rather than prejudice and rhetoric.
I know that Will Scobie, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate has offered a debate in the New Year with Nigel Farrage and all comers. I will endeavour to obtain the relevant information to inform that debate.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Councillor's Diary Week ending 8th December 2013

Cliftonville Conservation
It is excellent that there are residents in Cliftonville that care so passionately about the area they live. TDC are engaged in a huge regeneration programme to try to change the tenure profile away from the dominance of low quality private rental. Therefore we need to be wary of measures that might put investors off the area. Nevertheless, I'm sure there is scope for some conservation areas so that those that do restore their properties can be confident that their surroundings will reflect their investment.
Town Promotion
Ramsgate Town Council is considering where next with our partnership with Explore Kent. Options include a major cycling promotion, canoeing trails, and/or a major fish and fishing event. We hope to continue attempting to build a partnership with local businesses and develop the web site and VIC.
Theatre Royal
Thanet District Council's next big building problem bequieved from the Tories. Theatre Royal in Margate has barely broken even in 15 years, needs £6M to restore and has no prospect of recouping that ammount of money. Options include doing minimum ammount of work to maintain and wait for better times.
Ramsgate Town Team
Ramsgate Town Tean now have Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, have agreed a constitution and the 25 or so members are discussing their vision for the town and immediate aims. Next step to agree actions and draw down grants.
TDC Council
I was asked a number of questions regarding the Bedroom Tax and was able to repeat our pledge not to initiate action on arrears until residents had been able to access at least two options to downsize.
Neighbourhood Plan
The large number of residents that have responded to the Town Council's initiative on Neighbourhood Planning are forming a group and arranging public meetings to gather ideas. The Town Council have offered space in the next community ads magazine that is delivered through every door.
Ramsgate Primary Schools Kent Council have created serious problems for themselves in not expanding primary school provision in line with needs. We are seeing increases in birthrate and inward migration that means even after expanding all possible schools locally, we need another school. Government dictates that this must be an academy or free school.

Week beginning 2nd Dec

Mon Casework Turner Street
Public Meeting: Possible Cliftonville conservation area
Tue TDC Labour Group Meeting
Meeting to Finalise “Defending Our shores” Covenant bid
Meeting concerning TDC response Bedroom Tax
Wed 1st Meeting of Ramsgate Town Team
East Kent Housing Area Board Meeting
Ramsgate Town Council, Town Promotion Committee Meeting
Thu Meeting TDC Cabinet with Senior Management Team
Housing Estate Inspection – Royal Crescent area
TDC Council Meeting including lobby on Bedroom Tax

Week beginning 9th Dec

Mon Labour Party Meeting
Tue Futures for Heroes Launch
Meeting of Montefiore Heritage
Wed TDC Housing Cabinet Advisory
Thu Meeting TDC Cabinet with Senior Management Team
Harbour users group
Ramsgate Town Council Planning Meeting

Friday, 6 December 2013

Independent Member's Standards Report

The independent members of a district council’s standards committee have attacked the authority's "siege mentality" and torn into the behaviour of councillors who believe that no meaningful sanctions can be taken against them.
The report, prepared by the four independent members for a meeting of Thanet District Council’s standards committee due to be held last night (21 November), said their overall impression was of a council whose members were distrustful of each other, and of the public.
“There appears to be a ‘siege mentality’, which in the view of the independent members of the standards committee contributes to behaviour which falls short of the council’s stated aim of ‘high standards of conduct’,” it added.
The independent members acknowledged that the local authority’s political situation – Thanet is a ‘hung’ council with a fine balance of power – brought with it a number of practical challenges. B
ut the report said: “There have been suggestions that some councillors have stated in public that they intend not to comply with the democratically agreed decisions of the council, presumably in the full knowledge that there are no meaningful sanctions that can be taken against them.
“While the independent members of the standards committee have no doubt that these actions are taken with the noblest of intentions, it does make a mockery of the rules of the council by which all councillors are held to account and suggests that some councillors, at least, are not prepared to comply with the Code of Conduct.”
The independent members added that there had been occasions on which councillors had stated that they did not intend to comply with the outcome of standards hearings, “again because there are no meaningful sanctions that can apply.”
On the current situation at Thanet, the independent members’s report also said:
As a political organisation, it was not surprising that party politics were obvious, not just in the debating chamber at full council, but also in communications between elected members and the local press, and in other fora including, but not limited to, the use of social media (blogs, twitter, facebook and video-blogs).
The conviction of a former councillor had had an adverse effect on the perception of the council in the mind of the public, and this presented challenges for all members of the council. Recent decisions made by full council had sought to control the ways in which moving images of the council’s meetings were produced and disseminated. This had led to the ejection of a member of the public from a meeting of full council.
Recent comments made by some councillors towards members of the public in public meetings had been “less than respectful”, and had led on occasion, to the making of personal threats. The council was, it was suggested, held in low regard by the public. “An, admittedly unscientific, assessment of comments made (in the press, local bloggers, twitter, personal conversations, by local interest groups etc) suggest that there is a local suspicion of secrecy, corruption and distance between the council as it is perceived in the offices in Cecil Square, the reality of people’s lives and the needs of the district”.

The independent members’ perception was that of “demonstrable distrust” between members, and between councillors and the general public. “On some occasions this distrust has taken the form of outright hostility”.
Many personal attacks had been witnessed taking place between members during debates. From their position in the public gallery, the members had heard the “overwhelming view” from members of the public that the councillors were not serving the public by whom they were elected. “Indeed, attendance at council meetings is seen by some as a form of entertainment.”

Correspondence published in the local press, including official press releases and the columns written by the leaders of the main political parties, included personal attacks, between members, and on some occasions towards individual members of the public.
The independent members said that there had previously been a general consensus on the standards committee that some kind of action was necessary.
However, they said they had seen “little, if any, evidence” that this consensus was repeated outside the committee meeting. “Certainly, no changes in behaviour have been observed by the independent members of the standards committee.” The report said tackling the low public perception was the responsibility of all members, “and is not limited to those whose names and profiles appear in the local media or those against whom complaints are recorded”.
It added: “The council has the appearance of a dysfunctional organisation whose behaviour and internal squabbles adversely affect the delivery of services, capital projects etc to the residents of the local district.”
The independent members suggested that the situation could not be allowed to continue if Thanet DC and its councillors were to be viewed as true leaders within the district. “The dominant view of the council and its elected members must be rehabilitated as a matter of urgency.”
The report called on all councillors to demonstrate respect in all aspects of their work, including (but not limited to) their dealings with each other, with officers of the council, and "crucially" with the public. Demonstration of respect was, currently, lacking, it said.
The independent members said the standards committee’s options were to: Take no action and allow the current situation to continue. However, they said this option carried considerable risk; Take action within political groups: leaders of political groups could address the behaviour of their members. This carried a risk of a lack of consistency across the council;
Deliver training for all elected members. “However, for training to be effective, it is suggested….that it should be compulsory.”

Friday, 29 November 2013

Councillor's Diary Week ending 1st December 2013

This week has been good for Ramsgate:
Ellington Park
The Friends of Ellington Park have secured £50k from People’s Millions after a public vote. Apart from the obvious benefit to the park, it will encourage the group in their bid to the lottery for major funding, it gives Ramsgate Town Council confidence that their grant to the group was well spent, and it shows that Ramsgate folk are willing to get off their backsides in support of the town. The spirit that won a previous People’s Millions bid for Ramsgate Tunnels is still with us.
Project Motorhouse
TDC have signed the agreement handing Westcliff hall over to Project Motorhouse. Hats off to Janet and the Motorhouse board for their persistence with this hugely ambitious project to restore the hall and create a performing arts centre in Ramsgate. I’m told that the £20k grant that TDC gave the project about a year ago for survey work was a significant morale boost.
Ramsgate Tunnels
Ramsgate Tunnels have set an opening date of June next year. A £20k grant from TDC has made works to clear asbestos and debris from the tunnels possible. This will make an opening for limited guided tours a possibility. The tunnels group have finalised their bid to the heritage lottery for the next stage of the project.
Ramsgate Town Team
Ramsgate small businesses have agreed to set up a “Ramsgate Town Team” to co-ordinate their efforts to improve the town centre and stimulate footfall. This will enable the group to draw down the £10k on offer from Government and £60k from TDC to spend on suitable projects.
Ramsgate Seafront
The two major legacies from the years of neglect by the Tories at TDC are nearing resolution. Pleasurama, or Royal Sands approaches a significant deadline in the development agreement in March 2014. The developer has proposed significant changes to the agreement that they say will enable them to recommence work. Legal advice on the Council’s options is expected shortly which will lead to a decision ending the uncertainty over this site. The Royal Victoria Pavilion’s future should also be resolved shortly following negotiations to persuade Rank to give up their lease on the building and TDC’s decision to offer a new extended lease to the right tenant.
Neighbourhood Plan
The decision by Ramsgate Town Council to develop a Neighbourhood plan for Ramsgate has attracted an increasing amount of interest from the public and other interested parties. Efforts are now underway to co-ordinate people’s ideas so that the money on offer to help develop and consult on the plan can be released.
The Granville House
The basement, ballroom and bar of the Granville House are in a sorry state. I have promised to consult TDC officers about what can be done carrot and stick to remedy this.
Ramsgate Primary Schools
KCC has a real problem to provide enough primary school places across Thanet and in including Ramsgate. Families are having to travel long distances to school. This is due to increased birth rate and inward migration (dfl). Sites for expansion or new schools are being sought.
Week beginning 25th Nov
Mon Meeting to finalise bid to Armed Forces Covenant for education centre at Monkey House
Tue Casework: Central Avenue, Turner Street
Wed Breakfast meeting to set up Ramsgate Town Team
Briefing by TDC Planning Officers
Thu Meeting concerning Granville House Bar and basement
Ramsgate Town Council Amenities Committee Meeting
Fri Project Motorhouse handover
Meeting with KCC Education concerning Primary School places.
Sat Ramsgate Society

Week beginning 2nd Dec
Mon Casework: Turner Street
Public Meeting: Possible Cliftonville conservation area
Tue TDC Labour Group Meeting
Meeting to Finalise “Defending Our shores” Covenant bid
Meeting concerning TDC response Bedroom Tax
Wed 1st Meeting of Ramsgate Town Team
East Kent Housing Area Board Meeting
Ramsgate Town Council, Town Promotion Committee Meeting
Thu Meeting TDC Cabinet with Senior Management Team
Housing Estate Inspection – Royal Crescent area
TDC Council Meeting including lobby on Bedroom Tax