Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's a Labour Coup

Labour's blogging councillor Nottingham is reporting a local coup, with Thanet Labour Group leader, Richard Nicholson standing down and being replaced by the immaculately coiffured 'Nu -Labour' "Clive Hart, who defeated David Green after a friendly and comradely campaign".

Cllr Nottingham reports that other new officers are Deputy Leader Peter Campbell, Chair Steve Ward, and Chief Whip Alan Poole. The new Shadow Cabinet consists of Peter Campbell, Michelle Fenner, Dave Green, Iris Johnston and John Watkins.

Reportedly "Richard Nicholson is taking a well deserved rest to become a backbencher" and reports of comradely shots being heard following the meeting are quite untrue.

I rather wonder if Gordon Brown will soon follow his example, the difference between the two men being that people will miss comrade Cllr Nicholson's solid leadership of Thanet Labour but possibly not the premiership of Gordon Brown when it finally happens.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dog Tags Discovery

My thanks to Tony Ovenden and John Williams, chair of the Margate Historical Society, for letting me know that the 'Dog Tags' for George M.Hafner were subsequently discovered on the beach near the crash site and that someone, yet to be identified still has these as a souvenir.

These items should properly be returned to the next of the United States Air Force and next of kin, perhaps at a ceremony next year which the Americans appear likely to support and so if you happen to know where they might be, please let me know.

Mr Williams has very kindly sent in a great deal of extra information, including the lifeboat crew report and I will be passing this on to the Mayor's offfice to retain and he will be receiving a letter of thanks very soon. If he happens to read ThanetLife, I would ask him to contact me by email so we can have a chat.

Photos courtesy of Mike Nichols - Thanet Gazette

Monday, April 27, 2009

Liberator Memorial Latest

My thanks to everyone who turned-up at the Westgate war memorial in the pouring rain this afternoon for the remembrance service for the crews of the two Liberator bombers. I was amazed at the number of people present, Thanet councillors, Mike Roberts, the deputy-chair of Thanet District Council, Margate Charter Trustees, members of the British Legion and service men and woman's association, Laura Sandys, members of the cadet corps and the RAF


Two gentlemen who were among the first at each of the crash sites, Mr Smyth from Westgate and Mr Chapman from Margate, also shared their memories of that evening and how they helped in the efforts to rescue survivors.

Particular thanks to John Pritchard, Cllr Ella Pritchard, Cheryl Ezekiel and our Mayor Brian Sullivan for helping bring this event together so quickly. I even heard from the Sgt Gallahan from the US Air Force at Lakenheath this afternoon, who was most helpful and supportive and I'm hoping that we can build today's ceremony into a larger event next year with support from the US Embassy.

Dr John Pritchard has sent me some more photographs, the first being the crashed Liberator bomber in St Mildred's Bay, Westgate

The other photos being two of the crew members, John Ross and Marvin Gurwit.

Interestingly, Mr Smyth, who was sitting in the Swan pub when the Liberator hit the rocks between St Mildred's Bay and West Bay, tells me that the pilot, Jacob Weinheimer, was unharmed and thanked him for helping save his crew. However, it was the co-pilot, Lt George C. Marshall, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross. This strikes me as very unusual, as the commander of the aircraft would normally receive the higher award. However, I'm wondering, alongside historian John Pritchard, whether Lt. Marshall, might have been related to General George Marshall, the famous architect of the Marshall plan? A little more research may be required.

The Foreness Story - A Liberator Crash of 1944

After some research on the internet, I've managed to piece together what happened to the second Liberator bomber that crashed, at Foreness Point, on the evening of 27th April 1944.

You can hear Alasdair Bruce and I being interviewed on BBC Radio Kent about the story here. It's at time 1: 17 :on the play again recording for the show.

I will leave the story up here so it can be found by others in future. The memorial ceremony, led by Mayor, Brian Sullivan will take place at the Westgate war memorial at 5pm today and now looks as if it will be well attended.

Given the bad weather forecast for this afternoon, I''m putting the chances of the flypast I arranged at less than 25% which is very disappointing but there's always hope!

The Foreness crash was a Liberator of the 446th Bomb Group, 20th Combat Wing, 2nd Air Division, 8th U.S.A.A.F, stationed at Flixton in Norfolk. Also known as the "Bungay Buckaroos.

The aircraft was callsign RT - E, Serial # 41-29543 and had flown 9 missions. It crashed while returning from mission to Blainville - Apr 27, 1944. 8 of 10 men aboard were killed.

Another website notes: Sgt. Orval B. Scott, 706th Bomb Squadron, 446th Bomb Group (H), 8th Air Force.was killed in Action 27 April 1944, when his aircraft exploded in the air near Cliftonville, Kent, while returning from a mission to bomb Blainville, France.

S/Sgt. Scott was a gunner on board the aircraft piloted by 1st Lt. Harold J. Larson. The aircraft has two engines knocked out on the mission and was trying to make it back to the field at Manstonwhen the order to bail out was given. Only two crew members, T/Sgt. Carl M. Smith, the Radio Operator, and T/Sgt. Edward Hilgeman, the Engineer, were able to bail out before the aircraft exploded. He was previously awarded the Air Medal.

He is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery, St. Boyne City, Michigan. He was unmarried and 20 years old.

The mission was a Bombing Raid over marshalling yards at Blainville in Nazi occupied France. Whilst returning from the Bombing Mission the Liberator (serial No.41-29543) was spotted over the Channel coast with 2 engines burning. It would appear that the Liberator was trying to land on the then fields of Palm Bay but gradually lost height and as a result crashed into the Cliff.

Exact details are not known of the circumstances which led to the crash but it would appear that the damage done to the aircraft occurred over France, probably caused by the many German Flak Batteries which lined the coast.

This theory is backed up by the fact that 2 of the 10 man crew bailed out before the crash and where subsequently picked up unharmed.

The remainder of the crew including the Pilot all died in the following crash.

Pictured here, Denning, Hafner, Lanphere and Larson standing beside their aircraft before a mission. The crew flew a total of 9 Missions before the crash.
• 1 LT. Harold Larson K.I.A
• 1 LT. Clifford Denning K.I.A
• 1 LT. George Hafner K.I.A
• 1 LT. Claude Lanphere K.I.A
• SGT. Louis Bart K.I.A
• SGT. Willburn Holt K.I.A
• SGT. Orval Scott K.I.A
• SGT. Melvin Warren K.I.A
• SGT. Edward Hilgeman Survived
• SGT. Carl Smith Survived

Friday, April 24, 2009

Facebook Page for Thanet Conservatives

I have just set-up a Facebook page for Thanet Conservatives and you can find it here.

Early days yet but outside of 'blogging' it strikes me as a good idea that political groups use the technology that now exists to communicate with each other and others that might wish to support their political views. I've also 'Twitter' enabled it for councillors who might wish to send updates, 'on the fly' from time to time.

It's open to all those 'Conservative-minded' people who might like to become involved in the debate surrounding both national and local politics and might also wish to lend their support locally. Whether it takes-off with more than a handful of "Friends", remains to be seen, so consider it a socio-political experiment in new technology for the moment.

Remembering Their Sacrifice

Just to let people know, that will be a short service of remembrance at the Westgate war memorial on Monday at 5pm to recall the crews of the two United States Army Air Force Liberator bombers, who died the same evening in 1944 when two aircraft crashed on the beaches of Westgate and Foreness Point, as related in the earlier story, seen below.

The Mayor of Margate, Cllr Brian Sullivan and members of the Margate Charter Trustess will be present together with Fr. John Slater who will perform a short service.

I have arranged (weather permitting of course) for a fly-by involving a vintage Stampe SV4 biplane and a Piper L4 Cub in US colours of the period. My sincere thans to pilots, Terry Brown and Anthony Bendkowski, for volunteering their time and their aircraft for the occasion.

I understand that BBC SE News may also send a crew down to film the occasion, which would be nice. If any Westgate residents could support the event then I would be very pleased to see them.

A Winning Policy

"Even the Queen's going to set fire to her homes, just to get the insurance money."

The words of the satirical character and MP for Haltemprice, Alan B'Stard on the subject of a deep recession in the late eighties.

I recall another episode in the series, when B'Stard is instructed by the Chief Whip of the Conservative party to lose the General Election for them, as the shambolic state of the nation's economy was such that they would rather not be in a position of winning at the polls. Instead they would instead prefer the opposition to win, so that they could be blamed for the full social consequences of any necessary austerity policies and would be out of power again within five years.

It does all rather sound like Deja Vu these days!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In the Tunnel

With both local council and elections now taking place in a short period of time, I'm now very constrained, under the code of conduct, over what I may or may not write in regard to political content, which is fine, as I can carry on with the day job of e-crime with a bit of aviation thrown in, with a giant St George's Day flag to fly over Bradford, for the city council at lunchtime, for good measure.

I think however, I can make a quick comment about yesterday's budget without having my wrists slapped by the Monitoring Officer and like everyone else out there, I do rather wonder if the light that we are promised at the end of the tunnel is a train coming towards us rather than an end to the recession.

We now share a £1.4 trillion mountain of debt. Taxes are rising and families are struggling. For many councils across the UK, bankruptcy is staring them in the face in anywhere between 18 months and five years, given the size of the pensions 'black hole' and the devastation of income streams from business and funding from central Government.

Reading though this morning's papers, it's very hard to sound a note of optimism. The Government says this is the worst recession since 1945 but one economist I know says they are wrong; "It's the worst since 1928", he says.

I've written before that we haven't yet seen the consequences of the rear coaches of our national economy coming to a violent halt, following the sudden collision with the buffers in November of last year. Before things can improve, some parts of our lives will become a great deal harder and the Chancellor tried very hard yesterday to gloss this over with the promise of recovery in a year or so. However, only time will tell whether he is a hopeless optimist or a modern equivalent of Nostradamus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Railway Tragedy at Westgate

'Your Thanet' reports the tragic death of a 17-year-old boy who fell on to the live rail at Westgate station on Frday evening, just before midnight.

When I first heard about this news, I did ask if the police if they could give me more information, as a ward councillor for Westgate but they declined under the Data Protection Act. Instead, it was my 14-year-old daughter who was able to give me the details and the name of the teenager involved, as it was a conversation point at her Westgate school on Monday.

I'm given to understand that he crossed the line to join his friends on the opposite side but then came in contact with the live rail.

This was a tragic and quite avoidable event and my deepest sympathy and I'm sure, that of the entire community goes to the boy's family. I've seen local children and teenagers crossing the line on several occasions now and other than the railway company offering constant education as to the dangers, I don't know what the solution to the problem is with a railway line neatly dividing our town and gaps in the embankment in between.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not Forgotten

With help from Brian Sullivan, the Mayor of Margate and the Thanet Gazette, I'm trying to arrange a little ceremony next Monday to commemorate the events of 27th April 1944, which I wrote about on the weblog a couple of years ago.

If you follow the link to the earlier story, the full details are there and you'll see that at the time, I researched the names of the young American airman that died so tragically on the beach at Westgate in their efforts to avoid hitting the town in their stricken Liberator bomber.

I will keep you updated of any progress.



MISSION LOSS CIRCUMSTANCES:

Returning debriefings gave an account that this aircraft had been hit by flak with one man bailing out at 1930 hours, and the ship finally crashed landed at sea near Westgate-Kent with (5) of the crew killed and (4) injured in the crash. The date of this final 392nd de-briefing account was 1 June 1944. No other information was given in these general reporting at the time though one member, Sgt. Kent, who had bailed out earlier, was taken as a POW.

INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTS OF CREWMEN FATES:

After the war, Sgt. Kent, one of the surviving crewmen and the only POW, gave the following account of the crew’s plight in a report given 9 March 1946. "We took off from England about noon after a very quick briefing which only the Pilot and Navigator attended.

I was flying as spare Radio Operator at the time and did not know any of crew members until that day. We bombed an airfield in France and were very near the French coast on our return trip when we were struck by flak.

The plane started in a slow spin (and) the Co-Pilot left his position and started pulling off (his) flak suit and oxygen mask. The Engineer prepared to leave his position in the upper turret. It was my duty to clear the flight desk, open the flight deck doors and the bomb bays, which I did and stood waiting for orders.

The plane was still dropping and the Engineer came out of his position trying to get his feet on the cat-walk where I was standing. In order to make room for him and for the Co-Pilot who had left his position, I was forced to bail out. I delayed opening my parachute for several thousand feet and then looked around expecting to see others about, but saw none nor could I see any plane going down.

While a prisoner, I heard in a round-about-manner that the plane had kept on in a rather long coasting dive until it hit in the Channel a little way from the English shore; and that one man at least (had) survived the crash. I give you the above information with an open mind as it came to me from fellows who had been in the same outfit (392nd) as I, but might have been speaking of an entirely different case...". Sgt. Kent had given this account from his home then of Route #1, Charlotte, Vermont.

The following members of this aircrew are interred in the U.S. National Overseas Military Cemetery at CAMBRIDGE: Ross (Grave E-4-85); Aughinbaugh (Grave C-i -3) and Rich (Grave E-4-5). There is no information listed for Sgts. Munford and Fink. Both Ross and Aughinbaugh are shown to have been awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Westminster Gnomes

It's Sunday and of course the'Evil Hood'; that's me, is trawling through the papers looking for any signs of good news in the world. I'm struck by one report that with rapidly growing planetary energy needs and to meet the 2050 CO2 emission targets, we'll have to build a nuclear reactor every other day, starting tommorrow or cover one million rooftops with solar panels every day! Everything else is just a 'fudge' by all accounts and the poor Polar bears in the Arctic had best follow the example of their very distant ancestors and turn into Whales very quickly indeed, because there will be very little Polar ice remaining, North of Abderdeen, by Xmas at this rate!

So while we talk excitedly about emissions and low Carbon footprints, unless China and India wish to stop the development clock, Thanet will be an island again, one day soon in geological terms. My canoe may yet prove to be a good investment!

The fallout from the No10 smear debacle, continues to drag down the Government's popularity, not that much now remains of this, from a swift glance at the latest polls. The Sunday Times is suggesting a 'close link' between Ed Balls and the now disgraced Damian McBride, with claims that the former is running a destabilising “shadow operation” inside Downing Street to clear his path for the party leadership if Labour loses the next election.

Worse still, the News of the World, reports that Labour's general secretary, Ray Collins, has been forced to deny claims he attended a meeting, along with the same Damian McBride, at which the planning and organisation of the so-called, Red Rag site was discussed. Mind you, I would take anything I read in the News of the World with a heavy dose of objective cynicism!

Meanwhile, the expenses revelations continue to appear each Sunday. Following poor Jackie' Smith's BBQ set, plant pot and garden gnome collection and bath-plug; all essential items for any Member of Parliament, we have Labour MP Jon Cruddas announcing that he is to stop claiming second-home expenses on his upmarket flat in Central London and charge for his cheaper constituency home instead.

The leading Left-wing MP has received more than £86,000 in the so-called Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) since 2004 – only £1,400 less than the maximum over that period – on his Notting Hill mansion-block flat just four miles from Westminster. At present, it is reported, Mr Cruddas’s ‘main home’ – where he is meant to spend most nights a week – is his cheaper terrace house in his East London constituency of Dagenham –13 miles from the House of Commons.

Whether Mr Cruddas has claimed for any essential garden gnomes is not revealed.

At this point, I would say that all our political parties appear to be 'leveraging' the expenses system in a manner which disgusts the public that voted for them. Some more than others perhaps in a way that very closely resembles the behaviour of 'Napoleon' and his followers in George Orwell's famous work of political satire, 'Animal Farm'. It does however occur to me that some MPs, who may be consigned to the real-world wilderness at the next General Election, appear to be feathering their nests as rapidly as they can.

Enough of politics for now, I have to go for a run along the seafront and then continue working on my dastardly criminal plot for world domination.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Fair Cop

You might have thought that the kind of the political smear campaign that came out of No10 last week was an isolated example but it clearly has its imitators here in Thanet.

Sometime before lunch, I plan to hand myself-over to the authorities having been revealed by a leading local fantasist and anti-Tory/Council Blogger, Matt Brown of Garlinge as ‘The Evil Hood’ that many of you will fondly recall from watching ‘Thunderbirds’ when you were young.

Investigative sleuth Matt, reports that I am “Connected to promoting casual sex, gambling and hacking as well as other "Black Hat" online practices,” which comes as a surprise to me. He mentions the “Computer Miss-use Act” which I’m not familiar with but which may be loosely connected to the UK’s 'Computer Misuse Act 1990', which was created to criminalize unauthorized access to computer systems.

Now, according to Matt: “Has Dr Simon Moores taken to pushing gambling, casual sex and hacking? Are things so slow in the Air Ads industry that spammy blogs pay better than talking about ecrime.” It would be a shame”, he adds “for all that reputation building to be burned to nothing.”

But Interpol has rather a different view of what I do and Bernard Otupal the Head of the High Tech Crime Unit at Interpol’s General Secretariat writes:

“Simon Moores is a key person in bringing people together from all key players in the high tech security world from private industry, law enforcement, and academia. His activities in awareness building amongst the public audience made the Internet safer and computers more secure in general.”

Jeff Bauer, Supervisory Special Agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation also writes:

“Simon's reputation extends to this continent. When I was looking for IT expertise in a niche area, I was passed from one "expert" to another until I was connected to Simon.”

So there you have it. ‘The Evil Hood’ has apparently deceived, Interpol, SOCA, Europol, the FBI and only Matt Brown of Garlinge; AKA Lord Matt of Margate, knows the real truth through the brilliant cobbling together of speculation, personal obsession and several loose facts. It’s all rather like arguing HydroCarbon and Carbohydrate are so very similar in sound and name that you can run your car on loaves of bread rather than gasoline but it’s hardly investigative reporting at its best.

You have to wonder why anyone might do such a thing other than looking to improve his own search engine ranking by using my name and other key links which will help improve his own rating. What possible motive could there be behind such consistent efforts to trash the professional reputation of a local councillor whose politics you don’t like?

I had better get going because the Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope are closing in on me again and who knows, I might be the evil genius behind the local cash point failures too!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Those Frenchies Seek him Everywhere

I'm just back from taking photos of 'Operation Stack' and the blockade of Calais harbour. I do feel very sorry for al those caught up in the chaos this is causing, with goods vehicles queuing for miles on the M20 from about the area of Leeds castle and P&O ferries sitting in Dover, going nowhere.

On the French side, to be honest, there is very little to see, other than a scruffy collection of French fishing boats strung out a mile or so from the entrance to the harbour, with a Coastguard vessel in attendance. Not really a blockade as I would have imagined it, more of a loose picket. I very much doubt that the fictional Captain Hornblower, Nelson or even Drake would have given them much thought in the past but these are more enlightened times and God forbid we oppress anyone or indeed recall the heroic deeds of an often violent maritime history with the poor French invariably on the receiving end!

So the blockade will stand and Dover and the M20 are at a standstill with businesses and families marooned on either side of the channel, I'm sorry 'La Manche', unless they have a Channel Tunnel fare.

Visibility was pretty dire for most of the day but better on the French side by lunchtime with a strong wind blowing. I suspect I set a new personal best with Calais to Dover in 18 minutes with the wind behind. Alright for some I know and perhaps I should be ferrying luckless families back to Dover by air in the style of the Scarlet Pimpernel?

"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Car Park Open

Good news this morning for St Peter's church parishioners, the car park should be usable again by the time your read this.

I have just been over to have a look at the progress with Darren Ellis and Father John Slater and you can see from the photos that not only is the work almost complete but Father John looks delighted with the timely intervention of Darren Ellis. - See earlier story.

Apparently, the muscular 'Out-of-town' tarmac team are doing the rounds here in Thanet, using methods that a reasonable person might consider to be close to extortion; picking on the vulnerable. I would hope that they might have moved on by now but we can't be sure.

On an unconnected note, the ATM cash machine in Westgate is out of service once again. Whether it has had another visit from the ATM gang which is busy wreaking havoc around the island, I can't be sure but I would ask everyone using local cash machines to look at them very carefully for any evidence of tampering before parting with a credit card and pin-number. A sign of the times I'm sorry to say!

Finally, I caught-up with the Westgate community officers this morning and starting to tomorrow, I'm promised an undercover "Blitz" on anti-social behaviour, litter, dog mess and more. I will look forward to hearing the results!

Green Fingers

Cllr Martin Wise writes to offer me an alternative view on the "Flower bed" saga found on Cllr.Mark Nottingham's blog where his colleague Labour Councillor Clive Hart, is featured criticising a decision on the part of the council's gardeners, to reduce the number of flower beds on Cliftonville's Eastern Esplanade.

Clive's frustration doesn't seem to reconcile well with the visible neglect of the flower tubs in other parts of his ward (seen below) where he states:"Fostering a sense of local pride is a key objective".

Contrast this statement with the quieter actions of the community spirited Cllr.Wise, of East Cliftonville, who has adopted the much larger planter outside Tescos in Northdown Road, - the first photo at the very top of this column - and who has maintained it at his own expense for a number of years despite the regular loss of much of the planting to light (never mind green) fingered passers-by.

Actions speak louder than words and perhaps the state of the flowertubs in Cliftonville mirrors the fortunes of the two main political parties. You might be forgiven for thinking so.

As for the missing flowerbed , now the centre of public attention, thanks to of Cllr.Hart, I'm told we should watch out for more innovative solutions from the East Cliftonville ward councillors, coming soon

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon perhaps?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Problem with Poo

The attached photo, taken within ten feet of my gate, illustrates a problem we face here in Thanet which appears to have no solution.

I have removed the offending object weighing at least a pound in weight - the joys of being a local councillor - but there are plenty more where that came from and I never cease to amaze at the anti-social behavour of dog owners who simply don't give a damn and allow, their normally very large animals, to defecate at will, without bothering to clean-up after them.

Prosecution of a few doesn't appear to work as a deterrent to others and invariably, when people choose to walk their animals in the morning or early evening, there's nobody around to enforce the law and fine them. And when they are fined, how many actually bother to pay-up?

Dog mess, I won't use the four letter word although I'm tempted, is a challenge that we need to meet for the overall benefit of Thanet residents, public health aside. This and a regular problem with dropped litter is illustrative of a minority who simply are not prepared to accept any form of social respnsibility for their actions, not just here but apparently everywhere throughout the country. I'm for a zero-tolerance approach but this has to be matched by equally firm action through the courts and the criminal justice which remain an easy revolving door for those in our society whose careless attitudes are reflected in the photo above.

A Little Taste of Dr Wu

If you like your music but don't want topay for it, then there's a huge breakthrough in free online music distribution called "Spotify"which allows you to create a personal favourites list of everything you like and listen to it online, without having to pay a penny, because it streams adverts as you listen.

Most of us are prepared to have adverts running on the screen if we can listen to anything we want, perfectly legally and without putting up a penny.

Presently I've spent some time creating a very large personal listening album of all my favourites from the present and the past and I'm wallowing in a bit of Steely Dan, from the album, 'Katy Lied' and the track, 'Dr Wu', which takes me back to some very happy days at an American University in the late seventies.

Most of what I could possibly ever look for appears to available although, some real oldies, like Bill Chinnock, who was contemporary with Bruce Springstein, isn't there.

No doubt about Bob Dylan though and 'The Hurricane.' I went to see Dylan the day I arrived in the States and the live music in the stadium was so loud that I didn't even notice when my favourite tracks were played! After this everything is lost in jet lagged and Budweiser induced haze but I do vaguely recall turning-up at the campus, rather worse for wear, in time for registration the next afternoon.

Spotify could prove a huge threat to both Napster and iTunes in terms of popularity so you might want to give it a try!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Roll Up - Roll Up for the Big Budget Speech

In case its slipped your mind, it's 'Budget' month and on April 22nd the Chancellor, Mr Darling, will take his place in Parliament and be forced to tell us the really bad news about the British economy.

No more boom and bust, I'm sure or even any suggestion perhaps of fiscal prudence or 'You've never had it so good.' Instead, I predict, you and I are going to pay through the nose either through direct or indirect taxation (this Government's favourite trick) and if you do have any savings, then don't expect much help at all if you have been sensible or prudent with your own finances during your career.

The Chancellor is expected to reject the option to abolish the basic rate of income tax on savings income, according to reports. However, he may deliver some policies to help pensioners and savers, including an increase in the Individual Savings Account Limit but this is unlikely to mitigate the impact of very low interest rates which see average personal savings giving a return, two percentage points below the rate of inflation.

It's predicted that familes will face an extra £1,250 on tax bills to pay off Government's recession borrowing and The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), has produced detailed estimates on the damage done to the public finances by the recession. A shrinking economy and falling revenues means the Government will need to find another £40 billion.

Despite already announcing a new 45p higher rate of income tax and a rise in National Insurance, a range of other future tax rises are now understood to be under consideration by the Treasury. This could include an increase in VAT to as much as 20% according to Government documents.

In order to make collection of taxes a little easier, the law changed this month giving us all the trappings of a true Police state without any of the benefits and should be a source of concern to all small businesses and sole traders. An officer of HMRC can come knocking on your door, unannounced, in the early hours of the morning and demand items or documents of interest. Declining access to these so-called ‘real time’ visits will result in a penalty.

There's the following note on the small business advice site: "Remember that with HMRC you are treated with suspicion of being guilty until you can prove you are innocent – it’s a subtle difference to our usual approach to justice but has big ramifications for those in the hot seat."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

From the Top Down

I have always suspected that political smears and dirty tricks involving Blogs and the internet came from the very top of the Labour but confirmation of such appears to be spread all over the newspapers this weekend.

The e-mails, seen by The Sunday Times, expose how Gordon Brown’s head of strategy and planning wrote to a Labour spin doctor proposing a campaign of unfounded personal slurs against senior Tories. The smears, many of a sexual nature, were planned as part of a strategy to “destabilise” the opposition in the run-up to the general election.

According to the newspaper: "The unfounded smears suggested: “Putting the fear of God” into Osborne by spreading rumours that he took drugs and had sex with a prostitute. Spreading rumours about the mental health of Osborne’s wife. Challenging Cameron to reveal details of an “embarrassing illness”. Accusing a gay Tory MP of promoting his partner’s business interests in the Commons."

To be honest, it was this whole 'spin' business that encouraged me to join the Conservative Party after my last sortie into No10, as I didn't like what I saw. Before this, I was still broadly 'apolitical' but left of centre, which is perhaps why, like many others, I was encouraged by the arrival of Tony Blair. Sadly and also like so many others, I was subsequently proved wrong.

So one might reasonably conclude that some of the nastier and more disingenuous material you find on local, left-leaning political weblogs may be either actively encouraged by Labour's political hierarchy or simply followed by example. Either way, among a consistent display of fabulous pink backgrounds, I see policies, words and decisions cynically twisted to satisify a political agenda.

Should I expect well-reasoned and intelligent political debate or am I deluding myself I wonder?

As Winston Churchill once said: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

Community Spirit at its Best

You may have seen the front page story in the 'Your Thanet' newspaper last week, that 'Rogue traders' had vandalised the car park of St Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Westgate, making it unusable for parishioners with a coating of sticky tar, following an alleged attempt to extort payment for unauthorised 'resurfacing work' from the priest, Fr. John Slater.

Other than Christmas, there couldn't be a worse time than Holy Week, to have a parish church's car par out of commission and having read the story I went along to have a look at the damage myself and found the car park ringed-off with tape with a large black sticky pool in the centre, immediately outside the entrance to the church.

Short of ideas and realising that the church would be facing a sizeable bill to have the damage made good, I called one of our pillars of the Westgate community, Darren Ellis of D.J.Ellis Construction and asked if there might be anyway that he might be able to help solve the problem. Darren came right over, inspected the damage and generously offered to have the car park repaired the same afternoon and for free in a true gesture of community spirit.

Unfortunately, with Fr. John Slater at the cathedral that Thursday afternoon, we couldn't get his approval to have the repairs done immediately and before Darren's men went off on holiday but he's delighted to hear they'll be back on Tuesday to give St Peter's church a working car park again.

I'll try and get a photo of both Darren and Fr. John, together next week with the car park repaired and once again, as a Westgate councillor, I'm sure that others will join Fr. John and me, in thanking Darren for his kindness and for moving so swiftly to help the church resolve a very unfortunate experience.

As for these cynical rogue traders, who knows where they'll strike next but be warned!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coast

I guess we have been quite lucky today with the weather here in Thanet. I was supposed to be doing a job at Sandown on the Isle of Wight but that's now postponed to the next Bank Holiday thanks to the warm front running down the English Channel.

I read yesterday that the likes of Butlins and Maplins are taking bookings on a scale that hasn't be seen since the 1960's as we British desert the 'Costas' in huge numbers and choose to spend what little money we have at home this year. I haven't had a booking from Skegness or Minehead this year, so I assume funds at Butlins remain tight but who knows, that may change.

When I was at Skegness last, I found it to be a curious place. There's a private airfield just behind the caravan park that I use for work and a tunnel under the main road which leads to the holiday complex, where I was accomodated in a nice apartment which appeared to be a straight copy of one I stayed at in the Orlando Disney resort but wasn't; having a unique British quality to the artificial surroundings and a huge pub within easy tottering distance. The beaches along the North-east coast are fantastic but then we have beaches that are just as good, if not better here and so it would be wonderful if the summer of 2009 sees Thanet benefiting from the impact of the recession, as more families choose to explore Britain rather than say, Bulgaria.

The recent BBC series by Andrew Marr, which gave people a view of Britain from above gave a taste of how dramatic our coastal scenery can be. I count myself very lucky because I see a great deal of it, often at low-level and on a line stretching between Swansea and Skegness and for those readers who have traditionally taken their holidays abroad, I would recommend visiting the Northern tip of Norfolk, Sandown and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight and parts of Devon and Cornwall, such as Perranporth and the areas West of Swansea.

If any of you saw the seaplane buzzing around last weekend, the owner is contemplating basing it at Manston during the summer months to give rides out to spots such as the abandoned anti-aircraft towers in the estuary. I think it's a nice idea but of course, I'm biased having already had a chance to admire the aircraft.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Council Pay Review 2009

Readers may recall that I was recently asked to lead the new council 'General Purposes Committee' and it met for the first time on Wednesday evening to debate the thorny question of the pay agreement for 2009.

You'll understand why, as Chair of the committee, it's difficult to make anything other than an official comment on its decisions and so I have added below, the press release from the council, which I hope clearly sums-up the reasoning behind last evening's decisions on our local public sector staff pay review:

Following changes to the council’s senior staffing structure, a move to ensure the council continues to provide excellent value for money for its residents, the committee agreed to a number of changes to the basic salary scales of the Corporate Management Team and to the proposed new pay awards for all staff at the council. This saw an agreement to a pay award of 0% for the Corporate Management Team, 1.75% for senior staff and 2% for all other staff.

Re-evaluation of pay was undertaken by an independent body, Hay (Hay Group Management Limited) in order to reflect the new level of responsibility and increased workloads on the council’s Corporate Management Team.

Over the last five years there has been a dramatic decrease in the size of the senior management team, which previously comprised of a Chief Executive, three Corporate Directors and 12 Heads of Service. The new team now retains the Chief Executive post but sees the creation of a Deputy Chief Executive, five new Directors and a Head of Legal and Democratic services. As a result of this review, the council has achieved savings of around £200,000 for senior management costs, adding to reductions of over £1.5m in the last five years.

Cllr. Simon Moores, Chair of the General Purposes Committee said:
“This is a difficult and sensitive time for all pay negotiations and the decision of the General Purposes Committee is a pragmatic one, delivering the lowest pay rises in Kent. This reflects the earlier agreement with the unions and staff at all levels of the organisation.

From the public’s point of view it is, I believe, important to note that the successful streamlining and restructuring of the council at its senior levels, has delivered a cost saving of £1.5 million over five years and £200,000 this year. This has been passed back to local tax payers as the lowest Council Tax increase by a district council in Kent. With these new roles, now performance-based and with greater responsibility than before, it was necessary to amend the pay structures in a manner that recognizes the many challenges and complex issues that exist here in Thanet and with them, equivalent levels of compensation, offered in other councils across Kent and the South-east.

The Audit Commission most recently revealed how much Thanet Council has improved, since a number of important structural changes to the organization have been made. Thanet was recently placed in top three of all the country's local authorities in the overall value for money awards and is regarded as the fastest improving authority in the UK. Presenting an attractive and competitive environment to those who are delivering such rapid improvements should remain a priority, while recognizing, as we have done, that increases in workforce pay reflect value-for-money and can only be modest and sensible in the prevailing economic conditions.”

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Is Your Change Counterfeit?

An interesting story on the BBC News this morning that as many as 1 in 20 £pound coins in circulation may be counterfeit.

There's a BBC video here which shows you how to spot the fakes and so having two pound coins in my own pocket I put both to the test. One appears to be clearly counterfeit with no script around the outside edge and the second is most probably counterfeit but I'm not certain. In any event, 50:50 isn't a good result.

Strangely enough, I wouldn't be surprised if we had a higher than average circulation of dodgy coins here in Thanet and that I find worrying!

Have a try spotting the signs for yourself.

Finally, today has the first meeting of the council's new General Purposes Committee, whose first task is to review and agree upon the levels of our public sector pay claims and settlements for 2009.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's Bin Night

I've been a bit too busy to 'Blog' for a few days, so before I turn-in after the thrill of leaving the rubbish out for the weekly collection, I might as well give in to my compulsive need to write something down.

A curious purchase order arrived today. Bradford city council have ordered a thousand square foot St George's flag to fly on, well, St George's Day, this month. In a way, it strikes me as a little controversial, as I wouldn't immediately think of Bradford as the place to fly such a symbolic expression of 'Englishness.' It would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago but times appear to have changed and perhaps, if Bradford can do it, we might think about the same exercise here in Thanet? I wonder what readers think?

Cllr King tells me he handed in a petition today from local people and traders lobbying for a second cash-point ATM here in Westgate. While this has my total support, I did comment that an ATM is a commercial decision for the syndicate of banks behind them and its really them that should be petitioned and not the council. All councillors and even MPs can do is ask nicely, after all, RBS are about to lay-off 9,000 workers in a bank now 70% owned by the public and so I'm not convinced that we can do more than we've been doing already. We don't actually know yet who it is that actually make the decisions on ATM installations within the LINK system.

I've just notice that I have seven minutes of battery power remaining on my laptop. Time to sign off I think......

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Quantitative Easing in Westgate

It's not exactly a story of global financial interest to the G20 but tonight, the ATM in Westgate is reportedly repaired after over a week of calls, visits to the Nationwide Building Society and letters to Roger Gale MP seeking support.

My thanks to Cllr Latchford who has been making his presence felt at the building society in Margate High Street and Cllr King who has been vociferous in his calls for a second ATM.

As I mentioned in an earlier 'Blog', I did try to convince the Chairman of the Bank of England and others, last summer that Westgate had a cash-flow problem and desperately needed at least one reliable cash-point. However, I suspect the domestic banking system has other problems to deal, first of which being their own equally desperate need for £billions of our own money to keep them solvent.

Anyway, we are trying again although I'm not particularly optimistic that they will listen; after all if they don't listen to the Government, I'm not sure how much attention a couple of local councillors will get.

I have however written to our MP Roger Gale and asked if he might be able to use his contacts to help move our request further-up the financial food chain. It's not good for the local population and traders to be without a convenient source of cash at any time and with no banks in Westgate anymore, the very least we deserve are two cashpoints with a ready supply of money.

A little quantitative easing is required please!

Update:

Roger Gale tells me that the machine was fixed two days ago but almost immediatly tampered with again Apparently there is a criminal gang attempting to compromise ATMs in Thanet. Reportedly, been hit twice. So long it will remain working for in the circumstances is anyone's guess!