Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Escapes

Thanet appears in an Observer newspaper travel feature this morning: 'Great British Escapes, The Isle of Thanet'.

In the summary of attractions,:

"Thanet's three neighbouring towns are satisfyingly different, too: Broadstairs, with its curving bay and cute jetty, is the classic seaside haunt; Ramsgate flirts with a continental alfresco culture centred on the royal harbour, and world-weary Margate, the UK's first ever resort, is being buffed shiny by arts-led regeneration."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Milton at Maypole

I landed back at Maypole this afternoon to discover a celebrity having tea and biscuits with his microlight parked on the grass.

Being an avid fan of National Geographic TV, I immediately recognised round the world microlight pilot and author, Brian Milton and some readers may have seen the series that charted his 'Global Flyer' progress across the globe in 1998. His 2001 attempt to cross the Atlantic ('Chasing Ghosts') was particularly dodgy as the Canadian government tried to stop him going and so I was able to ask him all about the trip.

Brian and a friend of 20 years, Keith Reynolds, set out to race their little aircraft around the world in 80 days, chasing the ghost of Phileas Fogg. They were buzzed ten times by a Mig-21 jet fighter trying to get out of Syria, but the Mig didn't shoot so they were able to reach Jordan. In the Saudi Desert, the engine "blew up" seven times, discharging all their cooling fluid.

They twice landed in the dark, and then changed their engine, which still blew up. It was only by rigging a Heath Robinson cooling system, tie-wrapping the radiator to an undercarriage leg and sending an Arab fireman out with $50 to find 8 feet of tubing and six clips, that they were able to get away. Their first test-flight was across 300 miles of Persian Gulf. They crossed India plagued by a heat-wave, and 800 miles of jungle-covered mountains in Burma, Laos and Vietnam. China held them up, then Japan, and then - for 26 days - the Russian authorities. Keith had to fly by airliner to Alaska while a Russian navigator took his place, but Keith lost heart in Anchorage and went home.

This left Brian to cross 3,000 miles of Siberia, sometimes covered in ice, with a Russian stranger in the back. From Nome, Alaska, Brian flew on alone, down to San Francisco, chased by tornadoes across to New York, and then the first solo west-east crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by microlight, where for three hours he was in a place "beyond fear". The flight won the Royal Aero Club's Britannia Trophy; there is no higher award in the gift of the Club. It also won the prestigious Segrave Trophy, once won by Amy Johnston.

Brian has just finished a book; 'Lancaster - The Biography' which you can find at Amazon.com and when I last saw him, he was getting ready to fly home on a rather less epic adventure flight to Plaistow outside St Albans.

A Message from Our Sponsors

Normally, it's UKIP or the Labour Party who hire aircraft (see photos) to fly banners on election days but not this year, as both parties tell me they are chronically short of funds.

As I don't think the rules allow me to fly a political banner involving the Conservative Party next week, I was thinking of organising a charity effort for our Labour friends from one of the following selection of messages:

"You Can Trust Labour!"
"For Schools - Hospitals Jobs - Vote Labour"

""New Labour - Working For Britain!"
"British Jobs for British Workers - Vote Labour."

Alternatively, we could have a caption competition and a whip around to support the message that best illustrates public opinion and captures the political mood at this time? There's a limit of 32 characters, including spaces, otherwise I won't get into the air with it!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Beware the Ides of.. May?

The Thanet Gazette today leads with news that the home of fellow ‘Blogger’ and Northwood councillor Nottingham (LAB) was struck by lightning during the week. It leads me to ponder whether this was a simple act of nature or some kind of divine comment on the perilous state of British politics; encouraging me to anxiously study the skies above my own house, which as I write remain blue and clear of any obvious portents.

Today, I was once again over at the council offices meeting members of the customer services team and I was delighted to hear that the team successfully passed its Charter Mark, reassessment with full compliance. This award for customer-facing public services reflects the Government's new standards in Customer Service Excellence and Thanet Council is recognised for the remarkable improvements that have been made to customer services over the last four years and now sets an example for other councils to follow.

Other than discussing the progress of several complex business transformation challenges involved in joining-up the different council systems to make them more efficient and cost effective (see photo of Tony Flag's cat), I visited the call centre to discover more about its work. The impetus from central Government today surrounds the concept of ‘Avoidable Contact’ and what this involves is a constant search for efficiency gains and service delivery transformation. In plain English, the idea is to minimise the level of the more expensive and intensive, direct public contact with the council, through changing perceptions and making vital information available and comprehensible in such a way that you don’t have to telephone or go looking for an answer for a question.

This can be achieved through making documents and payment systems available over the internet and walk in centres, taking the revenues and benefits team to the public through sending up a mobile unit directly into the community and running regular walk-in clinics from local libraries and primary schools in the area.

Many readers won’t be surprised to hear that most of us have very little contact with the council, other than paying our council tax bills. Equally, many if not most of us have a very narrow picture of what a local council does and where it’s responsibilities and services start and end. What I discovered today is that around 23% of the population absorb a good 80% of the call centre bandwidth, which is what you might reasonable expect in an area of marked social deprivation . This includes trying to use the council customer services number as a kind of universal one-stop helpline and directory enquiries system.

So here lies the principle challenge moving forward and particularly as the recession bites even harder on the more vulnerable members of our society. Not only is the driving impetus towards making our own Charter Mark status customer services even more efficient and cost effective; with less money now available from central Government but councillors and council officers alike need to think imaginatively on how to best communicate and deliver the information to the target audience. That struggling 23%, in a way that will help them most effectively and as speedily as possible, where vital issues such as benefits and payments are involved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cameron on Fixing Broken Politics

Yesterday, David Cameron, made a speech that will strike a chord with many people.

When speaking about local Government he said:

"We are going to empower local councils by cutting right back on all the interference and instructions from central government - the rules and restrictions, the targets and inspections.

We're going to get rid of pointless and unaccountable regional government and bureaucracy, and we'll end the central ring-fencing of local budgets.

We're going to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability: instead of central government targets and controls to make sure councils spend money wisely...

...we'll simply require councils to publish online details of all their spending over £25,000, and to get approval for any excessive tax increases in a local referendum.

Newly empowered councils will be able to keep the proceeds of any activities that boost local economic growth...

...and through a new 'general power of competence' will be able to do literally whatever they like as long as it's legal - creating solutions to local problems without getting permission from the centre.

This sweeping new power for local government will make it far more responsive to local concerns..."

Of course the Conservative leader said a great deal more and you can read this in his speech here. However, I'm sure every one of us will welcome this committment on the part of a Conservative party in power, to introduce such political change after a decade of an Orwellian interference in our lives; an unaccountable central Government bureacracy which has effectively suffocated the ability of local democracy to work in the interests of local people.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Fastest with the Mostest

I was over at the council offices today, meeting with the different departments and teams that fall under my new customer services and IT portfolio.

For those that may be interested, we have several IT projects that are 'work in progress' and have the objective of achieving a more efficient and cost-effective, 'joined-up' approach to the way the council deals with its different silos of information. This is particularly important in meeting the business needs of Revenues & Benefits at a very challenging period in our history.

I was struck at how hard the team are trying to educate claimants and potential claimants on the scope and levels of benefits that are actually available. Apparently many people experiencing difficulties don't claim their full entitlements under the system and the Revs & Benefits team are constantly looking for new methods and new ideas for reaching out to those parts of the community which need their help most.

Looking at the statistics, the impact of the recession is as visible here at the sharp-end of council services, as it is to the Citizens Advise Bureau data, which I reported some weeks ago.

Local unemployment is rising, families are struggling with an insurmountable burden of personal debt and rental defaults are growing; the picture is the same in Thanet as it is elsewhere. I looked at several examples of where the council is trying to help but when debts fall into the several thousands and where no member of the family is working, one wonders how far the Government welfare budget can stretch in the face of such enormous recessionary pressures and a public sector debt the size of Everest.

On local Blogs you read about the council "flogging" it's assets but consider for a moment that this is not only the instruction of central Government but the preferred option for the raising of funds when Government support has been slashed.

Ignoring the standard Labour self-justificatory bull***t that got us in this mess in the first place councils everywhere need to find the money to deal with the unprecedented social and financial crisis that lies ahead. Thanet is more deprived and challenged than most.

I have been corresponding with Michael Child who has been very helpful in making suggestions on improving the council's web presence and I have already explored some of these with officers. I can whip something up on a weblog, as can Michael or ECR or Tony Flaig but local Government is constrained by a technical straight-jacket of standards, regulations and policies and so changes can't be instant.

One further thought for you when resources are tight and priorities lie in streamling and improving service areas that focus our welfare challenges. Would you rather see the two specialist programmers pulled-off the priorities to re-work the website or should they concentrate on developing the tools and integration features that surround the 'sharp-end' of services?

I think I know the answer and I'm sure you will agree that we need to pick our priorities carefully, which in this case is getting as much help to as many people as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible within the budget and the resources available.

This is a challenge that goes beyond local politics. It's about calling on a very dedicated and professional team of people and their resources to help as many people as possible at a very difficult time and applying a shrinking budget where it can do the most good or to use a well-worn American expression, 'getting there the fastest with the mostest!'

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Ace Day Out in Margate

Quite by accident this morning, I found myself towards the front of hundreds of motorcyclists on the way in to Marine Parade at Margate for the Ace Cafe Bank Holiday 'Margate Meltdown'.

You may recall that last year ws a complete gale-blown washout and this time, I jumped on my BMW this morning and decided to go and have a look at what was happening. As I reached the seafront at the Nayland Rock, I could see a number of bikes ahead but glancing behind me, I found I had picked up a small army of bikes that had obviously been rolling along the Canterbury road from London.

The very efficient marshalls shepherded everyone in to park along the front and by the looks of it this afternoon, a good day was had by all, the occasional shower and late thunderstorm aside.

The Harbour Arm was busy with different stalls and the cafes appeared to be doing a roaring trade. Next time, if anyone can whip up a full english breakfast for 1,000 bikers, they'll do very well indeed!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lost but Found

Good news today in the shape of Lt George Hafner’s ‘dog-tag’ from the Liberator bomber crash at Palm Bay in April of 1944.

My thanks to local aviation historian, Norman Turner who first discovered it and Paul Wesley, who has been looking after them and handed them over to me today, so that I can pass them over to the Mayor of Margate.

Lt Hafner, who lost his life in the crash, with eight of his fellow crew members, is pictured, second from the left and he was a member 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. There’s more detail to be found on earlier stories on this weblog.

I’m now hoping that with the support of the Mayor and Margate Charter Trustees, we can arrange a more formal remembrance event, involving the US Air Force in April of next year which commemorate all of the many young airmen men who lost their lives on the beaches around Thanet and would involve the formal surrender of LT Hafner’s dog-tag to the proper authority;so that it may be returned to his next of kin. I will of course keep everyone informed.

I had been over in Le Touquet today and flying back over the Goodwin lightship towards Dover at 4,500 feet, I saw two shadows whip past on the surface of the sea below. Seconds later two USAF F15 fighters appeared below and across my nose heading towards Deal and I suspect that they may have had something to do with the Spitfire Museum event at Manston. A little later I saw a Spitfire fly past as well.

Margate isn’t alone in being hit by the recession. I was surprised at how many shops had closed down in a very busy Le Touquet, leaving gaps along its prosperous ‘drag’. If a popular seaside resort like Le Touquet is feeling the pinch then the impact is bound to be felt doubly hard elsewhere. We are reminded in today’s papers that if the first half of 2009 witnessed the impact of the banking collapse on consumers and businesses, then the second half of 2009 will see the public sector finances hitting the buffers, with Government being unable to sustain the now unimaginable levels of public debt. This will leave many local councils across the UK struggling to provide what many people have come to regard as their right in basic public services.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Good News for Ramsgate Museum

Fresh from the annual council meeting tonight, readers will, I'm sure join me in welcoming the following piece of news regarding the future of the Ramsgate museum presented by Cllr Roger Latchford:

"After hard negotiations over the last few weeks between the Council and the Preston Steam Trust agreement in principle has been achieved between the two parties that should see the Ramsgate Museum being reopened soon.

Formal ratification is required at Corporate Management Team and then at Cabinet on 11th June, but preparations are likely to be underway in the near future by the Trust to start setting up for the opening. If this proceeds as agreed then the museum should be open well in time for the main summer season, as the beginning of long term development proposals into the future."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thanet Coast and Sky Stories

If you happen to be interested in aviation and the Second World War history of Thanet, Tony Ovenden is running some very interesting stories on his Thanet Coastlife weblog with photographs of some of the many aircraft that came down on our beaches. Foreness Point and Palm Bay must have resembled a breakers yard at times.

He also has information on the history of a Spitfire part that he found on the beach in April and the story he pieced together that lay behind it.

One reader, Andy, wishes to warn others of a 'scam' that he experienced this week. He writes:

"I had a phone call tonight purporting to be from a Sky service company. He said that my Sky box maintenance contract had ended and as they no longer accept monthly direct debits could I make a one-off payment of £75,? I queried this and said that it was impossible to pay that much in one hit and his answer was he would check with his supervisor and he hung up.

I checked with Sky and it was a scam of which they had just become aware,thought you might like to warn locals about this as I no longer blog."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Save the Speaker

Other than the big fire in Northdown Road in Cliftonville, being covered by the BBC SE News this morning, Dr Steve Ladyman appears to be a subject of interest for three of our local bloggers over the weekend, Tony, Flaig, Bertie Biggles and of course Cllr Mark Nottingham.

What caught my attention, thanks to Tony Flaig, is how Cllr. Mark Nottingham appears to be "twittering" to boost Dr Ladyman's credibility on the web (see picture). So if enough people "twitter" what a jolly decent chap Steve is, then Google is going to eventually return the same result against a search phrase of "Ladyman +Expenses."

It's a brilliant wheeze and I can just imagine a whole army of 'twits' or 'twitterers' (is that the expression?) in Labour constituency offices across the country, 'twittering' what a great and honest bloke their MP is. I wonder if it's a new instruction from Central Office?

I'm going to start the ball rolling this morning, you'll notice, on my sidebar, by twittering, "Save the Speaker Michael Martin! I hope you'll all follow my example in preserving such a fine example of political transparency from the political wolves in Westminster!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Expenses on Account

I was amusing myself reading Thanet South MP, Dr Steven Ladyman's expenses, which he has published online today, in the spirit of transparency and being rather faster than the Daily Telegraph to share his information with the general public.

I can't find any reference of course to a very generous donation received by the Thanet South Labour party by one of our leading local businessmen, coincidentally, just in advance of the China Gateway planning application. Readers will have drawn their own conclusions on whether accepting such a remarkable sum in advance of a controversial planning application was either sensible or proper but I'm delighted to see that the hard-working Dr Ladyman, a former Transport Minister, doesn't share the same extravagent expenses or propensity for the lucrative Westminster sport of 'Flipping' as many of his colleagues in the Cabinet. Still, we can't all be Hazel Blears

Should you have an idle few minutes to spare, there's entertainment to be had, running through Dr Ladyman's list of top 50 achievements for this Labour Government with a marker pen and crossing out those which may have fallen by the wayside in the last six months.

I particularly liked "Employment is at its highest level ever.", "600,000 children lifted out of relative poverty" and "Record levels of literacy and numeracy in schools."

Would anyone, I wonder, like to offer me odds on Dr Ladyman surviving the next General Election? I'm tempted to visit the bookmakers on Monday but fear that any bet won't prove be an attractive one

And finally:'The political system in Britain has reached a critical juncture. Confidence in the system has been on the wane for many years. Paradoxically, the expenses scandal provides the opportunity to take drastic and decisive action to restore that confidence. If MPs of all parties co-operate and take this chance, our democracy can be revived. But if the response is simply delays, with bluff and bluster taking the place of effective action, then confidence will continue to plunge. It still has a way to go before it hits the bottom.'

A Tale of Two Mites

I'm told that the alms box was smashed open at the Catholic church of Our Lady & St Benedict in Birchington last week.

Apparently, Father Boniface had opened the church and was busy in the Sachristy when the thief or thieves struck, using something as weighty as a lump-hammer on the charity box, just inside the main entrance to the church.

A sign of the troubled times perhaps but one which leaves me feeling more than a little depressed at the moral implications of the crime. Many parishioners are retired and don't have a great deal of money themselves and so like the New Testament parable of the"widows mite" offering a donation for the poor of the parish has a symbolism that goes back two thousand years.

In the parable, "Jesus highlights how a poor widow donates only two mites, the least valuable coins available at the time. But, Jesus observes, this sum was everything she had to her name, while the other people give only a small portion of their own wealth."

Anyway, the broken alms box is no more and the parish is spiritually poorer for its loss. What drives a person, I wonder to steal money from a church? You may recall, not so long ago, I wrote about the collection being stolen during the service at St Peter's church in Westgate.

Elsewhere, I hear the Salvation Army in Kent is running out of supplies for its food parcels and in Thanet, the Citizen's Advice Bureau tells us that their has been an alarming in increase in the number of local families in financial difficulties. Meanwhile, at Westminster, more revelations today. Second homes that don't exist, £8,000 televisions and £16,000 bookcases. Hardly a moral or indeed spiritual example to others I fear.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Margate Matters

While it was a great opportunity for the town, I can't admit to being particularly inspired by the efforts of the 'Apprentices' in re-branding Margate, shown on the BBC programme last night. Whether it be attracting family tourism or the 'pink pound' the contestants seemed to be short of good ideas and their efforts revealed the real challenges the town faces in regenerating itself and attracting tourism to sustain its seasonal economy.

Ironically, while Margate was suggested as potential destination for gay tourism, Canterbury is in the papers today, accused of not being gay-enough.

A complaint has been lodged with the Local Government Ombudsman by the Pride in Canterbury pressure group which also complained about the "stereotypical" depiction of a homosexual character in a play staged at the city's Marlowe theatre.

What 'The Apprentice' illustrated well last night, were Margate's fabulous seafront view and its beach but the programme revealed some of the many legacy problems that have to be solved if the town is to fulfill its potential. In the present harsh economic climate real progress is bound to be slower than people would wish. Surprisingly, the contestants entirely missed the creative arts debate, the building of the Turner Contemporary and the re-development of its Old Town as potential opportunities in attracting new visitors, pink or otherwise.

A great many people are working together from many different organisations as part of a broad and energetic effort to resurrect Margate's fortunes as a premier seaside destination. I think I may have written in an earlier entry, that if the town were to attract the genorosity of a passing Arab Sheikh, like the ruler of Dubai, then change would be rapid. However, given the absence of any oil wells Margate can only work within the resources it has available, as one among several historically popular seaside resorts in Thanet.

While 'The Apprentice' may have failed to impress in its own particular branding exercise, given time and investment, I believe that with the current strategy, Margate can recover much of its former glory but a great deal of behind-the-scenes work needs to be completed before it can.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the Fly

The ATM cash machine in Westgate this morning looks as if someone has attempted to 'jemmy' the keyboard out. How this would provide access to the money is anyone's guess but I've drawn it to the attention of the service company and assume another call-out will follow.

I'm finding the regularity of these attacks rather depressing, as do, I'm sure many of the residents of Westgate who need the ATM machine as a source of cash. It's the kind of criminal activity or anti-social behaviour one might expect of inner London and sadly its increasingly in our faces here in Thanet.

Behind Somerfield and the grocer in Station Road there a service alley between the buildings and I was called-out to look at the results of some flytipping which has effectively blocked it, with the furniture contents of a house or flat; mattresses, furniture, documents and more.

As this is an unserviced road, there's very little I can do, I suspect, other than encourage the shops affected to have a whip-around for a man in a van to clear it away, as it falls outside the council's remit; although I'm still checking.

Clearly, another man in a van has been paid to remove the contents of a flat in Cuthbert Road, and rather than pay to take them to the KCC dump, has simply dumped the entire contents in the space behind Somerfield and the grocer. Along with these are documents that include the occupant's driving license, national insurance numbers, utility and Sky subscriber information, and other documents that lead me to speculate that the same person has been claiming benefits from several local authorities at once!

This reminds me of an event a few years ago when I was living in London and came home to find my drive blocked by a small mountain of builder's rubble. There were some documents in with this too and so I visited the address they referred to and discovered this was a house being re-decorated. The landlord had paid another 'Man in a van' to remove the rubble and he had; about 800 yards into my driveway.

He gave me the name of the 'company' involved and I called them to be met with a torrent of foul abuse and threats. Fortunately the landlord was a decent person and he had another company come along and clear-up the mess the next morning.

When I'm flying over Kent, between here and Rochester, I see regular evidence of fly-tipping in progress, particularly on the flatlands between Whitstable and Faversham and sometimes in clearing in the woods near Canterbury. It's a big problem and invariably the people involved simply get away with it or are 'untouchable' because you won't find them in the same spot for more than a few days and the police have little or no appetite to pursue them.

So, I'll make some calls and see if I can come any closer to resolving this particular problem

Finally and for those looking for an update on Lt Hafner's missing dog-tags, I had a conversation with the person holding them over a week ago now. I did tell him that I believed the proper action in the circumstances was to return his discovery via the Mayor of Margate to the US Air Force and we would all be very grateful for his cooperation.

As I haven't heard from him again, I'm going to ask Brian Sullivan, The Mayor of Margate to give him a personal call and see if we can find a solution that will satisfy him and recover the dog-tags to their proper place.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Margate Regenerating

In case you missed it, here's a link to today's story on Margate from Fiona Hamilton of The Times.

Fiona came down for a vist a month ago and spent a long morning in Cafe G, talking to council leader Sandy Ezekiel, on Margate's regeneration plans and hopes for the future.

She writes: "It would take a visitor with an imagination greater than the artist Tracey Emin, the Kent town’s favourite daughter, to liken its dilapidated foreshore —consisting of rundown shops, fast-food outlets and derelict arcades — to the French Riviera."

Fiona's article is a 'Warts and all' story and she doesn't pull any punches. However it offers an interesting, independent view of the town from an outsider's perspective and highlights the high levels of social deprivation which need to be overcome and which offer a significant challenge to the broader efforts to regenerate the town.

She reminds us that the town comes under the national spotlight next week when it is the subject of the BBC television programme The Apprentice. Sir Alan Sugar will ask the contestants to rebrand the town and that should make for some very interesting viewing!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Down to Expenses

So where do we go from here? I’m talking about the sorry state of Parliamentary democracy, Government and above all, MPs expenses.

Listening to Harriet Harman MP tonight on Channel 4 News, I’m once again struck by the absence of any apology or sense of collective remorse for the exploitation of an expenses system which appears to have turned many members of Labour’s Cabinet into very successful property developers.

Now I’m sure the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats aren’t immune from the same revelations but the extent of the systemic abuse of Parliamentary expenses at the very top of Government; Brown, Blears, Hoon, Darling, McNulty, Beckett and more, is simply breathtaking. If I didn’t know better I would say that our present Government is trying very hard to lose the next General Election and plans to take our fading sense of democracy and any remaining trust in the institution of government, down with them.

Is that why one becomes an MP I wonder, to become a part-time property developer? People might be justified for thinking so looking at the records of Blears, Hoon and Darling. Lord knows what revelations will appear next.

With examples such as these it’s no wonder that young people are turned-off politics. They only have to watch the news or even YouTube, any evening to be swiftly disillusioned with the moribund nature of democracy in what is, after all, ‘The mother of all Parliaments.’ It was George Orwell who once wrote:

‘As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.’

Reading this week’s newspapers one has to concede that he had a point!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Cabinet Business

If anyone thinks I've been a little quiet today, it's not deliberate; I've only just got in after a 6am start trying to organise banners for the 'Taxpayers Alliance' over four of our major cities at the same time. I had London to do and two circuits of the M25 booked, so I have had my fill of flying today.

To avoid the rumour mill grinding overtime with speculation, I can confirm that today, I was offered and accepted the Cabinet role for customer services at TDC; following on from last night's meeting of the Thanet Conservative Group.

First off, I will include the 'official' comment on the subject from councillor Sandy Ezekiel:

"Following the Conservative AGM last Wednesday evening there has been a Cabinet reshuffle. Cllr Mrs Gideon will remain Chairman of “Thanet Works” program she is also considering the role of a chairperson.

We have a large resource of talent within the Conservative group and I am delighted that Cllr Simon Moores has accepted the position of Cabinet member for Customer Services. He is an expert in IT and will make valuable contribution."

Readers may of course draw their own conclusions but as a junior backbencher, I am delighted to be offered a new role which will allow me to work with the existing Cabinet team as it moves forward, further securing the collective future of Thanet and meeting new challenges and opportunities on the way.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Drifting By

I was at Sandown on Bank Holiday Monday, doing a job for the owner of the Driftwood Beach Bar. After the flight, Sean, the owner came and collected me in his "Hummer", which had a greater fuel consumption and a larger engine than my aircraft and I had a very pleasant lunch at the bar, which I would highly recommend as a 'watering hole' for anyone visiting Sandown this summer.

Sandown is very different from Thanet but as a seaside resort, shares many similarities. These include juvenile anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking. Sean told me that the council there had imposed a drinks curfew on the supermarkets and Off-Licenses - seen as a source of the problems, which prevents them from selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 until after 6:30 PM. Reportedly this has been very effective in reducing a number of related problems and I'm tempted to discover more, as we can always learn lessons from the succesful experiences of other local authorities in tackling our most demanding challenges here in Thanet.

What was most noticeable to me about Sandown from the ground and the air, was that the shops in the seaside town appeared to be in good shape. With no large shopping mall nearby local business appears broadly sustainable and with the benefit of hindsight leads me to reflect on the impact of out-of-town shopping centres, which remains a controversial subject where the health of the local retail economy is concerned.

With the European elections around the corner, the Taxpayers Alliance has asked if I would fly aircraft over Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and London on Thursday, with the message: "Stop the EU Rip-Off", a sentiment which I'm sure will attract some sympathy with the population a thousand feet below.

To achieve this, I've almost every banner-capable aircraft in the country 'up' from their different locations and I've drawn the short straw, with an entire lap of the M25 having to be done at both morning and afternoon rush hours. It takes about 2.5 hours per circuit, dodging Heathrow on the way.

Finally, if you have any doubts as to the mess this country is in and if you haven't yet seen our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown on You Tube, then here's your chance. I just wish he wouldn't smile as it clearly doesn't come naturally to him.

As for MP's expenses I would comment that Baronness Uddin has done nothing wrong in claiming £100,000 for an empty flat in Maidstone

Friday, May 01, 2009

Digging Deeper

While pursuing my search for Lt Hafner's missing 'Dog Tags' last night, I visited the house of one local aviation historian who has an 'Aladdin's Cave' of items recovered from the beaches around Thanet.

While I was aware that a number of aircraft had either crashed or made forced landings on the beaches round our coast during the Second World War, I was quite surprised to discover the density of crash sites, both British and German that litter the beaches. For example in the stretch between Nayland Rock and West Bay, we have a Whitley Bomber, a Hawker Hurricane and of course the Liberator at Westgate. Possibly more.

I'm hopeful that I'l have some good news about the Dog Tags mystery soon. Meanwhile, here's an interesting YouTube clip of some 'Battle of Britain' action.

One similar "Frei jagd" raid wreaked some havoc in Westgate I'm told and my mother recalled a yellow-nosed ME109 barrelling down Westgate Bay Avenue with guns blazing. A few years ago, I managed to research that particular raid and narrowed down the pilot responsible to one of two men of JG26 flying in from Abbeville.

Hacked to Pieces

Just before I run off to fly a banner for Havering council over Romford, here's a link to an interesting BBC Radio 4. programme which has nothing to do with Thanet but was mostly recorded at the ecrime congress in March.

Jolyon Jenkins asked if he could interview many of the speakers at the congress and the result is a very good, balanced and intelligent layman's summary of the current state of hacking, the malware supply chain and the current vulnerability of all of us in the on-line world. I strongly recommend that you listen to it and perhaps modify your own online behaviour in line with the information it offers.