Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nothing is Free

I suggested it might be the case in an earlier post but in today's Sunday Times : "The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal."

Are we surprised if it's true? Probably not and Gordon Brown, will I'm sure have more questions to answer when he returns from his moral-boosting trip to Afghanistan.

Here in Thanet, the so-called Blog wars appear to be becoming even more personal and nasty and from looking at some of the exchanges, I do rather wonder why we bother at times?

From my own experience and having chatted to Tony Flaig and Michael Child recently, it's clear that the majority of offensive comments are left by a group of around six anonymous people; that's half a dozen out of the entire population of Thanet. If you add to these the ones that sign their comments and who are equally paranoid, offensive or disturbed, you can probably find another six or so who regularly trawl the popular blog sites with a visible trend; one of the most offensive individuals being online between the hours of midnight and 2am.

It's a tiny percentage of our local population responsible for delivering a disproportionate level of personal offense and in their own way should be considered as 'grown-up' versions of the teenagers who spray graffiti on toilet walls across the island.

As you are reading this, you are probably one of around 200 people who regularly visit the local Blogs. Most people in Thanet wouldn't have a clue what a Blog is either!

So perhaps we should step back a little and put Blogging in context. It's a useful means of self-expression and a channel for local news distribution. Statistically, it probably attracts the same number of cranks and restless trouble-makers as any gathering of people in the real-world. Blogs are given greater emphasis than they deserve, my own included, by local papers desperate for stories; any stories, true or false, given their own limited and shrinking resources. Most busy people haven't the time, interest or inclination to read our online ramblings and most really don't care what we have to say anyway.

And finally, the people that I talk to who do visit the weblogs are increasingly repelled by the offensive language and personal remarks that they read on some Blogs that vigorously champion the so-called right of "Free speech." What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to rather than defamatory language and personal abuse disguised as free speech! In the end, while I'm sure that a tiny minority will continue to be attracted by some weblogs, much like a child might enjoy the sport of poking a caged animal with a stick, others will simply recognise their attraction to unhappy individuals who express the darker and more unpleasant side of human nature.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Deep Blue

The last Bank Holiday of the summer and the weather looks to be a little unpredictable for the work I have ahead. Among the flying jobs between Thanet and the Isle of Wight, I have two marriage proposals, one wedding and happily no funerals!

If this blustery wind persists overnight, then two nervous suitors with big plans are going to be very disappointed and I'm doing my best to manage their expectations in view of the weather forecast.

I've always had an unfortunate tendency to pick interests which are weather dependent. in the early 1990's I ran Submariner Consulting Ltd and had an interesting time contributing to the development of the early industry surrounding mixed-gas deep diving; writing extensively for several specialist publications such as aquaCorps.

The picture on the left was taken on a dive on the cruiser Wilkes-Barre, which lies off the Florida Keys in over 250 feet of water and some other equally interesting adventures included visiting Comex in Marseilles for their 800 metre record, exploring central Florida's 40 Fathom Grotto on air in the years before new technology made it more accessible, and introducing Trimix procedures to the Israelis, 100 metres down off Eilat.



When I was a much younger I used to test my kit at high tide off St Mildred's Bay but one day, between it and West Bay, I was hooked by an excited angler from the promenade, so never tried that again!

The sad thing about the days, pre-circa 1995, is how so much useful information is now buried in boxes or archives and will never find it's way on to the internet. Cosquer Cave for example that I once wrote about, a fascinating prehistoric mystery, a cave which is now only accessible from a narrow entrance under the sea near Marseilles and which has wall paintings and carvings dating back to Upper Paleolithic.

In the attic, I have a volume of aquaCorps magazines which are now collectors items, as they chart an important period in the evolution of underwater exploration technology on a par with advances in the computer industry at the same time. But these and so much more interesting items of history simply don't exist in our modern world unless your'e prepared to go looking for them in a dusty archive or someone's attic

Two of the greatest underwater explorers, I knew well, are dead along with several others. The unassuming and professional Sheck Exley who reminded me of a test-pilot and our own adventurous and fearless Rob Palmer, who now lies somewhere at the bottom of the Red Sea. I wrote reams of material about such adventures but you won't find the stories anymore, unless perhaps you go searching in the British Library

The internet is a wonderful thing but sometimes we forget there was a time and a world that existed before it!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Infamy Infamy

"Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me", no marks for guessing which 'Carry On' movie that line came from and who said it!



It's encouraging to see that someone with a sense of fair play, a forensic passion for detail and no political axe to grind has decided to take his own look at a number of allegations that have popped-up recently on two of the the more 'left-leaning' local weblogs.

Michael Child has done a little sleuthing of his own and you can find the results on his ThanetOnline weblog. I'm sure that astute readers will draw their own conclusions over the motives behind several weeks of unrelenting mud-slinging and perhaps now it will come to an embarrassed halt.

Back to news of the economy then and a report from The Times that millions of public sector workers will have their pensions slashed under plans to deal with a massive shortfall in the value of government pension funds.

The writing has been on the wall for some time but the recession and the massive deficit will now lead to the inevitable as the public sector burden becomes unaffordable.

Local government pensions, which are ultimately guaranteed by the taxpayer, are funded by investments, but most others are paid for out of the public purse and this is now is a Black Hole of such a size that it will never be filled.

The Times reports "Local authorities are already resisting government plans to force better-paid staff to make bigger contributions to help to bail out pension funds. Some experts say that when actuaries examine the funds next year they will find a shortfall of at least £60 billion."

So not only is Government looking at the prospect of cutting back the public sector workforce by up to 10% and as a result, driving up unemployment to record levels but the value of the so-called 'Gold-plated' pensions will most likely be axed as well, as they are simply unafforable in the present economic context.

Many of us are old enough to remember reading by candlelight during the 'Winter of discontent' in 1978 and those times may yet come again. Curiously enough, I've been asked by BNFL to survey several of their nuclear reactors, which are soon to be decommissioned. This rather begs the question of where tomorrow's energy is going to come from to fill the gap between the decommissioning dates and the arrival of some magic new energy solution to keep the lights burning!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thinking Ahead

Jobs and encouraging growth in the local economy, whether it be the port, the airport, China Gateway or even Thanet Earth, they remain at the top of a list of local priorities.

Two million people living in this country of ours have never held a job while three million more have been out of work since before Labour came to power. In what the Conservatives describe as "The Steady growth in welfare ghettos", six million people now claim job seekers allowance or sickness benefit.

Government's failure to reform the welfare state during the good times has resulted in huge economic and social costs and the consequences can be seen around us, indeed, only this month, with the ASBOs handed down to the gang of feckless, violent thugs who terrorised the Newington estate.

Everyone living here in Thanet wants to see a virtuous circle, a healthy local economy that enjoys a productive balance with our environment but to encourage the former, new business has to be attracted to the island and new jobs created. I'm not entirely sure that both objectives can be obtained without compromise a recognition that the world has changed and that our place in it has to be shaped to accommodate the best opportunities possible for local people.

We share the same concern for the future and recognise our well-documented local problems and the challenges of our geography but when I see so much criticism on the local ‘Blogs’ levelled at efforts to encourage new business and stimulate opportunity I do wonder what alternatives are on offer, beyond our fast growing welfare dependency, at a time when Government, with the largest public finance deficit in modern history, can no longer match even the minimum funding we now require to stand still in the face of the recession?

Thanet is one small economically-pressed community, one among many other similar struggling seaside stories across the United Kingdom. In reality and of late, there has been a great deal of good news and progress which offers us advantages over our neighbours and are measurable success stories in their own right. The seemingly more controversial decisions, such as The Turner Contemporary, China Gateway and the airport are shaping tomorrow's opportunities and while such plans and ambitions should be subject to proper debate and public scrutiny I believe it’s quite wrong to challenge the strategy when no truly constructive alternative model for change is offered in return.

“Joined-up” is an over-worked expression but it describes the thinking that has to surround our future here in Thanet. The island, along with its pockets of deprivation, tourism attractions and business opportunities has to be seen as a complex challenge requiring flexible solutions on a shoe-string budget. I’m optimistic that we are going in the right direction but understand why people are worried by the prospect of change.

Seaside economies are facing their own Darwinian struggle with the forces of natural selection but fortune, I’m told, favours the bold and this is the direction I believe we should be exploring for the benefit of all.

Plenty to think about and even comment on here but what interests me most whether readers would have a strategy for the future of Thanet that is in any way different to the one which already exists.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Massif ASBO Victory

A small victory for local justice with the news that Anti-social behaviour orders have been handed out to five youths responsible for numerous acts of anti-social behaviour in Newington, in a civil case brought by the Thanet District Council and supported by Kent Police, on behalf of the Thanet Community Safety Partnership.

"The case is the largest multi-ASBO application in Kent, with the partnership gathering evidence over the last year from CCTV footage, along with statements from witnesses, who include police officers, police community support officers and the council’s community wardens. The group were members of a gang 'The Newington Massif' on the Newington estate, who were responsible for a series of incidents, which included harassment, intimidation, threatening and abusive behaviour, throwing missiles, vandalism and criminal damage."

I'm sure that many readers would have liked to have seen much stiffer penalties delivered to this gang of young thugs than the ASBOs and what I would like to write and what I can write write about the subject, as a local councillor, deeply concerned about the worrying decline in our criminal justice system, are two rather different things!

None-the-less, we can at least be pleased that a level of sanction was delivered, and my colleague, Cllr. Zita Wiltshire, Cabinet Member for Community Services illustrates our collective concerns when she said: "I’d like to thank everyone who’s been involved in helping the council and Kent Police to achieve this excellent result. We’re committed to tackling anti-social behaviour in Thanet to ensure that the area is a safe place to live, work and visit. This gang was making life miserable for residents on the Newington estate and we’ve worked hard – and very closely – with local residents to help bring that gang culture to an end. It has taken a long time to get this result, but now that we have got a result, it should help to improve people’s lives on the Newington estate.”

In a second story, A Ramsgate man has been ordered to pay £25,000 in damages and interest and almost £4,000 in costs, following a long-running case over the use of a garden to keep scrap cars.

You and I might think that turning one's garden into a repository for rusting vehicles a little unreasonable but in cases like this one, it takes a great deal of effort and public money to persuade one individual that collecting scrap in this manner is unlikely to impress either one's neighbours or the local council.

Losing the Battle on Two Fronts

The scandal involving our Chinook helicopters, supplied by the Americans, without the software to run them, should come as no surprise. I think I've known about this since a Computer Weekly story in at least 2002. I can't be exact but it all comes down to the Ministry of Defense not wishing to pay £40 million or so for the vital avionics software, instead, being the victim of some alcohol-filled delusion, thinking that the likes of British Aerospace could write the program more cheaply.

Wrong of course! A decade later the Chinooks are out of date and expensive lumps of tin and the software bill to replace what Boeing could have supplied for £40 million is reportedly over £200 million and you might like to read this Computer Weekly report on concerns surrounding the Chinook's FADEC (Fully-automatic digital engine control) system.

I'm surprised BBC's 'Top Gear' haven't done their own comedic sketch of this farce. "Buy the latest BMW 5 series but save a few bob and leave out the advanced engine management and navigation software, instead ask your teenage son to write it for you after school!"

While the search for our missing or elusive Prime Minister, continues, Labour continues to slump in the polls, the latest of these being from the Guardian/ICM which shows the party continuing its direction of steady collapse, much like the implosion of a dying star in the stages of becoming a Red Dwarf!

Even The Guardian, the most loyal of socialist rags, now reports that the Conservatives have gained ground on key policy areas and: "Are now the overwhelming public choice to form the next government.

Despite a month of policy attacks from Gordon Brown's summer stand-ins at No 10, and controversy over the Conservative commitment to a state-funded NHS, the opposition has extended its lead to 16 points."

The newspaper adds: "Labour has lost the August battle on health, with more voters thinking the Conservatives would improve the NHS than think the party would make it worse. While 48% think healthcare would be better under a Tory government, only 41% agree with Labour warnings that it would be worse. Even 24% of current Labour voters think the Tories would improve the NHS.

The Tory lead on other policies, including education, is bigger
".

Faced with great challenges yet to come, the policy of any incoming Government seems like a moot point. We have had over a decade of forced centralisation and the elimination of both public policy common sense and personal freedoms that even Josef Stalin would be proud of. The result is a broken society, badly in need of repair in terms of education, legislation, personal responsibility and more.

Imagine it's day the day after the next General Election. With a can of Red Bull in one hand and a telephone in the other, where would you begin?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Through the Smoke

In yesterday's mini-heatwave I noticed several large fires burning out of control.

One large fire in Essex I could see quite clearly when I was over the V-Festival at Chelmsford. Listening in to the Police helicopter, it appeared that it had already sped across a farmer's field and taken a barn and some smaller buildings with it' keeping the Fire Service busy.

A second fire was visible somewhere near Sole Street on the M2 and on the way home, I came across smoke billowing from several spots in the densely wooded area behind the Wild Wood nature reserve near Herne Bay.

Fearing arson, this one I called in to Manston's ATC and then did my best to help the Police and the Fire Service find it, as it was some distance off-road and I ran into the usual problem of the Police controller having no local knowledge whatseover.

I haven't seen anything as bad as last year's fire in the heathland south of Canterbury but the Summer isn't over the ground is parched and the risk from the bored and feckless with a box of matches remains high.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Something Faustian

Reportedly "A black day" and "A gentleman's agreement" now join many others in the growing list of prohibited and/or politically incorrect expressions, identified at enormous public expense by quangos, tirelessly working day and night for a better and more equal society. Am I surprised? Of course not.

I'm not yet sure of the status of "White collar worker" or indeed "Black humour" but perhaps one of my readers has the answer?

As most of us know, our great nation totters on the edge of bankruptcy but Treasury statistics revealed by The Sunday Times, show that the UK's net contribution to the European Union will increase from £4.1 billion this year to £6.4 billion in the next financial year (2010-2011).

Can we afford it, certainly not. Would the public support it? Of course not and it's now only a matter of weeks before the Irish Republic are forced to vote again on the 'Lisbon Treaty' they only recently rejected. This time around and sweetened in an effort to reverse the decision of the Irish people, a "Yes" vote would put the controversial treaty – which transfers national powers to Brussels and creates a powerful new EU president – on course to become law in all 27 member states.

Perhaps then, we can look forward to Tony Blair being President of Europe by Christmas, with Peter Mandleson, to all intents and purposes running Britain as Gordon Brown gnaws on his fingernails in anticipation of a Spring General Election. There's something vaguely Faustian about the whole idea!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Paradise Lost

Listening to Lord Mandelson discussing the Libyan fiasco on the news today, I have a grudging respect for both his intellect and his powers as a communicator.

Mandelson is without doubt the Prime Minister Labour never had and I'm reminded of a verse from Milton's 'Paradise Lost', "To justify the ways of God to Man".

Gordon Brown, even if he weren't on holiday, is completely unequipped for dealing with the media, grinning at the wrong moment or simply being characteristically sullen. Those survivors of his shrinking Cabinet are not much better equipped either, although the young David Milliband does try and do a good impression of the young Tony Blair at times.

But the deployment of Mandleson at difficult moments, simply illustrates that Labour has nowhere left to go. Cabinet positions are looking much like the political equivalent of Stalingrad with no relief in sight. There's nobody left, they've all gone, Blunkett, Byers, Smith, Reid, Clarke; the list seems almost endless with the supply of good socialist, New Labour talent either exhausted or to use another metaphor, simply unprepared to join the band on the deck of the Titanic as it slowly sinks below the political waves.

Once the ship has finally disappeared, the rest of us will be left bobbing around in the lifeboats for at least the next ten years wondering why the crew sold the oars and the emergency rations. However, I can promise that one member of the crew will defy the inevitable sinking, having prepared his own lifeboat in advance, a gift perhaps from a wealthy Russian businessman and equipped with all the small luxuries that a successful European politician needs for an ocean-going vacation.

I wonder who that might be?

Friday, August 21, 2009

More Pain for Small Business

We worry about the unrelenting closure of businesses in our High Streets but Government tax plans now threaten to make this even worse, with the impact felt even more keenly in deprived areas of the country such as Thanet.

Thanet, like many other local councils fighting the impact of the recession, complained vigorously over the business rates fiasco which has driven so many small shops and businesses to the wall but now, predicted tax rises of £100 million are threatening to accelerate this process.

According to reports in today's papers, Ministers have admitted that 100,000 of the smallest companies are likely to be taxed an average of £1,000 extra each over the next three years.

The Government's own estimates suggest that one in 20 small businesses will fail while trying to pay and suggest that the Government's decision to end relief on business rates will see small companies have to pay £40million more this year, £30million more in 2010-11, and £30million more in 2011-12.

Business rates, which are the equivalent of council tax for companies, are based on the rateable value of the premises, roughly the same as a year's rent.

Every five years, premises are revalued to calculate rate levels - but increases are traditionally phased in over the following five years to protect many companies from large rises in bills.

However, transitional relief from the last revaluation of commercial property in 2005 has been allowed to expire early this year, hitting many companies. Some who had enjoyed long-term relief are faced with a decade's worth of increased bills.

The Government has previously repeatedly refused to answer Parliamentary questions on the number of firms subject to transitional relief.

Small businesses are the life blood of this country and have a disproportionate influence on the local economy outside the big cities. While recognising the urgent need for Government to raise taxes to plug the £50billion - £90billion hole in its finances, driving small business ever more quickly to the wall and steadily emptying our struggling High Streets as a result is not the answer.

Invariably, the local council, as the Government's business rates 'Tax collector' takes the blame for lines of empty shops but the real responsibility lies elsewhere and at the present rate of attrition, the future for our battered High Streets looks grim indeed!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Arabian Nights

Apparently, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will send his private jet to collect the Lockerbie bomber and take him home to Libya, following the news of his release this lunchtime. I find this story interesting for two reasons, the first being that recently, I was asked if I might be interested in a flying job in Libya and the second because I think there's a larger story here that we will we never find out about.

Presently, with the global demand for oil, there's been a huge effort directed towards reconciliation with the Gaddafi regime and the Americans, the same people who once tried to bomb him with F111 aircraft from UK airfields - are actively involved.

My own conspiracy theory is that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi may well have played a leading part in the plot to down the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie but that he was not the main player; rather, he was the 'fall-guy'. His appeal process may have uncovered rather embarrasing new information that might and I stress 'might' have compromised the rehabilitation of Libya and the securing of new oilfields. All a bit like Iraq!

So Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi is going home to die, the oil agreements remain secure and the tragedy of Lockerbie is gently filed away in our memories; a part perhaps of the politics of expediency.

Elsewhere, it looks as if Labour are still happily playing the smear game, at Westminster as well as elsewhere. It's widely reported that a government minister discussed “chasing” General Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing head of the Army, (who I hear is a Thanet boy?) over his expenses in an attempt to smear him.

Dannatt has been a little outspoken in asking for frivolous items from the Ministry of Defense, such as helicopters and more men and you may recall the Prime Minister being 'put on the spot' by the House of Commons Armed Forces Committee recently and making valliant efforts not to answer any of their questions on Dannat's request for err.. helicopters and troops for Afghanistan.

Am I surprised? No? Are any of us surprised? Probably not. After all, it's what we have all come to expect from a Labour Government that has lost any moral authority and public confidence in the popular currency of a 'Broken Britain'.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Coming Down

I'm told the 'Blogosphere' has been busy today but in such glorious weather, I've been above it all, at a scorching Cranfield for much of the day.

After close to three years of unrelenting study, flying and fourteen written technical exams, today, I finally succeeded in obtaining the CAA's instrument rating to add to my commercial pilot's license and so in principle at least, I could perhaps apply for a job tomorrow flying tourists to Malaga; unlikely though as I'm getting on a bit now and there's a recession in the airline industry, as the anti-Manston group like to remind us.

No doubt, I'll discover elsewhere in the Blog comments that this too exists only in my imagination but the unrelenting stress of the practical flight test exam at least will stay with me for ever. I certainly don't want to experience anything like it ever again.

Time then to break out a very cold beer and catch up with all the paperwork I now have to complete and fees I have to send in for the change in my license. The CAA have a great deal in common with serious and organised crime but the latter are far less expensive and bureacratic to deal with in my opinion .

Tomorrow, I've been asked if I can arrange an air display for one of the young 'Paras' killed in Afghanistan. A very sad occasion as I'm sure everyone will agree and my deepest sympathy goes to his family and the families of so many others who have lost their loved one to the Taleban.

Finally, all Bloggers who allow unmoderated and anonymous comments and those who make such posts, might be well advised to read the landmark ruling against Google reported in the newspapers today.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coast

The true unemployment figures might be higher than you think, according to a report from the 'Think Tank' Policy Exchange.

They estimate the true figure as being nearer an astonishing six million or one in six of the 37-million-strong working age.

This includes 1.6million on Jobseeker's Allowance and 2.6million on incapacity benefit and its replacement Employment and Support Allowance - more than a million of whom the Government believes are perfectly capable of working.

Regardless of whether the true figure is two million or six million, it's still several million too many and reflects a number of factors, the recession being just one, which are changing the face of our economy and the nature of the workforce.

In order to recover and compete with the Far Eastern economies, we need a different skills set beyond banking, public and service sector jobs but there's abosultely no sign of this happening and its reflected in the continued and dismal literacy statistics of our schools.

On a much happier note, I walked around the coastline yesterday and was delighted to see how spotless our beaches and promenades were and how hard the beach cleaners were working to keep them that way. We have a wonderful coastline and on a day like yesterday, Thanet was being shown-off to its best for the benefit of visitors.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rosy Spectacles

If you want living proof that forecasting the future is best left to the experts, such as Nostradamus, then read my predictions for the Britain of 2010 in The Observer newspaper in January of 2001.

Gazing deeply into my 400mhz crystal ball, I rather lavishly forecast "This country is poised for a wealthy new era as the Venice of the information age" but never counted on the presence of Gordon Brown or the arrival of the worst global recession since the 1930's either.

As I was working with the Office of the e-Envoy at the time and if memory serves, had just returned from a mission to a bitterly cold South Korea the previous week, you can almost smell the optimism that still surrounded the arrival of the internet, that particular bubble still having a year to run before it burst!

One thing though hasn't changed and it's as true here in the outlying villages of Thanet as it was in 2001:

"Bandwidth is, he believes, a critical issue: 'We need to ensure that people have the opportunity to take advantage of the bandwidth. If there is a key point, it is that the country needs to have in place all the infrastructure that allows those who wish to join in the information economy to do so."

I suspect that Michael Child may have an original copy of Nostradamus' predictions in his Ramsgate bookshop alongside other classics such as "Quantitive Easing, Fiscal Prudence and Golden Rules' by Gordon Brown' and Mark McCormack's 'What they Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School', the book that heavily influenced my own start in business twenty-something years ago!

Nine years on, one prediction involving the internet does seem to have come to pass:

'Moores’ Law of Digital Governance” (London School of Economics - June 2000)

- One to Many Represents a Political Opportunity
- Many to One Represents a Political Challenge
- Many to Many is Evidence of Subversive Behavior

Death and Taxes

The tragic figure of two hundred deaths in Afghanistan, was quickly passed this weekend, almost in the blink of an eye. In the statistics of a failing conflict the names of brave young men flash across the television screens and are forgotton by the audience, almost as swiftly, as more names take their place and the casualty toll rises.

Here at home without the daily threat of Taleban bombs, you might be forgiven for not thinking there was a war on. It's a conflict which is costing us £billions and with no sense of any conclusion in the near future and it's all about protecting us from the threat of domestic terrorism, militant Islam or an Al Qaeda which has now apparently moved house to operate freely in the failed state of Somalia.

Where as a nation we demonstrably fail our servicemen and women on a regular basis we agonise over the rights of others, such as the 'mother' of 'Baby Peter' who will one day be given a new identity and home; reprtedly costing close to a £1 million at the taxpayers' expense.

Most people work hard, pay their taxes and live-law abiding lives but where is the incentive today, in 'Brown's Britain to live an honest life when for an increasingly large minority, the choice of an alternative lifestyle visibly enjoys unlimited benefits without any requirement for social responsibility?

We heard last week of a cynical plan by the Treasury where HM Revenue & Customs is increasing the interest rate it charges on payments of inheritance tax made after the six month deadline. The rate will change to 2.5 per cent above the Bank Rate next month, increasing the current level of 0 per cent to 3 per cent.

The Government has always known that when a relative dies, liquidating assets takes many months and invariably closer to a year once the estate has been properly administered and sold. Consequently, it's never been in a hurry to collect. Now in this stealth effort to raise more tax it sees a window of opportunity to raise a significant sum, by charging the family a penalty for not selling the deceased's home fast enough in the worst recession since the 1930's.

I wonder if the Government has shares in Homebuyers UK as people will be desperate will take any price on a house rather than face a large tax bill?

In all likelihood we have eight months to the next General Election and already we have 2.5 million unemployed. By the spring, this could be close to 3 million with a family struggling behind each statistic.

'British jobs for British workers' - illegal under the Human Rights Act - and other equally trite and meaningless Labour soundbites have placed us in the worst economic position since the Second World War. While France and Germany show signs of coming out of recession, our dependence on the financial sector to drive our city economy, means that we are still firmly buried by a mountain of debt that is quite unimagineable to the ordinary citizen.

As it has ever been, this Labour Government will leave the country in the same awful shambles as its predecessors. During its term of office many if not most of the privileges of democracy, handed down to us from the time of Magna Carta, have been swiftly dismantled and replaced by the world's most intense surveillance society. If George Orwell were alive today, he might have looked back on Labour's last ten years and written a sequel to '1984' and called it '2010'. What an interesting book that might have been!

And if you disagree, there's always Derek Draper's box of tricks to call upon. He may have left No10 but I bet his PC is still switched on!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One Million and Rising

A gloomy report today shows that nearly one million young people are out of work as unemployment hits a 14-year high.

Official data revealed that youth unemployment has soared, with more than 700,000 18 to 24-year-olds and 206,000 16 to 17-year-olds jobless.

The figures formed part of what economists described as a "ghastly" set of employment data, which showed that the jobless total had hit a 14-year high of 2.44 million and that the jobless rate had reached a 13-year-high of 7.8 per cent.

The real figures for non-working young people are hidden by the number of in higher and further education and will really start to be revealed as their courses come to an end over the next two to three years, unless we see a dramatic reversal in the economy.

The Times reports the only glimmer of hope in this last quarter's figures was in the number of people claiming benefit. That rose by 24,900 in the period, compared with an expected 28,000 rise.

There's a great deal of good work happening behind the scenes, through 'Thanet Works' and other schemes in trying to find work placement for young people on the island but the broader national figures reflect a worrying trend once you include the sharp rise in unemployment generally.

The Bank of England Governor, Mervyn King, has declared Britain is facing the steepest recession in modern history. He predicts the economy will take longer to recover from this recession than it did in previous economic slumps and it will take “several years” before banks are lending normally to households and businesses

No Government is going to be able to reverse this most consequence of the recession without a considerable struggle and with drastic public sector services cuts just around the corner, we can all expect more pain to come.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy Days

For the benefit of Cllr Nottingham who has published a rather long-winded defence of his attendance record, one which is only marginally better than 'Our Man in Panama' Cllr Broadhurst, I'll happily answer a number of questions he has asked about my past.

It was while I was working for Sky News in 1999, as their technology pundit, (I was then the CEO of a company called The Research Group) and taking part in Michael Wilson's 'Sky Business Report' - every Thursday evening at 7:30 that I met former Cabinet Secretary, Alex Allan. Alex had been tasked by Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to deliver on his vision for an online society, and a quick trawl through Computer Weekly, my weblog and The Observer newspaper archives, will both send you to sleep and show that I had been both broadcasting and writing for the newspapers quite prolifically on that same subject.

Anyway, to cut a long story short and because of my connection with the IT industry, I found myself assisting in the programme, a handful of us, from the office at 70 Whitehall and which became the Office of the eEnvoy.

The Director of Industry in the new unit was Richard Barrington and part of the remit involved educating and reaching out to foreign Governments. In around 2000 - 2001, I found myself in the role of his stand-in and also 'Technology Ambassador' for this Cabinet Office unit representing the UK Government in South Korea, Brazil, Hungary, Greece and more; at one point, indirectly standing in - a convoluted story -  for the Trade & Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt at the Emirates Forum in Dubai.

When Alex left, he was replaced by Andrew Pinder who started what we called 'the Army of the eEnvoy' from the original seven. Because of my 'Arabist' past, I spent a great deal of time in the Middle East on specific missions and in particular, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Oman and Kuwait. At one point in 2001, I met privately with the personal emissary of the President of Iran in Dubai and passed back a message to No10.

My No10 contact was Ed Richards, now the head of Ofcom but was then one of Tony Blair's personal advisors and the man who inspired me to join the Conservative party. Another close advisor was William Perrin, (Knowledge Economy). On communications issues, I worked with Lucian Hudson who ended-up as assistant to the Deputy PM I believe.

Now, I could go on but if Cllr Nottingham's really that interested or dubious about my history, he simply has to 'Google' the reams of material I've written, such as the seventy page or so study I did for Trade Partners UK of Saudia Arabia and its entry into the internet age. The summary document is here.

At the end of this document, which was published on the DTI website, it states: "An advisor to the UK government's Office of the e-Envoy, Dr Moores assists The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Trade Partners UK and The British Council and represents the Office of The e-Envoy at international government -focused events and conferences." I can't really think he needs more evidence than that or perhaps he thinks I made that up too!

If that doesn't work, then simply ask Richard Barrington or my other old friend, Alan Mather, former Chief Executive at the Office of the e-Envoy.

Cllr Nottingham, may never have heard of all this and I find his interest in my past flattering. I doubt that everything Tony Blair was doing at the time was cleared through him either! Unlike him, I've never met Gordon Brown and had a smiley picture taken and to tell the truth, I wouldn't want to either

Happy days...!


Footnote...

I thought I might add a smiley photograph from my own collection with a socialist, rather than Stalinist Prime Minister. This gentleman is of course Australia's Paul Keating with whom I was having dinner and not simply a smile and staged handshake opportunity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Showing it All

I just spotted in today's Thanet Times, that the violent shock wave on Saturday morning that led me to speculate whether a WWII mine had exploded, was in fact the same. I don't know about you but I actually went outside to see if a passing truck had crashed into my garden wall!

With all this Blog chatter about local nudist beaches, my own view is that most adults are best advised to keep their clothes on these days, if only to avoid an embarassing and painful case of sunburn!

By coincidence, I was holding over one these when I was flying the Lowestoft airshow last month, more by accident than design I should say. You would need to get much lower than I was to observe anything more than the reflection of Ambre Solaire and at times its hard to work out whether one is looking at a solitary basking seal or a human being!

The French pilots in the video clip have a better idea! Use the powerful targetting cameras on their Mirage fighters.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Smarter with Less

What started with a very pleasant August morning has given way to a rather windy and overcast afternoon.

I've been over to see the work-in progress at the Westgate pavillion and can't express admiration enough for what Kevin Crace has achieved to date in renovating this wonderful piece of local history. I'm told he's having real problems with persistent vandalism overnight, despite the presence of two large guard dogs inside the building and the police are now involved.

This is the same old depressing local story and it's reflected in the damage now being done to the vacant retirement home opposite in Sea Road, which has been effectively robbed-out, I'm informed, with many of the windows now broken. It's hard enough to find the independent funds and the support for much-needed regeneration programmes, such as the Westgate pavillion and yet here in Thanet, we face a contant battle against a determined but sizeable minority of vandals, hell-bent on reducing the island's empty buildings to smashed windows and broken rubble at any opportunity.

Computer Weekly have picked-up on the Thanet council ICT strategy in the earlier 'Blog' entry and have asked me to write an opinion column on the much broader issues surrounding the streamlining of delivery channels, shared services and how councils need to adapt to the demands of a more hostile financial environment to come.

As the Sunday Times observed yesterday, local council spending has boomed in recent years, rising by 37.3% since 2003. This is now set to go into reverse. This government’s current spending round runs until April 2011, after which payments to support local authorities — roughly half of their income, will be cut. Mind you, it's increasingly unlikely that we will have the same Government in power by this time next year, unless perhaps Peter Mandleson takes control!

Most councils think the drop is likely to be in the region of 10%-15%, but are making contingency plans for a decrease of 30% if Treasury forecasts for the economy prove too optimistic. This could mean cuts of 40% for some services because of the need to protect the most important.

This is of course where technology could play a vital part in smoothing-out the bumps ahead if applied properly and I'm using the expression 'SmartGov' as a handy way of describing the challenge. In some ways, I'm thinking out loud as I write this entry because I don't need to deliver the Computer Weekly piece until Friday.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The True Cost of IT

I don't much like having to delve to the level of mud- slinging, deceit and invective which is a regular part of the publicity emanating from a rather desperate - or is that disparate? - Thanet Labour. Having read a report, I assume by Clive Hart, on Thursday's cabinet meeting on Michael Child's weblog, I felt that I had to respond.

Here's the text of the report:

"Despite promising to be brief, Conservative Cabinet member Cllr. Simon Moores gave a long and very laborious speech on this item. In it he also tried to make a political point about Government and the mismanagement of costs concerning IT systems.

Cllr. Peter Campbell also promised to be brief and he was. He simply pointed to 4.1.1 in the report being discussed which said 'The details of associated costs of the ICT Strategy have yet to be identified'. Cllr. Campbell asked if Cllr. Moores had anything to say about a report which clearly showed his scheme was as yet uncosted?

There was a very long silence before Cllr. Moores fumbled together a feeble excuse of a reply! "

I don't fumble, it's not my way, I know my subject and Cllr Hart, whose grasp of ICT is legendary, is somewhat economical with both the truth and the exchange that took place.

For the benefit of readers who might be vaguely interested, here's what I actually said:

"I don’t plan to bore members with a long-winded report on the council’s ICT & Information management strategy but intend plan to offer a condensed summary and accept questions if necessary.

I’m sure all members will accept that the effective use of technology offers local government one of its greatest opportunities in both reducing costs and improving efficiency across all public services, while at the same time the massive increase in government IT spending under New Labour – about 17bn in 2008 – 2009, has had no impact on the productivity of the public sector. One major flaw seems to have been the use of IT merely to automate existing processes, with rarely any savings or improvements in the services delivered. Instead, IT, has, in many cases merely becomes another operating expense sitting on top of everything that was already there before.

If we are to achieve real benefits from the technology we have available here in Thanet, then this demands that complex systems and processes are joined-up, are reliable and resilient and that our customers, the general public, can have their services delivered through a choice of different channels at all times of the day; while the principle of business process automation, reduces the need for personal contact with council staff."

As this was a formal report to council on a 2009 IT strategy which will demand a considerable and sensible supporting budget to be put in place, if accepted, I moved quickly through the headline topics of the technologies involved and concluded:

"The public sector is facing a period of unparalleled financial austerity and effective use of technology becomes even more of a driving force in maintaining services as both the budget and the workforce come under threat. As a result we need to genuinely re-think public service design built around the needs of the citizen and the role that technology plays in enabling that re-design and the consequent operation of the services

The very nature of the public sector and the public procurement procedure invariably means that what we have available to us in terms of information technology is frequently behind the curve, a consequence of the lowest bidder process and often several years out of date. In co-operation with our conscientious and frequently over-worked IT team, and following-on from the strategy document you have in front of you, as a council, we need to be more joined-up in our processes, increasingly smarter in the way in which we apply them and innovative in the way in which we use our existing solutions and partnerships with other authorities.

This is reflected in the strategy document and I hope members will join with me in supporting the vision it presents and recognise the hard work of the officers that lies behind it. "

Cllr Campbell, a councillor for whom I have the greatest respect, asked if the member for finance, Cllr Wise (who is on holiday) was tied-up downstairs because the overall cost of the new ICT strategy was as yet unpublished and Cllr Ezekiel and I both gave an assurance that once the strategy had been fully costed to meet our targets, budgets would be met.

In the surreal world of New Labour where our negelected country is now being run by Peter Mandleson, who happens to be on holiday in Corfu, Cllr Hart's imagination and recollection of the event are true to form.

The Winter of Discontent

I did rather wonder last night, just before the start of the BBC's 'Any Questions' at Margate's Winter Gardens, if we were going to have a small riot, when ten names from the audience were drawn from the hat to ask questions of the panel and directed to specially reserved chairs in the front row.

Three of these, were Richard Samuel, Roger Latchford and me. "It's a fix" protested the lady behind me, to the BBC producer. "You've got the Deputy Leader of the council and its Chief Executive"; I don't think she knew who I was though, so I kept my head down.

In fact, this was all a coincidence as the BBC explained. They simply picked what they thought were the "best ten questions" from the box that had been provided and oddly enough, Roger Latchford was picked twice but he gallantly gave his second question away for someone else to ask.

It was an interesting debate but started to run out of time towards the end and so my own question was missed out and the final word from the audience went to Richard Samuel, who asked if "reports of the death of the English seaside town were exaggerated", paraphrasing, Mark Twain.

Apparently not, according to John Kampfner and others and the completed Turner Contemporary will very soon put Margate right back on the map as a preferred tourist destination, which is nice and something for us all to look forward to!

I was greeted by Peter Checksfield on the way in - nice to meet you Peter - and Tony Flaig from Margate's 'Premier News Blog' BigNews Margate, was also in the audience and we had our normal energetic chat about the state of British politics. Perhaps our views are really not that much different and I really believe that when the next local elections come around, Tony should think of standing for an experience of politics from the sharp-end, maybe even as a Kent County Councillor, which would be interesting I'm sure!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Question Time

Just testing 'Twitter' to see if it's back after yesterday's massive 'Distributed Denial of Service Attack' DDoS, allegedly by Russian hackers. It appears to be working OK but the less than tacit message from whoever was responisble for the outage at Facebook, Google and Twitter is very clear: "We can take your network down any time we like and the same is true of large parts of your critical national infrastructure too!"

Back here in Thanet, we've the BBC's 'Question Time' taking place at the Margate Winter Gardens a 7pm and I've a ticket. How quite I'm going to get there in time after flying a wedding banner over Deal castle at 5pm is another question but I'll certainly give it a try but don't expect me to be looking smart. Best hide at the back of the audience somewhere.

I've just finished reading today's Thanet Gazette and why anyone would want to visit our small island after reading it, is anyone's guess. Personally I find the pages and the editorial they contain deeply depressing, negative and I find it quite dismaying, that the Gazette struggles to find anything positive and normally not, about any aspect of living in Thanet!

Before I try and get this afternoon's wedding in, I have to drop by Westgate's Lymington road for the opening of the new recreation area. It's been a long time coming but thanks to the help and support of Kent county councillor, Robert Burgess and others , it's finally arrived.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

High Street Woes

A reasonably well balanced report, I thought, from the BBC's Hugh Pym, as he walked along Margate High Street yesterday.

Margate, the BBC reports, is the worst hit town in the country, with a shop closure rate of 25% while cities in the north of England like Leeds and Liverpool also have rates of more than 20%.

Out of town shopping centres, such as Westwood Cross, are undeniably a factor in the demise of the great British high street but the collapse of large retail chains, such as Woolworths and the manner in which high streets have come to be dominated by the same over the last twenty years, Burton, H.Samuel, Woolworth, Next and more also lies firmly behind the problem.

Once a big out-of -town retail park appears, the big chain simply 'up-sticks' and create a vacuum in the town centres. In the same way, shoppers, vote with their feet and if they hadn't been going to Westwood Cross, they would have been going to Canterbury instead.

Margate's greatest challnge is chronic social deprivation, where it a leads much of the country in the harsh figures of despair. Thanks to the social-engineering of succesive Government's, frequently referred to as 'Dole-by-the-sea' , Margate and Cliftonville, together with other well-known seaside towns has witnessed a demographic change from which it is very hard to recover without significant Government investment. You can see this is our local health figures, teenage pregnancy rate, unusually high percentage of houses in multiple occupancy, domestic abuse figures and more.

Given the prevailing financial crisis, money from Government on the scale required is most unlikely, unless you happen to believe in fairies and so we are left to struggle with the multiple challenges while making regeneration and economic development through attracting new business to Thanet a top-priority.

If high street businesses are to be succesful, they have to first offer some advantage or attraction to local shoppers and secondly, those same local people need a sufficient disposable income to support the shops by visiting them. In this respect, Margate lies arguably between a rock and a hard place, sharing the tough experience of this recession with a score of seaside towns dotted across the South-east, even Brighton,to a degree.

A few weeks ago, I was in le Touquet, which is as up market and as well-heeled as you can possibly get for a European seaside town. I was astonished to see how many closed down shops and boutiques had appeared since my last visit. Tourists aren't spending money or simply aren't coming and the volume of business no longer exists to support some of the trendier stores there.

Woolworths was vitally important for Margate and Cliftonville as it occupied an important retail and social shopping niche. Without it the two suffer disproportionately with a knock-effect rippling through the shops as footfall decreases.

If I knew the answer to this problem I might become rich overnight. This recession is both changing the face of retail and the way in which we perceive it in terms of our shopping habits. In the meantime, as long as Government isn't prepared to help retailers by lowering the business rates, all councils can do is try very hard to find ways of encouraging new ideas and new busineses to set-up shop and act as a catalyst for future recovery when it comes.