Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Kevin Brennan MP, Labour's Shadow Schools Minister, commenting on the School Workforce Census said:
"Under David Cameron and Michael Gove, there are 6,000 fewer teachers in our schools today than at the General Election. There are also 3,000 fewer qualified teachers. 
"With pupil numbers increasing and fewer teachers, this Government is undermining classroom standards. 
"They have undermined professionals and allowed unqualified teachers into classrooms. Parents don't want bigger class sizes and children taught by teachers who aren't qualified."


Sunday, 28 April 2013


Last travellers leaving.

The peace and quiet of the Park was disrupted on Wednesday 25th April when a convoy of caravans belonging to a group of travellers entered and occupied the upper piece of land without permission from TDC who are the legal owners of the land.
TDC immediately issued them notice to leave by Friday, which they failed to do.
TDC officers assessed the situation in the Park and on Fridaythey were preparing a Section 77 report in order to request an eviction notice from the Courts.
The 2 Ward Councillors, Cllr. Michelle Fenner and Cllr. Alan Poole, were in frequent contact with the Police and TDC officers. On Saturday morning they were made aware of an incident at the Park. On their arrival at the entrance of the Park they witnessed an ugly and distressing incident involving 3 male travellers threatening the owner of the Park kiosk. They immediately made an emergency call to the Police. A large contingent of Police officers arrived within a few minutes, led by Inspector David Collinson.
Using their legal power under Sections 61/62, the Police ordered the group of travellers to leave the Park immediately.
By 12 noon the Park was empty of caravans and returned to its normal activities of families walking, children playing, dog walkers exercising their pets.
Many thanks must be expressed to all the people who got involved and supported the Park users:
Many residents came forward to express their dismay.
The police were very prompt to respond to the threatening behaviour displayed by a group of travellers.
The Ward Councillors were there or in regular contact throughout and their prompt assessment of the incident enabled the quick response from the Police.
Cllr Michelle Fenner“ the Park is very precious to all the residents of Ramsgate and over the years we have always been active, fighting tooth and nail to protect the Park against any threats”
TDC officers prepared the legal grounds for eviction and assisted in all matters relating to this unfortunate situation.
Cllr. Alan Poole: “ we have asked TDC officers to do everything they can  and as soon as possible to restore the Park to its natural beauty”

The Park is one of the jewels in the crown in Ramsgate and we urge all residents to go and enjoy it, and to be respectful of all other users.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Cllr Clive Hart


In this report, generally speaking, I have to deal with matters since the last council meeting. I want to quickly make a couple of very pertinent points and then move on.

On the day following the last council meeting we received the news that the former Conservative Leader of this council was found guilty of misconduct in a public office. Probably the worst possible publicity this council could have. A very, very black day indeed for TDC.

I don’t have to explain to councilors here just how difficult my relationship was with that particular former leader. It’s no exaggeration when I say I found it very difficult to be in the same room and I’m sure he had similar feelings.

However, we both had to attend council meetings along with other members  and I want to commend my group for their dignified and controlled behavior in the months leading up to the court case. They turned the other cheek and never once responded when lectured by that former leader on ethics and probity during heated debates in this chamber.

Thankfully, we can now move on, but we are still hindered by negative stereotypes and this is where I want to make my last point in this regard.

I’ve been a councilor for ten years this month and to my knowledge during that time none of my fellow Labour councillors have received criminal convictions. This council may have a reputational problem that WE ALL now have to deal with but I’m sick and tired of the public saying ‘we’re all the same’. We’re not – and I do sincerely hope the Conservative group will do some serious soul searching as part of the process to rebuild reputations across this council.

So our administration has yet more legacy issues to deal with - and we will.

We wish to emphasise that Thanet District Council’s policies and procedures are robust. Indeed the Annual Audit Letter of September 2012 stated that in overall terms their assessment was that the Council has a good understanding of its underlying financial position and sound financial systems and that the Council continues to demonstrate effective arrangements for budget and financial management.

TDC’s Whistleblowing Policy was effective and instantaneous in alerting the Senior Management and subsequently the Police to the crime committed.

Thorough investigations by the Police took place with full co-operation of TDC officers to check if there were any signs of collusion found nothing untoward.

We share the concern that Councillors who are elected to represent and serve the general public must adhere to the highest standards of integrity.

We have therefore decided to take the opportunity this situation presents to revisit our policies and procedures and not to leave any stone unturned.

We have requested a comprehensive report to Cabinet on lessons to be learnt and what actions to follow. This report will be discussed at the Cabinet meeting in April.

It is proposed to write a report to Cabinet to debrief Members on the findings of the court case, and to present the response of the council to learn from this case to improve its systems and processes.

The cabinet report will state in its opening paragraphs that a crime has been committed and although we are actively reviewing our procedures, a preliminary review has shown that it was a result of the council’s procedures that enabled the crime to be detected and brought to justice. As a learning council we have used this to prompt a thorough review of procedures covering asset disposal, contract procedures, publication of reports and disclosure of member interests.

The report will specifically refer to:-

- A review of the asset disposal policy and procedure – with revisions to include the addition of an explanation of the methods of disposal; and to improve key controls to prevent advantage to officers and members through inside knowledge, by prohibiting officers from sharing bidding information during commercial negotiations.   Internal audit will be asked to contribute to this review and to provide assurance of the adequacy of key controls.
- A review of the register of member interests, to strengthen the information requested. This revision would then be taken to Standards, for recommendation to Council.
- A reminder will be issued to all members alerting them of the need to complete the register of interests.
- Regular reminders will be issued to all staff and members of the whistleblowing policy.  This has recently been undertaken.
- Officers will be made aware of risk areas in disposal and contract award decisions and will be reminded of the need for thorough and accurate records of all decisions as well as for the need to log member contact in relation to sale and contract negotiations.
- To strengthen the detection controls for asset sales, all sales will be reported in the quarterly budget monitoring reports, where the sale values will form part of the capital receipts figures within the capital programme. The report will state which assets have been disposed of, by which sale method, for what price and the details of the purchaser.

Members will be reassured that it is appropriate to approach officers with concerns relating to their ward, or portfolio, such as may affect the areas regeneration, but that these contacts will be recorded.


- Where officers deem it necessary to exclude the press and public due to the content of a report, the report that recommends the exclusion of the press and public will, in future, state what the public interest test is, to explain the rational for the exclusion, and what is meant by commercially sensitive, where applicable.
- The exclusion report will also state that in the case where the public interest test is finely balanced, that the presumption will be in favour of publishing.

On this point I really do have to ask that councillors please do honour their pledge and respect the very privileged position they each hold. We simply can’t have an individual member deciding when they will and when they won’t play by the rules. That’s total anarchy and a huge insult to the other fifty plus members of the council who take such responsibilities very seriously indeed.

I was the Leader of the opposition for a couple of years so I know only too well, the feeling of frustration that pink papers and confidential items can sometimes create.

Indeed, as opposition leader I argued on several occasions (sometimes successfully – sometimes not) to have papers taken off of pink and discussed in open session.

Please be assured, my attitude has not changed as Leader and Chair of Cabinet where again, over the past eighteen months, I have challenged officers regarding pink papers on the same basis and with the same success rate.

However, you will not find one member of the press or public who has ever received confidential papers from me. To have leaked them would have been an insult to my fellow councillors and all the staff here at TDC – not to mention those referred to in such papers.


I want to make a small plea on behalf of a council whose staff are increasingly stretched to the limit due to funding cut backs from central government.

Between January 2011 and March 2013, TDC dealt with 1537 questions submitted under the Freedom of Information Act.

The total cost of dealing with these cases over this period, on which officers were required to spend 3,278 hours, amounted to an estimated amount of £130,850, which represents an average of £85.13 per case.

Of the total amount, ten people making regular FOI requests incurred costs to the TDC rate payer of £14,233, with an average time of 2.3 hours taken on obtaining the answers to their questions.

One person in particular has submitted a total of 63 FOI questions since January 2011, on which a total of 206 hours of officer time has been spent and at a cost of over £7,000.

So I also ask colleagues and members of the public to please think very carefully before making FOI requests – they have to be resourced and residents ultimately foot the bill through their council tax.


In summary, this council is at a critical point. Because of the appalling actions of a former Conservative council leader, we need to review our current processes and procedures to restore the public’s confidence in TDC.

I really am delighted that it is our Labour administration that will now oversee that process. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for a Conservative group so closely aligned to the former leader to perform this task.

We are a fresh team with absolutely no allegiance to the former Conservative leader and we will make sure the job is done correctly.

We are not complacent about the way decisions are made and implemented and our guiding principle will always be the public interest. We intend to continue to debate, scrutinise and challenge every aspect of Thanet District Council’s work on behalf of the community it serves.

Thanet Labour Group Press Office

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, commenting on reports that Lib Dem and Conservative MPs are likely to rebel against the Government's plans to relax planning laws, said:
"This likely rebellion over planning laws shows that the Government is so weak and divided, that it can't even agree on how to build conservatories.
"This ill-conceived scheme to allow unregulated and potentially unsightly development without scrutiny is anti-localist and will sow discord between neighbours.
"If they really wanted to give an immediate lift to the construction sector they would take Labour's advice and cut the rate of VAT on home improvements and repairs, creating 100,000 jobs and helping both homeowners and builders."

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Cliftonville Branch of the Labour Party unanimously selected Alan Currie as our candidate for the forthcoming district ward by-election in Cliftonville East at our Northdown Road offices this week.

Alan has lived in Cliftonville with his family since 1994. His three children all attended Cliftonville Primary School. After working previously in property management he now works in Thanet as an English language teacher and NVQ Assessor.

Over the past decade Alan has campaigned for improved facilities in Dane Park, the protection of public spaces in Northdown Park and for the past two years he has been a volunteer Thanet coastal warden looking after Palm Bay.

Thanet Labour Group Leader Cllr Clive Hart said "I know Alan to be a really smashing guy who just loves his local community. He's been waiting for his family and life circumstances to allow him the time to get even more deeply involved and that time has now come. Alan will make an excellent local councillor".

The by-election will take place on May 9th following the imprisonment of former Conservative ward councillor and council leader for misconduct in public office.

Promoted by Michelle Fenner

Published by South Thanet Labour
44 Northdown Road

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Gregg McClymont MP, Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, responding to the Work and Pensions Committee report on State Pension reform, said:
“It is clear from the substantial work of the committee that there is significant confusion surrounding the pension changes. In pensions clarity is key particularly for those so close to retiring and the Government is failing. Hundreds of thousands of women close to retirement are now set to lose out thanks to this Government’s plans.
“First we were to see the new pension in 2016, then it was “too complicated”, now they have decided it isn’t that tricky after all. The truth is the coalition approach to pensions is in utter disarray.”
Labour Party

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


By Cllr Michelle Fenner
Thanet District Council found itself in the unenviable position as owners of Ramsgate Port, being an open port, of having to allow the shipment of live animals from it by the owners of the mv Joline.

In July 2011 a motion from Labour Councillors calling on TDC to investigate all possible legal avenues to stop the shipments and calling for an 8 hours limit for total journey time was agreed unanimously by all, TDC Councillors, from all political parties.
When Labour gained control of TDC in December 2011 its new administration set up a committee comprising representatives of various organisations, including the RSPCA to share information relating to live exports out of Ramsgate Port.
This resulted in the decision taken to allow the RSPCA to inspect all the lorries transporting live animals as they came through the port. These inspections showed a number of infringements to the welfare of animals which were reported to Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, a government agency charged with inspecting animal shipments through the Port.

The events which took place in September 2012 when lame animals had to be put down and several hundred having to be off-loaded from the lorries into the perimeter of the port highlighted the pitfalls of not having adequate facilities in Ramsgate Port to deal with emergency situations and the lack of a nearby lairage facility. This presented an element of danger to staff at the port, which TDC’s administration could not condone.

These events also lead Trading Standards from Kent County Council to conduct an investigation which also highlighted many breeches from the transporters.

TDC officers supported by Cabinet had no alternative but to suspend the live exports through Ramsgate Port on the grounds that it did not have the adequate facilities and did not wish to spend huge amounts of money on providing such facilities.

The message from TDC to the transporters of live animals was always unequivocal; we are not happy about this barbaric trade using our port.

The transporters whose main purpose is to have a profitable trade took TDC to Court against its suspension of shipments and to claim compensations.

As a Local Authority we would have expected some support or at least some kind of neutrality from DEFRA as a government agency. But DEFRA did not support TDC in spite of the many representations made to them by many organisations and Elected Members.
Their argument at the time was that there were adequate lairage facilities nearby to deal with emergency situations.
Nonetheless, they decided to review their procedures for the inspection of lorries and loading of animals. It is now a requirement that every vehicle is inspected. This begs the question: if everything was supposed to be adequate why did they feel the need to make changes to their procedures?

The first set of Court hearings led to TDC having to lift its suspension on the use of Ramsgate Port, through lack of support from DEFRA.

The shipments resumed in November 2012 but TDC stood firm and still insisted on RSPCA being present at the port to make sure any infringements were noted and reported.

This whole situation and its many developments have no doubt had the effect of making it more difficult for the transporters to operate out of Ramsgate Port and it is not entirely surprising that they have been active in the last few weeks in trying out new berthing facilities in Dover Port.

The fact that live exports might move to another port is obviously not a perfect situation but it is a measure of the difficulties encountered by transporters who would have had to expend some of their profits on making alterations to the mv Joline in order to be able to use the newly re-furbished berth in Dover.

The current situation is that the transporters tried to get their legal costs paid for by TDC. The sum they were seeking was £125K. 

The Court decided that they should be reduced to £80K. The compensation claim will be going to Court probably around March 2014 but there is no guarantee for the transporters that they will be successful. Indeed TDC is making a strong case against that, particularly in view of the Trading Standards investigation.

There are situations where decisions have to be made in which a balance has to be struck between the moral duty to take action and the potential legal costs. TDC took the view that judging by the unanimous support of all TDC Councillors and the response from the general public, it had to impose a suspension of the shipments of live exports. We took legal advice all the way along and we continue to manage the situation in order to minimise costs and protect our legal position.

We are aware that in the meantime the RSPCA entered into Court proceedings and we are grateful to them for raising public awareness and concern against live exports. Regrettably, as a Local Authority we were not able to assist them directly in their Court case. That does not mean to say that we are colluding in any way with DEFRA who has shown little inclination to resolve this issue.
We know this problem is not going to go away easily and quickly and it is important to keep a united front of all like minded people, with each organisation playing its part in any way it can.

There is no doubt that this problem requires an answer that lays squarely with the UK Government in making sure that DEFRA and AHVLA adhere strictly to the conditions laid out clearly in the EU Regulation 1/2005 regarding the transport of live animals through the Member States.

Thanet Labour Group Press Office
44 Northdown Road