Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Three Sure Start Children’s Centres in Thanet will have their hours cut to part-time under the latest round of cuts from Kent County Council.

The decision to downgrade centres in Birchington, Callis Grange and Garlinge was announced on Wednesday morning by Jenny Whittle, Cabinet Member for Specialist Children's Services.

In Thanet the decision was met with dismay by local Labour councillors.

“Despite a vigorous campaign by parents, grandparents, carers and Labour Councillors, KCC has not reconsidered its decision to make Callis Grange a part-time centre” said Jenny Matterface, Councillor for Beacon Road.

“It will impact on parents without transport who will find it difficult to access other centres for vital services. It will add more strain on cash strapped families who have to pay for public transport to other centres and it will give children less time at the centre.It will make it increasingly difficult for families who have benefited from the Children’s Centres to continue to attend. 

“I wonder what we can expect next year by way of cuts to this essential part of our community?”

Councillor Iris Johnston, who campaigned for the creation of Sure Starts in Thanet in 2005, was dismayed at the news.

“Labour Councillors at TDC and myself as Cabinet Member for Community Development made it very clear at a KCC 'consultants' briefing that we would not tolerate any loss of services to our families or indeed job losses for the many excellent staff. I’m glad that our pressure has meant that not a single centre has closed in Thanet, but we are disappointed by the downgrading of the services to part-time.

“Those of us who have spent years supporting the need for “under- five’s” provision worry that this is the beginning of KCC working towards even more serious changes.”

South Thanet Labour Party’s candidate for the 2015 General Election, Councillor Will Scobie, also campaigned against the closures.

“Sure Starts work, the evidence is there. The benefits are clearly shown in the parents who have gained qualifications, gained employment and gone on to further education.

“These cuts will affect families that need support to meet their potential, so we won’t give up the fight for local people. The Labour government created Sure Starts in 2005 and we are committed to helping families by giving every child in primary school free breakfast and after school clubs from 8am to 6pm, and extending free nursery places for 3-4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week.

“David Cameron promised before he was elected that Sure Starts were safe. Since 2010 he has closed 590 centres around the country and has cut the funding and hours for many more. It’s clear which party is in support of families and children, and which will only put big businesses first.”

Would you like more details or to speak to the people involved in this story:

Will Scobie
PPC for South Thanet
07792 416 865

Councillor Iris Johnston
07709 958 564

Councillor Jenny Matterface

07785 966 666

Friday, 22 November 2013


Cllr Michelle Fenner

Cabinet Member for Business, Corporate and Regulatory services.

Response to report:

"This report mentions the misconduct of some Cllrs.
This report with all of its sweeping statements starts by stating that because of the Localism Act, brought in by Central Government, the Standards Committee cannot take any sanctions against the misconduct.    But it finishes with the request to take action!!! That puzzles me.

But we do rely on the Code of Conduct and a comprehensive training session for elected members was delivered on 22nd May 2013.

Meanwhile, TDC gets on with delivering its services and projects.

As an illustration, at the last Cabinet meeting, we were given a Corporate Performance report for the last quarter on our key priorities:
from 30 projects, 5 were completed, 23 in progress.
For example the programme of renovation around the port and harbour with the Yatch Valley project, the housing allocation policy, affordable housing built and empty properties brought back into use and Margate housing intervention, the Port of Entry designation at Manston airport, food hygiene inspections, the Public Realm project dealing with fly-tipping, the new swimming pool in Ramsgate.
All this in spite of severe cuts in our funding from Central Government.
And we continue to deliver a balanced budget and to minimise the Council Tax increases.
TDC functions and delivers its services. It uses the mechanisms and processes stated in its constitution and acts upon the recommendations from the Constitutional Review Working Party.

The  fact is that  some Cllrs do not comply with them, but let me also add that some members of the public do not either.
The only way forward is to defend the democratic process.
Let’s talk about the democratic process and let’s talk about a typical Cllr’s work:

-meetings potentially several evenings per week

-Case work from residents, particularly now with the introduction of changes in benefits

-Keeping residents informed of their work on their behalf

-Reading Council papers.

This represent many hours per week/ per month/per year.
The allowance they receive goes a certain way towards compensating them for their time,  although TDC’s is one of the lowest in the region and nationally.

But you also need to consider the energy needed, physically and mentally to do this work.

And last but not least the emotional energy needed to cope with the stress caused.

In order to have good democracy and good Governance
-       we need to have as wide a representation across society in terms of social background, age, life experience.
-       We need to be able to attract individuals who want to serve their community and be part of decisions across a range of issues, not just on a particular one. Cllrs are not purely lobbyists on one issue. They have to encompass all aspects of the life of the residents they represent in their ward AND across the District, and make balanced decisions.
-       We also need to support all Cllrs to do their work: Situations and issues are rarely black and white and Cllrs need to be allowed to do their work within democratic safeguards
-       We need to uphold the rules set out in the exercising of democracy.

-       We need to balance criticisms against achievements
This report fails on all these counts:

-it paints all Cllrs with the same tar brush and,  in doing so,  it fails its own Equalities criterion

-It makes Cllrs responsible for the consequences of decisions made by Central Government

-it does not recognise the existing processes and mechanisms for change in TDC’s constitution

-it does not consider the work in progress by this administration to address the legacy issues through the publication of the Cabinet report on Probity and Reputation and the fact that,  at times,  we have not been afraid of calling upon the Police to assist us.

The Probity and Reputation report published in April 2013 contains a review of key policies and procedures relating to asset disposal, contract standing orders, whistleblowing policy and the registration and declaration of interests by elected members. It also agreed that there should be presumption in favour of inclusion of the press and public for any part of a meeting. The Cabinet also asked the Constitutional Review Working Party to re-consider the issue of filming. Its recommendations were put to Full Council and agreed.

Our meetings are open to the public, they are filmed and films made available on TDC’s website.
If accredited media organisations want to film, they can request permission from the Chair. These organisations need to show their professional credentials so that ethical standards of reporting are complied with. ...This is much more than what happens at the House of Commons....

The way the democratic process is exercised can be reviewed and altered BUT within the democratic safeguards.

-This report slaps a massive line across the hard work by all Cllrs and the achievements of the Council.

-This report is subjective and lacks scientific rigour. It is not based on facts but on perceptions

Although our hands are tied by Central Government in terms of what sanctions can be applied, and I did meet with the Legal department to discuss this very issue on 7th July 2013, we have to defend the democratic process and we rely on all Cllrs to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
We also appeal to the public to be respectful of the same rules.

In this context, blaming all Cllrs for the misconduct of a handful is PLAIN WRONG and it attacks the very essence of why we are here, including you as a Standards Committee.
Let’s not forget that this Council decided to keep a Standards Committee and chose a model that included independent members.

The misconduct of a handful of Cllrs, not only must be exposed as attacks on the democratic process but this report almost legitimises them by suggesting the intentions are ‘noble’. At least the wording could have been ‘misguided’, but not ‘noble’, particularly when the same disruptive actions are perpetrated time and time again.

The real true culprit in all of this, is the austerity policy from Central Government which creates a situation where each category of residents is having to fight against another to get a share of the ever diminishing funding.

In times of austerity measures, discrimination and prejudice thrive.

It allows the rule of the mob and the mentality that who shouts the loudest wins!

We must stand firm and steer clear of the frenzy of irate emotions that can trample on our democratic safeguards, so that the right decisions are made and not knee-jerk reactions.

Beware of political motives which can derail democracy for small momentary gain but in the end we ALL suffer the consequences of attacks on democracy.

I appeal to this committee to note this report for what it is, an opinion, and to reiterate its support for our TDC constitution and for the work done by the Constitutional Review Working Party in reviewing our processes".

The report was overwhelmingly rejected by the standards committee due to lack of evidence and shortly afterwards the four Independent Members resigned.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

TDC Standards Committee - 21st November 2013

TDC and Labour Group Leader - Cllr Clive Hart 

Speaking at TDC Standards Committee - 21st November 2013.

"Firstly a few points in the report that I absolutely agree with.
The report says that the conviction of a former councillor has had an adverse effect on the perception of the council. That has to be the understatement of the year! It will simply take years to change perceptions after such an episode.
Also, there is no doubt in my mind that the Government has done us no favours by removing the formal sanctions that were available for the breach of the council’s code of conduct.
However, TDC certainly did opt to retain a Standards committee.
Unfortunately I find it hard to understand how the Independent Members with their experience outlined in the report could not have predicted the negative press that this report would generate for Thanet and that they would not have been able to predict the devastating negative effect on council members and officers it would have.
I also note that Independent Members say they utilize their experience in the service of the council. Unfortunately, the ambiguous, broad stroke manner of this report has tarnished every member of this council – good or bad – and has consequently done no service whatsoever to this council.
Nowhere in this report is there any reference whatsoever to the vast majority of hard working councillors who literally give thousands of hours service to local residents year after year.
(My wife – also a frontline councillor -read this report at 9pm on Tuesday evening after spending two hours dealing with a residents housing problem. You simply cannot imagine how appalled she was by the way it describes councillors).
Neither is there any reference whatsoever to the thousands of hours councillors spend on committees here at TDC working harmoniously together, cross party, for the benefit of our district.
The report says there have been no changes in behavior but I think there most certainly has been. The two main parties agree on large areas of council business and agree to differ on some individual matters. That’s politics and always will be. Where I believe there has been a recent change is in general attitudes towards standards matters. I’m pretty certain that virtually every councillor will agree that there is now just one particular councillor whose anarchistic tendencies and total disrespect for Chairmen, the constitution and procedures is trying to bring the council and every one of us into disrepute. This manifested itself - yet again - at a scrutiny working party only this week, where the Chairman had to postpone a meeting due to total disrespect. The culprit appeared to actually want the Chairman to call the Police to evict him from the meeting. Three of us group leaders present at the meeting expressed our profound disappointment. We jointly felt the individual was yet again holding the democratic process to ransom and wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money.
Another understatement in the report has to be the words ‘there have been suggestions that some councillors have stated in public that they intend not to comply with the democratically agreed decisions of the council’. Suggestions! The same individual has stated that as fact in a full council meeting and on the Internet.
Through words such as unscientific, suggestions, suspicion and appearance, the report is ambiguous and riddled with halve truths and innuendo.
With regards to the report saying that - there are ‘personal attacks taking place between members’. For my part I know that every time I give my leaders report to full council, in his response, the leader of the opposition will make personal remarks about me. I think that’s quite pathetic but it’s his style and although I used to feel aggrieved by his statements, experience has taught me to now laugh it off. We’re in politics and unfortunately some people can get a little nasty.
However, in relation to the wording - councillors are ‘distrustful of the public’. What absolute nonsense! We are elected by the public and represent them to the very best of our ability.
As for the situation ‘adversely affecting the delivery of services’. I have to say I’m proud to be the leader of a council that is as busy and efficient as any in the county. Despite having the deepest and most cruel government grant cuts and our broad social and economic problems, we are still one of the most progressive councils in Kent with a whole host of award wining initiatives and projects.
The report speaks of ‘action taken within political groups’ and that ‘this option carries a risk of lack of consistency across the council. That may be so with other groups but I can say that just is not true of the Labour Group:
During my term as Group leader I have had one Labour member who clearly stepped across the line of what was reasonable. Not through words in the council chamber or in any committee but by making an inappropriate comment on social media. Despite being one of our longest standing members and the high regard that held him in within our party, he was suspended from our group for a month.
More importantly, before his return to our group he came into my office, shook hands with member of another party that he had offended and even more importantly – both those involved buried their differences and gave a joint undertaking to work together for the benefit of Thanet and its residents. That’s how we work in the Labour Group in our relations with others.
In response to the statement saying we are ‘distant from the reality of peoples lives’. Come along to our Labour councillor surgeries, to our community safety meetings, to all our residents and public meetings. Walk the streets with us delivering ward newsletters to many thousands of homes every month, meeting members of the public in their own homes and on their own doorsteps and discussing their issues with them eye to eye to eye. It’s nothing short of an insult to describe Labour Group members as in any way ‘distant from the realities of peoples lives’.
We certainly are a ‘hung’ council and the Labour Group took control under quite unusual circumstances whilst we were still only the second largest party, back in December 2011. The outgoing Conservative administration was clearly ‘bruised’ by this and was left feeling very bitter.
Ironically, two years on and having lost some by-elections and suffered a defection, the Conservative Group now appear to be coming to terms with the reality of the situation and the Labour Group are now clearly the largest party at TDC. That’s why I find the timing of this report quite incredible.
In my opinion, generally speaking, relations between fifty plus councillors have actually improved over the past year.
Unfortunately though, the report does tar all councillors with the same brush and as such I feel compelled as Labour Group leader to clearly explain that my group has no part in the major misdemeanors of councillors at TDC.
I’m not in any way saying my group members are saints but during my term as Labour Group leader:
None of my members have been convicted and sent to prison for fraudulent behaviour.
None of my members have been sent to prison for drinking and driving.
None of my members have been charged for cruelty to animals.
None of my members have received a caution from the Police.
None of my members have stated publicly that they intend not to comply with a democratically agreed decision.
None of my members have stated that they do not intend to comply with Standards hearings.
None of my members have openly mocked the Standards regime on their Internet bloggs.
None of my members have published or threatened to publish confidential TDC papers on the Internet.
And none of my members have secretly filmed their colleagues during meetings.
I’m sure my members would welcome any training opportunity whether it’s needed or not, but I truly fear it may not help some other individuals".
The report was overwhelmingly rejected by the Standards Committee due to lack of evidence and shortly afterwards the four Independent Members resigned.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Ed Miliband today identifies childcare as a key front in One Nation Labour’s battle to tackle the cost of living crisis

Ed Miliband today identifies childcare as a key front in One Nation Labour’s battle to tackle the cost of living crisis.

He will say parents who are already struggling to cope with rising bills and stagnant wages, are now facing a childcare crunch with the cost of nursery places rising while hundreds of Sure Start centres have been lost since the last election.
He will publish new figures showing that since the last election:
  • The cost of a part time nursery place has risen by 30% - five times faster than pay.
  • The average bill for a part time nursery place of 25 hours a week for a child aged 2 or over has gone up to £107.
  • Parents working part time on average wages would  have to work from Monday until Thursday before they paid off these weekly childcare costs.  
  • There are 578 fewer Sure Start centres – with on average three fewer every week – with lower numbers of staff and reduced service levels.
  • There are 35,000 fewer childcare places.

He will criticise David Cameron for promising to back Sure Start at the last election and then presiding over a child care crunch in which hundreds of centres have been lost – while too many of those that remain are operating with reduced staff and services.
In contrast to the Government which has done nothing to support families over the past three years, Mr Miliband will set out Labour’s plan to:
  • Extend free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents of three and four year-olds  funded by increasing the banking levy
  • Introduce a legal guarantee of access to wraparound care 8am to 6pm at primary schools

On a visit to a nursery with members of Labour’s Childcare Commission on Monday, Mr Miliband is expected to say:
“Millions of parents are facing a childcare crunch. The cost of a nursery place is now the highest in history, at more than £100 a week to cover part-time hours. That means a typical parent doing a part time job would have to work from Monday until Thursday just to cover these costs of childcare. And average costs for a full time place are now rising up to £200 or even more.
“Rising prices have been matched only by falling numbers of places. And hundreds of Sure Start centres have been lost, contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. All at a time when the number of children under-4s in England has risen by 125,000. 
“Before the last election. David Cameron described Labour as a ‘disgrace’ for warning that the Tories would put Sure Start at risk. He added: ‘Not only do we back Sure Start, but we will improve it.’
“This morning they were at it again, boasting that there were more than 3,000 Sure Start Centres across the country. 
“But let’s look at the official government statistics: there are, indeed, 3053 Sure Start Centres. But in April 2010 there were 3,631 Sure Start Centres. That is 578 fewer Sure Start Centres than before the election. That is an average of three Sure Start Centres being lost every single week of this government. And too many of those that remain have lower staffing levels and reduced services.
“This childcare crunch is affecting families with kids at school too. Parents are facing a daily obstacle course as they seek to balance work and family life. 
“Under the last government 99% of schools provided access to breakfast clubs and after-school clubs.  But more than a third of local authorities have reported this has been scaled back in their area under David Cameron. 

“That’s what you get from this government: tax cuts for millionaires, cuts in childcare places for millions of families. The Tories say they care about families but they have done nothing to help for three years while all the time adding to the stress and strain of family life. 

“If it’s bad for families, it’s bad for Britain too. Parents who want to work should be able to do so. We need to use the talents of everyone if we are to succeed as an economy and keep social security bills down.  Seven out of 10 stay at home mums tell surveys that the cost of childcare has deterred them from looking for a job.

“One Nation Labour would stand up for families and make work pay. We would extend free nursery places for 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for parents at work. And we would offer a legal guarantee to parents with kids at primary school that they can access breakfast clubs or homework clubs, allowing Mums and Dads to do a full days’ work knowing their children are safe and cared for.”

Labour Party

Friday, 15 November 2013

TDC Cabinet approve measures to support tenants

In a move to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in the district, Thanet District Council is to introduce measures which will support tenants impacted by the government’s Social Rented Size Criteria, often referred to as ‘The Bedroom Tax’.
At a Cabinet meeting last night (Thursday 14 November) members approved the creation of a transfer list for tenants looking to down-size their accommodation. This will see the council providing 25% of its own housing stock as direct lets to tenants hoping to move.
As part of these new measures, the council will also commit not to take legal action against tenants impacted by the policy for non-payment of their rent, unless they decline two offers of alternative accommodation.
Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor David Green, said: “Thanet District Council is serious about doing all it can to protect the people who most need our support. Whilst this isn’t an endorsement for tenants not to pay their rent, introducing these measures will ensure we go as far as we reasonably can to support the people who are affected by this national policy.”
The Social Rented Size Criteria Policy reduces Housing Benefit entitlement for tenants who are deemed to have more rooms than they need.


Economic Growth and Regeneration Strategy adopted by TDC

Increasing productivity and profit for businesses, creating more jobs and increasing prosperity for residents.
That’s the vision for Thanet following the adoption of a new Economic Growth and Regeneration Strategy agreed by Cabinet members last night (Thursday 14 November).
The strategy, which has been developed in partnership with local businesses and organisations, outlines the key activities that are needed to help make a positive difference to Thanet’s economy.
Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Clive Hart, said: “We’re committed to driving growth across the district by promoting investment, skills and employment opportunities. But this isn’t something that can be achieved in isolation. By working together in partnership with the public, private and third sectors we want to do all that we can to help to create the conditions that make Thanet the first choice destination in which to live, work, visit and invest.”
The strategy will be monitored by both the Council’s Cabinet and the Thanet Regeneration Board to ensure it remains current and to respond to changes and opportunities as they arise.