East Kent's failed bid - were we not confident enough in what we've got?

by The What's On blog, with Chris Price Wednesday, June 19 2013

It was never going to happen.

East Kent’s bid to become the UK’s city of culture in 2017 was as likely as Dover Athletic becoming Roman Abramovich's next project to squander his millions.

Why the negative attitude? Well for the same reason you had a negative attitude. East Kent is not a place.

Imagine for a moment you heard that north Scotland or west Cornwall or south east Norfolk were making a bid. You would scoff.

“That is not even a place” you would say. Have Inverness, Plymouth and Norwich not got enough to offer on their own? Are they are so culturally lacking that they need to invite their smaller, provincial buddies in to the party because they are too scared to step onto the dancefloor of the artistically-enriched on their tod.

That is how your average Joe anywhere else in the country would have viewed East Kent’s bid.

It just sounds daft and is somewhat detrimental, surely, to Kent’s only official city, Canterbury. Why are its quirky streets, fascinating museums, glorious Marlowe Theatre and traditional pubs not deemed suitably cultural to impress the judges at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

At least then, the decision-makers would have been able to identify with the ‘city’ they were supposed to be assessing. And would it not have been ok anyway to shoehorn in a mention of Margate’s Turner Contemporary, Folkestone’s Triennial art installations and Whitstable’s oysters, as was surely the aim of lumping together a series of towns which, on the whole, are not really that bothered about each other.

Of course, credit where it is due to Kent County Council for being ambitious enough to put together a bid which, ultimately, did make the longlist.

But are Dundee, Hull, Leicester and Swansea Bay really all that superior culturally to the towns and cities we are already proud of in the county?

Perhaps next time, we should go with what we know and resist trying to reinvent the wheel.

Categories: Business | Economy | Entertainment | Leisure

Tough call for employers in social media minefield

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, April 12 2013
The offensive tweets that cost 17-year old Paris Brown her job as Kent’s youth police and crime commissioner, and the far more disgusting comments about Baroness Thatcher, underline the dangers of social media.

People who tweet seem to forget that this is a public forum, not a private chat in a pub or restaurant. They seem to think it’s a tiny chatroom involving a handful of friends. But it’s a global place where it’s important to respect libel laws and decency.

Those who defended Paris Brown by saying the tweets were merely silly youthful comments when she was younger miss the point. Her words could never have been used in a publication and revealed an unattractive side to character whatever the age. They fatally undermined her credibility and once revealed, would have affected her ability to do the job as well as she might.

Tweets reveal character. There are many young people in Kent who have never tweeted such offensive words.

Equally, the teachers and others who glory in the death of one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, however divisive and controversial she might have been, show depths of unpleasant character and attitude.

How can teachers teach our children responsibly with such opinions? They above all should be fair minded to anyone is public life. I suppose exceptions could be made for Hitler, Pol Pot and their evil like - but not an historically significant British figure.

Teachers are role models to the young and should set the finest example of tolerance, fair-mindedness and balance. To jump on anyone’s grave or celebrate a death leaves a nasty taste.

The consequences of what is written on social media are potentially serious. The young may have an excuse because they are not old enough to be aware of them. There is no excuse for the more mature who know that their comments will last forever in cyberspace.

Many employers now search social media when vetting candidates for a job. The discovery of Paris-type comments or those delighting in Lady Thatcher’s death will undoubtedly harm job prospects.

An employer choosing between two candidates with similar talent and personal attributes, will surely hire the person who has not posted offensive comments on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, or left incriminating photos on Facebook.

Kent employers who do not routinely check social media in the recruitment process - as the recruiters of Paris Brown naively failed to do - will certainly do so now.

But they must also beware of making a decision based on any social media revelations of other personal information such as age, religious faith, ethnic background, disability or sexual orientation. Rejecting a candidate may be challenged as unfair discrimination.

Social media are fraught with danger. Rumours are often presented as damaging fact.

Recent cases underline the need for businesses to adopt a social media policy covering existing employees and potential recruits. And that will mean making judgements on the scale of offence. Do they fire employees for offensive social media comments? What one boss condemns as offensive may be deemed reasonable by another. Do they forgive with a warning that it should not happen again?

Do they hire people who have made offensive comments in younger days? Again, it could be a matter of opinion. Lines in the sand will have to be drawn.

It’s a tough call in the new social media minefield.

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Categories: Business

Finally, a decent act announcement

by The What's On blog, with Chris Price Friday, April 12 2013

As news broke that double Brit Award-nominee Jessie Ware is set to headline Lounge on the Farm, a collective sigh of relief was heard.

The prospect of Seasick Steve and Soul II Soul being the biggest two acts to play Merton Farm, Canterbury, this summer was a bitter pill to swallow after last year’s star turn of Emeli Sande, the Wombats, Chic and the Dexys.

That feeling was compounded by the news that this year’s Hop Farm Festival would go ahead (hooray!) but in a much smaller form than the past two years (boo!)

It is a wonder there will be any Hop Farm at all after the financial troubles suffered by festival guru Vince Power and the site itself going into liquidation earlier this year.

It only opened over the Easter holidays after a last-minute sale of its troubled operator. The two-day festival will be headlined My Bloody Valentine and Rodriguez. Snore.

So the expectations for Lounge were high, as it looked set to claim the crown of Kent’s biggest music festival.

And after apparently scoring an own goal with its first, lukewarm announcement, there is optimism once again at the addition of Jessie Ware, Willy Moon, Man Like Me, Scratch Perverts, Tribes and many more.

Do not be surprised if there is one more big announcment to come from the Canterbury event, taking place from Friday, July 26 to Sunday, July 28. 

If Lounge still does not impress and you crave pure, unadulterated pop, then you have been served a treat at the Sound Island Festival.

Jessie J, Rita Ora, James Arthur, Lawson and Union J will all perform at Quex Park, Birchington, on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28.

And for those who like their chart hits with jagged edges, topping the bill is Ill Manors rapper Plan B.

Although, with this line up, he will surely focus on his Strickland Banks soul music exploits than his gritty, south London material.

Categories: Business | Celebrities | Entertainment | music | Showbiz

The day the music died...

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, January 15 2013

We are all guilty.

All of us who bought a CD or DVD from Amazon or the supermarket.

We have killed HMV, just as we killed Comet and Jessops.

There’s no point blaming Amazon or the others. It was up to us to choose where to spend our money, and we chose to spend it online. It became ever easier to do so, and, of course, cheaper.

We all looked for the cheapest deal, and that meant Amazon or Tesco.

HMV’s 92-year history, its emotional and nostalgic attachment to millions, its brilliance for browsing and serendipity, counted for nothing when price was all.

And of course it faced the new era of digital downloads, many totally free. Fewer people wanted to buy a whole physical album when they only wanted one or two standout tracks.

HMV’s sad collapse into administration has provoked an outpouring of emotion hardly ever matched by a retailer.

I don’t recall the same sympathy for Comet, Jessops, Zavvi, Woolworths and the lengthening  roll call of high street dodos.

So many remember queueing in HMV for the latest album, the excitement of hearing the Beatles or Stones for the first time.

Those queues returned before Christmas - but the festive rush was not enough to save HMV. All its industry support - desperate to retain a high street shop window for its product - was not enough to delay the inevitable.

I feel so sorry for the thousands of people, mainly young, who will lose their job. If 4,000 go at HMV, added to the 2,500 at Jessops and 6,000 at Comet, that some 12,000 gone at a stroke.

Where will those young people find work in an already difficult jobs market for the young? And for the next generation, there will be even fewer jobs around - except possibly in an Amazon warehouse. But that's hardly the same experience for those with product knowledge and who love feeling, hearing and seeing their music and films.

Millions of people who have not spent money in HMV for years - as well as the shrinking number who kept faith with Nipper - His Master's Voice - will be desperately hoping for white knight to buy the chain. But it is unlikely. A few stores may remain. We need a high street presence for a CD and DVD retailer.

But January 15 looks very much like the bleak day the music died.

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Categories: Business

MSN - Male Stalking Network

by The Odd One Out, with Dan Millen Tuesday, January 8 2013


Well when you work with a group of women, anything can happen. Everyday brings a new adventure, sometimes a challenge, and as always I am at some point left scratching my head at something one of them has said to the group during the working day... hence this latest post.

Well at the time I was writing this, I was sitting on a leather couch in the suburbs of San Jose, California drinking juice and looking at my notes from previous weeks. I was literally another world away from where I usually am when I encounter my issues as 'The Odd One Out.'

Today's weird and wonderful post is surrounding the inner workings of a colleague of mine when she uses MSN Messenger. (MSN Messenger, for the computer illiterate, is principally an instant messaging service that allows contacts to talk to each other - a sort of text messaging service that is online).

So the women and I were discussing things that annoy us about Facebook when one of them suddenly said 'Do you remember MSN Messenger? We all responded with a unitary nod. 

MSN was great when I first used it, in fact it's how I first began talking with my soon to be wife (She is American and lives in San Jose), but after 4 years we grew tired of the breakages in connection and service and chose to move to Gmail. (Google Mail is awesome).

Anyway... my colleague then proceeded to say aloud to the rest of us "Yeah, did you ever do the sign in, sign out thing?"

I was confused and raised my eyebrow. What shocked me more was that my other colleague said "Oh yeah, I used to do that."

I continued to stay quiet, trying to focus on the invoice I was processing. I didnt want to get drawn into another strange discussion. One a week is enough for me!

Then came another comment "I used to love MSN, I've had some great conversations on there."

The conversation continued, going back and forth across our pod desks. Different pros and cons were listed and they also discussed all the features they enjoyed using. (I can say now, I hated the 'nudges', which shook your computer screen when people wanted to talk to you when you had been idle for 5 minutes or so).

I couldn't take it anymore, I had to interject otherwise I would just look ignorant or worse still, they would draw me into the conversation at a point where it would become uncomfortable for me to back out and they would tease me about it.

"Yes, Jess and I first began chatting on MSN after my holiday to San Francisco in 2007." I said. "But what the hell is the 'Signing in and signing out' thing?" 

Curiosity got the better of me.

The two girls laughed, knowing it would send me into a frenzied rant, as most things do. The others in our group sat silently, waiting to hear.

"Come on what is it?" I persisted.

"The 'Signing in and signing out' thing is where you're already signed in, chatting to other people and you see a guy you like come online. He will obviously look down his contact list and see who is online and talk to who he wants. What I did was to sign out of messenger and then sign back in again." [Cue my long pause and thought] - What the hell for, I thought? "That way, he will see the little notification box that pops up in the bottom right hand corner, signally that I have just come online. That way he is more likely to talk to me."

To say I was thinking of the movies 'Fatal Attraction', 'Obsession' & 'Misery' while she was explaining would be pretty harsh. I was a little disturbed originally but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this was a pretty clever tactic to get a guy to notice you. In fact, it was bordering on genius.

The good thing to add to that is that my colleague appears to know where the line is and is not hovering over it, ready to hop into the weirdo territory. As long as she stays behind it, I am happy to continue sitting next to her.

So that's the latest from me - keep checking in to see my posts and remember, if your on MSN, either remain invisible or sign out first and stay offline before JS sees you. 

Categories: blogs and bloggers | Business | Employment | Entertainment | Environment | Humour | Just Life | Leisure | Moaning | Moans and groans | People of Kent | Work

Heseltine's prescription a shot in the arm for business

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, November 1 2012

I thought the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) was dead.

But along comes Lord Heseltine saying in his hard-hitting growth report that Local Enterprise Partnerships - the successor to RDAs which were hated by the Coalition - at least the Tory side - and scrapped - should be given more powers.

Surprise, surprise, they should develop local economic plans and compete for funding from a national funding pot.

This is very much a case of the King is Dead, Long live the King.

Ex-SEEDA employees and bosses who spent hundreds of hours creating economic plans and bidding for cash from the Government will have a rueful smile.

It has always been a concern that LEPs, including the south east version covering Kent, Essex and East Sussex, would have little resource.

But chairman John Spence - from Essex - and Kent colleagues on the SELEP board have always insisted that they can punch above their weight, even with miserly resource.

To some extent, that’s true. They played a role in winning £35m of Regional Growth Fund cash for East Kent in the wake of the Pfizer pullout. Lord Heseltine also played a part because after a visit to the area in 2011, he was convinced by the strength of the local argument.

SELEP has also been involved behind the scenes in winning £20m for the so-called TIGER regeneration scheme for North Kent.

It is doubtful whether Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable will accept this recommendation. For Osborne at least, it was good riddance to SEEDA, and he would hate more layers of regional influence.

The British Retail Consortium appears to agree. Director-general Stephen Robertson said that moving spending powers from Whitehall to other tiers of government wasn’t the answer. “We’ve seen regional policies come and go. What we really need is more certainty and stability, with the Government giving a clear lead in investing in critical infrastructure, and in removing fiscal and regulatory burdens which inhibit investment.”

Government “should be addressing the very real challenges retailers see on high streets and in shopping centres up and down the country. You only need to look at the one in five shops that are closed in some areas to understand how some towns and cities are struggling. Freezing Business Rates next year would be a good start.”

Lord Heseltine played a key role in the development of the Thames Gateway and the high-speed rail link. He has some good ideas and is not afraid to voice criticism, even to the Cabinet members who asked him to report on growth.

The man who was bold enough to quit and storm out of a Cabinet meeting has gravitas and widespread respect. The Coalition cannot afford to shunt his review into a cupboard and lock the door.

You may not see a Son of SEEDA, but look out for Heseltine’s growth proposals and a new emphasis on growth, something that has woefully absent from the Government’s agenda.

George Osborne has been prolific in slash and burn tactics, but without the necessary growth counterbalance, has made Britain, its economy and businesses - gloomier than they need have been.

Categories: Business

Inside track on rail debacle

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, October 5 2012

An imagined scene from a Department of Transport office a few weeks ago...

“Well Sir Humphrey, we’ve finally got that blighter Branson off the tracks thanks to this nice American-sounding chap in a suit who runs First Group.

“That lovely Canadian-sounding fellow has offered zillions of pounds more than that rather unkempt, hippyish Richard cove with that rather naff island called Necker or whatever.

“That’s just what George, our beloved Chancellor, wants us to do - get more bang for our railway buck because - ourselves apart - we are all cash-strapped. And only posh people like us use the railways and we can afford those soaring fares.

“Of course, Sir Humphrey, it goes without saying that our sums are robust. We’ve done the maths, pressed the right buttons, and it’s all perfectly accurate.

“Naturally Sir Humphrey we haven’t taken passenger opinion into account. Why should we? It’s pound signs that count, isn’t it. And anyway Justine told us that it doesn’t matter that Virgin trains are more popular with passengers than the lovely First Group.

“And yes, of course - whatever the beastly Branson says - we’ve correctly priced the risk in the unlikely event that the wonderful Tim O’Toole will not find tall that lovely money he has promised. We know what we are doing. We have done this lots of times before.

“It was not our fault that Sir Branson came second so often. He was just so mean with his sums. It was just bad luck that our winners who offered bags of cash had a little trouble finding enough to pay Number 11 and had to shut down.

“That’s no excuse for Richard Virgin to criticise us and the process. Typical of his sort to whinge. And whoever would want to choose that nasty red colour for trains. Ugh.

“No, Sir Humphrey, Justine and George have nothing to worry about. We are on the right track. Wonderful First Group have come up with some super eye-watering figures that will make George purr. And, yippee, more fare and crowding misery for those moaning minnies who pay the fares.

"If Branson threatens us, that’s typical of the man. We can take it. Robust is our name and we have Justine to defend the decision. She’s a good Transport Secretary who’s checked the figures and should be with us for years to come. Hooray for FirstGroup. Good riddance to Virgin.”


[The same office a few days ago]


“Shame Justine had to go. But I’m afraid to tell you Sir Humphrey, there has been a teeny weeny mistake in our calculations. After that nasty Branson threatened to take us to court, we went back to the drawing board, and, er, something has gone ever so slightly wrong.

“We seem to have pressed the wrong button on our keyboard. Easy mistake to make. Our computer model seems to have marginally under-estimated the risk posed by the fabulous First Group. Yes, I know that’s what the publicity-seeking Branson has said all along, but how could you believe anyone without a tie?

“I think we’ll just have to tell that lovely Mr O’Toole that he will have to go back to the drawing board. But I’m sure that as long as he comes up with the same perfectly decent offer again, he can still beat off the Virgin.

“I suppose you ought to tell new boy Patrick about this minor error. But he needn’t worry, it’s an honest mistake. We can spin out of it. David Cameron won’t even notice.

“What, you want to suspend us? Surely not, we are fire-proofed civil servants who only wanted to make a few bob for George. What, we’ve got to hand back £40m to Peter O’Toole and crowing Branson?

“And we’ve got to tell Southeastern that they can put their bid on hold until former Eurostar boss Richard Brown sorts things out? But the man who cut Brussels services stopping at Ashford International might tell us that this is no way to run a railway.”


[Outside in the real world]


[Sounds of agreement from Branson and his satisfied passengers]

They shout together: “Common sense at last. We told you so. Maybe it’s time for someone who knows what they are doing to crunch the figures. For once, think of us. Get a grip and take our views into account. And remember, all that glitters is not gold.”

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Categories: Business

Future looks bleak for the Hop Farm Music Festival as administrators called in

by The What's On blog, with Chris Price Tuesday, September 25 2012

As Vince Power calls in the administrators for his company Music Festivals PLC, it almost certainly spells the end for the Hop Farm Music Festival.

Another outing at the venue near Paddock Wood next year looks near on impossible after the fiery Irish promoter suspended shares on his company on Friday.

Its last share price left the company worth a little over 3% of its value when it debuted on the stock market last June. It had gone from a valuation of £10 million to just £310,000.

It seems the weather, the Olympics and a crowded market all conspired against the event, which was headlined by Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel and Suede earlier this year.

Power, pictured above, is also less likely to save the Hop Farm, which ran for five years, now that he stands to lose a lot from the company's failure, owning 23% of the company and about 40% including the stakes of his family.

He has been bitten like this before, losing nearly £8 million in 2010, when his music promotions business, Power Music Group, went under. He is unlikely to allow lightening to strike thrice.

It is a bitter blow for the man described as the father of the commercial British festival, whose Mean Fiddler company turned Reading and Glastonbury into the mega bucks money machines they are today.

He sold that company for £38 million in 2005 but he must now be on the verge of putting his festival management days behind him after a superb, but ultimately costly, swansong with the Hop Farm Music Festival and Valencia-based Benicassim.

The Hop Farm put on the likes of Neil Young, Paul Weller, Florence + The Machine, Mumford and Sons, Morrissey and Prince, pictured. It attracted criticism from some corners for its crowd being on the reserved side at times but no one can deny that every improving line up put it among the country's top music events.

Arguably this year's line up was its least impressive so far, bringing Bob Dylan back to headline two years after his first appearance in the county.

It suggests Mr Power was hoping to weather a tough year with a safe line up and then pull out all the stops once again for 2013.

The freezing of Music Festival PLC's shares also sheds some light on the bizarre move to switch the location of Leonard Cohen's two UK gigs from the Hop Farm to Wembley Arena.

AEG Live came in to jointly promote the event at the eleventh hour and a statement at the time said the move was a precautionary measure against the "unseasonal cold and wet weather this summer."

Now speculation must focus on how much the move was about AEG minimising outlay as its fellow promoter stared at the writing on the wall, rather than maximising potential revenues for the struggling Music Festivals PLC, in case of rain or otherwise.

Ultimately, it is a sorry tale typical of these tough economic times.

Mr Power was lured back into the festival market after interest in live music peaked about five years ago and must now pay the price for operating in an unstable, saturated market.

With the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee, mushrooming petrol prices and pay freezes, many festival goers could not afford a £100 weekend ticket and opted to take a year off from muddy fields and overpriced beer.

Like the banking sector before it, it seems the festival market assumed the good times would never end.

Unless an unlikely benefactor appears from somewhere, it seems the Hop Farm Music Festival will become another brilliant but brief part of musical history.

Categories: Business | Celebrities | Economy | Entertainment | music | Olympics | Showbiz

Branson is right to be angry

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, August 16 2012

Why do I feel instinctively uneasy about Virgin’s Richard Branson losing the West Coast rail franchise?

Is it because he is a well-known entrepreneurial face, giving personality to any brand he runs?

Is it because First Group have no such personality?

Is it because the Virgin services I have used to Birmingham, Manchester and beyond offered a joie de vivre and style that made the travelling experience exciting and fun?

Is it because Virgin Trains had a 91% customer satisfaction rating, compared to 72% for First Group on the Great Western?

Is it because the Government has ignored customer feedback in its assessment?

Is it because Virgin has twice lost bids for rail franchises that resulted in the winners going bust?

Is it because Virgin seems to have a good track record of assessing what a franchise is worth?

Is it because I worry that First Group has over bid and will be forced to quit before the franchise expires, with the service bailed out by the taxpayer?

Is it because I suspect Virgin would have launched the new services promised by First if it thought they would work - and decided they wouldn’t?

Is it because the experience has so bruised Virgin that - disappointingly for passengers - it will no longer enter further rail franchising bids while the existing flawed system remains?

Is it because the Government seems so obsessed with money that it appears to have fallen over backwards to find reasons to accept the highest bid, irrespective of other major considerations such as service quality and customer experience?

Is it because, linked to this week’s extortionate rise in rail fares and season tickets, this Government is forcing rail travel to be the preserve of the rich and the captive commuter?

is it because rail fares are higher in this country than almost anywhere else, yet is a form of transport that is good for the environment and should be subsidised without guilt?

Is it because public transport should be encouraged by lower, not higher fares, because it contributes to economic growth - the Government’s stated aim - and makes us a more civilised society?

And finally, will there be as much customer loyalty and regret if Southeastern loses its own franchise battle?  The lesson for our operator from the unsatisfactory Virgin decision is that under this government to the highest bidder goes the spoils, and that past performance counts for nothing.


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Categories: Business

Turner Contemporary brings culture and cash to Kent

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, April 20 2012

It was good to see that nearly half a million people visited Turner Contemporary in its first year.

It was always a gamble going ahead with the £17m project but Kent County Council and arts funders recognised that culture can contribute to economic regeneration.

They looked at the example of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and hoped to replicate that transformation in Margate and East Kent.

Despite the cynicism of many locals, the early signs are encouraging. While the town centre may still leave something to be desired, there is evidence that new businesses are moving in, that restaurants are busier.

It’s early days, but you sense a greater buzz around the place.

Turner was not an instant success, and the big numbers may slightly flatter to deceive.

There will always be a strong interest in something new, and the fact that admission is free can only help. But the initial show was disappointing.

It was not uncommon to hear first-time visitors declare it would be the last time. Nice building and great seaside location, shame about the content, was a typical response. A single Turner was not enough to get the pulses racing. No wonder some London commentators were dismissive.

But The Kiss, the current exhibition of Turner drawings and sketches - Turner and the Elements - and the Hamish Fulton’s Walk gave the gallery a real artistic reason for visiting.

Turner C turned a corner with Turner J M W and the next big one - Tracey Emin - will bring even more national and international prominence.

The latest numbers for economic benefit to East Kent - £13.8m - are arguable as they contain £7.6m of publicity value derived from media coverage.

It is an uncertain valuation, but nevertheless, there is no doubt that coverage has brought, and will bring, visitors to Margate. This year, the international visitor numbers are relatively low - just 2% - and Guggenheim can surely beat that tiny proportion. But it’s a start. And trains will speed up after a £5m upgrade of the Ashford - Thanet track.

Cultural regeneration is a slow burn. There is srtill a long way to go but the early signs for the economy Margate and East Kent are encouraging.

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Categories: Business

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