All posts tagged 'Dartford'

Where's the Olympics inspiration?

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 17 2012

by Alan Watkins

There was no way I would waste my time watching the Olympics. Over-priced, with loud-mouthed sports personalities - watch that debt-laden programme? Never!

I did report on the torch relay, but that was by instruction, rather than by choice.

Hand-ball? - much prefer rugby.

BMX racing? - a game for primary school children seeking a thrill.

Women’s boxing? - bound to be handbagging and hair-pulling.

Equestrians? - over-rich titled twits (and that’s just their horses).

Football? - show ‘em the penalty spot and it’s game over.

What else is there to watch? - Brits getting beat, that’s what. Except....

Despite all my doubts before the first chimney appeared on the athletics stadium floor, somehow I became embroiled in the whole thing.

I thrilled as the imperious Usain Bolt broke all the perceived rules for focused champions, and still won golds.

I winced as women belted each other and still grinned.

I roared as the BMX riders smashed into (and through) each other, wondered how Jessica Ennis could still smile so softly as she broke records - and her opponents - and felt for the marksmen as they tried to win more than a single medal.

Fortunately, my scepticism about the whole event was secured by the football team. I told you: point at the penalty spot and it’s game over for the Brits.

Now it’s Games Over. We all await the Paralympics, and the long-term legacy of inspiring a generation.

Well, I wonder whether the Games inspired the generation loitering around the High Streets in Chatham and Gillingham?

I talked to a number of teenagers in Dartford a couple of weeks ago.

The town had hosted the British judo team, and the beaming 100 metres runner, Adam Gemili, is a local schoolboy. This, surely, was added inspiration.

Unfortunately, such aspirations were swiftly dented. It wasn’t a scientific exploration of youth minds - more a straw poll.

Not one of them was inspired by the Games. Some were quite articulate, and said the £11 billion reportedly spent on the Games should have been used for getting younger people ready for a work environment. Another said the health service should get the money.

One young lady named Natasha said: “Me watch the Olympics? No. It’s boring.”

I have to admit, I would never have described the Olympics as boring, but in at least one town Seb Coe and his crowd of motivators may not have inspired the generation they promised to.

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Categories: Moans and groans | Olympics

Kent's political map: the real story of the election results so far

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 6 2011

Ed Miliband urged voters ahead of the polls to use their vote to register their dissatisfaction with the government - a tactical ploy commonly used by parties in opposition. So what did they do in Kent? So far, the messages are rather mixed. Ed, who is heading to Gravesham this morning to congratulate his party's candidates on their success in north Kent, has not in truth really made a huge breakthrough in the county.

Kent's election results - read all our up-to-date coverage here>>

Yes, it has won Gravesham but not because it wiped out a huge majority - it grabbed a handful of seats that were enough to tip the balance of power their way. Labour also made enough gains in Thanet to claim a sort of victory even if the council is hung.

But Mr Miliband will need to ask himself why it was that voters in Gravesham appeared to hear his plea while those in neighbouring Dartford were deaf to it, as they were in Medway. If voters were prepared to back the ruling Conservative administrations at some town halls in Kent, why not in others?

In fact, the results in Medway strike me as particularly concerning for Labour. I'd expected them to make some significant gains at the expense of the Tories but they failed to do so - the Conservative vote held up strongly and Labour's inroads were largely at the expense of the Lib Dems, who look to be imploding in Kent and will have hardly any councillors here by the end of  the day.

Medway has become totemic for both the Labour party and the Conservatives. In the endless battle to win over the squeezed middle, both know that at a general election that unless they win seats there, they are unlikely to form the next government. Of coures, we are only one year into the coalition government and the impact of the spending cuts are still filtering through, so voters may have been disinclined to give the Conservatives a bloody nose.

But even so, not to claim any scalps from the Conservatives will be a major disappointment.

It is not a good day to be a Lib Dem in Kent. They are clearly paying a price for the unpopularity of the national party and its role in the coalition and their desperate efforts to distance themselves from national policies have proved a failure. It will take some time for them to regroup - look at the wipeout of their councillors in Shepway. I expect something similar could be on the cards in Canterbury where traditionally, the city has been something of a stronghold for the party.

Conservative activists will be pretty happy with how things are going so far. I doubt they'll be troubled too much elsewhere in Kent, with the possible exception of Dover. They will hold sway in the bulk of town halls for the next four years - which, if things are going to get as bad as everyone expects in the public sector, may prove to be something of a mixed blessing.

The map of Kent may no longer completely blue but there needs to be rather more shades of red if Labour is to claim that it is back as a political force in the county.

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Categories: election

We need to know more before we can exonerate the company from blame

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, February 2 2011

Drug companies have played a major role in the Kent economy for a century or more.

GlaxoSmithKline – formerly Wellcome – dominated the Dartford scene, injecting millions into the town and surrounding areas for generations.

But it is gone. Now Pfizer, home of Viagra and one of the county’s biggest private sector employers, is quitting. It is the biggest blow to our economy since the closure of Chatham Royal Naval Dockyard in 1984 which did no much to ravage the Medway Towns.

The loss of Pfizer’s world-renowned facility is not only a massive blow to 2,400 people and the thousands more who depend on Pfizer’s business, but also to Kent’s reputation as a great place for the pharma industry. It is one of the key sectors promoted by inward investment agency Locate in Kent, and a UK priority sectors.

But Pfizer’s decision, taken in New York, purports to have little to do with our attractiveness to pharma companies, more a reflection of changes in the industry itself and the ending of lucrative drug patents.

We need to know more before we can exonerate the company from blame. For all the global circumstances, the closure decision is a regrettable American insult to Kent and the UK. They must come clean on their decision-making process that left Sandwich abandoned.

One also has to ask whether the Government did enough to persuade the US giant to keep Pfizer in Sandwich. Was it well enough informed? Certainly Locate in Kent, local MPs and trade union representatives knew nothing in advance.

One of LiK’s primary roles is to protect jobs. But if they are not told, they cannot discharge this obligation, underlining just how vulnerable the agency – and the economy – is to global decision-making. They appear impotent - sorry about the pun - when it comes to worldwide companies taking decisions that wreak so much havoc on local communities.

Its secret nature left no time to debate possible solutions. This Government may not have been willing to offer sweeteners, but something could and should have been done. All the action is to happen now after the horse as bolted. The taskforce is welcome, the prospect of a science park or some other R&D facility would be ideal.

Perhaps another pharma company. Employment needs to match the high skills of the redundant workforce. But, as David Philpott, chairman of Kent Institute of Directors, points out, the site is geographically isolated and not ideal for many international companies.

However, everyone must pull together. This will be the first big test for the new local enterprise partnership, and the Government’s willingness to check its ferocious cost-cutting campaign and hand out some transformational cash. There is hope.

There is life after the closure of the former East Kent coalfields. And Medway’s economy has gradually recovered from the dockyard closure. But in both cases, it took many years to recover.

The closure will also offer new start-up opportunities to redundant staff with the courage to pursue commercial ideas. Kent Science Park at Sittingbourne, a hi-tech beacon, is ready to welcome science entrepreneurs.

But the bottom line is that jobs, skills and Kent’s assertion that it is a great place for knowledge-based industries are all at stake in the wake of yesterday's devastating news..

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Categories: Business

Taking centre stage

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, October 22 2010

It’s unusual to see Peter Symons, the urbane director of business development at Locate in Kent, take centre stage.

But at this week’s launch of the Kent Property Market Report in Dartford, the man who often prefers to be behind the scenes was thrust into the limelight because his boss was on the other side of the Pond.

Paul Wookey, chief executive of the agency that promotes Kent and Medway as great places for business investment, had decided to take a family holiday in the United States. It’s probably the first property review launch he has missed, and there have been 19.

So enter Peter, and he did a good job of chairing an event attended by 200 property experts and guest speakers Paul Carter, KCC leader, Alison Owen, a partner with Maidstone-based specialists Cluttons and Sarah Whitney, head of government and infrastructure at CB Richard Ellis.

With Mr Carter having a far-projecting voice, he abandoned the microphone for his speech, pushing it to one side. But Ms Whitney forgot to restore the mike to his proper position so many delegates could not hear her interesting speech on "place-making."

You could see the shuffling, the reading of documents and the checking of Blackberries. A shame, because one key fact that she revealed was that Kings Hill had been established as an important "place" which had contributed to a 20 per cent premium in property values.

Ms Owen found a roving mike and could be heard clearly. End of shuffling. The overall message to 200 guests was that Kent and Medway had done quite well despite the downturn, better in fact than almost everywhere else, although rents had declined in most markets. We have often said that the county is better-placed than most to ride recession because of its ideal location, high-speed trains and big projects like the Thames Gateway. But the elephant in the Princes Park Stadium was the spending review.

No one was quite sure how that would play with the property and investment market. But with councils and government departments drastically cutting back on spending, as well as laying off thousands, the prospects are not promising. But they can’t take away those assets which could well carry the county through another period of economic uncertainty less battered than elsewhere.

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Categories: Business | Housing | Local Politics

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