All posts tagged 'politics'

UKIP and a little local difficulty over Nigel Farage

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, August 11 2014

An unguarded remark from an UKIP constituency official in Thanet South set off another round of speculation about  Nigel Farage and his interest in standing in the target seat of Thanet South in 2015.

But no-one seems any the wiser about whether he will apply for the seat - or has already - despite the assertion, reported in the Financial Times, that it was "the worst kept secret" in Thanet.

Separating fact from fiction is rather tricky and UKIP has not helped itself by the ambiguity of statements hurriedly put out at the end of last week.

The local UKIP association had been expected to announce a shortlist of would-be candidates on Friday.

It didn't and offered as explanation that it had received a number of late applications for the candidacy that meant it would now have to carry out a fuller shortlisting exercise, whittling them down for a final hustings meeting on August 26.

In answer to the question about whether Nigel Farage had thrown his hat in the ring, UKIP evaded a direct response by saying that nominations had continued to come in and the selection process was continuing. In the absence of a straight "yes he has" or "no he hasn't" you can understand the subsequent confusion.

What does seem rather odd is that the local party had a plan to reveal its shortlist on Friday but seemed  to have been steered away from doing so by the national party, which was possibly concerned that if, as predicted, Nigel Farage is to apply the selection would become a coronation rather than a contest.

That, of course, is still the likely outcome: it is stretching the imagination to conceive a situation where party members faced with a shortlist that includes the party leader would opt for someone else. It makes the claim that there had been a late flurry of applications less credible - given the steady drip drip of hints and speculation about the leader's intentions.

Even if you subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity, this rather messy turn of events has not been UKIP's finest hour.

Although I doubt local actvivists and party members will mind terribly if, come August 26, Nigel Farage is confirmed as the prospective candidate for Thanet South.

But we will have to wait until then to find out.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: blogs and bloggers | Politics | Urban Gravesham

The Friday Five: the top political news stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 28 2014

This week's political round-up features Disneyland, more on the Manston airport saga and yet another setback for the Kent grammar school plan....

1. There have been plenty more twists and turns in the tale of Manston Airport. After last week's announcement that the owner Ann Gloag was consutling on closure, there seemed to be fresh hope when Thanet North MP  Roger Gale announced he had been in touch with a potential buyer.

But the consortium said to be interested in taking over the airport was shrouded in secrecy and it was unclear if the owner was interested in selling. Meanwhile, Saudi Cargo said it would suspend its operations from next week and KLM followed suit, saying it was not taking bookings beyond April 10. Meanwhile, KCC and Thanet council announced the creation of a task force dedicated to keeping Manston going. To coin a phrase, everything is up in the air...

2.  Councillors in Gravesham were in a spot of hot water over their plans to take a trip to Disneyland and other theme parks in Florida at taxpayers' expense. The reason?

The "fact finding" trip was planned so councillors and six officers could  examine how a theme park operated so they could better manage the planning process for the huge Paramount scheme expected to be built in north Kent. Inevitably, the council was forced on the defensive, saying that the council would be dealing with a scheme of "global significance". For some reason, that justification for the £15,500 trip failed to impress many....

3. There was yet another setback for Kent's grammar school annex plan with the news that governors of the Weald of Kent Girls Grammar had decided against going co-ed - a move that would have paved the way for it to become the sponsor school for the Sevenoaks satellite. Campaigners seeemd resigned to the possibility that this development might signal the end of the road for the project.

4. Canterbury must rank as one of Kent's most congested places so there was some potentially good news for long-suffering motorists and others with the announcement of a £53m package of road improvement schemes. The city council said the schemes represented the biggest shake-ups in the road network since the 1970s. 

5. Finally, there was a political spat over at County Hall in the wake of a backbench report that suggested that Kent could benefit to the tune of £100m from the EU in the next six years. The opposition UKIP group were distinctly unimpressed but the largely positivie report was welcomed by an unusual alliance of the Tory group, Labour and the Lib Dems. Mind you, they may have some trouble selling that on the doorstep in the run-up to the Euro election in May.

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Categories: Margate | Mayoralty | Precept

The Friday Five: The week in Kent politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 21 2014

It has been  busy week on the political front in Kent this week. Here's my round-up of the five key stories affecting the county:

1. Chancellor George Osborne took plenty of people by surprise when he dropped into an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBCthat he was planning to build the first 'garden city' in north Kent at Ebbsfleet. But how 'new' was this?

His comments about a city for 15,000 new homes were not dissimilar to an announcement made by the government two years ago - only this time the number of homes was a little lower and there was a promise of an Urban Development Corporation to oversee the development.

That sparked some concerns that a quango would bypass the democratic planning system and the views of local councils. Still, Osborne sees it as an important symbol of the government's determination to build more homes - and took aim at Labour's failures in the past saying its track record was "more ebb than fleet". Alright, not the best joke but not bad for the politician who many see as having had a sense of humour bypass. 

However, some of the shine was taken off when it emerged that parts of the area where new homes were planned could be at risk of serious flooding.

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2. Many have tried; many have failed. Yes, the fate of Manston Airport hangs in the balance as its latest owner stunned many with an announcement that it was to close. A 45-day consultation with 150 staff is underway and many see it as the end of the road for the site, at least as an airport. MPs and council leaders rushed to denounce the proposed closure but there are signs that this time, the end is nigh. The airport was bought by Ann Gloag, a Scottish businesswoman, for £1 last November and there seemed to be the prospect of a brighter future.

But the transformation team brought in to assess its prospects apparently concluded there were none. Now, there are whispers and rumours of the site being sold for housing development.

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3. Could the picturesque Weald of Kent prove to be the new Texas? Unlikley though it may seem, the prospect of parts of Kent sitting on a huge oil bonanza have been raised in an as yet unpublished government commissioned report from geologists.

It is said to conclude that huge energy reserves could be under The Weald. Stand by for a rush for black gold and the sight of people dispensing with their tweeds in favour of  ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots. Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley gave the news a qualified welcome but some of his colleagues were rather reticent.

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4. If it wasn't exactly a give-away budget, Chancellor George Osborne sprinkled enough goodiesaround to keep his party happy and set the backdrop for the next election - astutely delivering some good news for the sort of disaffected Conservative supporters who just might be flirting with UKIP.  

For Kent, there was news of an extra £140m for flood defences; confirmation of the Ebbsfleet 'Garden City' scheme and news of more duty on fixed odds betting machines. 

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5. County Hall has been a little quiet but we did get news of changes in the Conservative-run cabinet.  Although it  was hardly a reshuffle. In the light of the "Facing The Challenge" re-organisation, the cabinet has been tinkered with so that the ten-strong group is aligned with the smaller number of directorates. Opposition parties were quick to query why, if the council was slimming down so much, was it necessary to keep ten politicians in the executive overseeing just four directorates.

One notable change in the cabinet will come in August, when Cllr Jenny Whittle, the well-regarded cabinet member for children's specialist services, goes on maternity leave.  Her job will be taken by Peter Oakford, who was elected to the council last year.

That in turn will leave the cabinet as an all-male group. There are some who think that once Paul Carter has had his fill of the job, Jenny Whittle would be well-placed to succeed him. 

 

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You Got Mail: read the expenses correspondence between Kent County Council+tax inspectors

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, August 29 2013

Kent County Council has one or two blind spots when it comes to how it spends taxpayers' money - executive pay has, in the past, been among them - but it certainly had the blinkers on when it engaged in a tussle with tax officials over their expenses.

 

The tussle, as we have reported, centred on a ruling by HRMC that county councillors should be (and should have been) paying tax on their mileage claims from home to County Hall.

That the council's leader Paul Carter took the issue seriously and was reluctant to accede to the instruction is underlined not just by the fact that it paid £5,000 for independent advice.

It is graphically illustrated in the correspondence he exchanged with HRMC chief executive Lin Homer, which you can read at the end of this posting.

It was, as it transpired, a one-way correspondence as HRMC Lin Homer delegated the job of replying to a flurry of letters from County Hall to an unnamed "complaints officer" - so junior, apparently, that his or her name cannot be disclosed under Freedom of Information laws.

Kent County Council's case rested on its contention that county councillors should not have their mileage claims from home to County Hall taxed because they regularly worked from home.

Mr Carter asserted in his first letter that members "spend a very significant amount of time working at home" but, because of safety fears, few regularly saw constituents there.

This latter point is important because HRMC said seeing consituents routinely at home was the basis on which it permitted mileage claims not to be taxed.

Actually, few councillors that I know regularly see constituents in their own homes - and not many avoid doing so because thy are anxious about doing so alone. Much of what they do is - rightly - out and about in their wards or electoral divisions.

They may read correspondence and council agendas but hardly on a scale which could be described as "significant" and certainly not enough to justify calling their home a place of work.

(Many teachers spend considerable time "working from home" but I think heads and indeed council chiefs would balk at being asked to pay their travel expenses as a result. Even some journalists occasionally do...)

And we should not overlook the fact that some of this "work" will be party political, which should definitely not be tax deductible.

It is arguable that given that some members may qualify under the HRMC's ruling and not have to pay  tax that KCC will face some additional administrative work.

But given that there are only 84 elected members, it hardly seems overly burdensome. The county council has plenty of experience in dealing with this sort of bureaucracy.

HRMC was clearly unconvinced by the argument that "councillors get a very modest allowance" and rightly so. "Very modest" is not how most people would see a yearly allowance of close to £13,000 a year for every member.

Read the KCC expenses correspondence between the council leader Paul Carter and HRMC:

Paul Carter to HRMC1.pdf (73.77 kb)

 

Paul Carter to HRMC 2.pdf (23.87 kb)

 

Paul Carter to HRMC 3.pdf (36.49 kb)

HRMC to Paul Carter 1.pdf (31.40 kb)

 

 

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Investing in local... with a London agency!

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, December 11 2012

Looking at the online debate among Kent’s creative agency bosses, they are clearly miffed about the loss of another big contract to a big-name London agency.
For the second time in three years, Kent County Council decided that an agency with a top sounding name and no doubt an impressive, expensive pitch was a better bet than a firm based in Kent.
First, there was M&C Saatchi, which won the Kent Contemporary contract to inject fresh dynamism into Kent tourism.
Local firms pitched but were outclassed by a global big-hitter which won the £400,000 deal.
It was a controversial decision - but the results speak for themselves. An impressive series of innovative - iconic even - photographs showing Kent in ways never seen before. Using clever slogans, they were shown in a variety of settings, with a resulting boost in visitor numbers and revenue. 
Kent’s finest creatives might argue that they could have matched Saatchi performance but it would be a hard argument to win.
The same cannot be said for the Seven Hills contract which has resulted in the Grow for It in East Kent campaign.
Seven Hills founder Michael Hayman is a smooth articulate operator used to moving in high places. Leading political figures and ex-Dragon  Doug Richard are on his books.
But a lot of the £250,000 being paid to Seven Hills over time has gone on market research. For  anyone with a good knowledge of East Kent, the findings were akin to teaching granny to suck eggs.
He told us what many of us already knew. He made it seem as though he was the first person to discover the gems of East Kent. the lower cost of living and housing, high-speed trains, and the quality of life.
These facts would have been fully understood by Kent agencies without the need for much research.
Seven Hills has used the data to create slogans aimed primarily at Londoners - Swap your Oyster for Oysters for example. They have come up with some good stuff.
But Kent creative eyebrows rose at the decision to use posters on the sides of London buses and alongside Underground station escalators. “Old-fashioned” said one. Others questioned the choice of typography, saying it was too busy for a bus.
Another key question - rightly posed by Desmond High, a judge in the creative category for the 2011 Kent Excellence in Business Awards (KEiBA) - is whether or not KCC insists on the involvement, partnership even, of local agencies when it awards a creative contract. It says Seven Hills has given work worth £30,000 to Kent businesses but one suspects that is a token gesture rather than an obligation.
I’m not aware of any agency being asked to do the PR. I have heard nothing directly from Seven Hills - M&C Saatchi was better in that respect - and KCC did the PR for the recent Dover Cruise Terminal campaign launch event. 
Kent creatives have every right to be upset by this latest contract, watching frustrated on the sidelines while kudos goes to those with it already.
I am confident they could have done as good a job as Seven Hills - with the deep local knowledge that the London agency initially lacked - brought more money into the county, and shown that we have the creative skills and talent in the county to match the London big guns.
A high-profile contract win would have done wonders for Kent's creative sector, generating more revenue and underlining to the outside world  that it has what it takes to be a national player. 

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Categories: KCC

Don't play the blame game

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, November 15 2011

It is far from edifying to hear a politician blame an official for wrongs without any immediate right of reply.

Home Secretary Theresa May went down in my estimation when she publicly criticised Brodie Clark, the UK Border Agency chief, for the failings of his organisation.

It is all too easy in a blame culture environment - as this country and a lot of business is - to pin everything that goes wrong on subordinates.  Local MP Mark Reckless was equally quick to pillory officials.

Politicians – and it’s often the same with bosses - are all too keen to shift blame from themselves to save their own skins.

Mr Clark and his colleagues may have something to answer but they should have been given a right of reply to Mrs May’s tirade. They are an easy target.

It was good to hear Mr Clark come out fighting. And there should be some more fighting talk from him in front of MPs today. Let’s hope that at last we get more truth than political spin.

The UK Border Agency has an impossible task. For a start, this Government has slashed staff numbers to such dire levels that compromise is inevitable. The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents border agency staff, said the service had suffered a 25% cut in budgets over four years.

Yet given the sensitivity of immigration, it should have been protected, just as overseas aid is.

Who can wonder at any attempt to simplify entry procedures.

Who has not left a plane at Gatwick or Heathrow and found thousands queuing in the immigration area? Your heart sinks at the prospect of long delays.

Anyone travelling by coach from Europe has been grateful for quicker procedures. I remember disembarking from a bus, trekking through a building, showing passports and going on our way. On other occasions, a coach has been waved through. There was a sensible assessment of risk.

The truth is that the UK is visited by millions, many through Kent entry points. The Border Agency systems just do not work quickly enough for the majority. The danger is that the handful of people bent on causing trouble hold up the rest - as of course they do when you enter the United States.

Unless the Government invests in more - not fewer - staff, gives the UK Border Agency more money, equips it with better IT systems, and adopts a more co-operative approach to staff, the crisis will continue and lapses will occur.

If border controls are tightened further, catching even more law-abiding folk, the UK will be a turnoff. That may be good for safety, but bad for tourism and business.

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Categories: National Politics

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