Rowan Dickman, Salmestone Ward Residents’ Association: Is Thanet headed for a perfect storm?

Thanet council budget plans

Next week Thanet councillors will be expected to approve the 2019-20 budget which addresses a £1.8million shortfall.

There are plans to cut spending in some areas, such as Ramsgate Port, and to raise money with the continued sell off of council assets – including museums, closed public toilets, land and possibly more buildings.

The cuts come amid falling income from Government. The Revenue Support Grant to Thanet from central government is estimated to be £97,000 for the 2019-20 financial year. In 2018-19 it was £809,000 and in 2017-18 the grant stood at £1.4m. This is compared to £6.6m in 2013-14.

There will be no central government grant from 2020-21.

Here Rowan Dickman, the chairman of Salmestone Ward Residents Association, gives his view on the decisions that need to be made:

Twenty-three years ago, I bought my house in Thanet and I have never regretted that move. I love the island and I hope that future generations of my family can enjoy everything that it can offer.

I have seen it through difficult times as it became run down and a dumping ground for vulnerable people who could not be supported in society. I have seen it as shops and leisure amenities disappeared and I have seen it become the “poor relative” of Kent. However, throughout all of these trials it has retained its identity and integrity.

Photo Mel Chennell

More recently, with the number of Blue Flag beaches increasing, the building of Turner Contemporary and Dreamland re opening, it really feels like Thanet is going through the renaissance it deserves.

Despite the recent investment in Thanet, I am concerned that we are heading for a “perfect storm”.

I was dismayed to see that Thanet District Council will have to make savings of £1.8 million on the 2019-20 budget. Quite clearly TDC will have to make some difficult decisions. This combined with the demand from central government to build 17,000 houses, when our infrastructure is not coping with the present population, the current indecision over Manston airfield, which could result in it becoming a super-large lorry park, and the lack of good and timely medical provision, will inevitably have a damaging effect on a community already seen as a region of high deprivation.

During a very difficult time for Thanet it is very easy to stand on the side-lines and criticise the council and I fully recognise the complexity of the issues that they have to face. However, there are two decisions that I simply fail to understand.

Firstly, at a time of increasing council tax, facing impending cut backs and putting up parking charges, why on earth would TDC even consider spending £3 million improving the council offices? I fully accept that there are staff working in the offices, working on our behalf for the good of the community, and those people deserve to work in good and safe conditions. However, I would strongly question the rational for spending such a large amount out of the budget at this present time.

The listed urinal at Park Road will be sold Photo Frank Leppard

Secondly, I would also question the value of selling off our community assets. Quite clearly, selling off assets is a short-term answer for raising vital funds. If premises or land has been laying dormant for a long period of time, cannot be used by the community and would take large amounts of capital to get it back to a usable condition, I do not have a problem.

I would like to ask TDC the following questions. Has a cost benefit analysis been carried out on each of these assets, taking into account possible use for the community, run by the community, on behalf of the community, reducing the demand on the council for social provision?

Has the council worked with community groups to see if they can advise on social provision and if there is any viability in maintaining some of these assets? If all the family silver is sold off, including the knives and forks, then you can’t eat.

As I said in the beginning of this piece, I believe Thanet is at a crossroads. A number of very difficult decisions will need to be made regarding the future of the Isle.

‘One voice’

We are at a time when the community needs to come together with one voice and help shape the future for Thanet.

I recognise that we will all have differing views and different priorities. However, I am confident that what all people want is a safe, caring and vibrant community, where the vulnerable are helped and where the young (our future) can develop into confident and sound adults, with a sense of purpose.

Salmestone Ward Residents Association has only been formed for just over one year but in that time, we have managed to make our voice heard.

When the local plan is being considered and major changes are going to take place in the future, we will shout as loud as we can but if you lend your voice as well, hopefully we can shout loud enough and perhaps bring about necessary changes in Thanet.

Salmestone Ward residents’ Association’s next meeting is at Salmestone Grange on Wednesday, March 6 from 7pm-9pm.

17 Comments

  1. What do our local MPs think about the situation of never ending cuts cuts cuts. The grab-all-give-nothing-back mob.
    They shout from the rooftops about the record numbers now in work who I assume are paying tax so by definition a record amount of tax being paid by employees. The council tax should be increased to cover the cost of services and needs of the area. NOT sell off and close down everything. I don’t want public toilets closed, I don’t want dirty unswept streets. I don’t want the police numbers cut. I don’t want visitors driven away because of high parking fees. The services cost what they cost and all council tax payers should meet that cost.

  2. May I say that I agree with the nub of this piece. TDC has got soem difficult decisions to make in the face of relentless cuts from a Govt that said that Austerity was over. I would like to comment though on the £3 million for office improvements. There is no £3 million. That is a notional figure IF TDC were to fully refurbish the offices to current standards in order to comply with current regulations and rent out spare capacity. IMV TDC would be better off moving into a different space and selling Cecil Square as it is. It would be a win win and TDC could make several £million in the process. There is also no £2 million sloshing around not being spent either. The rail project is a Govt and KCC project. TDC would be remiss if we did not put some money on the table in order to get a seat at that table, IF it goes ahead. Both sums would be potential borrowing against assets so it is right to suggest we reign in the asset selling somewhat.Whatever else we do we have to find a way to balance the budget for next year. If we do not r cannot agree that the officers/leader have shown it can be balanced, then our budget could likely be set by people who don’t even know the area when Govt or County bods take over our fiscal management. Mr Dickman is right on several points and regarding some assets being handed off he is right about either community or Town Council management of them as a better option than these places, such as Albion gardens, remaining with TDC and not being maintained properly simply through lack of funds. Thanet has some wonderful volunteer groups and we should be justly proud of people’s endeavours. TDC will move forward despite swingeing cuts but it isn’t going to be a cakewalk that’s for sure.

  3. A load of mealy-mouthed tripe. For example, Mr. Dickman refers to indecision over Manston airport. There is no indecision over the airport. The council looked at it and couldn’t back it. They made a decision and they made the right one. But Roger Gale and his cronies couldn’t accept it and so, it’s all been handed over to an external agency (the planning inspectorate). It is they who are now deciding whether it can reopen as an airport and they will make the decision by the middle of this year. As for the budget, all you are seeing is chickens coming home to roost. TDC had made ridiculous decisions over the Ramsgate port, the Pleasurama site, Live Exports and the compulsory purchase of Dreamland. These decisions were not risk assessed and have cost millions. The council is near bankrupt because of idiotic decisions which were made over the last few years and all of the things Mr. Dickman is now complaining about stem from that. Anyone who doesn’t like it should be demanding that ALL councillors who were involved in any of these disastrous decisions step down and never again seek public office. The last people you can trust to sort out the mess are the very people who caused it, not by indecisiveness, but by making stupid decisions with no regard to the consequences.

    • Well Eggnog. let’s take a look at those issues. I find i agree with much of your argument. Successive Tory and Labour run councils are responsible for the Pleasurama debacle(don’t even mention Dreamland). Many are still in office. The £5 million quid or so lost on Labour’s watch was due to negligence of their cllrs for making the wrong choice regarding Live Animal Exports. ALL the legal advice, internal and external warnded of a lawsuit and they made a politically motivated decision. The Port losses/deficits have been going on for years and yet UKIP said it had resolved all previous debts. CW kept quoting £14.3 million Now we can see that that was bluster too. Maybe it really is time for Thanet to elect a group of like minded Independent cllrs who will not be controlled by national party aims?

  4. I cannot see a problem with some asset stripping provided the asset is not useful to the community, it is costing money to keep it maintained but above all obtaining the correct value – TDC has just sold Margate football ground + land to the club for £375,000 who then sold it on to a developer for £400,000. TDC has just given away £25,000.

    £3 million to refurbish the council offices plus £2 million for the railway station, why can’t we make do with what we have? This is more than enough to cover the shortfall !!!

  5. It’s all about priorities and this Council just keep getting it wrong. All those millions wasted on stations, council offices and private businesses at the port would save the sell-offs of community assets. Step down, and stop listening to those foolish MP’s who don’t give a monkey’s for their constituents or Thanet, they don’t live here so don’t care. They just want what is best for themselves!

  6. TDC haven’t maintained there assets for years they have just let most of them rot away, stop wasting money ie on the town hall in margate (£3m) why? Make jobs give the money to help Ramsgate port it will open up another way for people from Europe to visit , TDC never wants the area to move on

  7. Is there a way to get TDC to explain their decision making process? They are a large body, elected by Thanet residents. Is it they or we who get is so wrong?

  8. I accept Mr Dickman’s point about the Council not being fully responsible for the apparent decline in Thanet. The figures he quotes, indicating the deliberate reductions in central government grants from £6.6 million in 2013/14 to a planned ZERO in a few years points to the Tory government’s policies as lying behind the lack of money locally. Unfortunately, most Thanet Councillors are of the same political outlook as the Tory government, as is Kent County Council. So they do not complain or fight back on our behalf. They simply treat this disastrous policy as “one of those things” and even try to present themselves as nobly doing their best in inexplicably difficult circumstances. Like the “Dunkirk spirit” when actually being attacked by your own side.
    There is a claim of more people being in work so more tax should be coming in. But the government prefers to treat people working just a handful of hours per week as “being in work”. Many of these workers just do a few hours in a local pub or shop. They do not earn enough to pay tax. In fact, their income is so low , they need “topping up” from Universal Credit. Even many people who work full-time are now on such low wages that they also do not pay tax and rely on UC.

    Unfortunately for all of us, the Tory government has a clear policy of creating a low wage economy which competes with other countries by having cheap labour. Membership of the EU meant having specific protections to prevent wages sinking too low. With Brexit, those protections will be lost. That is why the Labour Party keeps banging on about a deal that involves no loss of protections for workers, consumers and the environment. And it is why they are ignored in this by the “No deal, no problem” crowd.
    With the local Tory vote,followed by the Brexit vote, Thanet shot itself in the foot.

  9. The biggest waster’s of public money are the Conservatives both council and government. They sold off council houses at below half the market value houses that are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were sold for £65,000 or much less.
    Even at that price most of those who purchased the houses could only afford interest only mortgages. At the end of the mortgages many have had to sell the houses and move into a caravan because they could not pay the original amount eg 65,000. Or so. Everything that the government has sold off has been a loss to the taxpayers.

  10. The biggest waster’s of public money are the Conservatives both council and government. They sold off council houses at below half the market value houses that are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were sold for £65,000 or much less.
    Even at that price most of those who purchased the houses could only afford interest only mortgages. At the end of the mortgages many have had to sell the houses and move into a caravan because they could not pay the original amount eg 65,000. Or so. Everything that the government has sold off has been a loss to the taxpayers. Disgusting wasters.

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