County Councillor Karen Constantine Seeing Red: Wasting money, a health curve ball and time for a General Election

Cllr Karen Constantine

I hope there is a General Election soon… let me explain my eagerness.

As the county councillor for Ramsgate for the past seven years I’m tired of the endless debate about budgets, the ceaseless discussion’s about how to spend your cash, and tired of witnessing the need for huge cash injections into our public sector. From potholes to play parks there just isn’t sufficient cash for our public services. What money we have is being spread so thinly that it really isn’t working as well as it should. It’s really best described as managed decline.

Let me give you an example; a resident told me he’d watched ‘a workman pull up in a work van, then he chucked some muck into a pot hole – stamped it down and drove off!’ ‘Really?’ I queried. ‘Yes, it really wasn’t worth bothering with. And it was only done by another team three months ago. I mean it’s ridiculous and such a waste of money.’ I can only agree and I wonder how many examples there are of these half done, half-hearted repairs? We all know these shoddy shortcuts cost us more in the long term.

KCC’s £1.4B budget setting recently was a fiasco. The ruling Conservative council cannot even admit how bad the situation is. Instead, they cry crocodile tears, make lame excuses, and stick dogmatically to their ‘cuts and more cuts’ ideology. That’s why Ramsgate has lost its only open access youth club, it’s also why there’s no money for much needed road traffic improvements, it’s why every time it rains our drains block and roads and pathways flood, it’s why our roads are falling apart… I take issue with my fellow Tory councillors on many issues… I believe prevention is both better and cheaper than cure, I believe investment in communities is a benefit for us all and not a cost. I wholeheartedly disagree with the Conservatives faulty logic of cut, cut and cut again. The truth is it’s their own Government that has not only slashed council budgets, but stoked a crisis of need like we’ve never witnessed before.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the LGIU published on 28/2/24

Councils in England are in a state of financial crisis with many facing effective bankruptcy in the next few years unless the funding system is reformed. More than half the councils that responded to a survey said they were likely to be unable to balance their books in the next five years. Two-thirds said they were cutting services. Parks, leisure facilities, arts and culture are at the top of the list. There have been repeated warnings about the state of council finances, with the Government announcing an extra £600m of funding earlier this year to help plug budget gaps. Despite that, many councils are currently setting budgets that will see service cuts from April, at the same time as increasing council tax and charges. Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGIU, said: “This year’s State of Local Government Finance report reveals the desperate, ruinous financial situation councils find themselves in. Cutting services, borrowing more money and spending reserves year after year is completely unsustainable. Citizens are being failed. With over half of councils warning us they are at risk of bankruptcy within the next Parliament, it is no longer possible to blame individual governance issues. There clearly is a systemic issue and rather than bungling local government panicked injections of cash, whoever wins the next election will need to reform the entire system, bringing back multi-year settlements based on an area’s need and developing new ways of revenue-raising.”
LGIU   BBC News

On health the picture is equally if not more  concerning and it appears that most people know this, as a recent You Gov poll shows health and care is the public’s major concern. I wait with bated breath to see if the Tories address this particularly thorny issue in next Wednesday’s Spring budget? Don’t forget that there are 7.6 million people languishing on the NHS waiting list and the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes that it will take about four more years to clear the back log. Please – don’t get ill! I was amazed to hear one Tory councillor say that the backlog was due to Covid – I put him right by pointing out in particular the Conservatives illogical decision to axe nurse and midwife training back in 2014 has a huge impact. The government were warned. They took no notice. We are reaping what they sowed.

Which brings me to the HASU update.

You may recall the fight we had, the petitions, the demo’s, to try to get the NHS to see sense and to retain a stroke unit at QEQM. I helped our community star Marion Keppel to launch a Judicial Review to challenge the decision. Unfortunately, we and others were unsuccessful. Which is a crying shame because Thanet has the most strokes in Kent, ‘It is acknowledged that deprived areas have higher instances of strokes.  This is demonstrated particularly in Thanet, which has the highest hospital admissions rate for strokes in Kent: some 165 people per 100,000 resident population.’ Our population was estimated at 142.000 in 2022. We were all concerned about the prospect of having to travel to a HASU, a hyper acute stroke unit, which is a better version of a stroke unit delivering better clinical outcomes over in Ashford. In 2017 we thought it was too far – in 2024 we still think it’s too far.

But Covid threw the NHS managers a curve ball. The East Kent HASU plans were halted and K&C (Canterbury) began to deal with strokes. I have suggested more than once that we should keep the service there.

I was therefore flabbergasted to find K&C is now building a Thrombectomy unit which is the latest practice in the mechanical removal of clots on the brain. Brilliant! It’s such an advanced lifesaving treatment. But – the plans for a HASU at Ashford are still going ahead. But the NHS managers can’t say when!

Meanwhile two other HASUs have been completed. One in Dartford and one in Maidstone.

But why oh why has Thanet been left behind again?

Frankly I’m baffled and I will be pursuing the issue vigorously starting with a demand to know a new timeline, and a cast iron reassurance that the original budget has been ring fenced, and post Covid, there is enough money in the pot.

In the meantime, a good stroke service exists at K&C where they have two scanners and a very cohesive, hard-working stroke team.

In an ideal deal world Thanet would have its own HASU.

With a General Election at some point this year, I hope whoever is elected to serve East Kent will fight, fight and fight to get YOU the NHS services that are so urgently needed and that you deserve. Thanet has been once again left behind.

… and please remember FAST.

Face, Arms, Speech, Time is a test to quickly identify if someone is having a stroke.

Face weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms?

Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

Time to call 999: if you see any of these signs.

https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/symptoms

30 Comments

  1. Exactly where is all this extra money going to come from? In reality Labour will have to raise taxes on everyone, not just the rich.

    • The Conservatives have borrowed more money than all governments in history combined since 2010.
      Your question should really be – where has all that extra money gone?

    • The question should be: “where has the money gone?”.
      Under the Tories, we’re enduring the heaviest tax regime for a generation. Since (obviously) our taxes are not being spent on schools, health and so on, just where is it going?
      Perhaps Baroness Mone of Mayfair might like to comment?

      • Debt interest, health service, benefits/social care, the absurd give aways of covid ( the numbers of eu migrants that pocketed their 50k and promptly left the country will never be revealed). Great swathes of the public sector sitting at home underperforming, there’s a train crash coming where new staff just don’t decent training or management as no one wants to meet face to face. The VOA now have a 90 working day response time target in respect of enquiries to them. The whole system is marching towards utter failure.

  2. The comment “tired of witnessing the need for huge cash injections into our public sector.”
    That was the last thing I wanted to hear. The public sector eats through money like “ no tomorrow “ £55 million on a station we don’t need or want, the talk of £.x million on a port the council doesn’t know what to do with apart from a large caravan park, over generous salary’s for under performing workers, threats of strikes from every other public sector union, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, just doom and gloom and diminishing services and the expectation that everything is going to get worse.

  3. When I visit other parts of Kent and beyond, I often have to pay (about 40p) to use public loos. They’re usually cashless, with a card reader at the entrance. This would be a very easy way for Thanet to raise some revenue.

  4. …………a resident told me he’d watched ‘a workman pull up in a work van, then he chucked some muck into a pot hole – stamped it down and drove off!’

    The problem here has nothing to do with who is in government or the county council but the workman. I can say how many times I see them just sitting in their vans or one working and another two standing by and smoking. They should be made to wear cameras to prove they are doing their daily tasks diligently.

    • And probably the work was put out to the cheapest contractor – therefore you get the cheapest job.

      However, it is a perpetual cash cow for the contractor because they get paid again for doing the same job year after year.

      There are no checks by a Highways Inspector to ensure the job is done properly before the bill is paid – and thus the waste of Council Tax payers money is perpetuated.

      • Don’t know where you got that story? Each team have a job list. Photo taken b4 & after = no work no pay has been like tht for yrs

  5. Look out ,their chancellor cannot budget her household budget,even a income of about £200000 yearly with her partner, and Raynor looks like fiddling her council house sale ,I thought Labour were against council house sales ,but” never mind do as we say, not as we do” .First time I will not vote Labour ,a party of cheats and antisemitism,Tories no good either, stumped

  6. OK,as Karen is commenting this HYS will receive the usual misogyny,and negative feedback from adherents of the minimal state economic policy.
    Some of the usual crew have not shown up yet (obviously there is 50% off offer on Wincarnis at the local supermarket, or Vera is on the telly again).
    We are where we are, because in the last 14 years central government has cut expenditure for local government services , so that most councils now rely on Council tax for most of their income.Some tried to get out of jail free by investing in commercial real estate and got badly burnt (Woking,Spelthorne, and to some extent Canterbury) as a result.Others like Hastings have been overwhelmed by the housing crisis.
    Yes, KCC have built several white elephants such as Thanet Parkway,The Turner, and now Dover Fastrack, but compared to Central Govt, which has spent money like an incontinent Labrador, KCC’s and TDC’s failings are small potatoes.
    How do we move forward? Well,there are no easy solutions,someone will have to foot the bill, and unfortunately we cannot just target the super rich.
    An incoming govt needs a plan.It is pointless to say all will be well if we rely on growth, but not explain how this is to be achieved.
    Even though the tax take is high, we should endeavour to shift the burden to those able to pay a little more.No more pointless tax cuts, but income tax allowances should be increased inline with inflation, so the poorest are taken out of tax.Higher rate tax should be levied at 60%.
    Tax should be simplified, but it should be underpinned by a term that states that no tax avoidance measure can deliver less than a tax take of 25% on income or capital.
    We should tax things that pollute, are anti social, harmful to public health etc.The triple lock on pensions should go, but the state pension should graduate to a higher percentage of average earnings over time.
    There is a lot of income that evades tax and perhaps a few examples ought to made of those not declaring all their income.
    The money tree does not exist, but ferreting out sources of income from various sources might help.Building more social houses will cut housing benefit and will reduce poverty.A mass insulation policy will reduce fuel poverty.Investment in green energy will increase GDP and make the economy more resilient.
    There is no silver bullet, but a determined approach to move forward and in one sense search the nation’s back of the sofa for all any source of money will deliver something.An end to cronyism and dodgy outsourcing will cut expenditure.Reform of the NHS and restructuring of local govt with devolution will release resources and shorten the lines of communication between the public and administrators.
    Doing nothing is not a solution and declaiming that there is no money, and that nothing can be done is also not acceptable.

    • Any fiscal policy that relies on “growth” for success is doomed to failure.
      It is not possible to grow indefinitely in any meaningful way.

      • Of course you can, you aim for an ever better skilled electorate capable of innovation and ever greater productivity, seek to maintain a fairly stable population and so not keep reducing per capita gdp.

        Just look at “hand car washes” legions of poorly skilled migrants often reliant on bemefits, working in poor conditions in what are generally accepted as busineses that are covers for money laundering and lax book keeping. How amny of thanets hand car wash sites have full planning and work to environmental standards?
        Could easily be replaced by modern automated washes, that would support a small number of well paid stable jobs, need decent levels of investment , operated to decent environmental standards. But as a nation we turn a blind eye to criminality and instead prefer to have a tax system and beaurocracy that discourages proper businesses.
        Not forgetting a lazy electorate unwilling to wash their own cars.

    • Not quibbling George, but not so sure that social housing does do much to reduce spending on housing benefit. It should do, but it doesn’t. Typically set at 80% of market rates, social housing rents are still too high for lower-earners. I rent out a property in another town and as I own it outright I can afford to keep the rent fairly low i.e. 65 – 70% of local market rates. My tenant still receives full housing benefit.
      Anybody who has a low-income job (plenty of those around, many of them vital to society) is unlikely to be able to pay their own way rent-wise.
      I too want to see good social housing though. Properly maintained and with the lowest rent possible. But it just seems increasingly rare and I’m not sure it really does much to reduce the strain on local budgets.

      • Social rents of old are just not possible for new modern housing, the cost of provision is just too great ( tdc is currently painting itself into a corner with its insistence on provision of housing at LHA rates, unless of course LHA keeps escalating to an unsustainable degree) as is the degree of demand, the nation needs to change the mindset of many and deal with the attitiude that a life on benefits is a viable option, 65% of those in social housing are workless households and once in a cheap property with a tenancy for life few will ever see the need to work.
        TDC has had its housing stock maintained by a series of lowest bidder contractors , plus not checked on the quality of the work that is then done, no one will take responsibility and just agrees with the recommendations of assessments that have been commissioned, many reports are not even read and even if they are it’s by council staff who have no knowledge of what’s being reported on. TDC have property that doesn’t comply with the 2005 fire safety order act, having used a convenient way of obtaining “ convenient” assessments.
        The whole system is a mess.

        • If social housing has a high proportion of “workless households”, this is because thousands of council homes have been bought from councils by their original tenants and then sold for a higher price on the property market. Meanwhile , councils were unable to use the money from the original ex-tenant buyers to build replacements. Councils therefore had to limit the possible new council tenancies to people who,for one reason or another, could not afford to rent privately-owned properties.

          • Your ignorance of the subject shines through brightly, the decline started with the change to needs based allocation of social housing in the 1970’s.
            The oft neglected fact that receipts from right to buy were intended to pay down debt that councils had accumulated needs to be remembered.
            As does the inconveneient truth that the level of discount applied to council homes unfpder right to buy was about the same as the home would have needed on the open market as the homes weren’t sold with vacant possession. ( as they had occupants with life tenancies).
            That so many have ended up in the private rented sector is merely an indication of how unpopular many ex authority homes are to owner occupiers.
            Last but not least it’s further demonstrated as to how unpopular these homes are when you look at the refusal of local authorities to buy back rtb homes that come back on the open market. TDC could easily buy back homes at arounf £120k for a 2 bed , but they don’t. No worries about it being bought again under right to buy if its allocated to a workless household.
            Out of interest do you have a social rented home? Working or retired? Dependent on benefits?

  7. I assume Ms Constantine has not yet seen the results in Rochdale.

    Calling for an early General Election is somewhat foolhardy.

    Those members of the Great British Public who can actually be bothered to get of their arses to vote are clearly fed up with the shenanigans of both Labour and Tories.

    The door is wide open for an eclectic mix of ”personalities” with obscure and radical views to be elected and it seems the representatives of the traditional parties may become less prevalent.

  8. I don’t see why Ms. Constantine would not have already seen the Rochdale results. And the demographics in Rochdale are not the same as those of Thanet.

  9. Galloway is a disgraceful self publicist that has latched on to the insecurities of a minority section of society who feel they are under constant attack (which they are from the unpleasant racists in our midst).
    He is no George Lansbury and far from hawking his conscious around from place to place, he is hawking his ego around.
    What Labour needs to do between now and the GE is to reassure the Muslim minority and the Jewish minority that Labour’s values protect and defend everyone,and that tolerance and harmony are not just nice to have, but essential in a progressive society.We have seen plenty of the regressive society and it has led us to the situation we are in today.

  10. I find this article so hypocritical.The weeds,kerb turf,litter, dog poo,silted drains and grafitti are on an industrial scale.As you enter Thanet from London the litter increases 10 fold.Labour or Conservative you are both useless.
    I ask you to take a drive from SW London through Surrey,Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and into Devon and you will see less litter than 1 mile of Thanets roads.
    There has been a tube of decorators caulk on the first roundabout on the A299 into Ramsgate for over 2 years.I drive past it everyday.Thanet Council sets such low standards that people think its okay to throw litter.My own road has not been swept in the 12 years that I have lived there.

    • Not so,I drove along the A1M yesterday and what did I see? Litter everywhere.In York a beautiful city but potholes everywhere.
      It’s the same everywhere.Local govt has insufficient funding.True, some do better than others but nevertheless it is ‘Broken Britain ‘, not just Broken Thanet.
      The litter is dropped by the public,so if you want cleaner streets take your litter home.Dog poo is again us down to anti social dog ownership.Weeds are not that much of a problem, but if the staff were not cleaning up after the dog owners and litter bugs, they could be removing weeds.
      Drains are a problem of old infrastructure so blame Southern water and KCC.
      I suspect there are moany old gits in Hampshire,Somerset and Surrey who are saying the same things
      You have seen a piece of litter laying around for 2 Years and you have not picked it up! How do you know they have not swept your road and will it be any better if they did?
      Last autumn I saw someone using a leaf blower who blew all the leaves from his front garden onto the street, no doubt expecting the council to clean up after him.
      You want council tax kept down, I am sure, so why not be public spirited and help out a little.

  11. KCC and Thanet have always been miss managed. In Nowway taxes are high however the public services are the best in the world excellent health care excellent schools excellent social services very clean streets, generous pensions, under-road heating to keep roads ice free and safe. Reliable police-Ambulance-Fire services.
    Population just near 5 millions so many benefit from the taxation of so few. Maybe if Mr Sunak recovered some of the billions he gave away in Covid to his friends like “Lady Moan” we would be better off.

  12. Social housing is set at 30/35% of median wages.Affordable housing is set at 70% to 80% so you are mixing up the two tenures.
    Social housing has a backlog of repairs because yet again the gov has underfunded social housing.
    New well built social housing will save money and cut spending overall.Social tenants do not have life tenure, that changed some time ago.

    • This article gives the representative social and affordable rent rates in thanet.

      https://theisleofthanetnews.com/2024/01/13/council-home-rent-rises-proposed-and-new-hardship-fund-created-for-low-income-tenants-not-on-benefits/

      The rate for a 2 bed social rented flat is unsustainable. A small block of which i have some knowledge, has had or has intended capital expenditure which alone will absorb all the rental income for the next 15 years and thats before the annual ongoing costs. Look at royal crescent the costs of maintaining that building will mean that it will effectively be subsidised by the HRA in perpetuity. The council would be much better off moving all the residents into new purpose built housing and then sell the Royal Crescent Albatross off.
      It is just about an impossibility to provide housing to modern standards (be that newbuild or improved older stock) and maintain / manage it on the old social rents of old. Which is why social housing has capital grants and councils use land they already have and so don’t need to aquire it. It’s also why there was the need for the “Decent Homes Standard” which at the last estimate had cost over 40 billion nationwide to bring huge swathes of council social housing upto a reasonable quality, those extra chunks of cash will appear insignificant as and when the social dpstock needs to be improved to EPC C.
      There’s a need for a full and frank discussion on the real costs of housing and how it’s to be met, rather than perpetuate the myth of “cheap social rented property” the only person that it is cheap for is the tenant, society pays the costs for the balance. Once you have open and honest accounting and how it varies across the various housing tenures, society can decide how it is best met and disclose who subsidises who to what extent.

    • Whilst you are correct that councils no longer have the ability to grant lifetime tenancies, how often do councils make efforts to move tenants under occupying a property to a smaller one at a 5 year review?

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