Tales from Gun Wharf - The blog
Friday October 8, 2010
There is more to the planning arguments about the new
Sainsbury's superstore at Strood than meets the eye.
On the face of it, the planning officers got it wrong. They
recommended refusing the plans.
That would have cost the council five years' investment in
public transport, including the provision of a park and ride
scheme. In monetary terms, they were turning down £9.2 million.
It would also have made developers shake their heads in
disbelief. After all, Medway is a cash-poor council and says it
wants developers to invest here.
So what was wrong about the Sainsbury's site?
There are places that are earmarked for commercial developments.
There are also places for industrial schemes to create jobs.
The trouble is, the Medway City Estate is designated as an
industrial area - even if most of the new developments create
virtually no jobs. The commercial areas are supposed to be in the
town centres - and Chatham has a newly-designated area on Best
Street where there is the room for Sainsbury's to build.
The split between the Conservative factions once again showed
itself (most politely, it should be said).
As Cllr Diana Chambers, the Tory chairman and wife of council
leader Rodney Chambers, said: "It is seldom that I agree with Cllr
Yet she and the Labour stalwart, Stephen Hubbard, ended up
voting together against the development.
The old order is changing.
The order may be changing, but not the snail-like pace of the
Standards Committee of Medway Council.
One of the many councillors being investigated for alleged
breaches of the Code of Practice in Public Life is Nicholas Brice
(or Nick as he prefers).
Once seen as a future high flyer, Cllr Brice plummeted to earth
when the police caught him in a red light area of Chatham. The
Tories were trying to clean things up in the vicinity, and had
earned quite a high profile for their get-tough stance.
Faced with the invitation to cough up or face the beak, Cllr
Brice avoided the courts by accepting a caution.
Shortly afterwards he was stripped of his chairmanship of the
Audit Committee, resigned as a Conservative - and was reported to
the Standards Committee. A year later he will finally hear whether
or not he is to face disciplinary action under the 2008
There is an inexorability about the process, even if - once
again in keeping with the rules and regulations - an elected
representative will be dealt with behind closed doors.
The committee - two laymen and Cllr Julie Shaw, the Labour whip
- will consider a confidential report into the incident.
They will then decide if he should have a public hearing -
or be let off.
The last time I spoke to Cllr Brice he was still clearly
hoping he would be re-admitted to the Tory ranks.
His chances seem extremely remote. For one thing, his desk at
council meetings is reminiscent of the way naughty little boys were
treated at school: still in the classroom, but segregated from the
rest. His requests at least to be seated close to the Conservative
benches have been repeatedly ignored.
Meanwhile, if you thought you would learn officially of any
councillor who is cleared of allegations, sometimes made
maliciously, think again.
The rules are that the council cannot publicise innocence.
If you thought that was enough, once again have a rethink.
If you, as a councillor, are reported to the Standards Board or
the Standards Committee you are told - but not what the allegation
is, or who has made it, or when it is supposed to have
Even traitors are informed what they are accused of doing.
Friday October 1, 2010
What gives in the Conservative ranks these days?
The young (well, most of them are) Rochester and Strood team
seem to have their own agenda for the May elections.
The Rainham crowd have their own alternative views on a number
of schemes proposed by officers.
The other night there was the extraordinary sight of Labour and
Lib Dems being joined by the Conservative chairmen of Audit (Cllr
Trevor Clarke), children's scrutiny (Cllr David Royle) and health
scrutiny (Cllr David Carr) as they voted against an increasingly
frustrated and angry chairman of the business support committee,
Cllr Ken Bamber (also a Conservative).
Ken is in a difficult position. The Young Lions of Rochester
have ousted him from standing anywhere on the peninsula next year.
He's still whip, but no-one - least of all the other chairmen -
seem to give a tinker's curse for the party line as he interprets
Delighted opposition councillors managed to keep their lower
mandibles locked to their upper jaws - but only just.
The row was over the publication of performance indicators.
Ken wanted them pared down, which would save embarrassment for
the Tories because the cash is being withdrawn by the ConDem
Cllr Glyn Griffiths, the opposition finance spokesman, rather
logically wondered what was the point in having indicators if you
drop them as soon as things start to go wrong.
Ken squirmed, the chairmen rebelled and the opposition won the
arguments time and again.
Having swept to power in the parliamentary elections, the
Conservative administration is increasingly riven by strife.
The muttering over the expensive by-election about to be
restaged minus the victorious, now ex-Tory, candidate, David Craggs
among the Chatham and Gillingham Tories is encouraging lots of
flies to take up their positions on any blue walls around Gun
You would be forgiven for thinking the sceptics against merging
the Medway Towns into one unitary authority 12 years ago might have
I refer to the plans for the new park and ride at the proposed
Sainsbury's store a few hundred yards from the Medway Messenger
A press release from the developer promises a park and ride
facility funded for five years by Sainsbury's.
It will run to Strood, Rochester and Chatham. Another would
serve areas of Strood, Frindsbury and Wainscott.
Sainsbury's press release says: "The new Park & Ride is
essential to Medway’s wider public transport strategy and would be
a key asset in helping to alleviate local congestion and ensuring
the future vitality of town centres in Medway."
This is the same area that is to get all the improvements to bus
Where are the park and ride facilities for the old borough of
Gillingham, where a park and ride off the M2?
I know politicians will immediately say Sainsbury's will
fund the Rochester/Chatham/Strood P&R (providing they get
planning permission for their new super store on the Medway City
The point is the council has known about these problems for many
If we are to relieve our busiest roads of some of the traffic
which needs it more - a dual carriageway'd road network, or an
over-busy, increasingly stop-start, A2?
Children might be getting fat and someone has spent more
than £1 million of council taxpayers' money without authority,
but there was still an opportunity for a smile at Medway's cabinet
This week's meeting was delayed for a few minutes for teas and
One disappointed member was the education portfolio holder, Cllr
Last to the table and last to his seat, he arrived at the
"There's not enough hot water," he protested.
The acting chairman, Cllr Alan Jarrett, who was about to reveal
with Cllr Wicks the story so far known about the unauthorised
spending on the school extension at Woodlands Primary School in
Gillingham, was none too sympathetic.
"I would have thought you were in enough hot water," he
One of the few occasions members of the public can argue with
councillors is is at a site visit.
They are ordered from time to time when planning applications
cannot be settled in a council room.
So they go out to the site to look and to make up their
That's where the public gets a look-in.
Councillors will listen to arguments for and against the
Next Monday they are going to two sites. One of those site
visits is at 7pm.
Have a look outside at 7pm tonight - then consider how much the
councillors will be able to see.
Monday September 27, 2010
There is something radically wrong with the way school
buildings have been maintained in Medway.
When the council was formed in 1998 it took over more than 100
from Kent County Council. Many had not seen a lick of paint since
they were built in the Sixties, let alone any proper maintenance.
Few have since.
One of the most appalling features has been a lack of proper
care over asbestos in the buildings.
Asbestosis and mysothelioma are cruel ways to die. Get a speck
of asbestos on your lungs and half a century later you could be
drowning in your own body fluids as your lungs become encased in
asbestos-instigated "concrete". One the other hand, you might be
lucky, played with it and never had a problem.
For decades there have been safety measures in place to protect
workers and those (like children and teachers) who might be in
classrooms surrounded by asbestos.
In Medway, however, school caretakers and contractors have
happily banged in nails. They have drilled holes through walls and
No-one has warned some of them that they were letting asbestos
A major Health and Safety Executive investigation has revealed
two schools where, despite warnings, council education chiefs have
failed to give staff warnings.
You would think it was a resignation case. It probably
If that wasn't bad enough, a Gillingham school (and no-one is
quite clear how) has somehow been able to spend £1.2 million on an
No-one has yet found evidence of any competition for the job -
or details of the development - or who gave the job approval.
Nor how it was that for a year or more then money was paid out
in dribs and drabs without anyone saying: "Why?"
Councillors gave officers across the council the power to award
and run sizeable budgets. In some cases they can spend £1 million.
After all, elected councillors have far more important things to do
when running a £600 million business.
Last week I was repeatedly told there was no suggestion of
anything illegal, it looked like incompetence.
Directors, assistant directors and planners, finance managers,
teachers, governors, councillors and parents, all had accepted
things were OK at Woodlands school. No-one checked.
The one thing that was authorised was planning permission. It
was given by a junior officer.
The work began but (apparently) no one from building control
went to look.
It was only when the cost, once estimated at £25,000 but later
revealed to be £750,000, went over £1 million that alarm bells
The contractors building Grange Farm paid the council (under a
legal agreement called a Section 106) to provide educational
facilities for their residents. It was from that money the school
drew the cash to build their extension.
When the building work was stopped last year, investigations
Ironical, really, that those investigations revealed that areas
with asbestos in were disturbed.
Tomorrow, Cabinet councillors and the audit committee will start
considering what lessons to learn.
There are many.
Councillors need to get closer to what is happening under their
We elected them: We expect them to do their jobs.
What happened at Woodlands was done in our names and with our
It's the fourth time there has been high-profile, over-spending
in the past five years.
There was Borstal's primary school where £300,000 was spent on
architects' fees only for them to be told to return to the drawing
Walderslade Primary School's rebuilding was costed at £3.2
million. It is still not finished, and the bill is more
than £5 million.
There were queries over the costs of Strood Academy, which
was delayed three months until council chiefs could justify their
Now there is Woodlands. Officers have often tried to reassure
councillors by saying the cash is provided by the government - so
Who pays the government?
In the past there has been plenty of criticism of the housing
department's handling of contracts at Medway Council.
The education mess is far worse.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 10 2010
Harold Wilson was wrong when he said a week is a long time in
politics. If he had come to Medway he would know it was a %@*! long
At the heart of the shenanigans over the past few days has been
Cllr Craig Mackinlay. He is looking increasingly isolated over his
role as agent to David Craggs, the councillor who was elected for
River ward only to resign less than a fortnight later.
By coincidence the former Medway Cabinet member, Chris Buckwell
will act as agent for everyone (including Mr Mackinlay) for the May
5 local elections. Everyone, that is, within the Rochester and
Strood Constituency Conservative Association.
A lot of mud has been thrown and background briefings given
about the debacle.
The facts are that it cost taxpayers £11,500 to stage the
Labour fell 73 votes short of the Tory candidate who resigned 13
Mr Craggs was a headmaster, a Special Constable, a one-time
Territorial Army member and therefore, on the face of it, ideal to
be a councillor.
The by-election attracted 1,382 voters, and cost around £8.32
for each voter who bothered to turn out.
He might have seemed ideal. But he is a Special in the Kent
Constabulary. That is Home Office-funded and therefore excludes
local politicians from being Specials.
After all, councillors can be appointed to sit on the Kent
Police Authority. It directs and deals with issues such as
Imagine what would happen if a councillor was the subject of a
disciplinary hearing because he wore the police uniform.
The police regulations are not clear. What is clear is that the
chief constable has to know of any conflict of interests.
In this case, Ian Learmonth faced the problem in his first days
as head of the force. He ruled against a Special being a
councillor. It was up to Mr Craggs to decide which he wanted to be.
He chose the force he has served for 17 years, and ended his brief
What has followed has become increasingly acrimonious and masks
Cllr Mackinlay is an experienced political campaigner. He has
been fighting elections for many years.
He was Mr Craggs' agent. That gave him responsibility for
ensuring the candidate was suitable and could be elected. The
ultimate responsibility for the candidates lies with their
In the past few days he published a party political leaflet for
River ward residents in which there was an aggressive attack on Mr
Learmonth, and saying that the police should foot the bill for the
election to find Mr Craggs replacement.
Unfortunately, he is hazy about precisely who advised the
association or himself about the legal aspects. That doesn't help
He has also stirred up a massive hornets' nest.
The Chairman of the police authority is reporting him to the
The police force led by Mr Learmonth is doing the same.
Both accuse him of making false statements and bringing his
office into disrepute.
This promises to run and run.
The Rochester and Chatham Constituency Conservative Association
issued a glossy all-colour newsletter for the Strood area. Somewhat
inappropriately at the present time it's called In Touch.
There's a fine photograph of councillors Les Wicks and Jane
Etheridge congratulating the latest member of the administration on
The only problem is that the successful councillor was David
He had already resigned, and told the media his brief political
career was over by the time many people received the
If you want the facts - read the Medway Messenger.
One major fact today is that the Medway Messenger is joining the
campaign to get City status for Medway.
It is ridiculous that our go-ahead community has not had city
status from the start.
It is among the biggest conurbations in the country.
It is spending £6 billion to revive the infrastructure,
transform the shopping centre, improve public transport and attract
Oxford is a city and has only two universities.
Medway is not a city and has four universities.
Some would argue that we lost city status for Rochester, but so
did Perth - and they are making a bid to regain it.
We should build upon the achievements of our past. History is
wonderful, but it cannot be allowed to be everything to the
exclusion of the future.
The plans for transforming Lodge Hill and the military areas
around Chattenden will preserve key parts of the historic
It will open up traditional views that only troops have seen for
more than a century.
It cannot be an expensive campaign. No one would blame anyone
who criticised it if it overspent.
This will be a Budget Bid. The council has already started by
motivating staff to take on the publicity work in their own time at
no extra cost.
It will unite the five towns in a way that was projected with
the creation of the unitary authority - but didn't.
It will put us on the map.
It will not destroy the towns' identities.
The five towns have been merging together for decades. That has
not killed their individual identities, loyalties and
Nor should the City of medway.
The City of Medway will be unique. Not Five Towns but One City
of five towns and numerous villages.
When it comes to troubled areas, Medway's housing has had more
than its fair share of problems.
Everyone thought the problems had been solved - until last
That was when four members of staff (three of them long-term
housing personnel) were suddenly suspended, and escorted from Gun
The first most staff knew that there was another problem was an
email advising them that the following day's retirement party had
been suspended - because the person who was leaving was among the
quartet who had been escorted out.
The full story is in today's Medway Messenger.
It makes sorry reading
- for those who had worked hard to turn around the
- for those who are under suspicion of a potential fiddle
involving homeless people
- for those who respected and looked up to them, and
- for those who trust the council to help them through difficult
The private sector housing team has been rocked by the
suspicions that have been aroused. While nothing has been proved at
this stage, investigations are going on and the police could yet be
For the first time in three years, biscuits were provided at the
start of the start of the Children and Adults scrutiny committee
Behind it was Cllr David Royle, the chairman, who provided the
biscuits last time.
Both times it was because he was celebrating his birthday.
Pity this time was that no one realised - because they were all
concerned about tackling obesity among the children of Medway.
A malicious rumour has it has it that the real reason the free
nibbles were cancelled was because the finance portfolio holder,
Cllr Alan Jarrett, was starting to gain a corporation - and his
wife demanded they were cancelled so that he couldn't be
If only all things were so simple.
Thursday September 9, 2010
There is a lot of criticism by politicians of the Standards
system introduced by the last government.
The Standards Board of England is likely to disappear in the
near future as part of the economic cuts.
It would end an enormous amount of red tape, much of which does
not seem to have any logic about it.
The most ridiculous came last night when Medway's Hearings
Sub-Committee sat twice in a hour to discuss two councillors who
had been investigated. The hearings were closed to the press and
We are not going to be permitted to know who the councillors
are. We are going to be banned from knowing what is being reported.
And we will not find out if the person is cleared of the
Last night's cases were closed to the public for the very
reasons they should have been in the open.
"This report," the agenda said by way of explanation for it
being in private, "brings before the Sub Committee the
Investigating Officer’s report into an allegation against a
We know the parish councillor was accused of concealing
information that should have been in the public arena. Sound
So what about the other one?
Do we have a fraudulent member of Medway Council?
Was it someone stalking schoolgirls?
Has someone attacked a member of the public?
We may never know.
Under the forthcoming reorganisation, the Standards Committee at
Medway would probably remain. I hope it does.
I also hope the opportunity is taken to open up the process.
After all, we live in a democracy - don't we?
Thursday September 2 2010
Most political parties prepare for elections about two months
before polling day.
Not Rochester and Strood Conservatives.
Their 22 candidates in next May's local elections were unveiled
to the press last night - and half of them are new faces.
It was the start of the campaign to get them all elected.
Currently the Tories hold 18 of the seats.
Labour hold three and enforced Independent/shamed
ex-Conservative, Cllr Nick Brice, has the other. Any hopes he has
for a return to the party ranks have been firmly ignored by the
association, which is determined to get Ruper Turpin elected in his
Out to grass go six other well-known Conservatives councillors,
some defeated at selection meetings, others standing down to pursue
retirement or a private life.
They include three former mayors.
Going next May are ex-civic leaders Dickie Andrews (resigned),
Sue Haydock (resigned) and Jane Chitty (dropped).
Also leaving are Mark Reckless (now the local MP, so he hasn't
got much time for council work), and the husband-and-wife pairing
of Janice and Ken Bamber (both ousted).
Cllr Les Wicks, the architect of the primary schools
reorganisation, has been moved to Strood North ward where he joins
forces with Cllr Jane Etheridge and newcomer Paul Rai.
Cllr Phil Filmer will defend his seat on the Peninsula. The
association's communications guru, Chris Irvine, and Tony Watson
replace the Bambers in the future line-up.
Miss Kelly Tolhurst hopes to fill Cllr Reckless' seat.
Organising Secretary, membership Secretary and now
Agent-in-Waiting, Chris Buckwell insisted the association members
had decided who would be selected.
"We are strong, we have over 300 association members and we
intend to win all 22 seats in the constituency," he said.
Labour activists will need to get their act together if they
intend to hold their seats, let alone go against the current
As for the rest, the Liberal Democrats are non-existent across
The one party that possibly would make a mark is the English
Democrats. It might, but their candidates have an enormous mountain
Anyone who thinks the development bubble exploded with the start
of the recession should look at Medway.
Major plans have been filed to bring around 1,000 jobs to
central Strood, the Rochester Riverside development is finally
moving forward, and the Hempstead Valley shopping centre has filed
plans to give it itself a radical facelift for the 21st
No - just traffic chaos, dirt and dust for the nest few years.
And a revitalised community.
One day he was there, as bold as brass. The next Dennis
McFarlane's dream world had been shattered.
The Labour councillor and freemason aspired to be Mayor of
Yet he won't be after he carried out the most stupid set of
benefit fiddles it was possible to imagine.
He claimed a string of benefits every fortnight for at least six
months. Most of them were administered by the council with Cllr
McFarlane blissfully claiming jobseekers' allowances, housing
benefit and council tax benefit while saying his only income was
Yet they knew he was lying - because they were separately paying
him over £8,000 a year in councillors' allowances.
Last November the magistrates accepted his guilty plea, gave him
a conditional discharge and ordered him to repay the council's
The council then faced an expensive investigation by an imported
solicitor who repeatedly chased - and equally repeatedly failed to
pin down - the errant ex-councillor. They had to determine whether
he had brought his office (and the council) into disrepute. The
bill will run to thousands of pounds.
Last night the former councillor was told he was dishonest,
lacked integrity, brought the council into disrepute and failed to
uphold the principles of public life.
Hang, draw and quarter him?
Send him a bill for the investigation?
All the hours of detailed work and pursuit were hot air: all the
independent standards committee could do was to censure him.
It means that if Mr McFarlane decides to stand for public office
somewhere else, there would be little anyone could do to stop a man
labelled a cheat and a fraud.
He could have been banned for holding any office.
But he had resigned - so he got away with it.
Did he say anything?
No - he didn't even bother to turn up.
Does it matter in the twenty first century whether or not a
politician has sexual preferences?
Not really. What counts is their ability to do their job
So why the fuss around William Hague and the allegations that he
did more than just share a twin-bedded hotel room with one of his
The simple answer is that if he did indulge in activities
unbecoming to a married man and it is proved, the former
Leader of the Conservative Party will have lied to the public, to
his wife, to his party, to the world.
Anyone in public office has to be whiter than white, purer than
the driven snow, above suspicion - because we, the electorate - do
not trust them.
An exposed liar is never accepted as meeting those standards.
Someone in one of the highest positions in British politics must be
better than that.
If nothing happened between the two men, William Hague was still
damned stupid. He was a Foreign Secretary (a target for governments
to pressurise). Yet he shared a hotel room with another man by his
own admission more than once.
Mr Hague has been an active politician for more than 30 years:
yesterday, he demonstrated he lacks political sense. Rumours (not
facts) have dogged him for years, so if he cannot see such an
action could be open to question, inference, pressure and
embarrassment for the British government what other naive mistakes
could he make at the FO?
For that alone, he should resign.
I must get hold of a copy of the latest horror book: "Tone hates
I'll make a point of buying it as soon as I see it remaindered -
along with Mandy's backstabber… unless someone buys me copies for
News has just reached me that Glyn Thompson, chief executive at
Gravesham council, is to retire next year.
He has been one of the people masterminding the transformation
of north Kent as part of the Thames Gateway from its earliest
I first met him when he was appointed the council's director of
environmental services in 1996. He has always been a sincere man,
committed to doing the best for his community.
He came from a council with problems: his committee chairman was
the maverick deputy leader of Liverpool Council, Derek Hatton. He
was able to steer him along the tightrope of what you can, and what
you can't, do, and he still grins at the close calls that sometimes
His gentle sense of humour, advice and support will be missed by
a lot of people, not least the community he has served so well for
Thursday August 26
Never go out to lunch - it should be tattoo'd on the eyelids of
every reporter. That's the hour when stories have a nasty habit of
Yesterday your scribe broke with tradition, and went to lunch
only to learn on his return that Medway's newest councillor had
resigned less than two weeks after being elected in a costly,
sometimes acrimonious, by-election.
It could be he went too soon.
David Craggs - private school headmaster, special constable,
Army Cadet officer and (for the briefest of periods) a politician
and elected member for the River ward in Chatham - was told by Kent
Police he couldn't be a councillor and a special constable. He
chose the uniformed role he had held for 17 years.
That has sparked a major crisis in the council, and a row that
could find the controlling Conservative party's biggest
constituency taking their close friends, the police, to the High
Court amid accusations of bullying.
It couldn't have happened at a worse moment.
The Chief Executive and Returning Officer, Neil Davies, was on
So, too, was the council's legal chief and monitoring officer,
It left the Children's director, Rose Collinson, in charge, and
without much backup to advise her.
Half an hour after Cllr Craggs resigned, the council was
announcing another by-election could be (though not necessarily
will be) called within 35 days.
But was it bullying?
As in all walks of life, there are people with political
interests in police, newspapers, the courts, sport ....
Kent Police seem to have a rule that says you can't do both. As
a member of the constabulary you chose - and it doesn't matter
whether you are a backroom boy or a multi-pipped senior
The irony is that the Conservative Party has announced they want
local police chiefs to be elected - just as they are in the Good
Ol' Yew Ess of Aye. It will make them more accountable. It will
also make them political - whether or not chief constables and
personnel chiefs are happy with it or not.
The cost of the debacle that has once again left River Ward
without a councillor is likely to top £10,000.
There were printing costs, election announcements, hiring
polling stations, the election count team, the council's staffing
Then there was the outlay incurred by the politicians. They
published newsletters, banged on doors, bought rosettes, wore out
shoes.... and, don't forget, there were six parties involved.
There were election fees for each of the candidates - most of
whom failed to get into treble figures.
Now it all has to happen again if two River ward residents say
they are unhappy only being served by one councillors, the
erstwhile UKIP founder and leadership contender, Craig
It is conceivable Medway's Blue Boys could end up sueing Kent's
Boys in Blue, while they, in turn, are pursued by Lib, Lab, and
assorted others wanting their wasted outlay refunded.
Chris Buckwell, Membership Secretary for the local Tory
association, ex council Cabinet member and now an immigration
judge, was spitting blood, and calling down the heavens on the
heads of the cops' personnel team. Among his more restrained
observations was an accusation of bullying.
Certainly, they have successfully managed to convince a
democratically elected councillor to chose between the voters and
plodding the beat.
The question is: should the police interfere with democratic
rights and decisions?
It will need a judge to sort that out.
Thank heavens for the planning committee.
They saw the sense of a planning application to provide a play
area in one of Medway's more under-provided wards.
The advantages (apart from keeping the kids off the street) were
that it was well away from any neighbours, it met the needs of the
community, and it had the backing of police and council.
The trouble was councillors were advised to refuse it. Because
it was too far away from any neighbours, and the council and the
police were against it.
That's right - while the local bobbies and the youth team had
found an ideal place for a kick around - and the money, the
planners and the Maidstone plods had a different viewpoint.
As one councillor said last night: if the local kids were going
to be anti-social there are plenty of other places to do it.
So it went through.
The neighbourhood will get a play area - because councillors
used common sense. Unlike some.
Tuesday August 24
The issue of consultations was highlighted last night at the
health scrutiny committee.
Cllr John Avey, vice chairman of the health scrutiny committee
was backed by his chairman, Cllr David Carr, over what they saw as
inadequate consultations with the public about a major new mental
health plan for Kent and Medway.
Cllr Avey particularly quizzed the report's author.
Were 118 responses enough?
Did people across the borough get a fair chance to answer if the
consultations took place in the Pentagon shopping centre?
He was told that those figures were just the latest in a series
of consultations undertaken by health chiefs over more than a
All of which makes one wonder yet again about the council's own
Hundreds of millions of pounds of our (taxpayers) money are
being spent by the council to change the face of Medway and to
bring about major changes in the way we live.
The promise is a better way of life, along with better services,
shops and jobs.
And for the council, after a six week consultation exercise, 29
responses to the transformation of the High Street in Chatham were
satisfactory just a week ago.
Did the councillors question that?
Did they heck!
One of the things which was briefly discussed at that meeting
was the reporting of suicides.
A health director who wrote the report insisted there was
evidence that irresponsible reporters helped to increase
No evidence was provided, but at least one councillor was happy
It could be they were talking about the Bridgend deaths in 2008
when up to 30 deaths were alleged to be linked to the press
Except when it was investigated the coroner found no evidence to
support that allegation.
Nor did the Press Complaints Commission.
There were suggestions that an internet chat group might also
have triggered some (or all) of the deaths. That evidence was also
Just as was the allegations of irresponsible reporters working
Reporters are pretty responsible people. They are not anything
like those you see on TV dramas where entertainment is the
Reporters in the local community are particularly responsible.
After all, we live here, we work here and we meet the people we
write about when we are off duty.
One or two of us are recognised in the pub or the street.
Reporters in the local community have to live with what they
write, say and do. Upset a reader and it quickly becomes known.
When it comes to deaths in the community, we are particularly
careful to establish the facts and to report them -
Which is more than can be said for one or two politicians who
are happy to make sly comments to grab the headlines.
Friday August 20
Holiday over for another year...
Those CCTV mobile spy vans may be Smart cars, but you have to
question whether any of it has rubbed off on those responsible for
I have kept away from the rows about the cars because
I think they are a necessary evil in Medway. Far too many people
think a few seconds on the double yellow lines to drop off a
letter, pick up a pupil from school, ask directions or greet a
friend is perfectly all right. It isn't.
Equally as many believe the only reason for the CCTV cars
is to provide the council with a ready-made source of additional
It might be - but it wouldn't be the million pound earner that
it is if there was not so much flaunting of the law by drivers.
Having said that, there is a clear lack of customer training for
staff and a failure to crack down on the numerous abuses which they
I know one woman booked by the cars. A reasonable lady, she
shrugged, accepted the penalty and got on with her life. Yet she
apparently got a lot of abuse when there was a problem passing the
CCTV car in the street.
The warden who recently accused a local resident armed with his
own CCTV camera of harassment when they dared to turn it on him
didn't know one vital bit of law: anyone can take photographs or
film in the street, despite what some individual police officers
may think in the wake of the anti-terrorism rules. Kent Police
recently issued some simple guidelines to its own
officers. One says: "The media do not need a permit to
photograph or film in public places."
It also says: "In normal circumstances we have no legal power or
moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they
record....Once images are recorded we have no power to delete or
confiscate them without a court order, even if we think they
contain damaging or useful evidence."
The public has exactly the same rights and powers as the press.
No more. No less. Given the rapidly improving quality of
mobile phone cameras, we will all have to get used to being
After all, the CCTV car wardens and the 500 CCTV cameras in
Medway and Swale monitored by their colleagues in Strood are
operating under exactly the same rights and powers. It's just that
members of the public are more visible than people sitting in a
bunker in Strood, or behind a Smart car windscreen.
(In case anyone thinks I might have a personal axe to grind, I
don't. On the other hand, I was booked by one of the ground patrols
yesterday while interviewing delighted students who have just
completed their education in Medway...)
The election of David Craggs as Medway's 34th Conservative
councillor must be causing some angst in the ranks of the Labour
party as they lose another seat.
Meanwhile the four independent councillors who formed their own
group (sans the ultra-right wing former chairman of Audit)
are whispered to be planning to put up candidates of their own next
That could cause fears in the ranks of the Liberal Democrats.
They saw their competent deputy leader suddenly move into the ranks
of the indies only weeks after standing as their candidate in the
Gillingham and Rainham constituency where he polled 8484 votes.
There have been investigations taking place into what happened
to cause his sudden departure. Andy Stamp himself has to
date refused to explain his reasons for crossing the
The achievements of Medway's sixth formers have been remarkable
School after school reported their best-ever results - or pretty
close to it.
Probably the most satisfied will be the staff.
None more so than at the Hundred of Hoo school.
Headteacher Kevin Mahon has been under great pressure. His
school has been in special measures.
So for the 94 students to get record levels of passes is a
tribute to all the work that has been put in - by the pupils and by
This week's regeneration committee contemplated four major
reports. This most important of these - and one that could
influence whether millions of pounds of government cash reach the
community - is the 15-year Local Transport Plan.
Bus travel is always a political football and never more so than
in Medway where public transport is anathema to some
Yet there are major plans for the buses - providing they don't
interfere with the beloved car.
They include several park and ride schemes (something has to be
done to divert the traffic away from Medway's once and future city
Sainsbury's are expected to fund one next to the tunnel entrance
at the Medway City Estate.
The council has eyes on a plot of land at Wigmore for a second
There is no talk of one near Blue Bell Hill. Maidstone council
has proposed a joint park and ride serving both Medway and
Maidstone. It would pick up traffic arriving in the Towns from the
M2. The trouble is Medway wants to snaffle some of the trade going
to the county town, but isn't prepared to sacrifice any of the
trade currently attracted to Chatham's fine shopping experience
that is the High Street.
As though Maidstone could do such a thing.
Car clamping on private land is to be banned by the government
in the next few months. About time we ended the regime of the high
fining, non-answerable clampers.
The problem, however, will not go away for property owners
who suddenly discover someone using their land to visit the shop,
the pub, or simply to leave their car for a weekend.
The first of a string of councillors investigated by Medway's
Standards Committee for actions (real or perceived) gets hauled
over the coals next week.
The likelihood is that the councillor (who resigned after being
convicted of benefits frauds by claiming cash aid while receiving a
councillor's pay) will not turn up.
Nothing has been heard from Dennis Macfarlane since his world
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to find out who wins the
battle between the Honorable Member for Rochester and Strood and
three chief officers of Medway Council.
The Hon Member, Cllr Mark Reckless, has certainly got himself
into hot water several times since he first gained public support
as a Conservative councillor for Rochester West three years
Apart from his clash with the council's chief officers he got
elected to Parliament despite objections to his selection from
Within days of election he was earning the displeasure of the
whips, then missed the three-line whip to vote on the Finance
He was reported to the board by the Chief Executive, the
Director for Children's Services and the council's Monitoring
Officer following a public row in the Council Chamber.
His hearing is among the string waiting to be settled.
Meanwhile, there are whispers that the boot is on the other foot
with allegations of bullying being made against senior staff. If
that's true it will be interesting to see who investigates - and
what the outome is.
Wednesday July 21
Fred Bacon, the former Strood socialist councillor who died
yesterday, often had a quiet grin on his face as he debated
It was in keeping with his sense of fun.
One day we were chatting and the subject got around to musical
It was as we were discussing this that we discovered we shared
our admiration for Tom Lehrer.
In particular we both doubled up at one particular song -
poisoning pigeons in the park.
On his last council meeting, he came across to the press bench
and slipped something into my hand. It was a CD compilation he had
put together of his favourite Lehrer songs.
I play it whenever I get a chance: it's by the side of my
computer at home, in a well-thumbed corner of my collection.
I know Fred will be reading this when he gets a moment.
In which case, mate, enjoy Lehrer's words one more time:
We've gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the Audubon Society
With our games.
They call it impiety,
And lack of propriety,
And quite a variety
Of unpleasant names.
But it's not against any
To want to dispose of a pigeon.
(I thought I just heard a dry chuckle).
The bus station on Globe Lane has finally got the go ahead - and
no one is going to slow it down.
That, at least, is the plan.
But rather like the problems facing the local buses, timing
ambitions do not necessarily match timing realities.
Arriva has had problems with customers angry at the delays
caused by the road works.
It has had bigger problems (if that was possible) with the
Traffic Commissioners, who have threatened it with all sorts of
problems if it doesn't improve its time keeping.
The next few months will test all of us.
The whole area from Medway Street to The Brook and all the way
to Union Street are to be the subject of roadworks and tree
There's to be road widening.... and the mushrooms - shelters for
passengers patiently queuing (in Chatham?) until they know where
their bus will be waiting for them.
It will transform Chatham... eventually.
Who knows, in two years time the Queen might confer city status
on Chatham during her Diamond Jubilee year.
Then again, Reading and Milton Keynes might be preferred.
I like the story I heard last night from ex-councillor Mark
Labour's former education spokesman suggested there was a touch
of austerity to the by-election in River ward.
Their candidate is John Jones, a former Midlands councillor.
"It helps," he admitted.
"We've got plenty of Vote Jones posters in stock."
Ed Miliband, who is fighting his brother, David, and several
other candidates for the Leadership of the Labour Party, went on
the knock to help Mr Jones (J.) campaigning for votes around
"Hello," he said more than once to startled residents, "I'm Ed
Miliband from the Labour party."
And with equal enthusiasm they replied: "Who?"
Campaigning 35 miles up the line in Westminster doesn't seem to
have cut the ice in Brompton's densest housing development.
The outgoing councillor, Bill Esterson, now Labour MP for Sefton
Central, also joined the campaign trail.
I hear he has been winding up the Conservatives in the Commons
over the way the building programmes for the three Medway academies
are currently hanging in the balance.
Among those stung into action was Cllr Reh Chishti, now also MP
for Gillingham and Rainham.
Cllr Esterson - always one for sparring with the Rainham
fireball - refused to stand down to allow him to speak.
Pity. It would have been interesting to hear his explanation if
the Brompton Academy in his constituency fails to get the vital
funds to rebuild itself to meet the needs of the pupils.
Cllr Les Wicks came out with a gem when introducing the new
Youth Justice plan.
"This will make sure they are not left hanging," he said.
I thought capital punishment in Medway was replaced by a spell
in the colonies.
That's it for a time. I am off for a couple of weeks, and plan
to do an Otis - sit on the bay watching the tide roll in.
Before I go, I cannot avoid mentioning the demise of the
public's few parking spaces at Gun Wharf.
The council requires you to book in advance for a parking space.
Except there aren't any.
So grannies, pregnant mums, arthritic pensioners and others must
park at the bottom of the hill (if there is an space at the
library) then struggle up the hill.
I have advocated a number of times councillors upon election
should be required to break a leg. That way they would discover
what a lot of their decisions mean to a lot of local residents.
The sooner the car parking is 24/7 "pay and display" the better.
Why is it that the public has to pay, but not the public servants
After all, 339 of them earn in excess of £50,000 a year (and
don't pay for the privilege of parking).
Clearly, it really is time I had a holiday.
Friday July 16
There is plenty of talk from government ministers about the need
for localism. It is a phrase that is going to become increasingly
part of the vocabulary in the next few years.
Kent's leaders are talking about creating a local economic
partnership (a Cameron alternative to saying localism) consisting
of Kent and Medway.
Elsewhere councils are looking at creating partnerships that
equate to courses for horses.
One such involves the Thames Gateway councils.
Another is along the A21 from Hastings to Tonbridge. It includes
councils with little or no interest in county boundaries.
Several councils are exploring the idea of being in partnership
with other authorities facing sporting challenges, for example, but
teaming up with different councils to provide, say, housing support
Medway, Swale and Gravesham already provide a combined building
There's a Multi Area Agreement over transport and other
services. Dartford is added to the Medway/Swale/Gravesham mix.
Some council leaders are looking elsewhere than to KCC for their
Which might reflect why Medway would look extremely carefully
before considering a tie-up with KCC. After all, one of the prime
reasons for arguing that there should be a unitary authority free
of KCC influence was because of the way that Kent dictated to the
other authorities, and cash that should have been spent in the
Medway Towns on tackling their many problems was milked away to
There is a Big Seven that includes Medway, Kent, and Brighton
They've successfully teamed up to control costs - something KCC
powered through some years ago when it started Kent Top Temps, then
diversified into buses, stationary, furniture and gardening.
But these days Kent County Council is only of interest to
districts, boroughs and unitaries for what it can offer - not what
Tough times call for tough measures.
There was a time when a bean feast for councillors included
caviar, champagne and chauffeur-driven cars.
You'll be lucky to get a slice of cake and a squash these
I hear that tomorrow the new play area at Capstone Farm country
park will be launched by Cllr Howard Doe with a .... cup of
It's tough being a Cabinet member in a recession.
Having said that, I thought it was down to mayors to open
Seems one of my contacts was wrong.
Cllr Janice Bamber, the portfolio holder for Customer First, is
no longer wanted by her ward members after they voted to oust her
(and hubby Ken) from their ward seats on the Hoo Peninsula.
Rumour had it she, at least, had found an alternative seat as a
candidate for Rainham Central. This time the source was wrong.
Brigita Amey, the Gillingham and Rainham
Conservative Association chairman denied the story, saying they
have not yet started the selection process for next year's local
council election and have not received an expression of
interest or any communication from Mrs. Bamber.
Happy to put the record straight, and
apologies to readers for getting it wrong.
Monday July 12
City status may be something that the council wants. It may also
be wanted by a sizeable part of the community.
But not everyone is enamoured of the campaigning taking place to
It would be nice to live in a city again.
I speak from experience: I was born and raised in a city where
we smugly looked down on the rural riff-raff, and where you crossed
a river bridge that was still called Foreign Bridge to
differentiate us from them.
There are a lot of people, particularly in Rochester, who
remember living in a city... called Rochester. And they still don't
know how or why city status was lost when the new council was
Suffice it to say it was - and it has never been recovered after
civil servants pointed out that it was the second time in 25 years
that Rochester's city status had been lost.
To lose it once is a shame. To lose it twice....!
The latest manouevres are around gaining city status for the
Five Towns, plus the Hoo Peninsula, and the Medway Valley.
The Five Towns will still remain (if the politicians are
entrusted with City status once again), but most likely will end up
The trouble is showing how strong is the support.
It appears 270 citizens have told phone canvassers that they
like the idea.
The Green Party, which has kept campaigning in Medway ever since
the general election, has collected 370 signatures against the
They were well supported on Saturday.... in Rochester.
The council should have been a little more sensitive about its
Castle Concerts banners. They talk about the City of Medway and
have now downgraded Rochester Castle to "the castle" on their
Not a wise move from Roffensians with long memories.
MP Mark Reckless's latest adventure was a costly session in
the House of Commons bar when he was supposed to have been voting
with the government.
According to lobby correspondents, the banker (already saddled
with an unfortunate nickname bestowed by his party's whips) helped
other MPs to run up a £5,000 bar bill.
The most famous political drinker was probably Winston
Lady Astor once accosted him with the horrified cry: "Mr.
Churchill, you're drunk!"
Churchill responded with interest: "Yes, Madam, and you are
ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober."
Friday July 9
I get really annoyed about the quality of many plans that come
before our councillors.
They pay (at best) lip service to the council's continual call
for quality designs.
You can almost guarantee it will be skated over - to the delight
of many officers.
Buildings can look spectacular and turn an area into a stunning
location. But they can also drag it down.
Once approved the rest of us are saddled with those buildings
for 50, 100 or even more years.
There are blocks of flats around Medway that were built in the
1960s. They were distasteful when they were planned. They stay up
but they have gone downhill ever since.
There are housing schemes - estates and tiny developments -
where the same has happened.
All too infrequently, there are also buildings where you want to
stop and admire, to dream of living in them, or where your
enjoyment of a street suddenly goes up after the contruction
hoardings are taken down.
Attending many of the meetings of the planning committee one
hears time and again councillors criticising the appearance of a
development being proposed to them.
The development has often spent hours and days, weeks and months
being poured over by council officers who should be hammering home
to the developer the message of quality, quality, quality.
Too often, instead, you will hear them making apologies for
developers. These multi-million (even billion) -aires intimate they
can't make a profit out of improving the street scene.
They can - and if they can't Medway should be saying they (and
their plans) aren't wanted.
We have seen too many houses squeezed into gaps too small for
the cat to stretch to its full length let alone be swung.
Occasionally you hear councillors splutter in disbelief.
"It looks like a guardhouse!" is one comment I recall of a tiny
rural house that was being proposed. The comment was absolutely
Sometimes plans come forward which make slab-sided warehouses
Many developments are permitted without proper consideration of
the impact on the community in which it will be built.
What happens is the rules are not being enforced by the
officers... rules that have already been set - or are about to be
set by the LDF.
It is going to establish conditions on height, quality, design,
environmental impact - and a set of design orders that should be
engraved on the hearts, minds and skins of every planning
Fail to meet those rules and the developer must be told to go
away and think again.
Wednesday July 7
Things are changing so rapidly in government that everyone was
caught out by yesterday's announcement that the South East Plan had
The plan's objectives were sensible: to provide a long term
direction to creating jobs, businesses and homes.
But it became tied up in reports, and inspectors, and hearings
and rehearings, and things called core strategies.
Medway had hoped to get its part of the South East Plan through
very quickly. But in Whitehall there were repeated changes to the
ground rules, and in the midst of it were councils trying to work
to one set of rules and inspectors working to others.
Medway's was the most fraught in the region.
The inspector was only interested in one aspect of the local
plan - by then renamed the Local Development Framework. That was
jobs - and the provision of land to meet the needs of businesses as
communities and populations grew across the Medway Towns.
Eventually it was withdrawn at the last minute: the council
faced it being rejected anyway.
Last night it was to be discussed at the regeneration scrutiny
committee but it was withdrawn, to be rewritten again. It followed
the morning's announcement that the over-arching plan - the South
East Plan - had been scrapped by the government.
Now the team will sit down, without any clear guidance from MPs,
Ministers or Mandarins, and try to come up with a set of rules that
should earmark areas for development, areas for protection and
other key issues.
The developers must be loving it. The chaos and lack of guidance
is so enormous. If they don't get out the coach and horses to drive
straight through Medway's plans I shall be astonished.
The Conservative administration must now be worried about the
Medway Magna scheme to develop the Capstone Valley, and turn
adjacent farmland into warehousing alongside the motorway.
They have been collecting numerous petitions agains tthe plan
which, until now has been on a fluttering back burner.
Meanwhile the planning team under Brian McCutcheon, facing
cutbacks to save money, may have to be retained.
And the plan? Unlikely to be discussed before September.
Medway, sadly, has far too few things to inspire the
Why, even its many heroes - that cities across Britain would
kill to claim - are ignored or completely forgotten.
If we can call Charles Dickens ours, we can surely claim Francis
Drake: as a small boy he was brought here by his father. It was
where he learned to sail.
Kitchener is ours. So, too, is his hero, Gordon of Khartoum.
Stephen Borough, the first great arctic explorer who set out to
find the North East Passage to China in the 1550s, is ours: he's
even buried here.
The next generation created William Adams, the man who opened up
Japan, and developed the British ability to create great heroes
from failing (he was supposed to discover the way to China going
the opposite way to Borough)
The first RAF VC holder was Gillingham-born James
The list of heroes truly is enormous.
If we ignore our present, our future is dim and dull. Our past
should not be like that - but for many it is.
Friday July 2
Frustrated sceptics who claim city status was a gravy train were
a little off target this week.
No bottles of champagne were popped at the launch of the summer
If there was a gravy train (and no such substance was in
evidence) it lacked any body.
The spirit was solely in the unveiling. The drinks were confined
to tea, coffee and squash.
This is an austerity city bid - by an austere team girding its
But it took them several hours to come up with how much was the
We were assured it was being done on a shoestring, that it was a
very inexpensive bid, that there were no consultants being
recruited ... but "no, we can't give you the precise budget at this
By early afternoon the total spend was advised - £4,673.10.
Never mind what Reading, Milton Keynes or Luton might spend on
their bids to be the Queen's favoured community to become her
Diamond Jubilee City.
As for losing Rochester city status (not once, but twice) it was
a case of "Don't blame us - a previous administration should take
Surrounded in mystery, it will become legend how Rochester lost
its city status in 1998.
Senior councillors from the Shadow Authority discussed
Rochester's status at great length in their private meetings.
It was agreed that it was a matter for the new authority and a
recommendation from the old City authority.
One proposal that had favour at the time was the creation of a
parish council to be called the City of Rochester Town Council. It
would keep alive the tradition, nearly 800 years old.
But what followed has never come out.
The final meeting of Rochester City Council took place just
before the new council took over responsibility. Erra (the God of
Mayhem) seems to have been ruling in the background.
The minutes of that meeting were never published. No one now
knows who said what about it (if indeed they bothered to consider
it). And if they did, those who were present seem to have
Gillingham councillors didn't care. Rochester was "that lot down
the hill", and it was not their place to set up a parish council,
or to incur any debts for the city.
And so the City status slipped, inexorably, into the cloying mud
of the Medway.
Do we get City status this time?
It is a matter for the Gods of Whitehall, aka the Queen's
advisers. But there is a steely determination from the
administration (even if the other parties weren't represented at
the launch yesterday).
And, though no one would call me cynical, it would be a cheap
way for the government to encourage the private sector to take over
investing in the Thames Gateway.
A successful bid would give the opportunity for a massive street
party in 2012 to go alongside the bicentenaries of the Sappers'
arrival and our great author Charles Dickens' birth (in
Portsmouth), the Olympians using our numerous expensive training
facilities - and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
The machinations in the Conservative ranks at Rochester and
Strood seem more than coincidental.
Peter Hicks and Chris Buckwell, the king pins in the local
party, say it is the ward memberships' wish. It may well be.
But there was a lot of recruiting going on ahead of selections.
And numbers of the younger party members have been muttering about
"the old guard must change", about "dictatorial" behaviour and
about the way the central party has a "different" viewpoint to the
local views voiced by some.
Latest big name to face the chop is Jane Chitty, the strategic
planning, ex Rochester City mayor, Cabinet member. She has
been deselected at Strood North in favour of Les Wicks - the
children's portfolio holder who lost the support of Strood Rural
Janice Bamber, a long-term Hoo St Werburgh resident (and
non-driver as was pointed out to me) seems to have found a place in
Rainham Central. But her husband Ken - Whip, Chairman of Business
Support and all-round party tough guy - is still looking for a new
political home, I understand.
A formal unveiling of the candidates will take place in a
month's time. By then this round of manouevering will be over in
Rochester & Strood.
Thursday July 1
Fifty jobs axed on Tuesday - but there could be as many as 1,000
going over the next four years.
Managers at Gun Wharf have been given a stark warning that if
they think the £6.1 million of savings is bad, they are living in
Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Those savings were the equivalent of about 1.5 per cent of the
total budget. The government is calling for a 25 per cent saving
over the next four years - and councils can expect to lose at least
You ain't seen nothing yet.
There was a hint of panic about some of the changes being
announced at yesterday's cabinet meeting.
There were also some suspicions that there could have been a
hint of political defcision making. But I have been assured by
those beyond the political umbrella that this was definitely not
And to be fair, the Tories have insisted that the whole council
is involved in the final decision making.
Not that a number of decisions haven't already been taken.
One tale is that the entire house maintenace contract -
including self-supervision - is being handed over to Mears.
UHL is out.
Strange that it is losing the shared portion of the contract
because it had too many complaints. This at a time when there were
officially only six complaints.
It turns out that in April there were 50 complaints alone logged
on housing repairs...
Friday June 25
IT IS hard to be in Local Government at the moment.
You face cuts in pay and status - or worse.
If you are in a reasonable job you stand the likelihood that
your wage will be published on the front pages.
If you earn more than the prime minister, someone has to account
to him why you are worth more.
But it is right and proper that the public should know. They
directly pay through their council tax and their government
taxes. After all, you are paid considerably more than the
vast majority of them.
Last Friday the Medway Messenger carried news of the payments
made to Medway's leading officers.
In the next week the rest of Britain's councils will be forced
to reveal how much the top kids in each authority got paid.
The question is, are they worth it?
There are well over 300 in "hard-done by", "small-spender",
"lean and hungry" Medway Council who are paid in excess of £50,000
In Kent County Council there are three, each of whose
total package is in excess of £200,000.
Top of the tree was the now-departed chief executive, Peter
Gilroy. He was a few quid short of £300,000. His pensions
contributions on their own were £56,223. And having left KCC with a
£200,000 payoff he is now working for another local
They do work long hours. They are always on call. And they have
to play the game of being independent of the politicians, though
that can be ultra difficult.
But are they worth what they are paid?
Should Medway residents fund it?
You must judge for yourself.
Meanwhile hundreds of lower paid jobs are being threatened by
economies. The truth will be divulged next week. My money is
supporting no massive cuts until next year.
But this year's will hurt many: watch for the way the council
offloads services to the private sector.
Cllr Les Wicks (Con) seemed reasonably laid back about being
deselected by his ward members.
He had covered the risk that his cheeks would be blushing by
putting his name forward for several other wards - just in
Cllrs Ken (the Conservative Whip) and Janice (portfolio holder
for customer first) Bamber are definitely out next May: they kept
faith with their ward.
The Grey Suits in the ward did not reciprocate.
Tuesday June 22
There have been crisis meetings going on in Gun Wharf for
But this afternoon, the cries of pain could be heard in Strood
and Rainham as the full impact of the first Osborne budget was
Just to add to their pain, the Trades Unions were planning to
march on the offices to voice their objections.
This is a Conservative council which has bemoaned the pains of
living under a Labour government that kept to percentage
It could never have dreamed that a year before the council
elections it would see £6 million wiped off an approved budget -
and then to have a spending freeze imposed.
Labour's shadow chancellor in Medway, Glyn Griffiths said this
afternoon they should know where they would achieve the cuts.
They probably do.
The trouble is, they probably don't want to sink out loud!
It takes the biscuit how often council officers seem to lose the
plot when it comes to the impact of the area's regeneration.
So there is confusion!
So there is annoyance!
It seems to be part of the officer mentality in some quarters of
Medway Council that it's their way of getting back at the rest of
Take the press release that arrived late on Friday
It was the first time that the council had formally acknowledged
that Globe Lane was closing on Monday.
Fortunately, the Medway Messenger had its eyes open and ears to
the groiund, so we were able to forewarn our readers.
But if you relied on the formal announcement it was way past the
deadlines for all the local media.
By the time they could have published the news the road would
have been closed. Drivers would have been queuing up, trying to
find their way into the Globe Lane car park - or ignore it all
together (which seems to be the case with the new bus- and
taxi-only road that replaced the Sir John Hawkins flyover.)
Not that councillors can escape blame.
I have heard the Leader repeatedly warn that the officers must
work out alternative routes (where is the alternative to using the
old one way system?), be early with publicity (Ha!), and consult
(if they get 200 visitors to the black hole that currently houses
the Best Street consultations and the intermittent visits of staff
to chat to anyone who finds their way to the three pannel display I
shall be amazed). But where are the criticisms, the blood-letting,
the heads rolling?
If you are in charge - and paid a premium as a portfolio holder
or council leader - do your jobs. Once more, buttocks need to be
And Best Street?
I confidently predict the Cabinet will approve the plans on
Friday June 18
There were some surprised looks on faces - not least among
cabinet members - at the full Medway Council meeting.
Protestors were out in strength to protest about the toilets -
or lack of them - in Chatham.
At the centre of their campaigning was the 20p to have a
pee revelation from the Pentagon Shopping Centre management.
They have taken over the council's toilets, accepted a
regeneration dowry of £200,000 to rebuild and run the toilets, and
now plan to charge.
The fee is being introduced by the management in a bid to
stop needle-pushing and other anti-social behaviour (including the
occasional druggie death).
Meanwhile there could be hope for the desperate, the elderly and
nursing mums: Cllr Alan Jarrett told me the toilets in the new bus
station should be free.
At least, they were going to be free until the scale of the
economic crisis called that into question.
Cllr Les Wicks did a startlingly good impression of General de
Gaulle last night.
The councillor was facing a call - some would say a suggestion -
that he should resign over the way the Schools Adjudicator recently
ruled against some of his primary school closure and merger
There was a very firm, if anglicised, "Non!" to the
Nor was there an apology.
Meanwhile the handful of mums from St John's certainly knew how
to make their views known.
Cllr Wicks lives to fight another day.
So do the schools.
One would think that if you were in power for the first time for
80 years politicians would be queuing up to make a name for
But Andy Stamp - one-time deputy leader of Medway's Liberal
Democrat councillors, defeated general election candidate and
popular character in the community - suddenly announced he was no
longer recognising his party whip.
He has, instead, joined the Independent councillors.
It's not so much a walk across the chamber, more, a slide across
from one table to the adjacent one.
But it is significant, and comes hard on the heels of grouses
that he wasn't getting the support he expected during the election
It costs £140 to buy a first class ticket from Rainham to
Birmingham by train - and a similar sum to come back.
But if you chose an offpeak train it can cost almost the same
just to go to London.
Comparing trains on June 28, a check of the website, Raileasy,
shows a return ticket on the HS-1 service to St Pancras at 10.15am
costs £17.80. It costs just £1.20 more to carry on by the tube and
Virgin Trains to make the return trip Birmingham.... using the same
Something is radically wrong with our rail system.
Monday July 14
The council has begun the process of employing someone to
replace the ageing cremators at Blue Bell Hill crematorium.
They plan to spend around £1.7 million replacing the four ovens
with three new ones.
They also plan to enlarge the two chapels, though only one can
be afforded at the moment.
And the car park is to be enlarged.
It is in the interests of better air quality.
The current process of cremating bodies with mercury-based tooth
fillings means mercury is escaping into the atmosphere.
The majority of the 2,700 cremations each year since then would
have had mercury fillings and the anti-pollution installation
has become increasingly ineffective.
So - praise for the council for finally committing some of the
Maidstone council, meanwhile, has itself got on with the job.
Last week the mayor, Cllr Eric Hotson, formally opened the
revitalised, improved, anti-polluting Vinters Park crem.
A Value for Money project is under way at Medway Council.
Neil Davies, the chief executive, has written to his colleagues
confirming a council-wide investigation to find ways to cut costs
and improve the service.
In a turn of phrase I am assured he used, Mr Davies says it
should show ways"we can work smarter through simplifying,
standardising and sharing common processes to eliminate waste".
It is, he says, part of Medway's response to the nation's
current economic problems
The key seems to be how much they are putting into common
activities such as enquiry handling, processing applications,
assessments, general administration and paying bills.
Most of this was is work supposed to be done by the
multi-million pound Customer First team. But often isn't.
In September the project is intended to reach its climax with a
blueprint of how the new, improved, cheaper, (better?) council will
Mr Davies told colleagues: "This way we can make sure that we
can concentrate on reviewing and developing those areas which will
bring about the greatest benefits for our customers by designing
services that are both high quality and low cost.
"If you have any comments or questions about this project can
you please contact your manager in the first instance. In addition
you can contact the Hotline on ******."
The Razz, Tazz and assorted other fun and games that from last
weekend will mark the Mayor's annual Civic Service got off in fine
It's the new-look service that combines the former service with
the bun feast from the annual, increasingly political, annual
Will this be one of the money-spendings which Mr Davies might
want to reduce?
He'd be a brave man. This was the idea of Rodney Chambers, the
leader of the council.
And most councillors aspire to being the centre of attention in
the cathedral at least once a year.
Wednesday June 9 2010
It was no surprise to many people closely following the
campaigns to save St John's, and the sister schools of the Delce,
that they should have succeeded.
But if you thought Les Wicks, the Education portfolio holder,
was lumbered, and the days of education chiefs were numbered, think
Calls for resignations, heads being chopped and other
mutilations of Cabinet members, are going to be ignored. Just as
the news was not even mentioned at the Cabinet meeting
But what a meeting next week's council promises to be.
And what a time for the Tory administration to end up on the
Except they won't defend themselves.
They will come out with all guns blazing, determined to protect
all those involved in the campaign to close.
So why persist with the closures?
Could it have anything to do with the the rebuilding of
secondary schools promised by the Labour government? It was so
far in the future (2015) that other ways had to be found to replace
the worn-out, tired and (frankly) decrepit school premises
inherited from KCC.
Closing those that were Victorian/Sixties
rush-built/under-used/poor performing/etc (educationalists deleted
from this list as they saw applicable) could be justified by
Labour's policies. Especially primaries.
Then, when demand increased (and it was increasing even without
the Thames Gateway developments) there would be justification for
building new schools.
The Medway grammar schools - currently facing falling roles -
must be taking comfort from this. The primaries fought a logical
campaign against political dogma. They won.
But watch out for the backlash.
There is further good news for pupils living on St Mary's
The cabinet has agreed to fund a "yellow bus" to the secondary
schools for more than 50 teenagers who currently face horrendous
journeys (or a ride with Mum) to get to their schools across the
The full story will be in Friday's Medway Messenger.
Tuesday June 8 2010
In case anyone was wondering, Tales from Gun Wharf lurched to a
standstill when I decided one night to turn left instead of
pursuing my more usual right wing movement during the opening days
of the election battle.
The result was that I had this sudden, unwanted sinking feeling
- and a large pain in my gluteus maximus which persists to the
Nothing to do with politics: everything to do with the call of
nature... and the location of the stairwell at my home.
That fall still makes sitting down problematical - and a
nuisance when one has to operate a keyboard.
But thanks, to everyone of whichever political hue, for their
expressed sympathy. I even believed some of it.
Isn't it nice how the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are
agreeing with each other? Not in Medway, they aren't.
The Conservatives are pushing ahead with their latest plan to
neuter both opposition groups.
They have declared the Labour and Liberal Democrat political
officers to be surplus to requirements (or at least partially
There are two officers, one for each group. They keep a fulltime
eye on what the administration is up to (like miscalculating its
budget sums, interpreting its decisions and watching for the
Both are now being reduced to part-timers.
The Conservatives' officer is unaffected. He continues as a
It was, I was told by one senior Conservative, only fair. After
all, the poor lad had to keep watching over the antics of two
political enemies as well as those of his Cabinet members who
occasionally make loose cannons appear decidedly secure.
I would just remind them that revenge is best cold. Labour have
It was inevitable that Mark Reckless would swiftly endear
himself to the Conservative Whips. When he won the Rochester and
Strood seat he was already earmarked for close attention by Central
Office because he was not the candidate they wanted (but he was the
one the constituency party had wanted for years).
The seat had been graced by such luminaries as the Tory Peggy
Fenner and his predecessor, the ever-enjoyable Labour rebel, Bob
Mark is a serious guy. It could be that whereas his financial
views were thought too extreme, the pronouncements by his Leader in
the past few days that we are all going to suffer from the imminent
spending cuts could indicate that the two ranks in the Conservative
Party may be closer than many thought.
It is said in many instances that you should "use it or lose
Never was that truer than at the present time when everyone is
looking to cut spending.
"Essential users" at Medway Council get £1,239 a year simply for
having a car available - and then 50.5p for each mile they use it.
A total of 486 staff are entitled to the payments which last year
cost council taxpayers over £1 million.
But 54 of them just collected the allowance - and never turned
the wheel until they went home. Another 143 did less than 1,000
miles even though it was essential they had a car (and don't forget
around 200 have essential car parking spaces in front of the Gun
Wharf offices to keep their seldom-moving cars.
The Employment Matters committee meets
on Thursday night to consider slashing the allowances. Those who
collected the allowance and stayed in the office, and those who
failed to clock up four-figure mileages top the target list.
They'll become casual users who will be paid 65p a mile if they
have to drive. It could save £233,653 - until someone decides to up
I admire the way Paul Clark, who was my local MP until the
General Election, has handled the defeat. He was an excellent
constituency MP and (whatever may be said by political opponents),
he did a lot behind the scenes to secure regeneration money.
Whoever had won the seats (and there were enough candidates),
Medway's new MPs would need to keep their heads well down when the
spending cuts hit the Thames Gateway.
The Medway Regeneration Board (once known as Medway Renaissance)
meets next Tuesday at the SEEDA offices in Chatham Maritime. It is
likely to be the last time - and one wonders how many of those
present will survive to the next meeting.
The last of the Erinaceous Three - the whistleblowers who
revealed hundreds of thousands of pounds was being thrown away on
council house repairs by the contractor - has left the council, I
George Allen was one of the surveyors.
I understand he has been declared redundant, and was told to
clear his desk before the appeals procedure went ahead.
Dodgy in all the circumstances, not least because another birdie
tells me his colleagues had appointed him their union rep.
Friday April 16
I'm sure my old friend, Reh (call me Rehman) Chishti was happy
to pick up the plaudits from one Liberal Democrat yesterday.
The Medway mayor (and probably
soon-to-be ex-Liberal Democrat) Dai
Liyanage appeared at a Labour Party publicity stunt.
There he told Liberal Democrats they would waste their vote and
let in the Conservative candidate if they didn't swap and support
Paul Clark, the Labour candidate.
Great for Mr Clark.
Not so for the Deputy Leader of the local Liberal Democrats,
Andy Stamp, who until then was claiming to be only seven percentage
points behind the Conservatives - and closing quickly on Mr
He was impressive last night as he rejected a series of
Conservative attacks led by Cllr Alan Jarrett, their Mr Hard
He also revealed Mr Liyanage had immediately been suspended and
wnt so far as to say he had been ejected from the Liberal
Ahhh - at last we are in an election with blood, guts, corpses
There is an old saying about not counting your chickens before
That didn't stop the Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Rodney
Chambers, from paying a premature farewell to one of his Cabinet
Cllr Chishti, Medway's enforcer, was in one of the front bench
seats at the council meeting.
He hopes to win the Gillingham and Rainham seat currently held
by Paul Clark whether or not the Lib Dems swap their votes.
Turning to him with a fatherly look, Cllr Chambers said: "This
is probably the last time we will see Cllr Chishti on our front
bench, but no doubt we will see him in another place after May
Another Conservative councillor, Cllr Mark Reckless, did not get
the same fatherly approach, but maybe with the large number of
votes transferred to Rochester and Strood he might not need that
He did get a passing reference:
"Ditto everything," said Cllr Chambers.
"We offer our very best to Cllr Reckless."
And in a bid to tempt the Gods of Electioneering (or even St
Chad), Cllr Chambers said: "I fully expect three Conservative
members of Parliament."
Having said that while one rival - Cllr Geoff Juby (Lib Dem) -
was joining in the debates, another candidate, Cllr Teresa Murray
was out on the road, knocking on doors, and seeking to hold the
seat for Labour.
One surprisingly present at the meeting was Cllr Bill Esterson.
He had come down for the meeting from Merseyside where he is
fighting Sefton Central for Labour.
"I couldn't let my voters down," he said. "I'll be back on the
campaign trail tomorrow."
There is an interesting line from one of the Independents.
He is Gordon Bryan, who is standing in the Gillingham and
If he gets elected, he told me, he plans to consult the local
public before each vote in parliament.
He will set up a website where you can tell him how to vote on
every piece of legislation that is put forward.
He accused Paul Clark, the defending member of voting almost 100
per cent of the time for the government.
And he said both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats would
toe the party line as new boys.
"Every person in the constituency would have the chance to vote
on every piece of legislation," he promised.
"It would get away from pendulum politics."
Unless you were the one member of the public at the council
meeting last night you will have missed the running gag.
Q: "What will Rehman Chishti do if he is elected to the
Gillingham and Rainham seat?"
A: "Change the name of the Fifth Medway Town to Rehman."
Thursday April 15
There have been curious things happening on the election front
this week - so much so that it's been too busy to comment on them.
You may have seen the way we have quizzed the prospective
candidates in Gillingham and Rainham on their knowledge (or lack of
it) of local constituency issues, people and places. We've also
posed similar questions to the other candidates who have made
Give him his due, Mark Reckless, the Conservatives' prospective
candidate in Rochester and Strood, knows his patch. He knows it so
well he pointed out an error in the answer we gave (confidently
based on information checked with the council) about election
Red faces all round (except for the Blue's Brother, of
Mind, he should know his patch: he's hoping this will be third
time lucky after a narrow defeat in 2005 by Bob Marshall-Andrews,
the retiring Labour councillor.
Then there was Tracy Crouch, the Conservative candidate who
claimed it was unfair to ask why 1984 was significant to Medway
because at the time the candidate was only nine.
Tell that to the thousands affected by the closure of the
dockyard by the former Conservative Defence Secretary, John Nott
who got a knighthood following the shutdown.
As one of my colleagues commented in disgust: "Well I know it
was when the dockyard was closed - and I was Minus One years
Paul Clark should recognise quite a few faces from past election
As well as Reh (call me Rehman) Chishti, who Labour and some of
the lesser candidates happily point out was one of his colleagues
five years ago, there are two independents (George Meegan and
Gordon Bryan), Bob Oakley from UKIP and Brian Ravenscroft from the
It will be interesting to see if any of them saves their
deposits this time around.
You may also have seen the tale of the Sunday Express
photographer, the award-winning CCTV Smart Cars and the mysterious
It is a curious saga with someone telling lies.
If not get today's Medway Messenger.
My colleagues and I have known the photographer for many years:
Mike Gunnill is much respected and trusted.
He has no reason to tell lies about the latest story he pursued
- that of Medway's two CCTV Smart spy cars.
They are so beloved by local residents for their ability to
raise £1 million in fines from visiting drivers (no one in Medway
would ignore parking rules) that they recently won a national
Mr Gunnill was commissioned to photograph them at work as they
earned their public plaudits and went about their perky little
Perhaps not surprisingly, our merry public officials don't like
the public to know who they are. They called the police, and then
hurried back to their Strood base after doing their signature act
of covering over their faces with their clipboards.
The poilice didn't appear, Mr Gunnill had done his job, and
thought no more about it - until the following night.
That's when he had a visit at home from the boys in blue.
They said they had a complaint of dangerous driving they wished
to bring to his attention. On that everyone agrees.
Mr Gunnill is quite insistent he was told by the officers they
had a letter from Rubina Hafizi, Medway's parking manager, which
they had to read out to him.
It accused him of jumping red lights, driving dangerously, going
too fast and a host of other things (things of which the CCTV cars
themselves have been accused in the past).
The police deny there was a letter. The council denies there was
such a letter. Ms Hafizi also denies there was a letter.
No one has explained why should Mr Gunnill make it up if it
And talking of the CCTV cars brings me full circle.
The Canterbury Street offices of the Conservatives are heavily
covered in publicity for Mr Chishti. So were two campaign cars
parked outside the enforcer's office the other day.
One of the CCTV spy cars nipped past the pair, but didn't seem
interested in the fact they were both parked on yellow lines.
I am grateful to the former council political oficer for the
Liberal Democrats, Wilf Lower for that observation.
Thursday April 8
One of the things that amuses (or annoys according to your views
of election) is the visits that are orchestrated by the political
There is nothing unusual in this. It has been done ever since
Julius Caesar was murdered in the Senate and Mark Antony seized his
chance for power.
I had an email packed with literals last Tuesday. It came from
one Nic Conner on behalf of Rehman Chishti, the Conservative
candidate for Gillingham and Rainham. He wrote:
"At 14:30 Rehman Chishti, the Conservative Part (sic) candidate
for Gillingham and Rainham, will launch his campaign to bring in
change to Gillingham and Rainham with the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP,
David Cameron’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, at
Gillingham High Street out side (sic) WHS Smiths (sic) where they
will be hosting a street stall.
"All the best,
When I arrived in the High Street, Gordon Brown was on his way
to Rainham to visit the long-time Labour stalwart, Harry Keane, and
his wife Mary at his house. It was standard fare early in the
I had been barred from Rainham by the PM's press lady, Eleanor,
because the KM Group political editor Paul Francis was also
So I went to see Mr Chishti.
He is a past master at setting up press visits and picture
As soon as he arrived (late) in the High Street with Mr Maude he
began the glad-handing, introducing Conservative council
colleagues, grandchildren and party hierarchy to the former Party
Chairman... oh - and the press.
Give 'em their due, the two of them walked up and down, meeting
a lot of smiling faces and even bringing grins to a few of the less
enthusiastic shoppers who were around Smith Square.
Meanwhile there was a scrum in High Elms, Rainham.
TV got precedence over papers. The snappers were told "Two
minutes for photos and no more" - and promptly ignored the edict
from the Socialist lady rottweilers.
Mr Chishti was later to tell the Daily Telegraph: "This is a
stage-managed visit designed to give Mr Brown a nice photo
opportunity with supposedly ordinary voters who are actually
hand-picked Labour stooges."
Which of course was never in his mind when the press were
invited to Gillingham High Street....
Mr Keane (who I used to work with at Gillingham council when he
was chief auditor, I was a council rottweiler, and Mr Chishti had
joined the Labour Party's younger aspirants.....) has now written
to the Telegraph.
In his response he admits he was a long-time Labour supporter
but said: "Since Mr. Chishti is himself a former Labour Party
member, Labour councillor and Labour parliamentary candidate
(Horsham, 2005), I'm surprised that he chooses to brand people as
"Of course my wife and myself are Labour supporters - Gordon
Brown would hardly have gone visiting a couple of Tories - but the
other invitees to our private meeting, representing different
interests from the wider community, were not necessarily Labour
supporters or even sympathisers.
"The same goes for our neighbours. We didn't decide which of
them would line the street for the PM's visit, nor did we tell any
of them not to ask him awkward questions. Our neighbours were not
hand-picked by anyone, least of all us or the Labour Party.
"To imply otherwise is an insult to them; doubtless they will
think long and hard before entrusting their vote to someone who has
such a low opinion of their intelligence."
The campaigning really is under way.
Wednesday April 7
Visitors to Windsor last weekend were invited to support the
Coldstream Guards in Afghanistan.
Several soldiers in the latest camouflage gear were standing
around the castle precincts with collecting tins, and black, blue
and white bands for contributors to wear on their wrists.
We give willingly, but what has this to do with the political
news of the day?
Well, apart from the fact that most days we hear that a British
soldier from this regiment, a Sergeant from that, has been killed,
it is reminiscent of so many actions over the years.
Repeated reports of national servicemen being killed on
Gloucester Hill, or Nicosia's Murder Mile and at the hands of the
Mau Mau dogged the Fifties.
In the 19th Century - as the walls at Rochester Cathedral attest
- it was Afghanistan and South Africa that dominated.
Go back to the 16th Century.
Margate's streets were blocked by sick English sailors dying in
doorways after being dumped from their ships once the Spanish
Armada had been scattered across the storm-tossed North Sea.
But we look after our fighters now - don't we?
Frankly, no, to judge by the dressed-up begging for extras in
Windsor last weekend.
The Prime Minister went shopping for votes in Strood's Morrison
Surrounded by a bevy of press and photographers, battered by PR
guys armed with bouquets to hand to housewives, one of my
colleagues was watching the live scenes on the office TV.
Suddenly she squealed: "There's my mum.... and that's my
It brings home to you that the 2010 election really started in
Notably absent was the Labour rebel, Bob Marshall-Andrews, who
will be missed by many in the constituency.
His last election campaign is over and done.
And we now search for a suitable replacement.
Bob, growl, white hair and wine store, will be a hard act to
As the Labour constituency chairman for Gillingham and Rainham,
Harry Keane, hosted PM and dozens more press, TV and radio
reporters and photographers in his lounge in Rainham later in the
afternoon, it was good to see the big whigs (that is to say, the
Tory Suits) supporting the Conservatives in Medway.
None other than Francis Maude, erstwhile chairman of the party
and a longstanding friend of their candidate, Reh ("Call me
Rehman!") Chishti did the first hand pumpings for the Tories in
Expect more, many more, suits to grace our 'City In All But
Name' in the coming weeks.
The BNP are still licking their wounds and appealing for funds
after losing their court battle over who could be a member.
They have two candidates in the Medway campaign, but couldn't
afford to sponsor a candidate in Rochester and Strood. They aspire
to do better than their last General Election fight in 1997 when
they fought the old Gillingham seat - and polled 195 votes.
The Monster Raving Loony Party (ah, where are they with their
banana "bribes"?) polled 305 that year.
All the other main parties are planning to fight, though
surprisingly the Lib Dems have gone to Belgium to select a
candidate to fight in Chatham and Aylesford. He was still there
Did someone mention the Liberal Democrats?
I ask because there is a stunning silence from their ranks at
the moment. Ditto the Greens and UKIP, who are also fighting all
Tuesday March 23
Is there such a thing as the Capstone Valley development?
It is a question worth asking.
The landowners have never come forward with any detailed
They successfully joined with others to bring crashing down the
council's original strategy for the Local Development Plan. Two
years on, the council may be in a position to pursue that again
next winter. But the company stays silent.
Capstone Valley or Medway Magna as the company calls itself was
an unpopular proposal when it was first mooted a few years ago. It
still is, to judge from the petitions handed in to the Mayor with
monthly regularity by local Conservative councillors.
The company had proposed to turn the area between the Darland
Banks and the Maidstone escarpment into major housing and logistics
warehouses either side of the M2 motorway between junctions three
The council stands four square in opposition to the idea.
It is a beautiful area. In high summer the wind waves the corn
crops in a golden sea high above the townships. The little byways
beneath the Darland Banks are a joy at any time. Orchids can be
discovered growing in a number of places, the walks are a challenge
for the fittest. while a beer or snack at one of the infrequent
pub-restaurants between Medway and Maidstone is always popular.
But is it a real proposition?
What it did highlight was that there was a shortage of
development land to meet commercial needs. That has since been
tackled, but a million square metres already has development
approval to logistics and similar business park use.
The Medway Magna team is still around. But it keeps silent about
Just like the owners of the Pentagon Centre.
And what of tomorrow?
The Making of Medway conference is being restaged with new
speakers and fresh setting.
Two hundred or more people will be in the audience as a host of
people explain what is happening, and what is not happening, to
I remember the famous one with Sir David Frost many moons
It was held in the former Colonial Mutual headquarters and was
(as far as I recall) the only time the building has been used since
the place as vacated at the end of the Nineties.
Sir David - a local lad made good - was value for money.
The PR arrangements for the media was not.
The plan was to show how advanced Medway was, and what it was
going to achieve.
The local, national and specialist press were all there - but
kept under a tight, tight rein.
None of us was allowed to interview the speakers.
We were barred from attending certain sessions.
And (worst of all) the national boys were ordered out at lunch
time into an area where sandwiches and a cheap buffet was provided
while the majority were enjoying a lavish lunch and wine.
Well, of course, that did it.
It was reminiscent of the occasion some years before when at a
famous London hotel the sports journalists were kept waiting for
about 45 minutes in a large room sans alcohol.
When the doors swung open the waitress came in with a tray piled
high with bubbling champagne.
And of course the inevitable happened.
Half way across the floor she tripped and the tray smashed to
the ground, a fizzing puddle of France's finest.
There was silence. Then a very famous BBC motoring reporter
said: "Shall I say ****!"
Which is about what the journos said when they saw their stories
and the fine lunch being kept away from them.
Somehow I don't think that will happen tomorrow.
Though I might be wrong: the kitchens at the St George's Centre
have still not been built….
Wednesday March 17 2009
There is a logic in the Conservative administration's refusal to
allow the opposition parties to know their budget plans before the
annual budget meeting.
Last night there was a fresh bid by the Liberal Democrats'
finance spokesman, Cllr Geoff Juby, to be allowed to hear what was
being planned - and what was being dropped.
Had he been present and not laid out by a severe migraine the
night of the meeting (and by coincidence the night of the Chelsea
debacle) Cllr Glyn Griffiths would probably have said the same on
behalf of the Labour group.
But Cllr Jarrett once again refused to countenance the
possibility that opponents could tut and pick at budget plans.
"We have the majority, we have the responsibility and we shall
set the budget," he has repeatedly said.
Last night his words were slightly different - but the facts
It was so reminiscent of General de Gaulle being asked if the
Brits could join the Common Market.
Why is it that many people don't want to appear on the
increasingly restricted Electoral Register?
The answer could be the council tax.
It was a theory advanced by Cllr Rodney Chambers, the Leader of
Medway Council, to Business Services committee members.
If people thought they could avoid council tax by not appearing
on the register, he said, they would. It was a problem for all
There was a variation: the couple who would seek a 25 per cent
reduction in council tax by claiming there was only one
It was his explanation for a three per cent drop in those named
on Medway's tax registers.
My personal belief is that fewer people believe they can have
any influence on the decisions that are reached by the council.
Their rationale appears to be - why should they pay to keep it
It comes back down to the failure of the council to involve
residents and businesses in the things that really matter to them:
why they have to bump over ruts, why roads and paths are shut, why
no one listens to their views...
Should a Chief Executive get a big payout if his face no longer
It seems it is perfectly OK if it is big business (for example ,
imagine the payouts paid to any CEO no longer required by a
But is it right to expect him (or her) to go without a
commensurate payment if the boss's face no longer fits with the
chairman of the council's board.
It is public money (but then so is the cash paying our
Have it out in the open. Let the public moan and groan.
But if you no longer want the head of your team because you have
a different philosophy, you want to settle old scores or you
perceive them to be too closely allied to the tasks of the previous
administration, you have to cough up.
It's not as though the CEOs have dipped their hands in the
They have done nothing wrong: their faces simply don't fit.
Get rid of them by all means, but do it in a just and fair
Friday March 12 2010
It's been fun and games on the local political scene this
One or two of the candidates have been practising mixing earth
and water to prepare missiles for the forthcoming campaign
Getting in some early net practice against the young Tory
batsman, Reh Chishti, has been the new spin bowler in the English
Democrats team, Dean Lacey.
He tried an early yorker by demanding Cllr Chishti came clean on
Lord Ashcroft's contributions to his battle fund.
The youngest councillor on Medway cabinet (and one of the
youngest barristers on the local scene) played a straight bat.
"Ashcroft has given us no money," he said.
"We do our own fund-raising."
Cllr Chishti could end the week by winning the First Test: the
Ee-Dee's blog played on to his own wicket by resurrecting
the saga of the E on the hill.
This was the Conservative administration's test run to see
whether emblazoning "Medway" above the bridges carrying Eurostar
and the M2 motorists over the river would finally tell the world
where we are.
That it would cost £12,000 to put up, that the "E" did not have
the requisite planning permission, that Hollywood had already got
there first, and that the readers would be fleeing the country
anyway, didn't matter to the administration.
But Mr Lacey told his readers: "Recently it spent £2,000
erecting the enormous letter 'E' from MEDWAY to get an idea of what
the whole sign will look like.
"But engineers pulled it down after four days because the
council has yet to achieve funding or planning consent."
Trouble was - it happened a year ago.
If the candidates are going to have a go at the Cllr Chishti's
colleagues, they really should identify up to the minute
Heaven's above - Someone could next resurrect concerns that
the Short Brothers have started flying boats off the river!
Whispers have it that the darling of the Liberal ranks, Andy
Stamp, has upset his party faithful.
There is even talk that he could have the whip removed.
Bit rough - just as you are entering the election campaign, and
bringing out the party Noddies.
Our two ministerial faces, the transport minister Paul
Clark and Jonathan Shaw (the Chatham and Aylesford MP who is also
Minister for the South East) have already taken the austerity
message to heart.
As Mr Clark's boss announced 250mph trains taking 30 minutes to
Birmingham, the Medway twosome have begun sharing press
Not that there isn't party politics at the council.
The "Other" Party - also known as the council's officers -
ignored the elected members and made their own housing policies, it
Not surprisingly, given their long history of independence, that
the housing team are the ones accused of setting policy.
The claims came at a planning committee after it emerged last
weekend they had told mhs homes there was no need for sheltered
housing in Rainham - what was needed were houses.
It hasn't sat well with councillors - notably the Conservatives
who want more sheltered accommodation provided especially in
Rainham where they dominate the local scene.
Medway Council's Renaissance arm is planning to sell
off a large plot of land in the heart of Chatham, as soon as it
gets planning permission for the first new housing in the so-called
city centre of Chatham.
Five tower blocks (or as the planners insist on calling them,
"podiums") are proposed along The Brook. That the 118 families will
have children is not to be doubted (except if you are a planning
officer: One let slip that there wouldn't be children in the
There will be landscaped gardens on top of the tweeny garages
and (beneath them) the stores that will line The Brook.
The gardens will be secured by gates, so the kids can play. But
they will only be able to ride bikes up and down, kick balls
against walls (can you imagine the delight of the householders!) or
spray messages to each other. There will be no play facilities, or
As someone pointed out, play facilities were more important than
202 cycle racks which probably won't be used by the residents who
will soon be demanding additional parking spaces to the "one per
Last night they elected a new chairman of the Audit Committee -
and that caused a few smiles among the opposition congnoscenti.
He's Dickie Andrews, who succeeds the out of favour (and out of
party) Nick Brice.
They had to find a chairman who was not getting a special
And that was the problem.
Virtually every member in the Conservative ranks is responsible
for something (except the blame when the opposition finger is
pointed). So they get paid an allowance.
And the chairman of Audit is not allowed to get responsibility
Veteran Dickie has said he wants to stand down at the next local
election, but he was pressed into service after a quick rundown on
what the role demands.
Now he, too, gets a special responsibility allowance - as
chairman of audit.
Tuesday March 9 2009
The Delce schools' fate may not be as clear cut as the Cabinet
would have us believe.
The two schools face merger.
The council agreed last week (in the midst of an acrimonious row
with opposition members, staff, governors and members of the
public) to provide Medway with a Strood-based super primary. This
gem of educational attainment (not recommended by officers such as
the children's director, Rose Collinson) will have more than 600
screaming youngsters trying to learn in a single school
The benefits? - saving less than £70,000 and ending the "trauma"
of changing from an infant to a junior school.
One might almost suggest that (in the highest traditions of
Henry II and that damnable Kent priest, Thomas A'Becket) it would
also rid the children's portfolio holder of one troublesome head
However, there was a whisper that it's all one big act to do
down the Labour candidate for Rochester and Strood, Cllr Teresa
Murray, raise the standing of the Conservative candidate, Cllr Mark
Reckless, and protect the standing of the Cabinet which ignored
officers advice to create the micros' academy.
Apparently the Tory backbenchers firmly believe that it will be
rejected by the schools adjudicator when faced with the views of
the school, the teachers, the governors, the parents and the local
There were some gems in the debate where the most difficult task
was that shown by the chairman of the scrutiny committee which
twice threw the plan back to the Cabinet. Cllr David Brake somehow
ended up proposing that the debate was over, and the council should
now support the 10-man Cabinet.
Several of its members were missing ...along with the Tory
candidate. It reminded one of a famous call of nature some time
Cllr Brake was told now he would never be selected for the
Cabinet because he had blotted his copybook.
Another, ex Mayor David Carr, a veteran of nearly two years on
the council and one of those to vote both ways, lectured
the Labour ranks (and his successor in the chair) on the reasons
why they should ignore the opposition and vote for the merger.
Cllr Glyn Griffiths (the dabbest voice in the opposition)
thanked Cllr Carr for giving them the benefits of his weeks of
experience. What a put down on the eve of his Golden Wedding!
But what a sad reflection on the administration: it is
completely satisfied someone outside the borough should make the
"right" decision for the children of Strood.
I recently visited the school to talk to a couple of the
classes. The youngsters were interested, bright and not prepared to
back down in an argument. In other words, there are some budding
journos at Delce.
The idea of 600 of them racing round the playground, burning off
energy accumulated in the classroom, and supervised by a horde of
teaching assistants, should fill you with dread.
Wednesday, March 3
Now where was I before my holiday? - ah, yes...
The disruption to wildlife at The Paddock has been greater than
many people thought.
The ancient pagan character, the Green Man, reappeared on the
bus station site in a valiant - if futile - bid to stop the
destruction of the trees.
Pigeons lost several favourite roosts in the past few days as
the buzz saws sang. So they buzzed him in their bid to find a fresh
place to roost.
Not that the objectors lack a sense of humour.
Several gnomes reputed to roam around their Paddock home have
been looking for fresh lodgings at nearby Gun Wharf.
One found its way into the arms of press officer John
He tried to present it to one of the objectors, Tracey Coutts,
only for her to deny it was any of her missing miniatures.
Last heard, Mr Staples was wandering the corridors of power
seeking someone - anyone? - prepared to give it a good home.
Rumour has it there is at least one more gnome hiding in the
Meanwhile, what were Medway Renaissance doing the other day
advertising for treeloppers and crane operators?
Two placards suddenly appeared either side of the regeneration
unit's swish doors next to Eastgate House.
It could be interesting on Thursday night (more so than the
budget meeting when my colleague tells me there was more childish
putdowns in a couple of hours than you would see in Medway's
schools in a year).
Several objectors plan to tax Rainham's champion quiz kid, Cllr
Rodney Chambers, about the way the council acted over the bus
Rather like the buses, his renaissance guys have been running
very late getting the bus station approved. Now they have suddenly
slipped into top gear, put their toes down and are racing to get to
finish before April 5 next year.
I suspect someone will propose cutting public question time
short - it is helpfully allowed under the council's rules to spare
anyone's blushes. But whether it is consulting with the people,
communicating and being open is another issue altogether.
Also there will be the head teacher of Delce Infants School. She
is publicly demanding an apology from the education portfolio
holder, Cllr Les Wicks, over comments he recently made about her
school and that of the neighbouring junior.
The merger of the two schools was something the Cabinet approved
on Cllr Wicks' recommendation against the wishes of Rose Collinson,
Good news for the vast majority of Medway's 11-year-olds with
nearly 95 per cent getting a place among their first three choices
for secondary school placements.
Cllr Wicks is already working on merger plans to create co-eds.
And if his party wins the General Election it is reported all local
authority schools will be removed from their influence.
Another of his colleagues, Cllr Reh Chishti, was in the
limelight at the weekend.
While David Cameron spouted his six key points for the campaign
to try to recover some of the ground lost to Labour in recent
weeks, Cllr Chishti was in a favoured position on the stage at
It resurrected thoughts that he might be a future Home
Secretary, bringing lots more CCTV cameras, cars and enforcers onto
the streets of Britain in the future.
Certainly he was striding the pavements of Medway again on
Monday morning armed with his barrister's wheelbarrow - or was that
his overnight kit from Brighton?
Monday February 15
THE present government has a history of changing the rules after
tempting everyone to compete. It's been the modern day Whitehall
The classic is council tax levels: local authorities are given a
broad guide, they set their tax and then find out whether the guide
was wildly off target.
Two of the lowest funded, Medway and York, fell victims of that
a few years ago when they tried to push the bounds for a few extra
Medway has fallen victim to another comedy of errors. This one
is called Academies.
Schools chiefs saw a great opportunity to improve children's
They could get rid of five secondary schools with poor results,
free up land (that could be worth a lot of cash to a developer),
get £90 million-worth of new schools, and offload the
responsibility for future funding to the government.
It was too good to be true - and they grabbed it.
That's when the Whitehall wallahs sprang their little
They would ensure each Academy started life with a clean slate.
No debts, no blame, no responsibility for what went before.
To do that, they stopped funding the schools that were closing.
But they were still trying to teach, they still had commitments and
they were still running up bills that would have been funded by the
government if they stayed open.
Five secondaries are closing (two already have). And the council
- hoping to save money - has suddenly discovered it has to fund
The thinking went something like this: "These were losses
incurred by the schools - the remaining schools should fund it.
After all, they have the government's allocation of school
The budget is controlled by the Schools Forum - not the
It is an unelected body. It has a responsibility for alloting
money to every school.
It does; it has: Medway's 39,902 school children are to get 2.1
per cent more spent on their education from April than they had
Or they will if the money isn't taken by the council in what
might not be a legal move. That's something that was being
considered over the weekend.
One should not forget that another £700,000 is being funded by
the Forum for Special Educational Needs.
Where Medway was caught in another financial trap was its
willingness to give more money to the schools than simply the
government grant. That top-up (from another government grant) is
used by some councils to provide a nest egg used when times get
Some officers called it a loan. That's the problem. It wasn't.
It was cash to improve children's education.
There are several other problems that feed the crisis.
The schools had to find people with a financial skill to manage
their budgets. Some were pretty cute.
Then there are wages.
Teachers are expected to get a 2.1 per cent increase in wages.
But underlying that, most school staff - about two-thirds - are
entitled to an annual increment. It means they will get around six
per cent more in their pay packets.
It is similar to the rest of the council's staff.
They are not going to get a pay rise this year. But the council
will still have an increased pay bill this year thanks to the
annual increments due to more than half the staff.
Some of those increments run for decades before you get to the
top of your grade. It's not often mentioned but it does help local
government officers to cushion inflationary problems.
So where does the council go now?
There are three options.
The first is just to hold on to the allocated cash - but that
may be illegal.
The second is to cut other council services.
The third is to declare social workers, planners, leisure staff
(and others) redundant to make the savings.
Last Monday finance chiefs were quietly content. They had
managed to engineer a small surplus on this year's budget, and
announced a balanced budget would be debated this week. That was
what they said last Monday.
Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics. Given
Thursday night's bombshell, half a week is pretty lengthy, too.
This blogger is taking a break until March for
Friday February 12
The saga of Ken Bamber, Brian Kelly and the extremely flat Irish
joke has attracted considerable support for the councillor who was
left out of pocket.
How much may never be known, but I understand the council has to
pay the same sum to Mr Kelly after he took them to the employment
What is annoying many people is just how much the council paid
After all, we hear the mixed claims of under-funding by the
nasty old government - and yet the administration will once more
boast that it has the lowest council tax in Kent.
It would have had several thousand pounds more if it hadn't
maligned Mr Kelly's Irish roots. Precisely how much the council
refuses to disclose to the very people who have had to suffer the
George Washington said there's many a slip 'twixt the lip and
Watch that budget.
The Community Safety Partnership comes under the spotlight next
It has achieved quite a bit over the past year including the
successful introduction of the SOS Bus that provides a safe haven
for drunk and otherwise administered abusers to chill out and get
assistance at the end of a heavy night of clubbing.
What it has so far failed to do is reduce the perceptions of
anti-social behaviour in the Medway Towns.
Around one in 12 people still consider it is a very big problem
even though the police try to tell us that crime is down.
Their problem is that what you might consider anti social may
not be what your neighbour believes it to be.
It covers a multitude of sins.
For example, graffiti, spitting, swearing, litter, fly tipping
and so on.
Where do you draw the line?
Is there any difference between the contractor who dumps a load
of rubbish in a green field to avoid paying land tax and the
postman who repeatedly drops rubber bands on his rounds? One spoils
the countryside. The other leaves a risk underfoot, a potential
hazard for wild animals and a trail wherever he goes.
You might not agree: I am angry at the number of times I have to
pick up red bands outside my home that my postie can't be bothered
But I am also angry at those who ruin a country walk or a
Monday February 8
Next year's council tax is likely to be up 2.95 per cent -
providing the government doesn't change the ball game and cap
The next two weeks should be interesting times as the
Conservatives administration practices its lines at Cabinet, and
the opposition struggles to guess what surprises the finance
portfolio holder, Alan Jarrett, will unveil.
There is a joke that does the rounds from time to time that the
Chief Executive will, in the not too distant future, do everyone's
jobs. The signs are there.
At the moment there are 8,000 people working in schools, social
care , finance, planning, regeneration, and transport. Not all of
them work fulltime. Around 3,600 are part timers.
Now another "fundamental" review of jobs is under way - the
fifth in 11 years.
It promises to be a none too jovial time for the staff.
No pay rises, job cuts (service managers being in the firing
line), cuts in fuel allowances (with buses passing the front door
every minute or so you'd think they could go anywhere by public
transport - but they can't), and all they have to look forward to
is annual increments (paid to about two in three staff).
What is so worrying is that to keep the services going these
cuts are already being made.
Everyone expects really tough times to come, though the really
tough time probably won't happen for a couple of years.
Wednesday February 3 2010
Hush, hush, whisper who dares….
Tonight's meeting of the Standards Committee at Medway is going
ahead with the most interesting matter once again behind closed
The digging continues to find out what it is all about.
The odds are now on a third councillor could be in trouble, and
not the one done for fraud or the other done for kerb crawling.
Ahhh - it's good to know that Medway's councillors can hide
behind closed doors when washing their dirty linen.
But I wonder why the officers are the ones so keen for it to
A big row is breaking out over the way Kent County Council's
Tory administration dealt with the snow crisis.
At the centre of it is Nick Chard, the county's transport
portfolio holder, who appears to have tried to pass the buck to the
districts when people complained.
Senior Tonbridge and Malling Conservatives did nothing last
night to protect one of their own when an opposition councillor,
Liz Simpson (Lib) called for his head.
It followed allegations that officers were saying one thing and
Cllr Chard another.
But the classic was the failure to keep pavements clear. The
county accepted responsibility for that task - but decided to do
nothing, according to Tories at T and M.
He has a chance to redeem himself.
He's been invited to the joint transportation board he missed a
few weeks ago. The next meeting is on March 8.
If he is truly brave, he might also attend with his officers the
meeting of the local Parish Partnership.
But he should watch out.
The local hospital reported that in the five day spell of snow
before Christmas they had over 250 additional cases in the accident
unit…. and several of them were council members and local
In a few days we should have a clearer idea of what the council
tax rise in Medway is likely to be.
In Tonbridge and Malling the borough council is setting a 2.94
per cent increase. I suspect something similar for Medway could be
revealed on Monday.
In any event the Medway Messenger website will bring you the
Amid the rhetoric and blasting of the Labour Government for its
handling of the economy what will definitely not be revealed will
be the little extras.
These are what have successfully annoyed opposition councillors
denied any part in Medway's budget setting.
Things like the money that suddenly appeared to fund the
students cut price bus fares a couple of years ago.
It was a Labour idea but the Tories did a neat job of pinching
the idea, finding the funds and stealing the coup.
There should be a bit of extra cash available for transport,
given that the under 65s are about to be excluded from having free
The kids have their Tweenies. Now the Boomers are being dubbed
One of my old jobs was to argue the case for coaches to retain
the same rights as cars when driving on the motorways. Coaches are
the safest form of road vehicle.
I am proud to say I played a major role in keeping those limits
at 70 mph and use of the outside lane.
Only after I left the transport industry in 1990 did the
parliamentary campaigners manage to change the limits, ban coaches
from the outside lane, and impose a 60mph limit.
Now the Gillingham MP, Paul Clark, better known these days as
HM's Junior Transport Minister, has proposed cutting the speed of
smaller wagons (those under 7.5 tonnes) from 70 mph to 60 mph - and
upping coach speeds to 65 mph.
It gets my full backing.
Thursday January 28
Two decisions this week have left people stunned and questioning
the logic of councillors.
One was reached last night, and that was the go-ahead to build
Chatham's new bus station on the tree-covered area close to Dock
The other was the peculiar decision by the Cabinet to ignore
everyone's advice and arguments, and push ahead with a super
primary for 630 children between five and 11 by merging two good
Repeatedly at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday members said it was
for the children's better education.
But observers were left with the very clear impression it was
being done for the betterment of the council's finances.
There was no talk of how a bigger school would improveme the
academic achievements of the children.
Instead, repeatedly it was economies that emerged as the reasons
for ignoring the scrutiny findings of the backbenchers, the advice
of the education director, Rose Collinson, and her team, and the
rational arguments of head teachers and governors.
There would be one management team, one budget, one assessment
system, economies of scale, teachers would be able to move around….
oh, and (as an after thought) teachers should get a chance of
develop areas of education.
These reasons were all advanced by Cllr Les Wicks, the
children's portfolio holder, who proposed the merger.
Where were the answers to the poor education results of other
Where were the action plans?
Could it be that Cllr Wicks has seen his amalgamation policy
slowly shredded since St Peters Infants, St Nicholas and All Faiths
were excluded by councillors from the merger plans?
And so to the bus station.
Councillors have been quizzed (and have in turn questioned their
advisors) about whether it should be built at the Chatham rail
station, to form a modern transport interchange, or in front of the
Pentagon shopping centre.
No one has been able to answer why the existing bus station was
not given the facelift that seemed logical to many.
Apparently the centre's owners want the buses out so that they
can create an extra store site. But they have never said it
publicly: it comes from sources within the council.
The interchange idea was rejected following public
Voters didn't want a long walk from the shopping area to their
buses: it should be close to the shops.
Nor (so the same sources said) did the Pentagon want their
customers making long walks.
But where can you put it?
The most suitable location would have been where the Sir John
Hawkins flyover (of unlamented memory) once stood. That was also
And so the plans came down to that large expanse of land between
the river and the shopping centre… the very place once identified
as Chatham City's open waterfront parkland, the leisure area that
would draw in the shoppers from Canterbury, Bluewater and Maidstone
(especially the county town if you listened to the frenetic
speeches of some councillors last night).
English Heritage have wimped out after objecting to the plans.
They now say it shouldn't affect the council bid for
World Heritage status for the Great Lines.
What should have happened is that if the Pentagon bus station is
no longer wanted, its replacement should have built on the flyover
site. It would serve the High Street shops as well as the station,
the Pentagon and the parkland overlook Rat Bay.
Better still, the bus station idea should have been
Some of the money given by the government should have been used
to carry out a modern transport analysis, to develop bus routes
that go where people want to go, and meet where it makes sense to
change buses. Instead the future routes will go where the
bus station is built.
It was touching to hear two councillors say they had ridden on
buses recently. Slumming with the electors, heh?
As soon as the snow lifted they were back to their cars, taxis
The reason buses don't work in Medway in the way they do in
Brighton or Belfast (or London in Red Ken's day) is because they
are expensive, and because the council won't face up to the fact
that our roads cannot cope with the growth in the population unless
we change our travel choices.
If the buses won't go where I want to go, why should I (or
anyone else) use them?
Just round the corner from the new bus station is Chatham and
Rochester High Street, full of fascinating buildings and lots of
The historians tell us two great fires in the first half of the
19th Century destroyed many of the buildings in the
But the archaeological evidence is that not only did Sir John
Hawkins' almshouses survive, there are many fine buildings from
that era to the present hiding behind cheap and not so cheerful
frontages and layers of paint.
The street (it is, after all, just one road) is coming out of
the depressive state that saw it steadily go downhill from the
That is because of an excellent regeneration project that has
attracted private money as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds
of Heritage Lottery cash.
The project has been masterminded by the council which matched
the Lottery and insisted on top quality restorations along the
What may be the last buildings to be restored under the scheme
were formally unveiled this week.
And what a magnificent job it is, using local skilled
carpenters, builders, and architects to restore the buildings.
Cllr Jane Chitty, the strategic planning overlord, said she had
started to look above the shop fronts since she became involved in
the project some years ago.
The big lesson is if you want to see the majesty of the building
legacy left to us by past generations raise your head and your eyes
- and your spirit could follow.
Medway's towns - all of them - still have considerable gems if
The trouble is commercial interests have made many towns look
blandl simply because they have adopted the little box mentality,
the one-size fits all perception.
Boots the Chemist is Boots the Chemist. WHS is WHS. Tesco is
Tesco (their clock tower at Twydall is identical to those at a
dozen other Tesco developments in the Eighties and Nineties).
None of them is guilty. It comes down to what planning
authorities have allowed.
The High Street restorations show what can be achieved in
partnership and with willing determination.
Tuesday January 26 2010
Someone in the police is being a bit naive to suggest that they
didn't know they were attending a political rally when David
Cameron came to town.
Kent's Boys in Blue lined up for photos for all the nationals as
well as for the officially more humble publications such as the
A senior officer was quoted in the national media as saying
they thought they were going to a road safety meeting after
accepting an invitation from the Medway community safety portfolio
holder, Cllr Reh Chishti.
That gathering was interesting for the way another of the
Conservative candidates was apparently not recognised by his
Cllr Mark Reckless is hoping to wrest back Rochester (and
Strood) from Labour when Bob Marshall-Andrews stands down.
Somehow Medway's tallest councillor ended up on a press seat -
with Mr Cameron asking him for questions.
It was pretty innocuous, too, from a politician and barrister:
would the Tories restore licensing to the courts instead of
The great issues of the days paled into insignificance.
Alan Cherry, chairman of Countryside Properties, died last
He was a key Thames Gateway influence, particularly across the
Medway Maritime development.
He established the concept of mixed housing at the former
dockyard to end ghetto estates.
He was respected by politicians of whatever hue, and every
journalist who encountered him liked him.
It won’t be long before the National Identity Card for 16 to 24
year olds is rolled out in Kent and Medway.
London has been selected for the next run, so the South East
won’t be far behind.
The carrot? - the £30 card is acceptable across Europe in place
of a passport.
But why should people be charged to prove who they are using a
card none of us wanted?
Friday January 22 2010
There is growing evidence of stress in the Conservative
Recently the man who expects to become their next Rochester MP
stepped out of line over school mergers.
Cllr Mark Reckless had already won the case for saving St
Peter's Infants. Then he stood up for St John's in Chatham.
The diehards bristled.
Now the Conservative Whip Cllr Ken Bamber has done a
U-turn over the Delce schools and - joined by last year's mayor
Cllr David Carr - has ensured the children's scrutiny committee is
finally 100 per cent behind saving them.
Which could make for some very interesting discussions in the
Bamber household. Cllr Ken Bamber's wife Janice is one of the
cabinet members and last December voted for the Delce infants
and juniors' mergers despite advice against it.
The Cabinet will make a fresh decision on Tuesday.
The recommendation to them in the officers' report is
intriguingly worded. Approved by the education director, Rose
Collinson, it asks the cabinet to reconsider its previous
The Independent councillor, Val Goulden, made a very pertinent
point during this week's debate: "If the overview and scrutiny
committee is to be overruled by the cabinet, what's the point in
There are some on the Cabinet who would agree: what is the point
in having scrutiny?
The answer is that to stay where they are in the Cabinet they
rely on the support of the backbenchers who serve on those scrutiny
The odds should be on the Delce schools winning.
There were angry faces at that same scrutiny meeting. They
belonged to five representatives of the four NHS trusts
Words like disgusting and appalling were thrown at them over the
results of a government appraisal of their services for children
and young people.
Their problem? - nine months after they had been found to be
underachieving or completely failing, the chief executives and
directors of the trusts were unable to tell the politicians what
they were doing to rectify the faults.
Medway is a partner with the trusts and the elected councillors
now have responsibility for making sure the NHS bosses do their
jobs correctly (whether or not they like it).
It was pretty evident they certainly weren't happy being
publicly ticked off.
They had better satisfy the councillors pretty quickly. The
world of politics - and public services - is changing.
Housing chiefs have been told to delay moving sheltered housing
It upset a large number of tenants who have got used to "their"
The wardens used to be counsellors, tea-makers, friends, guides
and entertainers, working much longer hours than they were
Two and a half years ago there was a reorganisation. Jobs were
readvertised and it was decided to move them around so they had
The tenants should have been consulted but apparently weren't.
Their organisation - MERGE - also denies it was consulted.
Now the more vociferous tenants have kicked up a fuss.
Health scrutineers called a halt to the process until the
tenants have all been consulted. It will be done by Deborah Upton,
the housing chief and legal eagle who took over after the
re-recruiting took place.
It was a management matter but councillors agreed they will now
make the final decision.
The residents may be in their 70s, 80s and 90s but there are
plenty with experience of the barrack room and dockyard to make it
a minefield for the professional lawyer.
Tuesday January 19,
Just what is the role of Sir Terry Farrell in the Thames
The man considered the Guru of the
Gateway, and design champion for Medway, is also a member of the
Thames Estuary Airport Board.
Members of the Medway Renaissance
Board recently learned of his involvement with a scheme to which
the council - and in particular the regenerators - are vehemently
It is curious that the Mayor of
London, Boris Johnson, was quick to issue a press release saying
Sir Terry was on the airport board. Yet Sir Terry's colleagues are
claiming his remit had not been clarified, he had expressed no
support for the airport, and the press announcement was issued
before sufficient consultation had taken place.
Both the Leader of the Council,
Cllr Rodney Chambers, and the Opposition Leader, Cllr Paul Godwin,
are clearly not happy at the oblivion displayed by their respected
Guru's conflicting interests.
If he is uncommitted to the the
airport, and is treated as one more feather for the
tonsorially-improved Boris, perhaps he would do well to say Up With
The Planes I Shall Not Resort.
A fresh warning about the growing
problems Kent councils are facing while trying to do their basic
tasks has been given by the Audit Commission.
It recently raised concerns about
the difficulty which Medway - with a half-billion pound budget -
faced in fulfilling its duties.
Now Tonbridge and Malling's annual
audit has thrown up an even greater warning.
The senior auditor praised the
council for the way it had acted quickly in the past few months to
identify and tackle the effects of the recessive downturn.
It's got £1 million salted away in
the Landsbanki. That's one which the Icelandic government has
taken over - and is now refusing to pay back. It has also wiped
off £1,691,000 from its land and building values as the
recession has savaged Britain. It was what the auditor liked to
call "an impairment".
The auditor has given T&M a
three star rating.
But he warns: "The downturn may
have a significant impact on the ability of public sector bodies to
fund the delivery of services and capital programmes.
"A continuing strong framework of
financial and performance management will be essential if the
council is to meet these demands."
It would not have been unrealistic if someone had heard Ethel
Merman's gravelly voice belting out: "There's no business like snow
business….." at last night's council meeting.
A string of questions about the winter weather was posed by
opposition councillors, but none criticised the administration over
the state of the roads and pavements.
The portfolio holder, Phil Filmer, was politeness and
pleasantry. He talked about learning the lessons from the way
the Winter Weather programme operated - or didn't.
There were hints of things amiss, however.
Like - were the salt bins in their places (or had they been
nicked - and had they been topped up?)
The pavements were unsafe. So sue. You won't win: we never
promised they would be cleared, did we?
Oh, and praise for lots of people who got stuck in to keeping
the roads cleared. So be grateful.
And the staff doing their jobs should be congratulated (after
all they did work round the clock).
Looking at it from the sidelines (or if you prefer the back of
the Chamber) the state of Medway's snow-covered roads was not up to
the standard one expects in a thriving business community, the
biggest conurbation in the South East of England.
As the sun burns off the last vestiges of snow today, the
few inches unacceptably became inches of hard-packed ice, causing
chaos for almost two weeks.
The salting was not as effective as it should have been.
The back roads - over 1,000 miles of them, apparently - were
abandoned. This was where the taxpayers live. Just because you pay
your taxes and/or rents on time, that's it: you shouldn't expect to
go out if it snows.
The deliveries from the salt mines of Cheshire were at best
There was some valiant work undertaken, not least by two bobbies
spotted salting outside Gillingham train station. Those gentlemen
can expect a nomination for a Pride in Medway award, we
But there were also some falls.
A woman broke her leg in Gillingham High Street.
A man is suing the council after his ankle snapped.
Oh, and Cllr Glyn Griffiths dislocated his shoulder when he fell
over in Rock Avenue (not that he sought any sympathy).
Like many, he decided not to trouble the hospital. Instead he
looked after himself. Yet the vision of the Deputy Leader of the
Opposition merrily doing a Martin Riggs (a la Mel Gibson in the
Lethal Weapon films) to slip his dislocation back into place is not
one to pursue.
It was a good meeting - full of the usual.
Poor sound system (mainly because councillors will not use their
microphones), dogma ("We can't afford it - and even if we can we
won't bother to look!"), and frustration ("What is consultation
supposed to be if the public are ignored, promised meetings never
take place, and there is no information from which we can make
Is it good to know that things will only get bitter the
closer we get to an election - especially when most of the
candidates not yet in parliament sit in the council chamber.
Heaven help us!
At least the meeting went ahead.
Tonbridge and Malling's Cabinet decided to call off their
gathering this week - but forgot to tell the public.
One of the cleaners couldn't help.
"I thought it was supposed to be last night," she said.
"Never mind, luv. Help yourself to a coffee."
Monday's meeting of Medway Planning Committee is the one delayed
from last week.
Unlike that, Tonbridge and Malling councillors are going to
merge this week's agenda with the Budget meeting on February 2.
Let's hope the snow stays away, and the councillors turn up.
This week's revelations that a councillor had been caught kerb
crawling sparked some interesting backroom comments, and almost all
of them offering sympathy.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if someone came
up with a proposal to support legalised brothels in Medway.
It is something which has been mooted on the odd occasion over a
glass of sherry or drop of vino.
I suspect that there might be more support around the chamber
than people would credit.
Talking of councillors it was sad to hear the former
Gillingham Labour councillor, Rod Clark, had died.
However, Ray Maisey was back following a bout of illness,
and ex-Mayor Angela Prodger is recovering after a fresh bout of
And of course Cllr Griffiths warmed up for the budget debates
Wednesday, January 13 2010
The sacking of the chairman of the audit committee from
membership of the Conservative Party effectively ends Cllr Nick
Brice's role as its financial whizz kid.
His views on spending often clashed with those of his own
Some saw him as a potential key figure in any campaign to change
the Conservative leadership in Medway.
He had strong views on spending.
It would have been an austere administration for which he would
have worked. He made no secret of that fact.
The next few years are going to be financially difficult for any
administration as the government (of which ever hue) cuts spending.
It will be difficult to win votes with a cut - cut - cut
The demolition of two well-known Medway buildings is
After a long drawn out - and frequently very public - battle to
save it, the Aveling and Porter Building's final days have
It served for years as the headquarters of Rochester-upon-Medway
City Council and more recently Medway Borough Council (let's give
it its legal title) until the Unitary team floated downstream to
The demolition team is now in, ripping out bits and pieces and
then clearing it.
Why? So that it can become another car park area until a
developer can be attracted to build homes, shops and possibly even
offices on the former flood plain.
The last time that happened was with Rochester Riverside.
It took 20 years, millions of Government pounds, and a million
tons of estuary gravel to raise the ground and make that attractive
for building. And what have we got? - beneath the snow and the thin
grass, a million tons of estuary gravel and a developer unable (or
unwilling) yet to start building.
But what a car park the absence of the Civic Centre will
provide! Its views of the castle, the Cathedral and Rochester Pier
The other demolition is at Sun Pier where mariners have now been
warned to stay away.
A giant crane has been brought in to remove the pontoons. They
provided a floating landing point for passengers. It failed 18
Now the council is ripping them out, with no hope of restoring
the pier to a working mooring in the foreseeable future.
It will be one of the bills that a Chatham waterfront developer
will face in the next few years.
Gillingham Pier is becoming a no go area.
Strood Pier has closed.
Rochester Pier is accessible to few working boats.
Ship Pier at Chatham is now the last remaining mooring for
Medway City Estate's quays are privately used.
Upnor's two MoD piers are occasionally made available to
visiting craft - but not to working boats.
A thriving river?
Someone said the river is the beating heart of Medway. At the
moment it's suffering from arterial blockages.
If you wondered what had happened to the giant
horse intended to stand on the hillside overlooking the
approach to Ebbsfleet station - it's beginning to champ at the
The planning application was filed by the Ebbsfleet
Landmark Project team with Gravesham council yesterday.
It couldn't be more appropriate at the moment: a big white
monster perched on the big white hillside....
Thursday January 7, 2010
The cancellation of last night's Planning Committee a couple of
hours before it was to sit reinforced the old journalists' mantra -
"Never take things for granted".
Having forewarning of the cancellation of the discussions over
Holy Trinity Church, this blogger was ready to brave the elements
for the rest of the plans.
Now they are on hold. For the first time since the recession
began the councillors' next planned gathering promises to be pretty
The 3,000 council tenants in Medway have each set aside £10 to
enable a handful of them to downsize in the interests of the
They didn't know it - and most of them probably don't have any
intention of moving.
The tenants incentive scheme is a longstanding one, and Medway's
budget - £30,000 a year - small.
The idea is that for every bedroom you release you will get £500
- plus a one-off £500-maximum payment to cover removal costs.
There are hundreds of homeless families, and dozens of tenants
whose children's (and maybe partners) have left home or died.
It is a simple answer - move the small family into a smaller
property, and the homeless family into the vacated home.
Solid socialist principles being cautiously supported by the
Conservatives with dire warnings to any housing bosses who might
consider steamrollering the elderly tenants.
There are two problems.
One is that the smaller family unit (to use council-speak) is
almost certainly older - and are they going to want to leave
familiar people, places and shops for somewhere they will have to
build new relationships?
The other is that the government has provided £50,000 for a
temporary officer to develop an overcrowding action plan for
The incentive scheme is part of his (or her) remit, and could
attract up to 12 tenants a year.
It's a drop in the ocean - but 12 families housed is 12 less in
bed and breakfast accommodation.
The really good news from the Cabinet this week was that 155
affordable houses - for renting, part-ownership and so on - will be
built as part of the Temple Waterfront scheme.
And all the signs are that it could buck the recession and be
built very quickly.
Whether as children by the Big Bad Wolf or as adults by TV
murders, mayhem, autopsies and hospital drama "realities", we all
like to be frightened.
And we laugh when we realise it is all fictional.
A new monster has appeared on the scene.
He's wild-eyed, and his hair refuses to stay in the right place
at the right time.
That's right, the 21st Century answer to Dracula and
his fellow bats is the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
But there are real reasons for Medway, Kent and Essex residents
Big Boris, ex-newspaper editor, TV news goon and a man able to
oust Ken Livingstone from a position of enormous power wants to
spend a cool £40 billion (which probably means at least double
that) to build an island to house a massive international
It would be in the Thames Estuary between Shivering Sands and
Heathrow could then close, and Hounslow would vote for Boris to
do just that.
We are all encouraged to think big.
This is certainly big thinking.
But what right has Boris to choose to despoil two counties and
(after London) the biggest conurbation in the South East
He has woken the slumbering tiger of Medway Conservatism,
Socialism and Liberal Democracy, and they seem ready to man the
barricades and raise the RSPB once again in defence of the people,
the few remaining vestiges of greenery in Medway - and the birds of
the Thames Estuary.
It defeated Alistair Darling when he proposed Cliffe
Is Boris a more serious challenge?
Wednesday January 6, 2010
A happy New Year - and an immediate grumble.
The snowploughs and gritters were out in force again around
Medway last night.
All the council's contractor's fleet was on standby, the weather
was not as bad as many feared, and today the main roads were
But not everything this winter was as good as we have become
used to expecting.
Before Christmas pavements were not cleared.
Buses stayed indoors (certainly at the beginning of the
There has been a shortage of the visible clearers.
Council car parks were covered.
Grit bins were in short supply - and even today were still empty
from the pre-Christmas battles by residents to keep their roads
A lot more snow is being forecast by Michael Fish and his
colleagues over the coming days, but in 2010 Medway has been lucky
… so far.
It is true. The service is not as good as in past years.
It is down to the privatisation of the service.
In the past, the various councils (Rochester City and Gillingham
to 1998, Medway since) relied on their direct labour organisations.
These were the street cleaners, the refuse removal operatives, the
Their philosophy was one of public service: get out and do it,
then argue about the cost afterwards.
It may not have been the best way to manage finances.
But it was the best way to ensure the public was happy that it
could walk on pavements, drive on roads and park in car parks.
There were no demarcations.
There is probably still the willingness among today's workforce.
But they are privately employed, and working to a contract.
That imposes different criteria. The "They work for us" syndrome
also brings the "They want it done this way - that's the way it
will be." And anything else (like a suddenly disruptive snow storm
or 10) must be negotiated and agreed, and a price fixed.
And that hasn't happened yet.
Tonight should have seen a fresh round in the growing saga of
Holy Trinity Church, Twydall.
It is a stylish building: indeed, it is a unique building from
the Sixties. But it has its problems, its detractors - and their
Permission to demolish it was rejected three weeks ago after it
was Listed as a Grade Two building of special architectural
Tonight a fresh application - this time to demolish a Listed
Building - was to be discussed.
The church authorities have withdrawn the application.
It will give them time to consider the opportunities offered by
the Planning Committee. Most said they would not object if the
building was replaced by less new homes squeezed into the
proverbial pint pot.
That means less income - and less to spend on the new church
hall that is among the ugliest structures to be proposed to the
committee in a long time.
What did Santa bring the Finance Portfolio holder of Medway
Cllr Alan Jarrett has been fighting to cut costs and bring the
council budget into line with his party's aspirations in an
Seems Father Christmas must be a politician too.
Seems he's been cutting budgets as well.
Cllr Jarrett turned up for Cabinet this week unshaven and
bearing a vaguely passing resemblance to the image at the top of
Obviously the budget didn't stretch to a razor for the august
deputy leader of the council.
Friday December 18
The Christmas jokes were flying at Wednesday's planning
committee meeting with the usually straight-faced Cllr Ian Burt
doing a superb imitation of Jack Dee.
His perception of some of the plans before the committee was not
quite in accord with the officers or the developers who had proudly
brought them forward for approval.
But he brought the house down when he described one property as
more reminiscent of a guard's box than a house.
The property is the sort of place where the estate agents'
traditional corruption of reality leaves everything to be
"Bijou residence…suit a single person…easy to manage…." all
sprang to mind.
Cllr Nick Bowler wiped the tears from his eyes, gasped for
breath and congratulated Cllr Burt on the best comment of the
It was certainly the funniest - and most apposite.
Though Conservative veteran, Ted Baker's hope that Paul Clark
has taken out a short lease on his new constituency office in
Rainham did not sound 100 per cent genuine.
I sided with the planning manager, Dave Harris when he said he
loved the unloved Holy Trinity Church in Twydall.
It is facing demolition by the church authorities so that they
can build a tiny housing ghetto to fund a new community hall.
The existing church has its problems, not least the lack of care
and maintenance which the unique Sixties building has received.
Mr Harris was kind when he described the proposed community hall
as lacking architectural merit.
It looked similar to the breeze-block buildings thrown up
in the desperate rush to provide homes after the Second World War -
but lacking their grace, style beauty and architectural
No-one said it, but demolishing the church would be killing the
soul of Twydall.
Surely the work of the church involves not just ministry but
providing aspiration and inspiration… not destroying it.
If you expected riots, and campaigners chanting, banners waving,
choirs praising their schools (something that has dogged the
relentless drive to close a number of schools in Medway in the past
year) you would have been disappointed at Tuesday's Cabinet
There's been a hint of that throughout the battle to save Ridge
Meadow and St John's.
St John's now clings on while a review of places available at
CofE faith schools is undertaken.
Ridge Meadow's fate was formally sealed on Tuesday.
It's closure - and goodbye to a number of popular staff whose
redundancy packages will add to Medway's financial woes.
St Nick's and All Faiths were saved despite officers'
recommendations - and a number of councillors sighed mutual cries
of delight that were probably shared by the parents, pupils and
But no-one will know - because there was a distinct lack of
attendance at a meeting which saw 14 schools officially set to
close (in reality merging together as seven primaries by 2014).
Cllr Les Wicks has taken an unrelenting pounding from
critics in the past year. He must have been delighted to race
through the agenda with so much speed (just 35 minutes) that by the
time he got to the business case for the Strood Academy (a bit late
if there wasn't one, given it began in September) he needed just
two minutes to get it approved … all 809 pages.
Last night the Audit Committee pontifcated (all three and a
Thoughts that they would approve the new rules for
whistleblowers in the wake of the embarrassing defeat the council
suffered this year with three of the housing staff proved
The key thing in the new rules is to stop whistleblowers talking
to the press. They want staff to havet he opportunity to talk to
councillors if all else fails.
Ironically, the Erinaceous Three studiously refused to speak to
the media throughout the saga of the hundreds of thousands of
pounds needlessly thrown at contractors supposedly turning council
houses into Decent Homes.
I know. I tried repeatedly to talk to them.
One eventually did talk - but only after he had lost his job
(and thereby laid the foundations for winning damages for his
Medway has a lot of good managers and workers, but it seems to
me these rules protect the bad bosses from embarrassment. They will
certainly keep council taxpayers away from knowing about any
possible fraud, certainly crass incompetence and mismanagement, and
needless spending of our money.
If councillors had any guts, they would throw out the new rules,
and insist that the managers were exposed to the public when they
It was a bad day on Tuesday for workers.
Three hundred are to go to the BAE site, and three hours later
it was announced an unspecified number will also go at
the council in 2010.
Don't think the worst recession in Britain's history is over. It
That's my last word until the New Year, so all the season's
greetings to you from all involved with Tales From Gun Wharf.
We'll be back in the New Year as the battle to find millions of
pounds of savings at the council goes on.
It's also the time when we may find out whether Rodney Chambers,
the Conservative Council Leader's forecast that whatever is said by
the Men in Opposition (such as giving greater freedom to councils)
is not necessarily what happens once they gain power.
Monday December 14
The most extensive alteration to schooling in Medway is expected
to be approved by the Cabinet in a public meeting at the Corn
If everything goes the way the officers plan it, 16 junior and
infants schools will become eight primaries over a period of
And the fate may well be sealed for Ridge Meadow and St John's
Church of England School.
The administration would argue that is the cake. If so, they
might agree that getting the outline business case for Strood's new
academy approved (three months after it started teaching the
children of Chapter and Temple Schools) is the icing. Late maybe,
but finally there in time for Christmas.
This week Holy Trinity Church in Twydall is likely to be saved
for posterity, if not for its congregation. Councillors are being
recommended to reject its demolition.
It might be a short-lived reprieve.
A fresh application to demolish the now-Listed Building is
expected to appear before the same committee within weeks.
One of the strangest positions in the council is that of the
It is a legal position and the holder now tells everyone from
the chief executive and the Council Leader down what is acceptable
and what is not.
It has, among many responsibilities, the duty to protect
whistleblowers from victimisation.
The post is held by the council's legal chief, Deborah
Some months ago Ms Upton was also appointed head of housing.
She also gave evidence against three housing department
whistleblowers, action that she had previously approved but which
ended with a costly defeat for the council. It has never revealed
how much the costs of the action was but in round terms the trio
got over £70,000 in damages from the council for failing to heed
their advice, and the lawyers probably got more.
On Thursday a new whistleblowing policy is to be discussed by
the audit committee.
It talks of the importance of whistleblowers raising their
It sets out "conditions necessary for raising a concern direct
to the media and emphasises that premature contact with the media
may be a disciplinary matter".
The new rules state any employee considering contacting the
press should seek professional advice first - and tell the chief
Which doesn't sit very well with the problems that the
Erinaceous Three encountered when they blew the whistle to their
The men were unwillingly put in an unwinnable position. They
didn't talk to the press, but we uncovered that payments were
worthy of investigation were being authorised.
If the new rules are approved, employees will be able to talk to
the press and be protected, provided they do it in good
faith, their allegations are substantially true, and they don't act
for personal gain.
But they also have to believe they would suffer if they went to
their boss, the actions could be covered up, or they had already
raised it with their manager.
Otherwise they face disciplinary action …. if none of those
conditions is met.
Friday December 11 2009
There was good news for council officers this week despite the
government salary cutbacks were announced by Chancellor Alistair
Darling: they could be crying all the way to the bank.
Councillors were warned that despite the government cap of one
per cent salary increases, it doesn't cover Medway's contractual
arrangements introduced in 2002.
Staff were merged from three councils in 1998 to create Medway.
and they all had different pay scales and salaries even though they
were doing the same jobs.
A long drawn out process was agreed seven years ago that would
bring them all into line - eventually.
The chairman of business support, Cllr Ken Bamber, wasn't happy
that the deal - still unwinding - will effectively add three per
cent to the salary bill next year, even though his administration
approved the package.
The Tory Whip said at the employment committee (which he also
chairs) that there had been recent discussions about ending the
That would be worse than waving a red rag at a discontented
But as more than one Tory colleague pointed out, many people in
the private sector took wage cuts or had no increases - despite
what one hears about bankers.
There is good news about Cllr Roy Hunter, the chairman of the
regeneration committee. Taken ill on holiday in the summer he is
now back home in Rainham slowly recovering.
The council's housing department continues to take two steps
forward and one back.
They’ve just had an audit which (according to Howard Doe, the
portfolio holder) showed lots of improvements.
There are now only 6,500 on the housing list and the number of
families in temporary accommodation is down to 140.
But two council-owned houses have been turned into Precinct
13-style offices with spy cameras, security screens and a besieged
wagon train of vans as contractors with (or maybe without) officers
approval have turned them into offices.
Cllr Howard Doe - not a man who likes to be embarrassed - was
forced to admit publicly last night that he had only just heard
about it and was now investigating.
The adjacent corridors were already slick with blood.
No doubt his assistant director, Deborah Upton, will be donning
her new fashion accessory - a "When I am wearing my Pink Hat I am
not to be Disturbed" titfer as she quizzes the staff
Three bedroomed houses being used for offices - when there are
people sleeping rough again this Christmas. It beggars belief.
It is not fair.
The (largely pensionable) cabinet members next week will have to
bring in a mass of papers for their meeting on Tuesday
Can you imagine the risk to hearts and hernias as they lumber in
with two reams of paper (that's right, over 1000 sheets of paper)
that they will of course have diligently read this weekend,
understood and be able to answer detailed questions about.
The postage on mine cost almost £9 - and I didn't have the
809-page top secret business case for building Medway's answer to
Waterloo Road - the Strood Academy.
Someone - contact NHS Medway to arrange paramedics and surgeons
A friend's wife popped into Rainham One Stop Shop the other day
for a bus pass application form.
The staff member insisted on going through the form with
her."Where it says 'name' you write your name.....where it says
'Address' you write your address....we will need proof of identity
such as your driving licence but we won't keep it - we'll photocopy
it and give it straight back to you......"
Why one needs to produce - of all things - a driving licence to
get a bus pass defeats me - and her.Mrs Friend made it clear she
wasn't senile. She actually worked for the council and could
complete simple forms unaided.
She turned to leave only to be accosted by a young lady with a
clipboard who enquired if she could ask some questions about her
visit to the Contact Centre.
The usual range of questions was asked along with "Do you think
our opening hours are good? (her response - I haven't got a clue
and don't care!)
Was the person who dealt with your enquiry wearing his or her
badge (she said 'just a moment', back to the counter to examine the
member of staff before returning to state 'yes')
And "Do you think it's helpful that the police are at your
service here since Rainham Police Station closed?" (to which my
friend responded: "Where?"....there was no sign of any Persons in
Her husband told me: "It seems a waste of time and money (our
money!) to conduct such surveys - clearly designed to provide
evidence that, like Medway, the centres are wonderful!"
Gosh, such jaundiced views! And that at a time when the
Audit Commission is demanding action to prove we taxpayers think it
is Medway is as good as they say it is...
Wednesday December 9 2009
It is the role of any reporter to question,
doubt and test the information that is pressed at news desks almost
every second of every day.
Which means the public service spin merchants
are viewed with considerable suspicion.
Today all the apocryphal tales about Medway
being a great place to live, of its clean and wholesome air, its
streets safe to walk at any time, and its fine homes has finally
been proved to be ….. true!
The government’s auditors are a force that
makes Harry Potter’s Death Eaters seem friendly souls.
They have ripped and harried at the services
provided by the police, council, fire and Primary Care Trusts,
examined the way they have traditionally kept themselves to
themselves – and have found Medway to be almost flawless.
It won a green flag – the latest resurrection
of a silly symbol – and just missed a second “by a whisker”,
according to Neil Davies, the council’s chief exec.
The flags (yes, there are also red ones)
indicate that every other community should follow Medway’s
No, not Medway - the council: Medway - the
We are cleaner, greener, lighter, brighter….
And there is a team at work making sure the
message filters out.
A local bobby got a rap over the knuckles the
other day for protesting: “I’m not a social worker!”
His Chief Superintendent soon put him right:
“Oh, yes you are – and don’t your forget it!”
It’s not the only battle being fought in
Medway at the moment.
But they all shrink into insignificance when
you realise the battle – identified by the auditors but known by
all of us – is really with the rest of Medway’s society: it doesn’t
believe the facts.
“You wouldn’t see me walking along the High
Street at night!” is almost a Medway mantra. But as Cllr Reh
Chishti once ambiguously said to the rest of the council: “I would
be quite happy to walk the streets at 3.30 in the morning.”
The point is, if you walk Medway’s streets,
the chances of being mugged, beaten, attacked, raped or whatever
other misfortunes can be brought on you are much less than anywhere
else in Kent – and almost as safe as anywhere in the South East
We are getting healthier – whether or not we
We are living longer – which will be a problem
for our grandchildren.
And we have lots to entertain us, whether it’s
our libraries, our heritage, our festivals, are, sport …. But we
don’t believe it.
Medway’s population lives in the Eighties. Our
industrial heritage, from which the Medway Towns changed from
fishing hamlets into famous shapers of the world, was destroyed in
And many still believe that to be the
Medway lost its pride. It was Knox-ed out of
So, while the Medway Local Strategic
Partnership (which should call itself the Medway Partnership if it
is to mean anything to anyone) is tackling the problems of teenage
pregnancies, heavy smokers, poor rented homes, inadequate childcare
and shoddy childminding, a shortage of affordable homes, and
mounting deprivation, it is also setting out to restore Medway’s
pride in itself.
I shall still doubt the spinners, and question
the tales of achievement, but the population of 253,500 has one
Things really are starting to change for the
The message about Magnificent Medway is going
to get out far and wide if tonight’s meeting of the International
Relations committee is to be believed.
A big delegation led by Council Leader, Cllr
Rodney Chambers, is set to wing it to China in February to sign our
friendship agreement with Guangzhou.
There’s a Medway schools film unit planning to
go to film Valenciennes – and then another school group will come
here to film Medway. Then they’ll presumably meet in the English
Channel (or is it La Manche? And should it be on?) to edit the
And after a long absence Japanese leaflets are
being produced to promote the attractions – and presumably the
safety – to be enjoyed in Medway.
Friday December 4 2009
There may be a chance for the Aveling and Porter building after
The red stone, Edwardian office block formed the core of the
riverside Civic Centre at Strood for many years.
But it became a nuisance when the administration decided to sell
the whole site for redevelopment.
According to Cllr Alan Jarrett, the political finance overlord
whose portfolio stood to make the biggest gain, it had to come down
because it would make the site less attractive for a developer.
What he meant was that it had the attraction of being yet more
riverside apartments - this time with the prime view in Medway, of
the castle and cathedral.
But the regeneration scrutiny committee came together and
supported the view of long-time A&P campaign supporter, Cllr
He proposed - and they backed - a recommendation to the cabinet
that a feasibility study is undertaken to investigate the
building's retention as part of any redevelopment of the Civic
Centre site - and that should be done before the Strood Town Centre
Masterplan is finalised.
I wish them well, but I cannot see the Cabinet backing down in
any way... despite the fact that the council's papers indicate the
problems are with the adjoining modern buildings rather than the
Comments about the performance of some councillors in debates,
their support of Medway's democratic principles and the respect in
which they hold the opposing parties regularly emerge from the
Thankfully they are as nothing compared to the Argentinean local
government group that met early this week.
So there may be muttered comments about parentage and political
philosophies in some of the council debates.
So the public may be called names by one or two of the more
But they haven't started throwing chairs and furniture at each
other - yet.
Around a dozen were injured when they failed to accept the
arguments of their opponents.
Just think what they could have done if they'd been serious.
Wednesday December 2
The truth behind the resignation of Labour councillor, Dennis
McFarlane, finally came out at Medway Magistrates Court this
He was a benefit cheat.
He was suspended by the Labour Group when he came clean and
admitted he was under investigation.
Eventually he resigned, his position no longer tenable.
Mr McFarlane fiddled housing benefit, council tax benefit and
Job Seekers’ Allowance. He had 17 other offences taken into
And yet he was receiving a councillor's allowance just short of
£9,000 a year.
You might have expected the Conservative administration to be
jumping up and down that an opposition councillor with aspirations
to higher office than the back benches should have been exposed as
But it wasn't there.
Cllr Alan Jarrett, the council's Deputy Leader and its finance
overlord, said: "This prosecution sends a clear message to everyone
that Medway Council will not tolerate benefit fraud of any
"It is completely unacceptable and we won’t hesitate to
investigate, track down and prosecute those who cheat the
There must be some interesting discussions going on in the dimly
lit corners of Gun Wharf's planning department at the moment.
Sainsbury want to take over the undeveloped Medway City Estate
site between the Medway Tunnel and filling station.
It was the B&Q site. That was until they dropped when the
council was overruled by an out-of-town planning inspector. He had
decided the Civil Service sports fields alongside the A2 were an
ideal brownfield centre-of-town development site for a super store,
and gave them permission to build on the edge of the Gillingham
Now Sainsbury are dangling 500 jobs, road improvements and the
promise to build the largely aspirational park and ride service as
the carrot to get permission for an out-of-town centre supermarket
in complete contravention of the government (and the council)
If you watch carefully for the clouds of smoke you might find
the recommendation to build - or fight - the plan following soon
Several contracts were approved by the Cabinet last week.
The minutes have now been published and the names of the
successful bidders released.
But all we had at the public meeting were comments like "award
to contractor A on the exempt appendix".
Why? Where is the openness?
There should be exclusion of the financial aspects. Publish
those and the competitors will turn that to their advantage next
time - and probably undermine the council negotiating position.
But excluding the public from knowing that Fred's sandwich bar
is bidding for the banqueting contract, or that Tom's tyres is
bidding to supply carpet underlays is (at best) petulant. Come
clean immediately you award the contract.
For the record, 23 companies were selected to provide the
council's print facilities because they were the "most economically
advantageous", the bus station builder is still being considered,
In Touch gets the Supporting People Mental Health Floating Support
Service contract for up to four years, and J Breheny Contractors
Ltd has got the next stage of the task of improving Union Street as
part of the Chatham road improvements.
Is there an element of plain English slipping into the committee
structure at Medway Council?
I ask because the development control committee has decided to
shelve that title and become the plain, simple Planning Committee
from now on.
Which is helpful to this hack: I always called it that in any
Diane Chambers, the chairman, couldn't resist pointing out:
"What goes around comes around."
When she joined the council 33 years ago she served on the
It raised a growl from her colleague, Ken Bamber, a former
chairman of the Area Development West Committee. He hoped they
would soon rename the employment matters committee to what it used
to be - the personnel committee.
Can you imagine the mayhem such a move would cause!
More than 600 members of the public have so far helped shape the
outline of the Lodge Hill development.
Not a brick will be laid until after 2012, and the Masterplan is
not yet ready to go forward to the planners for approval, but from
what I have seen so far it promises to be an exciting
Always providing that the Greater High Halstow project (which
has to be included in the emerging Local Development Framework even
though every politician and Average Man) seems opposed to it.
It's time to pipe aboard the admiral, tourist officer Simon
He could save cash in Medway by dropping his team's ludicrous
idea to buy a lightship and turn into an art gallery.
While the politicians mutter that no one has come to them with a
reasoned business plan showing how much it will cost to buy and
then maintain, what its operational life is expected to be, what
the insurance costs are - and where it's going to be moored - I
hear the Medway Tourism Association (MTA) were told all about it
the other night.
It will be moored at that fount of artistic achievement,
Gillingham, to its pier (only out-done in dynamic architecture by
Wigan's classic), and tied alongside the Medway Queen.
Must be right: the latter day Medway Queen and forward planning
supremo, Cllr Jane Chitty, was there and didn't disagree with Mr
Curtis' information for MTA.
Meanwhile that paddlesteamer can only survive its refit (thinks
- should one more accurately describe it as a new build?) if it
trades in and out of London. Its chances of visiting Medway
regularly after the reconstruction seem increasingly unlikely.
Thursday November 26 2009
It was strange the way the Strood Academy business case seems to
have been rushed after all the fuss about the project, and its
Why was the 809 page report only made available to the
politicians five days before the meeting?
Who was responsible for its last minute publication and
And isn't a business case three months after the Academy came
into being somewhat akin to putting a cart before the horse?
It was noticeable that Rose Collinson, the director ultimately
responsible had her head down and carried on checking papers as
Les Wicks, the portfolio holder, clearly wasn't happy for, as he
said, he wanted his colleagues to read it cover to cover and be
satisfied they were happy with the document.
I am delighted there are still optimists on Medway Council!
The number of councillors who turn up at council meetings and,
from their comments, clearly have not bothered to read the simplest
summarised reports put in front of them is not embarrassing: it is
The councillor shouldn't worry: he knows the administration is
in support of him.
However, he did slip into over-exaggeration and enter the realm
"As a council we are 110 per cent in support of it," he
Come off it, portfolio holder for children's education!
I was the despair of every teacher who tried to educate me
beyond the 12 times table. But even I know that if all 55
councillors serving Medway's population voted for the academy,
that's 100 per cent.
You can't have 110 per cent.
You would need another five and a half councillors, which of
course is impossible because (a) the government cut the number of
councillors to 55, (b) you can't have half a councillor, and if you
(c) rounded it up (or down) to get a whole number of something like
60 or 61, that would become a new number, equivalent to …. err, 100
The spending crunch is coming. You could sense it at this week's
There was a flippancy there that a sceptic described as giving
it the air of a students' examination room before the test papers
There were plenty of reasons for the politicians feeling good -
budget back on target, national indicators pointing in the right
direction (mostly), no bad news.
And they spent far more time discussing the 20 items that I gave
them credit for - in all, 100 minutes (or five minutes each).
Which may be why no-one had time to comment on the staggering
number of cases of abuse to elderly and educationally-challenged
adults being investigated in Medway at present.
Or why they decided to appoint a contractor to build the new
Chatham bus station before the plans have been approved - and all
without the advantage of scrutiny of the controversial project … or
a word from the public which had so strongly criticised it last
The £6 million bus station has to be approved ASAP!
It will take a year to build.
If it's not finished by the end of March 2011 - just 16 months
hence - the government (whatever its colour) will grab back the
That could leave someone with a big hole in their pocket.
They are trying to take short cuts everywhere.
Why it should take 12 months to build, however, confounds
Close Globe Lane, divert the traffic (again), chop down a few
old trees, flatten the surface, put in three platforms, three
mushrooms and a toilet block, a few swish departure signs, plant
some replacement trees, slap down some tarmac and paint a few
lines… not much more than that is needed, and you've spent six
That wasn't the only sign of potential mayhem on Tuesday.
There's the vexed question of the historic grants fund to
transform some of the slums and empty properties in River Ward back
into the undoubtedly magnificent buildings that they once were.
Cllr Jane Chitty argued for support in principle to providing
£300,000 over three years to enable more of the buildings to be
restored to their past magnificence.
She was like a waif seeking additional sustenance from the
Beadle. And Cllr Alan Jarrett, pockets fluttering as the moths
start to mature, had a disbelieving eyebrow raised.
"More - You want more?"
Well, he didn't say it quite like that, but it was definitely
hidden behind the words he did use, talking about queues, and
waiting to see what was left.
There may be good cause for concern - and not just because in
2011 the three year settlement comes to an end.
It was announced when times were good, but it was parsimonious
(according to the critics). Certainly repeatedly fixing council tax
rises on percentages only aggravates the problems.
The difficulty is then exacerbated by someone repeatedly looking
for continued economies year on year on year.
We haven't got to the stage where the chief executive, Neil
Davies, whips round with a duster at the end of his 14 hour day,
but it is close to that.
(And in case you disbelieve me about senior managers working
long, long days, you shouldn't - they do!)
Tuesday November 24
There was a time when staff worked a 40 hour week.
It included Saturday and a half-day closure in the week.
Now we have round the clock shopping, 24/7 - and round the clock
Which may explain why convenience food is so successful - and
why so many people are overweight.
This week the council is running classes in at least two
locations where mums are learning to cook healthy food.
Given that politicians and employers expect them to be working,
not dawdling around the house looking after kids who should be "on
the latch" or in nurseries until school can take them at two or
three, it does seem a waste .... doesn't it?
Jane Andrews certainly knows how to raise the profile of open
She arrived at East Sutton Park, just outside Maidstone, on
Thursday, went on weekend leave Friday - and hasn't returned.
There may be reasons for that, but when you are a convicted
murderess, serving a life sentence, it once again brings sharply
into focus the logic of the people running the trust system.
She clearly wasn't to be trusted to return.
But should a lifer have been considered for it in the first
A life sentence should mean just that - none of this namby-pamby
argument that life actually means five years: a minimum of 10
years, and half off for good behaviour.
If someone is to go to prison for 30 years, then let them go for
Only towards the end of their sentence should they start their
rehabilitation into normal life.
Cabinet today promises to go into numerous major matters in
On average, my money is that they may give as much as five
minutes to the sprint-around bus station, how the budget is
currently doing, and how next year's budget is taking shape.
Add into that another five minutes on historic buildings grants
to transform Rochester and Chatham high street areas from slums
into restored period streets (no, not Dickensian twee!), the
outline business case for the already-established Strood Academy,
and a series of major contracts, it might be strung out for 60
minutes (if they debate it with their usual in-depth scrutiny of
Wait! Duck! The Porcine Squadron is overhead again.
You might think that the idea of public transport was to get
from point A to point B. You might even think it was to get you
there cheaply, quickly, in comfort, above everyone else or simply
because you prefer being in a mass than cruising in a car.
You would be wrong.
In Medway, the emerging local transport plan says there are five
good reasons for transport... and it is beginning to leave people
with vague looks on their faces.
The five objectives people are being asked to give their opinion
on has nothing to do with whether you go in a bus or a train, a
river ferry or a unicycle - or continue to pollute the
Objective number one is to ensure "a competitive transport
industry with simplified and improving regulation to benefit
transport users and providers and maximising the value for money
from transport spending."
Which after considerable study and great pondering by the
transport brains in Kent, the Plain English Society of Rainham and
a handful of business experts seems to mean "screw down
The second one is cutting pollution.
Then there is improving transport links in underprivileged
areas, environmental improvements - and safe transport (including
tackling terrorist threats to Medway's transport services).
You can guarantee that if one word would do you and I, local
government needs dozens. The five objectives - intended to be
simple, clear and concise - take 191 words to gibber explanations
across the back of the voting forms. The answers will shape the
future of Medway's transport into the second decade of the third
Millennium (in other words after 2010).
The mind boggles at some of the gibberish contained in the
One seeks to improve the health of individuals by "encouraging
and enabling more physically active travel". It sounds as though
Arriva's buses may be provided with council-funded cardio machines
in the standing areas.
There is not a word about improving journeys, speeding up
transport, priorities, park and ride (now that was a great idea
while it lasted) or anything vaguely sensible.
A friend who was asked to complete the form said: "None of us
knew what on earth the man from the council was one about!"
Which is probably what was wanted in the first case.
You can catch up with the week ahead with Gun Wharf Briefing
every Monday in the Medway Messenger.
Thursday November 19 2009
There is a brave new spirit of unity between the medics and the
politicians in Medway.
At one time - not so long ago - one sensed there was resentment
that councillors could poke their nose into operations, priorities
and bed spaces.
But that has very clearly disappeared.
I suspect it may have a lot to do with the health scrutiny
committee chairman's style.
Mike O'Brien is no one's fool, but most of the time he comes
across as a listener who understands difficulties, and knows how to
That's not to say he isn't a rabblerouser, too.
Anyone at last week's council meeting would have seen the other
side strongly to the fore as he snapped and snarled at opponents
like a belligerent corgi.
There is also a respect from the health managers.
They certainly need to work together. The changes that have
taken place in the past couple of years have meant that someone
going into hospital is unlikely to spend many days there: as soon
as the doctors are satisfied they have done everything they can,
the patient becomes the responsibility of social services. As do
Hard decisions will have to be taken in the next few years.
Today's announcement that a £3,000 a month liver cancer
treatment is too costly for the NHS to fund is almost certainly the
tip of the iceberg. If ever there was an inappropriate acronym it
has to be NICE (the body removing that health treatment - and
condemning sufferers to a premature death).
Watch out for more such cases… starting tomorrow.
Tuesday 17 November 2009
One of the people at Medway Renaissance that was an inspiration
was Laura Wren.
She was deeply immersed in transport having been with Network
Rail before coming to Medway, understood the politics and road
transport, and earned a lot of respect across the country.
She left Medway Renaissance shortly after she organised a packed
two-day conference that was ignored by 52 of our 55 councillors,
but attracted the top transport brains.
Last week two things reminded me of Ms Wren.
One was the news that a geography MA with regeneration knowledge
has been appointed to head up the South East region's transport
board. Her key priorities are to fund transport in the region.
Her experience? - managing a portfolio of housing and mixed-use
development sites in Milton Keynes for SEEDA.
The other was the failure of any Medway Council representative
to attend a national conference in Chatham Historic Dockyard that
was looking at the use of rivers to transport bulk freight.
This is the river where one of the top shipping firms in Europe
is based. GPS used to be based at what has become the undeveloped
site at Rochester Riverside. Then it was forced to move because the
GPS wharf was needed for a public waterfront path, and the offices
were needed for .... well, so far dumping a load of gravel and the
repeated promise of development.
It's good to know nothing changes.
One of the disturbing things about Medway Council at the present
time is the way it overlooks things.
It was a classic case of "Oops - never mind!" that led to the
the acute embarrassment of the Finance portfolio holder at last
He had to admit that a number of staff in different departments
had overlooked contracts that were starting to run out. It led to a
bit of constructive needle from the Oppopsition.
It also left one thinking some blood may be spilt in the back
corridors of Gun Wharf as the battle to gain control of the council
spending seems to be slipping.
It seems fairly clear to me that there needs to be a good old
fashioned five year diary on everyone's desk that is responsible
In it would be the date the contract expires - and (working back
to today) would be the timetable for achieving a smooth transition
to a new contract.
But we all rely on computers. And sometimes its diary entries
can be changed (or deleted) accidentally. It needs a heavy pen and
conscious thought to delete something inked in a big book.
And those pen strokes are still there five years hence.
Monday November 16 2009
Developers will find it easier to design road junctions under
proposals being considered across Kent and Medway.
They are being advised that the present visibility standards are
far too high.
Hedgerows and house walls may be allowed closer to the road than
has been the case for many years - and wider pavement at turnings
could become a thing of the past.
Kent Highways says the present design guide on visibility is
They reckon it takes drivers one-and-a-half seconds to react to
the junction and start making a move.
Apparently there is a formula to calculate the distance (SSD).
It is SSD=Vt+(V x V)/2d where time is shown as 't'.
Now they are advising councils that unless there are specific
reasons to return to the current standards, designers no longer
need to worry so much about children and grannies.
At 30 mph they currently have to allow a minimum of 60 metres
visibility. The new recommendation is cut to 43 metres.
Drivers in Medway are used to traffic congestion around the
centre of Chatham. They blame it on the demolition of the
But increasingly, other roads are becoming more and more
Pier Road is a classic example.
In the past three months it has gone from a reasonably flowing
40,000 vehicles a day to a stop-start mass.
The daily ritual of racing the lights (and the driver alongside)
and seeing who can reach the legal minimum (that is what the red
circle around a black number means - isn't it?) is played out by
hundreds of drivers.
The problem has suddenly got worse.
Part of it is unquestionably the search for an alternative to
the A2 through the Towns.
But much of it seems to be linked to The Flowering of Traffic
Lights. They seem to have been breeding more successfully than the
weeds in Medway's gutters.
Between The Strand and the new police station at Gillingham Gate
there are seven (or is it eight?) sets of traffic lights.
Certainly they slow down traffic. That is to be welcomed.
The evidence seems to point to a marginal drop in speeds -
and a massive rise in pollution, blood pressure and motorists'
Friday November 13 2009
THERE is always a dose of testosterone in the air when an
election is in the offing.
Last night's council meeting, however, was so heady with it that
it spread into the audience.
For nearly six hours - a record for Medway Council meetings -
councillors heaped abuse on each other, questioners got angry at
the answers, and it soon spread to the audience as they sensed a
lack of determination by the administration to be straight with
For about a year a well organised group of parents and school
supporters have been vainly fighting plans to close three small
One - St Peter's - was saved a few weeks ago by the cabinet.
A second, apparently no different but in a Labour ward, had its
closure confirmed last night. Yet if St Peter's can stay open, it
was argued, surely so too can St John's which has served Chatham
for over 140 years.
No. According to Cllr Les Wicks, responsible for schools, it had
had an Ofsted that was not as good as the last one.
How he knows remains a mystery. The information was supplied
confidentially to the head teacher, but has yet to be
There were attacks on the officers - Rose Collinson, the
director, escaped the verbal assault last night, but not the legal
eagle and regular appearer in this column, Deborah Upton.
The attack - by the Conservative candidate for the Rochester and
Strood parliamentary seat, Cllr Mark Reckless - was rapidly
defended by his Leader, Cllr Rodney Chambers.
But sitting behind the Tory councillors you could almost see the
scars from the whipping imposed by the administration on the
Cllr Reckless' comments were the only ones from the
Conservatives to defend St John's.
It almost sparked a back bench revolt.
There were waverers, but eventually they all accepted the lash…
with the exception of Cllr Reckless who abstained.
The Opposition parties were almost united on everything -
especially the continued lack of willingness from the Conservatives
to accept that there might be a justifiable argument against the
ones they have accepted.
To the Victors go the spoils. And the spoiling has been going on
ever since the last election.
Regrettably, it will continue. Whether David Cameron wins or
loses the General Election, the local elections in 2011 seem
certain to reduce the voice of the dissenters for another four
years at least - unless in victory there is the occasional
The more this seasoned observer watches, the less he is
convinced the Cabinet system of local governance can work.
What would be interesting is what happens if the Conservatives
regain the Government front bench, and bring in the many cuts they
Services in Medway will be cut. How will a Conservative
administration - used to blaming the Labour Government for
everything - answer that?
November 11 2009
There's nothing like washing your dirty linen in public. And
Medway knows exactly how to avoid doing that.
Buried in the back pages of your local paper is an area known as
the public notices.
It's where things like planning applications, bankruptcies and
the like are published, where someone is going to apply to be a
pawnbroker or plans to open an off-licence.
They are boring - but frequently they have a major impact on
The last few weeks they have been graced by notices from the
Amid the plans and changes to previously agreed policies, there
were two concerning the Local Government Ombudsman.
Medway Council had been accused of not once but twice
of ignoring the rights of local people to be properly
They complained to the Ombudsman who - after a detailed
investigation - agreed.
There are three Ombudsmen and one of them retired after finding
our council guilty of ignoring the people.
They ordered the council to cough up a token sum by way of
By law they have to tell the community that they had
And they have to publicly consider the reports.
Tomorrow night you can guarantee that there will be a few
What got them into trouble?
They failed to consider several families living next door to a
school when they approved new sporting facilities. In fact the
residents were ignored. Officers gave the wrong advice.
The other was the introduction of the £75 companions bus ticket.
This is an annual charge suddenly imposed on severely disabled,
blind and handicapped people who have a friend accompany them when
they use the buses.
Many places don't charge. Others do - but they make sure
everyone is aware and able to influence the final decision.
Not so in Medway.
It was suddenly introduced at the beginning of the year.
Cabinet members had decided there would be massive charges to
taxpayers with the introduction of the new national free bus pass
for the over 60s so any companion would have a one-off charge of
£75. It replaced a nominal charge each time the companion
In fact Medway got off lightly. The money they put aside was
transferred to other areas that were under stress.
There is no question that Medway is under-funded. It is going to
get a lot worse.
Councillors are supposed to be the barrier between officers'
excesses and what the public expects.
Every time they allow things to go through without considering
the impact on the people they are supposed to be serving, their own
standing in the community falls.
And hiding your flaws by burying the bad news is only going to
earn bad publicity when the faults become public.
Tuesday November 10 2009
A national conference is to take place a short Pooh Stick ride
downstream from Gun Wharf tomorrow.
It has been organised by Freight by Water and is hoping to raise
the profile of the nation's waterways to save carbon emissions,
shift freight, and easy the burdens on our roads.
Among the speakers will be several Medway shipping personalities
and the Shipping Minister himself, none other than local MP Paul
It will be interesting to see whether anyone from the council is
After all it has said the River Medway is at the heart of the
Only problem is, this council has successfully failed to
recognise that the river needs to be worked, and that there were
plenty of skilled local rivermen - until they did away with all the
A handful survive in the traditional urban reaches.
But most have long since gone.
One of the classic shipping areas was opposite the Medway City
It wasn't the best cared-for area, but the ships moved in and
out, the tugs bustled up and down and the river was regularly
Then Prestcott, who was the great God of Housing Mammon, spoke
with his servants, Rodney of Medway and Paul the Clerk, and
said: "For many years you and your forebears have dreamed a dream
for the marshes.
"It has become land, and that land has had wharves. But now it
is waste and scrub, weeds and ruins populated by badgers, foxes,
and probably great-crested newts.
"But it could be useful once again."
And the God of Housing Mammon waved his wand, and conjured up a
few million shekels to compulsorily buy the land and raise that
which once was marsh.
And gravel to a million tonnes - maybe more - came by ship to
raise the land above most floods.
And a developer was found.
But when the God of Housing Mammon turned his back to such
things, there were wailings and lamentations, much gnashing of
teeth but no money was available to continue His good work.
Yea, the developer was forced and recessed, and though he signed
many notes of intention, still the land lies bleak and
In the meantime there are few ships, and our roads become ever
more congested, and the people cry out for action.
But the sailors are gone, no more to return.
And soon a Ship of Light - called a lightship - shall be found
and turned into an art gallery, and they shall say it is good, and
will attract the people to spend their money.
And if enough Ships of Light can be found then shall the
riverside be built upon, providing homes for the masses, for there
shall be money once again in the community.
And Rodney of Medway shall say: "Thus did I see it in my dreams.
And so it came to pass."
But said Paul the Clerk: "Even then there will be nowhere
for the ships to ease Medway's traffic congestion, and the roads
will become increasingly clogged."
Thus endeth the lesson for today.
Monday November 9
There was a very good reason why
cash-strapped Medway Council spent thousands of pounds delivering
11-plus results: Mums were cross because there was a postal
It seems someone was worried about
votes and took a political decision to lavish our lolly in this
Several ideas were conceived, agreed
and then over-ruled before the decision to reached to spend £4.31
on each and every letter delivered.
On the Wednesday it was decided to use
the St George’s Centre as a distribution point. Mums (or Dads with
Little Wayne or Dainty Jorja) would be able to go along and collect
the results. Anxiety over. Truth known. Distribution done.
Then someone decided there would be
too much congestion at the St George’s Centre. (It’s right next
door to the emergency flu centre chosen because "there is plenty of
They could have got a junior member of
staff to deliver them to the schools. It could have been done with
a couple of gallons of fuel, a few hours of staff time, and much
But of course they couldn’t ask
someone to do that or for the school to send a teacher to collect
their pupils’ results.
So the schools would have the
That was until the following afternoon
when it would appear the politicians feared for their votes.
That was when it was decided to get
the courier company to deliver each and every result on the
Price tag - £9,000.
But several families were left
waiting until the kids came home in the evening with the envelopes
that had been redirected to the schools - just as someone had
suggested the previous Wedmesday.
There were very rational arguments
about the safety of mobile phone technology at last week’s Gun
That was until one of the
representatives of the Big Five spoke.
He was Jim Stevenson from O2, one of
the firms that in the past have been accused of steamrolling the
masts across the coutnryside.
He told the joint gathering of health
and children committee scrutineers: "We have masts on school
buildings. We do some very good work with those schools by
providing money for them to do great things with it."
He seemed incapable of recognising
that that was precisely what people fear: Big Business charging
ahead with profit-seeking at the expense (possibly) of people’s
There was no evidence that phone
masts, base stations and mobile phones do cause health
But equally there was no evidence that
And there was plenty of apocryphal
arguments that both could be true.
Mr Stevenson boasted: "You can’t prove
there is any danger from base stations."
There was evidence from objectors that
one phone mast is deliberately aimed at Gillingham Station
passengers "to give the best signal".
If there was something
catastrophically wrong with the technology the attitudes being
demonstrated by the proponents would be viewed at best as cavalier
and at worst as ..... definitely actionable.
But we don’t know.
The government has raked in £23
billion in licence fees - and spent £6 million of
There is a striking reluctance to ease
people’s fears about brain tumours and concentrations of cancer
groups. It is almost as if the government has something to
Would they hide it?
Could it happen?
Remember how service personnel were
enticed to go atomic bomb spotting in the Pacific?
Or when Chatham was the guinea pig for
nuclear weaponry modernisation?
Or how both the dockyard and Higham
were major asbestos centres?
Evidence has now emerged that the
dangers from asbestos were identified after the First World War yet
successive governments deliberately did nothing until the
Asbestos was used for fire protection,
as pipes and roofs, garden implements, indeed almost anything that
could be shaped and baked from it.
The main manufacturer - Uralite - was
at Higham. The factory site today is a business park .... built
upon millions of tons of asbestos waste too difficult for anyone to
The cause of a mounting death toll
from asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare form where
the victim is slowly suffocated by his own body) was more much
politicians’ reluctance to come clean about the materials as our
willingness to use them.
Of course, mobile phones are safe...
Friday November 6 2009
There was a lot of talk last night about collective nouns.
Just as there is a parade of elephants, a skein of ducks or an
attitude of teenagers, there has to be a collective noun for
It came up during idle chatter surrounding the special meeting
that looked at phone mast safety.
A host of experts had been assembled after the committee
chairman, Cllr Mike O'Brien, decided to examine the facts about
The chairman invited a local campaigner, the Health Protection
Agency, the Radiation Research Trust and the Mobile Operators
Association (MOA) to Medway to speak about the dangers - real or
Which was fine... until Chairman Mike came to address them. The
campaigner was Mike Evans.
The protection agency's spokesman was a doctor, Mike Clark.
The Trust sent along the erudite Michael Bell.
Thankfully, the MOA was a bit more imaginative. It sent Nicola
Davies, and senior managers from Vodaphone, O2, 3 and T-Mobile who,
with Orange, have paid the government over £25 billion for their
licences to put up masts without councils interfering with their
The trouble was that Chairman Mike had planned the discussion as
informal but informative.
No formal titles - it was down to Mike .... no, the other
Mike..... to amplify the points they wished to make.
Surprisingly there was a tiny audience (half a dozen members
ofthe public would be stretching it) who bothered to attend.
It did demonstrate why titles sometimes have a use.
And why you sometimes need a mike to hear all that was being
So what is the definitive collective noun for Mikes? -
the news room came up with a megalomania of Mikes, a boast of
Mikes, a mast of Mikes, a muddle of mikes or even a
Meanwhile, if you think today's blog is late - blame it on the
The Year Six students at Bligh Junior School turned the tables
on your scribe, and gave him a two hour cross-examination about
newspapers, journalists and truth this morning.
Refreshing (and terrifying) to be on the receiving end of the
Thursday November 5 2009
Lord Laming's report into the social service failings he
identified across the country have had a big impact in Medway.
His report was commissioned in the wake of the killing of
Peter Donnelly - known for a long time only as Baby P.
Let me ask: would you want to be held responsible if - God
forbid! - there was a Steven Barker or a Jason Owen practising
their evil in your street?
Think of the outcry there was after Haringey's social services
team was exposed as overlooking little Peter, the
child tortured to death while his mother did nothing to
This was a social team which was overstretched, under-resourced
and not seen as politically high up the agenda. Most councils have
problems prioritising what is right and what is wrong.
Medway has been criticised on several occasions for the way it
failed to care adequately for the weakest in our society.
It responded quickly each time.
That included the way it supervises foster children and its
And although its social services have not been specifically
criticised Lord Laming's words have come at an opportune moment to
push through vital improvements.
Medway is stripping its social workers of their
administrative duties, and recruiting more staff from a shrinking
pool where few wish to swim.
It is also promoting everyone of them - so they get more
Children will be marginally safer. But have no doubt about it.
No matter how many social workers you have, no-one can guarantee
there isn't a paedophile, a sadist or a sub-human living in any
community perpetrating their evil behind "normal" homes.
The pay rise - expected to cost council taxpayers more than
£700,000 a year - should help to entice good social workers to
Medway (until the other councils do the same).
It is not the only change. There will also be greater support
and help for vulnerable adults - those with learning difficulties,
physical ailments and age.
But a major weakness exists in what is happening to those who
rely on Medway's social services.
Much of the work traditionally done to a reasonably high degree
by the council's own workers is now being farmed out. That reduces
the council's ability to control and supervise what is done in our
It threatens the very people they are trying to help: the latest
policy is to provide them with cash to buy the care and supervision
And that was the reason why many of them are vulnerable: too
often those receiving council support from overstretched social
workers are unable to make key decisions to care for
It doesn't matter if you have a brain injury or are a
17-month-old like Baby P, sometimes others have to make the right
decisions for you.
Social workers are vital in our society.
Wednesday November 4 2009
Most of the trees at The Paddock may have been saved in the
latest plans for Chatham's new bus station.
But others are still being sacrificed by Medway Council.
Forests have been destroyed in order that councillors, officers
and, yes, the public can know what policies are being propounded
Yesterday there was a formal apology to all the trees that, in
the interests of democracy, will no longer wilt their leaves each
autumn. The apology came from the very top: the Leader of the
Council, Cllr Rodney Chambers, in a fit of remorse, interrupted his
Man of History, Cllr Howard Doe, at the Cabinet meeting.
The councillor had been trying to tell colleagues how valuable
was a 248-page report that sets out the future for one of Medway's
oldest buildings - Rochester Castle.
It has been printed and reprinted in agendas for weeks.
It appeared again yesterday in a limited production run.
Cllr Chambers could not let the opportunity pass.
Mustering his most lugubrious-in-extremis look, he announced: "I
just wish to apologise to all the trees for the size of this
It's the document that once again resurrects the argument for a
roof - corrugated, see-through, plastic, aluminium or whatever -
over the 1,000 year old tower.
What anyone who sees the forthcoming film, Ironclad, would think
of the mighty keep encased in such fripperies after more than 400
years as a ruin is not clear.
They are currently filming the bloody 1215 Seige of Rochester by
Bad King John. But not in Rochester. Oh, no!
The shoot is going on "somewhere in Wales".
But gird your loins! Once the film graces the silver screens,
appears on DVDs and TV screens the council expects a fresh invasion
by an army of tourists determined to follow in the steps of John,
the Sheriff of Nottingham and all the other villains and their
What they would think if it is turned into a capped column of
stone, refloored and available to hire - all ideas contained in the
new report - I dread to think.
Meanwhile, on the opposite bank of the river, another historic
building is unlikely to see 2011 if the council has anything to do
The Aveling and Porter building's supporters have turned to
Private Eye in a bid to dissuade our burghers from bulldozing
through its demolition.
Under a heading "Demolish and Be Damned", the magazine's Nooks
and Corners column currently extolls the virtues of the former
civic headquarters in Strood.
It describes our august Corporation as "blinkered brutes ....
not interested in any positive or imaginative uses for an
interesting, sound and handsome piece of architecture".
A bit harsh to call them blinkered when their Leader is prepared
to speak up for trees.
Talking of green authorities, an urgent press release from
Tonbridge and Malling council last night announced its meeting had
It read: "Please note that the Council meeting scheduled for
7.30pm today, Tuesday 3 November 2009 in the Civic Suite at
Tonbrige & Malling Borough Council offices at Kings Hill has
been cancelled due to flooding. The meeting will be rescheduled for
Thursday 19 November.
"Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council is committed to tackling
the causes and effects of climate change. Please save energy and
resources by not printing this e-mail unless absolutely
One piece of paper could cause a flood?
Medway - beware!
Tuesday November 3 2009
One of the things any reporter will tell you drives them wild is
the unwanted press release.
That, generally speaking, is about 998 out of every 999 releases
Among the releases that have arrived on my desk in recent days
have been "20-year-old Buckinghamshire rider tipped to make her
mark in Rio in 2016", a piece about a sailing boat rescue off
Sheerness, an exclusive that quagos cost £1 billion a year.....
They are produced largely to prove that the PR individual that
wrote them was working yesterday.
It has nothing to do with whether they are written well, whether
they are pertinent, relevant or even local.
I make the observation - one which every reporter will repeat
time and time again - as the Audit Commission announces it is
considering ways of judging the quality of council communications
teams by the number of press releases they issue.
As a reporter who was a PR professional for about 17 years, I
feel well able to comment.
Can you imagine what it would be like as they struggle to meet
"Gillingham councillor has hair cut"
"Rochester Member buys new shelves for council papers"
"Chatham has more rats than....." Well - maybe that would
attract our interest!
The fact is, the communications department of any council
frustrates many press people because they know when there is a
story - and when there isn't.
When there isn't a story, they are all very quick to help.
When there is a good story, they are also very quick to
The challenge for both parties is when there is something wrong.
That's when the PR person will do their best to dissuade a dogged
reporter chasing a potential story that would harm the image of
But to judge communications teams on the quantity of anything
they do - whether it is words, releases or awards - is a ludicrious
waste of time. But of course auditors tend to have backgrounds
controlled by figures.
The team that manages to revive a bad image, stop a misinformed
story from appearing in print, or raises people's hopes and
aspirations, is going to do that in a thousand subtle ways. That is
their skill. It is the skill of the reporter to uncover the
weaknesses, the failings and deliberat misleading.
Medway has a good team. But that doesn't mean to say we
reporters don't see eye to eye with them: but at least they don't
swamp us with detritus. Producing verbiage is the sign of a bad PR
You might as well call to account someone for the number of
sheets of paper that are flushed away in public conveniences.
There used to be a programme on Commercial TV - "Never Mind the
Quality - Feel the Width".
The Audit Commission seems bent on following those very
Monday November 2 2009
After a week's annual leave, it's back to the fray - and a
fairly hectic week ahead.
For a starter, the Cabinet meets tomorrow.
It has a hefty agenda of 20 items to discuss. They range from
new school bus contracts to the resurrection of the politicians'
idea to put a roof on Rochester Castle keep after a few centuries
of exposure to the rain.
Filling in, so to speak, is talk of upping the budget for
on-street disabled parking by 150 per cent and the implications for
Medway of the Laming Report into child protection.
The proposal to put a lid on top of the tallest castle keep in
England (the second-oldest in the country, incidentally) is nothing
short of ludicrous.
One can only hope that English Heritage will man the buttresses,
boil the oil and prepare to repel the assaults.
It's a ruin, for goodness sake!
The prospect of corrugated iron sheets dripping rust stains down
the walls of the 900-year-old edifice leaves one thinking the
proposers are simply trying to find a cheap (and not very cheerful)
small-minded alternative to restoration.
Also up for discussion is talk of upping the budget for
on-street disabled parking by 150 per cent.
There are 10,500 blue badge holders in Medway.
At the moment if they have off-street parking they aren't
entitled to on-street parking bays (even if it is quarter of a mile
from their home).
That could change tomorrow.
It is one of a series of proposals to improve facilities for
disabled residents in Medway - even though the bay painted outside
their home is not specifically for their exclusive use.
Currently there are 1,000 pavement-side disabled bays.
That could rise, but in a bid to control demand it looks like it
will be first come, first served.
Once the budget is spent, officers are recommending everyone is
told to limp, wheeze and otherwise suffer until the following
financial year provides some cash.
Past experience should warn politicians that path leads to
Yet if the 9,500 drivers with a right to a disabled spot all
demand it at the same time, it could be 10 years before the bay is
installed outside their home.
You can imagine the rows, the petitions, the political capital
to be made from exploiting such a situation.
One almost senses Till Eulenspiegl has joined the council's
Friday October 23 2009
CONFUSION continues to surround the less-than-dynamic bus
station being proposed for Chatham, even though version number four
has passed the scrutiny committee.
It has now been reduced to 13 bus stops spread over three lanes
that will transform Globe Lane.
There will be three mushrooms - canopies to keep the rain off
the passengers' heads.
They replace the enclosed, glassed concourse where passengers
were expected to wait in warmth until called forward to the
appropriate door which would swish open to welcome them aboard the
Instead the wind can now howl across Rat's Bay, over the pumping
station and straight through the huddling passengers.
At least there will be some shelter for them: the officers have
conceded that toilets should be provided, rather than the preserved
trees of The Paddock.
The latest confusion is whether there will be motorway services
and Medway's long-conceived, but never implemented, park and ride
It depends who you talk to.
There will be provision for them, according to the council's
There won't be in the foreseeable future, if you listen to the
latest words from the Medway Renaissance team.
There is a lot of unrest among councillors at the moment.
They are annoyed at the way officers have seemed to treat them
as a necessary evil.
And they are starting to flex their muscles.
Which is right …. providing the public doesn't end up
I cannot see National Express considering running into the
centre of Chatham when it is a quick sidetrack from the M2 into
Hempstead Valley where there are bus services, car parking, toilets
and a shelter. They haven't served Chatham since the late
There is absolutely no move forward on the park and ride
The firmest of these was going to be from the Medway Tunnel to
the town centre, funded by B&Q in return for the planning
permission they got some years ago to build over Whitewall
The plans keep changing, and the Park and Ride seems to have
Compare what is now proposed for Medway with other places.
Bristol: it has a heated bus station, passengers safely enclosed
until their driver is ready to board them.
Bluewater's bus station is similar, except you don't have to
cross the road to get to your bus.
Even Victoria Coach Station - once the butt of numerous tales of
woe - is bright, warm, dry and enclosed, with toilets, cafes and
As for Park and Ride? You can P&R in Oxford, Reading,
Maidstone, Canterbury, Exeter, Carmarthen, Norwich, Ely….. the list
goes on and on. Maidstone even has a riverboat service at
Medway does have a park and ride. It is unadvertised, but a
minibus operates from Horsted to Chatham and Rochester on Saturdays
between 9am and 5.40pm.
It's biggest publicity was when the operator's wife celebrated
her birthday - and for a day her husband ran a fleet of traditional
London buses for her instead of the minibus.
Thursday October 22 2009
The clutching of straws took place at Medway's regeneration
scrutiny committee last night.
It was chaired by Cllr Matt Bright, who stepped in because of
the ill-health of the usual chairman, Cllr Roy Hunter.
He sat over an often vitriolic meeting, if the reports I have
heard today are anything to go by.
Ironically, the issue that enabled councillors to create their
raft of chaff was that oft-cursed creation, Chatham's replacement
There has been an air of take-it-or-leave-it from some officers
of the council. That has not sat well with the elected
representatives of the community, who have been trying to pick
their way through an increasingly quaggy mire of confusion, falling
aspirations and rapidly reducing days.
Just as they rejected the last set of plans in a cross-party
sign of rare unity, so last night they supported the latest
proposals because only four trees would now need to be chopped down
on The Paddock.
Why the concern for The Paddock? Well, it is the only piece of
land in the whole of Chatham that has not - at some point - been
dug up, knocked down, destroyed or built upon.
The planners of the bus station thought it was unimportant.
And they didn't expect tree-huggers in Medway.
May be they were right.
Where they were definitely wrong was in misjudging the mood of
the public over the changes that they are blissfully pushing
through, the disruption they are causing to life and traffic, and
they way that they are ignoring people.
And that was why the last plan came unstuck.
The problem with the one that was nodded through last night is
that it won't meet the needs of the community.
There are insufficient bus stops for the amount of buses which
are being planned in Medway to cope with the growth in the Towns.
After all, we are talking about a 25 per cent population increase
in 10 years with no possibility of building more roads to cope with
a further growth in cars - and they went up in Medway by 25 per
cent between 1998 and 2008.
Just look at the way the buses whip in and out of the Pentagon.
Then add the ones barred from its bays by Arriva which use Military
Now add a fifth bus for every four you see at the moment.
Meanwhile what else has been happening?
Cllr Hunter is being treated in hospital in Yeovil where he was
taken ill while on holiday: my thoughts are with him for a speedy
Plans for a pink picnic are being made for next Friday by
members of the council's communications team.
It's to raise awareness of Breast Cancer - while I shall be
wearing something pink the same day to support the reporters' own
What is it about the British that we respond to tragedy with
Look at Children in Need as TV stars make fools of themselves to
raise millions of pounds to help kids in the most awful
The council has declined to set up a creche for staff.
But if you have got a dog, and you are senior enough, you can
order a council employee to go and walk your dog during the day
when it is not relaxing in your office.
Certainly that is the case for at least one assistant
Hopefully the walkers will use pink pooper scoopers next
Wednesday October 21 2009
Have you ever seen a panic button pushed?
Visit tonight's regeneration scrutiny committee.
You'll see the thumbs going crazy as the dream of a riverside
park in front of the shopping centre of the City of Chatham (my
paraphrasing of the councillors' concepts) virtually
The regeneration committee is being given a revised plan for the
bus station replacement for the current Black Hole in the
The plans were rushed through after the previous up after the
other was thrown out by planning committee members. They were
concerned about the way it would destroy most of The Paddock, a
large area of greenery between Globe Lane and Military Road.
The new plans - said to be on "the only possible site" - will
see a three lane bus station of mushroomed rain- and
It will still result in the chopping down of 12 mature trees in
the park that will survive the creation of the bus station. But
while four of them will go from The Paddock, the remainder will be
chopped down on the waterfront to save the recently enlarged
waterfront car park.
It is not the only site, despite what the officers say.
It is not adequate.
And with four pedestrian crossings it certainly does not appear
to be safe. Certainly when I was in the National Bus Company such a
design would never have been allowed.
There is an air of desperation about the plan.
The time to commit the money is rapidly running out: at that
point the £6 million government cash will be seized back.
The "dynamic" bus station (whatever that was supposed to be)
will see the bus stops cut from 16 to 13. So - guess what: there
will be roadside bus stops as well.
That was just what they were trying to avoid, even if people had
to run between stops as the buses arrived and departed.
Once again it is likely to separate Big Brother Arriva from the
small independent companies like Nu-Venture.
There is no explanation why the bus station cannot go next to
the rail station to provide a modern transport interchange linked
to the shops by a covered moving walkway.
There is no reference to the spoiled park plan.
There is no indication that the owners of the Pentagon will ever
come up with a development proposal to replace the first floor
Arriva bus station.
And it will mean passengers will remain segregated :those with a
bus station stop, and those without.
And there is no loss of roads.
Military Road will be reserved for taxis, emergency vehicles and
The short access road from what used to be the foot of the Sir
John Hawkins flyover to the High Street will remain - as a service
road for the shops.
What a mess!
Tuesday October 20 2009
If you want to live off the state, follow the fine example set
in Maidstone Crown Court yesterday by two care workers, Michelle
and Pamela Bainbridge.
They ripped £102,000 off you and me during the past seven
While neighbouring magistrates at Tunbridge Wells are regularly
sending benefit cheats to prison, and Medway's JPs are ticking them
off, the Ladies Bainbridge showed that if you have enough cojones
and are prepared to cheat, twist, lie and fiddle you can live in
Yesterday, at Maidstone Crown Court, they got suspended prison
sentences, and were told to pay the court costs of £200 over the
next two years.
Court costs? - those are how we ask criminals like the
Mistresses Bainbridge to repay some of the £5,000 cost of taking
them to court. Think we'll get it back?
Got your hankies ready? - Pamela has so far repaid £320 of the
£17,500 she claimed.
Sister-in-law Michelle - who successfully lied her way over
seven years to £85,418 - has not paid a penny.
You are going to need those hankies as you hear why they haven't
been locked up and the keys thrown away.
Their husbands, Tony and Darren, were reported to be Class A
drug users (sniffle).
They go off on drawn-out heavy boozing sessions, don't support
the family and generally give Medway a reputation regeneration is
trying to end (snuffle).
They have 12 kids. That, too, (sob-sob) is a good reason to
steal from you and me.
And they have elderly parents (boo-hoo!) so that, too, is full
justification for taking you and me to the cleaners.
The two women said their husbands had abandoned them. (Tears
should be flowing)
Michelle and Darren married in 2002 - and immediately Mrs B
started claiming benefits.
They now have five children - but claimed income support,
housing benefit, and council tax benefit until she was caught last
What was her basic lie? - that she was a single parent.
But when he wasn't off on a spree Darren was snuggled up at
Pamela Bainbridge began her fun and games in April 2005 but was
caught in December 2007 when her claims that Tony had left her were
exposed as lies.
According to their barrister, the Mrs Bainbridges' had husbands
who declined to contribute to the upbringing of their children.
Michelle's barrister said she knew the money had to be repaid,
but phenomenal suffering would be caused to her children and
Any one thought about the suffering they - and others like them
- cause the rest of us?
Mr Recorder: there's a recession on. To get out of it, this
country has gone into hock like never before.
You may be saving their families - but what message are you
sending to the rest of the community?
Might I respectfully suggest: "Cheats always prosper?"
November 4 should be an important day in the lives of all of us.
It is National Stress Awareness Day complete with website, press
team and hangers-on.
National Nail Biting Day?
Or how about Rip Off Benefits Day?
Monday October 19
Performance assessments are raising standards in local
authorities, according to new research published yesterday.
But bad news for Medway - it's not so good if you have a
sizeable Conservative majority, the researchers are saying.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) also found that
poor performers were likely to be punished by voters - and senior
managers could suffer, too.
But chief executives are fairly safe.
George Boyne, Professor of Public Sector Management at Cardiff
University, who led the research, said: "This is a good news story
for local government. It shows that local democracy works, with
poor performance leading to change in political leadership and
management. That’s what is supposed to happen."
The researchers measured election results and managerial change
in upper-tier councils over a six-year-period (2001-7) against
their ratings under the Audit Commission’s Comprehensive
Performance Assessment (CPA).
They found that if a council were rated at zero or one star, the
ruling party would lose three per cent in electoral support.
Declining by a star would cost two points.
Ironically, they also discovered there was no benefit from
running an authority rated at three or four stars - and Medway is a
three star authority.
Professor Boyne said this reflected that bad news was more
widely broadcast. A poor CPA performance is likely to be followed
by a more rapid turnover among senior management – posts such as
Director of Housing or of Children’s Services.
But they said the exception were chief executives, who were only
likely to depart if there were both a poor CPA performance and a
change in the ruling party.
Professor Boyne said: "Chief executives tend to build strong
relationships with the political leadership, which therefore
becomes attached to him or her and reluctant to lose them. It also
means that a new administration formed by the party that was
previously in opposition is much less likely to feel this
Their findings about Conservative control were not matched by
similar findings with the other parties.
Speaking yesterday, Prof Boyne said: "A further finding was that
Conservative party control, or a change to it, tended to be
associated with higher performance and satisfaction, provided that
the Conservative majority was not large."
He admitted it was far from conclusive.
"We are looking at a fairly short period of time, with some
political oddities," he explained.
"Because of the unpopularity of the government there were too
few incoming Labour councils to provide a proper comparison."
Parents who allow their children to go to school with a friend
or neighbour - or indeed let them go on holiday - will not have to
satisfy themselves that the temporary carer has been vetted by the
A new vetting and barring scheme due to come into force
next July has sparked fears that common sense is being overtaken by
Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, has now made it clear that
was never intended.
He wrote to the chairman of the select committee, Barry
Sheerman, at the weekend to clarify the position in the wake of the
changes brought about by the Soham murders.
"…where people work with children or vulnerable adults on a
frequent or intensive basis, or overnight, they should … be
required to register. Where organisations lay on activities of this
nature for children, then the workers - paid or unpaid - should be
"Parents who entrust their children to these organisations' care
would, I know, expect nothing less.
"The … scheme will not come into play when parents agree to give
their friends' children a lift to school or Cubs. Nor will it cover
instances where parents work with children at school or a youth
club on an occasional or a one-off basis, or when parents visit
their child's school, for example to watch the Christmas play."
But he is asking the Children's Commissioner to look at when
more frequent involvement requires vetting.
Maybe he will quickly clarify whether mums and dads can taken
photos of their children appearing in the school nativity play - or
are they still viewed as so many latent paedophiles?
Don't misunderstand me.
Such pervs should be locked up, and the key lost after they have
been given a sandwich and a drink.
But recording our children as they grow and achieve milestones
in their lives has been withdrawn by schools and clubs through fear
- fear of a real danger, but one not as widespread as we might
Friday October 16
Medway NHS Foundation Trust - which includes Medway Maritime
Hospital - was among the top performers on looking after the cash
according to figures just released.
But like NHS Medway (which looks after the GPs and healthy
living centres), it remains rated "fair" as a provider of services
for the third successive year.
And that is not good enough.
Some of the problems are down to the hospital's continuing
But some patients are dissatisfied with the service they
Now this blogger has, from personal experience over the past
- in-care treatment which was exceptional,
- out-patient services that still do not meet my
- medical care that does,
- extremely swift A&E care (but open to criticism on
- attended the maternity ward as a grandparent
Some of the targets on which it fell down - an unfair term but
pointing to what needs to be done - were stopping mums from smoking
when pregnant or breast-feeding, four hour-plus waiting in A&E,
gaining patients' consent for treatment, maternity record keeping,
and moving patients on to other carers.
The public will be really concerned with the maternity care,
child protection (an area which is improving) and the less than
satisfactory decontamination of medical devices.
Looking at the ratings, as a patient, I would say overall "fair"
is not a true reflection of a good service. It might not meet the
auditors' views on management of records, but should that make
I think not.
Medical care is going through a range of changes.
Traditional lines are blurring. Social care is no longer the
sole responsibility of the councils. They work closer with the
The trouble is there are some dyed-in-the-wool people in
hospitals who see no reason why they should answer to
They may be right - but that is what is now expected by the
I suspect there have been some interesting discussions behind
closed doors at the various NHS trusts at the way doctors and
nurses find themselves answering to finance chiefs and political
NHS Medway’s performance in improving local people’s health and
healthcare is rated as "fair", and the way it manages its finances
is rated as "good".
NHS Medway said: "It is not possible to make a direct comparison
with last year on the performance for commissioning health services
for people in Medway because last year’s assessment on quality of
services included some different measures."
But the commission says they can be compared - and there was no
But there were some howlers. It is not keeping confidential the
information it holds about patients (or indeed any records), it's
not doing well in anti-discrimination areas, it's not learning from
past mistakes, it's getting worse on maternity care and is now
rated as failing in several areas… the list goes on.
NHS Medway Chief Executive Marion Dinwoodie said yesterday:
"While I am pleased that we have achieved ratings of fair and good
in Medway, we are aiming to do more to improve the health of our
"We are, for instance, ensuring that people are getting fast
diagnosis and treatment for cancer, and improving stroke care.
These are improvements that will help us to increase life
expectancy for people in Medway and reduce the unacceptable
inequalities in health that residents in Medway still
But the message is "Must do better - a lot better".
How often do you see oriental typefaces used on registration
plates, numbers and letters moved to make up words, little marks
inserted to help that process, or registrations so small you can't
Around Medway it is a regular occurrence because they can get
away with it.
Well now the government is proposing to double the fine to £60.
Consultations are under way.
I would advocate they should pass it on to the CCTV cars and
camera teams to action.
They are not pumping money into the council as much as they were
- so they need new cash sources.
A survey this week found that teachers top the list of
They get, on average, just six hours and three minutes sleep a
night, threequarters the minimum thought to be good for you.
The 2009 Travelodge Sleep and Professions study put them ahead
of worrying civil servants and anxious doctors and nurses.
According to their findings, 41 per cent of teachers lie awake
at night worrying about work-related issues such as job security,
budget cuts within the education sector and anti-social behaviour
in the classroom. In addition a quarter of the Government’s lowest
paid workers also admitted to fretting about money worries during
According to their findings (and it must be true because it was
issued by a PR company) 38 per cent of civil servants lie awake at
night worrying whether Gordon Brown can fix Britain’s fiscal mess
and whether a Tory Government is imminent while the outbreak of
swine flu has been stressing 47 per cent of the medical
I'm among those whose bedtime tipple is a tot of whisky. It
comes second to wine, however.
The top ten professions which get the most sleep
include housewives, IT experts, company directors,
accountants and financial advisors, police, firemen and bus
Last night's debate on the worldwide campaign to save the
Aveling and Porter building went exactly the way I forecast: pull
There could now be some fun!
The building's defenders make ideal adversaries for the
I have just been advised that Liz Dickens, a former KM reporter,
Kent Journalist of the Year, one-time council colleague and head of
PR at Kent Police has died.
Liz - a descendant of Charles Dickens - had been ill for some
My thoughts are with her husband and family.
Thursday October 15
THE fate of a historic building which has attracted support from
enthusiasts across the world could be decided by councillors
The Aveling and Porter building is owned by the council which
used it as its headquarters until it moved to Gun Wharf.
It's a splendid structure with lots of features that would be
cherished in many a town.
But it was as the headquarters of the Aveling and Porter
steamroller business that it was designed by a local architect,
using red stones.
Today it is surrounded by multi-storey offices built by Gardners
who absorbed the business.
But what a business it was.
It was the world's biggest maker of steam rollers, vehicles and
agricultural wagons. They went everywhere from Strood, Khartoum,
Alice Springs, India, Asia, America, the Pacific…. and they brought
industrial expansion with them where ever they worked.
The council sees megabucks along the Strood waterfront.
It no longer has a use for the land - except to fill some holes
in their pockets.
I won't knock it. I pay my council tax. And I want to see Medway
blossom: it was for that hope I came here 18 years ago.
But in towns that lack much in the way of architectural
splendour the Aveling and Porter building stands out.
The Medway Towns has a fascination with destroying its
We sit on the most important of Roman roads. But where are you
pointed to the Roman remains of Medway?
Rochester oozes history. But after the High Street, the Castle
and the Cathedral what do we boast?
Where are the blue plaques; where the trails to find our Roman
and Saxon history, our naval memorials, or a Dickens trail? Where
are the guide books to the homes of the famous who really did live
Chatham has an historic dockyard. Brompton's barracks is without
match in the historical and architectural stakes.
When did you last hear anything of archaeological discoveries in
this area? I'll tell you. It was when some ships' remains were
uncovered under dockyard floorboards. Before that it was the
remains of the Saxon cathedral, foundi n the early Nineties.
There has been no mention of the excavations carried out for the
council on the Corporation Street site, or at Rochester Riverside
for the government. History slows down development.
Look at Rochester Riverside: see how it is racing ahead! It
emulates over-wintering snails: It moves ahead as fast as it did
before the ground was raised to improve its suitability to
The rhetoric is the only thing that shows signs of moving.
We claim to be a tourist centre. The new leisure strategy cries
out "We can make money from the day-tripper!"
That strategy subtly changed. A while back the council was
anticipating being an overnight location for visitors to the UK for
The aim was to keep them here, just a few minutes from the
Olympic stadia. But we can't: we don't have the hotel beds.
And once you have seen the Castle, the Cathedral and the
Guildhall Museum what's there to do?
Some good restaurants, Bluewater, Maidstone…
There is no point in destroying an historic building like the
Aveling and porter building. The councillors meeting tonight would
do well to look at the proposals from SAVE Britain's Heritage and
in particular Huw Thomas Architects.
The architectural concept is different, is exciting, and would
ensure the river, the Castle and the Cathedral have an interesting
range of buildings more in keeping with the Medway Towns than ranks
of waterfront apartment blocks standing six, eight or 10 storeys
high, that block the light and reduce the views of the river
supposed to be at the heart of our community.
Gillingham sold its museum collection - and its history - half a
The council tonight has a chance to say Regeneration and History
can complement each other - and they could save the Aveling and
I'm not a betting man - but guess what will happen!
Wednesday October 14
The man in charge of Medway's rubbish died at the weekend.
Russell Davies was a genuine, hard-working servant of the
He tried hard.
He wasn't popular with contractors. He tied them to doing the
job as cheaply as possible. He was looking after the community's
But I sense that now he has gone he could be the fall guy for
the collapsed council contracts that were due to have come into
effect a month ago.
A week before their introduction, facing legal threats from
those who did not get one of the contracts, the whole lot was
As head of waste, Russell was one of those in charge of drawing
up the contracts.
I know, from talks we had over the past two years, that he was
concerned to control the costs, and keep the pressure on the
collectors, sorters and sweepers (especially their managements) to
get the best value for Medway.
Looming over everything was the prospect of massive fines being
raised next year each time Medway consigned a ton of rubbish to the
Equally worrying were government pressures (originating from
Europe) to turn nearly half the Towns' waste into recycled
Today his director issued a brief statement that said the
council's thoughts were with his family.
No thanks for his service to the people of Medway and (before
What should have happened from the very start was that Medway's
waste contract was a classic case of needing specialist consultants
to draw up the contracts. They didn't and now I cannot help but
think of scapegoats.
On behalf of the people of Medway who expect their streets to be
clean, their rubbish to be collected on time and their recycling to
end up being reused, thanks, Russell.
Medway has lost a good and loyal servant.
I received an invitation yesterday to go on a Plain English
The enticement was that I would be sharing my time with local
and national government officials.
"For government agencies, writing in plain language helps
citizens understand your policies, which reduces confusion and
civic friction and greatly increases the chances that procedures
will be widely accepted. By adopting a clear, easily understandable
writing style, governments can save time and resources," said the
It was when I saw it was an "60-minute webinar" that offered
"program benefits" that I became suspicious.
The $199 fee clinched it.
The Yanks are trying to teach the English how to write.
Had I accepted the invitation I would have learned the keys to
writing clear, concise, easily understood communications.
I would have rid my correspondence of pretentious wording,
"smothered verbs," and stale cliches, and learned to write coherent
policies and procedures regardless of the audience.
It did remind me of my days in local government, though.
Medway Council (for whom - thank the Lord - I did not work) once
did well on Plain English.
These days some of its reports have become draped in the sort of
concealment that need translators and lists of acronyms to
My belief has never changed: wrapping up what you say in loads
of verbiage is done because you are unsure, or you want to trip
Tuesday October 12 2009
So maybe you can create a new area for jobs out on the windswept
expanses of Grain. It's certainly better than a massive road
junction (which is also feasible) linking Sheppey, Medway and
The proposals - expected to get council approval in December -
have been discussed for some time with the council's planning
They had this seemingly far-fetched idea for many years. And
certainly it is a better use for the former oil terminal than the
derelict land it had become, locked behind fences.
The planners' problem has always been getting a decent road
provided after government cash seemed to run out on a
roundabout on the outskirts of High Halstow.
Now it would appear that with £5 million from National Grid (who
want to develop the business park), the government will stump up
maybe £10 million.
That will pay for a bridge to replace the railway crossing at
Grain, and what's left over with pay to improve the roadway through
to Fenn Corner.
I have mixed feelings about the development. It's in an area of
wild beauty tat attracts the wildfowl. But we need jobs to be
created in Medway.
And we don't just need them for the post-graduates (though they
are certainly required).
We also must have the more traditional jobs, manual, packaging,
A logistics park has been proposed at Kingsnorth. Now more
freight-related jobs are being suggested further out on the
peninsula where the freight arrives in containers.
All that is needed now is for the rail line to be upgraded, and
we could see an easing of our traffic problems.
I have a certain amount of sympathy with the MPs who are
complaining about the rules being changed retrospectively over
Change their existing rules: that is right.
Change them years after they were introduced and approved, and
then demand back the cash that was paid out under those rules -
that seems unfair.
After all, would you feel happy about repaying bonuses you might
have been awarded a few years ago?
I suspect that if a sitting Member is foolhardy enough to take
the case to the High Court they might actually win the argument -
but lose the support of constituents and political leadership.
Talk about a Catch 22 situation. It's the first time the
politicians have caught themselves in that way!
Good news from the High Court about another exposure that led to
That was the case of the nurse who exposed the disgusting,
degrading way patients were being left in their own filth in
She was stripped of her professional standing by the Nursing and
midwifery Council for whistleblowing.
Now the judges have ruled them out of order. And rightly so.
We'll soon have a new set of 50p coins to rattle in pockets and
They are being issued to mark the Olympics.
The first, designed by a nine-year-old viewer of Blue Peter,
will be officially unveiled on tonight's programme.
It features a high jumper, and is the 17th design to
appear on the back of the coin since decimalisation in 1971.
Monday October 12 2009
THE growth of the Sure Start movement continues apace in
The newest - the 15th of 22 planned for the Towns -
opened in Rochester on Friday.
Medway wasn't the first, but it was among the early takers of
the idea of providing support and help to groups of children and
families with poorer health, development and attainment
The first centres began in 1998. They unite health and maternity
services, childcare, play and early education for all children up
to five with information for mums and dads about getting back to
work or training.
Midwives, health visitors, library services, and children's
centre staff are all specialists in helping families and
The other important thing is that offer families the chance to
meet with other parents, carers and children at numerous events
that they stage.
Medway was in the third wave when it opened the Chatham Sure
Start Centre(now known as All Saints) in 2001.
The Rochester centre - the first in the old city - was opened at
St Margaret’s at Troy Town Primary School by the Dean of Rochester,
the Very Rev Adrian Newman.
Adrian - definitely not one to let titles get in the way of
being part of the community - announced the centre would be working
in partnership with The Rainbow Foundation Unit which is already
based at the school.
Cllr Les Wicks has championed the centres ever since he became
the education - now Children’s Services - portfolio holder.
He sometimes gets the sharp edge of this blog, but he has
certainly helped to change the image of some areas of Medway
through concentrating on the youngsters from their first
More are due to open soon. They include Delce Infant School,
Rochester and three in Gillingham - at Riverside, Deanwood and
Miers Court primary schools.
Nearly sixty years ago, when I was a child in postwar Britain,
we had similar services provided for pre-school children and
Somehow they disappeared in the passing years, but have
I just hope that this time the modern-day equivalent won't
suffer the same lack of funding and lost priorities that came with
never having it so good.
Friday October 9 2009
I have a feeling nothing has changed with the announcement by
E.On to put the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station on hold.
They are talking about delaying to 2016 because of the drop in
electricity demand during the recession.
Kingsnorth and Grain are both due to close by the end of
A little give, a little take, the PR pressure would be off and
they could press ahead.
On the other hand, if the scheme is shelved (and it is
interesting to note that the coal ships are now well past their
sell-by dates) there could be a number of power workers in Medway
looking for new jobs after all.
The news that there are special swimming lessons taking place at
a Medway pool specifically for muslim women is likely to excite
some of the more extreme citizens.
I do not understand the processes which trigger their annoyance,
anger or whatever.
Nor do I understand the logic of locking the ladies behind
enclosed walls so that no man can gaze upon them. But if they are
happy for that to happen, and the council is prepared to give them
those conditions, so what?
Keep swimming, girls - and paying for the privilege.
I have been looking at a consultation document drawn up by a
council consultant after he spent a year working on it.
The consultant has clearly not immersed himself in the area as
fully as he thought.
His plan showing all his ideas for improving Twydall includes
I know Langton playing fields - but Langton Way?
Me thinks he means Ito Way.
Not very reassuring that one of the key roads in the area he has
studied, planned and redesigned should have such a howler.
What others could the council taxpayers have funded?
Thursday October 8 2009
There was nothing surprising in the decision to push ahead with
the closure of St John's school in Chatham earlier this week.
As one councillor said to me: "We looked at all the evidence and
the only thing that was new was its Ofsted report had slipped from
good to satisfactory."
And so the pupils will be moved on.
Parents will have a massive task to find new classes. They will
have to reassure confused children that they will make new friends
and find teachers who are just as nice as the ones they are
And the children will go through the very trauma the
educationalists had sought to end - upheaval changing schools
before the age of 11.
Few people have come out of this with heads held high.
Wait. Did I say few? - perhaps I should have said none.
Questions are being asked about the role of the chief officers,
and indeed, whether the Children and Adults directorate is too huge
Cllr Les Wicks, the portfolio holder, has smiled and charmed his
way through the consultations, with many a stutter and more than
once an embarrassed silence. He was exposed and he was found
wanting by the parents, teachers and governors.
Definite answers were lacking from Simon Trotter, the assistant
director responsible for a series of embarrassing schools howlers
over the years, ranging from the £300,000 wasted on plans for the
new Borstal primary to this latest set of shenanigans.
And Rose Collinson, his director with overall responsibility for
seeing the plans pushed through? Her star has needed plenty of
burnishing for the first time as plans have come unstuck.
It was a far cry from the work programme objective under the
"Every Child Matters" policy: They were supposed to be able to
"enjoy and achieve".
Of course, no one will be sacked.
Only one Cabinet member has ever lost his job, and there is a
General Election in the offing.
But as the regeneration of Medway becomes another dream, as cuts
in government spending seem certain to hit the Thames Gateway, is
the time rapidly coming when changes in the administration really
Meanwhile, councillors are wondering why the A level results
have still not been announced.
Is it because our pupils - and therefore our schools - have
failed to achieve the standards everyone had expected?
Wednesday October 7 2009
These interruptions to normal service must stop……
At long last someone is beginning to show a modicum of
commonsense and tell the government to whistle over its policies to
limit cars on new housing developments.
Currently the policy in Medway is that no property can have more
than one and a half parking spaces in major urban developments.
Doesn't matter whether it is a one-bed flat or a five-bed
mansion - that's been the norm since 2001.
And as the plans have come forward to increase the Medway Towns
population from 250,000 to 300,000 those figures have continued to
frustrate developers, and anger the councillors who were forced to
On Tuesday the Cabinet will be urged by officers to adopt the
new Essex local parking standards. Thses set a standard of two
parking spaces for every two-, three- or 20-bed residence. And it
is not the maximum limit - it is the minimum.
There have been numerous occasions where plans have been
submitted to the development control committee to approve "15-flat
development with seven parking spaces". Increasingly across the
political divide the councillors have united in protest.
Fortunately, few such plans have been approved. But there have
been plenty that provide just one parking place - and the prospect
of cars cluttering residential kerbs for decades to come.
It was one result of the Whitehall dream machine that conceived
reusing previously built-upon land (the brownfield policy). That
was an excellent concept. It helped preserve what remains of our
green and pleasant Medway. Limiting car parking in a community
where the bus network is at best rudimentary - and the political
will has been lacking to improve it.
Now the parking policy could change - and not before time.
We have too many airy-fairy ideas of public transport fulfilling
the needs of the community without the reality that goes with
There is to be investment in Fastrack principles, bus priorities
(though don't use those words around some Cabinet members!) and
improved bus stops. But where are the new routes to penetrate areas
of Medway that desperately need buses?
Where are the direct routes being opened up to allow buses to
move people quickly, efficiently, cheaply, frequently and
And where is there a pricing policy to entice passengers? Medway
is one of the costliest bus areas in the country.
It appears that the St George's Centre will not be available to
the family of the man who saved it from the bulldozers to host his
Lt-Cmdr Harry Blease, ex Mayor of Gillingham, instead will have
the reception at Pembroke Lodge, opposite the Municipal Offices
currently being gutted to provide a massive old people's
Friday October 2, 2009
THE Local Government Ombudsman has today found Medway Council
guilty of maladministration - and points the finger of blame
squarely at council officers.
He accuses them of not giving councillors all the facts.
It is the latest problem to hit the regen team under its
director, Robin Cooper.
This is the same directorate that tries to manage the housing
department, has just seen its waste disposal contracts rubbished,
and runs the CCTV cars which merrily park on double yellow lines to
buy sandwiches but book mums dropping off their kids at school.
The Ombudsman was asked to look at the concessionary fares
scheme after the council adopted the national one amid considerable
huffing and puffing about under-funding … only to admit later that
it had unnecessarily panicked.
The specific problem one blind resident picked up on was that he
- and others like him - were being discriminated against by the
Disadvantaged people were completely ignored as the council
decided to sell an annual ticket for companions to travel with
They also lost the right to travel at any time of day or night
together or alone despite the council saying it put the customer at
the heart of everything it did, and that it had a disability
"charter" which promised they would always be consulted before
changes were made.
It probably broke a few laws on the way as well.
But once again a critic has highlighted the way the council
bulldozes ahead without once thinking about consultations with the
community it is supposed to serve.
While I will criticise councillors for unfairness, arrogance and
incompetence, this time the officers are to blame.
It has been evident for a long time that despite glossy
newsletters lying around the council for staff to pick up and read,
there is little knowledge of the decisions they are all tied
It goes something like this.
Imagine a new law comes in. An officer (or maybe several) looks
at it and decides there are implications for the way it works.
A report goes to Cabinet - and occasionally to the full council
- which says we have to do this, that or the other differently. The
new policy is adopted, and everyone feels they have control.
But if it is something predominantly to do with social care
(which is in the Children and Adults directorate), the policy may
also apply to the Regeneration, Community and Culture directorate…
or vice versa.
The disability code at the centre of today's embarrassment was
conceived in Children's and Adults. But as the Ombudsman says it
applies across the whole council. And that never seems to have
percolated through to the Regeneration et al Directorate.
Certainly it was not mentioned to councillors (who should have
remembered but didn't) when the changes to ticket prices and pass
hours came in.
As more than one wag has said: "Children and Adults' deals with
people… Regeneration Etc deals with things."
It's not the only investigation the Ombudsman has going on into
the running of services provided by the Regeneration
It would not surprise me if there are further revelations that
the commands from Cabinet do not reach the middle and junior
management of the council - especially in transport where the bus
planners are now responsible for special needs transport.
As for consultations - no one can say I didn't tell you so.
Oh, one final thought. It comes to something when (once again)
two key portfolio holders of areas for which they have direct
responsibility have to be told by the Medway Messenger that they
have sinned. None of the officers thought to tell them....
Wednesday September 30, 2009
Those ruts and mini-mountains underfoot (see yesterday's blog)
have proved too much.
I have been ordered to take complete rest for a week.
Normal service will resume.
Tuesday September 29, 2009
It should be a requirement of all councillors immediately they
are elected that they break a leg.
It would give them a new insight into living in the Medway
Lurching around the A2 armed only with a crutch has given
me fresh thoughts about the condition of our pavements. It would do
the councillors no harm at all to experience the same.
The pavements have an occasional hole - not as bad as many
places. What they do have in abundance, however, is unevenness.
Suddenly the path is aslant. Then it dips - or climbs. Maybe it
is only an inch. But it is uneven. And if your ability to move is
impaired (what we used to called a disability before it became de
rigeur) that puts you at a worse disadvantage.
A quarter of all residents - which includes children - will soon
be of pensionable age (or in the case of councillors about
Exclude the kids. That leaves about 62,500 of the population -
or about one in three - having to avoid tripping the light
And they are likely to be the ones with sticks, wheelchairs,
crutches, general aches - and a powerful vote - most affected by
the state of the paved areas.
The roads are a mess. We know that - but again not as bad as
many places. The council is spending an additional £4 million by
April 2011 to bring them up to something approaching a decent
But little or nothing appears to be spent on footpaths.
There are trees, posts and a multitude of largely unnecessary
signs blocking them..
Some of the trees are growing from the gutters (just have a look
at the Tesco roundabout on the A2).
There are cycleways where pedestrians are relegated to a narrow
strip not wide enough for a wheelchair.
Hedgerows lean over - some of them have obviously been growing
over the public right of way for years.
Parked cars use the pavements with the full approval of the
council leader. But it makes it impossible for people with
disabilities to get through.
Bus stops are miles apart (well they are if you are having to
physically push yourself to get to one).
Waste teams leave wheelie bins in the middle of the path, blue
And so it goes on.
The attraction of breaking every councillor's leg is that they
would see for themselves the problems that they would not normally
see, and that they encourage.
It would also cut down the amount of cars polluting the
And a broken leg is a temporary disability.
I think I shall ask my ward councillors to set a good example
the minute I next see them - and break a leg. By the time the next
cricket season comes round my three should be able to play
The debate on the future of primary schools continues with the
publication last night of the officers' report over St Johns
You may recall that the Cabinet wanted to close it but that the
scrutineers have sent it back for further consideration.
In what probably will be the final debate, the Cabinet will move
again to the St George's Centre next Tuesday simply to discuss the
fate of the infants school.
Education is an emotive subject.
Every time there is a change of school there are agonies for
parents and children. There is frequently a struggle to get the
I recall when my family moved to Medway we had major challenges,
but both our children eventually found places and did well.
The thing that astonishes me, reading the reports, is that there
were 6,280 objections to the proposed closure of St Johns - and
just three in favour.
Reading the numerous reports, and officers comments, one
underlying fact remains.
There is money to be saved if St John's closes.
Everything else appears to be secondary to that simple
At what point does consultation mean anything when the wishes of
the majority are continually over-ruled?
Monday September 28
I have just heard that Harry Blease, a former Mayor of
Gillingham and a notable sailor (I think I am right to say he
retired as a Lt-Commander), died yesterday morning.
Harry was like the morning star: his eyes were always twinkling
and that made him seem physically much bigger than in fact he
He served as a councillor on Gillingham Borough Council for
years, and even after he retired he continued to do things in the
background to improve the lot of the community.
Among his achievements was saving the St George's Centre which
is now the council's debating chamber.
The navy planned to demolish it after they pulled out in the
The boxes to remove the stained glass windows were already
built, and the memorials had gone when Harry stepped in, and fought
for its retention.
It was eventually sold to the old council for a peppercorn, and
staff - partly inspired by his efforts and partly by their own
families' links with the naval church - set about tracking down all
the memorials and restoring them to their rightful places.
Some have disappeared since those days, but the church is a
tribute to their efforts, and Harry's determination.
He almost succeeded in attracting a Japanese car manufacturer to
Gillingham thanks in part to the Will Adams links, but it was not
to be. Sunderland and Swindon eventually won. But it was a measure
of the man that he never gave up trying.
A fuller tribute will appear in Friday's Medway Messenger.
Mark Reckless, the Conservative councillor and local
parliamentary hopeful, has written to me to explain why St John's
Infants should be saved.
You may recall he was the man to whom I attributed the saving of
St Peter's infants school.
He says the reason the Chathamshould be saved is because the
education chief, Rose Collinson, misled the Cabinet.
He has written to me a letter which I will quote in full.
"I see you prefer to rebuild St John's brick by brick in Strood
rather than credit me with putting children's education before
political convenience. Nonetheless, please see below.
"Medway Council's policy framework requires the Council's
Cabinet 'to shape the future of Medway schools in line with school
organisation principles'. Rose Collinson, the Council's education
director, assured the Cabinet on 17 September, that one of those
school organisation principles was that:
"She then used that principle as a basis for advising Cabinet
that St Peter's and St John's schools should close as they are
small infant schools that cannot provide education from 3-11
(ignoring the rather more important points that they achieve
significantly better than average results and only had a surplus
places issue in respect of a single year's intake).
"On Thursday at an Overview and Scrutiny meeting my sustained
questioning led Rose Collinson to admit that she had misled Cabinet
with that statement. What she claimed was a school organisation
principle was not. The relevant school organisation principle
supports only amalgamation of infant and junior schools, not
closure of infant schools, or closure of schools that cannot offer
"Rather than using the school organisation principles to make
recommendations to Cabinet on closures, as required by the policy
framework, officers relied on something from a different document
and told Cabinet that it was one of the school organisation
principles when this was not true.
"I asked the Council's head legal officer to flag the problem to
Cabinet before they decided on closures. She refused to do so.
Overview and Scrutiny have therefore sent the closure of St John's
back to Cabinet to reconsider as the decision was not taken, as
required, on the basis of the school organisation principles."
The school's head legal officer - to whom he refers - is Deborah
Upton, head of the council's housing department.
I am happy to put Cllr Reckless' side of the argument.
It is of course coincidental that the Conservatives are prepared
to fall out with their senior members of the Cabinet over Strood's
schools whilst Ridge Meadow is sacrificed.
Friday September 25 2009
The audit committee of Medway Council met last night - and once
again the expected report on the Erinaceous Three failed to
It had been called for three months ago by the deputy opposition
leader, Cllr Glyn Griffiths. It was in his ward many of the
problems occurred that the three whistleblowers tried to
For those with short memories, the Erinaceous Three were housing
staff who realised hundreds of thousands of pounds of rent money
was being thrown at the housing repairs contractor, a company
There were payments for two bathrooms, double kitchens and so on
in a series of errors approved by housing bosses.
They had evidence that pressure was put on staff to sign the
Instead of being listened to, and their concerns considered, the
three were suspended. Two later lost their jobs, being declared
All three successfully took the council to the Employment
Tribunal. Their damages added more than £70,000 to the unplanned,
but sizeable, bill for bringing the council's housing up to "decent
Among those in the firing line was the council's chief legal
officer, Deborah Upton.
She had a specific role in protecting the men: as Monitoring
Officer she was supposed to be the guardian of all whistleblowers
at the council. But Miss Upton authorised their suspensions,
wrongly as it became apparent.
The Audit Commission was called in by the Erinaceous Three.
It roundly criticised the council for its shoddy management of
the contract and money-wasting, but said it has no power to
influence the position of the Erinaceous Three.
The council's 3,000 homes are all supposed to
meet standards of decency set by the government by next
The money cannot be recovered. Erinaceous, the contractor, went
bust. The improvement work has been on hold for two years.
The firm that picked up the pieces of Erinaceous - and with it
people who had worked for a succession of less than satisfactory
council contractors in the Medway Towns stretching back to before
the unitary authority was created - currently only does the routine
Meanwhile, what of Ms Upton?
She carried out an investigation into what went wrong. She found
the council acted correctly.
The Employment Tribunal disagreed with her.
So did the auditors.
But the issue has still not been considered by either the audit
committee or the employment committee.
The massive backlog of capital work is about to be awarded to
As I have said before, I only bet on certainties, and they don't
come up very often. But it's Concorde to a Short Sunderland who
will get half the work…
And the report to the committee?
Ms Upton - now the housing chief - has told councillors it is
taking longer to write than she thought.
Last night - in what was an unfortunate clash of dates - the
Children's scrutiny committee also met.
It was an emergency session to consider the call-in by six
Conservatives of the decisions to close two primary schools.
I must be getting jaundiced in my old age, but the whispers -
yet to be confirmed as I write (but you'll see it on the news pages
today) - are that the other school in Strood, St John's, could be
The committee (strongly weighted by the Conservative majority)
has called on the Cabinet to reconsider its fate after the senior
committee had saved St Peters.
It is purely coincidental, as I have already pointed out, that
Cllr Mark Reckless is the Conservatives candidate in the next
Cllr Reckless - a Strood councillor, incidentally, who was
always doubtful about scrapping St Peters - will be seeking to
overturn a 213 majority on the sound principle of third time
Two opposition councillors, Teresa Murray (Lab) and Geoff Juby
(Lib), are hoping to undermine his campaign.
To be fair, Mrs Murray has always been at the heart of the fight
for all the schools to stay open.
A red Jaguar belonging to one of the three portfolio holders who
sparked the introduction of the barrier at the entrance to Gun
Wharf was parked in the disabled parking spaces again this
But fear not.
Cllr Tom Mason was (at last) displaying a Blue Badge.
For applicants over 65, a medical report is generally sought
from a GP or consultant before a badge is issued. If the applicant
receives the low rate Mobility component of the Disability Living
Allowance then a medical report will be applied for.
Cllr Mason - portfolio holder for disabled services, recording
star, one-time only Conservative councillor on Rochester council,
ex-City mayor, former orphanage boy, RAF, coiffurist and
relaxationist - is in his mid-Seventies.
Thursday September 24 2009
THE house building boom may have died across Britain - but not
Last year it exceeded its target by 99 homes (914 were completed
upto the end of March), and this year even more are expected to be
Given that 2008/09 was a 10 year high, that's pretty good
But it has caused some problems for the council.
Builders have been selling about half to social landlords -
causing the council to intervene.
It doesn't want too many affordable homes within the projects or
they risk becoming ghettos. So they have limited the numbers to a
maximum of 35 per cent.
Which for a council often criticised by its opponents for only
having a 25 per cent target isn't bad.
The report is pretty upbeat despite the downturn in the
The current year is expected to hit the magical 1,000 new homes
in a year target for the first time.
The details are contained in a report to the renamed Medway
Renaissance Board, now known as the Medway Regeneration Partnership
There is a gloomy prospect for the following year with less than
600 homes projected as being built in 2011/12.
But then the building boom is expected to really swing into
action with four figure housing being provided over the following
Meanwhile there seems to be less enthusiasm from the board for
becoming one of two eco development areas.
At its last meeting, the Hoo and Strood areas were proposed as
places to demonstrate how to achieve the 80 per cent reduction in
carbon emissions by 2050 agreed at the G8 summit.
It would certainly turn Medway into a world focus. But is it
The idea of the area becoming a test bed for cutting gasses,
improving homes, and building new properties on a scale
unprecedented in the area since the First World War, will thrill
some - and horrify many.
It came from Peter Head, the Eco Region Innovation Champion
(don't blame me - I didn't come up with his title).
He said the Medway Gateway (that's what they call Hoo,
Chattenden and Strood) would be "a suitable and probable site".
Key factors included the river which "provides an integrated
resource system" sustainable major development east of London with
"better resource management providing economic opportunity and
activity including local food production", energy and waste systems
should provide energy and compost for the area and stationsshould
be served by "higher speed and efficient services".
The likely sticking point is that Mr Head wants to get the
community involved. And consultation (let alone involvement) is not
something that Medway is noted for.
He talked about Medway retrofits in areas of 20,000 to 50,000
That means stripping homes and rebuilding them, or the sort of
mass bulldozing and rebuilding that was a feature of slum
clearances in the Fifties and early Sixties.
That would "pull in the funding and investment of sovereign
wealth funds and pension investment capital", he forecast.
"Where there is momentum already it is important to lock into
this and use the opportunity to gain this investment."
I wonder what the people of Hoo think of that/
I'd bet it means lots more blocks of flats, drinking Tonbridge
and Medway's waste water, and racing to work by boat.
And I doubt the farmers will be thrilled by the prospect of
producing more food. Elsewhere in Medway the farmers are keen to
sell their land for much more profitable housing.
As for cutting the carbon emissions, tell that the campaigners
against the planned new Kingsnorth power station.
The government could about to approve a new coal-fired station.
It will rely entirely on equally untried systems to capture the
gasses it gives off, with the home - just as unproved - that
sometime they will find a use for the gas they hope to pump into
the old North Sea oil fields.
I sense yet another flypast by the Porcine Squadron.
Talking of consultations, Gravesham recently carried out
as a result it wants to introduce a
controlled parking zone in a broad area around the town centre to
avoid commuter car parking clogging up streets.
In a statement it said: "The council put the
idea to nearly 3,000 residents and sought wide consultation on the
scheme which has brought a positive response with only 128
residents raising any objections."
What it didn't say was that the "positive response" - the
majority in favour - was .... 17 out of 2,943 homes that were
The ayes have it.
Wednesday September 23, 2009
I intimated there would be further news on the car park at Gun
Wharf, but I didn't realise it would be quite this quick.
The sweeping broom of bureaucracy controlling the car park at
the front of the council headquarters has already found new
crannies - rather akin to the way the self-perpetuating civil
After the directors' email addresses were published as the only
means for the local electorate to gain access to the car park, they
delegated to their assistant directors the right to authorise
visitors (with sufficient notice and justification to be there) to
park in front of Gun Wharf.
You may recall that the council offices are paid for by the
general public, as are the staff's wages, and by whom the
councillors are elected to have allowed this mayhem to happen.
Well, Joseph Ebearthur, buildings boss at the council, has
clarified for staff how members of the general public can gain
"Visitor parking is strictly by prior reservation, approved by
an assistant director or director," the man under the arm of the
legal eagle, Deborah Upton, one of those assistant directors, told
"Once the approval is given please contact the reception team by
email and arrangements will be made to reserve a bay. Visiting blue
badge holders can gain access using the buzzer and no reservations
are required for them to use the car park."
Which is fine - if the bay has not been allocated to a visitor
by one of the directors.
That happened two days after the barrier came into force.
The barrier was introduced against random visitors deciding they
wanted to visit planning, chat to a councillor or simply exercise
their once-given, now removed, democratic right to listen to
council debates. Unless they walk a mile there - and another back
after listening to the pearls flowing from our debating
All registered users (ranging from those staff who have to pop
out for meetings, to those who don't and including councillors who
can no longer meet with their constituents on a daily basis) have
fob keys to open the gate.
And now they are under CCTV supervision with the council's CPP
(car park police) moving against them for the slightest
Park in the wrong bay and their fob will be de-activated until
they remove their car.
If someone uses their allocated space they must leave their car
in a safe place, report the incident to the reception, return to
the car - and wait.
Mr Ebearthur said: "The caretakers will endeavour to resolve the
issue within 15 minutes. If you attempt to block the person in or
wrongly park your car, your fob will be deactivated."
Meanwhile the council taxpayers are paying for them to waste 15
or 20 (or maybe more) minutes running back and forth, employing
CPPs, and then tracking down the individuals who've blocked them,
who in turn must drop everything and move their cars. I reckon on
average that's going to cost the council taxpayer about £75 each
time someone parks wrongly.
Mr Ebearthur finished: "I hope these arrangements will enable
all to benefit from the use of the car park."
Well, it should if there are not more important visitors, or you
are a member of the public, disabled, pregnant, elderly - or
simply needing to sort out a problem at the council
There is hope for some.
"Investigations are still on-going regarding the provision of
drop-off bays for staff and staff visiting from other offices,"
said Mr Ebearthur.
"The provision of short-term visitor parking for planning
visitors is also being investigated."
But it seems democratic rights have been left out of that
The Greens in Maidstone want to introduce a local currency to
keep trade in the county town.
They are proposing shopkeepers should follow the example of
those in Lewes. The Sussex stores have produced their own notes
that can only be spent in their own premises.
Gimmick? - certainly.
Sensible? - possibly.
Could it be that the many and varied attractions of Chatham's
shopping centre (the heart of the new City of the Thames Gateway)
could finally be hurting neighbouring traders? - don't make me
There was a 63 minute queue at the blood clinic in Medway
Maritime hospital yesterday.
Having needlessly starved myself for more than the requisite 14
hours, I went and had a coffee.
But not before I spotted Vernon Hull, the chairman of the
hospital trust, surveying the public waiting area currently being
So I had a quick word with him and his colleague, who turned out
to be the man in charge,
Apparently a second phlebotomy area is being planned - for
But as the queue yet again patiently waited in the main
entranceway, that is some way off.
Mr Hull was concerned the people in the hospital waiting to be
tapped for a sample could go to one of the increasing number of
health living centres and avoid the queues.
That needs promoting by the other health trust - NHS Medway: Old
habits die hard.
So why didn't I go to my local clinic?
I already had an appointment at the hospital and it seemed (if
the doctors won't mind me saying) a chance to kill an old bird with
Tuesday September 22, 2009
THE admissions that have been made so far about the council's
massive waste contracts show there has been one more complete
foul-up by Medway Council.
At the least EU procurement laws have been deliberately broken,
a string of companies angered to the extent that legal action seems
likely, and millions of pounds of council taxpayers money could be
Bill number one is already known: £1 million (a drop in the
ocean of the overall cost of this half-billion pound horror) will
be needed to pay Veolia to get rid of the waste they collect from
next week because they have to take it to a new dump.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines can be expected from
the government for failing to recycle rubbish - every year.
There's the contractor who has won - fairly and squarely - the
contract to recycle kitchen and garden waste. They were preparing
to start taking the rubbish. They now face a costly two year
More is likely to be discovered over the coming weeks and
These contracts were being drawn up over a two year period. A
week before they are to come into effect, the Cabinet today will be
asked to start the processes again.
One has to ask: where was the legal advice that would have
immediately shown laws were being broken? Was it sought - or was it
Where was the supervision from directors and
councillors? The portfolio holder, Phil Filmer is a man
who has direct experience of big contracts in his private life, had
overall charge of the waste contracts.
How was it that simple sums to work out which company had the
most points (and therefore the right to be awarded the contract)
could go wrong? Has the council management forgotten calculators,
spread sheets or even fingers?
We live in the world of Medway Council Open Government. The fact
is the answers will not be given.
Yesterday, chief officers were frantically briefing press
and councillors about the mess - though they made it clear the
reporters only had 15 minutes of their time, a classic piece of
Medway open governance.
The situation is so fraught with problems that an innocent
request to know who was on the waste procurement team - the group
putting together the recommendations - has been rejected by
A spokesman said: "As an internal investigation is being carried
out we will not be naming key members of staff involved in this
matter at the moment."
Ironically, the query had nothing to do with the investigation.
But now it does.
The prospect of cruise ships steaming up and down the River
Medway has been raised by the council.
It follows the one and only, visit of the Fred Olsen Line's
Black Prince to Chatham (actually, folks it was Gillingham, but
does anyone at the council care about facts?)
She is being sold in the next few weeks to new owners - or more
likely an oily beach and Indian blowtorches.
Cllr. Jane Chitty, Medway Council’s tourism queen, told
reporters: "We will make every effort to build on this opportunity
so that we'll be welcoming many more cruise ships to Medway in the
As the ship made her way up river, the Porcine Squadron was
The trouble with that piece of airy-fairyness from the Cabinet
Rooms is that the river is rapidly silting up.
Small cruise ships like Black Prince are becoming increasingly
rare … almost as rare as dredgers on the Medway.
The sand bars and mud flats are increasingly filling the
Far from considering liners spending a few hours risking
grounding in the Medway, the council should be worrying whether the
marinas will have enough water to float cabin cruisers.
Monday September 21, 2009
Do you not find it strange that even as the Cabinet was debating
its decisions on the fate of the three primary schools,
Conservative backbench colleagues should be calling-in the
decisions for review?
I did assert last week I was not a cynic.
But with all the talk in the council about members'
pre-determination of decisions being barred, and the regular check
that whipping is not taking place (that being what Gilbert and
Sullivan described as "never thinking for yourself at all") it does
test one's credulity.
By pure chance the committee was supposed to have sat next
Thursday so sit it will - having had the original meeting
That was because they were supposed to review the proposals for
the schools before the cabinet met.
Suddenly, the cabinet didn't need any help, advice, guidance or
rank interference from its backbenchers. Instead, it suddenly chose
to make a decision without their help.
Now the backbenchers, which happen to include two Conservatives
whose wards are affected by the closures, have aired their
democratic right to call it in, stalling a planned move by Labour
The whole thing will be aired this Thursday - just a week after
the Cabinet's equally surprise meeting last week.
This couldn't have anything to do with keeping in with the
voters, could it?
And it couldn't have anything to do with the now ultra-tight
deadline to get the process moving by the end of September - or
risk a 12 month delay in closing the two losers next July?
No. Of course not.
Nor was this carefully orchestrated.
As Lurkio used to say: "Nay! Nay! Thrice times nay!"
But I decided to consult his Soothsayer. She got out
her crystal ball, and this is what she forecast for that
"There will impassioned pleas from the two members of the
committee who just happen to be ward councillors.
"There will be much tutting and playing to the gallery.
"Labour and Liberal Democrats will join the chorus of damnation,
and then the committee will vote to uphold the decision," she
And the councillors in whose wards the closures are coming?
"They will be able to tell their ward residents they did
everything they could to save the schools, but the majority won in
a democratic vote," she told me.
You will forgive me if I recall Frankie Howard's farewell
comment at the end of each programme - saluta.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is talking at Southwark Cathedral
next month ahead of the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen.
His subject is "The Climate Crisis – A Christian
His invite has come from Operation Noah, a faith-based community
that campaigns on climate change.
Noah is recognised in Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths as
the first biblical figure to be confronted with the problem of a
Friday September 18, 2009
The barrier has come down at Gun Wharf as forewarned in these
You now have to phone ahead - or face a walk from the nearest
pay car park of a mile.
Did someone talk about open local governance?
Medway seems to have become more and more entrenched.
The announcement a few days before that smooth-bore cannons are
once again protecting Fort Amherst is no coincidence.
The barrier is another political conspiracy!
I heard it in the pub from a man, whose wife knows someone who
visited Gun Wharf and overheard it - so it must be true.
There were already some cannon on the council promenade
overlooking the river and public footpath to keep away boarders and
Fort Amherst is holding the stock that eventually once more will
old dockyard and, in particular, the cannon stocks at Gun
But for heaven's sake putting up a barrier to stop unwanted
visitors to the council offices?
Open governance at Medway Council is now closed - until further
(If you wonder whatever next, keep an eye on this column - you
might find out soon.)
I'm not a betting man - I only bet on sure certs and they are so
rare my cash is safe.
But I had a bet some months ago with several people that the one
school that would survive the primary schools axe this time around
would be St Peter's.
I am slightly cynical about the process.
It was evident there had to be a sacrificial lamb so that the
councillors could have answers to offer the objectors.
Their decision had nothing whatever to do with the objection of
the Conservative Candidate for Rochester and Strood at the next
General Election, one Cllr Mark Reckless.
Heaven forbid that I would be that cynical….
Meanwhile, critics of the schools campaigners might have been
wondering why St John's was under-represented at yesterday's
The school had a surprise visit - from the Ofsted
It couldn't have happened on a worse day.
Or been a bigger waste of Ofsted's time and our money.
They were there yesterday morning. By going-home time the
Cabinet of Medway Council had decided to get rid of the school.
They also got shot of Ridge Meadow, which has been an equal
thorn in the flesh of the administration over the years.
Once again people must wonder what they have to do to
demonstrate successfully against council officers pre-determined
Another councillor seeking higher elected office is Cllr Rehman
Chishti, who hopes to win the Gillingham and Rainham seat from
Transport minister, Paul Clark.
He doesn't let the dust rest on his boots.
Medway's Mr Enforcer (he's the council's enforcement supremo) is
getting out his running shoes again for charitable good deeds.
A local 14-year-old has a rare brain disorder called septo-optic
Dysasia: he is blind.
"I have decided to run the Maidstone Half Marathon on October 18
to help raise funds that will enable Keiran to undergo special
treatment which may help him to see again," said Cllr Chishti.
"The treatment is not available in the UK and Keiran will
have to travel to China for it." Details are on the website
and the councillor is appealing for sponsors.
He has already raised thousands for various local causes from
Thursday September 17, 2009
Today is the last day you can make representations on the next
stage of resurrecting the Local Plan.
This is the monster which has led the politicians to resurrect
the vision of Medway Magna.
Along with it there are developments proposed around most of
Rainham, and another concept for turning the massive Chattenden
redevelopment into an estate on the edge of Greater High Halstow.
That has sent shivers down the spines of many people on the
The real question for me is whether the council has thought
sufficiently about the whole thing.
There's the ongoing issue of where the 50,000 promised new jobs
will be provided (sandwiched between a big lorry park on the
Kingsnorth flood plain and a new coal-fired power station being one
Then there is transport, with the administration finally
conceding that Fastrack is worth considering - even if there is
reluctance to accept something conceived by KCC.
Indeed, there is a host of things missing from the overall
proposals for Medway's long term future... which was the reason why
the original Plan was scrapped after an acrimnious row with the
first Planning Inspector on the scene, Ces Cunningham.
Not that that has anything to do with the promises from the
Conservatives' Shadow Cabinet the minute it gets into power to
scrap the whole sorry, costly business and return to the mayhem of
the past where we at least knew what was possible in 10 years
Talking of KCC, doing the rounds at County Headquarters
yesterday was a resignation note from Peter Gilroy, chief executive
of Kent County Council.
He's off to pastures new next May.
If the rumours are true, his period at the helm of the highest
paid job in local government (quarter of a million a year, plus
perks and a useful pension) has not been easy since the arrival of
Paul Carter as Leader of the Council.
And reference officers off to new pastures, the former head of
Medway housing, Stephen ("Call me Steve") Sitch has some
interesting views on social housing.
Since he suddenly left Medway Council he has become a board
member for the Westcountry Housing Association.
Earlier this year he wrote to Inside Housing about registered
social landlords being quasi-bureaucracies, with "managers who
slavishly adhere to bureaucratic constraints imposed by the
government through regulatory bodies".
He said: "They have no latitude to manage independently,
decisively or effectively for the greater good of tenants or the
business. Bureaucrats are defined by their aversion to risk any
innovation and are inevitably drawn from the not-for-profit sector
or the municipal pool of mediocrity and ineptitude."
I wonder how the present managerial team see themselves as they
try to sort out the many problems in the department.
Mr Sitch said: "It’s always a mistake to employ a bureaucrat in
an entrepreneurial position. When pressed, a bureaucrat will
inevitably invoke a review or appraisal to deflect the need to make
Well, there have certainly been some reviews going on at Medway
since things went drastically wrong.
"Landlords mimic the municipal sector, with managers moving from
authority to authority for enhanced remuneration packages. How many
social housing employees have truly worked outside the sector?
"If the government requires landlords to provide elements of
social care, then it must pay for them."
There are certainly some undesirables living in social housing
But there are equally unpleasant individuals in private
properties too, even in those that are mortgaged.
Wednesday, September 16
"Although the report has some positive outcomes it shows there
are some areas that require improvement and as a result of this,
the judgement of the inspectors is that the school requires special
measures to improve."
These soothing words came in a letter to parents last week. They
were written by the chairman of governors at Gordon Junior
School in Strood .
It's a great way to start the new school year, perhaps a new
school for your child, to discover it is in special measures and -
despite the blandness of the words - totally failing your
It's the third one in Medway school to go into special measures
- a worrying reversal of recent trends.
The inspection report said: "…by 2010 the school’s results may
put it among some of the lowest schools nationally."
Yet only some areas require improvement?
The chairman of governors, Andrew Moon, said there is "some
areas that require improvement". He has to be joking - or living on
a different planet.
The inspectors damned the school as ineffective, inadequate and
providing inadequate value for money.
The kids' personal development is good.
But it stops there.
The children have now been told by the inspectors to tell the
teachers when the work is too simple. How damning is that?
Gordon Junior is the place to which the pupils of two infants
schools facing a closure decision tomorrow afternoon would
Small wonder the council administration has been under such
vilification for its educational arrangements recently.
The former Conservative councillor, banned from his party for
suggesting the unemployed should be sterilised, has entered into
the religious fray.
He is suggesting that Islam is a corrupt and Satanic cult.
John Ward, ex-civil servant, computer buff, and outspoken
Blogger of this Borough, has very strong religious views.
He is a devout Christian, and he has no time for the faith of
Islam as it is being taught in some quarters.
He has gone a bit too far on his latest blog after giving space
to a supporter of the younger faith.
Always one to enjoy an argument, Mr Ward can be intemperate in
his choice of words.
His correspondent says: "We are told that the earthly life is a
life of faith and work, and the next life is one of reward and no
Mr Ward says: "Existence without work, in its widest sense, is
incomplete and a form of stagnation, a pointless existence
especially in eternity.
"Islam is exclusive, forcing others to either convert or be killed.
Therefore is it corrupt garbage …unless it completely and
irreversibly eliminates all of that from its entire worldwide
existence. That ball is in your court: deal with it now! Otherwise
we shall know, beyond any possibility of doubt, that it is a
corrupt and Satanic cult, doing the work of Satan through
corruptible and sadistic men, rather than God's work."
Mr Ward is a member of the Rochester and Strood Conservatives, and
is rated No 52 in the top 100 Tory blog sites.
The ongoing problems with insufficient wheelchairs at Medway
Maritime Hospital has now attracted the attention of Medway LINk,
the local involvement network which gives people an opportunity to
influence things in the community.
They are also looking into the adequacy of physiotherapy and
occupational therapy services for people with learning
But from personal observations I reckon the overspilling groups
of patients waiting in the corridors to use the new phlebotomy
service is also to be examined.
These modern-day vampires with their hypodermic syringes, straps
and disinterested grins as they suck blood out of your veins for
testing seem to be swamped with customers.
Given that the last two occasions I had blood tests (at my local
centre) the NHS Medway Draculas lost the samples, or couldn't be
bothered to tell my doctor whether I was sick or healthy, I'm not
looking forward to a further visit in the near future.
Tuesday September 15
Ed Balls has finally woken up to the problems of carrying out
criminal checks on every mum who takes the neighbours' kids to
school, and every dad who ferries them to the weekend sports
It is not a vote winner. More likely it is a vote loser as
thousands of honest, caring, helpful friends find they must be
rigorously scrutinised - at their considerable expense - to prove
that they are innocent and can help their neighbour.
The intentions are good. The reality is it is madness.
The police don't have the time or the resources to check
everyone. And meanwhile this country slips further into being a
The ongoing problems of insufficient wheelchairs at Medway
Maritime Hospital has now attracted the attention of Medway LINk,
the local involvement network which gives people an opportunity to
influence things in the community.
Its main role is with influencing the health professionals.
LINk's members are also looking into the adequacy of
physiotherapy and occupational therapy services for people with
But from personal observations I reckon the overspilling groups
of patients waiting in the corridors to use the new phlebotomy
service also needs to be examined.
These modern-day vampires with their hypodermic syringes, straps
and disinterested grins as they suck blood out of your veins for
testing seem to be swamped with customers.
Given that the last two occasions I had blood tests (at my local
centre) the NHS Medway Draculas lost the samples, or couldn't be
bothered to tell my doctor whether I was sick or healthy, I'm not
looking forward to a further visit in the near future.
It seems a former head of Medway housing, Stephen ("Call me
Steve") Sitch has some interesting views on social housing.
Since he left Medway Council he has become a board member
for the Westcountry Housing Association.
He wrote to Inside Housing about registered social landlords
being quasi-bureaucracies, with "managers who slavishly adhere to
bureaucratic constraints imposed by the government through
He said: "They have no latitude to manage independently,
decisively or effectively for the greater good of tenants or the
business. Bureaucrats are defined by their aversion to risk any
innovation and are inevitably drawn from the not-for-profit sector
or the municipal pool of mediocrity and ineptitude."
I wonder how the present managerial team see themselves as they
try to sort out the many problems in the department.
Mr Sitch said: "It’s always a mistake to employ a bureaucrat in
an entrepreneurial position. When pressed, a bureaucrat will
inevitably invoke a review or appraisal to deflect the need to make
Well, there have certainly been some reviews going on at Medway
since things went drastically wrong.
Monday September 14
We lost several head teachers just before the end of last
One was summoned to Gun Wharf after an incident apparently
occurred in school.
Another was due to have a meeting with government inspectors.
Instead, the head went sick.
Given the pressures they are under, it amazes me there are not
more going off with stress.
Trained to teach children skills, they have suddenly become
responsible for high finances. They were not trained to manage
budgets running into millions. But they have to.
Just as they have to answer for the quality of teaching that
their school is judged to provide.
One of the major problems in Medway - which the council is
trying to tackle with considerable determination - is the lack of
skills in local society.
It is the legacy of years of low targets and low
It includes parenting skills.
If toddlers are left on their own, not encouraged to talk or to
play, is it any wonder they arrive very backward at school?
They have to be brought out of their shells. But so, too, do
It is fine for the schools to encourage reading, writing, maths
and languages, but children spend about 30 hours a week - or 1200
hours a year - in school. They spend over 60,000 hours a year with
their parents - or on the streets.
If parents don't, won't or can't talk to their children, read to
them, listen to what they have to say, encourage them to write and
be inquisitive, what chance does any head teacher to radically
improve the life of the students - and give them the skills to be
able to turn the corner that has dragged down generations?
That is the lesson to which the council has still not found the
One thing children need - just like their parents - is belief.
Belief that things will change, and change for the better.
So why has the Cabinet of Medway Council suddenly decided to
scrap the right of a Scrutiny committee (and with it the words of
those who have a view on the subject) to influence its thinking on
the future of three primary schools?
According to Les Wicks, the portfolio holder who has faced a
pretty tough grilling on the proposals every time he has appeared
at meetings, it is right and proper to end the uncertainty
surrounding the schools.
So why was further scrutiny promised?
Why ignore the evidence they may produce?
And why - above all else - rob the parents, staff, governors and
residents of their last opportunity to influence the decisions?
Education overlord Les said: “No decision has yet been made and
the Cabinet will consider all the evidence before reaching a
decision. A representative from each of the three schools will have
an opportunity to address the Cabinet at the beginning of the
Whatever they decide, however they reach their conclusions, it
is yet one more reason for doubting the democratic processes in
Medway, and for undermining the standing of Medway Council in the
eyes of the population it was supposed to serve.
Friday September 11
The cost of the housing repairs debacle continues to mount at
Medway Council, but at least there are signs that that the
multi-million contract should be better managed in future.
Deborah Upton, the legal eagle who investigated the mess and
then found herself put in charge of the housing team, spent the
last few days locked in her office known as the Old Bailey.
She was writing out a comprehensive list of actions being taken
to ensure that it never goes wrong again.
Last night the councillors agreed everything she had
So they should. Just as they should have been asking the sort of
questions that the Medway Messenger has been asking almost since
the day the contract was awarded in December 2006.
It should satisfy the Audit Commissioner, Chris Westwood, who
had severely criticised the council's appalling mismanagement of
the contract, its complicated contract that was wide open to
everyone's interpretation and misinterpretation, and could have
kept a Gun Wharf-ful of barristers in permanent employment trying
to sort it out.
No one has yet answered basic questions.
Why were kitchens paid for twice? Bathrooms, too. The payments
were authorised at assistant director level. Why was Ms Upton
writing the action plan this week, and presenting it to councillors
Mr Westwood demanded last night's debate and the action plan,
when he wrote on July 13.
So why was it only being written this week?
Could it perhaps have something to do with my observation
earlier this week in this column that there was no action plan?
The leading organisation in the battle to save the former
Aveling and Porter building in Strood from council-encouraged
vandalism has just won an important court case.
They took Gravesham council to court and have forced them to
preserve a Gravesend religious building.
The Victorian gurdwara, or Sikh temple, was built as a
congregational church by Sir John Sulman.
He became one of Australia's top architects.
The Sikh community is in the process of building a multi-million
pound gurdwara alongside the railway in Gravesend, and proposed to
demolish their old home.
Their plan was to carry out a new residential development.
But SAVE Britain’s Heritage successfully challenged Gravesham
council’s decision to approve the destruction on grounds that it
The planning committee will now reconsider the
Although unlisted, the temple is in a conservation area and in good
Early in August, the council approved the application for its
demolition to make way for a new residential development.
Like the former Civic Centre at Strood, it was flying in the
face of strong opposition from SAVE, the Victorian Society, the
local Civic Society, and local residents.
Their challenge was based on a number of grounds, including a
failure by Gravesham council to follow proper procedure in ignoring
both national planning guidance and the advice of its own
Medway Council will do well to consider their own actions in
wanting to knock down an attractive building they own with a
considerable history, and built by a leading Victorian
It is, after all, the one really notable building that survives
in Strood in 2009.
Anyone who wondered how much support the newly-independent Val
and Tony Goulden have got should have seen the way they were
escorted into the council meeting by the Ridge Meadow school
campaigners last night.
By comparison, Sam Whittington - the Labour candidate whose
selection triggered their resignations from the party - had a
couple of political officers backing her.
Meanwhile, the Tories have suggested they seek legal advice over
the Labour Party statement blaming them for near enough every
misfortune in local society.
One observer said to me: "You did well to miss Full Council last
"It was absolutely terrible and the behaviour was triumphalist
"The notion of a council sitting with its back to the public and
now separated by a blue rope says it all!
"The worst thing of all (apart from an apparent desire to
persist with the Paddock development) is that the Schools' debate
is now to be decided Dragon's Den style, ie one
representative from each school is being invited to attend next
week's special Cabinet Meeting on Thursday. Apparently, the members
haven't made up their minds yet.
Anyone who remembers Spike Jones and his City Slickers will
The mad musician, who delighted his fans by corrupting songs in
the Forties and Fifties (and is being rediscovered by a new
generation on the internet) made Chloe a minor hit.
He's being emulated by the HR team at Gun Wharf.
They love abbreviations. HR (instead of recruitment, staff
matters or whatever) makes them sound important.
Their reports are almost as packed as Tonbridge and Malling's
planning committees with acronyms. Whereas the borough council
lists four pages of abbreviations so that the councillors can
understand what they are reading, the Human Resources team at
Medway Council prides itself on inventing new ones each time there
is a report.
The latest is KLOE.
Neither a girl (mis-spelled in the finest Chatham traditions)
nor Spike Jones' boy, it stands for a Key Line Of Enquiry.
Bemused councillors nodded and accepted the pearls of wisdom
served up at this week's Employment Matters Committee (note - it's
not a simple employment committee… it "matters").
I lost interest after reading KLOE demands to know whether "the
organization plan, organize and develop its workforce effectively
to support the achievement of its strategic priorities". (The
grammar and the Americanisation of the English language is another
feature of Medway's HR team.)
Maybe their idea is to bore and confuse the politicians so much
they say: "Get on with it."
The spectre that out of KAOS* comes control looms large at
Medway's personnel department.
Suddenly, Spike Jones seems quite sane….
(*Knowledge Acquisition in Automated Specification)
Thursday September 10
The Thames Gateway's political leaders yesterday signed the
agreement to work together on housing, transport and skills.
They were rewarded with government promises of greater power and
a degree of autonomy.
It was a major result for the authorities.
It will have a massive impact on the Gateway north of the
The extremely successful Fastrack bus services will be extended
to Swale and Medway - and probably someone will try to reinvent the
They also promised a 16 per cent cut in carbon emissions.
They missed one trick. They should have agreed to mine for
Or at least to work together to tap the gas leaking from the
many landfill sites along the development front.
It could have been one tangible way to improve Fastrack.
While everyone was signing the multi-area agreement at The
Bridge £500 million development in Dartford, the University of East
Anglia was busy unveiling its biomethane-fuelled bus at the
Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford yesterday.
It's an Optare Solo, similar to ones around Medway, except up to
80 per cent of its fuel is pumped from roof tanks rather than using
standard diesel. And it has been running successfully in Norfolk
and Suffolk for some time.
The methane has been farmed, mined, piped …. however you want to
say it, from rubbish tips where household waste has been producing
Imagine: buses queuing up at Queen Elizabeth Fields to drain the
overnight production of methane.
They could do the same at all those places between Gravesend and
Dartford where the gas is burned off at night - a total waste. Of a
plentiful fuel source.
Talking of gas, they could tap a lot at council meetings.
Tonight's Medway meeting could be explosive.
Labour is a shadow of itself. It has lost a quarter of its
members since the last meeting. And if you believe their statement
yesterday, the Gouldens are to blame.
Meanwhile, Cllr Tony Goulden is now the first leader of the new
Independent group on the council - and they expect to get committee
seats tonight. It will be at Labour's expense.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the officers and
councillors - notably Rose Collinson, the education director, and
her political overlord, Les Wicks - will have nothing to say until
after the special Cabinet meeting that will decide the fate of
three primary schools facing closure.
Les will be unable to escape completely.Tonight he has to answer
more public questions from residents, staff, governors, parents and
(possibly) pupils about the reasons successful schools are facing
The officers haven't changed their minds.
Their recommendations for all three schools remain steadfast.
It's a question of whether the administration will risk it.
Given the by-election result last week - most notably the swing
from Labour to Tory - I suspect they might push ahead.
Why? The answer is simple. They can get new schools paid for by
It was one of the key reasons they pushed ahead with the three
academies, and a promise of £75 million spent on new buildings.
Wednesday September 9
Following on from yesterday's comments about the housing repairs
contract, tenants have received a letter from Derrick Singleton,
Medway's head of landlord services (a grand way of saying housing
In it he admits for the first time that their records are in a
The new contractors will be going to tenants' homes to check
what needs to be done.
He says: "We could find that the work doesn't need to be carried
out or, in the case of some boilers, has been carried out already
by the repairs team."
This from the department that threw £155,000 at a contractor
because of poor management.
There is a gem of PR-speak within the letter.
The delay has nothing to do with the ineptitude
and profligacy highlighted by the council's own report and
reaffirmed by the Audit Commission this week. It is "due to a
desire to ensure you receive good quality, value for money works to
The farmer's field is full of it.
There are occasions when I believe there was bloody-mindedness
over the plans for the bus station.
Near enough everyone said they wanted The Paddock preserved. Yet
someone, somewhere, decided that if the grand idea of an open park
was to be spoiled they'd chop down the trees.
Why else would they suggest building in The Paddock? After all,
the grand park on the waterfront has become an illusion.
There are too many pressures to build along the waterfront
because they command the highest prices.
Some people keep suggesting the ideal bus station would be
outside the rail station - a grand transport interchange.
Most bus users want to go shopping - or are laden with bags at
the end of a day in town. They would not relish a walk to and
from the station.
OK: some are there only because they have to change buses to get
to their ultimate destination.
For a transport interchange to work Medway has to change its
travel patterns. That will take years.
We are more car-orientated than communities in the West
Midlands: we chose the car over the bus about 30 years ago.
Everyone had to have a car. If they didn't they had to have a
So the bus services were cut by Maidstone and District and the
county council. There weren't the people to use them.
Now Arriva has increased the services, and passengers have
But all you have to do is look at the rush hour queues to know
that not enough people are on the buses.
I'm not going to nag on about the administration's philosophy
that cars have more rights to the road than buses.
But it has been recognised since Margaret Thatcher's day that
the Thames Gateway in Kent must change travel choices.
But this is Medway.
Public transport is being considered in isolation.
It should be part of the overall plan, just as the site for a
new hotel or hospital would be.
The bus companies (there are more than just Arriva) need to be
part of the thinking process.
And they aren't.
Tomorrow night Chatham's Labour councillors will mount an attack
on the Conservative Leader of the Council (and chairman of Medway
Renaissance) Rodney Chambers over the mounting delays to the bus
The government has made it quite clear in public meetings I have
attended that it will meet the £6 million cost. But the money has
to be spent by 2011. Any then left over will be returned to the
Chancellor to redistribute.
The one tangible gain for the residents of the Medway Towns
would be a new bus station.
It's nothing spectacular. But what else (apart from a windswept
walk around a still-undeveloped Rochester Riverside site) have they
had to date?
Tuesday September 8
If there is one thing that has dominated life at the council in
recent years it is the housing maintenance debacle.
The cost of the whole thing is likely to end up close to £1
And all because of mismanagement of the entire contract.
I have been covering the sorry saga for three years.
During that time I have highlighted the way money was thrown
away, staff's concerns were ignored, and even councillors - with
the notable exception of Labour's housing veteran, Paul Harriott -
have declined to speak what was going on.
Now the Audit Commission's director of professional practice,
Chris Westwood, has demanded that the council on Thursday night
should actually get around to discussing what went wrong.
They should do. The inept management of the contract, the way it
was open to individuals' interpretation, and the way it let the
contractor supply it with competitors' quotes it should have been
collecting, has probably cost the community somewhere close to £1
Mr Westwood says the council found poor record-keeping,
inadequate budgeting, poor implementation of new contract
arrangements, and inadequate training and management direction.
Someone somewhere will question my guess-timate of cost. So let
me answer now.
It cost £155,000 in overpayments wrongly approved by
There was over £70,000 in payments to three whistleblowers for
the unfair way they were treated by the council's senior managers.
Plus there was probably £150,000 in legal costs for that alone.
Then you add the cost of the director and numerous managers'
whose time was repeatedly diverted to make statements, meet
solicitors, plus travel costs, phone bills, advising, discussing
how to defend the council's position… as an indication Medway's
directors get paid in excess of £400 each day they work.
Then there was the internal investigation into the cock-ups.
Consultants were called in to advise and investigate, to assess the
cost of electrical work (or the lack of it), and in one case one of
the people responsible for the failings gave evidence at employment
I'll bet none of that was budgeted in the contract.
Meanwhile, there are thousands of local council tenants who
continue to live in inadequate properties that don't meet the
government decent homes standards.
And now the council is having to award new contracts to find a
contractor (or contractors) able to do a good job of updating homes
that should have been done in the past two years - and this
Wouldn't it be ironic if the contractor excluded from the
present officers' thinking actually got the contracts?
All that by the end of next March, and all that at 2009 prices,
not 2006 ones.
And if the council doesn't get it right?
Well, they won't meet the government target date (though they
had the time and the money) and could have achieved it if they had
done the job properly in the first case.
The councillors are being urged by the former finance director
(now the council's chief executive), Neil Davies, simply to note
the contents of the letter from Mr Westwood.
I hope they do more than simply note them.
Mr Westwood repeatedly says practices did not reflect well on
the council or its management.
"There have been instances of poor value for money and the
management of the service has not been of the standard expected,"
he tells councillors.
And he specifically demands the councillors should set out
clearly what it intends to do now. He wants it to respond
comprehensively to the identified failings, specify the detailed
steps it intends to take, and explain the monitoring it plans to
ensure there is no repetition.
Council chief executive Neil Davies will be in Dartford tomorrow
leading the officers of the four Kent Thames Gateway authorities at
the signing by their politicians of a Multi Area Agreement that
could unite north Kent.
Most people haven't heard of local area agreements. Fewer still
have any knowledge of Multiple Area Agreements.
Basically, an LAA is where the council acts as co-ordinator with
all the other public organisations and an increasing number of
private ones to improve the local community's way of life, They
agree what they want to achieve and when, and they all commit to it
through the Local Area Agreement.
The MAA is where two or more local authorities will agree common
For these four authorities to agree has been a task of exceeding
skill, and Mr Davies has done that with consummate ease.
Tomorrow, at The Bridge in Dartford (one of the more successful
Gateway regeneration projects) Mr Davies will stand behind his
council leader, Rodney Chambers, as he commits Medway (along with
the leaders of Swale, Gravesham and Dartford) to three common
(They wouldn't be doing badly if they could finally get the
Javelin high speed trains running in Medway and Swale before
December - Dover and Ramsgate have). But they do aim to improve
transport, housing and skills.
The skills aspect is being tackled by the Universities (don't
forget, Medway has four of them now!), further education, and
And housing - well as I pointed out in this blog on June 10,
they plan the redevelopment of existing estates to deliver
increased density and therefore additional new homes.
Monday September 7
I can just imagine the machinations that were going on at
Chapter School during the last days of that organisation's
"How do we go with a bang, not a whimper?" may well have been
the question at one of the last school management meetings.
"They want to get rid of a successful school, merge us with an
unsuccessful one, expect the good things to rub off on the failing
one, and consign us to the educational dustbin."
Well, Chapter School may no longer exist in Medway.
But its spirit and image lives on - in Serbia.
In a classic piece of twin-digital PR, all the girls at the
school donated their uniforms (complete with Chapter School badges)
to an international charity.
Now the blazers, skirts and other accoutrements of school life
for thousands of girls from Strood are on their way to Serbia where
a girls' school is in desperate need of the sort of pride and image
that Chapter gave Medway.
Wouldn't it be a laugh if the school that is accepting the
donation (plus thousands of pounds raised by the Strood girls in
another display of their social conscience) was to adopt the name
Imagine - Chapter School may no longer exist in Medway, but
in Serbia new pride and hope is being given to hundreds of children
thanks to the efforts of those in Strood.
Meanwhile, today is the first day for the new Strood
And of course it was no coincidence that this year's GCSE
results were unveiled by the council at the other part of the new
academy - the erstwhile failing Temple School.
Medway Maritime Hospital has been criticised in the past few
days for raking in £930,000 last year from car parking charges.
Maybe it is because I have been a patient there recently but I
don't think it is too much to pay.
As a guide (and it is difficult to follow the logic of who pays
what for how long, or indeed how it is supervised) the hospital
charges £1.50 for the first hour, £2 for two and so on.
There is a useful range of bus services into the hospital
(providing you can walk to your nearest stop). There is also a good
range of taxi services.
But if you think the car park or the bus is expensive, think
again. A round trip in the taxi costs me £20 each time I have an
out-patient appointment. And I live in Medway.
The sooner I can drive, and pay for the parking privilege….. or
walk to the bus stop and be dropped almost at the front door… the
better for my pocket and my bank manager.
And if someone somewhere suggests there are not such good
facilities at other hospitals - have a look and ask! You might be
Talking of parking charges, I see the CCTV cars in Medway have
demonstrated that their drivers may not be as smart.
What on earth was that idiot thinking when he booked a driver
who had broken down on a busy road junction. He left him there. All
he said was: "Take it up with the council!" - while dozens of angry
drivers tried to get pass the mayhem.
I am delighted to say that the booked driver did take it up with
the council - and their managers booked the CCTV
Now that's one of those occasions when I would have been
delighted to be a fly on the wall!
Manager: "Why did you book him?"
CCTV driver: "He weren't moving and he wuz causin' a
Manager: "Did he tell you why he was obstructing the road?"
CCTV driver: "Yer, but I'd issued the ticket by then."
Manager: "Did you think?…like, think to suggest to the office
there were extenuating circumstances? Or, better still, try and
solve the problem?"
CCTV driver: "Ehhh? I wuz just doin' me duty, rakin' in the cash
for the council. I couldn't leave me car and the cameras - they
might 'ave bin nicked. Anyway, I ain't 'andy."
Suffice to say, if you break down on a busy road junction and
the CCTV car comes along - don't panic. Smart CCTV car drivers will
now rush to your assistance.
Meanwhile, a flight of porcine-winged creatures has been
reported over Medway.
Friday September 4
IT WAS a close-run thing, but the Conservatives have ousted
Labour from their safest council seat in Medway.
It now leaves the official opposition in a parlous state with
just nine councillors. That's just one more than the Liberal
Democrats and only six more than the new Independent Group
containing two of Labour's most popular members.
It follows the count after the voters had had their say about
things in Luton and Wayfield.
On the route to the ballot box, Labour made a number of key
The biggest was ignoring Tony and Val Goulden, two ex-Medway
Mayors and (more importantly) two highly popular, hardworking local
It cost them votes - how many will never be known.
Two people who voted Labour last time decided to vote
Conservative this time. That swing was all it needed for Tashi
Bhutia to win a famous victory in Luton and Wayfield.
It's been more than 40 years since the ward was represented by a
It was, until then, one of the safest Labour wards in the
It also has two other councillors - the Gouldens - so
disillusioned with the way Labour is being run that they resigned
the Whip at the beginning of the campaigning.
Watch out: they will work with Cllr Bhutia for the good of the
ward while retaining their independent Socialist views. Even though
they are now beyond the pale as far as the Labour Group is
The trio could make a formidable combination.
And what about the rest of the candidates?
The Greens made no inroads whatsoever.
The Libs came third, just ahead of UKIP and the BNP.
One other interesting consideration in the local politics and
its handling by Labour. There was an independent candidate who
picked up 87 votes.
Know which party he had been associated with? - that's right,
This was a vote that was as much a reflection of the way Labour
is running things in the area as about Medway or national
Wednesday September 2
Aristotle has often been proved right: "One swallow does not make a
summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time
of happiness does not make a person entirely happy."
I admit it: I had a totally self-centred concern when I moaned
about the lack of wheelchairs for out-patients like the 94-year-old
I encountered, those with broken limbs and others with serious
Mike O'Brien, the chairman of the new health scrutiny committee at
Medway Council was rapidly off the mark.
And the Medway Maritime Hospital did make things a lot better for
injured out-patients in the wake of my moans about the lack of
Within hours of my complaint about the long walks people were
forced to make because there were no wheelchairs at the entrance,
he organised a meeting with Lois Howell, the Company Secretary at
the Medway Maritime Hospital.
That led to a re-examination of the number of wheelchairs available
in the car park and in the hospital entrance.
And on my next visit there were up to four in the entrance (but
when I arrived only one that I sequestered).
At the weekend I had a letter from Ms Howell.
She told me they welcome "extremely helpful" comments about
They now have a new Head of Facilities, Gareth Hughes.
Ms Howell said Mr Hughes had made it a personal priority to address
the "assessment and fulfilment of need" for wheelchairs.
She wrote: "Among other things, I know he has commissioned a review
of how/where wheelchairs are used and left around the hospital,
arranged for the repair of a number of chairs which were out of
action and put together a bid for the purchase of a considerable
number of new wheelchairs."
Hallelujah. The new Jerusalem has arrived.
But that lone chair was like Aristotle's swallow.
Yesterday I had another appointment - and knew when I saw a patient
with crutches and a plaster, sat in the ambulance area, that I was
not going to be totally happy.
There were no wheelchairs.
He waited. I lurched.
I got to my appointment 10 minutes late. He followed me into the
waiting room five minutes later, sat in a chair - and was promptly
sent off for further tours of the hospital.
My wife eventually located a wheelchair when one of the previous
users returned it to the wheelchair store.
Just as well. I had to follow the same circuitous trail as the
other patient to have plaster removed, X-rays done and then a visit
to the surgeon to discuss the outcomes.
I certainly felt that the criticisms mounted over the weekend about
food and care in Britain's hospitals was inaccurate as far as my
experience of the in-patient care at Medway Maritime is
But Ms Howell and Mr Hughes have to do better for every
non-ambulant patient who staggers, lurches or lifts themselves
across the entrance if they want it to become a hospital of
According to their website: "Medway Maritime Hospital is the
largest and busiest hospital in Kent – treating around 400,000
patients each year mainly in Medway and Swale, but increasingly
other parts of North and West Kent.
"Everyday we see around 1,400 outpatients, about 200 patients use
our emergency department and approximately 150 patients need to be
admitted for hospital care and treatment. Because of the large
number of patients we see, occasionally we face rare and unforeseen
situations but we are committed to resolving and learning from the
challenges we may meet to drive up standards of care and
The absence of a wheelchair for 1,400 outpatients at Medway
Maritime is neither new, unexpected, nor rare to judge from my
experiences - and those of the people we met.
The two remaining councillors in Luton and Wayfield ward, Tony and
Val Goulden, have sworn not to work with the Labour candidate, Sam
Whittington, if she gets elected in tomorrow's by-election.
It was called after Cllr Dennis McFarlane resigned over alleged
Ms Whittington was selected three weeks after becoming a Labour
candidate in preference to a number of long-established Labour
candidates. She attracted interest for her campaigning to save
local primary schools. Among the candidates who lost out to her
was the experienced former Labour education spokesman, Mark
Then her Facebook entries covering sex, toys, fantasies and
political criticisms of Labour were circulated among political
Both the Gouldens eventually resigned the party whip. It was the
final straw after a series of disagreements over Labour
They now stand as Independent councillors, forming an officially
recognised group with Ian Burt, the Walderslade councillors.
Mrs Goulden insisted they would not work with Ms Whittington.
"You can't pick someone to replace a person who resigned over moral
issues who herself doesn't seem to have many morals," said Mrs
Idle thoughts around the hospital.
Why does Medway Maritime Hospital have a sign saying "Baby Change
Unit" outside the delivery suites?
Is there any sense promoting healthy eating on the internal
advertising screens interspersed with instructions not to eat in
the consulting rooms?
And what do they mean by signs which read: "You are being watched
by CCTV. The computers are alarmed"?
Tuesday September 1
There are problems with the new half-billion pound refuse
It was due to start today, but last week it emerged that it
would be delayed.
An all-party committee had spent two years looking at ways to
improve the service, to spread the risk, and get best value, to
increase the recycling and reduce the land fill.
But in the week that they are expected to allow one company to
briefly extend the life of its tip at St Mary Hoo, the unloved main
contractor for the past few years - French-owned Veolia - is being
asked to continue operating for two more years.
There are unsubstantiated rumours of court action flying around
the letting of the new contracts.
There are concerns that after two years of intense examination
of the various contractors, their skills, savings and improvements,
someone, somewhere, was unfair with the points system used to
determine who was best-suited for the needs of Medway for the next
Something very reminiscent of the way the much-troubled,
highly-expensive and equally embarrassing, housing repairs contract
Now there are rumours that another of Medway's high-cost, long
term contracts is in difficulties. The corporate cleaning contract
for all the council-owned buildings has hit problems just before it
was about to be recommended to councillors.
It's an embarrassment (something the officers will have to get
used to as they get out their own dusters to polish their
But it is not like the refuse contract.
That could have a substantial impact on the council taxes and
thereby council services.
It was one of the attractions with the selected recycling
contractor that the range of rubbish that goes for reuse would be
That firm continues to wait in the wings.
The Conservative Leader of the Council, Cllr Rodney Chambers,
more than once said there would never be incineration of Medway's
rubbish. Now he says what he meant was Swale was OK - but there
would be no incineration in Medway.
Even that is not happening on September 1.
The rubbish is continuing to be taken to a tip at Rainham in
Essex which has to close next year. What then with Medway's
Meanwhile, lurking in the background, is the landfill tax.
Medway has a major target, set by the British and European
governments. The Towns have to recycle more than 45 per cent of our
household waste by next year - or face monster fines for every
tonne of rubbish that has to be buried in the ground.
Taxpayers won't be asked to pay it. It will have to come out of
the existing taxation.
With the prospect of a Conservative government and its Leader's
promise to freeze all council tax increases for two years, what
then for Medway's other services?
The new contracts have to be resolved, and rapidly.
Meanwhile Veolia has the last laugh.
For years it was penalised for failing to clean streets on time,
remove rubbish when they said they would, and a host of other
misdemeanours in the original contract.
The sums were substantial and contributed to Medway's
Not any more.
Veolia's management could almost sit back and do nothing - and
get away with it now. Medway can't afford for them to walk away
from the extended contract. Not while the losing bidders are
threatening them with the courts.
A fleet of new singledeck buses have gone into service with
Arriva in Medway.
They are wheelchair friendly, and easily accessible thanks to
the raised stops and entrances that the drivers can lower.
I just wonder whether they are more comfortable than some of the
new buses I have sampled elsewhere in the country this year.
They look stunning. But looks are not everything - any more than
that first swallow in April.
They were ultra-low on comfort. Planks offer a more giving
surface than some of the seats.
And the front seats on many doubledeckers are not designed for
passengers who have knees and feet.
That is an operator fault, not the manufacturer.
Arriva's doubledeckers five years ago were a good buy, not just
on cost but also on quality. Now some of them are moving on.
I look forward to sampling their new Enviros.
Today is the first anniversary of this blog's initial
No cards (by request).
Friday August 28
It has been a normal week for our councillors at Gun Wharf.
They've dug out terrorism laws to try to snare someone sticking
up posters around Medway, tapping into phones and emails in a bid
to catch him…or her.
A by election is imminent.
And the final stages of protecting Fortress Gun Wharf against
the Great Unwashed will come into play either side of the votes
They have put in an £8,000 electronic gate as their drawbridge.
It will seal the councillors and their thousands of staff from
encountering The People.
And what have we done to deserve this door-slamming of
democracy? We elected the people who sanctioned the final barrier.
That's all. Because it was those very same people who caused the
The reasons given last week were ludicrously unrealistic.
They were designed to stop people parking in disabled spaces, to
reduce the damage to staff cars, and to ensure legitimate visitors
Visitors will now have to pre-book, and obtain the full
authority of one of the three council directors.
Damage? - that was being done to staff cars by their colleagues'
casual carelessness in a car park that admittedly has too-narrow
And the disabled parking abuses? That was carried out by three
of the most senior, decision-making councillors who were caught out
by the public - Medway Messenger readers.
I can already hear the cries from the administration.
"We aren't stopping people visiting us - they can still drive
But they have to make a prior appointment. Each has to be
authorised by one of the three directors, Chief Executive Neil
Davies, Children and Adults chief, Rose Collinson, or Bits and
Pieces boss, Robin Cooper. So if you want to park from September 7
- phone them, or email email@example.com,
Apparently they have the time to waste on deciding whether Mr
Smith, who wants to discuss an application with a planning officer,
can come in.
Or whether Mrs Jones should be able to lobby her councillor?
Or - heaven forbid - if parents should be able to listen to the
discussions about another school closure?
This gate is perfectly situated on the access drive. Casual
visitors will be trapped at the barrier, unable to drive through,
unable to reverse out, and with following cars backing up towards
Dock Road, already congested by roadworks, road narrowing, and rush
I suspect that the Finance Portfolio Holder had his hand on the
Like the First Lieutenant on one of the galleons that used to
sail from off Gun Wharf, Cllr Alan Jarrett cried: "Prepare to repel
That he should also have installed money-earning parking meters
on adjacent roads - and have some car parks a mile away - will help
his empty coffers.
His enforcer, as always, will be Cllr Reh Chishti. His merry
wardens, CCTV cameras and bye-laws will ensure that anyone who
ignores the signs will be nicked - and another £80 will go into the
Talk about turning things on their head - these were two of the
three councillors who parked, illicitly, illegally and unfairly, on
the disabled parking bays, and sparked the problems we all now
Of course, they will have staff passes, and their own allocated
And if you haven't caught up with today's paper, you may be
wondering about my reference to the heavy-handed use of terrorism
laws to catch a flyposter.
It is one of the ways Cllr Chishti's team is now snaring minor
I have no sympathy with the five benefit fraudsters they have
also been listening in on.
But the use of draconian powers designed to catch bombers
being used to spy on a market stallholder who may be breaking some
trading laws? And to catch an anti-social individual dumping
One wonders if they draw the line anywhere.
We have more than 400 CCTV cameras from which low-paid monitors
use to track our every move, 24 hours a day.
They tap our phone calls, and check our emails, to find out with
whom we are talking, exchanging ideas or hatching plots to campaign
against school closures.
They also discover what we buy, who we flirt with, when our
homes are empty ...
So why shouldn't they use these powers to deny us our basic
George Orwell, if you are able to read this, you didn't know the
half of it when you wrote 1984.
Thursday August 27
The regeneration scrutiny committee is going to have a look
tonight at whose roads are getting the best repairs in an £8.4
Heading the list are the rural roads out on the Hoo peninsula,
with the Peninsula Ward itself (where the roads supremo, Phil
Filmer, is a local councillor) topping the list for repairs with no
less than 19 schemes planned over the next three years.
But it is not the place where the most money is being spent.
At £36,810 a scheme it lags behind some of the others.
The most cash is being spent in Strood Rural where £1.12 million
is being lashed out on six ward roads - half of it on the A289 and
A228 through the town centre.
It's also where two of the 10 Cabinet members represent the
The reason it is coming up for scrutiny?
The Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Paul Godwin, is questioning
how the money is being spent - and why.
He should be pleased.
The troubled Luton and Wayfield ward where his group has lost
its three councillors in recent weeks (for widely differing reasons
of resignation) is having half a million spent on it. Roosevelt
Avenue and Capstone Road are to be resurfaced within 18 months.
The Conservatives say they also want to re-lay Luton Road,
Russell Court and Street End Road - by 2012 if they can find some
way to foot the bill.
The same committee is also taking on the role of scrutinising
the work of the local crime partnership.
It gives the community the opportunity to tackling local issues
that annoy them.
Like the families who pile up litter to the delight of the rats.
Or people who light bonfires without heed to their neighbours
washing, ventilation or enjoyment of the garden. Or the noisy
drunks who turn a quiet neighbourhood into the Homes in Hell. Or
yellow line flounters.
Minor stuff - the sort of thing that the police used to say was
below them because they had more important things to do.
But important to most of us wishing to live a peaceful life.
I do hope they get round to considering bonfires - and set some
simple rules, like no fires in the summer months, and only between
midnight and 4am in the winter.....
With the decision to scrap Big Brother, maybe Channel Four will
spend money on good programming.
Can you imagine what it will be like for the customary
collection of idiots, loud mouths and gormless ones selected to
take part in next year's final round?
"One of you will win temporary fame, your life will be ruined
and the world will know all your failings - but it won't bother to
What on earth will the Red Tops fill their front pages with
after that show dies?
How about Life at Your Council - a behind the scenes view of the
politicians and the officers working together for your good…
Wednesday August 26
A Dover councillor sits on the new regional board that is
targeting key transport schemes in the south east.
Cllr Paul Watkins (coincidence - no relation) just happened to
be on hand when the Cliffsend dual carriageway project - better
known as Pegwell Bay - got the backing of the regional transport
Medway is not a member of the regional authority, and therefore
unable to represent itself to the transport board.
One wonders whether the people who now recommend where the
decreasingly small pot is spent will back station improvements, new
roads, improving the Strood junction (even putting in a link from
the Medway Valley line towards Chatham) and so forth.
Or will those dreams slip back into limbo land?
The BNP - which has one of the seven candidates in next week's
Luton and Wayfield by election - has established a Facebook page,
thanks to yet another appeal for contributions from the party.
The national party chairman and MEP, Nick Griffin, is
encouraging every member to use it.
In an email at the weekend that I finally got around to reading,
Nick says: "I am excited to announce that the computer programmers
have now completed their task and the BNP Facebook application is
now ready to be added to your Facebook page!
This has the potential to be huge!
"If our estimated pool of 50,000 Facebook sympathisers all
install this application and then invite their entire friends-list
to do the same, we could end up with hundreds of thousands of our
applications installed all over Facebook!"
And he adds: "Remember, once this application is installed and
viewable in your profile page, it is your duty to input as many of
your friends email addresses into it as possible. I am depending on
you to help expand our online reach!
I know what I would happen to any "friend" who signed me up to
any political group discussion or chat area. They wouldn't stay
friends very long.
Meanwhile, I would have thought the problems of idle chatter on
Facebook highlighted in this column in the past month would warn
off all politicians - real or potential - from taking part.
I had a letter the other day from the council.
It is adorned with the Beacon Council logo which it received in
It is clinging on to that old accolade like the old crone
who recalls winning Miss Twinkle Toes as an under-five.
Tuesday August 25
I had heard a little whisper that Paul Clark's getting the
Labour Party message out to his constituents. But not quite the way
The Gillingham and Rainham MP's dad, Gordon, is trundling the
highways and byways of the parliamentary constituency with a cute
£14.99 shopping trolley (in party red colours, of course).
Dad has been seen in Rainham, Watling Street, Gillingham, and
various other parts of the borough dropping off copies of his
"Regular Update" paper.
I am sorry to have to disappoint readers but there are only 11
pictures of PC.
His rival, Tory councillor Reh Chishti, managed to squeeze into
his four-page colour broadsheet earlier this year more than double
that. And he seems able to send hordes of supporters to deliver his
I'm not sure which paper is the more mesmerising - both sent me
Meanwhile, Paul is writing to trade unionists admitting that the
past year hasn't been great for the Labour Party.
But like every politician he manages to find some crumbs - in
this case the NHS.
He was delighted at the response from Brits to right-wing Yanks'
vitriolic opposition to a national health service for the
And he pointed out that the constituency has three new healthy
living centres and the Will Adams Treatment Centre as well. The
Rainham one does a mean cup of coffee for the local café
Meanwhile, I haven't heard a word from the Tory hopeful for
Rochester and Strood, Cllr Mark Reckless.
He was best man to, and a close friend of, Daniel Hannan, the
local MEP who has been gallivanting around the TV studios in the
States criticising the NHS.
As a current NHS patient, I would be delighted to hear whether
Mark supports - or opposes - the NHS.
There are many local quangos about which there is an air of
mystery. The only one to open its doors is the Medway Renaissance
The far more influential Local Strategic Partnership keeps
itself very much to itself. And so do the others affecting the
lives of everyone in the Medway Towns.
One which is changing our lives is the Community Safety
Partnership. But it was closed to scrutiny - until now!
This body involves a number of authorities including services
such as the police, fire and probation, and apparently tackles
matters of public concern.
All we hear currently are platitudes about crime figures ("the
number of burglaries in Medway has dropped to two or three a day"
is one that is being hyped around the Towns at the moment by
Neighbourhood Watch controllers).
Well, the crime busters are now to be opened up to public
scrutiny by local councillors.
At least once a year (but more frequently is necessary in this
resident's eyes) matters like the way it is tackling crime and
disorder - in particular anti-social behaviour or other behaviour
adversely affecting the local environment, plus drugs, alcohol and
substance abuse - will be considered by the regeneration
The key to their powers is one phrase - the Councillor Call for
Action (or CcfA as it is already being abbreviated).
The new powers require local authorities to allow any member of
the Council to refer any local crime and disorder matter to the
Committee and for the Committee to have power to make a report or
recommendations to the Council or Cabinet.
They can look at any matter "which affects all or part of the
ward for which the member is elected or any person who lives or
works in that area."
As well as the expected people who would be answerable to the
committee, it require responsible authorities or co-operating
bodies such as the probation authorities, parish councils, NHS
Trusts, NHS Foundation Trusts, proprietors of independent schools
and governing bodies of institutions within the further education
sector to provide information requested by the committee, usually
within a month.
It promises to be interesting times.
Monday August 24
Now, where was I?
Ah, yes… the Luton and Wayfield by election.
Bottoms bitten, fingers injured ….
It's all in a day for politicians on the votes trail in Luton
You may recall that there has been a minor upheaval in the local
political scene with the resignation (sacking?) of one councillor.
That caused the by-election on September 3.
It was followed by the resignation from the Labour Party of the
remaining two councillors who have gone into an Independent
The former Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Geoff Juby,
promptly got bitten on a rather tender part of his anatomy. He
encountered an alsatian-type when he tried to deliver some
publicity material to a house in Alamein Avenue.
He was fortunate. On hand (literally and metaphorically) was
With great aplomb, and not without a sense of great
joy, his colleague (a frmer ambulanceman) quickly stuck
the biggest plaster he could find on one of the more hairy parts of
the injured councillor's anatomy… then packed him off to
I understand the nurses ripped off the plaster to examine the
wound - and removed a large patch of hair from his glutimus
maximus. (Reminds me of the A&E sister four weeks ago who
slapped my leg and said: "I think it's broken.")
Meanwhile, I understand that the newly-appointed Labour Whip,
Cllr Julie Shaw, has also been in the wars in Luton.
I don't think it was in Alamein Avenue, but certainly she
injured a finger on the campaign trail.
Electioneering is a dangerous thing, folks.
A redundancy clinic is now being run by Medway Council to get
people back to work as soon as possible.
Having been through that mill myself on two occasions, it is not
something that has ever enthused me.
The problem will the old system was that it was OK in principle,
but when it came down to specialists, its staff had had no idea how
to help. You were on your own.
But you had to be regimented.
I hope I am wrong - most sincerely - but the new Employ Medway
Advice Centre sounds remarkably similar to what I encountered (and
some of my friends, too).
"The centre will provide information, advice and signposting to
assist residents in their search to find employment and other
training opportunities," said a press release from the
"For Medway employers, the centre will provide free advice and
support with recruitment needs including the identification of
suitable candidates for interview."
And when you read further on that "The Employ Medway programme is a
symbol of Medway Council’s continued commitment to working in
partnership with key national, regional and local partners for the
benefit of residents and employers in Medway" I cringe.
There is hope on the skyline. The centre will eventually provide
"money management; advice and guidance sessions, ICT and CV
training workshops and supporting new businesses"…
Given that the bulk of the redundancies have been with local
residents who have lost jobs in the money capital, I don't think
that is going to be much help.
I hope I am wrong. I really do.
But the signs are worrying.
Friday August 14
There is more than a passing interest among Labour councillors
in the outcome of the Luton and Wayfield by election. Their pockets
could be severely hurt.
It follows the resignation from the group of their bestknown
members, husband and wife Tony and Val Goulden.
There has been unrest in the Labour ranks (come to that in the
Conservative ranks, too) for some time.
But as well as both being past mayors, Tony was also the man
responsible for identifying the problems in the group and keeping
everyone on side. He was the group whip. And he was ignored.
You do that at your peril. Just look at Francis Urquhart for how
that power can be taken to extremes.
Despite being the sitting member since the mid Nineties, the
constituency members kept the Gouldens out of the selection of
their running mates in 2007, and (when things went wrong) for the
present by election.
The sitting MP, Jonathan Shaw, has had a considerable influence.
But the people who would have to work with a victorious candidate
It went wrong with the first candidate.
Now questions about the morals of the candidate chosen to run
alongside the Gouldens have been raised.
To be ignored once was bad enough. To be ignored twice was too
There might have been a chance of saving their position. But the
Labour Group leader, Paul Godwin, was not prepared to accept there
were any problems, and was quite forthright about that in their own
The revelations (since confirmed as being written by his
candidate by the Labour agent) ended any chance of keeping the row
quiet until after the by election was settled on September 3.
The Gouldens walked.
They have now formed an Independent Group with Ian Burt. And
they carry the knowledge of the Labour Group's strengths and
weaknesses - not just in the ward, but across the council.
So where does that leave the entire Group?
Victory for their candidate will allow them all to rest a little
more secure for the next 18 months.
Defeat could leave them severely strapped for cash.
At stake is over £36,000 which we currently pay Labour
councillors with "special responsibilities".
That's because groups need at least a fifth of the council - 11
members - to qualify for special responsibility allowances.
Of course, no local politicians enter the council chamber with
the idea that they are there for the money (Medway's backbenchers
would probably get more on the dole).
But when you become used to a chunk of money every month, it is
agonising when it is suddenly removed.
The council voted four years ago for special allowances only to
be paid to parties with at least a fifth of the council membership.
That left the Conservatives (currently with two-thirds of the
Labour politicians, too, could smile (indeed, Cllr Godwin was
involved in the plan). But not any more.
They are currently down to 10 members. Get their candidate
elected, and they will hold on to their allowances. Fail - and they
join the pauperage currently occupied by the Lib Dems and those
So exactly what is at stake?
Well, Paul Godwin, the Leader of the Labour Group (because it is
the official opposition), gets £9373.20 for that task.
Glyn Griffiths, gets £3749.29 for deputising as Leader.
Nick Bowler gets a similar payment as Labour's development
Four members get allowances as the official spokesmen on
scrutiny committees. Bill Esterson, Teresa Murray (plus Cllrs
Godwin and Griffiths) each qualify for £5623.92 a year.
There's also £937.32 at stake for whoever becomes the Group
The Lib Dems don't get any allowances. That's because they only
have eight members - three short of the special allowances lower
level, set and agreed at the full council meeting in July 2005.
Their Leader is the only one paid special responsibilities - and
she gets £4686.60 - all it's worth for chairing a minority
All of which could be staring Labour councillors in the face
after the ballot boxes have been emptied and counted on September
Could they cope with just the basic allowance of £8935.80?
Well, I suppose so. After all, the other members of the group
already do. And Cllr Godwin did agree the 2005 recommendations when
he was sitting on the special working party that made the final
recommendations to the council.
So what of election night?
That is when all the tensions in a campaign explode to the
Those who are victorious come out with public platitudes while
their campaign managers and supporters rub salt into the fresh
wounds of the defeated.
This time the savagery meted out to the losers when the
declaration is made could make some of the scenes in the Sixties
Belgian Congo seem like a pre-season friendly.
And one of the key elements in this election could yet prove to
be the number of Eastern Europeans that have moved into the ward.
Some suggest the number may be as high as 1,000.
Could there be disappointment for the Tories?
While all this is going on, former Medway councillor, Chris
Buckwell, has been espousing the selection methods for choosing
Conservative council candidates in Rochester and Strood.
Writing on the Conservative.com website he said this week:
"We have open selection - no protection for sitting members. Any
qualifying Party member can apply for any ward(s). Only those
paid-up members living in the ward concerned vote in selections for
the ward concerned.
"We run the selections from the safest ward down (based on last
local election results).
"We use eliminating ballots (ie, seven candidates for three
seats - first round you give your favoured candidate seven points,
second favourite six points, etc). Each round a candidate is
"You are left with your three. We look at it as 'selection'. If
a sitting councillor happens not to be selected again, then so be
it. The ward branch members should be able and entitled to judge.
We used this for our 2003 and 2007 elections. We will select next
year for the May 2011 elections."
Chris is the association's Organising Secretary.
In the Chatham and Aylesford Labour Party just 11 people
selected the candidate that led to the resignation of the
I am advised that the chairman of the Health scrutiny committee
has already started asking questions about the chaos this week at
the medway maritime Hospital.
This is my last blog for a few days. My surgeon has ordered I
should stop work. So I shall. But I plan to be back before the
start of September.
Thursday August 13
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Eastgate House today!
That's where the £1 million-a-year team known as Medway
Renaissance have been planning the destruction of The Paddock
against the wishes of the public, and the creation of a bus station
with 16 bus stops but no comfort stop.
Wounds are currently being licked: The planning committee would
not make a decision on the bus station plan last night. It's as
close as they could get to rejecting the £6 million plan endorsed
by the council.
It throws the entire redevelopment of Chatham - and its
transformation into the City Centre of the Thames Gateway -
into question. For that to happen they needed the
demolition of Chatham's flyover (nearly finished) - and the removal
of the buses from the first floor of the Pentagon Shopping Centre.
With no bus station, Arriva won't move.
Where do they go from here? And who is to blame?
Given that the Local Development Framework - the heart of the
regeneration - collapsed and is now being slowly rebuilt, are we
about to return to a postwar scenario in the Medway Towns of weeds
growing from "bomb sites"?
It's a mess.
The Health scrutiny committee is going out to the masses next
week (I sense the hand of the recently-appointed chairman.
They are inviting the public to listen to a variety of debates
and discussions at the Rainham Mark club.
Unusually, I shall not be there: as some know I recently broke
my leg and spent some time as a patient in the Medway Maritime.
Excellent was the service to all the patients in Arethusa Ward
and from the numerous orthopaedic surgeons and anaesthetists,
nurses and … well everyone attached to the ward.
The past two days I returned to the hospital as an
Be warned. It is a different equation completely to being an
The hospital is being rebuilt.
They have closed the main entrance, and barriers have been
erected to stop anyone entering… except emergencies.
The parking is now pay and display. And it is a hell of a walk
when you are on crutches.
Did someone suggest using a wheelchair?
Try to find one.
My wife eventually located one after searching for two hours
yesterday - and that left the carer of a 96 year old lady looking
It is chaotic.
Ambulance crews were looking, so were other patients and their
When I mentioned it to the consultant he suggested I buy or hire
one! I won't tell you what I thought of that proposal, but at £1.50
an hour to park, I would have thought we had bought several
Signs are lacking.
The walk from the pavement to the fracture clinic was about 200
yards. It took me 20 minutes.
Helpful attendants suggested going and looking, or asking at the
main reception, or …. But they, personally, could not help.
Considering the cost of the rebuilding, and the time they have
had to plan it, I would have thought essential items like trolleys
would have had a £2 slot (like shopping trolleys) to ensure they
were returned to the right place.
Incidentally, if you want a floor polisher three have gone
astray, we were told by some of the cleaners looking bemused and
embarrassed by the patients' frustration.
So if the health scrutiny committee wants something fresh to
look at, they wouldn't do worse than to look into the way the
public is currently being treated during the rebuilding of the old
naval hospital in the back streets of Gillingham.
They could look at signing, rest areas, preparation for the
work, varnishing the new restaurant slats with patients and public
trying to eat, access for the handicapped ….. I could keep going.
But I won't.
I am grateful to the Mayor, Cllr David Royle, for
sending me best wishes from all members of the council.
It came at a most difficult time in his life, and I can only say
thank you to him - and the everyone else who has sent me cards,
rung my home, emailed etc. I was surprised and made to feel humble,
but it was appreciated.
Tomorrow? - make sure you read this blog to learn about the
extraordinary goings on in Luton and Wayfield that have led to the
resignations from the Labour Group of ex-Mayors, Tony and Val
Goulden. It's Shakespearian in its magnificence - sex,
revenge, politics, honour, and ... (I'm not going to spoil it by
telling you any more today! For now, just go and look at the news
story on the main page.)
Wednesday August 12
One gets the impression that the provision of a £200,000 shuttle
bus service between Temple Marsh and the town centre is a hurried
Of course, that is totally false.
It is merely a coincidence there were criticisms recently made
to Medway Renaissance's board that Strood's prestige development on
the old riverside rubbish tip would be isolated from the town
Tonight the plans go to committee.
Hopefully one of the councillors will gain support for a
riverside walk to link the development with the town and the
Maybe one will even be bold enough to suggest that it needs a
river ferry service running from Temple Marsh to Strood, Rochester
It is symptomatic of something I have been hammering on about
for years. There has been a screaming need for a comprehensive
Strood Plan, that looks at every area of the town.
Something is finally coming forward, but the Temple Marsh
development will be approved by a government minister long before
it is integrated into the rest of the town.
A Strood Plan should suggest how each of its districts could be
made to work better and more attractively within a new-look
At the moment, much of Strood is tired, worn out, and unfit for
21st Century life. It is Victorian, and remains part of
a blue collar working class concept which is no longer appropriate
to the community it serves.
The Strood Plan needs to look far into the future, not simply at
what is known to be available for development now.
It should have roadways drawn onto the plans so that when,
eventually, an area comes up for redevelopment, they can be
It needs the routes for the underground services to be
It has to look at what should be preserved. Like the Aveling and
Porter building, for example.
And it should consider how the bits that survive, remain or are
never developed, can be integrated into the new.
It needs to be very clear on quality, with officers committed to
the concept, and insisting that developers meet those concepts.
Above all, it has to decide what is the future role of
Is it to be a dormitory? Or the transport hub of Medway?
Should it be the London Gateway to the new City of Chatham - and
if so how.
Should it be served by road, rail, bus and boat (if anywhere
should, Strood is the obvious one).
Will it have a large civic square? Or a riverside park?
It needs to protect residents' views from the North Downs
escarpment on which so much of the town is built.
It might be fine to build 10 storey blocks of flats and
apartments looking across from the Civic Centre development site to
Rochester's twin glories, its castle and cathedral. But what about
the rest of the community?
The Strood Plan needs to consider the whole community, and not
just short-term gains for a few fortunate landowners (including the
Or am I being utterly naïve?
I said yesterday there would be fun and games over the Luton and
Wayfield by election. Believe it!
Is it pure coincidence that the Conservative candidate's name
has subtly changed since he stood in 2007 in the closely-fought
River ward election?
At that time he was the hyphenated Tashi Tamang-Bhutia, which
meant that as his surname began with a T it was at the bottom of
the ballot sheet.
Nevertheless he polled 660 votes and came fourth of eight
Now he is unhyphenated Tashi Tamang Bhutia, which means his
surname begins with a B - which places him second on the ballot
sheet of seven candidates.
There is a silence from the officers at the moment.
Meanwhile, why is it that the full list of proposers and
seconders names, together with their addresses, do not appear on
the nominations sheet for the by election?
It has been normal for many years for that information to be
Not this by-election.
Tuesday August 11
If ever there was a council by-election to watch it has to be
the one in Luton and Wayfield ward.
It's got just about everything a TV scriptwriter would want.
The trouble is, it hasn't got what Gordon Brown would want - a
clean run-in by a new Labour candidate to a ward traditionally left
The candidate, Sam Whittington, was only a Labour Party member
for three weeks when she became their surprise selection to
She has the backing of Jonathan Shaw, the local MP and
Government Minister for the South East.
But so, too, did her predecessor. And he left under a dark cloud
that is still not publicly explained.
She will have to fight six other candidates.
They include all the usual contenders - Tory, Lib Dems, UKIP,
BNP, Green…. and a single independent.
Ms Whittington, 34, knew she was being pitched in at the deep
end when she stood.
She overcame some well-known names at the first count.
They included Mark Jones, who has been in and out of the council
since it was formed in 1998.
She has impressed with her campaigning to save the primary
The trainee teacher is about to find out what it is like when
the odds stack up against you.
Mark my words: someone in the council was being prophetic when
they chose the anniversary of the start of the Second World War as
Never mind the new right to half fares, the under-18s in Medway
can have free rides on (or at least close to) the Medway SOS bus,
thanks to the C-card condom distribution scheme.
As I already have my senior citizens bus pass, and apparently
now need government sex advice, I've checked with NHS Medway and
they may soon be launching one for we older residents called the
Monday August 10
Hush, hush, whisper who dares….
They are coming up with some stunning titles for the new
academies in Medway.
The one at Chatham - which will be hosted by the Church of
England - is to be known as the Bishop of Rochester Academy.
And the controversial one which starts in a few weeks?
Well, that's to be called the ….. (wait for it!) …….the Strood
Academy. Now isn't that really stunning from an organisation called
the University of the Creative Arts!
Meanwhile, I understand its governors meetings will be close to
the heart of the Medway Towns.
I am reliably informed they will take place in Fareham. That's
the town in Hampshire just outside Portsmouth, in case you were
unsure. I googled the journey: It's about 110 miles from the
Meanwhile, if anyone hears who the staff governors and the
parent governors are, let me know. There haven't been any elections
I hope you enjoyed the spring blossom on the horse chestnuts in
The Paddock earlier this year. It will probably be the last time
you get to see that miraculous display of pink and white floral
Go and grab some conkers from The Paddock while you can. Almost
certainly, this year's will be the last chance to conserve the
trees that have made the river front so attractive for decades.
I say this after reading the extraordinary letter from Medway
Renaissance in the Medway Messenger at the weekend.
It confirms just nine of the 26 chestnuts will be felled for the
It confirms that in total 31 trees will be chopped down for the
That's without counting any that may be killed or stunted by the
excavations, foundations, sewers and other assorted work needed to
prepare the riverfront for its transformation into a busy bus
station - and a toilet.
The unidentified writer (I sense the hand of the PR Manager at
Medway Renaissance) says two new trees will be planted for every
one that is felled.
Will they replace big, mature, graceful trees like the ones we
currently enjoy with big, mature, graceful new ones?
Or will the replacements be saplings awaiting the merry pranks
of the vandals that seem hell-bent on spoiling everything?
The whole matter now rests with the planning committee which
meets on Wednesday night.
What no one will admit is that all councillors were firmly
briefed by the Medway Renaissance officers some weeks ago. That's
one reason why there are waterfront thunderboxes being
But who runs the council?
If it was the elected councillors, there would be toilets
included in the plans. Because they have been protesting loud, long
and (apparently) fruitlessly for the less-than-dynamic bus station
to have a comfort stop as well as 16 bus stops.
My heartfelt sympathies go to the Mayor, Cllr David Royle.
His wife, Jean, has suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for many
years, but David has cared for her, visited her, done what ever he
could - and above all - continued to love her as the illness
has slowly taken her from him and their daughter, Karen.
Last Thursday she died.
I don't recall meeting Mrs Royle. But it was very evident
whenever David talked about her how deep was his love for her.
May all the family find the peace her illness never gave
Friday August 7
The bus station in Chatham is increasingly symptomatic of the
problems facing Medway Council and its Medway Renaissance team.
Next week councillors will debate - and no doubt approve - the
plans for the bus station to be built on the waterfront at
It will finally free up the first floor where (we have been told
by the council) the owners want to build a new store.
The new one will cost £6 million, and will destroy the
long-proposed ambience of the waterfront.
Instead of making the most of the trees, a quarter of them will
be chopped down.
The idea of being able to walk across to riverside seats from
the indoor splendours of the modernised Pentagon Shopping Centre in
complete safety, sans traffic, will be gone - just like the Sir
John Hawkins flyover.
We shall have a bus station where toilets may (or may not) be
provided, and where reliance will be placed on the shopping
management providing comfort stops for the passengers.
The messages that come from the council about the trees are
There was almost a hint of delight some time ago when it was
whispered the chestnuts had red canker.
Some do. But it is not as bad as one is led to believe - just
look at the reports on the council's planning website: the
now-easier-to-access support papers commissioned by the council
show there is no real problem.
Despite that, instead of a pleasant walk through gardens, we
will continue to negotiate lines of traffic.
The promised mature trees will be chopped and hacked to provide
the dynamic bus station.
You'll need to watch under your step, as well: people will be
hurrying off the buses and coaches to find somewhere for a comfort
break like some eastern European city.
And the police are now flagging up the risk that the copper
roofing for the bus shelters will be an ideal target for the metal
thieves of Medway.
As for consultations! Forget it.
The most important people to consult - after the general public
which seems at best bored with the whole issue - are the bus
As one bus manager said to me recently: "The discussions have
been very vague."
The vagueness includes the management of the buses entering and
leaving the bus station... and with it the management of the
passengers. That's because no one has been appointed to manage
the buses as they flow into the bus statio, with drivers uncertain
whether they will be able to pull onto a loading bay - and with
passengers equally uncertain which bay to go to for the bus
How I wish I was wrong, but it is looking increasingly like the
government is spending £6 million on a costly mistake about to be
approved on the waterfront.
It's great to see the number of mouldy oldies films being shown
once again at the Central Theatre.
Casablanca, In Which we Service, Carve her Name with Pride…
They look so much better on the big screen (even if it is small
by today's standards) than on the box at home.
Amid the many mistakes made by government in recent years has
been the loss of confidential documents.
Which must be causing Jonathan Shaw, the Chatham and Aylesford
MP and Minister for the South East, some embarrassment at the
His website has been accused of giving away the name and address
and account details of one of his constituents.
According to the blogsite, 10 Downing Street by Lord Elvis, Mr
Shaw is "completely thoughtless" because the photo shows the lady's
address, her NPower account number, and how much she owes.
What Lord Elvis doesn't say is that the bill is for April 2007…
or why Mr Shaw and a lady resident are so glum when
the new charges for the quarter were only £16.56.
Lord Elvis says: "You would have thought that having lost the
details of 25 million people claiming child benefit, numerous other
data protection lapses, lost or stolen laptops, patient details
etc, that government ministers might have learned their lesson with
regards to doing their utmost to protect at least their
constituents private information?"
I think a "Must do better" is needed for the website
Personally, I'd love to have such a small bill. I'd crow
to the world.
I've just told my supplier how much gas and electricity I used
over the past few months.
Fifteen quid? More likely 20 times that.
Thursday August 6
There is a lot of political misinformation out there at the
moment over the Medway Magna / Capstone Valley redevelopment
I think the idea of developing on the green fields either side
of the motorway between Lordswood, Bredhurst, Hempstead and Rainham
is one of the worst proposals to come forward.
I'm a resident. I'm biased. I make no bones about it.
But let's talk about facts.
The facts are that a group of farmers and local businessmen have
seen a development opportunity. So would I if I owned land that was
worth a mere £2000 an acre to farm but £1,000,000 an acre to cover
in concrete and tarmac. And I owned a few thousand acres.
They put forward their ideas when the Local Development
Framework for Medway was exposed as being weak.
This is the scheme which replaces the Local Plan, and sets out
how, when and where developments can take place over the next
quarter of a century or so.
Every council has to have one.
That's why Medway Council withdrew its plans at the last minute
- before the aggressive, rude and domineering planning inspector
threw it out.
The council's weakness is that it failed to plan enough
employment land for the 50,000 additional people expected to move
into the Medway Towns. And that was cruelly exposed by a team of
The plans are still on the drawing board.
They could include 9,000 homes, industrial premises alongside
the M2, new warehousing complexes for the motorway truckers coming
in from the coast… and anything else that you care to add to the
There is nothing definite in the plans. They are ideas, and
would probably make a few multi-billionaires if they get
There has been all-party agreement against the dreams … but that
is being pushed by the Conservatives who have turned it into an
Because the government insists that all proposals - those
supported by the local community and those that are not - should be
considered when determining local development frameworks.
Labour should have seen the fallout coming when they insisted
opposed, rejected and unloved plans should be included in Local
It doesn't matter if a future inspector - and the Medway one
won't sit for another year yet - throws out proposals that would
have turned an area into a concrete jungle.
The damage will have been done.
Oh - and despite the fact that there is a Save Capstone Park
website and Facebook area - there are no proposals by anyone to
build on the country park (unless some of the councillors have it
up their sleeves!)
The local Primary Care Trust wants
to encourage a change of public attitudes towards end of life
through local media campaigns.
They say so in their draft Medway
End of Life Care Strategy 2009 - 2014.
It's full of good ideas, and
promises, and assurances.
But I am not sure whether many
people will know was an End of Life Care Strategy is.
It is not helped by the
introduction which talks of "an integrated approach is envisioned
which encompasses the physical, psychosocial, emotional, cultural
and spiritual needs of the individual, their family and carers. The
delivery of integrated care is recognised as critical for raising
standards of care and responding to the needs and wishes of
patients and carers."
In simple terms understood by
everyone, the End of Life Care Strategy is what doctors and nurses
will do when you are dying.
Why they have to wrap it all up in
cliched obfustication leaves me nonplussed.
They are promising to take on some
excellent ideas, like the way the Wisdom Hospice cares for those
who are dying.
It promises that your GP will be at
the head of the team that ensures your death is painless, where you
want it, and surrounded by whom you want.
Great, providing the GP is actually
sympathetic to those ideals.
I get on well with my doctor (just
as well at the moment!)
But sometimes doctors lack that
touch known as "caring". There is no evidence in the strategy how
that will be tackled.
There is also a hint within the
report that a lot of this is being driven by financial acumen.
An audit showed that 66 people died
in September 2006 at Medway Maritime Hospital.
The new caring strategy says: "Of
those, 12 with individuals with cancer may not have needed to be
there. Six of the seven that were admitted from residential
/nursing home, had little benefit from the admission to the
hospital. Seven died awaiting placement in other settings and 38
per cent could have died elsewhere."
Call me suspicious, but what other
interpretation should one put on this?
It's great to see the council has an appropriately named pooper
scooper scooting around the parks and pathways of Medway.
Fido, such a lovely name.
In the wartime it was a system for dispersing fog from
Fido was an acronym for Fog Investigation and Dispersal
Today it is still an acronym - but one would sniff at Faeces
Intake Disposal Operation.
Hopefully it will be the anti-social slobs who allow their dogs
to leave calling cards that will pay for the device - through the
local fines system.
It will give the CCTV patrol cars something to do after the
school mums have gone home wondering if they will receive a ticket
in three weeks time!
Anyway, I hear the operators of Fido will be known as Do-Doos
(Devour Odourous Defecatory Owners Oopsies).
Tuesday August 4
It is difficult to believe that a pile of bricks and stone could
cause so much anguish.
But there is a growing body of national supporters trying to
save the Civic Centre for the future.
The building was abandoned by the council last year.
It now wants to smash it down as quickly as possible.
It wants to avoid business rates (Gordon and Alistair getting
back some of the money they invested in Medway). It also wants to
avoid paying to protect it.
Cllr Alan Jarrett, Medway's Mr Tough, said consultation was one
thing they had no intention of doing about the civic centre
building. It's in the way, it's got no use, and it's coming
Yet I now believe English Heritage may have acted prematurely in
deciding not to List the building.
It was the headquarters of the Aveling and Porter business which
was the world's largest manufacturer of steam engines, and (among
other things that happened in that building) invented the Perkins
diesel. It has a fine history - not least that it became the home
of Medway Council from its formation until 2008.
It is a fine building. Most communities would be proud to have
But not, it seems, our bright burghers.
They see pounds signs flashing over the 10 acre site, and
(though they will only whisper it in dark alleys) a new breed of
resident to raise the image of the Medway Towns.
I have looked a number of times at the figures produced by the
council to justify the demolition. They simply do not convince
Increasingly I am reminded of my early career.
Gloucester City Council began bulldozing 13th century
houses in the name of redevelopment (what we older reporters called
regeneration in those days).
It was when a brilliantly-painted massive oak beam from an
unknown guild house was discovered burning on a demolition site
directly opposite the council's offices that the public outrage
I doubt Medway will be outraged.
Too many people are more concerned about what the personal
impact on them wil be of the latest crash on the M2 and A2 commuter
route to worry about the heritage of Medway.
That's why the national bodies are starting to pay particular
It appals me that in a city rich with historical significance
there is no museum worth its salt (at least it saved the Guildhall
and Medway Conservators building from demolition).
There is little recognition of the great people who have lived
and worked here (Nelson, Kitchener, St John Fisher, the heroic
McCudden family, to name but a few).
There is no archaeological pride (what happened during the
excavations at Rochester Riverside? Why was a unique Tudor wall
allowed to be knocked down?)
We have our recent history rightly preserved around the Great
But what of the history that went unrecorded?
Where are our great Roman buildings? The port? The Saxon remains
that certainly should be found? The Norman town?
Where did the men who prepared the Armada campaign fleet
Every time a pile is ploughed into the ground to support a new
tower block, another chance among the diminishing opportunities is
lost to discover why Medway is great.
Councillors should be warned: some of the modern campaigners
fight dirty these days.
Their failure to recognise what is good in our community could
come back to haunt them.
Monday August 3
One of the problems facing the managers at Medway Council has
become apparent over the past few days. It is how do you reassure
staff once a policy has gone seriously wrong.
Notices have been appearing all over Gun Wharf urging council
staff to use the whistleblowing system.
This is intended to be a confidential way of contacting key
people if you believe something - or someone - is wrong.
The bold black, white and orange A3 posters are on noticeboards,
and in the staff restaurant.
They exhort staff: "Whistle blowing - don't turn your back".
They list nine staff in various roles in the council structure
with responsibility for different areas of whistleblowing.
One of those is specifically aimed at tackling suspicions that a
member of staff might be abusing children.
The sub-message is: "Medway Council has a whistleblowing policy
to encourage employees to voice any concerns they have and to
ensure that they are protected, treated seriously and, where
necessary, action is taken."
It is the same policy they had when three surveyors in the
council's housing department raised concerns about overpayments to
It was treated so seriously the men had to take the council to
an industrial tribunal after two of them lost their jobs - and won
tens of thousands of pounds for the way they were treated.
If the council with the motto: "Medway Council - serving you"
hopes to regain the confidence of its staff that it treats
whistleblowing seriously, it has to do more than put up a few
It needs a radical overhaul of its system.
And that has been singularly lacking.
Friday July 31
Now I have some spare time on my hands, I am thinking of
starting a civic society for Medway.
The principle would be that I (and the other members) would tell
the council what we liked, and possibly what we didn't like, about
regeneration, old buildings, new buildings, council policies, the
river, new regeneration sites, bus services, and so on and so
Now I hear that Medway Renaissance (which consists of an
unelected £1-point something - million staff and offices team) is
forming a similar body.
A letter to likely members says: "As part of a programme of
community engagement for regeneration, Medway Council [which in
this case means Medway Renaissance] is developing a discussion
forum for Chatham. The idea is to bring together a group of people
to discuss the development in the Chatham area."
It won't have any formal decision-making rights, but you can go
back to your groups and disseminate the information they feed to
you. And you will be able to participate….or as they so succinctly
put it, they will be "engaging you in masterplan and design
activities/meetings where we need to discuss with the wider
In other words, you will be consulted and "engaged" on the odd
occasion that they want to be able to say they have consulted with
But if your views go against anything Medway Renaissance or its
bosses (the government) determines, you will be ignored. Have no
doubt about that.
Nothing changes at Medway Renaissance, despite the genuinely
serious beliefs of the councillors.
You know - I might really start up a society that represents the
It will accept anyone who wants to join (you won't be selected
by me or a team of people, unlike Medway's new consultative
It will have the opportunity to say things that Big Brother
doesn't like, and to express views on those things which concern
My concept is not definitive. It is merely a guide. If you want
to join and promote a concrete-free zone to encourage lesser
spotted ozzlum birds, fine. Propose it and if the majority of the
membership agrees, we'll try to encourage oodles of ozzlums.
But don't let the body that is changing my patch decide who is
(and who is not) a member, and who can have a direct influence on
altering for ever that sacred, is scarred, little bit of
Communication is a two-way thing.
This body doesn't stand a hope in hell of achieving that.
Last night was the night to miss council meetings if you want
everything nodded through.
I missed it, but you wouldn't expect the Medway Messenger to
avoid a good council trash.
My colleague, Paul Francis, stepped into the gap.
That doesn't mean to say that they would let me loose on a
But my thanks for Paul picking up the strands.
Thursday July 30
For those who can make tonight's
council meeting at the St George's Centre, it promises to be an
interesting meeting for the discussions that could develop around
the old Civic Centre.
Why the administration doesn't come
clean and say they want the red-brick and sandstone building to
come down because it is going to hinder the sale of the plummest
riverside waterfront development site of them all, I do not
It's Victorian old, it's not
wanted, the site is worth a small fortune in anything like normal
financial times, and the council needs the cash.
Councillors are being told it will
cost £732,000 to knock down the rest, but keep the former
headquarters of the world's largest steamroller makers. Then there
would be a £135,000 bill for underpinning the building and
The civic centre was originally
home to Aveling and Porter. Their rollers and steam-powered
machinery went around the world, taking the name of Rochester to
the furthest flung corners of the Empire and building Medway's
tourism potential in the colonies.
Now we are told that the new buyers
- if any is prepared in the next few years to spend the cash the
council desperately needs - will not want the building because it
is on "the prime residential corner" of the development site.
(That's because it stares straight
at the Cathedral and the Castle, the Esplanade and the Roman
crossing of the Medway, and the ancient chapel of the Bridge
It is a great view, but it is even
better with the Aveling and Porter Civic Centre.
Against that some figures - which
deserve detailed scrutiny - have been pulled out by the council's
officers to show that it would cost £850,000 to the taxpayers to
keep it, plus annual costs of almost £140,000 for …. Well, for
If there was a degree of honesty
about the need to remove the old building there would be greater
I just wonder what would happen if
the council is placed in the position of Newport in Gwent.
It had a major reconstruction
planned of its river front, when the remains of a wooden boat were
discovered. It turned out to be a 13th century armed trader, unique
There is documentary evidence to
suggest that one of the development sites in Medway may hold the
remains of a Spanish Armada galleon which was hulked in the Stuart
period after gracing the river since its seizure in 1588.
Now that really would be
Apologies for regular readers of
I stupidly took on some carrots in
my garden without carrying out a full Health and Safety risk
assessment. The carrots won.
The result is a broken leg which
will take some weeks to heal.
The vitriol may therefore be
interrupted with winces from time to time.
Friday July 24
report into policing the environmental camp at Kingsnorth power
station must have made
uncomfortable reading at Kent Police HQ, despite
attempts to put a positive spin
accepting the objectives the force set were met to keep the power
station open and meeting national needs, it criticised just about
every single thing the senior management did.
The review team was called in to see if
there were any lessons to be learned. There were - dozens of
It shows the basics were (at best) forgotten.
At worst? - ignored.
Police chiefs were untrained, ignored
potential support and were controlled by the men lower down the
It was, they said, bottom-up leadership rather
stated that control of the Climate Camp at Kingsnorth
went against every advice that police forces have received from
remind readers, it cost you and me just short of £6
Hundreds of police were drafted in from 24
Bosses had no identified reason for calling
them in, and when they arrived, those in charge had no specific use
Lower ranked officers (where all the key
decisions were made) did. They carried out 8,218 "stop and
searches", something which they seemed to think was approved by
their chiefs as the Right of Entry into the camp.
Not surprisingly, the chief's chiefs were
lack of tactical planning, co-ordination and clarity of
planning in isolation,
ignoring the management at the power station who could have helped
them, … the failings go on and on and on.
The reviewers - both top policemen from
outside the county - said they could not give an informed view of
the justification and appropriateness about the resourcing for
Operation Oasis - because there was no tactical plan. Had there
been one, they said, Kent Police might have used less
The top officers lacked training to run the
police operation. They delegated to lower ranks: that undermined
the whole operation.
"This is not good practice," said the
There were few records of meetings and
agreements, no daily threats reviews took place, the force's
intelligence cell was "frustrated and clearly challenged", while
the ower tier, Bronze, commanders acted without clear approval or
endorsement and in isolation.
Junior officers repeatedly raised concerns
that they were doing stop and search almost as a condition of entry
to the protest camp. The searches were "inappropriate" and poorly
recorded, and it led to hostility.
That meant non-activists at the camp moved
closer to violence and resistance, said the reviewers.
They described it as "disproportionate,
counter productive but widespread".
They advised the police authority: "It is a
command matter, not one of staff knowing search codes of
The review team found some good
points. All the overall targets - of keeping the station open and
supplying power - were met.
What did the police seize in these
wre steering wheel locks, ice axes, razors, and an imitation
There was also a walking stick, a book called
"Wholey Irrisponsable [sic] Experiments", a bag of balloons, party
poppers, fog horns, an empty bottle and can, and two pairs of nail
All this for £5.9 million. No doubt the Kent
and Medway Police Authority will give serious consideration
Thursday July 23
Nice to see a familiar red Jag at Gun Wharf last night. It was
parked in the officers' parking spaces, not the disabled parking
where it has been photographed in the past.
The sound system at Gun Wharf committee meetings is not
Part of the problem is the building was designed to keep sound
within the "pods" (small meeting areas).
But committee meetings are spread over two of the pods so a
rather ropey sound system is in use.
Latest sound effects from the system were unveiled by the tannoy
during last night's planning meeting.
Crackles got worse and worse.
A number of officers and councillors then fiddled with the
plugs, jacks and wires.
That only led to a steady, but very loud, bass "Thump, thump,
As one member pretended to massage his heart, Cllr David Brake
(Con) sprang to the rescue.
A few more twiddles, tweaks and twirls followed - and suddenly
the sound system was working better than it has ever done.
I can see the councillor could earn a buck or two from
colleagues - to silence some and to ensure the rest are heard
Talking of Cllr Brake reminds me of one task that he seems
particularly loathe to tackle: trimming his hedgerow.
It stands about 15 ft high and leans right out over the footpath
outside his gate.
Ironic that I should see it just as the Conservative candidate
for his constituency should be labouring long and loud about her
campaign to clean up the streets of the Chatham and Aylesford
Maybe a quiet word in our handman's ear might not go amiss.
I used to work at the Municipal Buildings - and like some
of the councillors I might yet end up residing there in my
However, I could never find out from colleagues in those halcyon
days of local government service how the planning department's
building was dubbed the Pagoda Building.
The chairman of the planning committee revealed all to the
committee the other night.
"A little bit of history," said Cllr Diane Chambers (Con).
"It was first referred to as a pagoda by a Labour councillor,
Henry Clothier - and it simply stuck."
So it shows we can all learn something new every day.
Meanwhile, did you know there are three former Gillingham mayors
whose ashes are buried in Gillingham Park?
One was its last mayor, Cllr George Smith (Lib). But who were
In any event, ex-Medway mayor, Cllr Tony Goulden, has no
intention of having his ashes dumped there, as he muttered during
the planning meeting approving the conversion of the Municipal
buildings into an old people's care home.
Wednesday July 22
It may not be popular with the Royal Mail, but just as the
Potteries conurbation is made up of several towns, so is
The Medway Towns are five. We have Strood, the former City (of
Rochester), the future City (of Chatham), Gillingham and
I make this point because the Secretary of a body in which I
have been a member for nearly 50 years has just refused to
recognise my address is Rainham.
He says: "I note from your renewal slip you have added 'Rainham'
to your address. As you will note from the attached Royal Mail
printout, this is not part of the address required by Royal Mail
and is the reason it has been excluded and will remain so. If you
feel this part is excluded in error, you will need to contact them,
not us to rectify this matter."
At one time the Royal Mail was part of the General Post Office,
controlled by the Government which we elected.
Then the GPO was broken up, the telephones became BT, and the
mail became Royal Mail, no longer answerable to anyone, including
Remember, these are the people who can't be touched by the
government when they close sub post offices, and do away with town
post offices, and force us into shops that are inadequate for the
These are the people who take a month of Sundays to deliver
first class post, at nearly eight shillings a letter (hang on! -
the postman has just delivered today's post… advertising thinly
disguised as a magazine, a booklet and a card offering me the
chance to become a PC Engineer… but none with postage.)
Since it became unanswerable to anyone (because they have no
shareholders buying and selling ownership of the organisation)
Royal Mail has suddenly dictated where we live.
You may live in Timbuktoo. I live in Rainham.
Yet some bureaucrat at Royal Mail insists I live in
I don't. I live in Rainham which was within the former
administrative borough of Gillingham.
I now live (if one wishes to talk in such terms) in the
11-year-old borough of Medway (which Google recognises, but RM does
not). I prefer that I live in the historic county of Kent ,
complete with its traditions and its Lord Lieutenant maintaining my
link to the Queen.
And so my letters will continue to be written from Rainham, Kent
- no matter what bureaucrats, membership secretaries or anyone else
considers is correct.
And the Five Towns of Medway still sit on the A2 just as they
have done since Saxon times - or possibly when the Romans built it
(whatever, we are still filling in their potholes).
Tuesday July 21
An increasingly worrying trend is people being unable to buy
their own homes.
A new report by the National Housing Federation indicates it is
worst among rural buyers in the South East.
They say so few affordable houses are being built in rural
England that people in some areas are being warned they face a 280
year wait to be allocated a new home.
People applying for an affordable home in the 10 rural districts
with the longest waiting lists would face a wait of up to 90 years
on average before enough new homes were built to clear the
Among them is Sevenoaks, the third least affordable in the south
The average house price is £389,103 compared to an average
salary of £25,204.
Not quite that bad in Hempstead. But getting close.
The Freedom of Information Act has been a revelation to all
sorts of people, and not just the media.
The government has now announced plans to extend the powers of
disclosure to more organisations.
But not yet to council contractors who are increasingly taking
over full responsibility for everything local authorities
The Ministry of Justice says in its response to public
consultations on the effectiveness of the act (http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/docs/consultation-response-_section5.pdf):
"Public authorities and contractors could and should do more to
increase openness and transparency."
They advise councils should strictly limit the confidentiality
which applies to contracts, while contractors should adopt high
standards of proactive publication, and voluntarily adhere to the
principles of the Act.
No such wording was in place with Medway's housing repairs
contract that went so disastrously wrong, none appears to be in
place for the numerous organisations who are caring for our elderly
and mentally handicapped, and indeed for the new 30-year refuse
disposal which is moving through the final stages before it is
Monday July 20
Hordes of protestors - or a damp squib? We shall know shortly
when the Rochester Bridge Wardens batten down the hatches as the
battle to keep them responsible for the Medway tunnel reaches a
The wardens have been responsible for every crossing of the
tidal Medway since the 1390s.
(Except for the M2 bridge, that is......)
They put some of the cash into the Medway Tunnel 600 years later
- and the bills are starting to mount.
The government recognises that it will cost millions to
modernise and update the underwater crossing - so you can imagine
the Minister for the South East not being too enthusiastic about
Meanwhile, that same minister is none other than Jonathan Shaw,
the Chatham and Aylesford MP, who has spearheaded the campaign to
get the bridgewardens to hold on to the tunnel.
The Medway crossings and the trust are strange beasts - unique
Everywhere else bridges are built and paid for by the taxpayer.
Not here, not since one of the early King Henrys nearly fell in the
river because no one was maintaining the route between his port at
Dover and his palaces in London.
He made the local people, through what became a charitable
trust, responsible for building and maintaining them.
(Except for the M2 bridge and the CTRL crossing, that is
The Bridgewardens have a problem.
They don't accept that they are financially responsible for the
tunnel. Most of its cash came via KCC from the government - with a
bit more from Rochester's city council.
Secondly they do have responsibility for the two road bridges in
Rochester that take tens of thousands of vehicles a day on the
traditional A2 route that King Henry followed.
(Meanwhile there's a second motorway bridge that the government
The bridgewardens have about £70 million of assets - mainly
farmland from which they receive rents that are going into bank
accounts to pay for the replacement of the A2 bridges which was
what the trust was established to provide.
I think the tunnel will be sold - despite what the protestors
say and do today.
And Mr Shaw may not have to worry about finding the millions
needed to repair the tunnel if his government's position continues
Mind, Medway Council hasn't got the cash!
I went for a walk with my wife at Riverside Country Park last
Oystercatchers were piping, black-headed gulls were caring for
persistent chicks, a fox took a rabbit a few feet in front of
Also there was the collected rubbish of the Medway Towns, it
Everything, including the kitchen sink and an armchair was
dumped in hedgerows, over the river bank, and along the paths.
As for the dog muck... it was not helped by the dog litter bin
that had been burned - but the bins were underused, and the dog
owners seemed to think it didn't matter.
And talking of the river, it was interesting to wander down to
The Strand and see Liberal beach (see Friday's blog).
It didn't last more than half a dozen tides!
Most of it is covered in grit and gravel (which it was supposed
The rest is slowly trickling to meet the tide - and its slow
journey to Motney Hill, just as I forecast.
Friday July 17
There are plenty of people trying to play down the Tamiflu
distribution centre being established at the Compass Centre.
But it has been a very hurried operation, with officers of the
council and NHS Medway operating over this weekend to make sure it
can start operating on Monday … if needed.
This on the day that it emerged that the NHS believes one in two
children aged between three and 11 could become victims.
Everyone keeps trying to play down the situation. The media is
blamed for scaremongering.
But the fact is no one knows how serious swine flu is going to
be. Deaths are increasingly occurring and the information reporters
use is coming from the health experts.
They are planning for the worst expectations, but hoping it
won't be that bad.
In Medway they have a place almost ready to hand out as much
Tamiflu anti-viral medicine as the population of the Medway Towns
One of the key points, I was told, was that it had 200 parking
spaces where Flu Friends could pull up, run in, collect the
prescripted medication, and head home. And a two storey, £1 million
a year building, complete with the necessary staff (or at least
those at NHS Medway who are not off sick with the bug at the
If they aren't worried, why do they need so many parking
MANY moons ago, George Smith - Gillingham's last Mayor - had a
load of sand dumped on the banks of the River Medway.
It was intended to turn The Strand into a summer beach.
It lasted a short time only. The river has a nasty habit of
rising, and it washed away the sand as it went out.
George was a Liberal councillor.
And his successors - the Liberal Democrat ward councillors of
Gillingham North - have not learned the lessons.
They have forked out a few thousand pounds to provide a beach
once again at Gillingham-Super-Mud.
Photos arrived at the Medway Messenger of Cllr Cathy Sutton with
the obligatory two bathing-costumed children, and assorted sand
If you want a swimming pool, or somewhere that costs nothing to
take the kids, with a paddling pool and lots of play equipment, go
to The Strand.
If you want sand, you'll find it being washed up on the Motney
Hill shore in a few months time.
A good idea, councillors.
But don't go building your hopes the council will have much of
it to clean after the silt-laden tide has flowed across it twice a
Once upon a time lightships protected mariners by warning
captains to keep away from shallows, wrecks and the Goodwin
Now one of the handful of lightships that survive - there are
several on the River Medway, along with discarded First World War
German U-boats - is to be permanently anchored in the
And thanks to Interreg IVa (and we all know what THAT is, don't
we!) council staff will be able to draw on an £800,000 pot of
European gold to use it as an arts and cultural events centre.
I've been trying to find out from the press office some more
about the scheme - but so far I have drawn a big blank.
The last manned lightship was the Inner Dowsing. It
was withdrawn by Trinity House in 1971 when it was replaced by
an automated light on a tower.
I know of four that on the Medway (there may be more).
One (called the Inner Dowsing) is a restaurant. Another is a
floating home, and two are moored in the estuary.
But an arty farty gallery on the waves? How will the aficionados
reach this creation - and will the council underwrite the cost?
Heaven forbid - it can't be ... it's not going to be the first
thing to appear at Rochester Riverside (after the viewing platform
on top of piled lorry containers, and the £500,000 restored crane),
The same press release tells me that the £6 billion investment
in regenerating Medway is attracting hoteliers.
Part of the release says: "…..hotel operators aim to invest up
to £50million in up to five sites.
"First came the 90-bedroom Ramada Encore at Chatham Maritime Now
plans have been approved for major new hotels at Victory Pier,
Gillingham; Corporation Street, Rochester and a site in
"Additionally, there is the potential to create a number of
luxury 'boutique' hotels in and around buildings of historic
interest. And longer term, a major hotel is expected to feature in
the regeneration of Chatham Waterfront."
Victory Pier's (on the site of the Akzo Nobel chemical works)
hotel is a budget one, and it has not yet been considered by
councillors. Sounds like officers' pre-determination.
The Corporation Street one offers 120 beds (if and when it is
built), but has been damned as an ugly monstrosity by some of the
planning committee. It reminded one - Dorte Gilry - of Heathrow
And the major Rainham hotel? It's a 27-bed hutch in the middle
of a steak house car park.
There was a big hotel plan for Medway Leisure Park - next to the
about-to-be-built-as-a-cut-off 600-home community at Temple Marsh,
Strood, but that was thrown out by the planners because it was too
far out from the tourist attractions.
And Rochester Riverside's four star hotel and conference centre
has still some way to go before any building begins there.
Medway's latest tourism malarky is as sound as building hotels
on a Gillingham sandbank…
Thursday July 16
It will be interesting to see how residents respond to a planned
bus-only route linking up two parts of Medway.
If built, the short road will mean that buses can be much
quicker between the suburbs and the centre in that part of
Only this week a similar scheme - admittedly temporary - was
introduced in Chatham to enable buses and taxis to get past the
skeleton of the Sir John Hawkins flyover.
The proposed scheme has been on the drawing boards for a long
time, and could be the forerunner of several more.
It would be an ideal solution to the transport issues that are
going to occur when Chattenden is developed.
There are plenty of roads built by the Royal Engineers (not
least Upchat Road) that could be easily adapted for a Fastrack type
of bus services to get to the Medway Tunnel.
While car drivers use the A228 and battle around the Four Elms
roundabout (how long before that is controlled by traffic lights?)
buses could race from the old Chattenden Barracks gate, over the
traffic queues, through the woods and military land at Upnor and
emerge by the tunnel within minutes.
Of course it would leave other parts of Medway - notably the old
Gillingham borough - still without any chance of improved transport
… or development plans … or…..
Someone asked me how long it took to debate the 14 reports in
the 348 page (plus supplement!) report to the Cabinet on
The answer - 90 minutes.
It wasn't that the Cabinet just skated over everything.
It's that it had already decided behind closed doors what it
planned to do.
I doubt the reports were even scribbled in rough without the
Cabinet members having given it their approval.
Children and Adults overview committee meets at 6.30pm at Gun
Only four items on the agenda - and all of them about
Looking back through the agendas I cannot find a single report
on adult issues in the past nine months.
Wednesday July 15
If you support Chatham's bid for World Heritage Status, you
could get up to £750 from the council to help you promote the
But you have to bid by August 7.
Nat that there's much money in the pot - £2,250.
Nevertheless, I think I can do a good job of promoting the
defences, castle, barracks, fort, dockyard, killing fields, and
I am bidding for a tent to be located on the Great Lines next
summer, camping equipment, a hot water urn (solar-powered) so that
I can sell cups of tea and coffee to visitors and cover my costs,
and will organise a photo show to describe the rare red-star
thistle (which has been overlooked by everyone), the insects,
butterflies, birds and grasses that I will photograph when not
making cups of tea and coffee for the hordes of visitors I
It's probably as good an idea as many that will come
There is a running gag at the council that one Cabinet member
has seven speeches (having heard them all several times it is not
difficult to see why there isn't an eighth).
There's another councillor who takes every single opportunity to
kick the other parties.
One expects the occasional political flak, but every time this
leading councillor opens his mouth it is always to have a go at the
Not very constructive, boringly destructive and decidedly bad
copy for journalists looking for a bit of real news.
Cabinet met yesterday, and reviewed the spending to date against
the capital and revenue budgets.
Given that we are only just into the first weeks of the new
financial year, the spending is pretty much on target.
For an organisation that is planning to spend around two-thirds
of a billion pounds on its revenue projects, the forecast at the
moment is it could overspend by as much as ….(wait for it!)….. £1
Micawber would be turning in his grave.
But considering the scare stories of the past few years (like
the forecast 12 months ago of £14 million overspend) I'm really
I know there are those who flutter on the National Lottery in
hopes of winning a million.
But to Medway Council it really is chicken feed.
And should be no problem to control over the next nine
Tuesday July 14
Cabinet is sitting this afternoon with plans to discuss 348
pages of papers (all carefully read from beginning to end, of
course) in a little over an hour's debate.
I use the word "debate" loosely.
All the debating has already taken place, and what we shall see
this afternoon will be the re-run of the play whose dress rehearsal
took place yesterday behind closed doors.
The 10 actors (always providing they all turn up) will be
particularly concerned about the collapsed wall in Church Terrace,
Luton (see yesterday's blog).
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to discover whether they will
skate over the delayed Watermill Wharf scheme in Strood. This is
the planned conversion of a railway arch into a community centre
for the planned Strood Waterfront development.
The wharf scheme has been delayed and delayed despite government
money being available.
Rumours abound that there may be crocodiles in Medway.
One was alleged to have turned up at the school closures
There are concerns in some quarters that it might reappear at
the special council meeting next Tuesday.
With the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary seat of
Rochester and Strood, Mark Reckless, now siding with St Peter's,
anyone still betting that school will close?
Remember - you read it here first!
Howard Doe, the portfolio holder for housing, expressed the hope
some months ago by that we ought to have heard the last of the
housing chaos and the whistleblowers.
The odds are getting shorter that it will finally come onto a
Two assistant directors are to be appointed to the monumental
Children and Adults Directorate.
One will be responsible for adult services, and the other for
children's care. Both will succeed ADs who have moved on.
They already have ones for inclusion, learning and achievement,
and social care...
Each earns about four times the average Medway male.
Monday July 13
A few householders should be looking very carefully at their
insurance policies if they have a big retaining wall close to their
A group of pensioners living in Luton next to the local cemetery
may have to be decanted (or moved on) at least temporarily.
Their homes are not only next to the "dead centre" of Luton, but
are also beneath a fairly aged concrete retaining wall that is
supposed to support the traffic up the hill in the next road.
Except in February the snow and ice brought a Large section of
its crashing down.
About three bus lengths of wall ended up crushing a few graves
and memorials, and taking out most of that road it was supposed to
The council immediately closed it off, and then started looking
at where they could find the one million they needed to repair
They are still looking.
And the half road still survives.
And the pensioners look from their bungalows at the great mass
of concrete that might, just might, decide it wants to fall on
them, courtesy of the rain which is getting into the concrete in
seemingly never ending streams.
So why should householders be worrying?
Well, there are several of these walls around Medway, all built
the same way, all in unforgiving, ungiving concrete, and all about
the same time about a century ago.
This wall belongs to the council.
Most do not.
They are the responsibility of the householder.
Not many would live along the 35 yards of concrete that fell in
Thirty-five yards? - it's about three singledeck buses in
A million pounds to repair?
I think a visit to the insurance policy is in order - now.
After so much prevarication, it is good to see the Sir John
Hawkins flyover is being chopped and ground into history.
Its grave will be the bus and taxi road that will open in a few
months time … unless someone protests loudly, embarrasses the
administration, raises a petition, lies down in front of the
bulldozers…. (delete and substitute your own suggestion if your
But the bridge over Chatham High Street has finally
Friday July 10
They are in hot water again in the poor old, troubled housing
The latest problem to beset them is the discovery that more of
the area's elderly are living in less than ideal circumstances.
And no one seems to have done anything to sort out their
These people live in Brennan House, a sheltered housing unit of
small living units loosely described as "studios".
And a month ago their hot water suddenly stopped flowing.
If they were lucky, every few days the water would once again
flow, hot and inviting - until the shared boiler turned itself
At one point they were without hot water for a full five
When the Medway Messenger asked to speak to some of the
residents we were firmly told "No!"
So if one of them reads this blog, and still feels aggrieved,
give the news room a call. It's (01634) 227803.
We would be delighted to talk to all of you, and perhaps see the
problem for ourselves.
Meanwhile where was MeRGe, the Medway council residents'
And more importantly, what on earth was management playing at?
Someone knew the water had been off for a month - they kept sending
the contractor in to repair it.
I doubt that the Medway Messenger is very popular with the
people running the council's housing department.
After all, we have been hammering on for more than two years
about shoddy management.
So - why does the Medway Messenger have to find out yet again
before anything is actually done?
The council knew it had 32 elderly people - many in their
eighties - without hot water.
They are paying rent to the council to live in one-room
"studios". They should have hot water - now.
Black flags and bunting should be hung along the walls of the
Sir John Hawkins flyover which is being pulled down.
And good riddance to it.
The plan was to remove all traffic from in front of the Pentagon
Shopping Centre, clearing the area for parks and open spaces, a
theatre (known to some as Chatham's first Culture Club), and a
Those dreams have faded somewhat.
The government doesn't think Chatham needs culture (it's had a
sub-culture for years).
If the Pentagon is to turn the Black Hole of Chatham from a
dirty, dingy bus station into a shining example of commercial
get up and go (always providing there are any commercial
undertakings who fancy moving into a converted bus terminus) the
buses need a new home.
So let's bulldoze the last remains of undeveloped Chatham (The
Paddock), and build a dynamic bus station… running buses across the
High Street like they did until the 1970s opening of the
And let's quietly forget that this was going to be an open,
inviting view of the castle, cathedral, Great Lines, and Medway
City Estate, minus traffic
Thursday July 9
Heads continue to roll as the council disposes of people who
have failed it.
There is a growing number of heads - teachers to be precise -
who have not managed to motivate staff and pupils enough.
Nowhere are you judged more on results than in the educational
world at Medway.
It's a cruel world in Medway Education.
No second chances.
Bang! You're gone.
If you are lucky they'll send your personal belongings on - with
a best wishes in your future life…
There will be those who will not have heard of the housing
debacle that has occupied the Medway Messenger, the council (having
once tried to brush it under the carpet) and various government
The saga continues.
Now the latest contractor (to be precise the fourth) to have
held the reins of the £25 million housing repairs contract has been
stripped of the capital programme.
The task of replacing windows, doors, kitchens, and bathrooms is
going back out to tender.
The whole process was intended to bring all Medway's
council-owned homes up to a decent standard by next year.
A few months ago the debacle had the portfolio holder, Howard
Doe, believing it was all over and done.
I said at the time he must be joking.
Obviously he was.
If that 2010 target is to be achieved it is going to need a
great deal of determination.
I believe in praising where people deserve it, and Les Wicks
(the children's portfolio holder) deserves to be praised for
turning up at the Try Angle awards last week.
Conspicuous by his absence a year ago, he was part of the
judging team and he made most of the evening at the Central
Now I wonder whether he will turn up at the summer events
organised for children during the long break.
He's not been seen at any for the past three years.
Wednesday July 8
It was a busy meeting last night for Medway's committee with the
longest descriptive title of them all - the regeneration, community
and culture overview and scrutiny committee.
There was the contract for the waste to be considered, petitions
from the public to consider, and the future management and care of
the castle in Rochester. [You'll be able to read about them (and
more beside) in the Medway Messenger.]
Mind you, the vice chairman, Matt Bright, challenged his name
In a moment lacking any salesmanship for the council's main
tourist attraction, the vice-chairman of a committee
that is sometimes unfairly dubbed the Chatham Kulture
Klub, said: "When you see the castle from the river, it's great,
but when you pay your money and go in it's a real
"There's nothing there except a view."
Given that Rochester Castle is 900 years old, one of the things
that King John knocked about a bit, boasts the tallest keep in the
country, has survived losing stones to ballast the fleet that took
on the Spanish Armada, and is robbed of coppice stones right up to
the present day, it's doing pretty well, thank you.
It easily stands comparison with Goodrich Castle, Bunratty
Castle, Blarney Castle, Oxford Castle… in fact, pretty much every
castle in the land.
As for the view - it's worth the climb to the top just to say
you've been on top of the country's tallest castle. and you do get
a God's Eye View of the Cathedral, too.
Over the coming years the river view is radically going to
It strikes me the BBC would be better placed when they do their
regular weather-spotting views of the Medway if they were to perch
a camera on top of the castle aimed up the Medway Valley. Views of
Medway City Estate aren't really a comforting sign of the new-look
"city of culture"
They would get nice views of Rochester, a changing scene, a
motorway bridge, and sunsets that can be stunning.
And it would bring in a bit of extra cash to pay for the
restoration work - and councillors' grandiose ideas.
Life can be unfair sometimes.
Particularly if you get a little tongue-tied.
Take Roy Hunter, the chairman of that same regeneration etc
At the start of the meeting he tried to apologise for the
failure of the council's photocopier to print any page numbers on
the half-inch thick agenda.
"Before the meeting starts, I want to apologise to everyone that
there is no numberling…err...sorry…numbered-ing ……"
There was a long pause as he reread his notes.
"…..there are no numbers on the agenda pages," he said.
Tuesday July 7
This is one for those who read this column, and fancy a
A fascinating feature of the debate on schools will be what
the Conservatives do about the constitution that allowed their
Labour opponents to call for a special meeting.
Odds-on, the administration will be seeking to block that right.
They have amended the constitution every time someone has found a
Cllr Les Wicks' comments in yesterday's Medway Messenger may be
right: "he" should have written by now to the other people whose
questions were tabled (but not reached) under the time-constricting
rules that stop them from posing too many difficulties.
But Les knows full well "he" has given answers to a clever bunch
of parents, governors and assorted others.
They now have much more time to consider the "short
supplementary question" that could do his case irreparable
The news that Mark Reckless was joining the campaign to save one
of the schools like his mentor, Ted Baker, is no surprise.
He said he would make up his mind after he had considered all
the facts. Then - amid loud boos and shouts - the man who would be
Rochester and Strood's next MP voted with the Conservatives (minus
One thing that may have helped make up his mind was that
vocal response from the very people who could swing the vote
in his favour.
Regeneration councillors meet this evening, and you can lay more
bets on the councillors praising the multitude of benefits that
will accrue from the proposed new refuse disposal contract (that
means waste to the rest of us).
There are two little asides that I would praise.
One is the restoration of a hit squad to go out and clear
rubbish from trouble spots - like the pile of tyres that appears
overnight on a small plot of land for which no one knows the land
The other is the decision to arrange street cleaning on the day
after the refuse has been removed.
It has been a tradition in some parts of the Medway Towns for
the contractors to clean the road just before the wagons come down
the streets. So that if they spill some, or the cats have been
plaguing the black bags, the roads look dirty and unkempt for a
month - until the hours before the next collection.
It was one of the insoluble problems from the old contract with
I'd bet they don't win the new contract.
Friday July 3
Rare powers have been used to give the public a better chance of
being heard over their concerns for four schools facing
An "extraordinary special meeting" of the council has been
arranged for July 21 at the St George's Centre to hear questions
from the public - many of whom were talked out by the sheer volume
of questions at the last meeting.
Five leading Labour councillors dusted down the council's
constitution to allow more time to debate the schools' futures.
They used a power called requisitioning to have the special
It is expected many more questions will be tabled by members of
the public but the only ones that will be allowed will be the ones
that didn't get answered a couple of weeks ago.
New questions will have to be sent in for the next ordinary
council meeting (not that any are ordinary these days) which is a
The extraordinary special etc etc does give councillors opposed
to the plans the chance to ask more questions - and to try to add
at least one more parliamentary candidate to the list of opponents
that already include a former Tory deputy mayor, Ted Baker.
I suspect the walls may run red on July 21...
I have read, heard and (on occasions) written some drivel, but
the press release from ther World Development Movement ahead of the
latest protests against the Kingsnorth plans take the biscuit.
OK - it's mildly amusing to talk about calling thep lanned human
chain around the power station site as a Mili-Band (gerrit?)
But saying the proposed power station could be to blame for a
death a day without backing it up is codswallop.
According to Deborah Doane, director of the World Development
movement shocking new statistics show "the devastating human impact
that carbon emissions from a new Kingsnorth plant alone could have"
on people in the developing world.
According to this woman, 100,000 more people will lose their dry
season water supply, up to 300 more people will die annually due to
malnutrition, another 60,000 people will suffer from drought in
Africa, 50,000 more people will go hungry due to drought and lower
crop yields, another 40,000 people will be exposed to malaria,
20,000 people become climate refugees (whatever that means) and
30,000 more people lose their homes due to coastal flooding
She stated: "These figures reveal, for the first time, the
devastating human impact of building a new Kingsnorth coal power
They simply show how to produce figures the gullible might
I could tell you there will be a 250 metre high tsunami because
of last night's thunderstorms.
I could argue that in 2,000 years everyone will have grown
I don't need to back it up with evidence, of course. Someone
would believe it - just like aliens landed at Roswell (as though
the Yanks don't have enough eccentrics to make we British seem
Ms Doane, and her Mili-Band should be rounded up, and dropped in
the middle of the River Medway:
And talking of rubbish, it's expected later this month that a
£500 million contract will be let to someone to take over the
council's refuse disposal operations.
First challenge will be to achieve the government's 40 per cent
recycling target by next year. It's a big ask (as they say today):
the council currently recycles less than 33 per cent.
And in the middle of it all, there's a plan to send much of the
household waste to incinerators.
That's going to cause some interesting debates.
I was told: "We will use one of two incinerators outside Medway.
We don't produce enough waste to make it economical to have one in
Watch the lorries heading up the A2 and round the M25.
And listen for the administration justifying the biggest
contract in the council's history - and their biggest-ever
Rodney Chambers, the council leader, could face some interesting
moments after vehemently opposing such an idea only a couple of
I went to the Central Theatre last night to join in the applause
for the hundreds of young people (the council still recognises them
as "children") who were being recognised at the annual Try Angle
Once again I was struck by the way children's director, Rose
Collinson, recognised that some of the youngsters would be
terrified to go on stage, under the lights and in front of a
largely unseen, boisterous audience.
One young winner nearly didn't make it to the stage. But she got
Rose ran across with her certificate - and gave her a big
sister-type, friendly squeeze, and had a private word with her that
no one else could see.
It calmed the girl terrified by the unknown.
It was a touching day, brilliantly organised by the Medway Youth
Parliament, and compered by Medway's answer to Richard and Judy -
11-year-old Gamal Toseafa and the MYP vice-chairman, Heather
Other highlights were David Knight and Jon Cobb who did an old,
but brilliantly timed, comedy routine that had the audience close
to hysterics, a classical piano solo by Kelvin Min, toe-tapping
music from Chatham South Jazz Band, and a colourful close from
Thursday July 2
The community support officers - policing on a budget - have
been along my road.
Three of them were needed to deliver an A5 leaflet to my home
the other day.
It told me there are four surgeries a week where you can chat to
my neighbourhood policing team (only once in my neighbourhood
It also told me that a Gillingham woman had been jailed for five
years for a street robbery in which she kicked away the victim's
walking aid (if they mean a stick why not describe it as such?)
They also told me that the alcohol-free zones now stretch from
Rochester High Street to the Great Lines. Great news….
But why tell Rainham residents who would be interested in their
neighbour, jailed for 12 months for robbing an octogenarian's home
while he was supposed to be keeping an eye on it. Unfortunately we
don't know who the unnamed, unidentified, unaddressed man is.
The problem with authority-run newsletters is that they get some
But too often they are filled out with dross, fail to target
their audience, and are more politically correct than someone
trying to injure an HSE inspector.
Try getting a local paper: you'll get a better view of what is
happening in your neighbourhood.
Have you ever thought you would buy friends?
It's a serious question.
Increasingly I hear of Twits (I understand those are people who
twitter) who count their friendships in terms of the names that
appear on the screen of their computer.
They are not real friends as most people know them. They are
people at the end of a keyboard, who knows where. They chose to
correspond with you and (coincidentally) may be known to you:
people like relatives, school chums, work colleagues .…
But increasingly they are people who you will never meet except
on the internet.
And Twits call them friends.
They are increasingly important to small-minded, immature
people, who judge each other on the basis of how many friends they
Yesterday I had an invitation to buy some friends... up to
100,000 if I want.
A press release (unsolicited but typical of the net) told me: "…
Twitter is in the sights of those looking to have their fame and
status artificially increased."
It went on that a web traffic and promotion company has just
launched a service allowing Twitter users to purchase packages of
followers if they are having trouble attaining them on their
"It was obvious people had been looking for a service like this
for some time as the day we launched we actually had to start
turning people away before close of business," said their
"It was a shock, but within a couple of days we revamped our
systems to ensure we could handle the workload."
Talk about money for old rope!
Could there be wedding bells in the St George's Centre before
A new alliance has been formed that ignores party loyalties
in favour of far more meaningful ones.
I'll bet that makes for interesting times when the various
parties are scheming.
Will we see a by-election - or someone else cross the floor?
Wednesday July 1
The news that National Express was in deep financial trouble has
come as no surprise to anyone in the business or in politics.
The decision this morning of Richard Bowker to step down as
chief executive of the bus, coach and rail operating company, and
the subsequent announcement that the East Coast operations are to
be taken into public ownership, is not unexpected.
While interviewing Lord Adonis on his round Britain train tour
earlier this year, he was well aware of their problems. So was Paul
Clark, the Gillingham MP and transport minister.
It is clear the emergency plans were already in place at that
I used to work for National Express in one of its senior
In those days it ran coach services, and did it pretty
successfully despite having me aboard.
My chief executive at that time (later my chairman) was Clive
Myers, a coach man with a clear vision of the company.
We didn't own any of the buses. But we controlled them (after a
That slowly evolved into a company with less than a handful of
coaches (bought to cover the legal requirements and to show other
operators what we wanted).
We avoided the major financial risks.
Someone else owned the coaches, employed the crews, and we paid
them to operate to our rules and timetables, in our colours. And
that was it.
We raked in the money, we paid it out, and the company took its
slice of the profits.
If a route became unprofitable we changed it - or dropped it
The beast that we eventually sold immediately became a FTSE
And started to grow.
The new owners ignored the basic rules that Clive Myers
established: don't own things. It gives you too much responsibility
- and too many risks of draining cash.
They bought airports, rail franchises, big bus companies (they
own - or did yesterday - the West Midlands main bus operator)
The only thing that remains from the Myers years is the white
It has gone through a number of variations.
The only improvement on that beast has been the steady
standardisation of the coach, and to a unique design that is pure
But they took their eye off the ball. And now the company will
be lucky to survive.
If one of the great transport names is to survive (and I was the
person who created that name) get out of trains. Get out of buses.
Have the minimum number of staff and coaches.
And go back to the basics.
I was not the only one to wander around the Historic Dockyard on
Saturday with a wristband, and no other restraint.
Where were the searches?
Why were people able to enter without wristbands?
Who were the people who pushed past a Prime Minister, an
admiral, a general and the (well-behaved) photographers and
reporters, to get photos of the Duke of Gloucester when he
And if there was no concern about them, why are we so security
conscious in 21st century Britain?
Monday June 29
It was very apparent at Armed Forces Day: the fleet ain't what
it was when Chatham maintained it.
On the river where the English ships were prepared before taking
on the Spanish Armada, and where successive, mainly successful,
fleets sailed to war not always to return, we saw the 21st Century
The men and women (and the cadets who hope to follow in their
boot steps) are still great.
But what of the fleet itself, selected to represent one arm of
the great services so many people honoured: Chatham, after all,
was the main event in a nation's day of tribute to the armed
HMS Argyll - 20 years old.
HMS Cattistock - 28 years old
HMS Archer and HMS Tracker - 24 years old.
Where Nelson and a host of other admirals (up to the present
day) learned their skills, and where their ships and submarines
were built for centuries, it was evident: we have slipped down the
table of great navies.
Even the French navy is now bigger and better equipped than the
What a day, though.
It ranged from the hair-raising "Now you see 'em, now you don't"
flypast by the Red Arrows (exactly as promised) to the grace of the
Battle of Britain Memorial flight.
There were tears from old men as the bands played, and from
those who understood what the veterans (some who are still in their
teens) had been through.
There was immense pride in all the fighting services.
None more so than for the Little Men - the Ghurkas - who were
able to stare the Prime Minister in the eye as they passed the
Royal Saluting Box - and did.
Gordon Brown was a whirlwind, racing through the crowds greeting
as many people as he could.
A colleague - true to the finest traditions of the news world -
immediately raised her camera and filmed him as he tried to shake
There was one touch I noticed as the vets went through. An old
man on the right of the parade line said something to Mr Brown.
Whatever his comment was clearly appreciated. The Prime
Minister leant forward, and briefly grabbed the man's arm, with a
clear "Thank you!" on his lips.
If you ever wondered where the police are when you need them,
the answer on Saturday was "Chatham!"
The security was massive.
Police high vis jackets were everywhere, the real security was
out of sight, watching and ready for the slightest trouble, the
media was escorted (even by an Admiral on at least one occasion)
from one viewing point to another, and the public (in the finest
traditions of the Medway Towns) ignored it all and enjoyed
One thing missing (and considering the commitment from the
council it was a big whoopsy) was any acknowledgment of Medway.
The PM proudly mentioned Chatham at least a dozen times in his
private speech to guests of the Royal British Legion.
The Admirals and Air Chief Marshals mentioned Chatham.
But what happened to any mention of the aspiring City of
Zilch. Nada. Nowt.
Will we now see the abandonment of Medway and the restoration of
the towns (and city) names that clearly mean a lot more to
politicians, warriors and the general public outside a small area
of North Kent.
Friday June 26
Poor Cllr Mason regrets his decision to use that empty space at
the front of Gun Wharf for his important meetings.
The veteran councillor understands the needs of the disabled. He
should do - he has a bad leg, and he is the portfolio holder
responsible for protecting their rights.
So when he was in a hurry for a meeting at the civic
headquarters on June 10 he swung into the disabled bays and left
his rather unwieldy Jaguar.
It was, m'lud, an opportunity to test the facilities.
He was not to know a man on crutches would turn up and want to
use the same parking space.
He was a councillor, he was late, and he had to consider the
urgent matters that demand his presence during the day.
One man on crutches could walk the 200 yards from his car in the
far corner of the council car park. It was available. It should be
pointed out it was marked for staff, but he took it. And no one
complained at that, did they?
No one can blame Cllr Mason that that taxpayer couldn't squeeze
between the parked cars, but instead had to walk all the way round
the outside of the car park.
There were important things to do in the council offices, there
was a meeting, the councillors' parking area opposite the disabled
spaces was full, and Cllr Mason didn't intend to stay
around after the 3pm Cabinet meeting.
As for the song and dance in the media, Cllr Mason must feel
really aggrieved to have to account for his use of a council car
parking space on the following Monday evening.
After all, what right had disabled people to park in the area
after the offices closed?
Cllr Mason insisted he had only parked there once - on the
evening of the Conservative group meeting. There were no disabled
members of his political group (apart from his bad leg).
When he was in a hurry, he could have been testing the parking
After all, the same week Cllr Mason parked there to test the
space for several hours, Britain had ratified the rights of
disabled people to be treated right.
If it was so appalling, I am sure Jonathan Shaw, the
Minister for Disabled People and the MP for Gun Wharf, would have
It was he who ratified the international treaty that enshrines
their human rights of disabled people.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities is a powerful and explicit statement, which states
that disabled people must be able to enjoy, on an equal basis, the
same human rights as others, said his ministry.
Mr Shaw said: "The ratification of the Convention is a very
significant landmark, for disabled people and for UK Government and
society as a whole. Not only does it show the Government's
commitment to equality of human rights for disabled people, but our
determination to achieve equality by 2025.
"Now that we have ratified we can start implementing the
Convention, building on the approach towards disability equality
set out in our 2005 report 'Improving the Life Chances of Disabled
People'. We aim to start the Parliamentary process for ratification
of the Optional Protocol to the Convention shortly."
So instead of vilifying Cllr Mason, we should be praising him
for his sacrifice, and for raising the profile of Medway's
And there I rest the case for the defence, M'Lud.
Thursday June 25
At some stage the council will be formally told that it has been
held to account over the whistleblowing debacle in the housing
Tonight, for example, the Audit Committee will be told there had
been a recent employment tribunal case where it was found that an
individual had been unfairly dismissed because of
And that would appear to be it.
The report is by Deborah Upton, the council's monitoring
who also happens to be the legal officer who advised officers
what to do with the whistleblowers ....
then investigated the housing debacle and found it was pretty
normal for hundreds of thousands of pounds to be wasted on the
housing repairs contract ....
and so became its housing chief.
It's not that there is a deliberate attempt to bury an appalling
mess... heaven forbid.
But it is being concealed.
The report is reviewing the way the council deals with
corruption and fraud within its operations.
Five issues are going to be mentioned tonight - four raised by
management and fifth by the public, only one of which has resulted
in disciplinary action.
But the council seems to want to ignore the whole disgraceful
business about the Erinaceous contract, and how it ended up after
seven months with rent money being wasted on overcharged repairs
and maintenance that still saw the contractor end up in
Nothing has ever been formally reported, but the £25 million
contract has been handed over to a Gloucester company without any
consultation, competition, explanation or public opportunity to
One wonders what the European Commission's competition rulers
Meanwhile all that the council considers worthy of comment is
one and a half sentences - with a massive bill for legal battles,
and a £70,000 compensastion package for the three whistleblowers
(not one) over the way they were treated.
The Audit Committee might like to consider a few questions of
Why did its own auditors fail to find any evidence of the
hundreds of thousands being wasted?
Why the money was paid with the full authority of an assistant
Why the council has delayed paying the whistleblowers?
And as a consequence why, unnecessarily, it has to pay them
interest on the money the council owns them.
Wednesday June 24
There were strident notes from a mobile phone in the middle of
yesterday's Cabinet meeting.
Council Leader, Rodney Chambers, raised an eyebrow.
"Who is selling ice cream?" he asked in a tone that would have
frozen a Ninety Nine.
Cllr Phil Filmer - clearly embarrassed - rapidly switched his
phone to silent mode.
He was lucky.
Had it been in front of a planning inspector instead of the
Leader it could have cost him dearly.
They often levy a £10 "donation" for their favourite local
charity if anyone's phone sounds.
The council's Chancellor, Alan Jarrett, has revealed he likes to
watch Newsnight on the BBC.
Earlier this week he saw the first of the whimsical news slots
looking at how some councils are trying to save money.
His wife wondered how the man who sits over Medway's Star
Chamber each autumn would have acted.
"I would have applied some of the rigours on central government
that they apply to local government - and seen how they managed,"
There's a new sign in the housing department at Medway Council
since Deborah Upton, the assistant director who has added that
department to her legal portfolio, moved in.
Her office door has a neat blue sign labelling her office the
She never found her legal eagle's whig after the move from the
Tuesday June 23
This column has often been critical of the process of
consultation followed by the administration at Medway Council.
We finally got a definitive explanation of what it should be,
from Cllr David Brake, chairman of the children and adults
committee, at last week's council meeting.
"Consultation is consultation," he proclaimed to the massed
So there you have it, except....
Well my old Latin master, A E Hancock, said it came from the
Latin word, consultare, meaning to discuss.
Consultation has come to mean confer, obtain professional
advice, and seek information.
But in Medway consultation does not define with whom, how many
or for how long.
Cllr Tony Goulden popped up with a good explanation of the
schools' consultations: "It's the option of do you want to be shot
- or not. There is no answer other than no!"
He was the one who suggested the 50,000 people moving into the
area would have to be barren to ensure the schools figures
The council's headmaster, Mayor David Royle, may rethink using
the gavel to bring some semblance of order to council debates
during his year in office.
During the vitriolic discussions about the schools last week,
his use of it immediately had Cllr Vince Maple of the Middle Third
wagging his ponytail.
"What's that - warming up for the land auction?" the scallywag
asked in a reference to what many believe could happen to the
He could have ended up with lines (or worse) if he
The council's website - once claimed as a leading example - is
so out of date that the administration is spending some of the cash
saved last year to revive it.
One area that desperately needs action is the council's search
You need to have a Doctorate in Computer Sciences to be able to
understand how to quiz it to find out what the council has decided
in the past.
Ahhh - maybe that's why it has never been improved.
Monday June 22
Fortress Gun Wharf… it's a phrase getting used more and
It was first coined by Cllr Maureen Ruparel.
It describes the way the public is increasingly unable to get
close to their councillors, the officers and the plans that affect
I tend to agree with the summation.
Chatting to various people affected by the disabled parking row
- disabled and councillors - it is clear that the council is
beginning to recognise the problems it has with parking.
It is not helped by a number of people who see it as a cheap
place to park (eg, for free) while the councillors and the officers
have to work there (also parking for free).
So the gates are going in.
But that increases the alienation.
And the political capital that can be made.
The answer might be to build a multi storey underground car
park. Except that causes problems, not least with a financial
After all, you can't ask dozens of senior managers and leading
councillors to walk .... can you?
Friday June 18
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the planned school
closures in Medway are all about money.
It has nothing to do with children's education.
It has everything to do with building new schools at government
Put up schools that can replace many dilapidated, worn-out
buildings. If you can get someone else to foot the bill, all well
But the ethos at Fortress Gun Wharf (the name being used by
councillors and the public about Medway Council's headquarters) is
On the one hand we hear talk about putting children at the heart
That it is an open council.
That schools' standards are being driven up quicker than
neighbouring, rival, Kent County Council.
That schools are the very heart of the community.
That consultations mean everything to the council and the
It is repeatedly criticised by the Audit Commission for ignoring
consultations on planning, regeneration …
Dare I add schools? I do.
The open council of Medway is increasingly impossible to visit.
Gates will soon stop people entering. Meeting councillors is almost
impossible - and to speak to the Cabinet is like the mudlark who
wanted to approach Queen Victoria.
School standards are being driven up. But Medway Council is not
taking the people with it.
It was repeatedly, last night, a case of we haven't made a
decision about the land, or your school, but we will get £11
million from the government if we move quickly.
Medway's population is to grow by 50,000 in the next 10 years.
As someone said last night is said and is eyed by the council as a
One extraordinary case was that of Walderslade Primary
£1 million has already been spent on that 100-pupil school. It
was ravaged by fire - no one was ever caught.
By pure coincidence it is in a Conservative heartland.
Yet Ridge Meadow, which has a better reputation, more pupils,
and (again by coincidence is in a strong Labour ward nearby, faces
closure for "falling roles".
As someone said last night: "Are the new residents all to be
That it is next to Bradfields special school, which the council
would like to expand because of the increasing number of local
children with autism, and has lots of land, is also
I believe a number of councillors on the conservative ranks have
not made up their minds yet.
There are strong, vociferous and well-organised groups of
residents, parents, teachers and "the people at the very heart of
our community" who are prepared to offer them very sound reasons
why they should stay.
The council's CCTV camera car has been catching lots of mums
outside schools and In A Mini drivers in a restaurant hot spot in
But it seems it is unable to do anything about things happening
right under its nose.
The car that has collected over £200,000 in fines - enough to
fund a second one and subsidise the council tax - seems loathe to
tackle disabled parkers who fail to display their blue tickets.
Among those who clearly have a right to park in disabled spaces
are members of the 10-man Conservative Cabinet that runs the
council's Zero Tolerance, Get Tough policies.
Cllr Alan Jarrett (the Council's deputy leader and the man who
rakes in the parking fines and redistributes it - somewhat like the
Sheriff of Nottingham) forgot his disabled card the other
The cricketing councillor, Rehman Chishti (the Cabinet's
enforcer and prospective Conservative MP) was another who forgot to
produce his disabled badge.
Also there was Cllr Tom Mason, whose main task these days is to
represent the interests of the elderly and infirm.
They were recently caught by a diligent member of the
opposition, Glyn Griffiths, using disabled parking spots at Gun
Wharf while they attended a Conservative group meeting.
Cllr Mason insisted it was a one-off, and anyway it was after
the council closed for the day.
Parking is a major problem across Medway, and not just at Gun
Most of its parking spaces are reserved for senior managers,
though this blogger admits he regularly parks wherever there is an
It brings into stark highlight the problems in Canterbury
It is almost impossible for the restaurateurs' customers to get
a snack - or even a meal - since the same three councillors voted
for parking restraints to be increased earlier this year.
The British economy is not helping - but the council could.
Meanwhile, Councillors Jarrett, Mason and Chishti believe it is
all right when no one else wants to use disabled spots.
As Miss Islam said: "It's one rule for them and another for the
rest of us."
And yes - it is disgraceful.
It was confirmed last night that the Duke and Duchess of
Gloucester will take the Royal Salute at the end of the parade into
the Historic Dockyard in a week's time.
No Princes of the Realm.
What a shame that such a major event on the first occasion it is
held and the last time it will take place in a provincial town
could not command a Charles, William or Henry.
Meanwhile can I wish Bill Fowler, one of the key parts of the
organisation getting this event together, a swift and full recovery
from ill health.
The dockyard needs that mop of yellow hair bouncing around the
One million pounds doesn't seem to be much to turn the fortunes
of the Hundred of Hoo School.
It was finally officially confirmed this week it had been placed
in special measures after a crashing Ofsted and in the wake of the
sacking of the governors.
Mind, can you imagine being a student whose head teacher turned
round to you and said: "Must do better!….. here's a million that
Thursday June 18
The sale of the Medway Tunnel to the council is moving ever
But no one is too enamoured about speeding up the process -
unless you are a councillor.
They want the tunnel because it will immediately bring a cash
injection from the Rochester Bridge Trust.
The wardens are promising Medway £3,648,000 to take it off their
hands. But the longer they delay the sale the more interest they
can acrue for their other needy work.
The trouble is that it leaves the Medway taxpayers facing a
massive bill for long-overdue tunnel repairs that the council
failed to carry out in previous years.
The money is earmarked for new computers and CCTV cameras to
control the traffic.
Meanwhile, expect the Minister for the South East, Jonathan Shaw
(the Chatham and Aylesford MP through whose constituency the tunnel
does not flow) to lodge a formal objection when he sees the
sell-off plan is being advertised in The London Gazette today.
No government wants that burden.
And somehow I don't think the local taxpayers want the
liabilities that it will bring.
Dig out the flak jackets and steel helmets if you plan to attend
tonight's council meeting at the St George's Centre.
The discussion on the schools reductions is likely to be more
acrimonious than anything seen in the old debating chambers.
There will be a few hundred angry mums and dads crammed into the
former church who have already expressed major concerns.
There will be 49 who want to ask questions - and get answers.
Yet there is only 30 minutes for the entire process and (as things
stood last night) not a snowball's chance on a visit to "the other
place" that it will be extended by the mayor.
The more I think of Cllr Maureen Ruparel's description of the
new council offices as Fortress Gun Wharf the more accurate I find
They'll soon have the gates up and working - so unless you want
a long walk through the roadworks or plan to block Brompton's
pretty streets you won't get in there.
One million pounds doesn't seem to be much to turn the
fortunes of the Hundred of Hoo School.
It was finally officially confirmed this week it had been placed
in special measures after a crushing Ofsted report.
Mind, can you imagine being a student whose head teacher turned
round to you and said: "Must do better!….. here's a million that
Two council meetings have been cancelled this week - one for
employment matters where they still haven't updated the way the
8,100 staff are consulted by the management, and the other for
The regeneration scrutiny committee had set aside last night to
debate the Local Development Framework.
Then someone remembered that the freethinking backbenchers need
the Cabinet to tell them to discuss it - and they haven't see it
That comes on Tuesday, but given the views expressed at a press
conference earlier this week I can guarantee the Cabinet will be
fuming about some of the proposals.
Wednesday June 17
I was wrong last week, and I humbly apologise.
There are only 49 questioners asking councillors about the
primary schools consultation process (well, almost exclusively
about it) tomorrow night.
Normally question time lasts 25 minutes but because of the
numbers involved it has been extended … to 30 minutes.
That's the total time allowed to put all the questions, get
the answers, put short supplementary questions (the shortness of
supplementaries is always stressed by mayors) and all the
subsequent answers while allowing time for each questioner to get
to the microphone.
Given the strength of anger and annoyance which has spread
through the schools under threat of closure it might be wise for
the mayor, Cllr David Royle, to say the questions can run through
to a natural conclusion.
It will make for a long, long meeting, but he was a deputy head
himself, so he knows how strong people's feelings are for their
That's before the government pushes us to conceive schools as
"at the heart of the community".
These are good schools in the main, achieving fine results, and
turning out more than competent youngsters. Yet they face extinct
or radical overhaul.
Their parents don't give a toss for economies of scale, for
political arguments or for the promises to "listen to all the
Their kids' education is at stake.
Their finances are under threat (how much is a school uniform
Their routines are being challenged.
Worst of all, their kids are upset: they expect mum and dad to
save their classroom from bulldozing councillors and busybody
officers who see this as a cost cutting exercise - and getting the
government to fund new buildings.
All of which could disappear in a few weeks time if Gordon Brown
went to the polls, and David Cameron won on his reported
cost-cutting government ticket.
It is a fact that men live about
five years less than women - or put another way women have
traditionally enjoyed 10 years more pensionable leisure than
But that doesn’t mean all of us are
racing for the wooden box.
According to local health chiefs,
if you are 55 (or older) but want to stay healthy and happy for the
next fifty years, NHS Medway and Medway Older People’s Partnership
(MOPP) have the very thing you need. It's an information and
advice booklet for older Medway people covering safety, physical
and mental health, bereavement, retirement, spirituality, legal
matters, coping with life changes, and caring for others.
The free booklet is being launched
next week in Hempstead Valley by the Mayor of Medway, Cllr David
Royle, before going on a promo tour of Medway's libraries (and even
the far flung reaches of the peninsula thanks to the mobile
Meanwhile one well known local journalist who has recently
retired admitted the other night that after 38 years sedentary life
behind a news desk he has started jogging .
Dotage by the sounds of it….
Tuesday June 16
One gets used to screams of indignation and opposition from
politicians to ideas that are sometimes forced upon them by
It is seldom, however, that Medway councillors and officers have
lined up in such depth as they did yesterday to explain to two
reporters why it would appear the council is endorsing the dreaded
Medway Magna proposal.
This is a scheme dreamed up by landowners (in the main) to
develop the last sizeable tract of greenery in urban Medway.
I am not suggesting for one minute that they would quickly sell
their prime farm land for many times its agricultural value if it
These are respectable families who believe they have the
opportunity to solve the housing problem in the south east at the
flash of a theodolite - or the scratch of a planner's pen.
They want the council to allow a monstrous section of land
linking Medway with Maidstone across the North Downs to be
developed. It would provide homes, flats, apartments, roads,
garages and industrial premises on undeveloped land - so much
easier (and cheaper) to develop than brown fields.
Council leader Rodney Chambers, his strategic planning queen,
Jane Chitty, his development director, Robin Cooper, and finance
supremo, Alan Jarrett, each took it in turns to emphasise that they
are not responsible for these proposals.
They simply cannot avoid including them in the council's latest
bid to get a local development framework (LDF) for Medway approved
Their messages were clear. They can be summed up as:
Don't blame the administration
Don't blame the officers
We have more than enough development land
We shall lie down in front of the bulldozers if they arrive
We shall fight them on the hilltops, we shall fight them….. (You
get the drift, I'm sure).
The council is definite in its opposition (even before it goes
to other councillors to consider). It's in because the rules say
all proposals, and not just a council's, have to be considered by
This time, I think the councillors are fully justified in
screaming "Blame others!"
They already include in their LDF proposal
6,000 homes earmarked for the Chattenden and Lodge Hill barracks
areas ("probably more," said Cllr Chambers)
2,000 homes already approved for Rochester Riverside,
600 at both Temple and Strood Waterfront sites,
800 more at Gillingham waterfront, and
a few thousand likely at Strood Civic Centre.
With developments already taking place, and windfalls (when Mr
Smith knocks down his bungalow and builds 24 flats on the site)
bringing hundreds more, they don't consider there is justification
But as well as Medway Magna, a planning inspector will be very
reluctantly asked to consider rejecting privately-proposed
developments to the east and the north of Rainham, and linking Hoo,
Chattenden, Cliffe Woods and High Halstow.
The three most powerful councillors involved with development,
plus their director, intend to fight it to the death if any of
these rejected proposals are eventually accepted towards the 16,300
homes targeted to be built in Medway by 2026.
This morning, the Tory prospective candidate for Chatham and
Aylesford, Tracy Crouch, launched a campaign with 23,000 letters to
constituents urging them to fight the proposals. Other candidates
may follow suit in the next few days.
It was a delight to hear Ofsted can finally walk unannounced
into a school.
That could cause worries for numerous schools across the country
(not just in Medway).
The inspectors can immediately start judging the education being
The problem for some schools is that at present they can plan
for the inspectors' arrival.
Pupils, staff and governors can be coached on what to say and
how to react if an inspector speaks to them.
They can put up special displays of children's work as a symbol
for the inspectors, not as a recognition of the pupils'
They can plan the visit as though it was a piece of
entertainment - or a battle campaign.
Not any more.
And that will give greater satisfaction in the community that
their local school will get its rating in future on reality, not a
It was a shock to see the face of Medway's Big Brother, Reh
Chishti, beaming down the A2 from the corner of Canterbury
Are we to see more councillors going for high profile
For example, Diane Chambers, chairman of the planning committee,
appearing on the outside of big developments with "Diana - approver
of this great developent" (even though she is capable to slamming
some they are forced to agree).
Or Bill Esterson "fighting for a school near you".
What about Steve Kearney "Growling for a better Gillingham"?
(Big Brother? - well Reh is the overseer of Medway's 400-plus
Incidentally, I hear our sporting politician (cricket,
half-marathons et al) has now been elected president of the
Hollands and Blair football club. He will be installed next
Monday June 15
It takes a bit of guts to walk into your enemy's home and do
unto him as he would do unto you (if he ever got his hands on
So the Conservatives' Shadow Transport Minister, Steven Hammond,
was taking a big risk wandering around Medway last Friday. He was
chatting merrily to potential voters in Paul Clark's constituency -
the same week Mr C became shipping minister as well as trains
and buses minister.
Mr Hammond might have been prepared for a confrontation with Mr
What he might not have expected was the reception he got from
some very alert students at Chatham Grammar School for Girls.
They were political students - under the same teacher that
taught Mr Clark's nemesis, Cllr Reh Chishti.
She stayed away.
Mr Hammond may have wished the same had happened to the present
They were ultra polite to their guest, but suddenly he was under
fire for daring to say that teenagers could not have cut price
tickets from a Conservative government: it would cost the taxpayer
They pushed and pushed, and while he didn't do an Alistair
("Gosh is that the time - I must be going!") Darling, it was
difficult to decide who was the victor - prospective government
minister-in-waiting or the post-Chishti era pupils in Rainham Road
who will soon have the chance to cast a vote themselves.
Local development frameworks (LDFs) are not the world's most
But they are beginning to shape our lives in ways we could never
They have replaced Local Plans - the things which determine who
the community intends to provide for its future.
Every council has one - or has one being pulled together.
Medway has two.
Or correctly it has had two.
The first had to be scrapped after the council ended a bitter
slanging match with a determined Planning Inspector appointed two
years ago supposedly to approve the scheme.
It cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, involved massive teams
of developers' barristers ganging up on the forward planner
responsible for the proposals, and was withdrawn by the
regeneration director at the eleventh hour.
It saved the council's face.
The problem was Medway had put forward plans based on the
original rules. But they were continually being developed and
Today, the first sight of the revised development framework -
heavily reworked by a small team of planners under Brian
McCutcheon, the forward planning manager - will be produced at
a press briefing on the changes.
It promises to be the start of a fascinating week which has seen
the cancellation of a special regen overview committee (where the
revised LDF was expected to be rubber-stamped, and forwarded to
Cabinet and then council for approval), the scrapping of an
employment committee meeting - and the full council meeting.
Not that many councillors would bother to read the LDF - it's
too complicated/big/much time (delete as appropriate). Nor will
many of them bother to attend the public debate as it enfolds along
clearly defined lines.
The framework seeks to protect countryside while providing
enough development land for homes and schools, shops and offices,
and ensure that there is land for the jobs to be created.
Every planning application will be affected by the LDF. It will
be the rock on which good developments should grow, and bad ones
It tells anyone who bothers to consult it whether they live next
to a future factory, if their garden is earmarked for a motorway
extension, whether a park and ride scheme will be built on your
neighbour's cabbage patch, or if the fields behind your
home are to be protected from development in the next 30
Last time Mr Cunningham was concerned there was insufficient
land allocated for the thousands of jobs that Medway
is guaranteeing to provide for the 50,000 additional residents
coming as part of the Thames Gateway expansion.
The Medway Magna development proposals seem sure to
They were proposed by land owners and developers who want to
convert most of the rich farmland between Maidstone and Medway
(especially between the M2 and the Darland Banks) into housing,
factories and logistics bases.
It was heavily opposed by the council, and by the regional
But times change.
Certainly, it will be interesting to see what else has
Friday, June 12
I advised Medway's residents yesterday to take a trip to a
suicide clinic in Switzerland rather than rely on care locally as
they grow older and more infirm.
In case you doubt it, this gem of an statement was sent to me
setting out the council's official position on the spending cut
backs so heavily criticised by Age Concern and Help the Aged.
I quote it in full.
"Medway raised its eligibility threshold to Substantial and
Critical in April 2008. This brought the council into line with
over two thirds of councils that have a threshold at this level.
The decision to raise the threshold was because of the increasing
demand for services. The increase in demand has been mainly driven
by the good news that people are living longer and the advent of
heroic [CORR] medicine, which means that more people than ever are
living longer with very complex needs.
"As part of the decision to raise the eligibility threshold, the
council identified £500,000 to be invested in the voluntary and
community sector to support people with low and moderate social
care needs. Part of the commissioning intentions for this money
includes investment in services for older people.
"The increase in demand for social care and health services will
continue to increase and this presents a challenge for both the
council and NHS Medway. The council is currently finalising an
Older People's Plan that will address all aspects of older people's
lives. The plan is being developed in partnership with NHS Medway
and a joint commissioning strategy for health and social care
services is being written at the same time so that it ensures that
the vision and the priorities identified in the Plan are
"Last year 08/09 the council overspent on services for older
people by more than £300,000 in order to ensure that we delivered
our priority of older people maintaining their independence."
Now let me comment.
The first paragraph proposes that because there are so many
needing assistance from the council they'll make it more difficult
to get help because of "the good news that people are living longer
and the advent of heroic medicine, which means that more people
than ever are living longer with very complex needs."
Heroic medicine? I've no idea!
The second paragraph says they are throwing money at voluntary
groups this year. Well, hip-hip-hooray. Age Concern and Help the
Aged are voluntary groups, and they were the ones that were
highlighting the council's one of 35 giving bad service to the
elderly even though they tick all the "excellent" boxes for
government watchdogs. There is no assurance for someone in a sick
bed that if they give their house key to a volunteer that that
person has been cleared by Criminal Bureau Records checks - like
council workers, teachers, and a host of other local government and
PCT staff: It's a cost the voluntary groups may not be prepared to
The third paragraph says a report is being written. That ticks a
few more boxes, but does it really improve the care for those
forced to lie in dirty beds, surrounded by filth, and unable to
wash because they are too incapacitated?
The final paragraph sums it all up: the council failed to budget
accurately. That is not their fault: social care is one of the most
imprecise areas for anyone estimating how many people will need
carers, how many will need chair lifts, or how many will need
walking sticks, Zimmer frames, rails to climb stairs and the
multitude of other costs of Care in the Community.
The politicians will argue who is to blame.
Meanwhile, behind the fluttering curtains, a little lonely old
lady may be vainly trying to raise assistance before she soils
Official questions have been raised about the time primary
school children took out of class to attend meetings where their
schools' futures were under discussion.
If I was one of the heads facing the Inquisitor General I would
have no hesitation defending the actions.
They were studying.
Subjects covered included Current History, The Democratic Ideal
in Medway, Political Awareness, Choral performance, Communications
Skills, and the Changing Role of the Church in Modern Society
(well, that was where the original debate took place).
If I sent my children to London (and there happened to be a
lobby of Parliament) the following lessons immediately spring to
mind: How to Win Friends and Influence People, Discuss River
Traffic on the Thames and Medway, Statuary in the Street Scene,
Democracy at Work, Prime Ministers and the Future....).
Lots of worthy lessons there for the kids.
All of those were exercised (even though some people would
prefer they were exorcised).
Thursday, June 11
First the good news (unless you are one of the thousands going
to be disappointed).
If you were thinking of coming to Chatham for Armed Forces Day,
All 30,000 of the free tickets to the event in the Historic
Dockyard have now been allocated.
It was a "first come - first served" allocation, and the tickets
went in a couple of weeks.
The event is expected to become an annual event hosted by each
of the national capitals in the UK on a rotating basis.
But history will remember the first was at Chatham.
Planes will be winging in.
Ships large and small will show off the Royal Navy's influence
in the way Britain is still a great power.
And the Army will be there in force, including men and women
fresh back from Afghanistan and Iran.
The capitals may offer bigger shows in the future.
But the first opportunity anyone had to say "Thank you" to the
men and women who served this nation, our present-day warriors -
and those to come - will always be Chatham.
We may not be a naval town any longer.
But our significance as a military base stretches back nearly
And we can still show the rest of Britain - we are respect the
risks and sacrifices our boys (and girls) take for this
Now the bad news (unless you don't care about the sick and
Three star, excellent Medway Council was slated in the bounds of
the House of Commons yesterday for failing to care for the most
vulnerable in our society.
As we wander around our streets, how many curtained windows hide
a lonely, dirty old man or woman no longer capable of getting to
the toilet or of washing themselves.
You might think very few.
Age Concern and Help the Aged were saying differently
Excellent Medway was named as one of 35 areas where, just
because you can't get out of bed because you are now so old and
infirm, doesn't mean you qualify for basic social help.
You have to be really desperate - some would say at death's door
- before anyone you can trust will come in to help you.
This isn't the fault of the Conservative administration (who cut
back on the care a few months ago so that you only have to fight
for help if you need substantial support).
Nor is it the Labour government (because it is drawing up a
Green Paper that will right all ills).
Because if you can't reach behind your head to wash your neck -
tough! It stays dirty.
Your back is so crippled from years of manual labour so much
that it is almost impossible to get out of the bed to which you are
increasingly confined? - too bad if you need the loo. Your sheets
A harsh view?
Not if Age Concern and Help the Aged are to be believed.
This is the norm for those of us who retire, and start to seize
The trouble is, there are more and more people facing life at
100, with few funds to provide the care for themselves.
This is excellence, as determined by the Commission for Social
Care Inspection, the government's watchdog.
Heaven help those who age in a failing area.
The fact is, don't get old.
Get a one-way ticket to Switzerland. Euthanise before you
require "help from the State" that is no longer there.
The whisper is that around 50 questions about the schools review
are being posed by members of the public to Cabinet members at the
next council meeting.
This administration may have discovered a determined
Quote of the week from Cllr Diana Chambers, chairman of the
council's planning committee.
"The proposed extension is in keeping with the house - but it
didn't have any design about it in the first place," she said.
I'll spare the owner (and his architect) from blushes.
Wednesday, June 10
Council estates across North Kent are pretty open places with
lots of green lawns, mature trees and (generally) small
Now the green areas could be built upon.
Medway is working with Dartford, Gravesham and Swale councils to
agree a new Multiple Area Agreement (MAA) by next month.
The disruption to council-owned estates is contained in a short,
blobbed sentence buried deep inside a report that was only released
Housing is one of three key areas for the four councils to agree
to ensure the regeneration continues (always subject to a change of
government, of course), the others being transport and skills.
Housing blob four is the key one. It is at the foot of the third
page of the report, written by Medway's chief executive, Neil
Davies, who is pulling together the other councils and delivery
It is fully endorsed by all the council leaders but specifically
Medway's Rodney Chambers.
It simply says: "The redevelopment of existing Council owned
estates to deliver increased density and therefore additional new
In simple terms it means squeezing more people into areas which
are generally less well served than the rest of the community.
It also ignores (yet again) the need for major reconsideration
of the oldest residential parts of the Thames Gateway which are
full of Victorian and Edwardian pre First World War properties that
in general terms would have been in the past designated as today's
A former Local Government minister has been appointed the
new chairman of English Heritage.
Baroness Kay Andrews succeeds the late, and much respected
former Leader of Kent County Council, Lord Sandy Bruce Lockhart who
died of cancer last year just as he was stamping his unique
authority on the organisation.
Baroness Andrews said: "He was a great man and a wonderful
champion of England's heritage. It will be the greatest privilege
for me to take up the baton and be directly involved in the
protection and promotion of the historic environment all around us
and under our feet."
One of the first things she could well do is look into the
decision of one of her officers not to list the Civic Centre in
The 1903 building is probably the best building in Strood, and
on Friday night an attempt will be made by local campaigners to
Because of its importance to the history of Medway's industrial
If they succeed they will save cash-strapped Medway Council
£700,000 - as well as the headquarters of the Aveling and Porter
empire which was the world's greatest manufacturer of steam rollers
and traction engines, as well as one of the most successful diesel
Tuesday, June 9
There were plenty of red, embarrassed faces at the election
count in Medway.
For an organisation that handles around £600 million of our
money every year you would think they could add up.
Seems there weren't enough fingers around on Sunday night.
The count began last Thursday and finished a few minutes after
midnight on Monday morning.
During that time they had confirmed they had received 16,073
postal votes and - on Thursday - another 43,762 voters had wandered
in to the polling stations to complete the voting sheet. That makes
59,835 sheets …. doesn't it?
Except they actually had seven more completed forms …..
Until they found a further three.
And try as they might, as politicians across the South East
waited for the all-important call with Medway's vote, the electoral
registration team simply could not explain why there were seven …
eight … nine … 10 more votes than anyone expected.
What had gone before was the prelude.
At 6pm on Sunday the lullaby of manually counting 59,800-plus
sheets of paper got under way.
Everyone expected it was going to be a lot simpler than the 2005
council election. Then the count finished at 4am and involved up to
three crosses on each ballot paper.
The massed council staff (around 100 of them) expected to be
away by 9pm. After all they only had to count one overly long piece
of paper with a single X on it, 59,000-plus times.
At the end the votes cast should equal the number of voters who
had handed in their votes.
"One and one equals two just didn't work this time!" one
politician glowered at me.
The whole of Europe waited on Medway. And especially Labour who
feared they could lose their local stalwart, Peter Skinner.
Finally, exasperated collators of the South East's Allez-Ooop
Yours to Europe told the chief executive, Neil Davies: "Give
They were prepared to accept that they couldn't make the books
balance, and would put up with a discrepancy of 10 votes more than
There is some good news for Medway's administration.
When all the money is totted up it looks as though they will end
up with more than £2.5 million to put in the bank from last year's
Some money has already been allocated to useful projects -
including doubling up on the payments necessary to knock down the
Civic Centre - or Aveling & Porter building if you prefer.
I gather there are official questions about the time lost from
classes for primary school children taking time out of class to
attend meetings where their schools' future was under
If I was one of the heads facing the Inquisitor General I
would have no hestitation defending the actions: Current History,
The Democratic Way in Medway, Political Awareness, Choral
Practice, Communications Skills, the Changing Role of the Church in
Modern Society (well, that was where the debate took place).
If I was to send my children to London to lobby Parliament the
following lessons immediately spring to mind: How to Win Friends
and Influence People, Discuss River Traffic on the Thames and
Medway, Statuary in the Street Scene, Democracy at Work, Prime
Ministers and the Future....). Lots of lessons there for the
All of those were exercised (even though some people would
prefer they were exorcised).
Monday, June 8
Fun and games on the party political scene today - as you might
All three MPs are keeping their heads down.
Two are junior ministers - and there is a shuffle taking place
as I write. The other has a habit of switching off his phone when
it's not important (well, he never stood a chance of getting a
The Conservatives were upbeat - but not ecstatic.
They had won - but UKIP are now breathing down their necks.
UKIP's Bob Oakley, one of their prospective candidates in the
General Election, was more upbeat.
Referring to Rehman Chishti, the Tory's candidate, he said: "The
Conservatives candidate is not that popular within his own
Mr Oakley, who relaxed yesterday by taking part in a boat race
on the Medway, forecast: "I think we shall do well in the general
Alan Jarrett, Conservative councillor, council deputy leader and
vice chairman of the Chatham and Aylesford Constituency party, said
he expected the Tories to pick up many of the votes. People were
using the European election to lodge protests.
"So many people are browned off with the three main parties
there was always the likelihood that UKIP would come up strong," he
The Conservatives certainly tightened their vice-like grip on
Kent County Council. Well, it has only slipped once in the last
Revenge finally came over that aberration in the county
elections with the dumping of Mike Eddy, the Labour Opposition
He will be missed by his party - and by the county itself.
It may be a much-loved building, but the former headquarters of
the Aveling and Porter steamroller makers has to come down.
The congregated Conservative cabinet councillors wept crocodile
tears as they planned the demise of their former nest on the Medway
bank at Strood last week.
They are basking in the knowledge that it will provide millions
of additional pounds as a valuable development site (or would if
the building market had not been crashed).
Cllr Tom Mason floated one idea past his colleagues this week.
And they quickly grasped at it: the council's PR team is to put a
favourable spin into telling the tale.
Their first task will be explaining why it is costing local
taxpayers £800,000 to knock it down and move the treasures from the
Only 12 weeks ago councillors were wincing at spending £400,000
to knock it down.
Why not save it?
Unfortunately, said one old croc to the others, the authorities
chose not to list it.
Shame. It was full of lovely oak, terrific stonework, and oozing
with that thing the council's first Chief Executive ignored
Medway's history (of which the masses were proud).
Friday, June 5
There were 15 boxes on the European ballot paper
They ranged from old faithfuls such Conservatives, Labour, and
Lib Dems, via the "We've been around for a few years" parties (for
example, UKIP and BNP) to the esoteric newcomers (or at least I
think they were newcomers!)
In case you didn't get there in time or were unsure which party
was which, allow me to regale you with the facts.
Among those waiting on Sunday's count to know whether they will
represent the South East of England in Strasbourg was the
"Christian Party - Proclaiming Christ's Lordship" whose hopefuls
included Je'ran Cherub and Kenneth Scrimshaw.
I was impressed by the five English Democrats who came from
Dartford or neighbouring Wilmington, the Jury Team which apparently
stood for democracy, accountability and transparency, and the No2EU
(that's not an abbreviation for numeral deux) where one of its
candidates was Jacqueline Loraine Berry from Byron Road,
The front runner from "Pro Democracy: Libertas.eu" was a
Rochester candidate, Kevin Phillip O'Connell, from
One that really caught my eye (though it didn't get my vote
because I had no idea what he stood for) was "The Roman Party.
Ave!" and its lone candidate from Reading. He was a French bus
driver - and we were the only region to have a chance of voting for
If United Kingdom First swings the votes, it could denude
Sussex. They mustered four candidates - all from that county.
Finally, I couldn't help noticing there were some
less-customary, less traditional, names among the UKIP members
hoping to win our support.
Some sceptics doubt Europe knows where Medway is. The
probability is that it knows better than some people in the UK.
It has provided £1.85 million towards employment initiatives in
the wider Medway community, while another £1.33 million has gone to
the council's directorates "to delivery services".
There was also £175,000 to the Organisation in Action and
Support of Engineering Skills for Disadvantaged Workers (OASES)
which has helped 200 people get work at five large companies and 25
Those involved included the Vines Centre Trust, MidKent College,
IPS International Ltd, the University of Greenwich, and partners in
the Netherlands, France and Finland.
A further £125,000 underwrote the Medway Global Grants
programme, which supported 18 local initiatives with grants of up
to £10,000, and backed 22 jobs projects in Medway between January
2004 and November 2006
Fastrack, the runaway public transport success between Dartford
and Gravesend, is not being seen as the answer to Medway's
For those who have not seen it, Fastrack is a bus-based urban
transit system using reserved roads in some places to speed past
traffic jams, pick up passengers and trigger traffic lights.
It has been so successful that for every five passengers an
additional one uses it within 12 months.
The 19 or 20 per cent annual growth has broken all
But it cost the taxpayer £80 million to build the special roads.
And whoever is Chancellor tomorrow, next week or next decade will
expect that money to be repaid.
Well, it isn't likely to be this century.
We are caught in a trap. This was public investment for the
common good, and it has surprised even the most committed
But there is a real need for an arguably bankrupt government to
draw in its horns.
It is taking 3,000,000 car journeys off north Kent's roads each
year, but the whisper is that the council will not back Fastrack as
the solution for Medway's transport problems.
Not that they have any other solution as the administration
continues to ignore the success of investing in Dublin transport,
transport support in Brighton and Hove or spending on Fastrack.
And if anyone suggests guided buses as at Crawley, it's the more
man's tram system, with lots of ugly concrete everywhere.
There are strange happenings in the housing department these
days that might (or might not) be linked.
Clandestine meetings are taking place off council premises.
Tenants' representatives are interviewing staff before they can
be offered jobs.
A housing association is providing accommodation for the
Could it be there are plans to offload the housing stock, but
without the tenants having another chance to embarrass the
administration by saying "We Love Council ownership"?
Oh - and still no one in the council has answered how hundreds
of thousands of pounds of tenants rent money was given away to a
The reverberations from the Erinaceous Three will continue for
some time to come, I have no doubt.
Thursday, June 4
The Try Angle awards recognise the best of our young people's
There are great stories of bravery, guts, personal development,
hard work and achievement (often) against tremendous odds.
I have an interest in the event as a judge.
I was sceptical - until I got involved last year.
It is organised by young people and watched by a packed audience
of several hundred at the Central Theatre.
Adults are there by invitation, and it is a night of excellent
entertainment, quality - and often sadness.
So imagine my shock when I discovered the council expects the
teenagers of the Medway Youth Parliament (a voice for young people
that it established just over 10 years ago) to pay £2,000 for the
privilege of recognising our young champions.
The show is tremendous, the entertainment is stunning and these
youngsters showcase what everyone should be proud about - its own
Come on Medway Council. Extricate digits, and waive the fees for
this tremendous event.
Oh - hang on a minute.one of the other judges was the education
portfolio holder, Les Wicks. Surely he can wave the necessary
Since writing about the Youth
Parliament's bill for the Central Theatre, I have had some good
news from Cllr Doe. He is meeting the Assistant Director with the
Longest Title, Richard Hicks, tomorrow morning to discuss reducing
Meanwhile, Mr Hicks is also the
gentleman responsible for the St George's Centre ... where the
Youth Parliament is to be charged more than £300 to debate
It is all very well for the council
to say children are at the centre of everything, but it seems they
could be priced out of democracy.
It may have escaped your attention. Today is European Elections
day. Among the hopefuls will be a woman from Gillingham and a man
from Rochester seeking posts in the smaller parties.
Don't ever say I don't keep you informed.
Wednesday, June 3
The Government is pumping £1.1 million into a scheme that could
see Medway Council saving thousands of pounds a year repairing
vandalised play areas.
The Playbuilder programme will see 11 sites this year being
improved across the borough - mainly in deprived areas - with a
further 11 planned next year providing the council gets the public
So they are recruiting specialists to involve mums and kids as
young as eight looking at the issues and coming up with ideas.
Inevitably there were a few attempts to score political points,
not least from the Rabblerouser-in-Chief, Alan Jarrett.
The Deputy Leader and Chancellor of the Council suggested the
cash might have come from "the money we didn't get for Building
Schools for the Future," he told the Cabinet yesterday.
"We are jolly well owed it by the government!"
It could also be that the community is thinking the council owes
them the right to be involved in a few decisions that affect their
The decision to consult on the plan to close or merge 19 primary
schools in Medway has been called in by the Labour opposition.
A special meeting of the Children and Adults overview and
scrutiny committee will take place on June 8 at The Corn
It is so that backbenchers can discuss the principles behind the
When the Cabinet decided to consult, their meeting at the St
George's Centre was disrupted by loud chanting, banner-waving,
musical accompaniments from children, pro-school T-shirts,
interruptions . Virtually anything and everything that could
happen, did happen.
This time, the protestors would be well advised to listen once
the meetings start.
Not only will they discover the ground rules, but they might
start to spot some of the flaws and weaknesses in the
Meanwhile, there are a few million pounds-worth of playing
fields waiting to be sold for redevelopment (apparently, football
posts count as previous developments within the terms of what is a
Tuesday June 2
The scandals continue to be divulged in the House of
It is increasingly becoming a bitter comedy that shows just how
far some MPs have strayed from the reality that the rest of us
There's the MP who tried to reclaim £5 he put in the collection
plate at a Remembrance Day service (the tight-fisted expletive
could only put in a fiver?), the one who argued about the need for
the taxpayer to foot the bill for his baby's bottle steriliser,
the Sinn Fein MPs who collect various allowances but
never recognise the power of parliament, at least two claimed 59p
for boxes of matches (presumably to show them the light), there was
£20 for mugs (sic!) from the Tate Modern, and a Shadow techno
minister wanted cash for changing a light bulb (no jokes by e-mail,
Of course, that's on top of someone cleaning a moat and another
building a duck house in the back garden.
Why should someone called John Greenway should be criticised for
claiming plants. With a name like that he has to be an
environmentalist. It seems perfectly reasonable to spend £500 on
his 15ft by 20ft patio.
[Memo to Editor: Can I claim for cutting my tennis court and
underground reservoir, or for the fountain of recycling water moved
by pump power c/o solar panels that my wife has just
Cabinet today. That'll be fun.
Among the gems are advisory groups for the Cabinet (behind
closed doors and overwhelmingly filled by the Conservative
majority), the playbuilder procurement programme (which sounds as
though it has come straight out of the world of unreality that is
the House of Commons) and the Lower Thames Crossing.
The way history is being changed by Medway Council is quite
Most of the officers have no interest in the history of the
Medway Towns, only in gaining their place in the Great Future.
It's little things.
A recent press release mentioned "the Royal Engineers Museum
based at Chatham for 200 years."
The REs have never been based in Chatham (and the Museum is not
200 years old).
The museum is in Gillingham, to be precise in Prince Arthur
Road. It was opened in the last century in the original Royal
School of Military Engineering.
The Sappers occupy much of Brompton, using buildings that were
built for the Royal Artillery and date back 200 years.
For officers seeking real facts, 90 per cent of the RN dockyard
- once known as Gillingham Water - was always in Gillingham, the
army was in Brompton, the Chatham Division barracks (HMS Pembroke)
was also in Gillingham, while the Royal Marines were in
Gillingham town centre was originally called New Brompton.
That's because Old Brompton could not expand any more so they built
a new community on the opposite side of the Lines It was renamed
Gillingham in Edward VII's reign (1902-10 in case the history
corrupters are uncertain), and took in the original town of
Gillingham that was centred around Gillingham Green and the
Chatham Maritime (which is increasingly reduced to Chatham in a
subconscious bid to raise its image) is a concept name of the
1980s, post dockyard closure, to try to give it a saleable
Let's have facts. Not spin.
Monday, June 1
The saga of which politician spends what (and, more importantly,
it seems, why) has spread further into Medway.
It coincides with the news that council taxpayers fork out over
£760,000 for the privilege of having 55 councillors.
As I wander the corridors of power (well, Gun Wharf, at least) I
know quite a few of them work close to a 48 hour week on council
business but others don't.
There really are councillors who still consider it is still an
honour to be elected to serve the community.
Among those who could claim more, but don't, was last year's
mayor, David Carr. He spent under £12,200 of the £13,578 he could
Mayors work hard. They get little recognition, for example, for
the fund raising that they do for local charities, but he raised
over £9,000 during his year of attending more than 500 events, many
out of the spotlight.
Given that the Conservatives currently have two thirds of the
seats, it is not surprising that they collected around the same
amount in cash - £528,000.
Labour's 13 councillors were paid £152,000 and the eight Liberal
Democrats received £77,200.
Don't be an independent. Ian Burt - the sole indie - collected
The combined pay of married couples on the council generally
depends where you are in the hierarchy, but if you both make it to
the top it can be substantial.
Rodney and Diane Chambers collected over £51,000, the two
Bambers over £40,000 while the Gouldens (£20,124) and the Kearneys
(£18,211) trailed in some way behind.
Friday May 29
The poor old police are having difficulties getting their
message of Medway being a crime-free community across to its
The latest to disagree is a shopkeeper who has been asked to
take down a sign from his entrance saying "Wellcome to Beirut."
The "Wellcome" sign follows repeated broken windows at the shop
and its neighbours.
According to reports, one local police sergeant asked him to
remove the sign on numerous occasions because it gives the High
Street a bad image.
But it's the bookseller's protest about what he sees as a lack
of policing of the towns' vandalistic element.
I thought it might have happened after the Gills went on a
victory rideabout on Sunday. (There were no problems then.) But I
think the sign should come down. And immediately.
Neighbouring shopkeepers have protested that it harms the local
I think it harms the image of inctreased educational
achievements in Medway - of all shopkeepers, a bookseller of "rare
books" should know 'welcome' is spelled with one L.
The new student accommodation in Pier Road, Gillingham is
starting to lose its plastic wrappings, and I am not yet sure
whether I like or loathe it.
It's a slab; white, two-tone grey and the red window shutters
give it some colouring. It is on the edge of the planned Gillingham
Chatting with some students recently they were sure they didn't
like it. Their opposition had nothing to do with the appearance of
the 604 flats built for the University of Kent. It had everything
to do with a reported £400 a month rent charge for the en-suite
rooms they are being offered.
As they pointed out, they can squeeze three or four of them in a
Gillingham apartment for less than that.
In my younger days we could squeeze 35 in a mini, or 27 in a
phone kiosk - and shut the doors.
The international standard length for buses and coaches is 15
metres (over 49 feet).
At the moment the buses in Medway are upto 12 metres (The Kings
Ferry have some that are slightly longer).
But there is nothing in law to stop them being 10 feet
I hear the prestigious new bus station plans for Chatham are
designed for traditional 12 metre long buses.
When Arriva go for bigger buses (as they will one day) they may
I understand there are no plans by the Conservative
administration to discuss the appalling treatment of the Erinaceous
Three - or the overspending which went on under the
administration's so-called watch. Shame on them.
Thursday May 28
I am beginning to sense an element of panic in the bid for World
The original plan was to get the status for the Great Lines -
the traditional killing field dug in front of the dockyard to
slaughter an invading Napoleonic army.
But after nearly 200 years as a great open space, it is becoming
a city park.
To reinforce its right to be counted among the great places of
the world, the dockyard and the army quarters within the defences,
were included. So was Fort Amherst.
Today it was announced that the river was being included, so
that they could add Upnor Castle to the collection.
Why not bring in Rochester Castle, which provided the ballast
for the Armada battle fleet in 1588? It also has claims (dubious,
but who worries?) to being where Claudius' victorious army crossed
their Rubicon to send the Britons under Caractacus fleeing. And it
seems the Bayeux tapestry was actually made there (according to the
Bayeux authorities, that is).
Add the Cathedral, where generations of royalty have worshipped,
and where there is a classic juxtaposition between the Crown and
Church? It is, after all, England's second cathedral.
There's the Rochester Bridge with its unique status.
And if we are talking about unique features, add the Tunnel, too
(it might attract some funds to repair it since the government are
Are we clear just what we are trying to achieve?
The more I look at it the less I believe world heritage status
is actually going to be achieved.
That would be a tragedy. And unjust because here was where the
labouring men set out to create the British Empire that for 400
years achieved what no other nation ever achieved: world dominance
(though I suspect the You Ess of Aye would have some views on
The council needs to return to basics, and be clear what it is
trying to tell the world about Medway.
Is it a magnificent Georgian military complex?
Is it a waterway surrounded by history?
Or is it a shopping centre (of the future, certainly not the
present) that is surrounded by historic remains?
The UN - which is keen to award the status to non-European areas
because they are dominating the World Heritage rankings - must be
clucking at the latest endeavour of the council to dissuade them
from considering Chatham a logical ranker in world status.
Wednesday, May 27
It becomes increasingly difficult as the years go by to
segregate out-and-out political campaigning from public events
where politicians just happen to appear - especially when there is
an election in the offing.
But we journos have to - there are rules on fairness (even to
So - today the Tories went for the former.
They've launched a website which has the usual suspects talking
about how good they are and how the world has been transformed (at
least in Medway) by their efforts.
They have ignored the fact that some of their tips for saving
cash are down to the Labour government... things like free bus
passes for the over 60s, home energy efficiencies and the
You can find out who, what and why on www.medwayconservativegroup.co.uk/recession.php
The rest (well, Labour, Libs and Greens) just happened to turn
up at the third Love Music Hate Racism music event on the
riverfront at Chatham.
Not that the messages to "keep out the racists" were political
or anything like that....
Brian Green is a politician with a fascinating history.
He was elected to serve Maidstone as one of its county
councillors when he was a Labour councillor.
Then he jumped ship, and became an independent.
He retires in a few days time... and is urging electors to vote
for the Greens.
The representative of the Maidstone South East electorate said:
"Local Greens have shown that they don't just care about the
environment, but that they care about people, jobs and
Meanwhile I have had yet another email from BNPs chairman, Nick
Griffiths, asking for cash. This time it is because their website
went off line. He really is beginning to sound like an MP in
If you thought it was going to be easy to vote on June 4, think
You have one "X" to mark the vote - but 15 different parties
from which to choose.
Finally a last minute bit of news - the St George's Centre is to
be opened to allcomers for the weekend of Armed Forced Day.
The building was the church serving HMS Pembroke.
It contains memorials for more than 130 local ships, actions,
individuals and groups, and holds unique memorabilia covering the
three main services.
Since the Second World War the Korean Veterans and the 24 Royal
Marine Cadets killed outside the church in 1951 have also earned a
place on the walls of the former church which now doubles as the
council's main debating chamber.
It will be open on June 27 and 28 between 11am and 5pm.
Tuesday, May 26
So the excitement is nearly over.
The Gills have been promoted after a truly nail-biting climax to
But there is also real gloom.
My team slipped from top of the table to sixth in a matter of
weeks (rugby is the only language you talk if you hail from
Then there is the small matter of a minor election - for the
Gone is the opportunity to vote for identifiable individuals you
trust to reflect your views for the next few years If ever there
was the prospect of voting for minor parties instead of going for
one of the big names (figure or party) this is it.
The big boys (and girls) must be terrified at the public's
response to the ongoing revelations of their expense claims.
I love the Chancellor of the Exchequer pulling in accountants to
do his tax returns. (Gillingham North voters must be lining up for
their returns to be done by the same team.) There's the backbencher
who thought it was completely acceptable for you and I to pay for
his moat to be cleaned. (That went down well among the well-healed
burghers of Strood.) A colleague needed a duck house on his pond.
(Ah, Luton and Wayfield voters completely understood that
requirement.) The absent-mindedness and the mistakes made by people
sent to govern over us....
The list of apologies and righteousness is amazing.
We all said they sought the House of Commons for the perks.
Seems we underestimated just what those were.
I haven't seen any mistresses' accommodated yet, but I am sure
James Urquhart would approve.
This would have been the time Screaming Lord Sutch and his
Monster Raving Loony Party really could have got someone elected -
other than as an Isle of Sheppey councillor.
But those who came after must be looking at their electoral
returns with avid interest. Just think: £2 million a year in
expenses. (How do you make £2 million to be able to spend it, and
reclaim it?) Yes.
The prospects for the big parties next week are bad.
For British society it could be worse. Irretrievably worse.
Friday May 22
Last Friday night there was a little party at Gun Wharf, thrown
by the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive.
It was given for the people who so far had helped with the
regeneration of Medway - the Medway Renaissance crowd, various
partners and so on.
Nice speeches I gather, plus nibbles and vino.
It followed the successful completion of the first audit of the
council's £6 billion efforts at regeneration. It's a process which
will go on long after I have retired along with the councillors and
officers who are currently responsible for the project.
They had cause to celebrate. Two stars may not seem excellent
(it's only "good") but no one has yet got three. But the
government's rottweilers said there are "promising prospects" for
improvement. So three stars could be round the corner.
The Audit Commission sent an advance copy of its report so that
I could read all about the council's achievements.
For those few, those happy few, not in the know about auditors
let me explain why the council partied. The auditors are the
arbiters of what is right, what is wrong, and who should be hung by
their fingers while their tenderer parts are introduced to
nutcrackers - because they don't do things the perfect way the
Well, yesterday there were red faces all round.
There was a real howler in the report, with the Audit Commission
blaming the council and SEEDA, the regional development agency. And
them saying in return: "You wrote it - not us".
Meanwhile gleeful printers were rubbing their itchy palms as
they made urgent alterations to the report and removed an offending
paragraph, three hours before posting.
The report (labelled "ver. 1.0 FINAL") clearly said there had
been nuclear waste dumped at Medway's prime regeneration site by
the navy and the army. But (according to the auditors) SEEDA spent
£84 million cleaning Rochester Riverside site.
Someone, somewhere got it wrong - completely and utterly.
The nuclear waste in Medway was at Chatham Naval Dockyard. But
that was cleaned up between 1984 (when the dockyard shut) and the
early 1990s. Trainloads of waste was removed and fast-tracked
(reputedly to Bedfordshire) to be safely disposed.
Medway Council didn't exist then. Nor did SEEDA.
SEEDA's predecessors, English Partnerships, did the costly clean
up at Chatham Maritime. And today the Two Towers (empty blocks of
apartments officially called The Quays) stand on the former nuclear
What happened at Rochester Riverside was a lot simpler, a lot
less costly and somewhat less potent.
There was nasty stuff from the old Rochester gasworks that was
cleared. Loads of estuarine grit and gravel replaced it.
And SEEDA? - they provided £16.19million to help buy the last
remaining bits of land.
But nuclear waste?
It's probably that mushroom cloud rising from the Bristol office of
the Audit Commission's senior manager, Claire Bryce-Smith, who
expected SEEDA and the council to check it for errors.
When, by the sound of it, the council was more interested in the
star rating - and thanking its friends.
There are some curious notices appearing around Gun Wharf.
Without going into too many details (you may have just eaten)
there has been what could be delicately described as a wipeout.
The printed signs in the men's toilet cubicles encourage an
unidentified member of staff to seek medical counselling for his
(or her) problem.
He (or she) is advised the service is independent and totally
I did find it somewhat curious that the email address to contact
Can the rest of the Towns' residents be counselled, perhaps over
council tax, or because of stress from school closures… or maybe
because they are on the homelessness list?
Wednesday, May 20
There must have been ashen faces in many rooms at Gun Wharf when
the judgement of the Erinaceous Three became known last
The three brave men had fought valiantly to highlight the
shocking way their bosses ignored the £25 million contract
Instead, they threw half a million pounds of council tenants'
rent money at a contractor that was happy to milk the fatted cow -
then go bust with £220 million of debts, all within a year.
Last week, councillors were being assured by Neil Davies, the
chief executive, that the council's case was solid.
Instead, it was found to have failed all three.
A tribunal heard how managers were allowed to pick on them, raid
their desks, get rid of them, and ignore the serious concerns they
One of those to ignore what was happening was Mr Davies.
He had received emails setting out what was happening from one
of the men.
The process continued in the tribunal where one of the men - the
only one still employed - was smeared with sex allegations by his
former assistant director, Geoff Ettridge.
What Mr Ettridge's team found in a sealed envelope in the man's
desk were girlie pics of the man's wife on holiday.
The council's Human Resources team was slated for the way it
mishandled the processes of making redundancies - a process that it
has had plenty of experience with in recent years.
And the council says it was "disappointed".
It has not said what it is doing to sort out the endemic
mismanagement in HR.
It has resolutely not apologised.
And it has refused to talk to the media about the way its highly
paid staff fell well short of the standards expected of a
reasonable employer - or a good council.
In a brief interview with me, Cllr Howard Doe, who as portfolio
holder has been responsible for the housing department on and off
for eight years, said he knew nothing of the past history. It
sounded like he had attended the Pontius Pilate School of
The three men won cash awards that the council taxpayers will
have to pay.
They were not as substantial as some whistleblowers have
received from past tribunals where there are no boundaries on
payments for whistleblowing abuses or racial prejudices.
They were backed by their union, UNITE, and needed its
No less than five assistant directors, plus two HR managers and
the Head of Public Protection and Regulation, gave evidence against
As one opposition councillor, Paul Harriott, a former chairman
of council housing, said: "It stinks."
Cllr Doe hopes that's the end of it.
I doubt it.
Thursday, May 14
The mortgage on my family's home is not as big as many but I
still know when it is going out.
So if I was in the extremely fortunate position of being a
Member of Parliament with a fat cat penchant for high expense
claims, I would still know if I was £800 a month better off when it
came to an end.
It seems £800 a month (something many in Medway would dearly
love to receive as a wage) was a drop in the ocean for one notable
Elliot Morley, the former Labour minister, says it was an
It must have been.
The mortgage no longer existed but for 20 months - if the
Telegraph's revelation is to be believed by more than just Mr
Morley - he claimed £800 every month for that non-existent mortgage
on a non-existent property for no less than 20 months.
But - like so many MPs and big names in the House of Commons -
his was "an oversight".
This was a man who was a Minister in a government elected to
clean up the corrupt, illegal disgraces which brought the last
Conservative government crashing down.
One of Medway's MPs has now been swept up in the
Bob Marshall-Andrews, Queens Counsel, world traveller, wine
connoisseur and a man not without a quid or two in the bank, has
been quietly preparing to stand down as Member of Parliament for
Rochester and Strood, at the next election.
It was peaceful, that is, until he suddenly found himself tarred
by the Daily Telegraph brush of being one of those money-grabbing
Within minutes I received a letter from him to my editor saying
he was being unfairly treated (another of the cries going up from
most MPs accused by the Telegraph of overplaying the expenses
MPs do have to spend a fair bit of cash to run their offices and
to provide themselves with another home - usually away from where
I don't know the whys and wherefors of BMA's case (black,
leather, attache, Marks & Sparks, sixty quid, not unlike the
one I bought for use at work) but it will now be interesting to see
whether the QC joins - or even leads - the ranks saying they will
sue the national paper.
[Memo to Editor:
Sir - can I reclaim the cost of my attache please?]
The House of Commons (the Mother of Parliaments, the critic of
corruption in so many other governments) has been severely damaged
by the past few days revelations.
What is so disgraceful is our MPs blissful lack of awareness of
what we, the public, expect.
It is their blatant disregard for what is morally (if not
It is the expectation that we should pay for their vagaries.
Do you wish your employer paid your mortgage? Bought your pet
food? Footed your maid's cleaning bills? Excavated the muck in the
moat around your castle?
It has to stop.
The trouble is the House of Commons Fees Office approved all of
That has to go, and be replaced by the auditors who run the
rest of our lives.
(Has anyone thought how much tax was being paid by those MPs on
those expenses? I'll bet someone somewhere will hand over the
repayment cheque to the Fees Office with a tear in his or her eye -
and drop a letter to the Inland Revenue reclaiming overpaid
Wednesday, May 13
Anyone who thought the local school population would not be
geared up to protest about the plans to close or merge 19 primary
schools was proved well and truly wrong yesterday afternoon.
As a late-arriving reporter I had to push my way between angry
mums and dads, past determined teachers and carefully step over
toddlers to get to the press bench.
I doubt the St George's Centre has ever witnessed so much anger,
even when mourning men lost to stupidity, bad luck or enemy
efficiency at any time during the past 104 years.
The old church was packed out.
Banners waved, children sang defiant tunes in praise of their
schools, dads shouted down councillors, who determinedly plough on
with their set piece speeches despite mounting anger from the
The message that the Cabinet 10 tried to get across, led by Les
Wicks, the children's portfolio holder, was "Don't blame us - blame
They blamed the government for saying that schools with 10 or
more percent of empty places should be acted upon.
In the background, Labour councillors - silenced by Medway's
peculiar rules of Cabinet "debate" - listened, and smiled.
The Cabinet message did not get through to the opponents to
And they know that there are financial reasons behind the whole
process that will drive forward the decisions.
What the protestors missed were the comments made after they
The next item was to approve the plan to turn the old Upbury
Manor school in Gillingham, which has gone through various
renamings, from being New Brompton College into an academy.
Unlike the primaries, it has already gone through the
consultation process, the meetings with possible objectors and
those who support the idea, and it was largely supported.
Cllr Wicks told his colleagues: "I doubt we will get any
barracking from pupils and staff at New Brompton"
And he was right.
"It offers a great deal for young people including some of
those young people in the audience we have just had, bless
Cllr Alan Jarrett, the deputy leader, recalled "the furore that
was less emotive" over the creation of the first academy, at
But his words about people misrepresenting what the council was
trying to do fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the ears had already left,
as the drum-beating and chanting attracted the attention of the
Chatham maritime security force.
I am delighted to say I shall not be sitting on the top tables
when the schools are visited, and the proposals are debated with
those mums, dads, teachers and toddlers.
It takes a brave (or a foolhardy) politician to do that.
Tuesday, May 12
It was only to be expected.
With the embarrassments that are repeatedly being heaped on the
shoulders of Her Majesty's Government and her Loyal Opposition by
the antics of our elected members, the minority parties are really
getting a foothold.
The Greens are getting their leaflets delivered house to house,
demanding all MPs expenses are open to public scrutiny ("That
housekeeper was offering me special services - but they were
dusting the azaleas and digging out the moat!") UKIP are raising
the spectre of pulling out of Europe (blocking the Channel Tunnel,
And the BNP are repeatedly pleading for funds ("A fiver here, a
contribution there") to pay for their TV channel, and their
administration set up which promises to make the major parties
blanche at the prospect.
Will there be a mass demonstration this afternoon before the
It seems increasingly likely as the primary schools gear up for
the battle to save themselves from closure or merger.
I'm not going to rehearse the old arguments about the
mishandling of the PR side. Someone within the education set up
should be asking serious questions about the way the whole thing
We journos are perfectly happy to report the embarrassments, the
anger , the dissatisfaction and the community response to the way
our elected representatives decide what is in the best interests of
the community (whether or not we agree!) just as we are perfectly
happy to report the councillors' words this afternoon.
Meanwhile, where did I put my helmet and flak jacket?
I haven't driven the M2 at midnight for some months - but my son
was motoring along the other night and, spot on the clock changing
to 0001, the motorway lights were automatically turned off.
Good green policies being pursued by the Highways Agency.
Imagine the savings if all street lights were turned off at
Of course, it would put the CCTV cameras at a disadvantage, it
would increase the risk of a tipsy pedestrian wandering into the
path of a speeding car, and it would make it increasingly likely
that the more nefarious of our citizens would be making unwelcome
visits to homes, businesses and other places with possible quickie
Monday, May 11
The state of the roads in Medway continues to remind me of third
OK, so more are tarmaced than in the major cities of Japan.
So what? They are crumbling, pitted and collapsing.
One problem I reported to the customer care line (01634 333333)
was in Canadian Avenue, Gillingham. I had pointed out it was
collapsing. It was filled in with a bucketful of tarmac.
Just a few weeks later that repair, too, is sinking.
Watch this space - it might become a big space.
It could suddenly open up - like a number of deneholes and
former chalk pits in Medway have done over the years, occasionally
with tragic consequences.
But a bucket of tarmac will do - for now.
The question of political expenses continues to dominate the
Daily Telegraph's pages.
According to the Green Book 2009 (what they can or can't claim):
"Parliamentary allowances are designed to ensure that Members are
reimbursed for costs properly incurred in the performance of their
duties. They provide support for:
- employing staff (Staffing Expenditure)
- provision of facilities, equipment and supplies for themselves
and their staff (Administrative and Office Expenditure)
- overnight stays away from home whilst on parliamentary duties
(Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure)
- communicating with constituents (Communications
- House stationery and postage (Stationery and Postage)
- travel between Westminster, the constituency and main home
Our three MPs claimed a total of £392,000.
Two of them - ministers Paul Clark and Jonathan Shaw - were
among the quarter of all MPs who employ one (or more) family
My favourite expenses claim to date is the one attributed to
John Prescott - for two toilet seats.
Seems we both suffer the same problem.
Except I replaced the seats at my expense.
Friday, May 8
There would seem once again to be a split between local and
It involves the question of council tax.
David Cameron is urging councils to cut their tax levels.
Give 'em their due, Kent County councillors (where the
non-Tories have held power once in 100 years) duly dropped the rate
of increase to just over two per cent.
Medway - also Tory - slammed in a four and a half per cent
increase, though at one time it looked like they needed 12 per cent
to balance the books in the new financial year.
But from the middle of the old year a ban on spending helped the
situation, and Medway's Tories ended up with a £500,000
The trouble with both the major parties is that it is easy for
remote MPs to say "No more than five per cent (or whatever)."
If you are a big spending authority so financially sound that
you don't need to worry when the Icelandic banks suddenly collapse
with £50 million of your taxpayers money, all well and good.
But Medway Council has always lived hand to mouth. The chance of
it squirreling some away for the lean days has been nil since
Medway was launched in April 1998. (When you run a half-billion
pound business a half-million pound profit on the year's trading is
not worth much: it is, after all, 0.1 per cent of your total
spending.) There are some locally who would like to emulate the
reperated wishes of He Who Would Be Prime Minister (doesn't matter
if it's Cameron or Clark).
But officers, and politicians who have been controlling the
money for a few years now, insist it would mean that some of the
key services - known as discretionary - would have to be axed. That
would not be much of an advert for any incoming PM, especially one
of the same colour as the authority wielding the axe.
What is needed for Medway (and a number of other councils) is
the freedom to be able to work within more flexible financial
guidelines. That way its politicians can protect and nurture key
services, and meet the demands of the community.
Medway is facing a major rise in the number of local pensioners
- and that means an increase in adult care, especially (though we
all try to avoid thinking about it) in dementia care.
Otherwise we will only have the statutory services. And that
means penny pinching, cutting corners - and the end of things like
leisure centres, libraries, festivals, and cultural events.
Did someone talk about bureaucratic waste?
Medway has chopped its departments from Snow White and the Seven
Dwarves to the Three Musketeers (not my words - those of the
Council Leader at the annual meeting), achieved every economic
target set by Gershon (a year on year saving currently of three per
cent), and yet is still looking for economies.
Have no doubt about it - if this council cannot find money any
other way, it will sell the family silver.
And that means goodbye to smaller schools with large playing
Next Tuesday promises to be an interesting day for the
It's the first time they will use the St George' s Centre.
The acoustics are diabolical, some of the councillors need
training to use the microphones - and a large number of parents are
expected to come along to protest at the plans to close or merge 19
Not that there is any plan to sell off their land, of
Thursday, May 7
Attending mayor-making last night was akin to being in the Light
Brigade when it took on the Russian guns.
There were protestors outside the Corn Exchange - and quite a
few inside, too.
To get in, guests, councillors, officers and more hacks than I
have seen at a council meeting for years, had to run the gauntlet
of some five and six year olds neatly turned out in green Ridge
Meadow primary school colours.
It was the first protest in what is likely to be many this
Ridge Meadow is one of 19 local primary schools facing closure
or merger - just as birth rolls are increasing.
Supported by mums and governors they silently waved Save our
School plaques at embarrassed councillors who furtively dived in to
the ceremonial meeting.
And there the councillors split into two sides - the Haves and
The Haves (aka Tories) now decide who shall be mayor. It becomes
a political appointment from next May when last night's incoming
mayor, Cllr David Royle, hands on the office to well, Whom remains
to be decided, but in election year we know their colour will be
The Have-Nots (Libs and Labs) could have enjoyed dips and
nibbles, and a rapidly disappearing tower block of skewered prawns,
but chose to leave immediately after the meeting. They were not
Cllr Royle will need to muster his gentle grin, and his years of
skill as a schoolmaster to control the warring that seems certain
to break out. (He does remind me of the headmaster in the Bash
Street Kids, even when wearing official frills, ruffs and
sweltering beneath layers of fashionable Tudor robes.)
It was somewhat disconcerting (though no surprise) to learn the
Chief Executive gives an hour a month to talk to the official
Leader of the Opposition. The rest of the time he is balancing the
books, organising and running meetings, and dealing with 10 Cabinet
members so what chance does an opponent expect?
What other gems were there last night?
Ex Mayor Ken Webber made a welcome appearance after months
recuperating from painful surgery.
The Deputy Mayoress, Sylvia Baker, however, was absent due to
ill-health, though hubby Ted was there to hand over his robes at
the end of another year.
A fine tribute from her husband to the outgoing Mayoress,
Kirstine Carr, who has been an unsung star over the past 12 months.
Hubby, David, bemoaned the impact of the recession on his
charitable fundraising work, but estimates put the cash at around
£9,700 - not bad.
Lots of chit chat.
And those press people (they'd got invites so didn't have to do
anything except listen, chat, slurp and nibble, unlike this
My prediction of new faces in the committee chairs (see
yesterday's blog) proved right.
Among those present (apart from my Editor and the opposition)
were the two local Admiral nurses (Admiral help carers of dementia
sufferers). They were guests of Cllr Royle. His wife, Jean, has
suffered from the disability for many years.
Lots of uniforms (police chiefs, firefighters, sea cadets),
assorted voluntary organisations, non-political Youth
Parliamentarians (who could teach our councillors about consensus
politics), Rochester Bridge Trustees, flushed ex Mayors, visiting
mayors (aka the Chain Gang), parliamentary aspirants (though some
chose to be elsewhere)…. Indeed, the cream of local society.
All in all, a good time had by all (except those children
standing outside in the cold).
Wednesday, May 6
And so tonight we come to the end of another civic year - the
11th in the life of Medway Council.
The chains will be handed over at Rochester Corn Exchange, the
pleasantries (and the occasional political barb) will be exchanged
with a smile, there will be a friendly post-appointment slurp, and
the council will settle into the running of a new civic year, this
time under Cllr David Royle.
But next year - expect trouble.
David, a former deputy headmaster, is the last to be selected
under the gentlemanly system of points.
The scoring - not against political opponents but to ensure
fairness, politeness and pleasantries over the sometimes coveted
position of mayor - has been scrapped following his nomination.
It was a complicated system. But it worked.
It was fair to all members of the council, and was based on the
principal that if you hold the mayoralty, your score starts at
To get to the mayoralty your party had to have the most points.
That was based on how many councillors you had.
Let's play a four year cycle.
Last year was the second year since the election of all the
councillors at Rainham Unitary Council. That meant
Party A (20 members) had 40 points (20+20)
Party B (15 members) had 30 (15+15)
Party C (12 members) had 24 (12+12)
So the largest party - Party A - chose the mayor, but their
points went back to 0. Simple.
This year (the third year since our fictional council was
Party A (20 members) has 20 points (0+20).
Party B (15 members) has 45 points.(30+15)
Party C (12 members) has 36 points. (24+12)
So Party B names the mayor, but goes back to 0..
Next year, being the year of the election
Party A (20 members) has 40 points (20+20)
Party B (15 members) has 15 points (0+15)
Party C (12 members) has 48 points (36+12)
So Party C names the mayor, but goes back to 0.
Come the election and the old order changeth at Rainham council.
There is still no overall control by one party
Party A now has 14 members, Party B has 18 members and Party C
has 15 members.
So now Party A (14 members) has 54 points (40+14)
Party B (18 members) has 33 points (15+18)
Party C (15 members) has 15 points (0+15)
So Party A regains the mayoralty after three years.
None of the parties has overall control - but they have a mayor
and that person chairs their meetings without fear or favour to all
What the Conservatives did earlier this year was take the
Mayoralty to themselves, ending something like 35 years of peace
"The mayoralty is political!" argued the Council Leader, Rodney
A political party chose one of its members - based on a
gentlemen's agreement - to be mayor. That person then sat in the
chair at council meetings and ruled without favour, endeavouring to
keep control and usually succeeding.
It was only when a mayor played politics that there were
problems like the walk outs of a few years ago.
Ironically, this year, under the outgoing mayor, David Carr, has
been the first Conservative mayoralty for many years where the
mayor has not played politics.
But problems are coming - and hopefully not before David Royle's
successor is nominated.
Tuesday, May 5
It seems to have surprised (and delighted) Kent Police that
neighbourhood policing has led to an 18 per cent drop in crime - or
26,000 less offences.
I doubt it surprises the vast majority of the public.
They have been crying out for the return of the beat bobby for
Because they knew that crime was directly related to the
appearance of a police uniform.
See one - go away.
If I was to take up a career in crime the last thing that I
would do is carry out a criminal act in front of a police
If he keeps padding up and down Rainham High Street at times
that I am not expecting, I would have no intention of smashing a
window (whether as a vandal, a burglar or an opportunist car
I would not steal from one of those enticing shop counters in
Chatham High Street for fear of running straight into his (or her)
Nor would I decide to have a fight with or without weapons in
Rochester High Street.
Knowing that a sharp-eyed policeman with plenty of much more
painful methods than I know and with eyes much keener than a CCTV
camera were recording my every action would be a total
The real surprise is that it has taken nearly 40 years for the
authorities to realise that coppers in cars are no substitute for
bobbies on the beat - especially when there are so many
pedestrianised areas today.
The whisper is that Cllr Mike O'Brien is going to be nominated
to chair the health committee after all, while Children - currently
chaired by Cllr Royle with O'B as his deputy - will go to Cllr
And the Leadership?
Cllr Rodney Chambers, who defeated Cllr Craig Mackinlay by 26 -
4 with one abstention.
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