Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Lazy Labour ahead of the Torpid Tories: council tax strike for democracy

As if by magic the Labour manifesto for the County elections appears. Good. Tony Flaig has managed to fend off the attentions of Geoff Wild the Kent County Censor to obtain one manifesto. With 8 weeks to go.

No sign of the Tory or LibDem or other manifestos.

Now the details of the Labour manifesto.

Most of it’s general flannel: “working with the Labour government”: I take that for granted as I think most people would.

“Better education, lower crime”: as opposed to the alternative? Worse education, higher crime?

Not worth the paper it’s printed on as a policy.

A few “not invented here” policies - good "yah boo" stuff: cancelling Kent TV and the Local Boards and replacing them with the same but with a different name. What a waste of time and effort now these have been created instead of reforming and improving them: where is the detail on the alternatives?

Some interesting points: scrapping Kent Healthwatch: a cost of £400,000! For an existing call centre! I contacted them over the air pollution at Manston airport. I was told that cancer around airports is largely a myth. Sure.


* Calling time on Manston airport: £200,000 of Kent taxpayers money invested: I’m sure this figure is wrong and would be far higher with civil servant time and the death rate from lost working time and NHS support included.
* Scrapping the Turner Centre: I can’t see any point to this policy. It's a superb initiative that's been fidged and farcical for 10 years. the failure lies with the politicians and civil servants not the plan.
* Reforming Kent Highways: a £17M saving: good but are we really spending that much on road repairs? Does KCC do anything except highways?

And plenty of omissions:

# No “scores on the doors” for transparency of each KCC department and District dept: salaries, costs, staffing numbers etc
# No commitment to wider FOI and EIR transparency with no exemptions
# No details – at all – for policies applied to a District level
# No evaluation of the KCC Budget Book: £110M in bank charges!
# £6M in publicity: that’s more than most national brands like Kelloggs or Persil – for a monopoly regional public council. And with quango costs on top of these again? Is this wise when costs savings are failry easily done from any strategic marketing plan?

Is this latter point not the failure of Kent democracy: the politicians can’t even be bothered to explain what you are voting for at a County or District level - in any detail or at all?

No mention of the Labour heartlands of deprived areas like Thanet, Dover, Folkestone, Chatham in a Labour manifesto. No mention at all - and certainly no specific policies. Hopeless.

No environmental policies: a Natural East Kent, reducing road expansion, canning the Kent Airport policy, restricting building on flood plains, restricting building of flats, no air, water and noise monitoring independently produced and monitored for Kent's tourism industry.

No mention of job cuts at County and District public sector: Labour’s policies would be a mere 1% point reduction on the Tory policy increase.

What on earth is the point of having two groups of identikit politicians simply to scrap each other’s policies, not say what you’re voting for, and then offer a 1% reduction.

All on a 3.99% increase as inflation hits 0% and the banks’ debts are written off through printing a year’s worth of Government money for them.

And the KCC tax increase is bizarrely billed to the public as the lowest ever increase in a recession!

Whatever happened to democracy ensuring better and cheaper services? The two aims are certainly not incompatible. It must be time for Elvis Gilroy to steer a path between a little less conversation and a little more action?

All public sector jobs – in the nicest possible way – need reducing to the lowest possible level. Public services are vital. But as few as possible.

Clarity on what is exactly front-line delivery and back-office bureaucracy through a “Scores on the Doors” would provide this.

Almost all public sector roles should be outsourced to the private sector with a small central core of oversight.

I cannot understand why in a 40% public sector economy(!) and KCC as the County’s largest employer with over 40,000 people(!), that the axe is not taken to these overstaffed and overfunded services and quangos.

Is County Hall stagnating?

We seem to have a tacit agreement between the public sector and the politicians that there is a rising cost of council tax and public sector staffing each year.

Not so.

Slash the budgets. Slash the staffing levels. Drive these services out of the public sector and into the private sector.

All contracts can then be displayed and evaluated with “Scores on the Doors” for best value. Serco does it already as a mini-monopoly. The key now is to create lots more mini-Serco’s and remove quangos or drive those into the public sector for oversight – and ultimately outsourcing to the private sector.

With an ageing population and computers many public sector jobs can be done by volunteers.

Similarly many councillor and MP jobs can be slashed. Too many people in non-jobs soaking up public money for petty purposes. The plethora of Government ministers soaking up job titles in Education is a sight to see.

No mention of creating elected roles in the Police, Fire, Ambulance and NHS services for greater accountability and less party politicking. Labour's given up on public accountability in Kent.

No economy can operate with a 40% public sector. Or certainly not a growth economy. Or an economy that maintains the NHS and pensions.

The options are to increase public sector funding to 70% so we all effectively work for the Government or in SME businesses or reduce it to 15% and ensure better services through greater performance and better outsourcing and lower taxation to encourage a growth economy.

If the last years of the 20th century witnessed the stripping out of featherbedding in the private sector and Trade Unions then the early years of the 21st century must be the time for stripping out featherbedding in the public sector and political sector.

The Labour manifesto for Kent has none of these just bland platitudes. Are we reaching the point where there are in fact no policy differences between all the main parties?

Labour now has no NHS or Clause 4 or Minimum Wage or Trident differences with the Conservatives any more. Have we a US or Japan political system of stasis? But without the economy or growth to match?

Shouldn't the main parties merge and shed political and council jobs given that 75% of legislation is - rightly - produced in Europe?

Just minor jockeying for position and tiny adjustments of tax levels?

No wonder the Kent and UK economy is stagnating.

Time for more Independents at Local and County level and Green Growth policies and wider reforms of our faltering economy and society.

As MP I will call on Parliament to implement all these policies with or without Labour and take a fresh look at funding in Kent.

I await the other manifestos – if anyone has bothered to produce them: 8 weeks to County, Town and Europe elections – to see what exactly we are voting for in our Tweedledum and Tweedledee democracy.

Nothing from the Conservatives in Thanet or County Hall. Looks like democracy is a moveable feast under Paul Carter and the now-Gang-of-Three in Thanet.

A council tax strike seems far the best policy in Kent:

* cancel direct debits
* delay cash payments
* return postal payments without cheques

With 60% of KCC and TDC funding from citizens and their council tax it must be time to regain control of the bloated purse strings.

Time for Change.

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