The past two weeks has seen Thanet District Council in a state of some flux. Perhaps an understatement with the effective split of the ruling UKIP group precipitated by the rejection of the Local Plan. I am not at all surprised that the issue of Manston has caused this to come to pass, it is an issue upon which the future direction and economy of Thanet will be decided. Myself and Sir Roger have now had an official meeting with the Secretary of State for Local Government to explain the uniqueness of Thanet’s situation, and I also had the opportunity of raising the issue with the Prime Minister at PMQs. I am positive that a Local Plan, in accordance with national requirements can be delivered, but short of the 2,500 houses that were allocated under the Cllr Wells plan to the Manston site. Manston should, in my view, be maintained as zoned for aviation use only. This can be the working document to be put forward, and hopefully agreed by the Planning Inspector.
On Council tax, myself and other Kent MP colleagues lobbied the Secretary of State, with a degree of success, and accordingly Kent has been allocated £3.9m of additional funding for the social care budget. The retention of business rates trial, of which Kent is one, will additionally mean over £20m more for Kent on top of this. We are going through transformational times in local government finances as the shift is towards local raising of local spending. There is still much wrong with the Business Rates system, which raises some £35 Billion per year nationally, almost as much as Corporation Tax. It is a tax by any name and should it be replaced or amended, the funding must come from somewhere. A seriously knotty problem and a result of historical precedence.
I have been actively involved in trying to make sense of the failure of Childreach International and Rare Adventures Ltd. This charity offered youngsters the opportunity to take part in charitable projects globally to make a real difference to children’s lives in the countries visited. Youngsters at Chatham & Clarendon Grammar School had raised up to £3,000 each from friends, family and through fundraising totalling £60,000 across twenty of them to go on such a project to Kenya. The charity and company, who, after some forensic examination are found to be intertwined through a common CEO and director, have simply shut down leaving the students out of pocket. The travel company was not ABTA registered and the publicly available historic accounts for the entities show them not to be in good financial health even eighteen months ago. I am appealing for all affected to get in touch and I have requested that the CEO come to Westminster with explanations. It is fair to say that the charities sector have not had a good week, it is overdue that the role and activities of many charities operating in the UK are considered. For too long, many have operated as a good living for the executive boards running them and many have lost sight of what they are there for. The situation facing local youngsters has really angered me and I intend to raise the issue with Ministers and the Charity Commission.
I also managed to raise the issue of bank closures in an extensive debate in the House of Commons; this is an issue of real importance from Birchington to Broadstairs and Sandwich. I appeal once more for the closures to stop and for the banks to consider grouping in shared premises to maintain an effective counter service network.
I write this on a Eurostar train to Brussels, with meetings lined up with Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt as part of my role on the Brexit Select Committee, the second such meetings over the past couple of months; I’ll doubtless be reporting back on my return. I doubt it will be cheerful.