Monday 27 June 2011

A fresh idea for Enterprise in Thanet

A fresh look at what an Enterprise Zone could look like in our area. We're situated in a fine coastal region. Do we really need to only believe that job creation means building industrial units on our beautiful landscape? How many jobs have truly been created from projects in the past. Thanet Earth being one that springs to mind.

Thanet has space and opportunity. We could put out a strong message that we will support and nurture entrepreneurship of forward thinking ideas. it's not only possible elsewhere. So while KCC are looking at an Enterprise Zone for Sandwich at the Pfizer site, who about Thanet? Laura Sandys MP is pushing the idea of the Green Isle for example.

"This is my column that will feature in Saturday’s Financial Times, which can be found in the entrepreneurship pages of the Money section. You can also find my columns on the FT web site here:

Enterprise zones in the UK are typically based in depressed urban areas hit by the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, places that most people aspire to finally escape from, one day. However, there is a different model that can potentially deliver even better long-term results.

The city of Kelowna is less than an hour’s flight east of Vancouver in the Central Okanagan region of Canada, an area of outstanding natural beauty next to a 72-mile lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its fruit-growing industries were declining, so local entrepreneurs shrewdly switched their crops and the area now boasts several award-winning wineries.

The region might have remained a tourist and retirement destination but for local entrepreneurs Lance Priebe and Lane Merrifield who had the idea for Club Penguin, an on-line social network for children. Riding the first wave of Internet adoption, they soon had 3.9M users before being purchased by the Disney Corporation, who still maintain a 350-strong operation in Kelowna.

Once the city’s credentials as a new media hub had been established, the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission resolved to attract more hi-tech businesses. Since 1998, Robert Fine has been Executive Director, which involves constant local networking, the promotion of the area internationally and the essential ability to encourage funding and tax breaks from local and national politicians.

The result is a region that punches considerably above its weight. Entrepreneurs have low-cost access to Accelerate Okanagan, a purpose-built incubator that provides membership, networking and serviced office space, as well as practical training, consultancy and market research services.

Unlike the incubators that emerged in London during the dot-com boom, Accelerate Okanagan is not run by venture capitalists focused on generating deal-flow geared for a quick and lucrative exit. This incubator works more like a social enterprise, providing long-term mentor-focused nurturing on a not-for-profit basis.

Government funding meets the basic running costs of Accelerate Okanagan, but the incubator also has commercial targets, with profits recycled to improve and enhance the various programmes.

Ambitious entrepreneurs always crave worldwide fame and fortune, so Fine and successful technology entrepreneur Steve Wandler launched the Metabridge Conference, now in its third year. This attracted venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in successful hi-tech start-ups such as Google, Facebook and Electronic Arts.

These were the conference VIPs who delivered keynotes, appeared on panel sessions and acted as judges for the pitching competition. The conference numbers were deliberately kept small, with 14 companies pitching to twenty VIPs. This enabled all the aspiring entrepreneurs to have quality networking time with world-class business mentors in the relaxed atmosphere of a golf course or boat trip.

This year, two companies won a two-day facilitated tour of influential companies in Silicon Valley. These were Connection Point, whose product FundRazr is a next-generation fund-raising application, and Xomo, who develop mobile applications for live events, including the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Isle of Wight Festival.

As the winners were chosen by some of the most astute technical and funding experts in North America, their future looks bright as well as for the place where they got their big break.

As the Metabridge entrepreneurs and investors grow their companies, I am sure they will look to Central Okanagan not only for good staff, but also as somewhere they can enjoy the more enhanced and relaxed quality of life they will have earned after their own successful exits.

Perhaps this is a better definition of the perfect enterprise zone; not an industrial urban sprawl that most people aspire to escape from, but instead an attractive location to relocate to, once you have achieved success.

The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission can be found at"


Saturday 25 June 2011

Arlington Update: Margate businesses should demand a reduction in their business rates

News from the Arlington House Margate blog: Suggesting that Margate businesses could do well to appeal their business rates on the grounds that the authority is recommending approval of the proposed Superstore with a loss of trade of 10% for Margate businesses. it has been successfully achieved in other towns.

Margate is often cited as having the street with the most vacant shops in the country. Is it really acceptable for the local authority to be walking the remaining shops into further decline?


More info:

Friday 24 June 2011

Thanet District Council forced to repay hundreds of thousands to European Regional Development Fund

The Thanet Gazette published an excellent report in to TDC's Governance & Audit Committee's report  on the ERDF expenditure between 2000 and 2006. The report was until recently not open to public scrutiny. It is now available to read and download here:$europeanregionaldevelopmentfund.doc.pdf

The Gazette article by Saul Lease reads:

"A report for the Governance and Audit Committee, which monitors how the council spends its money, has been made public for the first time this week. It reveals that between 2000 and 2006 the council received £5,575,715 in government grants, but has since been forced to repay £603,340.

The report also highlights large sums of taxpayers' cash, intended to boost tourism and to spruce up businesses and buildings, which vanished or was misspent and cannot now be recovered.

Tens of thousands of pounds was given to hoteliers to improve their businesses and attract more tourists only for the hotels to close, be demolished or converted into flats.

The extensive list specifically mentions the Thanet Innovation Centre, which shares a site with the Broadstairs campus of Canterbury Christ Church University.

The report says: "This was the council's single biggest reclaim and the partial repayment related to the authority not fulfilling all of the grant conditions and failing to notify the Government of the South East (GOSE) of changes in the management approach following the original grant letter, that were considered substantial changes by GOSE".

The reports says that instead of filling the business centre with innovative companies, it used space for companies that "are not innovative start-up businesses" and its own staff. The report also said the council had not maintained records of jobs created by the grant.

A business owner inside the centre said: "The council could have spent that money on improving the centre which would attract new businesses in.

"There is no air conditioning and it gets hot in here in the summer. The carpets are shabby, the parking here is poor and visitors sometimes have to park over the road, which is not good at all for business. This building is 10 years old and it needs updating. What a waste of money."

Vice chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee, Councillor Peter Campbell, vowed to get to the bottom of how the money was so badly mismanaged at a meeting later this month.

He said: "This information has been unavailable to the public for a long time. I want to know why this money has been returned when it could have been put to good use"

The report says that since the audit which uncovered the blunders, the council has changed its procedures and employed someone to oversee the process of grant management.

A spokesman said that many of the officers who would have been involved in running the grants programmes had since left the council.

Mr Campbell added: "I want to know what happened to this money. My assumption is that the money repaid to the European Development Fund came from Thanet council's general fund and ultimately the taxpayer."

A council spokesman said: "This is an issue from a number of years ago and when the problem emerged, the council dealt with it. An action plan was put in place as far back as 2008 with measures introduced to ensure that a similar situation will not arise again. We have had an External Funding Protocol in place since 2009 and a dedicated External Funding Officer ensures this is adhered to.

"There were many issues regarding monitoring of ERDF grants throughout the whole of the country.

"In some areas, much higher levels of funding were clawed back, even leading to a suspension of the programme. We have never had that situation in Thanet. We worked with the Government Office for the South East (GOSE), came to an agreement about how to go forward and this was implemented."

Points in the report:

1.0 Introduction


1.1 The Council had grants approved of £5,575,715 through the 2000-2006 ERDF programme, for which, The Government Office for the South East (GOSE) was the accountable body.


1.2 The purpose of this report is to summarise the amounts awarded, received and repaid in relation to all projects and the reasons behind these reclaims, where made and action taken to reclaim them.


2.2 The table above demonstrates that of the total funding received (£5,035,463), 12% of funding had to be repaid to GOSE (£603,341), the details of these reclaims are set out below.


3.0 ERDF Reclaims


3.1 Project 002/036 – Encouraging Social Inclusion – Main/Trans - £1,806 + £1,093


3.2 Following an Article 10 audit of both projects by GOSE, some expenditure claimed through the project for salaries could not be evidenced and as such the grant in relation to this expenditure had to be repaid to GOSE.


3.3 Project 006/028 – Business Networks and Cross Working – Main/Trans £17,443 + £20,159


3.4 These projects related to grant payments, however the sums made ineligible by the audit related to match funding that was originally added to the claim by the claim preparer, so the authority was able to claim back 100% of the grants paid out. There was no evidence on file of where the match was meant to come from and so could not be subsequently evidenced.


3.5 Project 011 – Thanet Museum Strategy - £63,702


3.6 The authority had claimed £63,702.48 in grants paid out to 2 museums, however the authority could not evidence what the museums had spent the funds on, despite attempts to contact the museums in question.


3.7 The authority sought to reclaim the grants from the museums, but between the time of the grant being paid out and the time of the audit, both museums had closed and the owner of one had passed away, meaning the authority was unable to reclaim the grants.


3.8 Project 015/158 – Thanet Tourism Grant Scheme Phase 3 & 4- £52,960 + £81,890


3.9 Both phases of the scheme faced issues when audited and there were three main reasons for grant repayment, these were:

The hotel had been converted into apartments within 5 years of the grant being paid;

The hotel was never eligible for a grant, as the grant was approved retrospectively or was for work to restaurants or other facilities that were not allowed under the scheme; The hotel closed within 5 years of the grant being awarded. 3.10 The Council managed to reclaim £10,000 of the total repayment of £134,850 on

the scheme.


3.11 Where the hotels were never eligible for the grant, payment was made to the hotels in error and so a reclaim could not be undertaken.


3.12 Despite the Council pursuing other grant recipients, many of the owners were no longer traceable, because the hotels had been demolished / closed or the companies that the grant had been paid to, had ceased trading.


3.13 Project 016 – Margate Harbour & Turner Centre - £22,635


3.14 Some expenditure, which attracted grant of £22,635 was identified as ineligible by an audit and was subsequently repaid to GOSE.


3.15 Projects 031/033 – Organisational Development Grants Main/Trans - £16,237 & £42,363


3.16 Both projects had an Article 10 audit by GOSE and as a result it was identified that most organisations that had been paid grant, did not provide the authority with any evidence to support what the grant had been used for.


3.17 The authority subsequently wrote to all grant recipients and obtained a large amount of information which helped secure some of the grant. However, as the audit was not until 5 years after the grants had been paid out, a few of the organisations had ceased trading, some were un-contactable, some had passed away and some did not respond, leaving the authority with an incomplete audit trail.


3.18 The grant offer letter with each grant recipient stated that they were only required to maintain records for 5 years from grant award, though the authority is still required by GOSE to have access to records until 2014.


3.19 The External Funding Officer identified £12,935 of grants that were still within the 5 years and should be sought for reclaim, however the legal department have confirmed that as the second payment was made to these grant recipients confirming that the authority was satisfied with the project progress and evidence at the time, that it is not possible to progress a reclaim against these recipients.


3.20 Project 034 – Marketing and Communications - £9,924


3.21 The reclaim on this project related to expenditure that the authority had tried to claim twice, which was identified through an audit at a later date.


3.22 Project 037 – Thanet Innovation Centre - £250,000


3.23 This was the Council’s single biggest reclaim and the partial repayment related to the authority not fulfilling all of the grant conditions and failing to notify GOSE of changes in the management approach following the original grant offer letter, that were considered substantial changes by GOSE. The authority has since agreed with GOSE some key changes in the management of the centre in order to overcome further reclaim.


3.24 The partial grant repayment specifically related to the authority running the facility (for VAT reasons) instead of the management being vested in a specialist Board - which resulted in a lower level of business networking than had been envisaged in the grant offer, that TDC had too large a percentage of tenants in the centre that were not innovative start up businesses and that the authority had not maintained fully detailed records of the jobs created and their longevity (including after tenants had moved out of the centre).


3.25 Project 085 – Stimulating Innovation and Entrepreneurship - £1,797


3.26 The reclaim related to ineligible accommodation costs that were claimed through the project, that were subsequently identified by audit.


3.27 Project 451 – Delivering Margate’s Creative Quarter - £21,331


3.28 This was the last project running through the 2000-2006 programme and finished on 31st December 2008. Unfortunately some of the expenditure claimed related to an invoice that covered a period after the project end date and the rest related to a grant offered at a rate of 45% of total spend, to a grant recipient, however the authority could not reclaim any grant, due to an error on the grant offer letter to the individual company, which stated 31st March 2009 as the end date for the project.


3.29 The authority did manage to attract additional grant from KCC due to invoices provided to them to assist in match funding their own ERDF project. The funds from this meant that TDC could repay the grant without any adverse impact on its own budgets.


3.30 Under this scheme, a grant of £68,750 was paid towards refurbishment works of 16 Marine Drive and 42 High Street. Works started in 2008 but the scheme has not been completed due to the withdrawal of the developer’s private sector funding. Action has commenced to recover the grant monies and GOSE has agreed that should any funds be recovered, that these could be recycled to support works that meet the original objectives of the programme.


4.0 The Way Forward


4.1 Following the lessons learnt through the old ERDF programme, the authority has now implemented the External Funding Protocol and has a dedicated External Funding Officer.


4.2 The External Funding Protocol came into force on 13 November 2009, this stated that all external funding bids had to be reviewed through correct channels prior to bidding of funds to ensure that:

• • •

Finance were aware of the grant; That terms and conditions in relation to the grant could be adhered to; That the grant met corporate priorities.


4.3 As a result the External Funding Protocol requires that all external funding bids are examined by the External Funding Officer, who scrutinises the funding stream and requirements, prior to being considered by CMT for approval.


4.4 Should there be tight deadlines on submitting an application for funding, the Section 151 Officer has delegated authority to approve the funding and CMT are required to retrospectively approve the funding bid.


4.5 Some of the ERDF reclaims were due to poor audit trails maintained either centrally or by the individual departments, as a result, electronic records are now being maintained in line with the protocol, to ensure that large scale repayments due to a lack of audit trail, no longer occur and that all paperwork relating to claims or funding sources are routed through the External Funding Officer as a central point of contact.


4.6 Recommendations


4.7 That Governance & Audit Committee note the report contents on ERDF repayments;


4.8 And that the Committee note the progress made by the authority regarding systems implemented to avoid future grant reclaims.

Clive Hart's Shadow Update



Cllr Clive Hart - Labour Leader of the Opposition at TDC.

"This was the first TDC Cabinet Meeting held using the new Conservative 'themed' portfolio areas.

Thursday's meeting was a relatively short affair, mainly dealing legal matters, data protection and TDC properties.
Item 6, a report on a Homes and Communities bid was withdrawn and the press and public were excluded for item 10, regarding the Coach House, Northdown Park.
As always, Labour Shadow Cabinet members were in attendance and the following matters were raised by them".
Cllr Clive Hart - 01843 298770.

Cllr Clive Hart - Shadow Spokesperson for 'Prosperity' portfolio.
"Thank you to Simon Thomas for this report.
The very first paragraph (1.1) sums up the situation correctly 'Until 1st October 2010 planning permission was required for change of use of a building including a dwelling house to an HMO. On 1st October 2010 the government introduced new legislation. Now planning permission is NOT required for the change of use of a dwelling house to an HMO for up to 6 people'.
This goes directly against the work and wishes of several departments of this council who are constantly frustrated by such changes.
At the December 2010 meeting of Thanet District Council, the previous - and then larger - Conservative administration were forced to delay implementing regulations controlling Houses of Multiple Occupation for a whole year, due to changes introduced by the coalition government.

Indeed, at that very meeting, I pointed out that the TDC administration had been forced to respond to yet another retrograde and knee-jerk change in legislation brought in by the coalition government. In October 2010 they had rushed through changes that actually made it easier to create HMO's, without thinking things through and consequently seaside authorities such as Thanet now had to play all kinds of legal games to cover themselves. I explained that the second rate option forced on us, left us with an unnecessary 12 month loophole for developers to exploit.
In summary, in October 2010, through its rushed and ill thought out policy, the coalition government forced us at TDC to delay implementing regulations controlling Houses of Multiple Occupation. At full council in December 2010 we were therefore forced to agree a second rate option providing developers with a twelve month loophole. Now, we learn from the report before us that the Article 4 Direction was not made until February 2011 and that Cabinet are being asked to 'confirm' it here today.
Can I please ask on exactly what date the Article 4 Direction WILL finally come into force"?
Answer - February 4th 2012.
[Ed. This is really worrying! No requirement for conversion to HMO!]

Cllr Iris Johnston - Shadow Spokesperson for 'People' portfolio.
"Thank you Mr Cordes for this comprehensive report and for addressing the Final Audit Report Statement from August 2010 which provided TDC with a 'limited assurance with regards compliance to the requirements of the DPA 1998 generally'. I feel it's very important that not just staff but all members have training to ensure none of us breach the act even inadvertently. We also need to know when we have to register constituency work with the Information Commissioner as highlighted on page 24.

I recently had a matter drawn to my attention of an MP using email addresses gleaned through constituency work to promote his political party in the run up to the May elections. The three residents were furious and we as Councillors should know that we should not do this either.

I have written to Mr Cameron and the Speaker of the House and discussed this with Mr Patterson. I have had no response from either the MP himself or the House of Commons. I find such use unacceptable. How would one report such breaches"?

Cllr Iris Johnston - 01843 299207.

Cllr Clive Hart - Shadow Spokesperson for 'Prosperity' portfolio.
"Thank you to Mark Seed for this report.
At first sight, using the building concerned for stone masonry would seem to be a very good solution.
However, the cemetery is a place of quiet and I would like to ask what environmental controls regarding noise and dust issues would be put in place to protect this 'very special' local environment"?
Answer - It was hoped the building would be used for an office for the stone mason.


Thursday 23 June 2011

What do they want? More of our money and permission to build houses on agricultural land? EKO you have us confused

Screen shot 2011 06 23 at 17 40 51

Margate! You have until 8pm today to pop into the Media Centre in King Street, Margate Old Town to tell EKO what you think!

I have to admit to being slightly confused sometimes.

Why would we, the public, repeatedly give money to a risky business venture in order to create jobs and sustain employment by the creation of a business park on grade I agricultural land and to be told, only a few months ago, what a great success it was. And then, the next minute, be told that most of the site is vacant, not doing too well and now they want permission to build houses on it.

East Kent Opportunities (EKO) is a joint venture between KCC and TDC. The idea was to transform agricultural land near Westwood Cross into a business park, The Euro Kent Business Park, to create valuable jobs for the area. The site is located in the empty fields you might have looked at while stuck in a traffic jam navigating the roads around Westwood Cross. There seems to be a crisis of identity for EKO which has continuously come back to beg for more hand outs from the public purse.

As you can read on the Cabinet report from the 17th of June 2010:

"The purpose of this joint project with SEEDA is to create jobs in Thanet by providing the type of employment space currently under-represented in the District. The District, including the Council’s own employment units, did not previously include modern service sector accommodation or sufficient ‘starter’ employment units. The 3 current tenants comprise a new branch of a nationwide business, a business previously located in premises outside the District and a local business which has expanded rapidly. This pattern is repeated for the other units currently being pursued by prospective tenants, so it is clear that this development is fulfilling a need in the District.

4.3.1 The development of Eurokent Business Park fits with Theme 1 (Thanet’s Economy) of the Corporate Plan together with Sub-theme 1.3 (Available Employment Opportunities). The purpose of the development is to create high quality office and industrial units to generate additional / support existing employment in the District."

TDC then issued a press release in March this year proclaiming a Eurokent a great success:

"A new business park in Ramsgate, that was developed to create job opportunities in Thanet, is already 60% leased or under offer, less than a year after the first companies moved in. The Eurokent Business Park along New Haine Road is a joint project with the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) to help create jobs in Thanet by providing new employment space, not previously available in the district. The land for the project was donated by Thanet District Council, with SEEDA contributing £4.4m for the construction of the buildings and fit-outs of the industrial units. The project also attracted a further £1.3m European Regional Development Funding through SEEDA."

Yet, reading EKO's own website, they say:

"The Eurokent site is allocated under Thanet District Council’s Local Plan for business and industrial purposes but is mostly vacant. Some of those businesses still located on the site fall within a B1 use class (offices or light industries), including the SEEDA Innovation Centre, Marlowe Academy and SAGA Call Centre."

And will there be affordable housing?

"Yes, affordable housing forms an important part of the proposal and it is anticipated that 155 (approximately 30%) of the housing will be affordable. These will be a mix of high quality family homes and apartments."

How was the project funded?
£4.4m was given by SEEDA (South East of England Development Agency) for the construction of the buildings.TDC gave the land and £1.3m came from the European Regional Development Fund. A substantial amount came from from bank loans.

In essence, the Council set up up a property development  and speculation company. EKO has periodically come back to TDC to ask for more money to cover the bank interest on the loans. Repayment of these bank loans has been draining TDC finances. EKO now wants to build 550 new houses on this land.

You might not have heard about it, but they are running public consultations for you to share what you think about the idea of building a load of new homes on agricultural land in a low employment area.
Here are the details on the consultations in your area:

MargateThursday 23 June 2pm – 8pm
Margate Media Centre
11-13 King Street, 

That's today folks! Open until 8pm tonight. Pop in and tell them what you think.

RamsgateFriday 24 June 9am – 5pm
Street Market
Ramsgate Town Centre
CT11 9AG

Westwood CrossSaturday 25 June 10am – 2pm
Main entrance
Westwood Cross Shopping Centre
Margate Road
CT10 2BF

But if you can't make it along to meet the EKO people in person, fear not! You can send them your views directly. Either fill out the form on their website here.

Or send them directly to:

Eurokent Consultation
Kent Innovation Centre

Thanet Reach Business Park

Millennium Way
CT10 2QQ
tel 01843 609 332

So it is no longer about creating jobs, but creating houses on what was Grade I agricultural land?
More housing means more people in Thanet (there are 880 empty dwellings in Cliftonville and Margate centre).
So, to protect EKO's investment, we actually raise the unemployment levels in Thanet.
If you don't see that as a problem, think about the traffic at Westwood Cross on a Saturday or Sunday and imagine what it will be like if these 550 houses are built, in addition to the 1000 that already have planning permission on the other side of the road.

Edited to add: Posts with more info


Thursday 16 June 2011

The once-secret KCC funding bid for Manston Airport


From the No-Night Flights Campaigners:

"Freedom of Information - Kent County Council put in a bid for £10.8m of public money from the Regional Growth Fund. When asked for information about the bid, they refused to release any details. Now they have been forced to release most (but not all) of the details, and it makes for very interesting reading...

A closer look at that bid

On closer examination, this bid is actually a damning indictment of the business proposal it's supposed to be supporting. Infratil have so little faith in this new venture that they won't stump up the necessary £½m+ to persuade an airline to risk it. They won't even pay their own staff!  The anonymous airline will only play ball if someone else (Infratil) bankrolls the risk, and Infratil will only foot the bill with someone else's (
our) money. The closer you look, the more it becomes obvious that this is already a commercial basket-case...

It won't have escaped your notice that Manston airport cynically dangles the prospect of massive local employment in front of Thanet councillors, in the hope of hypnotising them into compliance.
We've all seen the numbers they've been coming out with in the local press.

Now you can see the numbers they presented to the Government funding body. They're different, VERY different, and not in a good way.

From Kent Online

Manston's failed bids for public cash

Manston has twice before had public money invested in airline ventures which both failed.

In 2005, KCC ploughed £100,000 into a service operated by EUJet, which went into administration and then in 2007, KCC then spent nearly £300,000 in 2007 in an unsuccessful venture to run weekly charter flights from Manston to Virginia in the USA.

As part of its bid totalling £10.8m, the government was asked to support a request for £7.7m to build the Thanet Parkway station and £2m to improve journey times between Ramsgate and London.

Consultants, commissioned by KCC, to examine the impact of the new service, said just 23 jobs would be created at the airport, with a further estimated 133 indirect jobs over eight years across east Kent."

So, do we in Margate really want a station at Parkway in the middle of nowhere? 

Is it possible we would lose trains direct to Margate and we'd have to get a shuttle bus from Manston to Margate?