Thursday 28 March 2013

Fancy a job as a community organiser in Margate and Cliftonville?

I've been sent news of three jobs as community organisers by GRASS (Gordon Road Street Scheme). For those of you on Facebook, they have a page.

For further details about Community Organisers and to make an application please contact Betty Ward Email
Download an application form.

The three roles were funded by Locality. They will work in the Cliftonville and
Margate Central Wards.

GRASS met with Clive Hart last December to tell him of our preliminary approval for two organisers and he voiced his support for the programme. Since then they have been awarded this increased funding for 3 positions.

In addition to creating 3 new jobs, the comprehensive training package provided by Locality, will see our local organisers meeting organisers from many other areas in the country to share good practice and bring some innovative and practical methods back to Thanet. More info about the national scheme:

The full Job pack is a 13 page document which includes comprehensive details about the philosophical and practical aspects of the Community Organisers programme. The expectation is that all Community Organisers will make use of individual laptops, social media, the internet and
electronic communications whenever possible as they spend time out in the community and use a "hot desk" at the Cliftonville Community Centre and elsewhere.

This is the first group to be funded in Thanet, in this Round 9 of the national programme, along with the North Deal Community Partnership in Deal, and several other areas in the UK.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Anthony Lewis, Supreme Court Reporter Who Brought Law to Life, Dies at 85

The obituary of Anthony Lewis, Supreme Court Reporter makes compelling reading. I urge you to take 5 minutes and cup of tea. Anthony Lewis believed in two things close to my heart: justice and freedom of the press. 
“He brought context to the law,” said Ronald K. L. Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington who compiled a bibliography of Mr. Lewis’s work. “He had an incredible talent in making the law not only intelligible but also in making it compelling.”
Before Mr. Lewis started covering the Supreme Court, press reports on its decisions were apt to be pedestrian recitations by journalists without legal training, rarely examining the court’s reasoning or grappling with the context and consequences of particular rulings. Mr. Lewis’s thorough knowledge of the court’s work changed that. His articles were virtual tutorials about currents in legal thinking, written with ease and sweep and an ability to render complex matters accessible.

Friday 22 March 2013

Write now to protect websites and local blogs

I wouldn't have imagined something would come up so fast that would be so topical for my blog.  But it seems there is an almighty furore over the proposed Leveson Regulations.

I've been publishing here about Margate related news since 2007 when I became interested in saving the corner building at Cliff Terrace, at the gateway to Cliftonville.

As Labour's MP and digital rights campaigner Tom Watson points out:

"“It is clear to all but the very stupid that the new system should only apply to big media -with print operations that might also have a digital presence. Maria Miller should urgently clarify how this will be achieved.”

What can we do? Please join the campaign from the Open Rights Group, which sends a message to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman.
Even if, as a lone writer with no other authors writing for my blog, I'm supposedly not going to be currently affected. But I can see how this opens up a potential mess, that will put many people off from publishing at all. This coupled with blogger Jacqui Thompson losing her High Court libel battle against her local authority in Wales.

This brings me then to the issue of why so many good honest local people will not stand for election, despite there being a strong desire for local politics to be seen to be cleaned up and improved. It has been said to me on numerous occasions in the last weeks by local people that their main reason for not standing is not wishing to take on the abuse that they see anyone who puts their head above the parapet having to take. I find this very sad state of affairs. 

I personally decided not to stand for election because I wish to continue to work on the community volunteer projects I'm involved in, because of the obvious conflicts of interest being elected would pose. That and being able to freely work on and cover the issues that I believe in.

Saturday 9 March 2013

The right to report, film and tweet from council meetings in England

Further to the topic of the right of citizen journalists to report directly from court with permission. What about the right to report, film and tweet from council meetings?

In August 2012, Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP announced greater openness and transparency in executive councils meetings. Full announcement here

Eric Pickles said:

"Every decision a council takes has a major impact on the lives of local people so it is crucial that whenever it takes a significant decision about local budgets that affect local communities whether it is in a full council meeting or in a unheard of sub-committee it has got to be taken in the full glare of all the press and any of the public. 
Margaret Thatcher was first to pry open the doors of Town Hall transparency. Fifty years on we are modernising those pioneering principles so that every kind of modern journalists can go through those doors - be it from the daily reporter, the hyper-local news website or the armchair activist and concerned citizen blogger - councils can no longer continue to persist with a digital divide."
  • New legal rights for citizen reporters: Local authorities are now obliged to provide reasonable facilities for members of the public to report the proceedings as well as accredited newspapers (regulation 4). This will make it easier for new ‘social media’ reporting of council executive meetings thereby opening proceedings up to internet bloggers, tweeting and hyperlocal news forums.
  • Holding private meetings: In the past council executives could hold meetings in private without giving public notice. Where a meeting is to be held in private, the executive or committee must provide 28 days notice during which the public may make representations about why the meeting should be held in public. Where the notice requirements for a private meeting and an agreement of the chairman of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee or chairman of the relevant local authority has been obtained, the decision-making body must publish a notice as soon as reasonably practicable explaining why the meeting is urgent and cannot be deferred (regulation 5).
Chris Taggart, of, which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, added:

"In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings."
Here's the Thanet District Council Page on OpenlyLocal

This announcement from Eric Pickles had come well after the advice that was sent out to all local authorities by Bob Neill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2011. Original PDF of the letter here:
Bob Neill MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Communities and Local
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU  
 Tel: 0303 444 3430
Fax: 0303 444 3986   
23 February 2011  
To All Council Leaders
cc Monitoring Officers   
Dear Colleague,   
Access to Meetings  
As part of the Government’s transparency drive I want to highlight the
importance of your council giving citizens the opportunity to access and
experience their local democracy using modern communication methods. It is essential to a healthy democracy that citizens everywhere are able to feel that their council welcomes them to observe local decision-making and through modern media tools keep others informed as to what their council is doing. 
The mainstream media also needs to be free to provide stronger local
accountability by being able to film and record in meetings without obstruction.  Councils are now faced with important budget decisions affecting the day to day lives of people living and working in their communities. Council meetings have long been open to interested members of the public and recognised journalists, and with the growth of online film, social media and hyper-local online news they should equally be open to ‘Citizen Journalists’ and filming by mainstream media. Bloggers, tweeters, residents with their own websites and users of Facebook and YouTube are increasingly a part of the modern world, blurring the lines between professional journalists and the public. 
There are recent stories about people being ejected from council meetings for blogging, tweeting or filming. This potentially is at odds with the fundamentals of democracy and I want to encourage all councils to take a welcoming approach to those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience.
The public should rightly expect that elected representatives who have put
themselves up for public office be prepared for their decisions to be as
transparent as possible and welcome a direct line of communication to their electorate. I do hope that you and your colleagues will do your utmost to maximise the transparency and openness of your council.  I do recognise that there are obligations on whoever is filming or publishing information – be it the council itself or a citizen or mainstream journalist – under the Data Protection Act 1998. But I do not see these obligations as preventing access for journalism. Nor are there grounds for any council seeking to obstruct a citizen or other journalist from processing information. 
The Information Commissioner’s Office has told us that:  
‘ In the absence of any other legal barrier to comment, publication,
expression and so on, the Act in and of itself would not prevent such
processing of information.   
In the majority of cases the citizen blogging about how they see the
democratic process working is unlikely to breach the data protection
In the context of photographing or filming meetings, whilst genuine
concerns about being filmed should not be dismissed, the nature of the
activity being filmed – elected representatives acting in the public
sphere – should weigh heavily against personal objections’.   
Moreover there are within the Act itself exemptions from the data protection principles which might apply in the circumstances of the citizen journalist. The first exemption relates to processing of information for journalistic purposes (section 32), the second for the processing of information for domestic purposes (section 36).   
In short transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do and in this digital age it is right that we modernise our approach to public access, recognising the contribution to transparency and democratic debate that social media and similar tools can make.   
I copy this letter to your monitoring officer given their responsibility for advising on your council’s procedures and decision-making arrangements.  
Eric Pickles recently clarified via twitter the right to of the public to report film and tweet council meetings in England: 

Friday 8 March 2013

Mike Pearce from one old hack to the brave new world of citizen journalists

Despite it being about me, complete with picture in stripey jumper, I'd like to give the old hack, Mike Pearce a high five for his column in today's Thanet Gazette  [Are Louise's tweets the future of court news?] for getting to the crux of the importance of citizen journalism in today's era of media cutbacks within the brave new landscape of social media. A landscape that is further picked up on in Smudger where it's noted how many Twitter refuseniks signed up to the service to follow or comment on the two week Ezekiel trial. I guess most have found that it doesn't bite, but hopefully they will realise the potential to bite before they hit the send button. Citizen journalists have a thing or two to learn from traditional media folk, and one hopes, vice versa.
 The most significant player in the Ezekiel trial may prove not to be the former council leader, nor even the judge, but a woman who runs a Margate B&B.
More of her later. It is what she did that could prove a seminal moment in court reporting.
Two years ago, the Lord Justice ruled that journalists can tweet, text, or e-mail from court, but this does not extend to the public, unless special application is made to the judge.
Which is exactly what Louise Oldfield did - and when Mr Justice Nicol agreed, she made the 86-mile round trip to Maidstone Crown Court from where she tweeted as-it happened updates for nine days.
To understand the significance, one must appreciate what happened to the newspaper industry even before we started turning to the internet for news.
When newspapers were family-owned, towns often had two, three or even more titles, employing teams of reporters which would be considered absurdly large in today's climate.
The coming of free newspapers - in which advertising revenue often loomed larger than social responsibility - pulled the rug from under traditional publishers. Most were mopped up by large corporates or went out of business.
To profit-focused owners, reporters were not revenue earners and were fair game when jobs had to be shed.
Once, a local reporter would be found in most magistrates courts and all crown courts.
There are probably fewer than half the number of journalists there were a generation ago. Today's editors, however willing, are hard-pressed to lose a reporter for a couple of days, let alone the couple of weeks, a major trial might last, a depressing thought if one takes the traditional view that press exposure is part of the punishment for the criminal.
Does the Oldfield application mean we could see an army of tweeters, broadcasting the minutiae of hearings?
Not necessarily.
Louise, who runs The Reading Rooms in Hawley Square - recently named by The Times as its favourite B&B - has shown it is possible, but she is not the Average Joe.
Among other things, she led the fight against the Arlington Tesco plan, chairs an independent traders' group, was an important player in the team that won Portas Pilot money to improve the High Street - and even found time recently to weed the public rose beds in Hawley Square.
But as well as acumen, would-be court tweeters need a working knowledge of the law and court proceedings and be able to assimilate and condense hours of evidence with unerring accuracy.
Louise had to assure the Judge she understood the responsibility to be fair, balanced and honourable.
Her application was groundbreaking. It was the first the court usher had known, the clerk felt it unlikely she would get permission.
After a hand-written note to the judge, followed by a brief discussion between defence and prosecution counsel, Louise was told she could tweet and use her ipad to take notes for her blog.
Did the significance of the Ezekiel trial merit a fortnight of long journeys, lengthy hours in a court room and the ever-present pressure that she must get nothing wrong?
"Open justice is one of the reasons why the UK judicial system is the finest in the world," she tells me."Appearing before the public means those giving testimony are more likely to be truthful. Knowing that testimony will be reported back honourably to the local community is an intrinsic part of this."
Her reports have earned her an admiring band of followers. It has even been suggested she stands for election in Ezekiel's council ward, which would be ironic - but not as important as the role she may have played in shaping the future of court reporting."

Wednesday 6 March 2013


Those folks at Margate Town Team are inviting the good people of Margate to a public meeting:

Date: Thursday March 21st
Time: 6pm - 8pm
Venue: Rokka Margate, 2-14 High St, Margate, Kent CT9 1AT

I haven't received any details what the meeting will be about yet. As soon as I do, I'll post them.

Official Margate Town Team Facebook Page
Margate Town Team on Twitter

No to Costa Coffee in Margate?

There was an article in last week's Thanet Gazette regarding the possibility of a Costa Coffee taking the place of the Post Office in the Edwardian building it has resided in for a century in Cecil Square. 
Brighton-based businessman Peter McDonnell, chairman of Margate FC's Ryman League rivals Whitehawk, is behind the redevelopment. His company, KSD Properties, which turned over almost £10 million last year, has planning permission for nine flats above the office.
The fact this grand listed building recently was sold by the Council at auction for just £361,000 is bad enough. Losing the central Post Office from this location is also of grave concern. But that corporate coffee giant, Costa Coffee could be the future occupant has so far on social media, not been a welcome suggestion.

I covered Thanet Council's ill judged planning application to convert to flats and build a house overlooking the mosque 
 on this blog back in March last year.

Margate's shopping areas are struggling to survive. Its independent shops, cafe and bars are our crucial to the local economy. I don't need to quote the well known stats about how vastly greater amounts of the money spent in local independents stays within the local economy as opposed to disappearing out to distant corporate shareholders. Or that Margate is home to a growing number of high quality coffee shops that pay a decent wage, pay their taxes and who buy ethically sourced coffee and local produce?

Margate fan, Mary Portas herself said she was pleased to hear that Costa had listened to the good people of Totnes with their No to Costa campaign and backed off from opening an outlet there. And we know Mary strongly believes in local independent shops. 

I do hope that we don't have to start a No to Costa in Margate campaign to go with the No Tesco in Arlington, No Tesco at Westgate...

The new owner of the Post Office building at Cecil Square bagsied himself a bargain. Hopefully we won't see anything open that will cost the community further.

Perhaps we can get Chas'n'Dave to do a:

'Down to Margate, you can keep the Costa Coffee, I’m telling ya mate I’d rather have a day down Margate with all me family'

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Fwd: Why has the This is Margate website has been removed?

A few weeks ago I noticed that Margate's flagship cultural strategy website had been taken down and any enquiries to the URL were re-directed to the very bland and unappealing website for the Thanet Regeneration Board. I posted about it here on Feb 12th. I then wrote to Thanet Council's Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal. Sue said she would look into it. A few days ago I got a reply back from a Justine Wingate.

I have a number of issues with the reply and stance taken by TDC. Not all of my questions have been addressed. I simply cannot see why it is an either or situation. Surely, the Margate website could have stayed up as well as launching the Thanet Regeneration Board website? And who has made the decision at TDC to stop promoting the individual character of Margate and merge into the one district brand? I don't recall being contacted or included in this huge change, which seems to be undoing all the work many of us participated in at various workshops and consulation exercises over the last few years.

Margate has a strong cultural identity. As do the other towns and villages in Thanet. The Thanet Regeneration Board is not.

How many of you were contacted about this change?

And the fact that key policy documents were just removed without a trace is worrying. Especially after attending the Ezekiel trial last week when these very board meetings from the Margate Renewal Partnership Board were discussed.

From: Justine Wingate
Date: 1 March 2013 17:31
Subject: RE: Margate's marketing website has been removed?
To: Louise Oldfield

Dear Ms. Oldfield,

Thank you for your feedback in relation to the 'This is Margate' website.

The implementation of the Thanet Regeneration Board was not intended
to replace the 'This is Margate' website but was instead a deliberate
move to ensure a more inclusive approach to regeneration for the
Thanet district as a whole. The council still absolutely recognises
the cultural and creative sector in Margate but it is important that
our websites equally reflect this across the district.

The council is still committed to using the Live Margate branding and
as you rightly pointed out, this is currently being used for the
Housing Regeneration project. We are also committed to ensuring that
all of the Thanet towns are equally represented and intend to include
branding and searchable geographical content for all of them as part
of the ongoing improvements to the functionality of our new website.

The council is currently reviewing and updating its digital presence
and as part of the review an audit of council websites was undertaken.
As a result of this it was noted that the 'This is Margate' website
had received very little unique traffic (following its launch), other
than during the time that it was utilised for the promotion of the
Countdown to Turner campaign in 2011. It was taken down in September
2012 when the Thanet Regeneration Board launched.

I appreciate your point about maintaining the engagement of the small
creative business community and I will include this, for consideration
across the district, as part of the new Economic Regeneration
Strategy which is due to launch later this year.

I will also ensure that any policy documents that were available on
the 'This is Margate' site are reinstated on the Thanet Regeneration
Board website.

Yours sincerely,

Justine Wingate
Corporate Information & Communications Manager
Thanet District Council

-----Original Message-----
From: Louise Oldfield
Sent: 12 February 2013 09:36
To: Sue McGonigal
Subject: Margate's marketing website has been removed?

Dear Sue,

I hope you are well.

I was confused last night to see that the Creative Industry centric
marketing website for Margate has been removed
and replaced by the Thanet Regeneration Board website.

I don't recall hearing about this major strategy u-turn.

Please can you give me some details on how this decision has come about?

Where are all the policy documents and content from the Margate website?

Surely, seeing as we have already paid for the site it should be up as
well as the TRB?

I would also like to know how we as the engaged small creative
business community can be involved with the TRB?

How were the current board members chosen? And how long will they
serve on the board?

Kind regards,

Louise Oldfield

Sandy Ezekiel - Guilty on all counts

You've more than likely heard the news by now that last Friday, Sandy Ezekiel, former leader of Thanet Council was found guilty at Maidstone Crown Court on all 4 counts for misconduct in public office. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The co-accused, Ezekiel's close friend, Philip Emanuel, was also found guilty of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office and was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for 2 years. The charges related to the purchase of 12A and 12B King Street in Margate Old Town.

The trial lasted 10 days and was presided over by High Court Judge, Mr Justice Nicol. I traveled from Margate to Maidstone attend the trial every day. As a member of the public, I requested and was granted permission by Mr Justice Nicol to livetweet direct from the trial so that fellow residents in Margate were able to follow the proceedings. Archive here.

The crime of misconduct in public office is serious, and the bringing of a case to trial extremely rare. There is very little precedent for a councillor being  charged with such an offence. The more usual are for the misconduct of police officers.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) definition for the crime of misconduct in public office is:

  • a public officer acting as such
  • wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself
  • to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder
  • without reasonable excuse or justification

The issue of the abuse of trust is key. Without trust in the officials elected to represent us, what have we? The absence of trust  creates a vacuum, a potential breeding ground for corruption and dishonesty. It's clear the CPS intend this case to send a message out clearly that such an abuse of power in local authorities will not be tolerated. 

Ezekiel presided over Thanet Council during Margate's recent key regeneration era, which saw the construction and opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery. Millions of pounds poured in from grants. Many in Margate still wonder where some of the money went.  

And what did Thanet District and Kent County Councillor Bob Bayford, leader of Thanet Conservatives have to say by way of comment at the news of that Mr Ezekiel has been found guilty of this serious crime of calculated dishonesty?
"I am shocked and saddened that Sandy Ezekiel will start and 18 month jail sentence today...This is a personal tragedy for Sandy and his family but serves as a stark reminder that in public life, the people rightly expect the highest standards of behaviour."
Is it not a tragedy for the people of Margate and the unknowing victims in this story? 

It was the people of Margate and the entire Thanet area who under Mr Ezekiel were left with a lack of faith in local democracy devoid of trust.

Time for change. 

Sunday 3 March 2013

LiveTweet Archive of The Trial of Sandy Ezekiel

Sunday Times: Queen of Shops ‘all pomp and flop’

IN ITS heyday in the mid- 1800s, Margate would lure crowds of Victorians to stroll its shop-lined streets and bathe in the waters off the Kent coastal town.
Today, Margate's efforts to regenerate its now depressed high street with a £100,000 government grant and the help of Mary Portas, the self-styled Queen of Shops, have descended into a bitter war of words. 
In May last year Margate beat off stiff competition to become one of 12 towns to win part of £1.1m, the first wave of funding set aside by the government to help ailing high streets. It was much needed. The high street, littered with empty shops, had a 36.1% vacancy rate and even the Non-Stop Pound Shop store had moved out. 
The involvement of Portas, the initiative's figurehead, was an added boost, as was the arrival of a television crew to film her offering advice to grateful shop owners. 
However, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, just £111.47 of the £100,000 had been spent by December 2012 — on a combination of stationery and Land Registry searches. The quartet who led the original Town Team grant application have resigned, condemning what they describe as Portas's "gimmicks" and "silly pomp and ceremony" for leaving the high street in a worse state than when she arrived six months ago. Portas has dismissed the claims as "ridiculous". 
Among the disgruntled locals is Robin Vaughan-Lyons, the leader of the original bid, who was last week preparing to close one of his charity shops in the high street. 
"It has all been a huge waste of time," he said. "It is all gimmicks and no substance, there is nothing real that has been done, not for local people who want to shop in their local shops." 
Vaughan-Lyons claims Portas focused her energies on Margate's old town and seafront which have been far less ravaged by years of decline than the high street. He also believes her appearance at an empty branch of the now defunct Woolworths owed much to securing footage for her TV series. 
Other traders, such as Terry Silk, the owner of Yama's restaurant, are unimpressed by the notion advocated by Portas that initiatives such as art displays in abandoned shop fronts will arrest the decline. 
"Honestly, nothing has changed, nothing at all. What we have been hoping for is to get proper lighting on the street, and that's still not done, we wanted the shops painted, everything cleaned up, the litter," he said. "To be honest business is worse than ever." 
Margate shop owner Robin Vaughan-Lyons, with Roxanne Tesla (Julian Andrews)  
Another shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, described the rancour between Portas's critics and supporters as like "world war three". She added: "It's ridiculous — all that pomp and ceremony of the launch — and nothing actually changing." 
Those criticisms are dismissed by the council and the new Town Team who say half a dozen projects — ranging from community dance studios to steak houses — are planned for this spring. 
Richard Ash, who took over as chairman of the new Town Team in October, defended the decision to spend so little of the £100,000 fund and insisted that Portas's involvement had benefited the town. 
"Our position is to target where the money will be spent in a proper manner rather than rushing. I'm as proud as a peacock we haven't spent our money because it means we have it to use it where we want to use it," he said. "She [Portas] hasn't done it 100% right, I agree, but she has tried to promote Margate and has brought a lot of publicity." 
Margate is not alone in demonstrating a reluctance to spend its regeneration grant. According to freedom of information responses revealed by Paul Turner-Mitchell, a retail expert, from the 12 towns who secured funds, just £161,773 — or 14.5% — of the £1.11m handed out has been spent. Margate is the lowest (0.1%) but Bedford (4.6%) and Croydon (4.9%) have also spent less than 5%.
The crisis in the high street shows no sign of abating. According to a study of 500 UK town centres by the Local Data Company, there were 7,337 store closures in 2012 against 5,558 openings. 
Portas is unbowed by the criticism and insists part of her programme was filmed in Margate's old town to show what the high street could become. 
She said: "This is not a make-over, this is going to take years to change. To be judged after a month's work advising a community is just quite ridiculous. This is not about TV programming, this is about documenting something that is real and to suggest that this is all PR spin is just wrong. 
"There are people who comment, there are people who point and there are people who roll their sleeves up. In rolling my sleeves up, I come [in] for a knocking and I just have to take it but I can sleep at night. I am doing what I believe in."