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I hope you enjoy reading the report. I’m keeping to my commitment in Jan 2016 to try to be transparent, accountable and contactable. If you need me for anything – you know where I am!

Kurdistan ‘curry night’ fundraiser in Ramsgate

As many of you know from my Facebook posts earlier in October, I was privileged and honoured to be invited to Kurdistan as an international observer of their independence referendum. I was part of a group made up of different political party representatives and other bodies who had responsibility for scrutinising the process before the referendum, on the day of the vote and during the count.

Like the UK, many of the polling stations were in schools. On my visits I got to see the shocking environments in which teachers teach and children learn and the scant resources they have to hand, yet the enthusiasm for education was considerable. You can read about my visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq here.

Whilst visiting one school in Barderash I offered to raise some funds and send English language supplies out to one particular school. I’ve organised a fundraiser which I’d love as many as possible to attend so we can make a difference in at least one school:

A reminder about the Kurdistan fundraiser at the delicious Flavours of Kumar, in Ramsgate on November 7th 7.00pm.

This fundraiser is to raise money to provide English language supplies to a small primary school in Barderash, which is in the Dohuk Province. Tickets are £22.00. There is also an amazing ‘Socialist Raffle’ with many fabulous and generously donated prizes. These include a striking framed photograph from Mel Chennell and a copy of Labour’s Manifesto signed by none other than Jeremy Corbyn. Plus there’s lots of wine and other treats.

Lee Shutler, the Director of Studies at Hilderstone College, says that “In conjunction with other local language schools, I will be collecting educational instructional materials that teachers can use to help students in Barderash have access to English. Through education and an ability to communicate in English, Kurdish communities have a greater opportunity to access what the world can offer in terms of university education, prosperity and commercial links. Through English, the world becomes a smaller place and the possibility to travel, work and understand the world becomes greater. Anything we can do to encourage peaceful communication across cultures is a positive step.

Do join us for this amazing evening, there will be great food, informative speakers, prizes and fun. All for a very good cause! For information email me at karen@karenconstantine.co.uk or call me on 07984 532212.

Kids on the street in KurdistanSome of the happy faces I met in Iraq this October

 

KCC need to cut £64M to balance the budget. Have your say…

KCC cuts

The cuts at KCC are driven by Tory central government.

Kent County Council provides a huge range of essential services to the people of Kent and when times are tough it is more important than ever to spend your money wisely. The Councillors you elect, myself included, have some big decisions ahead and we would value your advice and suggestions before taking them. We’d like to hear your views on these challenges as the council sets its budget for next year (April 2018 to March 2019).

There is a consultation page on the KCC website which contains more details about setting the budget and invites you to submit your views. The consultation closes on December 3rd 2017, so don’t hang around.  https://www.kent.gov.uk/budget

Problematic pot holes

Right now pot holes across Ramsgate’s road network are a problem, but the council might not be aware of all of them. Please report pot holes that you know of at the dedicated Kent County Council roads page and notify me let’s get those pot holes fixed!

Of course the real problem is that our roads are actually failing. We need a massive investment in roads as vital infrastructure. Regarding efficacy of repair techniques, it’s fair to say KCC can’t keep up with the demand.

Meeting with Police and traders in Ramsgate

I was approached by a number of Ramsgate Town Centre businesses about anti social behaviour. I called a meeting between those businesses and the Police. It has had some positive outcomes and the Ramsgate disturbance issues received local press coverage. This will be an ongoing dialogue so please do get in contact if you want to get involved.

Previous calls for more Police resources to deal with behaviour issues on Thanet streets have also been covered in the local press.

KCC Letter. Click to enlarge.

My follow up letter to local businesses.

 

Thanet Gazette press cutting featuring Karen Constantine

Thanet Gazette coverage of Ramsgate’s battle with antisocial behaviour. Click on the image to enlarge.

 

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is being introduced across Thanet

Universal Credit Full Service is being rolled out now across Thanet. Councillor Jenny Matterface and myself attended training for councillors. I can say we are extremely worried about the impact of this. We are worried about the impact of having to wait at least 6 weeks before payments are made to those making claims.

More details can be found on Thanet District Council’s Universal Credit page.

Update on Manston

The Manston Airport saga continues. Many people are unaware that the plans for Manston are for a ‘Cargo Hub’. This would mean a great deal of low flying airplanes and the disturbing possibility of night flights over large parts of Ramsgate, including Eastcliff and Central Harbour and of course the beach and Royal Harbour area.

The current owners, Stone Hill Park, wish to move forward with their plan for housing, leisure areas and advanced manufacturing units. This would really help Thanet to meet its housing needs (we need to build 17,400 homes). It would also help to bring quality jobs into the area. On the other hand a ‘competitor’, a newly formed company RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), are calling for a development consent order (DCO).

South Thanet Labour are very concerned about the impact on residents and businesses. The RiverOak Strategic Partners plan will be heavily polluting, may see night flights across our area, will have a negative impact on our local community and will not bring high quality jobs. Many of the jobs RSP will be creating are ‘warehousing’ type and will be highly automated.

In addition to the aviation issues, fuel and cargo will need to transported into and out of the area by HGV. This will mean more pollution and possibly gridlock. We would prefer to see a focus on plans that regenerate our area, that bring quality jobs and skills. Also that can help us to meet our housing targets and will actually help to protect the Greenfield sites.

UPDATE 1/11: SHP are challenging the legality of the DCO. I’m hoping we will move forward quickly.

Further Education funding question

East Kent College in Broadstairs

I’m concerned about what’s happening to Further Education students, particularly those with ‘supported education needs’. Here is my question to the KCC member with responsibility for education.

To the member with responsibility for Education, Roger Gough.

Question: Can you clarify the situation with regards to High Needs Funding (HNF) for East Kent College, Thanet? Last year this funding was cut by £800,000. What thought and assessment, has been given to funding for this academic year, given the dire impact that Education cuts have on those young people in Further Education.

Answer: Kent County Council did not cut High Needs Funding to East Kent College by £800,000 last year nor does it owe this money. Two colleges, East Kent and Canterbury College made a number of applications which were declined as part of our criteria for High Needs Funding.

Similarly, nor has the High Needs Funding budget been cut. Like many local authority areas the demand on this budget has increased significantly while at the same time our budget for High Needs funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) has not been sufficiently increased by government as part of the national schools’ funding arrangements. We have used our current local discretion to substantially increase the budget for High Needs at the expense of other aspects of the DSG.  As a consequence we are spending over £8m in FE Colleges. The number of students for whom we are providing funding has doubled in the last three years with the greatest proportion of the growth in East Kent and Canterbury Colleges, where the incidence of high needs far exceeds that of other colleges.

In September 2016 the County Council had to decline applications from East Kent and Canterbury Colleges because the students concerned were not eligible. The combined applications totalled £696k, with the East Kent invoice representing £431k. For some students KCC was not their home Council and for others the Department for Work and Pensions was responsible for providing a job coach, not the Council.   The Council wrote to the College to explain why these were turned down.

We have made clear that young people who have applied for places at the College on Supported Learning programmes can be enrolled without the need for pre-agreement of High Needs Funding.  We are clear in communicating to families that there is absolutely no requirement in law, or for funding purposes, for young people aged between 16 and 18 to have an EHC Plan in order to be able to be classified as a high needs student and access funding.  Each request for High Needs Funding (HNF) is considered on an individual basis, based on assessed need supported by relevant evidence.

Many of these young people are effectively mainstream students who will be enrolling having completed Key Stage 4 courses at Secondary school.  Central Government expects all colleges to provide the first £6,000 of additional support for every student who has additional learning needs.  Where any individual students need additional help, outside the cost of the course, which costs more than £6,000 per year, then all colleges can apply for High Needs funding.   It is an application process and it is the County Council’s role to determine whether a student has high needs that meet the criteria for funding. If the College is making its own assessments and assumptions which pre-empt the County Council’s decision, we cannot accept responsibility for those decisions.

When a funding application is agreed the County Council reimburses the college for the whole amount of the student’s additional support, including the £6000, which is not the case in schools.  Consequently colleges have a far more favourable allocation of High Needs funding compared to schools.

We are currently carrying out a review of High Needs funding for all colleges, and we have completed a review of High Needs funding in schools.  We want to ensure that the difficulties this year are fully discussed with the colleges and any new approaches well understood by them.

Going forward the budget for High Needs funding has been effectively capped by the new National Funding formula, with only 0.5% uplift allowed in 2018-19. This means that we have to manage within the available resources when allocating this additional resource to schools and colleges.

 

smashed glass on a Ramsgate clifftop shelter

Thanet is a pressure cooker for many

The pressure on people mounts. I don’t need to explain to anyone how financial challenges for people and families create a pressure cooker of stress.

Here in Thanet, local politicians and others are warning of the negative impact of the roll out of Universal Credit. I wonder how people will manage the six week income gap, the glitches in the system that mean months of delays, the cap on benefits for some larger families, the need to ensure you’re online to apply, and an extortionate 55p per minute helpline.

At KCC we are looking at further cuts to public services. The consultation on how we can save £64M, or 7% of the budget has begun. This will ensure swingeing  cuts to subsidised transport routes, leaving people stranded, less finance for those pupils who need supported education options, and less school places overall. At a time when more places are needed.

All of this, as Social care is effectively transferred from the NHS to the councils. This area is one of our society’s biggest bills and a ‘growth’ area. It’s represents the biggest challenge for public services yet.

There are further job losses predicted, with KCC saying it needs to save the equivalent of 250 full time jobs. Having already reduced Headcount from 13,491 in 2011 to 8,638 now. That’s a whopping 4,853 jobs lost. With more to come.

KCC can’t put Council Tax up by more that 5% without holding a referendum. Even if that was palatable. Some UK councils are going to have a hard time very soon as their finances slide off a cliff, such as Northampton, Surrey. I’m not expecting the Government to ‘bail them out’.

Here in Thanet the councillors response to this growing crisis for local people has been to take steps to reduce the number of councillors. I predict this will disaster for Thanet. As I set out in the TDC council meeting last night “We have poor residents, poor wards, poor housing, poor work, poor labour market, poor education, poor health, all of these metrics means that any diligent councillor is currently working hard for local residents.”

At a time when residents are going to face a multiplicity of difficulties, as public services are cut to the bone or disappear entirely, those people that seek to support local residents will also be cut! It’s no answer to Thanet’s problems. What makes me more angry is that the decision to reduce numbers is being made on no valid evidence and with poor scrutiny.

UPDATE 1/11: As we stood our ground and would not agree to a reduction the current headcount will remain.

Our Government has has ceased to demonstrate any care for those people who need care most. Our task is to step up and make them listen!

Other news coverage

Below are links to additional press coverage received during October.

3rd October: Craig Mackinlay’s sexist comment to the Scots.
http://www.kentonline.co.uk/thanet/news/get-on-your-bike-mackinlay-farm-133048/

8th October: The cancellation of Britain First’s rally in Ramsgate.
https://theisleofthanetnews.com/a-britain-first-rally-in-ramsgate-has-been-cancelled/

12th October: Commenting on the devastating cuts looming from KCC.
https://theisleofthanetnews.com/kent-county-council-consultation-on-council-tax-rise-to-fill-64million-shortfall/

18th October: Unacceptable lift issues in Ramsgate’s tower blocks
https://theisleofthanetnews.com/ramsgate-mum-on-oxygen-stuck-in-her-12th-floor-tower-block-flat-after-lift-is-out-of-action-for-10-days/

Cllr Karen Constantine's October 2017 Report

October was a busy month, especially because I was fortunate to be called on to visit Kurdistan. I went as part of UK delegation who were visiting to ensure that...

KarenCEvent.PNG

'I'm really pleased, and a little daunted,  to be invited to speak at the Making Politics Matter events at Canterbury Christ Church University. I'll be talking about those events that shaped my life, people who influenced me, and the current pressing political issues of the day. Most of all, I'm looking forward to answering questions.' 

 Cllr Karen Constantine

A Labour Woman's Perspective on Politics

Ramsgate Harbour Scene

Karen Constantine: District & County Council Report, September 2017

Margate Mosque celebrationI was very grateful to be invited to visit Thanet’s Mosque on Union Crescent in Margate. This was to celebrate Eid al-Adha, an important festival in the Islamic calendar. It was good to meet the Imam and his wife and listen to an inspiring sermon, essentially about the value of living in peace and harmony. Most would agree that this is a key message in today’s troubled times.Karen Constantine with the Imam of Margate MosqueKaren Constantine with the Imam at Margate Mosque in Thanet.

Support for Mencap leaflet

Karen Constantine at Mind in ThanetKaren Constantine at the launch of Mencap’s leaflet on domestic abuse.

I had a request to support the local Mencap Women’s Group production of an easy read leaflet which aims to raise awareness that domestic abuse is everywhere and that anyone can be affected. The women’s group has designed a simple and effusive leaflet which is being distributed around Thanet. I was delighted to attend the leaflet launch on 4th September and very pleased to see the story covered in the Thanet Gazette.

Britain First question

Like many others, I was extremely concerned to hear that Britain First are intending to march through Ramsgate. I have raised this issue with DCI Sharon Adley from Kent Police. I also spoke out at Thanet District Council’s full council and asked “What steps has the Council taken to limit the negative impact on the community of Thanet of the proposed Britain First march on October 14th 2017, given that this group is racist and xenophobic and in the light of recent atrocities in London, Manchester, Barcelona, Finland, Charlottesville and other places?”

DCI Adley responded to say that they were fully aware of the rally and would provide me with an update.

No Britain First March in Ramsgate graphicWe do not want Britain First marching through Ramsgate.

Wetherspoons

The long awaited reopening of the pavilion on Ramsgate’s main sands was welcomed at the end of August. The £4.5m invested by pub chain JD Wetherspoon has transformed the once derelict building into an asset for our town and finally allows diners and drinkers unrivalled views of our magnificent beach.

In the months preceding the opening and weeks since I have been talking to local businesses and hearing both enthusiasm and concerns about ‘spoons. It remains to be seen what impact it has on local commerce, but I believe the largest Wetherspoons in the UK will be a draw for visitors to the town and will have a positive effect on other trade in the hospitality and leisure sectors. I’m also glad to hear that many new jobs have been created and that these come with opportunities for training in transferrable skills.

Manston update

There is much discussion about the future of the Manston Airport site. Many people are unaware that plans on the table are for a ‘cargo hub’. This would mean a great deal of low flying aircraft and the disturbing possibility of night flights over large parts of Ramsgate, including Newington, Eastcliff and Central Harbour and of course the beach and Royal Harbour area.

The current owners, Stone Hill Park (SHP) wish to move forward with their plan for housing, leisure areas and advanced manufacturing units. This would really help Thanet meet its housing targets (set by national government, we need to build 17,400 homes). It would also help to bring quality jobs into the area.

On the other hand a competitor, the newly formed company, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), are calling for a Development Consent Order (DCO). This process will take a long time and puts all other plans on hold, including those of site owners, SHP.

No Night Flights Campaign GraphicKaren Constantine campaigns for no night flights to or from Manston Airport.

South Thanet Labour feel it’s time to move forward. We are currently in a stalemate position. We are very concerned about the impact of a cargo hub on residents and businesses. The RSP plan will be heavily polluting, may see night flights across our area and will have a negative impact on our local community and environment. It will not bring the high quality jobs we badly need. RSP is looking to create ‘warehousing’ type roles which will be in highly automated environments with minimal workforces. In addition to the aviation issues, fuel and cargo will need to transported into and out of the area by HGV. Adding more heavy traffic to our roads and pollution to our air.

We would prefer to see a focus on plans that economically regenerate our area, that bring in quality jobs and skills. We support plans that that help us to meet our housing targets and that will actually help to protect the greenfield sites. I will update residents again in due course – hopefully with some positive news.

Coffee morning

I’m pleased to say the coffee morning on 26th August was a great success, with many local Labour Party members popping in for a cuppa and a catch up. It was good to see some new faces and to be able to enjoy some sunshine in the garden. I’ll soon be organising a pre-Christmas one, with home made mince pies on Saturday 16th December – save the date. I imagine that will be indoors!

Labour Party members and supporters with Karen ConstantineLabour Party members and supporters enjoy some summer sun at Karen Constantine’s coffee morning.

Police press release

Many people have been in touch with me, and other councillors about what can only be described as low level crime. Thanet Councillors were invited to meet with DCI Pritchard of Kent Police and have an opportunity to put forward questions and seek clarification on policing policies and resource in the area. On the basis of that meeting the local Labour Party published the following press release.

Labour Kent County and Thanet District councillors are concerned about the growing impact of low-level anti-social crime across Thanet.
Ramsgate residents and business owners frequently complain about ‘anarchy’ on Thanet streets. This ranges from street fights, rogue traders and petty thefts to night-time economy crimes such as street fights and drunken behaviour and more serious crimes.

Many local people report feeling uneasy and unsafe and want a more visible police presence.

Image of Kent Police Car
Complaints bought to the attention of both Kent County and Thanet District councillors include scooters causing a disturbance and groups of youths hanging around to violent disagreements between neighbours, anti-social behaviour outside homes, takeaways and public houses and in other public spaces and even theft of food from the elderly. All these have an increasingly negative impact on the quality of life for residents and blight businesses.

This low-level crime and anti-social behaviour is creating a culture of fear in Ramsgate and is not being adequately tackled as policing resource is focussed on more serious crimes leaving petty crime to flourish.

During a recent briefing to Thanet District Councillors from DCI Superintendent Andrew Pritchard, it was noted that serious crime is being tackled well by specialist officers, but DCI Pritchard said he had only so much resource ‘pie’ to go around and could not tackle everything.

Cllr Karen Constantine asked DCI Superintendent Andrew Pritchard if the imposed cuts of 13% fewer Police officers and 8% fewer PCSOs between 2010 and 2016 had had a negative impact? DCI Pritchard acknowledged his budget was ‘fragile’ and said he would welcome more dedicated officer support so he could “slice the cake in the most effective way”.

Labour councillors have no doubt at all that more Police and PCSOs are needed on the ground.

DCI Pritchard explained that about 20% of Police time is spent dealing with people with mental health issues.
Labour Group Leader Jenny Matterface stressed “Thanet has high levels of deprivation and high levels of mental health issues. We need resources not only to deal with this but also to take preventative steps. Early intervention is vital”.

The Labour councillors are writing to local MPs Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay to urge the Government to allocate more Police resource to Thanet.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto contains a commitment for 10,000 police officers for community beats.

Bulk refuse collection in Newington

The ‘Bulk Collection’ went ahead in Newington, Ramsgate during August. Key roads were concentrated on, with over 100 bulk items put out for the refuse service. I’m now pressing Thanet District Council (TDC) to ensure this facility is offered to the rest of the Newington Ward. I had fully anticipated that this was going to happen, but it appears I need to keep the pressure up. You can trust me to be persistent!

Karen Constantine and Thanet District Council workers in NewingtonKaren Constantine with some of the Thanet District Council cleaning team in Newington.

Wherever you are in Thanet, if you have bulk waste you can call 01843 577115 and TDC waste removal service will collect your waste promptly and for a reasonable price. It’s a great service for locals who don’t have the means to transport bulky items to the tip, so please support it. Visit https://www.thanet.gov.uk/your-services/recycling-and-rubbish/request-a-service/bulky-waste/ for more details.

Other ‘rubbish’ problems

I am frequently contacted about waste issues. You can arrange for this to be collected yourself by contacting the council, and you can check bin collections and request spare bins by filling in an on line request, its quick and easy,
To report a missed bin collection, fill this online form in.

To order an additional bin or a replacement for one that is damaged or missing see the details here.

Pleasurama

An old image of the highway 'consumed' by Pleasurama site developers.An old image showing the highway ‘consumed’ by Pleasurama site developers.

I finally met with two officers from KCC, along with Ramsgate Town and Ward councillor Peter Campbell, to discuss the hoardings that are at the boundary of Pleasurama on Ramsgate sea front. It transpires that the owners are planning to move ahead. I know many people have felt frustrated at what has been and incredibly slow process. Here is the answer from KCC. Received on 28th September.

Sent on behalf of Matthew Balfour

Dear Karen

I write with reference to your complaint email of 18 September concerning the development of the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.

I can confirm that our highway’s street works team have been in communication with the developer’s representation (MP Associates Ltd) in regards to the hoarding around the site.

MP Associates Ltd has informed us that their client is currently completing preparations for a start on site this autumn. Our team have requested if they can provide an anticipated start date.

They have also provided an e-mail address ofsales@royalsandsramsgate.co.uk that can be used for making enquiries about the development.

I hope that this information will prove helpful for you.

Yours sincerely

Matthew Balfour
Member for Malling Rural East
Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste
Kent County Council

Let’s hope this is happening and that the land is used appropriately.

Monkton Nature Reserve

One fine Sunday in August I attended the official reopening of the Frenken Room in the Field Study Centre of Monkton Nature Reserve. It was my first visit to the beautiful spot nestled in an old chalk quarry and a real treat to see this tranquil haven tended and supported by volunteers. The refurbished room will be a welcome resource for schools and other groups who use and enjoy this local gem.

Read more about my Monkton Nature Reserve afternoon here.

Karen Constantine with a purchase at Monkton Nature Reserve.

Harbour Street barrier

I’m very pleased to say following a visit by Paul Valek and Kelly Garrett and with ‘good will’ and common sense from Richard Styles and Rebecca Smith of Ramsgate Town Council. The traffic issue on Harbour Street in Ramsgate Town Centre has been bought under some control meaning that shops, business and pedestrians now enjoy a car free zone. I’m also delighted to report that the street signs at the entrance to Harbour Street have been moved down (to ensure people can see them as they turn into the street).

Ramsgate Town Centre and anti social behaviour issues

I have met with PC Stephen Moat and Andy Howe to discuss serious concerns about Ramsgate Town Centre. A further meeting with the police and local businesses has now been arranged. If you are involved in the local business community and would like to be involved in the meeting, or wish to speak with me about your concerns please contact me directly.

County and District Council case work

Case work remains dominated by dealing with housing needs and rubbish! We have a terrible housing crisis, with demand outstripping supply many many times over. The introduction of Universal Credit in other parts of the UK is throwing people into a future crisis and creating housing debt.

Labour has said Universal Credit is in “total disarray”, after a government study found that lengthy benefit payment waiting times were causing claimants to run up hundreds of pounds in debt and rent arrears. Labour joined welfare organisations calling for change. One in four new Universal Credit claimants waited more than 42 days for a first payment, while nearly half of families said moving on to the benefit had led them to fall behind with rent for the first time.

And finally…

During all of this activity I managed to have a great summer week with my grandchildren who love coming to Ramsgate and particularly the beach. We were blessed with great weather and a seemingly endless supply of ice cream. It’s one reason why I ❤️ Ramsgate.

Cllr Karen Constantine's September 2017 report

Karen Constantine: District & County Council Report, September 2017 I’m what’s known as a ‘double hatter’, I sit on both Thanet District Council and Kent County Councilas a local councillor. As Thanet District...

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