Karen Constantine: District & County Council Report, October 2017

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 the referendum for independence, was free, fair and unobstructed. Which it was. I learnt a great deal about this complex situation, about Middle East politics, about the value of democracy. I’m organising a fundraiser for one school I visited in Barderash. More in the report.

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 Kurdistan
Some 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.

8th October: The cancellation of Britain First’s rally in Ramsgate.

12th October: Commenting on the devastating cuts looming from KCC.

18th October: Unacceptable lift issues in Ramsgate’s tower blocks