Pier Farce, Part 94
The News have got a daft story about South Parade Pier having “new owners”. The News always call them that, at some cost to the paper’s credibility, because the consortium doesn’t own the Pier yet and they admitted that they wanted to conduct a survey before they parted with any money. That survey is only happening now. The consortium told us in March they’d bought the Pier (they hadn’t), again in May (they hadn’t) and are telling us the same thing now with no more basis in fact.
You could buy the Pier for £150k at most (a figure Fred Nash didn’t turn his nose up at when I asked him what he’d accept last year, before the storm damage), probably a lot less. Then you need to raise £5m or so to do it up. Everyone in Pompey knows the “anonymous consortium” involves Messrs Tommy Ware and Lawrence Mendel. This compromised anonymity has become ridiculous, undermining their credibility. There are other names rumoured, and perhaps one of them has got the financial clout to get restoration moving. There’s no evidence at present that the consortium is going anywhere other than round in circles. Why did the consortium demand the About My Area site remove photos of the inside of the Pier from a story they carried on it? The tone of that piece is balanced and fair to the consortium, so what’s the cover-up about?
I’m agnostic on the issue of who owns the Pier, as long as the owners are up to the job, but sceptical about this consortium based on what is in the public domain to date.
The story features typical hand-wringing from Cllr Vernon-Jackson who presided over three years of inactivity after a PCC survey revealed the Pier was dangerous. I put it to him at the last meeting of East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum that either council officials had been concealing information from him about the dangerous state of the Pier, or he was misleading the public. He was evasive in reply. Other people at the meeting were far more direct in questioning his candour, and he had a very rough time of it.
I’m preparing another Freedom if Information request to go to PCC to see if it sheds any light on what happened, since all Cllr Vernon-Jackson is interested in doing is repeating the same old spin to cover-up the inactivity of the Lib Dem regime.
Finally, Transparency at the City Council
We finally have some progress on transparency at tomorrow’s full Council meeting, with a motion to rewrite the rules of Council meetings to permit recording and reporting of proceedings on by the public and broadcasters.
Well done to the new administration for taking action on this – the old rules were a farce, members of the public were being harassed by unfortunate council staff who knew the rules were a farce, and I and several others ignored the restrictions on the use of social media anyway because they were an affront to democratic accountability.
As I said in my letter to The News about St James’ Hospital, every time someone at the Civic Offices opens a cupboard at the moment, a Lib Dem skeleton falls out. It’s essential that the new regime at PCC carries on the decontamination of the administration.
Other Council Business
There is a long agenda of imporant business tomorrow apart from the transparency motion. There is a motion from the UKIP group calling on the Council to lobby the Department of Work & Pensions to disregard War Disablement Pensions when assessing income in benefit eligibility calculations. It will be interesting to see how UKIP get up to speed with grown-up politics.
The evidence from Twitter hasn’t been encouraging. The official Portsmouth UKIP account spends most of its time complaining about being “bullied” and “insulted” by opponents, chief among them Cllr John Ferrett. He gives every impression of being completely unmoved by the whingeing, and rightly so. Hopefully UKIP Councillors will adapt better to the realities of council politics than the anonymous operator of their Twitter account.
Another “good sign” about UKIP is that Cllr Godier has a motion calling for better regulation of “legal highs”. Cllr Hockaday is seconding, and I think there is concern across the parties that some legal highs are in fact as dangerous as other drugs and substances which are subject to much tighter regulation. This is something Flick Drummond has been investigating as well in response to concerns expressed by residents. She is successfully dealing with a growing amount of case-work as voters realise they aren’t going to get anywhere talking to Mike Hancock.
I am instinctively opposed to excessive state intervention, and indeed I support liberalisation of drug laws in general. But alongside that we would need regulation, education, and information to protect the public – and that certainly applies to the legal highs market too.
Post-Hancock Glasnost & Perestroika
Mike Hancock was a part-time MP for Portsmouth South long before his health deteriorated. Schmoozing people like the appalling Azerbaijani government, junketing with his political assistants at the European Council Parliamentary Assembly, and dividing his time between the City Council and Westminster, doing a lousy job in both places. These political failings should not be overshadowed completely by his disgraceful personal behaviour.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson consistently defended Hancock right up to the point that he caved in and agreed an out-of-court settlement with his victim. He endorsed Hancock’s unsatisfactory political arrangements. Accordingly it is good to see a motion for debate tomorrow calling on a review of the Council’s safeguarding policy, and for lessons to be learnt from the actions of Hancock and the inaction of Vernon-Jackson.
There is another motion calling for an account to be made of the expenses incurred by PCC during Hancock’s campaign of evasion and cover-up, and to invite him to make a financial contribution to ease the burden on abused taxpayers. I am pleased he is receiving top-class care at The Priory, but I also note that it is an expensive private clinic out of reach of the vast majority of his council tax-paying constituents. It is only right that PCC approaches him to make a contribution and considers legal action if necessary.
More Defence Investment Comes to Portsmouth
The News have a great front page on the plans to base a new research centre on unmanned warships in Portsmouth. I think Philip Hammond has been a poor Defence Secretary, almost as bad as the succession of dismal non-entities we had towards the end of the Blair/Brown era, and hopefully he will be moved somewhere in the reshuffle. The rumours about Iain Duncan-Smith moving to MoD are interesting – at the Department of Work & Pensions he has stood up successfully to George Osborne.
There can be no further cuts, and in fact economies elsewhere in government should be pursued to plough back into the defence budget. David Cameron has a good piece in the Daily Telegraph on the challenges of defence and highlighting that there have been successes amid the budgetary chaos left behind by Labour.
It interests me that the announcement of the new unmanned vessel research centre at Portsdown comes from David Cameron, and not Philip Hammond. A sign of impending departure? Either way, it is welcome investment and keeps us at the forefront of technology in Portsmouth.
Our warship export performance has been terrible for a long time, with BAe expecting to be spoon-fed domestic orders by MoD and neglecting exports, and with MoD having no proper defence industrial policy. New technologies may give us a way back into a market we formerly were very active in. It is not as if we are in competition with low-cost Far Eastern yards, we aren’t – we have been eaten alive in the naval export market by several of our competitors in the EU such as France and Spain.
This good news has been met with the usual Labour guarded welcome, referring to the jobs at risk as BAe head to Scotland with a brown envelope of bribes to the Scottish electorate in their back pocket. I agree that more should be done to mitigate the loss, and if I had my way, we would have enough of a warship construction programme in hand to keep all three BAe yards in business for years. A 19-ship navy is far too small to cope with the emerging threats to our security.
Investment in cyberwarfare and intelligence is no substitute for being able to deal with the basic threat posed to an island nation which conducts over 90% of its trade by sea. Everyone knows the Chinese and Russians are rearming, but there are a large number of second- and third-tier powers putting a lot of money into naval construction, many of these in areas where we have vital commercial or shipping interests. We have been heading in the wrong direction in naval policy for decades.
And that’s where the inconsistency in Labour’s argument surfaces. It was Labour who halved the Type 45 programme and allowed costs to overrun catastrophically, Labour who decided to order the two carriers without catapults and arrestor gear so that they cannot fly a wide range of aircraft, and Labour who chopped the Royal Navy’s surface fleet back to the point that when the Russians turned up off Scotland, we had to scramble HMS York all the way up from Pompey where she was in for repairs, and with only one engine working.
Defence has become a cross-party mess, and everyone who cares about it is going to have to be prepared to take on the dismal Whitehall and Westminster consensus when the next defence review takes place next year.
I deprecate the trend of calling any old kind of excursion as a “road trip”, because it’s a daft to compare driving the vast length of Route 66 in the US to a crawl along a choked British motorway. But we had over 100 Conservative activists (including Michael Gove) arrive by road (and rail, and ferry) in Portsmouth on Saturday to carry out surveys and canvass voters in support of our 2015 campaign to end the Lib Dem reign of terror.
I think everyone enjoyed themselves and come May next year I am sure they will keep a close eye on our result here. Naturally I am predicting a Tory gain and another Lib Dem collapse like the one we saw this May. Elliot Johnson has spotted the gap between the Conservative effort at the weekend and that of Labour. Ouch!