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Just how desperate is the council for a “win”?

There can be no doubt by now that Thanet District Council is an organisation in crisis. On top of the largely negative opinion of the council held by the public, the disintegration of the UKIP administration, and some highly questionable budget decisions, Thanet District Council must surely be desperate for a win.

I’m not sure claiming credit for other people’s work is the way to go, however.

To distract us from the trial of a former UKIP councillor’s dodgy dealings, they bring us the “good news” of awards on offer. Awards which I doubt the council did much to actually earn.

The council’s awards in context

Thanet District Council have been short-listed, we are told, for the Winter Shelter and Live Margate projects. To give that some context, they are up for an award because the local religious community took action to protect local homeless people. Apparently, not getting in the way is award-worthy these days? They are also up for an award for finally taking a small amount of action on their actual job – housing people in need.

Should I even need to point out that if the later task had been done properly the former project would not have been needed? Would there have been homeless folks for the local churches to team up and save from the winter cold if the council had been somewhat more prompt in making homes available to start with?

It’s not like the shortage of council housing stock is news. There are whole sections of Thanet targetted by gangs for recruitment because the standard of living is so poor you have to see it to believe it. I’d describe some buildings as slums but that would be underselling it.

Despite the pervasive damp, lack of hot water or heating and decidedly dodgy electrics, these “homes” have many takers. I’ve known vulnerable adults who were dead pleased just to get into such a place. That, in itself, I find deeply disturbing.

Yet, somehow, the council is up for an award and proud of it. How desperate are they for a win?

No easy task

I’ll admit that ensuring that everyone has the possibility of somewhere safe to sleep is no small task. Yet this is exactly what the council is supposed to do. That and moderate planning applications. In fact, the planning approval process is what the council should use to make that happen.

That’s what Section 106 agreements are for. Either the company building the houses agrees to build a number of affordable homes or they pay money so that someone else can. Admittedly, Section 108 payments are often pitiful. That is no fault of the council. I would have expected our council to have always planned to use CPO powers to obtain run-down properties and bring them up to a habitable state. Is that not what S108 money is for?

The Live Margate project (which I seem to recall started under Labour) is a good thing. But it should not be remarkable enough for an award. Projects of like Live Margate should be the least a council is doing.

A far better win

It would not be particularly headline-grabbing but the best win our local authority could obtain would be reporting they have done their job competently. Not just, job done as far as the paperwork is concerned. Job done in a way – no question about it – where objectives are being met.

Far better than being proud of awards for the community solving problems that they should have fixed would be if other authorities could one day use ours as a model for excellence. You may call that pie-in-the-sky. You might be right. But far better to shoot for excellence and only achieve admirably okay than be pleased with barely passable.

I often wonder if standards have been lowered rather than efforts raised. I cannot help but think that our council has, for many years, aimed ever lower in an effort to “win” by hitting a target. What they should be doing is setting the goal much higher. Try harder instead of aim lower.

I can’t believe that there are no local authorities really hitting it out of the park. What harm would there be in modelling what successful councils are doing and copying that? It would be a start, surely?

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