ANOTHER THANET IS POSSIBLE
An Alternative Economic Plan – DRAFT Preliminary Document
The Isle of Thanet, one of the most beautiful parts of the country and 50 years ago a major popular holiday resort, has suffered for many years from low paid jobs, scarcity of employment and general deprivation.
Less well known is that it has also suffered from successive attempts at regeneration which have, on the whole, made matters worse.
In January of 2016 shadow chancellor John McDonnell came to Ramsgate and invited the Momentum Thanet group to produce a new economic plan for their area, which he pledged to receive and examine with the hope of forging a new way forward for Thanet. This document is the first step to creating that plan.
Far from definitive, this document is intended to stimulate debate about what we want to happen in Thanet, to think afresh about the area’s strengths and weaknesses and avoid the mistakes of the past. Above all, it is an invitation, open to all, to engage with their community and develop ideas which will benefit everyone
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
For our plan to work we have to learn from the mistakes of the past. Repeated attempts to attract industry into the area and collaborate with outside developers and corporations have led to little or no lasting benefits for the community and on the contrary have often had highly destructive consequences for the fabric of our economy.
We have to learn important lessons from examples such as the Westwood Cross development and its impact on Thanet’s high streets, the chronically blighted Ramsgate seafront, and the ever present threat of overbuilding which has brought both the destruction of many of our green spaces and the defacing of our built environment.
Ultimately, in one way or another, Thanet’s economy depends on most people feeling that Thanet is somewhere both good to visit and live – and we tamper with its qualities at our peril.
WE NEED YOUR IDEAS
Momentum Thanet is calling on ALL people and groups across the Isle of Thanet to contribute their ideas to our plan. The only entry qualification is a readiness to think in terms of changes for the general good. But much thought has also to be put into how we value and judge such ideas are judged and valued. The kinds of questions we have to consider are…
1 How much does a particular idea benefit the community as a whole?
2 Is the idea environmentally sustainable?
3 How well does it fit with the strengths of the area?
4 Will it result in “proper jobs” for local people, in terms of wages, conditions, union representation? Or perhaps involve forms of ownership which ensure that all the people in the enterprise share in its success (eg a co-op)?
MAKING SURE MONEY IS WELL SPENT
Where public money is involved in supporting our plan, it is vital to design a mechanism to ensure this is well spent. Whatever this mechanism is, it must work in a way which is transparent, fair, locally based and democratically accountable. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and make sure that our community gets maximum value out of every penny spent.
SO WHERE DO WE START?
The job of constructing a new economic plan for Thanet is unlikely to be quick or easy, but the process of putting it together will itself be a tremendously instructive exercise as we work out the exact nature of the strengths and weaknesses of the Thanet economy, how much any new initiatives would cost and what benefits they might bring.
There are many possibilities to explore, of course, but, to get the ball rolling, the following are some examples of important areas of Thanet’s economy which our plan is likely to include. With each area we have included suggestions which people have already submitted to us for consideration.
EXAMPLE 1: THANET’S MICRO BUSINESSES
A logical starting point for a plan for an economy is to look at what most people are doing now to make their living. Thanet has few large employers – overwhelmingly, people work for themselves or in small businesses. A recent report estimated Thanet has over 5,000 businesses – many of which are “micro businesses” – employing fewer than 10 people. People start these businesses for a large variety of reasons, predominantly, of course, to be their own boss or because, in difficult economic conditions it is their only option.
Such micro businesses have a wide variety of needs and concerns, but are likely to have at a common interest in maintaining Thanet’s quality of life, as well as shared concerns about initiatives and projects and other developments which threaten that quality of life.
A major challenge of our plan might be to work out if and how the people working in micro businesses could be brought together to support both each other and the community within which they work. Harnessing their combined energies in a meaningful way could play a major part in reviving the Isle’s fortunes.
EXAMPLE 2: THANET’S SOIL
One of Thanet’s natural, historic assets, often overlooked, is its hugely fertile land which from earliest times until the days of agricultural specialisation enjoyed an unparalleled reputation for producing wide varieties of high quality fruit and vegetables.
The growing importance of food security, the cutting down of air miles on environmental grounds and a new emphasis on the value of locally produced “artisan” foods, combined with a change in planning priorities could put Thanet back on the horticultural map.
The isle’s high quality farm land could be divided up into allotments cultivated by agricultural co-ops producing food for the locals and the hospitality industry. Three hundred years ago the quality of its locally grown food was a big selling point for Thanet as a place to visit – it could be again.
EXAMPLE 3: EDUCATION
With its fragments of selective education and limited provision of further education, Thanet seems almost designed to be the sort of place where the brightest of its young people leave for the city while others stay to make their way on minimum pay jobs and zero hour contracts.
A central aim of a new plan for Thanet might be to counter the poverty of ambition the authorities seem to have for the area’s young people by investing in education in a new and imaginative way
To this end a substantial new higher education establishment might be set up, perhaps with a bias to the arts and creative industries and links with the Turner Contemporary Gallery.
Thanet’s coastal setting and nearness to London would attract students from across the country and internationally, and, as a spinoff, boosting Thanet’s visitor economic.
Thanet would also benefit from the upgrading of its further and vocational education not only catering for established needs like tourism and hospitality, but new growth areas, mentioned elsewhere in this document, such as small-scale local agriculture, local manufacture, and alternative energy.
But an expanded further education sector could also offer students more flexible, general “foundation skills” such as communications skills and critical thinking which would further help to rebuild the economy.
Another possibility would be to build on the success of Thanet’s language teaching, reinforcing the existing private provision with high class publicly funded courses.
The plan would also provide a chance to radically reassess and reshape the relationship between higher and further education. Students could be funded equally with no financial distinction between the jobs they aim to prepare people for.
The issue of secondary education, though a much broader one would also require consideration in our plan. An important question to examine would be whether selective education and the “Kent test” has any place in a new model Thanet.
EXAMPLE 4: A GOVERNMENT DEPT
In the past deprived areas in need of jobs have benefited by central government relocating departments from London. Despite having a good case to qualify, Thanet has missed out on such relocations and this may now be a good time to remedy this situation.
We might look to create strong links with a relocated department, For example a governmental department in arts administration department might fit well with arts-related courses in a new higher education establishment in Thanet, and also linked to the newly upgraded FE college in terms of technical and clerical skills.
EXAMPLE 5: RENEWABLE ENERGY ESTABLISHMENT
With its above average sunshine, nearness to the sea and areas of wide open country, Thanet is well suited to be the location for a renewable energy research establishment.
Manston might be an ideal site for this. This might lead to manufacture of windmills, tidal power capture infrastructure etc on the island.
Such an establishment could form strong and beneficial links with the new higher and further education establishments on the Isle. It might also be an educational visitor attraction in its own right, similar to the famous Alternative Energy Centre in Wales.
EXAMPLE 6: HOUSING
Thanet doesn’t just have a problem of homelessness but also a chronic problem of poor housing provided by private sector landlords. Tackling such problems would mean new regulations on these landlords, as well as initiatives to provide new homes.
But in doing so it would be important to distinguish between real housing need and “housing greed” – developers building over green spaces in pursuit of profit. This is a practice particularly prevalent in Thanet on account of its low property prices and nearness to London.
An important part of our plan must be working out how we can provide high standard, environmentally friendly homes sufficient to house our population, while creating good, skilled jobs and protecting and enhancing our environment.
EXAMPLE 7: HEALTH
The per capita spending by the NHS in Thanet is currently below the average in the region and the plan should look to remedy this, providing funding to help develop services that have been relatively underfunded for years, as well as upgrading Thanet’s only hospital, QEQM. This funding should be used to help alleviate the effects of poverty in those parts of Thanet where life expectancy is as low as some of the worst in the country.
Thanet has a large proportion of people with problems arising from old age and from drug abuse, and by building up expertise in treating such problems we would not only serve our own population more effectively but might also be able to build a national centre for innovative research in these areas.
The above are but a few examples of the areas our plan should address and the possible ideas we could apply to them. It is not a plan or even the outline of a plan. It simply represents an attempt to get the people of Thanet thinking about the possibilities of drawing up a new economic plan for their community.
Nothing is written in stone. It is not intended in any way to be exhaustive. For this plan to succeed we must come together to hammer it out line by line all the time keeping our community’s interests at the forefront of our thinking.