Bye bye bus
Plus a shady donation to Kelly Tolhurst, a councillor passes away, and another goes independent.
Everything seems a bit crappy in Medway this week. Buses being cut, shady donations, the death of a councillor, and more. I try and balance light and dark in these things, but good lord it’s difficult this week.
Bye bye bus
I know, I know, he’s going on about buses again.
Buses seem to be a recurring theme in this newsletter. Lack of service coverage, expensive fares, and a system now hit by strikes make using buses in Medway a challenging experience. One you’re only likely to use out of necessity, not by choice.
But buses do play a vital role in our transport infrastructure. For those without cars, they can provide a lifeline and actually make it possible to get around. They allow the elderly to go places, children to get to school, and those on the lowest incomes to get to work.
So it’s disappointing to be reporting this week that Arriva plans to cut services in Medway even further. From October 30, they will take a knife to huge portions of the network, mostly in terms of how often buses run, so at least the map will still look pretty busy, even if there are no actual buses.
I started down the rabbit hole by exploring the impact on my own local bus, the 100 that runs between Chatham rail station and St. Mary’s Island. This already isn’t a particularly busy route. As it stands, 18 buses cover the route on an average weekday. From the end of the month, that will halve to 9, with no buses at all between 10am and 2pm. Excellent news for the elderly residents of the island who use the service to go to the shops.
The 116 between Hempstead and Chatham will see a reduction in service, mostly during peak hours, strangely enough. This means, a bus that snakes through the suburbs of Medway to Medway Hospital and Midkent College will now have no service that arrives in these places between 8 and 9am, which feels less than ideal for a service students use to get to college.
There are some rather baffling decisions in there too. The 164 between Chatham Grove and Chatham will keep a 20-minute service throughout the day, but this will drop to every 40 minutes during peak times. The 166 from Lordswood to Chatham will drop commuters off at Chatham rail station in the mornings, but won’t bother bringing them back again in the evenings.
Regular buses across Medway will see their service level slashed, as while routes remain the same, the interval between journeys will be dropped. The 132 between Chatham and Hempstead Valley will lose 20% of its services, the 145 to Warren Wood will lose 17%, the same loss as the 182 to Twydall.
The 173 between Earl Estate and Chatham will be scrapped altogether, as will the 796 out on the peninsula.
There’s a lot more in the full details than I’ve covered here, so if you regularly use a bus in Medway, I’d suggest familiarising yourself with the changes.
All this seems likely to do, however, is decrease bus use further. Buses are rare and expensive enough already that the prospect of waiting even longer for one, particularly as we head into winter, seems destined to put more people off.
The government’s initiative of capping all bus fares at £2 between January and March might help things a little, but it increasingly feels like too little, too late.
I’ve set out previously how we are being failed locally on bus provision. Local councils have the power to take more control of bus services now and set out exactly the kind of provision their area needs, but Medway Council has been spectacularly half-arsed about utilising these abilities.
As such, the cycle of decline continues.
Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no specific data, but 2.2% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, up from 1.5% last week, which is a pretty big jump.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 33 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with 1 of them on a ventilator. This is up 3% from last week.
Deaths: 2 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 977 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 81% of the 12+ population in Medway have now had at least one vaccine dose, 77% have had two doses, and 60% have received a booster dose.
79% of those eligible for a spring booster received one.
10% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
23% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
£25,000 in anonymous donations are totally fine
Big news for news of slightly shady donations to politicians, as Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has received another £10,000 donation from Businessfore, an organisation that doesn’t appear to actually exist.
I previously wrote about similar donations to Tolhurst last year, when the same organisation gave her £15,000 last November. This new donation takes her to a total of £25,000 in donations from Businessfore in the past year.
Businessfore is an ‘unincorporated organisation’, meaning they aren’t registered as a business, nor is there any information available about exactly who is behind the organisation.
Kelly Tolhurst isn’t the only MP benefitting from the organisation, as three other Conservative MPs have received similar donations. Again, nothing on their register entries indicates exactly who is behind the organisation.
As ever, there is nothing here to suggest that anyone has done anything illegal. Unincorporated organisations like Businessfore are allowed, within the rules, to donate to politicians, with no further details required. The issue here is that the rules allow this in the first place, as it is surely at odds with how things should work within a functioning democracy.
We’ll see seeking further clarification from Kelly Tolhurst’s office exactly who Businessfore are, and will update in a future edition of this newsletter.
Cllr Mick Pendergast passes away
Independent Peninsula councillor Mick Pendergast passed away this week, following a short illness. Mick seems to have been well-liked within the Medway Council chamber, and tributes flooded in from those of all political stripes.
Medway Council updated their website in the most elegant way:
Alas, as we are more than six months away from local elections (they are scheduled to take place in seven), a Peninsula by-election will need to take place in the coming weeks.
It’s going to be a weird one, as the ward will cease to exist after the local elections in May, and with a campaign for the full council at stake, parties aren’t going to want to spend the autumn battling hard over a single seat on the peninsula.
I wrote about this at length in the local election update I sent out earlier this week, but this looks like a by-election that no one is prepared for, and no one can spare the time to campaign on. It’s going to be a fascinating campaign.
Medway gets a new independent councillor
More changes in the council this week, as Chatham Central councillor Siju Adeoye has quit the Medway Labour group after failing to be re-selected as a candidate ahead of next year’s election.
It is understood that Cllr Adeoye chose not to stand again in Chatham Central, so that she could get a seat closer to home in Gillingham, but then failed to be selected by the local party. Oops.
As ever, Medway Labour’s greatest enemy continues to be itself, particularly when sitting councillors manage to shoot themselves in the foot so spectacularly.
Local Authority is now publishing three times a week for paid supporters, meaning you can get two extra editions beyond this core Friday newsletter.
This week saw our exclusive sit-down interview with outgoing Medway Council Leader Alan Jarrett. It’s a frank and wide-ranging interview, and definitely worth your time. We also published our latest local election update, covering the state of our political parties and their candidates as we hurtle towards elections in May.
Becoming a paid supporter costs as little as £3.75 a month and ensures we can keep this thing running for the long term.
A review of Cafe Nucleus in Chatham. (KentLive)
Restoration of the exterior of Chatham House is now complete. (Future Chatham)
If you’ve reached this newsletter through the web or someone sending it to you, subscribe to get new issues delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!
If you hear about any Medway news that might be of interest, let me know! Hit reply to message me directly, DM me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Isle of Dogs by Tigercats, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos!, and You’re Gonna Miss It All by Modern Baseball.