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Protesters target BAE Systems in Rochester
Plus Rehman takes another trip, some rubbish news, and a call for artists
BAE Systems is Medway’s biggest private employer. The company has always been involved in some questionable activity but is now facing a spotlight over its supply of weapons to Israel that are being used in its assault on Gaza. Further down, we have news on Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti’s latest trip (you’ll never guess where!), some exciting littering news, and the opportunity to have your (yes, yours) artwork displayed in Nucleus’ upcoming exhibition.
Also, this week news came that Reach PLC, one of the largest local news publishers in the UK, is launching another round of redundancies, with 450 roles being abolished. This is the latest in a series of cuts at the organisation, which publishes KentLive as one of its titles, with most cuts likely to come from editorial roles. Local news is in a perilous place, and fewer local journalists working their patch is bad for all of us.
The model for local news is broken, and new routes to sustainability need to be found. When we launched, the idea of relying entirely on optional paid subscriptions was a gamble, but hundreds have signed up, helping us deliver a new way of covering the Medway stories that matter, without the advertising and clickbait that other outlets have pivoted to. If you believe local news is important, please consider supporting us with a paid subscription to help us fill the gap that is being left by traditional publishers.
Protesters target BAE Systems in Rochester
Hundreds of protesters from a number of trade unions blockaded the entrance to the BAE Systems complex in Rochester this morning, shining a spotlight on another morally dubious position from Medway’s largest private employer.
The protesters, representing members of Unite, Unison, GMB, the NEU, the BMA, and a number of others, blocked the road to BAE’s Medway factory at around 7am, making it impossible for employees of the company to enter the site. The group unfurled banners with slogans including ‘This Factory Arms Genocide’ and ‘Stop Arming Israel’.
The protest comes in light of recent events in Palestine, where a recent escalation in violence between Hamas militants in Gaza and Israel has left over 10,000 dead, and calls for a ceasefire going unheeded.
BAE Systems is Britain’s largest manufacturer and the largest defence contractor in Europe, and the company has something of a checkered reputation.
The company is back in the spotlight this week as the scale of the humanitarian situation within the Gaza Strip becomes clearer. Over 10,000 have been killed within the enclave during this recent conflict, with the UN estimating that 40% of them have been children. Despite initial support for Israel in retaliating against Hamas militants who launched a brutal attack against the country on October 7, the longer the conflict continues without any countenance of a ceasefire, the more questions are raised about Israel’s tactics in their operations.
BAE responded to the protest, offering the following statement:
“We’re horrified by the situation in Israel and Gaza and the devastating impact it’s having on civilians in the region and we hope it can be resolved as soon as possible. We respect everyone’s right to protest peacefully.”
The focus on BAE comes as the company is partly behind the production of F-35 jets that are being used in the Gaza campaign. Indeed, the company’s shares rose as the conflict escalated. On their ‘product’ page for the jets, the company proudly highlights the role that Rochester plays in their production:
Our team in Rochester, UK, provides the Active Interceptor Systems which the pilot uses to direct and maneuver the aircraft. Our engineers have also developed high-tech management computers which control the life-cycle costs of the jet, driving affordability for our customers.
It is unclear at this point how long the protest is likely to continue, or how disruptive it might be to BAE’s operation.
BAE has been embroiled in a number of additional controversies in recent years, from having to pay hundreds of millions to settle corruption charges to repeatedly ripping off developing nations. They also remain the main supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, many of which are used in their ongoing assault against Yemen.
As a company, BAE is deeply embedded within Medway, employing 1,500 workers at the Rochester site, and plans to significantly redevelop the site in the coming years. As an employer, they do provide a large number of well-paid, highly skilled jobs to an area that with few such opportunities. But at what cost?
Where in the world is Rehman Chishti?
Long-time readers of Local Authority will be very familiar with the adventures of Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham, and his jaunts off to all parts of the world.
As such, it will come of little surprise to discover that the esteemed MP is once again on a foreign trip, and you’ll never guess where.
Of course, he’s back in Saudi Arabia for some reason that isn’t particularly clear.
Posting on Twitter, Chishti says he is there on matters related to inter-faith dialogue, a favourite subject of his. Which is all very laudable, but he holds no formal role to that effect, and it is difficult to see how such trips provide much benefit to his constituents in Medway.
As always, the big question will be who is funding this particular jaunt. A similar trip earlier in the year saw his £11,000 costs covered by the government of Saudi Arabia. We’ll be keeping an eye on his entries to the Register of Interests to find out who is behind this one.
Medway Council proudly announced this week that 26 people littering in Medway had been fined nearly £8,000 between them. On the face of it, this sounds like a positive thing, and of course, it is. We’re not going to take a bold pro-littering stance here at Local Authority.
What is curious is that all of the offenders were caught at Medway Services on the M2. The site is hardly a key, central Medway location, so catching offenders there isn’t exactly making our towns much cleaner.
Medway Council employs District Enforcement, a third-party company, to tackle those dropping litter and issue fines, and it would appear they would rather spend time hanging around Medway Services looking for those to catch. It’s hard to quite understand why. The service area is private land, not the responsibility of Medway Council to maintain. Indeed, back in 2020, Medway Labour complained while in opposition that the firm was disproportionately collecting fines at Medway Services, and it appears little has changed in the time since.
The contract with District Enforcement is run at no cost to Medway Council, allowing the firm to issue fines to generate income, with a 30% cut coming back to the authority. It seems they have found a loophole by finding a simple location to catch a large number of litterers to raise revenue, which does little to actually tackle the wider scourge of littering across our towns.
Exhibit your work!
Nucleus Arts are holding a unique exhibition through December and into January, and they want to display your artwork. Yes, even yours.
The Winter Open is open to artists of all disciplines, and every artist who submits work is guaranteed to have at least one piece included in the exhibition.
The exhibition welcomes submissions from artists at all stages of their creative practice, from first-timers to professionals. Every artist who submits an application will have at least one piece displayed at Nucleus’ Chatham gallery, with some also making it to their Rochester site.
Some caveats: It does cost £15 to enter your work, for which you can submit up to three pieces for inclusion in the exhibition, with at least one of them being guaranteed a place. Should you wish to offer your selected pieces for sale, Nucleus requests a 25% commission on the sale price.
These are minor things though, and as a route for artists who have never displayed before, or lack the confidence to directly approach galleries, this seems like a great option.
🗡️ Kent Police are running a knife amnesty next week. Between 13-19 November, a bin to surrender bladed objects will be outside Medway Police Station, where people can dispose of them without risk of prosecution.
💷 Medway African and Caribbean Association are raising money to create a cultural centre in Medway. They aim for a space that includes galleries, performance spaces, a recording studio, and more.
✉️ Rochester’s Post Office will move from its current location inside Payden’s pharmacy to S&J News (the blue shop) at the Star Hill end of the High Street. The new site will open in a limited form on December 4 and fully in the new year.
🏬 Gillingham could be losing another major store after the New Look store was put up for rent. Best of luck to anyone wanting to sink over £50,000 per year into opening a new shop on Gillingham High Street.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, we looked at the skateboarding scene in Medway, and the inevitable conflict between skateboarders with few places to go and local residents who feel they are being disturbed by them. We also published our monthly planning report, highlighting the more significant planning applications being proposed for Medway. Finally, Steven interviewed Cllr Lauren Edwards, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Rochester and Strood, aiming to unseat Kelly Tolhurst in the coming General Election.
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We’re getting into the Black Friday spirit early over on Medwayish. As we have no markets this week to plug our wares, we’ve got some sweet, sweet savings on some items so that we can still meet our sales quotas. If you’ve ever wanted one of our lovely prints or t-shirts, there’s never been a better time.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Bless My Psyche by Sincere Engineer, Bleed Out by The Mountain Goats, Sports by Modern Baseball, and Grace and the Bigger Picture by Johnny Foreigner.