Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bottom of the table

And today who did the Medway Conservatives volunteer to meet the BBC News; the poor Officer who only started in late 2012 and who had nothing to do with the results in question.

Councillor Les Wicks should have had the decency to go onto camera and at least try and give a credible response as to how Medway is going to improve. Instead he is nowhere to be seen.

His report card is below and for most it does not read well:

The Medway Conservative Council is backed by Conservative MPs; many of those Councillor's who are canvassing and campaigning for our local MPs are the same people dropping the ball on local education. They are simply not the solution and the area needs a Labour Council that will focus on leadership and on our failing schools.

For a fascinating and analytical piece on the Key Stage 2 performance in Medway I can recommend the excellent piece by Peter Read on the 'Shocking KS2 results.' Peter is seen as an independent expert on education in Kent and Medway and is trusted by thousands of parents.

Medway MPs have promised to take up the case; lets see whether we see any significant improvements over the next 12 months.

Education of our young people matters so much which is why we need new political leadership.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Council E-Petition Flop

We all know that local Conservatives ignore local democracy; we have had Council meetings slashed, an overly centralised Cabinet system and a total lack of consultation on a multitude of Council projects and schemes.

It does not come as a surprise therefore that whilst there are currently 52.7m internet users in Britain, representing some 84.1% of the population that our flagship e-petition scheme has been a total flop. 

We have had only seven e-petitions since 2010 and to make matters worse we had one that only secured 1 signature.

Who is responsible for Democracy in Medway; one leader Cllr Rodney Chambers.

Not fit for purpose? Lets see if we change the platform.

Smokes and Mirrors

Part of my real hatred about scrutinising the Tory Capital and Revenue Budgets is the smoke and mirrors in reporting on overspends on original budget estimates.

Officers have got into an unfortunate habit of reporting overspends against increased budgets as opposed to original estimated costs given to the public. 

You may be confused 

Below are two examples of financial mismanagement which the public may indeed be aware of over the last 0-10 years

Walderslade School: If you look above the budget estimate it stands at £5.51m and to the casual observer it effectively hit this budget target with an 'ambivalent face'. What is never disclosed is the original budget estimate for this project was £3.2m. This project therefore went over original budget estimate by £2.3m but because at some point during the project we voted for an increase it is all ok. Is this really scrutiny? Not a smiley face

Strood Civic Centre: If you look at the above the budget estimate is £800,000 and it received a very 'smiley face'. What is never disclosed is the original budget estimate for this project was £700,000 . Not a smiley face

And lets not start on the biggest example of this which is the Chatham Bus station which went from £5m to £7.3m and still costs are ongoing 

The Council - for whatever reason - never reports the original budget estimate. Instead the Tory-led Council goes over budget, votes itself a budget increase on said programme (usually out of Council Tax or reserves) and then scrutinises itself against this raised budget. It then reviews these budget within the context of the said incompetence and awards itself a happy face.

It is utterly infuriating and dishonest politics.

Last week I challenged this type of smoke and mirrors at the Business Overview & Scrutiny Meeting but to no avail.

I wonder why!

£60m debt legacy

Last Thursday it was revealed the true extent of Medway Tory mismanagement of the Council budgets which already highlight a prospective £60m liability on the books up until 2015.

On the above the Medway Conservatives will leave a budget deficit of £23.5m in 2015/16 and a cumulative loss over the next 3 years of £60m.

This is simply a staggering amount of money and comes as a direct result of Conservatives gerrymandering our money to leafier Tory areas in Surrey and elsewhere.

And what makes matters worse for taxpayers is that this prediction includes 2% per year average Council Tax increase. The days of Council Tax freezes are over.

Our Medway MPs must be aware of this black hole in the Council books but have failed to lobby for a fair local government settlement.

If Medway Labour win in 2015 the finances will be in a total mess because of the Tories. 

This is the message to all those who want to make a difference; our Tories may be about to follow a 'scorched Council' policy which will leave residents and the next administration with some very unpalatable choices

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Osborne needs an agenda for growth

So with icy winds and snow you could be forgiven for thinking today is all about missing the obvious slip ups, but not so. Today we get a verdict on the core strategy of this government which has it reduced the deficit and to deliver on its own five year plan.

Does George Osborne have the grit to get us through or is he spreading himself to thin and exposing himself to the bitter winds of austerity?

In 2010, the General Election was fought over the economy and the public showed they wanted a Coalition. Labour warned at the time that if the Tories were elected their policies would take us back into a double-dip. After the election, the Summer Budget showed the bitter truth to the folly, that they wanted a pacey five year deficit reduction cycle and punchy upfront cuts to get there. 

Osborne and Cameron staked their political credibility on this economic prospectus and today the public get to see it was based on a totally false premise; that at a time of global downturn that the private sector could solely pick up the slack and that budgets for school buildings and other key services could just be brutally slashed without impact. That by standing up for millionaires that trickle down economics on its own would work. That by undermining rights in the workplace and making jobs more insecure this would lead to economic empowerment.

Let is go back to that first budget and CSR; Osborne cut the building schools for the future budget which today he will re-announce. Osborne predicted the deficit would be slashed but yet debt is ballooning to unparalled highs. Osborne said we should hold his judgement to account on spending; yet he is still in post after calling it totally wrong; a double-dip caused by Downing Street but which is felt on your street.

The public has no confidence in the economic credibility of the current government

On recent polls Labour is ahead or outpolling on economic credibility despite it being only four years since the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s; the difference to then is that whilst other countries have rejected austerity (like the US and Northern Europe) ours has endorsed a different right wing approach. 

The result is clear; those who invested and planned for growth recovered quicker, those that followed austerity have failed.  

And the reality on the ground is stark; David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic policies are not working: 

Failing on jobs, growth and the deficit: Prices are rising faster than wages, our economy has flatlined for two years and long term unemployment is soaring. This is causing long-term damage to the economy. And because the benefits bill is up and tax revenues are down as a result of this economic failure, borrowing is rising so far this year – meaning the government is failing on the one test they set themselves. Raising taxes and cutting spending too far and too fast has backfired. 

Long-term plan for our economy: Banking reforms are being watered down, they’ve failed to deliver on infrastructure investment to strengthen our economy for the future and business is rapidly losing confidence in the government’s ability to make long-term decisions. 

Standing up for the wrong people: The price of this government’s economic failure is being paid for not by the Carlton Club or Cecil Club elites but by people on middle and low incomes who are being asked to pay more, while millionaires get a tax cut – worth an average of £107,000 for 8,000 people earning over £1 million. 

What Labour have consistently said is we need an economy that grows, where everybody has a stake and where the rewards are fairly shared. 

So these are the tests for today's autumn statement:

We need a plan to create jobs and growth, which are vital to get the deficit down and catch up all the lost ground of the last two years. Labour's five point plan includes using the funds from the 4G auction to build 100,000 affordable homes, bringing forward infrastructure investment, a temporary VAT cut and a bank bonus tax to fund a jobs guarantee for young people.

We need long-term reforms to strengthen our economy and ensure that other countries do not continue to race ahead of us. This should include a British Investment Bank properly backed by the Treasury to boost lending to small and medium sized businesses, a long term plan to rebuild our infrastructure and radical reforms to separate retail and investment banking. 

We need fair action to help people on low and middle incomes with the rising cost of living. That means cancelling the fuel duty rise in January, at least until next April. And it means rethinking the plan to give a tax cut to millionaires on the same day that taxes go up for millions of pensioners.

We need to see a change of course from David Cameron and George Osborne, not more of the same. 

Today is a test for our three local MPs - will they stand up for our area or will they continue to back a totally flawed economic prospectus which as all our residents can see, feel and know has not worked. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Chatham Docks legacy

The news that the £650m Chatham Waters project is to go ahead is a welcome sign to the towns that investment and regeneration in core areas is hopefully around the corner 

The fact that Peel are seeking to invest at this point - when the construction industry is struggling and prior to any change in government Planning policy - highlights how viable this project is as a generator for social, economic and educational success. 

The scheme will provide an employment-led mixed-use redevelopment of the site of approximately 1.9 million sq. ft. including a commercial heart incorporating office space, education facilities, an ‘EventCity’, and a hotel alongside apartments and townhouses, plus landscaped public areas and a foodstore. 

The development has the potential to create approximately 3,500 jobs once completed but in construction will hopefully utilize local contractors; it is hoped that Peel could partner with Mid Kent College and others to provide apprenticeships.

It will also see up to £1bn invested in the Medway towns once completed. £1bn in one scheme is larger then the entire annual Council budget and represents a vast sum of money into an area which has a mixed demographic of incomes 

Incidentally; to those who say that only a mega-airport can generate 'much needed' jobs it can be pointed out clearly that two such schemes in Medway could cut our unemployment, provide opportunities and not destroy our quality of life. Of course such projects are sustainable and in keeping with the area and the other is not.

The Council can not however rest on its laurels; there are a number of other sites including Rochester Riverside and Strood Waterside that have been stymied because of financial viability; the Council is right not to cut corners on infrastructure capability but with the changes in Planning coming down the pipe, there remains a real risk that regeneration could become illsuited and without the support structures in place. 

The regeneration in the Chatham Docks area has been an ongoing programme since the closure of the Docks - which was a major employer in the area - by the Conservative government. 

The issue that is conveniently overlooked is it took 10 years for the then  Tory government to recognise the problem - under John Major - after they closed the docks under Thatcher. 

It took a Labour government to start the construction work and it was the Labour MPs who fought hard for the modernised Mid-Kent College and the mixed Medway Universities we see today which in part drove the Peel application on Chatham Waterside. The area is still recovering in employment terms from the decision to close the Docks today - as it in one decision decimated blue collar working and the employment route of thousands - for many that delay on a legacy for the docks in the 1980s and 1990s by the then government left many with no jobs and nowhere to go.

It is true Eric Pickles did give the green light for this scheme, after a planning review, but it is worth remembering that before anyone clamour to take the credit (as CCHQ was doing yesterday) this regeneration has been a long-term strategic project and one which was caused by a rushed closure of an historic dockyard, and a total lack of planning for its immediate legacy on our area

Monday, 17 September 2012

Million Meal Appeal

On Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 of October the “Million Meal Appeal” is coming to Sainsbury’s in Chatham, Hempstead and Larkfield and they need your help. 

Last year, they collected food for 1.2 million meals for disadvantaged people, so this year they have a big target to beat and they can’t do it without you. 

They are looking for enthusiastic volunteers to greet customers and encourage them to buy an additional item of food for FareShare, which they distribute to hostels, day centres, kids’ breakfast clubs and local projects.

I will be volunteering to help in Chatham and Larkfield and it is hoped that  others locally will also lend a hand to help some of our more vulnerable members of the community.

I firmly believe that we need more responsibility from big organisations including:
  • Large supermarkets and large manufacturers should donate a proportion of their surplus food for redistribution to charities.
  • Medway Council and other local public bodies including schools and the NHS should donate a greater proportion of their food waste
  • Introduction of a ‘Good Samaritan’ clause, similar to provisions in the United States, to protect retailers who donate food in good faith
So if you’re passionate about helping local people and you want to be part of the UK’s biggest ever food drive, they'd love to hear from you.

Front line not Hem line

On my door-knocking in Snodland, Aylesford and the villages in the constituency no one has mentioned Police dress code as being a major issue; losing Police officers and PCSOs in rural areas however is a major theme which is emerging from resident forums to Parish Councils.

Put simply people are concerned by the cuts in numbers not the cut of the hemline on a shirt.

The comment from the Tory PCC camp on the Medway Messenger front page today that they would potentially move to re-introduce white shirts was a nod towards a policy of dress code being operated by the Metropolitan Police, which under the current system in Scotland Yard, has officers wearing white shirts and black ties on a semi-regular basis; though underneath a jumper / flack jacket and vest. 

The suggestion by the press however that officers look mean and should cease to wear stab vests, remove first aid equipment and other essiential security equipment must be vigorously opposed

Officers on front line roles cover large and varied areas - not just one village - and are called to situations where violence is a very real possibility wherever they may be; be that from the domestic dispute in leafy suburbia to the inner-city problems in North Kent. They need to be equipped for whatever the circumstance and appropriate to the risk which is why stab jackets are a necessity

The case for a stab vest is strongly documented and officers should wear them where there is any risk of physical confrontation

The use of the phrase 'paramilitary' is a soundbite; there is little evidence at all to say the Police forces using black t-shirts or jumpers are treated any differently by the public at large and why should they be?

Do we now want to waste money on returning to an older uniform? Is this really a best use of tax payers money?

The real risk to community are the front line Police cuts which are impacting communities across Kent; whether they are wearing a white shirt or not. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Votes at 16

Just got off Radio Kent after challenging Conservative MPs on BBC Radio Kent this morning about why Tories have refused giving votes to 16 year olds despite the fact many are entitled to fight for our country and pay income tax

Would urge readers to back the British Youth Council campaign for votes at 16 which seeks to recognise the responsibilities of 16 and 17 year olds and enable them to influence key decisions that affect their lives

The argument surrounding age is utterly false; many 16 and 17 year olds pay income tax and National Insurance; gain welfare benefits; consent to sexual relationships and join and fight for our country in our armed forces. 

Many I have met have an academic background and a stronger grasp of politics then those more senior in age, due in part to the introduction of citizenship classes under the last government

There are those of all ages who have a stronger grasp and level of intelligence on our political process just as some people will understand single issues more then others; as is the natural way of things. Ask me about a game of football in detail and I could only give you a basic commentary; that knowledge is not age related. 

A number of right wing commentators from the general public went onto say those that happen to be unemployed or on benefits should have the vote removed. A very concerning narrative if pursued and one which would subvert the basic premise of democracy; that we should all have say if we are taxed and are capable of fighting for our country

In 2010, David Cameron invited the British public to be part of the UK Government; his promise though will fall on deaf ears to thousands of people who have no voice to influence change. 

It is simply not acceptable to expect service to our nation without giving people the chance to influence those that make policy

Many of my constituents would like the opportunity to vote on the Tory record in Parliament on youth issues; including the record of our local Tory MP in Chatham & Aylesford who abstained on Tuition fees which are to rise to £9,000, supported a budget which cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, and is backing Kent Tory Councillors who are cutting Youth services. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Mere speculation...

Boris Johnson may be trying to work a clever political narrative of win-win with Medway and London residents if you look at the potential outcomes of the Aviation consultation. 

Like the mythical Janus out of Greek mythology Medway residents could be being played as mugs by Tories who are preparing the ground-work; slowly but surely for an Estuary solution over the next three years.

Imagine you were the advisor to the Mayor of London and you need to have a coherent position which not only benefits his position, but also makes the prospects of a Tory government in 2015 more likely; and his ascendency to the top job more secure.

I speculate:

Tories win the next election

  • Estuary Airport proposed - Boris has left his legacy as Mayor of London and has cemented himself as the pre-emptive leadership favourite to challenge Cameron in his second-term as the lead voice in a multi-million pound infrastructure project
  • Heathrow extension proposed  -  Boris having been the main figurehead against the campaign against Heathrow - along with Zac who is making as about as much noise as you can -  could stand as a stalking horse mid-way through the Cameron second term of office having been the largest opponent. He will win significant support in West London after backing a Goldsmith by-election in 2014 on the prospectus of opposing Heathrow and will position the Conservative Party as both being the lead proponents AND opponents on the issue. 
  • Both proposed - Should that outcome occur Boris can go into the leadership ballot on a platform of opposing all future development and running down Heathrow over a manageable period; so gaining both of the above. Boris has won the debate and left his legacy whilst winding down Heathrow over a manageable period

Labour win next election
  • Proposed alternative solution within existing infrastructure - Cameron lost because he dithered and delayed on Aviation which highlighted his weakness as leader. He would stand as a stalking horse candidate in the leadership and command a significant profile in the Tory membership for being bold. 

The Tories can not be trusted on the airport; that much throughout this process is absolutely certain. 

I believe the Conservative Party is moving quite overtly towards an Estuary solution; a simple time line shows that at every stage the Conservative Party has allowed the goal posts on the Estuary solution to slip. Time and time and time again.

Over the next 12 months expect Boris to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money on a campaign to discredit our area and our local position

Cllr Chambers is not a strong enough a leader to challenge this position and needs to understand how he is being utterly out foxed.

Boris has put himself in a win-win situation irrespective of the outcome which is only shrewd if it isnt relentlessly exposed over the next three years.

We need to up the ante and soon; locally we should fund a proper campaign and start engaging local people in a real debate

Time to ramp up campaign

Labour PPC for Chatham & Aylesford has called on the Medway Council Conservative administration to step up its campaign efforts or be subsumed in the national debate over aviation capacity which is due to be completed in the summer of 2015

 Should Medway Council lose this argument our area will be threatend with a mega-airport which will undermine the quality of life for thousands of residents and the bulldozing of historic communities on the Hoo Peninsula. 

 The announcement by the Coalition Government last week gives our Council a three year campaigning window to rally local opposition to any airport on the Peninsula, but it requires political leadership from Cllr Rodney Chambers and the Medway Conservative Group.

 London Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson has promised a 'full throated' and funded opposition to Heathrow Airport and local MPs in South West London have threatened to resign and call by-elections over the proposals. 

Conservatives in London are to run and fund their own consultation exercise which is being designed to pursue an Estuary Solution. A consultation exercise which could, in theory, ballot local communities in the areas surrounding Heathrow.

Tristan Osborne said;

"It is clear that the London Conservatives will try and pit anti-airport campaigners in South West London and North Kent against each other in a deliberate attempt to divide-and-rule over the location of an airport. 

Whilst respecting the independent commission established by the government it is very likely the Mayor will try and pursue the Estuary solution as the only feasible alternative to Heathrow; and he will use the significant financial resources at his disposal as Conservative Mayor of London to fund activities to pursue this objective"

"Local car stickers and posters are all well and good but the change in the resolve of the London Conservative administration means we now need to run a professional and highly visual campaign and which will rally the public. 

I am calling on them to start a lamp post poster campaign - as with the campaign to oppose Cliffe previously - and for further exploration of a referendum of the local electorate, as soon as possible, so that we can give people a chance to respond and send a message to local MPs and the government"

"The Conservative-led Local Enterprize Partnership has not ruled out the Estuary Airport over the long term and its clear that dithering and delay in London will lead to a further move in Parliament by Conservatives to pursue an Estuary solution; via the establishment of a Parliamentary Group which could streamline legislation should it be proposed"

"If the Medway Conservatives cant stand up for our area with a meaningful campaign the public across our towns will rightly judge them in 2015 should the idea be proposed"

Friday, 7 September 2012

How much more can you stomach?

I do not share all its conclusions but its commentary on the coalition is spot on the money.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Commuters clobbered by Medway MPs

Train fares were the lead issue for yesterday's opposition day debate which proposed that the government introduced a cap of 1% on fare rises for SouthEastern trains.

Two of our MPs abstained and one was absent for this crucial debate. 

The debate gave the opportunity to cut fares for Kent commuters to a more affordable level given the economic conditions

This policy of a reduced cap was one which Conservative MPs, like those in Kent, have previously campaigned on (see the Kent Conservative website) and where we have had cross-party consensus in Gun Wharf to cut the fares; recently documented in the letter sent by Cllr Phil Filmer to the government.


“Many people in Medway rely on trains to commute to work outside of Medway and fare increases could drastically impact on their ability to commute to their jobs.

“Medway Conservatives appreciate that investment in services is necessary but for hard squeezed commuters to have to dig deep in their pockets in these tough times is not the answer. I am calling on Southeastern Trains to keep fare increases to an absolute minimum.”

It is sad that Medway Tory MPs ignored local Councillors, ignored local residents and ignored South Eastern commuters and voted to keep RPI +3%.

They claimed it was opportunism yet the proposal was similar to that two of our MPs signed as an EDM in 2010; it was a costed and reasoned proposal to reduce the cap to +1% across the entire network.

It is also one which the Conservative government introduced temporarily last year;
  • Inflation figures confirm that current RPI figure (Retail Price Index) is currently 3.2%. This means regulated rail fares are set to increase on average by 6.2%, with train companies allowed to add another 5% on top.
  • Labour believes that train companies should not be allowed to increase fares by more than one per cent above inflation across their routes. Hard-working commuters are already being hit by other cost of living increases in their everyday lives while their salaries remain the same.
  • The annual season ticket from Medway to London Stations is £3,524 and for HS1 £4,412 and from Aylesford/Snodland the annual season ticket is £3,676
It is simply unsustainable for commuters in Chatham, Aylesford or Snodland to be potentially paying £4,000 in January 2013. It is pricing people off rail and threatening family budgets at a moment when the Tory economic plan has led to zero growth in the economy.

Our MPs have let down commuters across Kent by voting to retain the +3% RPI rail fare increase which is a direct cotnradiction to the stated position of local Council groups and Medway residents

The vote last night reinforced that Fare isnt fair under the Tories; they have sold out on their committments to fare payers. They have the wrong platform and should change track.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

No mistake; Estuary Airport still on table

The news that Justine Greening has been shunted out of the Department of Transport was met with a metaphorical cheer yesterday from anti-Estuary airport activists from across North Kent. 

As this blog remarked at the time; the appointment was foolhardy and unwise and the result was a year of dithering, snubs, delayed consultations and inept management; Justine simply was never going to be an impartial arbiter on aviation; as someone who took the proposal for Heathrow expansion to a judicial review it was hardly something she could propose.

I suspect that is why the government dithered and delayed on aviation; had she of course accepted a cross-party working group at the get-go she could have denuded the opposition. That however was not her intent; she wanted no expansion and no debate on expansion at Heathrow and as is becoming clear that position is now shifting in the Conservative Party much to the annoyance of Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith

The resulting appointments of Patrick McLouglin and Stephen Hammond into the respective Secretary of State and Under-minister should however be a warning light to anti-Estuary campaigners and a reinforcement of the fact that whilst the Tories got the strategy wrong with Justine Greening MP there is still a clear and present danger of an Estuary Solution.

 Three pieces of evidence point to this outcome:

  • Patrick McLouglin as aviation minister from 1989-1992 has had responsibility for airport expansion before and was considered a safe pair of hands. Indeed; he was open to ideas of expansion both at Heathrow and in other locations; and according to Times today refused to rule out expansion in North Kent.
  • Stephen Hammond has u-turned rather recently on his opposition to Heathrow expansion (see his #TwoFaced switch from here to here); he has expressed the following which should send warning signs

 "I was initially sceptical but am now convinced that the demand for capacity out to 2075 should be met by a new hub with at least five runways. Estimates are bandied around of the cost of the airport and associated infrastructure, which make a new airport look unaffordable. However, we should remember this is inflated by opponents. There are at least two feasible proposals identified and there is appetite to invest in UK infrastructure projects, certainly to the tune of the £30 billion which will be required.

A new airport would need government backing. It would also require some public financial support but with public borrowing costs at the lowest rates for a century, this would represent good value. The reality is that procrastination is now the only real impediment. And with six years of planning phase and six years of build phase, it could be open by 2025"

Put the bubbly on ice; the Estuary Airport isnt gone; it could be argued that the #TwoFacedTories are just changing tactics and faces to make it look more legitimate and are about to put both options on the table 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sure Start funding concerns

The issue surrounding Sure Start funding locally is due to be in focus over the next fortnight as its clear that another Medway Tory promise to protect Sure Start is actually anything but if you are to believe the latest cabinet report on funding for nursery provision

The government is about to place a significant additional strain on local services but has not provided additional support in the form of funding to undertake or persue this objective.

Despite the rhetoric of the Conservatives in the last election we are potentially seeing a shortfall in budget of £400,000 as previous funding has been removed to a grant where the money is not ring-fenced to young people. 

Indeed that funding may never be returned either as the DSG Grant only supports those in Medway Schools; and that does not include nursery provision.

Despite expected number increases the Council has no funding from government to build additional capacity and infrastructure; this will place significant pressures on local Sure Starts and other support services.

Having nursery and support for two-year olds is very welcome but reducing the funding; cutting capital projects and forcing together already stretched services is unwelcome; indeed services for many may worsen as they become overstretched.

Some of our current nurseries will also find it a stretch to train sufficient staff and will have to make fundemental changes to admission arrangements to cope with the increased pressure. This with limited financial support.

This is not what people voted for in May 2010; this is not the protection of Sure Start but will see the service stretched at a time of budgetary constraint. 

I dont know who will win; but at this point it looks like the Tories are trying to persue a policy without the funding to do it. That puts significant pressure on staff and services and indeed on the quality of the product.