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Bonkers Blog February 2011

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28 February - Trivial Pursuits

Since breaking the blog into monthly chunks it hasn’t seemed worth reporting anything significant on the last day of the month, by next day it gets hidden away, so I shall let today go marked only by items of near trivia. I sent an email early this morning to my favourite council department about a fast developing pothole at a bus stop. It appeared from nowhere only two weeks ago but was already a sizeable cavity. It was fixed by early afternoon. Trivial it may be but some potholes live on for years.

More trivia can be found in a News Shopper comment column. A number of people were giving their opinion of councillor Craske; “Boris is preserving the budget of the borough’s most incompetent cabinet member and allowing schemes which, if they follow the same path as their predecessors, will be characterised by cringingly high levels of inefficiency wrought by a complete absence of common sense and lack of willingness to answer constituent’s scrutiny“. And ‘John of Sidcup’ rode to Craske’s rescue addressing the writer as Malcolm, i.e. he probably thought it was me. John of Sidcup emailed me eleven months ago in support of Craske and accusing me of something I hadn’t done. When pressed he couldn’t come up with any evidence and then buried his head in the sand. Hey! Maybe it was Craske, it’s the same M.O.

The on-line exchange on the News Shopper site proves that I am not alone in thinking that Craske is a disaster for Bexley and it probably means John H. of Sidcup is still reading this site; if he wasn’t I’m sure he would have forgotten all about me by now. Hello John, how’s it going? You remain the only person who has ever sent me a pro-council comment.

It has been suggested that changing the blog’s default text size yesterday was a mistake because only a small minority of readers had thought it a problem so the default is back to the smaller text size today. If you reset the size yesterday the blog pages may corrupt (dependent on your chosen setting) because of no longer matching file names. Please go back to the ‘Configure’ page and reselect your choice from the corrupted page. That should fix it. No more code fiddling, I promise.

This evening I shall attend the cuts meeting at the Civic Centre. Rumour has it that protesters might be there so I shall be leaving early to ensure a good position. There is unlikely to be a write-up here around midnight as with previous meetings because a group of us are going to a ‘council-of-war’ afterwards.

 

27 February - A matter of choice

I have spent all morning and half the afternoon tinkering with the code that runs this site. In recent months I have had the occasional comment that the blog text is a bit too small to which one answer is to use the Text Size options of the web browser to make it bigger but the problem is that it will make every web page bigger. It’s the sort of unhelpful response you might expect from Bexley council but not really good enough. To fix the problem I have placed a new item on the menu above (it appears on all blog pages) named ‘Configure’ and if you select it you will get a page which allows a choice of three text sizes. By default the blog text is a bit bigger than it was until yesterday but I think that is still my favourite. Go and have a play.

To get it to work I had to change an important bit of the menu code which I always thought was vital, but the alternative seems to work OK. Pages other than blogs are still working the old way, you shouldn’t see any difference but if you do please let me know. I was once told that justified text is more attractive than left aligned; I have no particular preference but for good measure you can have text justification on blog pages too.

Tinkering with the code reminds me that councillor John Davey said he designed (and paid for) the Bexley Arts Council website and doing so excused him putting links to the Conservative Party on the website of a tax-payer funded body. He had a choice and he chose to not to respect the Arts Council’s integrity. It occurs to me that I fund Bexley council’s main website so perhaps I should ask them to put a link to Bonkers on it. It’s the same logic as John Davey uses to justify him subverting democracy.

The report of Davey’s rather dishonest tactics has brought forward a not very different story from a reader involving Bexley’s Youth Council. One of the young men on the Youth Council has long worked in support of the Labour party, handing out leaflets etc. but his political zeal took him further and he went to the party conference last year and was photographed with several well-known politicians. A Labour version of a 16 year old William Hague perhaps? However his associations didn’t meet the approval of Bexley council and he was asked to leave the Youth Council. Another undemocratic choice. Would a youthful Conservative have been singled out for the same treatment? Surely it is good for ‘youth’ to do something responsible?

Actually I have been sitting on this story longer than I should have done because I have today discovered that someone has climbed down. Strange though that the Arts Council is allowed to lean towards the Conservatives but the same people get twitchy when the Youth Council includes a Labour Party activist. What next? Replacing Harold Wilson’s ‘The Governance of Britain’ in the public library with a novel by Ann Widdecombe?

 

26 February (Part 2) - Craske’s cash cow was all bull

In November 2009 I added a short piece to the News section of this website criticising councillor Craske for reducing the parking facilities at Sidcup Place and introducing a charge for what was left. I called him an obnoxious dictator and a little runt and got a few complaints for a spelling mistake. Now the subject has been regurgitated and updated in the Bexleyheath Chronicle entitled “Councillors kill off outdoor leisure centre” and quotes our esteemed Leader saying “the car parking (charges presumably) was started at the behest of councillors”. Wrong! The press at the time made it absolutely clear that it was Craske’s idea. The Chronicle’s reporter (Jean Gee) says the council spent £90,000 on refurbishing the playground and fenced it in for another £12,800. Then in typical Craske fashion £8,850 was spent on three parking ticket machines and charging commenced in October 2009. There were requests to make the parking free for the first two hours to allow parents to easily take their offspring there for a bit of fun but the runt refused.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request soon afterwards revealed that the parking meters were taking £114 a day but observations showed that didn’t look very likely. A year later another FOI came up with a figure of £180. The reporter was not one to give up. She kept a photo record of the car park and sent it to our incompetent lying council. This time they were forced to admit the true income was less than £40 a day. As The Chronicle says, a total waste of money installing the playground and driving potential users away with parking charges. It will take eight years for Craske to earn the expenditure back by which time the ticket machines will be worn out and the playground will be broken by the teenagers who use it on their way back from school. Well done Craske. What an idiot.

If you want to see Craske and the rest of Bexley’s largely useless shower at work there is a cabinet meeting at The Crook Lodge Civic Centre next Monday at 19:30. You may also get to see why I sometimes refer to Craske as the purple pygmy.

 

26 February (Part 1) - A bit of a conundrum. Suggestions welcome

One of my fears in producing this website is that Bexley’s councillors and staff with something to hide will clam up and remain resolutely silent. There are already signs of it. I have seen two near identical letters circulated within the council which encourage councillors to say nothing although the increasing number of informants may make that tactic difficult to maintain. The council’s published customer services standards include responding to the on-line contact form within two days and to email and letters within five. It is an ambitious target and inevitably missed sometimes, I’m not unduly concerned about that, it is the deliberate kicking of things into the long grass which is the real problem.

This site began because of the persistent failure to respond to enquiries about the narrowing of Abbey Road. Andrew Bashford of the roads department and councillor Davey went into long periods of silence and needed threats of Ombudsman involvement before deciding to feed me dubious information about surveys and road safety issues and eventually trying to silence me with technicalities which required the expertise of the Transport Research Laboratory to debunk. It’s a tactic they employ all too often. We have councillors refusing to give a straight yes or no answer to the simple question of whether they are receptive to the idea of cutting allowances and pay to complement their plans to cut everything else the council touches. More complex issues are deferred or blocked when managers reclassify enquiries as Freedom of Information requests which operate under a different set of rules which permit further delays.

An example of the first is councillor David Hurt (Barnehurst £22,141 per year; wife Lesnes Abbey £9,543) who is responsible for huge cuts in health and care services but cannot bring himself to answer a question about his allowance put to him almost four months ago. An example of the second tactic which is growing in popularity is Tina Brooke’s (Parking Manager) fobbing off the MP James Brokenshire who sent her a sheaf of statistics and asked how they could possibly justify Craske’s proposal to triple the price of residents’ parking permits. Her response was disrespectful of an MP and treated Mr. Brokenshire as if he was a simple soul who would would accept as an answer figures he already knew and were part of his enquiry and her assertion that she didn’t recognise “some of the data”. All the data came from her department and the reason it didn’t add up was solely because the council, or maybe Craske, had falsified much of it.

A suitably worded complaint is with Ms. Brooks’ superiors. It’s debatable whether that fact should be revealed here; one school of thought is that publicity will drive malpractice deeper underground another is that it encourages the truth. It’s an impossible call, I’m no good at reading dishonest minds. One of my correspondents is convinced that Bexley council will always “lie and cheat” but I’d prefer to think that if every lie is exposed, like Philip Read’s untruthful and mischievous letter in this week’s Shopper councillors and staff may think twice about consistently lying. Yes I have my doubts too but one way or another the pressure on corruption and dishonesty must be maintained.

 

25 February - Bacon. A little egg on our faces

When I made vaguely supportive noises about Bexley’s refuse services and then proceeded to wonder how the responsible cabinet member could possibly be in full time paid employment and fit in three councillor-type jobs as well I was unaware that a similar question had been sent to the council by Michael Barnbrook. I met Mike at the first council meeting I attended and we have kept in touch ever since. You may not know who he is but you should; he has made something of a career of bringing down politicians. Derek Conway, former Bexley MP, Ian Clement one time Bexley council leader and convicted fraudster, the ex-MP for Leyton, Harry Cohen, the two Wintertons, the clutch of Labour MPs who ended up in the dock for expenses and mortgage fiddling and the previous Speaker of the House Michael Martin all came a cropper because of Mike Barnbrook’s complaints to the police. If you don’t believe me Google it. Not that there is much publicity and you will have to look hard because Mr. Barnbrook once stood as the BNP candidate in Welling and came within eight votes of unseating the Conservatives. The media isn’t keen on portraying a BNP member as anything but a baddie. (Be cautious if visiting obscure websites you might find, some bring up (possibly spoof) virus reports from Russian sources. Probably harmless if you ignore them but it may be wise to stick to The Daily Telegraph and Guardian sites.)

I’ve not seen Mike’s letter but I believe it suggested that Gareth Bacon has as many as six local government jobs whereas I found only three but whatever the case, the council rejected Mr. Barnbrook’s letter as not relevant to them and I suppose they had a point as much of it was about non-Bexley matters. However to Mike’s amazement he received a personally addressed letter from Gareth Bacon who had somehow been alerted to Mike’s enquiry. Mr. Barnbrook is suitably impressed by Gareth’s openness and so am I. He didn’t have to write but he chose a more reasonable course.

Councillor Bacon explains that for some of the jobs (the ones I didn’t find out about perhaps?) he is only a substitute and has never been called in so the time spent on them is zero. He also makes the valid point that the London Assembly meetings are all held during the day and Bexley’s are held in the evening, so there is no conflict between those two, only between his City Hall responsibilities and his ‘proper’ job presumably. So it would appear that councillor Bacon despite all his lucrative responsibilities in London is in practice not disadvantaged when it comes to looking after Bexley and his rubbish brief. Maybe he is not quite the expert time manager I took him to be afterall. Sorry; now I am being flippant.

There is no word on the free travel card claimed and the perverse attitude to police thuggery but this is supposed to be a conciliatory piece so they will be glossed over for today.

That Gareth Bacon took the trouble to write such a friendly letter to Mike Barnbrook is quite obviously commendable to say the very least, if only some of his fellow councillors were as forthcoming. Mike’s own ward councillor is Peter Craske and despite his responsibilities to Mike as a constituent absolutely refuses to respond to any of his letters or emails. You can be quite sure that when enough evidence has been accumulated Mr. Barnbrook will have the purple pygmy just as he did all the other petty crooks that have gone before.

 

24 February (Part 3) - Bexley council is bent

Last November I reported the strange goings-on at Bexley’s Thames Innovation Centre. In brief, the manager had been arrested for paedophilia and there were suggestions that a blind eye was turned to huge sums of money being filtered off to someone else’s girlfriend and the whistleblower was sacked by councillor Campbell in one big stitch-up. There has been some progress. The manager has been charged by the police and resigned from his post a couple of week’s ago. Until then he had been protected by Campbell for some nefarious reason and not even suspended. The girlfriend mysteriously disappeared a bit earlier. There are other welcome developments too but my lips are sealed. Sooner or later the corruption at Bexley council will come spilling out into the open.

 

24 February (Part 2) - Press review

Teresa Pearce MP. The Good Philip Read. The BadIn The News Shopper councillor Philip Read (Northumberland Heath) drones on about Erith & Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce (no I didn’t vote for her, maybe I should have done) missing the vote in the Commons on giving prisoners the vote. “Couldn’t be bothered” is what he said about her along with a complaint about “a wimpy abstention”.

I keep only half an eye on what my MP does but even I know she was engaged by a constituency event and as there was no whip she quite legitimately gave priority to her constituents. Doesn’t Read know anything, like the difference between absence and abstention for example?

Probably it is just a rather obvious example of the low-level lying by Bexley’s councillors that they don’t even think about given the much bigger whoppers that are their stock-in-trade.

OK, here’s the shocking bit… councillor Read had been at an event with Ms. Pearce and should have known exactly what her situation was. Read is just an unscrupulous villain prepared to distort the truth and have it put in the newspaper; not quite up to Craske’s standard, but close.


John Davey. The UglyI like to read the Bexley Chronicle, it comes out monthly and is available fuss-free on the web which is more than you can say for The Shopper. Last month a reader’s letter suggested my own councillor, Dozy Davey (Lesnes Abbey, £9,543) should resign because as Chairman of the Bexley Arts Council he had allowed its website to provide direct links to the Conservative Party’s website. A bit odd certainly and definitely not what you would expect of a publicly funded body, but a resigning issue? It doesn’t exactly compare to the fiddles, cover-ups and lies perpetrated by his mates. It’s more the run of the mill, every day under-handedness we expect from Bexley’s councillors.

This month’s issue has a response from councillor Davey which is an irrelevant diatribe that takes the proverbial out of the writer, a Bexley resident, maybe one of his constituents. Is he taking lessons from Craske? Davy claims that it is OK to link the Arts Council website to the Conservative Party’s because he personally pays for both websites. Oh big deal John! I fund this site entirely out of my own pocket and it costs just under £6 a year. If I hunted around for a cheapskate registrar I could get it down to about three quid. Paying the few pounds a year out of his own pocket and even designing the site himself does not change the principles at all. The fact remains that a council funded body should not be providing support for the Conservative Party and the fact that Davey designs the site himself and pays the hosting company is totally irrelevant; he should not have given in to temptation and subverted the Arts Council website for his own political purposes. Do our councillors have no moral code and no sense of what is right and wrong at all? No, don’t answer that.

 

24 February (Part 1) - Ruts at Ruxley. Rats in charge - click any image for photo gallery (3 images)

Danson Park Ruts at RuxleyThe third sunny afternoon of 2011 tempted me away from the keyboard to follow up reports that were in danger of being neglected. First port of call was Danson Park because a lady had reported that the lifebelts were kept under lock and key; she was worried that if they were needed, by the time someone was fetched to unlock them it would be too late. She had been to see her local councillor (John Wilkinson, Brampton ward, £9,543 a year) who explained that the lifebelts had to be kept locked up because of the activities of vandals. I walked around the entire lake this afternoon and saw no lifebelts at all so maybe the council (or the vandals) has solved the problem.

The debate on whether or not there should be unlocked lifebelts and how to tackle vandalism was not however my concern. The lady returned to her councillor after seeing unsupervised pre-school children feeding ducks at the water’s edge but his only response was to ask if she “couldn’t find something else to worry about”. All too typical of Bexley’s unsavoury crew.

It is seven months since I first highlighted the situation at Ruxley Corner. It is Wykeham Lane’s counterpart which didn’t get the same degree of publicity as a roundabout large vehicles cannot get around. Unlike Wykeham Lane, no attempt has been made to fix Ruxley’s roundabout. (Warning : Sarcasm alert!). If there was a contract with the transport consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff as stated on that company’s website and reported in all the local papers, and if the council’s publicity department hadn’t made such an enormous mistake and put the details in the council magazine and on its website, such embarrassments might occur less often. But they were all wrong because Craske says so, aided and abetted by our cretinous Mayor. Without the experts to help out we have to fall back on Bexley’s own design team. And this is what we get. A roundabout lorries and buses cannot get around. A bus was stuck in the mud a few days ago and Arriva had to send out their rescue truck to haul it out.

Finally I dropped in on Pembroke Road, Belvedere because it is extremely narrow and HGVs are said to swipe mirrors off cars and sometimes block the road. It was a long shot that I might see one and I didn’t but I did note that the whole width of the road appears from the markings to be given over to cyclists (picture in gallery) and one of Craske’s stick-out-in-the-road obstacles has been knocked down surrounded by bits of vehicle. Sorry, no photo of that because it wasn’t safe to park nearby.

 

23 February (Part 3) - Thanks everyone

Scamera carWell that didn’t take long did it? An hour or so and I have information on where the cars are kept. It has been passed on to our motorcycling friends. Now we could do with a few locations where the gestapo lurks for longer than a few minutes.

 

23 February (Part 2) - Don’t get angry, get even

Say No to MobA man drove through Sidcup late on a Sunday night and pulled over to use a cash machine. He was on his way a minute later but unknown to him he had been filmed by one of Craske’s gestapo wagons and was sent a penalty notice through the post. His offence? A wheel had gone up on the kerb just a bit. Bexley council, unreasonable as ever, said he had parked on the pavement and rejected his appeal. However the Adjudicator at The Parking and Traffic Appeals Service thought otherwise and said he was guilty only of “imprecise driving” and that the offence was “too trivial and too minor” to warrant any action. Another waste of money perpetrated by the liar Craske.

What can be done about the greed of Bexley’s council, their constant incompetence and the poisonous dwarf Craske? One of my correspondents wrote to the Tax Payers’ Alliance which has featured Bexley’s stupidity several times and they encouraged him to organise protest groups outside the Civic Centre. Protests do seem to have had some effect elsewhere and several times recently I have received messages from groups who have organised protests in other towns.

One of these specifically targets gestapo wagons which it calls scameras. They act entirely within the law and even get police approval of their activities beforehand. The stated aim is to ensure the gestapo wagons operate entirely within the law too and to this end they shadow them on motorcycles, with video cameras and the like, from the moment they leave their depot to the moment they return at night. I held off on giving this one publicity while I looked into how legal it all was but it seems OK and has gone off without any trouble in just a handful of towns so far. The group judges Bexley to be among the country’s top authorities when it comes to parking malpractice and thinks we should be next on its list. However it would help get things underway if they knew where the cars are garaged overnight and where their ‘hotspots’ are. The report above suggests Sidcup High Street on a Sunday night may be one and Blackfen Road almost any time certainly is, but where do Bexley’s four scamera cars go at the end of the day? And where are their regular ‘hotspots’? If they can be told, a group of motorcyclists is ready to ensure that Bexley’s gestapo wagons operate safely and within the law.

There is an amusing (?) video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ADTL6Se22w showing how Westminster council put up both turn left and straight ahead notices at a road junction and parked a scamera there to issue fines to drivers who went straight ahead. It’s a nice trick worthy of the purple pygmy himself. If you think the group should target Bexley next we must find out where those cameras are parked overnight and find out where they regularly lurk during the day and allow the NoToMob group to keep a friendly eye on them. It may be a rare chance to get on nearer to even terms with Craske’s evil activities.

 

23 February (Part 1) - Don’t shoot the messenger

James Brokenshire has posted a letter about the closure of Queen Mary’s Hospital (QMH) from the Health Secretary on his website. As expected, local objections and Mr. Brokenshire’s own publicly stated views have been over-ruled and a plan involving local GPs is to go ahead. I hope mine isn’t included. It’s not that he isn’t a good doctor, he may be, but his surgery is a shambles and as a result I’ve seen him only once in the seven years of my registration there. When I phone I am always told that all the appointment slots are taken and I should call again next day and when I do so I get the same. The receptionist quite clearly takes great delight in playing this game and when a year ago I was really unwell and in great pain I was told to dial 999. I did so and was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s A&E. (QEH). Don’t go there if you can possibly avoid it. Last time I was at QEH for a check up I told the doctor about that incident and he said waiting up to 14 hours is now commonplace but at least now that the government has relaxed the four hour target they are no longer tossing sick people out on to the streets after 235 minutes.

The sick are not well served in Bexley. I don’t suppose my own GP is alone in having callous receptionists and operating an appointments lottery but at least I have been able to jump on the train to Crayford and see a doctor there at any time without an appointment. A great service for Bexley residents but Bexley Care Trust has decided to close down the walk-in surgery. The last patient gets seen next Sunday.

The health authorities are as bad as Bexley council in their dishonesty and often they are in each others pockets. When one of QEH’s consultants became so worried about the management killing his patients through enforced neglect he blew the whistle on them and was promptly sacked for his pains. If you Google the name Ramon Niekrash you will find scores of pages on his battle with the authorities which cost him around £140,000 of his own money to pursue. He was eventually rewarded with his job back and the knowledge that hospital management had been found guilty of criminal acts. Some of them were promoted as their reward and Dr. Niekrash has gone back to caring for his patients and nursing a large hole in his bank balance. I did hear that there is to be a support event for Dr. Niekrash at QEH next Monday but I can find no confirmation on the web.

Why do whistleblowers get so badly treated? Bexley council has published its whistleblowing policy but almost by definition whistleblowers are an embarrassment and must be sacked in the stampede to hide the truth while the wrong-doers are given protection. Events at the Thames Innovation Centre illustrate this unfortunate routine and councillors condone it. This particular case is still rumbling on so I cannot say much about it but one day I hope to be able to expose councillor Campbell as the malign accuser, judge and executioner I believe him to be.

 

22 February - Blackfen Library; another work of genius

PCNs issuedFollowing the report a few days ago about the Bexley Central Library comment has come in from Blackfen suggesting the same council genius has been at work there too. I don’t know Blackfen well except that it is regularly attacked by Craske’s gestapo team and he has reduced the parking facilities there to penalise motorists as much as he can, but apparently Blackfen Library used to be an imposing 1930s building behind The Oval in Cedar Avenue and free of any parking problems. The roads were quiet enough for youngsters to be allowed to visit the library without having to be accompanied by an adult.

This was far too sensible and convenient for the powers that be in Bexley to allow to continue. They insisted that the library be moved to the busiest stretch of road they could find in Blackfen, in a converted shop with minimal parking provision nearby. The converted shop/library is almost opposite SE Tyres who have suffered so much at the hands of councillor Craske. Probably a financial savings case was contrived in order to justify the move complete with a bogus consultation exercise. Then of course there is the extra income stream to be generated by trapping unwary motorists via the tactics reported so many times before.

Maybe the decision was taken before his time but with a distinguished historian in charge of libraries in the borough you would think that old buildings might be given more respect than a visit by a wrecker’s ball. Ah, that was probably it; a Balls up by the last bunch of incompetents that we were fool enough to put in charge. The old library site is now occupied by a block of flats.

 

21 February - Vali Baba and the 40 62 thieves stage another pantomime

On the evening of 2nd March at 19:30 in the Crook Lodge Civic Centre there will be a full council meeting, the previous one being on the 17th November since when the councillors present have ripped off the taxpayer to the tune of a quarter of a million pounds, more than enough to pay councillor Tandy’s phone bill. It’s an important occasion because it affords a rare opportunity to see just how talentless most of these people are and marvel at the total ineffectiveness of the chairman and mayor, Val Clark. However far more important than that is the opportunity it gives for the public to ask questions. The parasites don’t like it; every other form of probing question delivered through alternative channels can be fobbed off with silence, non-answers or lies. Even James Brokenshire MP has been meted out with the same treatment. When he sent in a load of statistics on parking charges which he said he couldn’t understand and asked for an explanation he was told by the parking manager, Tina Brooks, that she didn’t recognise his figures. She may have had a point as they came from the council’s website and the liar Craske. But written questions sent to the council in advance of the meeting do get an answer. (I understand there is a complaint outstanding about the parking manager being “unclear about the sources of the [her own department’s] data”.)

Councillors are vulnerable to probing questions and have set up a few defensive obstacles. Any one person is only allowed two questions. It has recently been established there is nothing in the council’s standing orders that can justify a limit but they impose it nevertheless and I imagine that now they know they haven’t a legal leg to stand on the orders will be amended lest democracy is allowed to get the upper hand. I sent in a fairly simple question last week and followed it with a slightly trickier one. It was rejected on the grounds that I had asked three questions even though no rule exists that I couldn’t. I hadn’t asked two questions within the second one; it was one question but clumsily worded with a full stop in the middle. I swapped a couple of words around and replaced the full stop with a comma and the question was accepted. Staff must be instructed to use every trick in the book to avoid residents probing into councillors’ shady dealings. A question that would require a councillor to give an opinion rather than a yes/no answer or provide data is also a no-go area. Forget transparency, this is Bexley council at work.

Once the question has been accepted it and its answer will eventually finish up in published council records and on the web which is a lot better than having it filed in the bin as too many seem to be. Even FOIs are ignored, Several are currently unanswered long after the legally imposed timetable has expired. At the meeting itself only 15 minutes are allocated to answering questions which is another good illustration of Bexley’s contempt for democracy. The actual procedure is laughable. The questioner is allowed to stand up - you think I am going to say “and ask his question” don’t you? Don’t be silly, that would mean the audience would be left in no doubt as to what the question is. No, the questioner is only allowed to stand up and listen to the answer. On past form that may mean a filibuster incorporating a deception or two and a failure to answer the question. (Craske again!) The beauty of the system is that members of the public in attendance don’t know it’s not been answered because they haven’t heard the question. It’s another aspect of Bexley council’s corrupt operation. You’d think the chairman would step in and insist the question was answered but she presides over this pantomime dressed up like Widow Twanky and kidding herself that she is a competent chairman. If only she knew.

It has been brought to my attention that my blog of 2nd February implied that MP James Brokenshire had meekly accepted Tina Brooks’ evasion of his questions and gone away. This is not the case, I am told he agreed to his constituent’s suggestion that he hold fire until the constituent had sought more information from the council. That is still on-going and currently yet another example of Bexley council’s inability to answer awkward questions.

 

20 February - Shock horror! One of Craske’s figures may be right - not that it helps his case much

PCNs issuedSix months ago councillor Craske was excusing his blatant and illegal profiteering with a list of figures he emailed to any resident who complained about his plan to triple parking charges within Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs). Since then his figures for permit cost production, linings and markings, IT and staff accommodation have all been shown to be wrong by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. His £30,000 cost of “Traffic and Road Safety Schemes” has been shown to be the spending of the profits of the residents’ parking scheme and not expenditure on the scheme at all. Craske is now shown to be a liar through and through but one of his figures has gone unchallenged - until now.

Craske claimed the staff cost of running the scheme was £258,000 per annum, a figure which given the high overheads of employment costs these days I assumed would mean six or seven full time posts. With about ‘a half’ off sick, one on holiday it leaves around five to send out 3,000 permits each year, some penalty notices (PCNs) and deal with a few telephone calls from irate motorists and the odd appeal to be fought with the adjudicator. How many is ‘some’? I can find no exact figure but the chart taken from a council report shows that just over 5,000 PCNs were issued in residents’ bays last year. (The third column.) So with about 240 working days a year that’s 12 permits and around 20 PCNs a day. Not a lot is it for five or six people even if they do waste a lot of time having their ear chewed off by motorists and having their knuckles rapped by the adjudicator? There will be other things to do no doubt, but if these people are employed solely on CPZ related things what else is there to do but issue the permits, issue the PCNs, process them and take the occasional phone call? They don’t do enforcement, Craske accounts for that separately.

So what did the latest FOI reveal? Nothing new except that my estimate of six or seven employees based on Craske’s £258,000 a year is wrong. The true answer is ten. Not ten individuals but the equivalent of ten people based on the fact that a larger number share CPZ and non-CPZ work, but the FTE works out at ten. (Full Time Equivalents). Cushy little number isn’t it? So roughly speaking each of them issues a permit once a day and deals with a couple of PCNs. We all know that councils are inefficient but this is ridiculous. Perhaps they do their jobs meticulously and with loving care and attention? Doesn’t look like it.

Buried in the council’s expenditure record for November 2010 is the fact that they paid a six figure sum to Vincipark Services, their payment for enforcement services. But wait a minute; Bexley has not used Vincipark for nearly a year, they lost the contract to NSL. So that doesn’t look very efficient does it? On a pedantic note, in a previous analysis of Craske’s figures, I estimated the proportion of parking admin. work that comes from CPZs to be 12% of the total. On that basis it could be calculated that Craske had grossly exaggerated his figures, or to use the vernacular, he lied. The most recent developments, FOIs etc., have shown the true figure to be a little under 10% (just over 5,000 against 54,583 PCNs). So it seems that Craske is an even bigger liar than I thought he was.

If you think Craske’s perpetual dishonesty merely brings misery to residents who have to cough up an inflated fee, think again. A lady called in to say that because he has convinced himself and his parasitic pals that the CPZ scheme is losing money he won’t install a new one even where residents are desperate to have it.

 

19 February - Bringing home the Bacon

Let’s talk about a council service that runs reasonably well, at least it does for me and no complaints have been received from anyone else, and that’s the refuse collection since Serco took over. It’s a long time since I was chased indoors by a ranting dustman demanding a tip - he said I had put out too much cardboard and he had taken it only as a favour - and I seem to have cured their tendency not to reach in to collect my couple of supermarket bags at the bottom of the bin. I now put them in one of the clothing collection bags that are regularly poked through letterboxes which are long enough to be reachable if you put them in the bin appropriately. It is impressive in a way that Bexley has achieved quite good recycling rates without resorting to criminalising the population. Maybe councillor Craske could learn a thing or three about treating residents with some degree of respect too. Err, sorry… flight of fancy there.

I am very fortunate to have a small recycling bank within easy walking distance, if it wasn’t for that I might be singing an entirely different tune. All my paper, glass, plastic and tins are taken there daily and my only complaint is that they keep shuffling the bins around and as a result and out of habit I once put all my glass in the plastics bin and vice-versa. Some people seem to do that deliberately, this morning I spotted a leather belt, some plastic bags, a couple of ‘pop’ bottles and a load of polystyrene in the paper bin. I’m afraid it’s a regular occurrence. I suspect it’s people who can’t read, what other excuse can there be? I can just about accommodate the green and brown bin in my front garden without creating an eye-sore; there is no way I will ever accept more and while the recycling bins are nearby I don’t have to.

In one of the papers this week was an investigation into council bins and the different policies across the country. Some councils manage with a single bin and Newcastle-under-Lyme issues nine into which residents are expected to segregate different materials. Utterly ridiculous. In the middle of the table were 78 councils using five bins. I assume Bexley was one of them, I’m not counting the small kitchen scraps bin which is a bit of an optional extra. So do we have someone on the council with a modicum of intelligence who masterminded a reasonably successful scheme? If we do it seems likely it is councillor and cabinet member Gareth Bacon.

Councillor Bacon is nothing if not a good organiser. He is employed full time recruiting staff for local government jobs for Eric Pickles to get sacked - nice synergy that - and it probably provides him with a comfortable living. Except that the job is a bit too parasitic on the state for my liking I don’t grudge him a decent income for a decent day’s work; what isn’t so easy to take is grabbing large sums from the taxpayer for an hour or two spent here and there on voluntary sinecures.

Bacon is not only councillor for Bexley’s Longlands ward and cabinet member for the environment he is chairman of the London Fire Brigade Performance Management Committee and member of the London Assembly. How can he find the time for all these part time jobs on top of his 9-5 in London?

He is a bit of a control freak, maybe that helps. After the Metropolitan Police Authority investigated the use of ‘kettling’, that is the police entrapping people they have taken a dislike to for hours on end, and found it of dubious value, and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary produced a critical report, Gareth Bacon advocated its use and went further by suggesting police have cameras sewn into their uniforms. Not nice to know we have a councillor in favour of imprisoning pregnant ladies and other innocents. I wonder what his views are on bashing newspaper sellers over the head? Odd that he supports police thuggery but is critical of firemen and transport workers.

He may be right on the latter, maybe there is a case for taking away their free travel perks, but Bacon is not the man to do it. The hypocrite claims a Zone 1-6 annual travel card from the public purse. Well done Gareth, I’ve never heard of anyone but you getting free travel to his London office without having his collar felt.

You have to hand it to him. A nice job shuffling people around to various council and quango non-jobs and in the few hours left over at the end of the day, juggling four voluntary jobs netting the best part of eighty thousand pounds. His missus is on the same game too. I suppose he should be called ‘a professional politician’. At least he delivered something worthwhile to Bexley for the vast amount of money he takes us for. Craske and the other bungling amateurs must be envious. I still can’t believe how that snivelling twit Tandy has the cheek to say he takes his £18k. because he needs to own a computer and a phone.

The newspaper investigation came up with this result… Nine bins, one council. Seven bins, 20 councils. Six bins, 37. Five bins, 78. Four bins, 125. Three or fewer bins, 161.

 

18 February (Part 2) - The Crook Lodge - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

Crook LodgeThanks to reader Carol for the tip-off about this sign, you are quite right, it should be moved and put outside the Civic Offices.

I have been pulled up by a reader for saying that only one councillor had the courage to say “No” in response to a direct request to cut his generous allowances, others have said the same in differing circumstances. He says that councillor Peter Catterall has been asked to cut his allowance as a personal contribution to his Big Society inspired idea to get libraries staffed by volunteers. He too has responded with a resounding “No”.

That is not all he has said and some of it I have sympathy for. Catterall says “central government, in order to balance the nation’s books after the fiscal incompetence of the previous regime, has reduced our grant by nearly 30 per cent and we face challenging circumstances”. Can’t really argue with that. The outgoing government left a note saying “there is no money”, we know that. It’s why the present government is getting so aggressive, if rather toothlessly at present, with council fat cats. It’s because “there is no money” that the occupants of the Civic Offices can’t expect to keep taking it. They will tell you that they have frozen their allowances but they are not proposing everyone else takes a freeze; everyone else is expected to take a cut. Catterall is one of eleven Bexley councillors each taking in excess of £22,000 a year for a few hours a week of voluntary work. None of them have to do it if they don’t want to. They are in it for the money and in some cases their power lust. I’ve not heard Catterall whining like; oh I’m fed up with this anonymity lark, it’s too restrictive, councillor Colin Tandy (St. Mary’s ward, £18k. a year) that he has had to buy a computer to do his job but he is an academic who almost certainly gets a pretty good income from it. Why does Peter Catterall who strikes me as one of the more intelligent members of our council (probably not difficult) think he should be immune from the pain but be so ready to inflict it on others? Do I need to mention the disabled children to be put on the regular bus to school to save an amount of money much the same as if Catterall and friends brought their allowances down from the top end of the council spectrum to something nearer the low end?

As I said the other day, Teresa O’Neill is raking in more than three times what some counterparts in other boroughs are getting. And what do we get for it? Almost the highest taxes in London. They are greedy, they have no conscience, and Carol is right; the Crook Lodge sign should be outside the Civic Offices.

 

18 February (Part 1) - Reader’s right

Danger, evil genius at work Most days I get an email from a reader, sometimes more than one, but Teresa O’Neill’s appointment to be Boris Johnson’s adviser has provoked quite a flurry. The general theme is why are Bexley’s residents having to foot the bill for our representative to swan around the capital working for the Mayor. It’s a good question; I don’t know the answer but some of these correspondents say they are going to start writing letters. A couple are commenting on O’Neill’s somewhat suspicious reactions to the Ian Clement affair. We will have to await the outcome.

Another email was about libraries. There was an interesting news report in last Monday’s Telegraph about the government being prepared to step in if councils over-did the cuts, councillor Catterall please note. However my correspondent had a different take on library matters. I feel I have blogged quite enough already for this week so I am going to give myself, and you, a rest and merely publish what my correspondent said.

“In the days of yore the staffed counters for issuing/returning books and any enquiries were located close by the library entrance/exit. How very sensible. When they were remodelled some genius in the council decided that with computer technology the customers could issue and return books to the system themselves thereby enabling staff numbers to be reduced and the few that are left to sort out queries could be located as far away from the entrance/exit as possible. Pure genius! (Bexleyheath, Erith, and Blackfen are examples of this and there could be others.)

The consequence is as anyone with an iota of common sense could have foreseen, that the magazines and newspapers are walked out the library doors almost as soon as they are put out. Being retired I used to enjoy browsing the magazines and newspapers but nowadays the only ones available seem to be ethnic ones which very few can understand. How many books and other stock goes missing I wonder because there is no staff presence near the exits? I would not be surprised if it is a lot. All it would take to restore common sense at Bexleyheath library for example would be to put the entrance back to the corner where it used to be. There would then be no need for the ramp/steps as at present since the entrance would already be on the correct level for disabled access. I wonder if the council genius who decided that the entrance/exit should be moved from its previous excellent location has now left the council employ so that the original location could be reinstated? This is how it seems to work with crazy council inflicted so called traffic management or calming schemes viz. wait until the initiator moves on then quietly put back arrangements as they were. How much the whole farce costs is irrelevant of course.”

Thanks Les. Nice one. I hope you have started a trend. Quickest blog production ever.

 

17 February - Craske can make CPZs disappear, by magic or neglect - click any image for photo gallery (4 images)

CPZ restriction sign CPZ end signIt seems to be simply ages since I last reported on the subject of Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) and councillor Peter Craske’s lies and deceptions; but the Freedom of Information Act has been his undoing. Well up to a point, sometimes when things get too embarrassing the council won’t answer the question. Questions submitted under FOI legislation produced confirmation that Craske had lied over the question of accommodation, IT, printing and white lining costs but stony silence on whether a “best value for money process was employed in selecting the current parking permit format?” Should we think the true answer was “No”?

Other questions that were ignored are “Why did the council, in their review, not consider any parking permit regulation other than price?” and “As the Penalty Charge Notice income is stated to be less than the on-street enforcement costs, does the council accept that it may need to address its own cost base?” No answer. Draw your own conclusions.

Craske himself is an intemperate and hot headed man now the subject of a complaint to The Standards Board for England over his unwarranted outburst against a member of the public at a council meeting on 17 November last year and his very different excuses put forward at two subsequent local standards board hearings. That verbal assault was not however his only indiscretion on the evening of the 17th.

The case against Craske’s CPZ price increases has been conducted by Mr. Nicholas Dowling who lives somewhere near Bexley village - and a few others independent of him. Mr. Dowling challenged Craske at the same meeting about financial losses he claims are caused by the CPZ schemes. Craske, flustered, ruddy-faced and losing the argument suddenly shouted out that he would order the CPZ in Nicholas’s road to be removed “tomorrow” to shut Nicholas up. I thought Craske’s promise to be very strange behaviour indeed but then the purple pygmy is not exactly the most rational thinker or he might not have been caught lying so often. How could he promise Mr. Dowling that he would order the removal of his CPZ the very next day without consulting all the other residents in his road? But democracy is not something that would ever enter Craske’s thick skull so I suppose he thinks he can do what he likes while most of the electorate lets him get away with it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and Craske is a shining example of that.

I think Mr. Dowling is still in correspondence with Craske on the removal of his CPZ. I’ll see if I can extract some up to date info from him.

To illustrate today’s blog I have included a picture of the state of one of the CPZ signs in the borough. It is a legal requirement that a ‘Start’ and ‘End’ appears on both sides of the road at every boundary point of a CPZ. I know of someone who had a fine cancelled by the adjudicator because the signs were only fitted on one side of the road. In Northumberland Heath if you are interested. The sign must meet certain criteria one of which is the red circle, the standard shorthand for traffic signs that have a compulsory element. Where is the red circle on this one? How come that the £36k. the liar Craske says is spent on renewing markings etc. each year doesn’t run to a pot of red paint? Almost certainly because he conjured up that figure when put in a corner to explain his parking permit price hike and forced to attempt to lie his way out of trouble. Does he rue the day? I doubt it, he is surrounded by sycophantic Tories willing to cover up his wrong-doing. Who are they? Ah, councillors Fuller, O’Hare, Cheryl Bacon and Betts but you can be sure that any of the others would have done the same.

 

16 February (Part 2) - Council of despair - click image for photo gallery (2 images)

Liar, liar, pants on fire I give up. There is too much material to squeeze into a single daily entry so I am slipping in this extra one for today. Most of this morning’s newspapers are full of Eric Pickles’ latest wheeze, this time it is to get councillors to vote on the top pay rates for officials. It’s just political posturing which will make no difference at all. Councillors and fat cats are “All in this together” greasing each others’ palms. Our own part-time council leader now at Boris Johnson’s beck and call makes no secret of the fact that she thinks her top officials are “good value” and “worth every penny”. Pickles is wasting his time with feeble gesturing when he is up against the sort of intransigence, blinkered views and greed of council heavyweights like Teresa O’Neill.

Yesterday’s Daily Mail was busy castigating council leaders who had voted to bump up their own allowances by what they believe are excessive amounts. Over a period of five years some have seen increases of 158%, averaging about 70%. Bexley wasn’t listed because theirs haven’t gone up so steeply; the reason is that they have always been high. Even after getting a 158% rise for which he is headline news in the Mail, the leader of Rochford council in Essex gets exactly three quarters of what O’Neill grabs from us. She gets more than three times as much as the leader of Norwich City council. More than the leader of Suffolk County council and three and a half times as much as the leader of Tandridge council in the heart of Surrey’s stockbroker belt. But O’Neill and her fellow councillors think they are hard done by.

Not so long ago a resident wrote to all Bexley’s councillors asking if they would consider taking a pay cut and one had the courage to respond. For that reason alone I will protect his identity, he doesn’t deserve to be singled out because the other 61 are even worse. This councillor said “As I said to you on the telephone - no.” and goes on to complain that the allowances are taxable and whine about having to buy a computer (are there any well-heeled people, as councillors generally are, who don’t have their own computer anyway?) and has to pay his telephone bill. If he isn’t on a package that gives him as many free calls as he can make for around £17 a month he is mad! This whining chump also claims that Bexley council allowances are nowhere near the maximum and offer “fair value”. The only councils on the Daily Mail list of high payers which are above Bexley’s average for councillors are Haringey and Birmingham; socialist paradises both. We don’t elect Conservatives to cast envious eyes in the direction of the greediest of our rotten boroughs or to think “fair value” is good enough for Bexley residents. We expect excellent value but we don’t look like we will get it from O’Neill’s talentless shower.

Moving on to more pleasant things, what’s the horse all about? It arrived last Sunday and is to industrial Belvedere what that fish out of water is to run-down Erith. Both sit on a roundabout at the end of Bronze Age Way, the horse at the western end. No one could disagree that the area needs some loving attention, the place is a dump (polite version!) but I could think of places where the horse might be admired more often. It is made of many small bits of metal and looks quite flimsy. There are several scrap yards nearby and I fear for its longevity. With impeccable timing The Caledonian Mercury, a Scottish local paper, publishes today a story of how one of the same sculptor’s pieces has been destroyed by a speeding motorist. The paper lists similar mishaps nearby. Fingers crossed for Belvedere’s cob then.

 

16 February (Part 1) - Sheltered Homes Are Misled

Bexley council is keen to persuade us that they are consulting over cuts but their consultations are usually a pretence. The mayor and cabinet system was approved after a web based poll in which there was no control over duplicate votes and which failed to attract even 100 voters. For all we know most of them could have been councillors with their eye on the money. It’ll be the same with the Bexleytalks on-line consultation. I looked there yesterday and found myself caught up in a debate about Wootton Bassett railway station. The navigation is appalling but when I got to the Bexley section I found it had 49 signed up members debating six different topics, five of them started by the same person. 49 people out of a population in excess of a quarter of a million! Let’s hope the main guy is a Bexley resident, otherwise the thing would be a bigger farce than I think it is.

The council Leader and the CEO were supposed to tour the borough meeting the people. The only ‘road-show’ I went to the shameful pair didn’t turn up. The librarian (the venue was a library) later said the cowards turned up some hours later after being tipped off that I and an accomplice had gone home. It would be my accomplice, he is well known at the library, I am not. At least it shows us what consultation means to Teresa O’Neill and her over-paid CEO.

The council has been ‘consulting’ residents in sheltered accommodation and sending out questionnaires. The first attempt failed totally because it was far too complicated and another one has been issued and a couple of council officials are touring the homes to explain the changes. Only a month ago they sent out a letter saying they weren’t “anticipating any significant impact” when it was obvious from the level of financial cuts to be made that there are bound to be changes. A warden in one of the homes spilled a few beans at the time. Now a resident in one of the homes who saw that report has added her own two-pennyworth.

It has been explained to me that there are many sheltered homes in Bexley (my research suggests nearly 40) and they are managed by several different companies who I assume may not all operate in the same way. All are funded by Bexley council and those funds have been cut as revealed in last month’s letter to residents. My source is in a home managed by a company called Avante. It is my understanding that in addition to the weekly rent Avante charge a compulsory fee for Warden Services. The warden works a normal week of about 37 hours and is a salaried member of Avante’s staff paid to offer any reasonable assistance that the residents may require. Pension and tax queries, maybe low level medical advice; that sort of thing. I am told, though it seems very strange to me, that Avante proposes that the warden surcharge on rents becomes voluntary, the logic being - though I fail to see it - that lots of residents will opt out and not be eligible for warden assistance. This in turn will allow the warden’s hours to be reduced along with the salary. I’m not sure how that saves Avante money but I can see it causing all sorts of chaos. “I have run out of pills and will die if I don’t get some soon, could you run down the chemist for me?” “No, you didn’t pay your dues this week because you said councillor Craske stole all this week’s pension after you parked in an unmarked residents’ parking bay.”

So what did Avante have to say when these concerns were voiced at the consultation meeting? Nothing, because they didn’t bother to turn up. The questions were fielded by two unfortunates from Bexley council who probably through no fault of their own knew little. All they had to say was that there had been a very good response to the latest questionnaire although when a quick poll was taken of the residents present, fewer than 5% had answered it. I had hoped to be able to give a link to the questionnaire on the council’s website but it isn’t there; the latest one on-site is about a different consultation held in 2006. You are going to have to make do with my scanned copy. Will elderly residents appreciate being asked if they are still the same sex now that they were born to? I doubt my 90 year old aunt would have a clue what gender reassignment is. More seriously some questions seem to lead the respondent to a particular answer. “Should support only be provided when there is a need”. Well yes, anything else would be a waste but that answer will lead to a further reduction in warden hours which not so long ago were 24/7. The constant request to “explain below the reasons for your answer” would cause me difficulty let alone someone who may not enjoy playing with words. No wonder there has been a sub-5% response from one group of residents.

Similar consultations are being held between parents of children with Special Education Needs who are on course to have £1,650,000 knocked off their budget by 2014. I hope to have a report from a parent soon.

PS. A bit late in the day I have found the consultation document and various other things on-line but not at the usual Bexley site. It’s at https://www.engagespace.co.uk/engage/bexley/. Quite a lot of interesting stuff there but it does make you realise that an awful lot of money must be spent on fancy PowerPoint presentations; and what sort of idiot puts a PowerPoint file on the web anyway? It’s a program you own only if you have spent a great deal of money on Microsoft’s top of the range Office Suite or are sufficiently computer literate to find a free PowerPoint reader. Just the sort of thing that the average sheltered housing resident will know all about.

 

15 February - The liar Craske again - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

Liar, liar, pants on fire Last November councillor Peter Craske prevaricated at a council meeting to avoid answering a question from a member of the public. To round it off he denied the existence of a £4m. contract with the transport consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and made personal comments about the questioner that gave me the impression they could only be designed to belittle him. A complaint about his behaviour was pre-judged by our arrogant Mayor before the Standards Board had a chance to meet so they were almost compelled to support the liar. After that judgement the minutes of the November meeting were published and exposed Craske’s untruthfulness. He said that there was “a correlation” between his unnecessary remarks and the question but the minutes proved that to be a lie so the complaint went back to the council’s Standards Board under the appeals procedure.

Craske has had to make up a new story. As I rather thought would be the case he has been let off lying about there being no £4m. contract because it isn’t exactly £4m. It is going to work out at £3,999,999 or some similar as yet unknown figure. His attempt to belittle the questioner is also said to be in order because what he said was factually correct. The questioner once stood as an independent in a council election and came bottom of the poll. True, but it had no relevance to the matter in hand. Craske’s previous excuse was the “correlation”, now, discredited by the minutes, his excuse at appeal is entirely different. He wanted “to illustrate, by way of contrast, that in their respective wards the electorate had selected him and not Mr. Bryant to represent them”. So it would seem that anyone not elected is not a fit person to ask legitimate questions in Craske’s corrupt little world and fair game for abuse if he sees fit. Every time he opens his mouth he proves himself a bigger cretin.

Personally speaking I couldn’t care less what excuse the Standards Board comes up with, I have become immune in some ways to Bexley council’s corruption and dishonesty. The fact they’ve had to champion a totally different excuse for Craske’s behaviour after their first was discredited is just more evidence of their corruption and grist for my mill. The councillors responsible for this cover up are John Fuller (Lesnes Abbey) and Nick O’ Hare (Blendon & Penhill). Another two I now know to be more interested in protecting their own than their electors. My understanding is that the Standards Board for England has already been consulted on this case and has recommended the Council Ombudsman be involved too.

 

14 February - The liar Craske - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

White line entirely obscured by camera lens cap If you’ve read anything about councillor Craske’s plan to triple the cost of a permit to park within a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) you will know that as with many of Bexley council’s operations his justification is based on deception and lies and like anything built on deception, lies and not a little corruption it will usually not bear close scrutiny. In the four or five months I’ve been reporting on developments quite a number of Craske’s lies have been exposed, the subject was last aired two weeks ago, and today it is time for more.

Craske said last September that it costs £36,000 a year to repaint the white lines around residents’ parking bays which if true would add about £12 to the cost of every parking permit. However a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking how much they spend says they don’t know. “Data not held” is the official answer which is most likely code for nothing at all. My photograph (taken this afternoon) is of what is left of the white line around a four bay parking spot within a Bexley CPZ. It can be covered by my camera’s lens cap and the bays are apparent only because the yellow lines either side of it are still visible. To be absolutely honest I should add that there are two similar white blobs of paint two or three car lengths away. If any money was actually spent on white lines you would think this non-line would have been high on the priority list but I’d put money on my interpretation of the FOI answer being closer to the truth than Craske’s ‘wet finger in the air’ assertion.

Craske reckons that 64% of parking staff accommodation costs are attributable to staff engaged on CPZ work. The FOI says the true figure is none because no one in the parking office works exclusively on CPZ work.

Craske said that 3,081 permits were issued in the last year for which figures are available and that demand is going up putting pressure on the scheme and causing costs to rise. Economies of scale in Craske’s world? No way! Figures said to be taken from the council’s website in the previous year show 3,081 to be a reduction of nearly 800. I should add again for reasons of total transparency that I did not see that figure myself, it was sent to me by an interested party, but it probably doesn’t matter whether that report is true or not. The FOI answer says that the parking office has “no data available” for the number of permits produced (or visitors’ tickets) for the princely sum of £49,000. Craske said that computer costs for running the CPZ are about £12,000 a year. If they don’t know how many permits and tickets are issued, pretty fundamental stuff I would have thought, Craske might as well abandon his computer database and go back to postcards in a shoe box. My Newham visitors’ ticket is a nice piece of serially numbered card. Only 30 pence for the day too. No cost at all for the residents. God help them when Teresa O’Neill starts dishing out her advice to Newham council.

The FOI answer throws light on a few other things too, like library managers being included in the cost of operating CPZs but today’s blog is quite long enough already and there is always another day. Meanwhile I hope you will forgive me if I cease apologising when I label councillor Peter Craske a bare-faced liar.

 

13 February - Strange bedfellows

Boris Johnson Teresa O'NeillIn my rush to bring news of Teresa O’Neill’s new responsibilities I missed a vital point. Her new appointment by the Mayor is not to advise Waltham Forest council but all Outer London boroughs. Boris Johnson has courted O’Neill because he “admires your experience, common sense and judgement when it comes to matters affecting outer London” and he “hopes you will have the time and willingness to put that at my disposal”. “It is not my intention to make a public announcement”. Despite that you can find his letter to O’Neill on the Mayor’s website.

Has Boris taken leave of his senses and playing fast and loose with his reputation again? Is the appointment O’Neill’s reward for covering up after Johnson’s deputy and one time Bexley council leader, Ian Clement, was caught misusing his credit card? O’Neill was deputy leader under Clement and her denial of any knowledge of credit card abuse and blaming junior staff for turning a blind eye or not realising what they were doing doesn’t ring true. O’Neill subsequently refused to forward fraud allegations to the police. Won’t Boris getting into bed with someone with such a dubious financial past risk damaging his own reputation just as it did when his deputy Ian Clement and former Bexley council leader was convicted of fraud?

One must wonder where O’Neill will find the time for the liaison, she claims to do her council work full time and unlike leaders elsewhere not to be in any other full time employment. She was on record very recently saying “I work jolly long hours” so how much will Bexley be neglected because of her agreement to climb Boris’s greasy pole?

Teresa O’Neill can be seen as a singularly unimpressive performer at Bexley council meetings and is the borough’s principal opponent to government pleas to reduce fat cat salaries. She says they are “good value”. How can Boris possibly think, without a hint of considering any other leader, that she is the most suitable person to advise on “economic, environmental and social policies”?

 

11 February - Tough luck Waltham Forest - click any image for photo gallery (2 images)

Google YahooOnly yesterday I was contrasting how Waltham Forest council deals with residents with the contempt which Bexley hands down to its own, so I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read today’s Waltham Forest Guardian and saw that Bexley council leader Teresa O’Neill is to advise Waltham Forest on subjects including housing, transport and employment.

One reason for continuing with this site is the possibly vain hope that it might embarrass the council into acting in the interest of residents rather than their own egos and pockets so it was satisfying to receive a written leak which purports to come from the council offices saying the top brass check it out each morning. It is satisfying too that a Google or Yahoo search for “Bexley council” puts Bonkers right under the council’s paid for entry. I slipped up recently by giving a link to the Bexley Voluntary Service Council website which promptly overtook Bonkers on Google thanks probably to that boost. But following a bit of technical jiggery pokery Bonkers is now back next to the council’s site listing embarrassing those who unjustly set out to penalise the residents they should be serving.

Yahoo, I note, puts another anti-Bexley council website on its front page. The Bexley Council Monitoring Group website developed by John Watson is gradually expanding.

 

10 February - London councils promise to freeze council tax. Bexley holds back

One thing that puts Bexley among the very worst councils in London and goes a long way towards proving it, is the fact that 24 years ago their rates, as they were then called, were third lowest in London and now they are almost the highest. Last year 25 London boroughs froze the tax, four cut it and four raised it. I don’t have to tell you which group Bexley was in. A fundamentally lazy and anti-democratic state of mind infests Bexley and the inefficiency pushes it inexorably to the top of the taxation league. What else can explain the steady deterioration over a quarter of a century under governments of every colour? The latest press reports say that once again it is Bexley (and Wandsworth) which is not yet in a position to guarantee a freeze for 2011. The other 31 boroughs have done so; Wandsworth will probably reduce taxation, they did last year.

Apart from line their own pockets what are our councillors and their top managers doing? I have been talking to people in Newham and Waltham Forest this week and they don’t have to pay for old furniture and domestic appliances to be taken away and I heard a story about a parking ticket being cancelled in circumstances I cannot believe would happen under Craske’s evil regime - someone was delayed while consulting an undertaker - yet their council taxes are lower. Newham has frozen council tax for three years in a row. For Bexley to perform badly so consistently and for so long it can only mean massive inefficiencies - so why are they now cutting front line services when there has to be a huge amount of fat in the system?

 

9 February - Unfortunately it is Non-fiction

Cut backs to the library service seem to be raising hackles everywhere; it is the subject of today’s News Shopper ‘Star Letter’ (Bexley edition) and it has been whispered to me that it will be the same in the next issue of The Bexley Times. Since I last mentioned the subject on the 5th I have found councillor Peter Catterall’s proposals on the council website, all very carefully worded of course but I do sometimes wonder what planet our councillors are on. He says “I am hopeful that the community will demonstrate support for their local libraries by offering to take on the management function, to reduce costs. If, however, we are not able to secure this level of support from residents, it will not be financially viable for the Council to continue to provide this level of library service. I am also seeking to make the mobile library service more cost effective, by charging for the service to our partners in schools and care homes etc. who currently benefit from the service free of charge. Depending on the level of buy-in, I may also need to consider rationalising the mobile library service.”

I was always under the impression that working in a library required a great deal of knowledge and professional qualifications. A quick Google for “becoming a librarian” says I am not wrong but maybe there is a distinction between library manager and librarian and Catterall only proposes that managers should be volunteers. Wouldn’t such an arrangement be crazy? How would a professional librarian react to being managed by an enthusiastic amateur?

The most likely source of enthusiastic amateurs will be pensioners with time on their hands and whilst I would not want to belittle their experience and devotion to the cause, how long will they last when they find they have to foot some of the bills themselves? I may be a cynic but I think the council is going through the motions so they can say “Look, we tried, but the volunteers were too few and too unreliable so we had no option but to shut the library and sell the building.” There are leaflets in libraries right now asking for your comments about the future of libraries but the librarian I spoke to says it is a waste of time filling them in as “they have made up their minds already”. I expect they have.

I find it slightly odd that councillor Catterall speaks of “charging for the service to our partners in schools and care homes”. Doesn’t he know that the council has reduced the money it is paying to care homes by so much that they are slashing staff wages there by 33%? Why does he believe that care homes have the spare cash to pay for a mobile library service? No, I’m afraid councillor Catterall is living in cloud cuckoo land, or more likely that he is being forced to make the proposal to justify his Cabinet Member’s allowance of £22,650 a year and he doesn’t really believe a word of it. Neither do we Peter.

Update : The rubbish pictured below has been removed.

 

8 February - The fat cats ignore the fat rats - click any image for photo gallery (2 images)

Uncollected rubbish in Fendyke Road Uncollected rubbish in Fendyke Road A picture of rubbish in Fendyke Road, Belvedere was included in the photo gallery for the 1st of the month because of a report a few days earlier about the fly-tipping in that part of town and the council’s failure to clean it up. At the time the rubbish in my photograph had been there for a week and eight days later it is still there and the pile has grown. The north west of the borough needs an official dump because the ones at Crayford and Foots Cray are both as far away from Belvedere as you can get without crossing the borough boundary. If you haven’t got a car and can’t afford £27 per item for an official collection a nearby street is an obvious attraction. Personally I have always found that large items can be cut into many small pieces and put in the dustbin; over a period of several weeks if necessary.

Opposite where I live B&Q delivered a new bathroom suite last week. There is now an old one and a good deal of miscellaneous rubbish dumped on private land nearby. It’s no good having a word with the culprits, they claim not to understand a word of English.

For the record, the diversion signs placed around the area of the burst water main five weeks ago are still littering roads up to a mile away from the incident. Nobody seems to be interested in removing them.

 

6 February - Just a wind bag?

Eric Pickles I doubt I am going to get a reply from Eric Pickles to my letter of 29 December about Leader O’Neill’s refusal to countenance any reduction in the level of pay for Bexley’s top staff. We are all in it together didn’t you know? I chased it up with an email to no avail but a helpful soul has sent a copy of a letter from one of Pickles’ minions in reply to a similar enquiry which he followed up with three emails and four telephone calls before getting any response. Basically it says ‘I am all hot air because I am not going to do anything’ and falls back on easy platitudes like “it would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on individual cases” and salaries are “a local matter for councils as individual employers”.

Pickles recently said that “high paid local government officers should take a voluntary pay cut of 5 to 10%” and I was told that Francis Maud the Conservative Party Chairman on TV’s Question Time last week said that the population should be prepared to “be rude” to the fat cats in order to persuade them to see sense. I think I have probably done my bit in that direction but for good measure will add that my experience of C.E.O. Will Tuckley leads me to think he is a totally useless git who benefits the borough not one jot let alone more than £4,000’s worth a week. Pickles appears to be all mouth and no trousers. How much ruder do we have to get Mr. Maud?

 

5 February - Please tell me this is fiction

The aspect of ‘the cuts’ which may have got most publicity is the closure of several libraries and the proposal to staff some with volunteers. There has been a good deal of scepticism as to whether or not such a system can work but it seems the idea goes further than that. Bexley Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) is the official body which promotes and co-ordinates dozens of local volunteer groups and they get consulted by Bexley council on many issues, library cuts among them, and at least one member of BVSC must be worried because he or she has passed on some concerns.

It is said that some of the existing library buildings will be sold off and the volunteers’ libraries which replace them will operate from local shops, village halls, scout huts and the like. How the latter can operate as multi-purpose facilities is beyond me; where will the books be stored when another organisation hires the hall? It all sounds a bit far fetched but it gets worse. Apparently the volunteers will be expected to foot some of the costs of operating the library. Heating, lighting etc. How many volunteers are going to fall for that one? But Bexley council does stupid things. I remember not believing their intention to prosecute a resident whose payment was late because the due date fell on a bank holiday but I was shown all the correspondence and found the incredible was fact, so I have learned not to instantly dismiss reports that appear to be totally ridiculous.

This information has come from someone whose name I know, who I have met and can speak to on the telephone and who holds a position in the community. He/she is seriously concerned so it doesn’t look like a wind-up and although I have kept the identity under wraps I wasn’t asked to. The information isn’t a leak as such, it is said to be common knowledge in some quarters and my informant is expecting BVSC to back the proposal, possibly because they are in the pocket of Bexley council and not a truly independent review body. That’s difficult if it depends on the council for a grant. With luck, highlighting the issue here will help to tease out a bit more detail or even a denial. Libraries are the responsibility of councillor Caterall who was alone in speaking sense at the last council meeting. I remain sceptical but fully prepared to be shocked again.

 

4 February - Parking meters for the chop? - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

Headless parking meter Last month someone from Bexleyheath reported that parking meters were being replaced by double yellow lines without the council bothering to go through the required legal procedures. The council said they were doing it because parking meters had been stolen and Howard Ward-Corderoy made it clear that the council’s motives were pure malice against motorists. Fortunately my correspondent persuaded Mr. Corderoy that what he had done was illegal and, only temporarily it is true, free parking is now available where the meters once were.

Now someone has reported something similar in Welling. One parking meter head in Edmund Road is missing and the adjacent one has been covered. No one knows why. Just because one meter is stolen doesn’t mean its neighbour will be, using that logic all the meters in Welling should be taken away and it’s very hard to see how a canvas bag can stop theft anyway. However arbitrarily putting a meter out of order allows extra revenue from fines to be collected.

My informer says he saw a car at the bay with the covered meter ticketed and the traffic warden said that parking there is now forbidden and that the council was going to put in double yellow lines. It’s odd that parking is said to be legal in the first meter-less bay but not at the ‘bagged’ one. If the meters are being stolen or old ones for which no spares are available are vandalised its obviously a problem but for victimizing motorists to always be the council’s first response is wrong and it’s about time they erred on the side of simple justice when faced with problems rather than taking “drastic action” as Ward-Corderoy boasted.

 

3 February - Penny pinching Hurts the vulnerable

One of this week’s news stories is that the council is looking for yet more cuts to cover a shortfall in the government’s grant to Bexley. How much extra they are looking to save is unclear as yet but health, adult social care and children’s services are all in the firing line again. Times are hard, no one would deny that but the council fat cats are steadfastly refusing to shoulder any of the burden themselves. Last October the council Leader put out a story for the benefit of newspaper headlines that she was thinking of reducing the number of councillors but didn’t mention the idea at all at the November meeting to discuss the cuts. She won’t talk about reducing councillor’s generous allowances at all and believes the staff on well above the Prime Minister’s salary “deserve it” and “are worth it”.

Councillors’ allowances add up to almost £900,000 a year, salaries of the fattest cats another £2 million or so. If Leader O’Neill had been serious about her proposal to reduce councillor numbers by a third and imposed a modest reduction in allowances, half a million would be saved. Modest salary reductions, not the draconian ones being imposed on care home wardens, would push the savings towards a full million. But no; it’s the vulnerable who must suffer again.

An example of this is councillor David Hurt’s proposals for health and social care. His ideas are unfortunately too jargon-ridden to be clear but he speaks of using “helpful technology” as part of a “new prevention model”. If this is restricted to the wearing of a pendant which includes an emergency button then one must wonder why it hasn’t been in use before now, but presumably it goes beyond that. My experience of the very elderly is that they tend to hate anything that relies on a plethora of buttons and I hope councillor Hurt accounts fully for their requirements. The omens are not good because among his proposals is for “adult transport services and (their) closer integration with Bexley Care Trust” and “to outsource our adult transport service to an outside provider. This will provide a service focused more closely on the needs of customers, as well as generating a financial saving”. Presumably councillor David Hurt does not read the News Shopper because if he did he would know that some transport services are already outsourced and things are not going well.

A recent episode involved a patient at Queen Mary’s with a 9.30 a.m. appointment for chemotherapy whose transport arrived to collect her at 6.45 a.m. for the ten minute journey. If it was not for the intervention of a neighbour who drove the old lady to Q.M.H. she would have missed her chance of life-saving treatment and the hospital would have incurred the extra costs of another appointment. But it doesn’t matter because some bean-counter in an office has saved a few pounds for his own organisation to the detriment of someone’s health and extra costs for a hospital. If the fat cats weren’t so greedy some of these cuts would not be necessary.

 

2 February - News of the Residents’ Parking Permit saga. The Artful Dodgers are at it again

News of councillor Craske’s dishonest scheme to triple the cost of residents’ parking permits (even though the council’s own website said they were not making a loss fewer than 18 months ago) has gone all quiet so I enquired what might have been happening recently. I’ve obtained a copy of the letter James Brokenshire M.P. sent to the Parking Manager on 6th December and I have seen the letter with which the Parking Manager, Tina Brooks, fobbed him off on 4th January. Mr. Brokenshire had supplied a sheaf of statistics sent to him by one of his constituents and asked “how the significant increases in permit costs is justified” and requested a “response to the points that have been raised”. Presumably he couldn’t see how it was justified or he wouldn’t have asked. Ms. Brooks ignored the request excusing her failure to answer any of the points by claiming “I am unclear as to the sources of some of the data”. It must be hard to write a letter that tells the truth if you work for the liar Craske and you value your job but you would have thought that she would recognise that the source of all statistics on residents’ parking permits can only be the council’s website, its published accounts and the information put out by Craske himself. When carefully analysed it is full of contradictions and loads the costs with expenditure which is in truth not expenditure but their spending of the profits.

As every resident should know, Bexley’s CPZs (Controlled Parking Zones) operate for two hours a day for five days a week whilst standard parking restrictions operate for around ten hours a day for six days a week. So it beggars belief that the price increase is justified by a claim that CPZ operation soaks up 56% of parking admin. costs, 44% of enforcement costs, 50% of computer and IT costs and 64% of accommodation costs.

It is disappointing that the M.P. did not, so far as I know, ask for a proper reply from Ms. Brooks but I suppose a junior minister is a very busy man and challenging the lies perpetrated by Bexley council and Craske in particular would be a full time job. But it is part of how Bexley council gets away with the routine dishonesty and its illegal acts.

For the squeamish who may be upset at me so blatantly labelling Craske a liar I shall repeat that he is the man who claimed in the council’s magazine and on its website that there was a £4m contract with the transport consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and when questioned about it at a council meeting dodged the question by saying there was no £4m contract. I note the contradiction was picked up and queried by the Chronicle series of newspapers in their January issues. Craske is also the man who insulted a member of the public at a meeting and dodged the standards board investigation by saying there was “a correlation” between his insulting behaviour and what the member of the public had said. Unfortunately for Craske the published minutes of the meeting state otherwise so the complaint against him has gone back to the standards board under the appeals procedure. If necessary it will go to the Standards Board for England. The time when Craske may have been given the benefit of the doubt is long gone. Craske is also responsible for the department that illegally extends yellow lines another case of which has been reported to me today. Maybe lying is the least of his misdemeanors.

 

1 February - Street clutter and fly tipping - click any image for photo gallery (4 images)

Abbey Road closed due to burst water main New Road layout sign at Knee HillIt is always gratifying to post something to the site and get a response from a reader only an hour later which is what happened following yesterday’s blog. Pity it was to tell me that I may have got something slightly wrong but I’d rather be corrected than litter the site with inaccuracies. I am told that it wasn’t Bexley council that put up the diversion signs following the water main burst in Abbey Road on 30th December, it was Thames Water. The first of today’s two photos was taken at dawn the day after the flood and my correspondent has been chasing Thames Water to remove the signs for the last couple of weeks, so far without success. Perhaps Bexley council should remove them under their fly-tipping policy as the signs have been reduced to scrap (see gallery) under the weight of passing traffic and if they cared at all about the safety of road users they would have stepped in. Where are the itinerant scrap collectors and drain gully thieves when you need them?

Only 50 metres away is a redundant sign that Bexley council is responsible for. A ‘New Road Layout Ahead’ sign has been unnecessarily distracting motorists for years. It was mentioned in an email to Andrew Bashford, the man responsible for so many of Bexley’s road disasters back in March 2008 so it’s three years old, possibly more. For how long does an altered junction remain new?

Another comment yesterday from the Abbey Wood end of town concerned fly-tipping and the council’s failure to remove it and as an example there is a photo in the gallery of furniture dumped in Fendyke Road a week ago. Bexley council charges a minimum of £27 to remove an item of furniture which may go some way towards explaining why sights like this are common. If you have something to say about fly-tipping or anything else about that part of town there’s a new forum for you, www.abbey-wood.net. Creating a town forum is a big undertaking so please take a look and support it if you can.

 

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