its April issue The Bexleyheath Chronicle revealed that Bexley’s cabinet of ten
spent £2,585 on an overnight stay for themselves and nine staff at the Flackley
Ash Hotel in Rye just before Christmas 2010. Later council leader Teresa O’Neill said
that cabinet members paid for themselves but the explanation was never clear
because the sums of money mentioned
never quite added up.
Cabinet members, she said, paid in advance, £900 in total according to the Payments Manager but
given the size of the total bill, £90 each didn’t look enough. That sum was close to being
a cabinet member’s subsistence allowance for a night away, it wasn’t an exact match, but the
thought remained that they may have not made a subsistence claim.
It would be easy if councillors provided a simple explanation of exactly how they came to have their Christmastime ‘awayday’ and how it was funded but you can forget transparency in Bexley. Nothing is explained, nothing is simple and very little looks honest, so behind the scenes some people kept plugging away looking for an answer.
One question asked was about the payments councillors were said to have made either directly to the hotel or into council funds to offset the hotel’s bill. Information proved hard to come by as questions were dodged with evasive answers but in recent days I have been shown a type written list of the ten cabinet members’ names with the sum of £90 against each one. This is said to be a letter from the Chief Executive’s office to the Cashiers in Erith requesting that ten cheques be paid into the council’s coffers. Associated with it is the accounts office paying in slip dated the following day. Neither say what the money was for but the documents were provided as ‘proof’ that the ten cabinet members made a contribution - even if it may have been offset by a subsistence claim - towards the cost of their Christmas trip to Rye. So they are in the clear, right? Well I am not so sure. The date on the letter to the cashier is 16 September 2010. Given it would take a little while to get ten cheques from ten councillors it looks like the Flackley Ash meeting must have been known about in August. Would a meeting be scheduled that far ahead? Possible I suppose, but would everyone be so keen to get their cheques in three months early? Seems unlikely especially as we know from the council’s own accounts that the hotel didn’t have to be paid until December. Once again nothing about Bexley council is straight forward. Nothing quite makes sense. No rational explanation is ever forthcoming. But while reading through council documents on the council’s website this came to light…
That comes from the published minutes of the Crime and Disorder Overview Scrutiny Committee minutes dated 2nd February 2011. So they went to the Flackley Ash Hotel at least twice and it looks likely that cabinet members may have paid something towards the October ‘awayday’. We are probably no further forward in discovering what happened at Christmas. While Bexley council makes it so difficult to uncover the truth the feeling remains they are always trying to hide something. I have considered that there may never have been a Christmas meeting, just the October one, as the precise date was not mentioned here and the Chronicle has removed its archive of old issues from the web making research difficult, but if I remember the Chronicle’s letters page correctly neither Teresa O’Neill or Katie Perrior in her notorious excuse for needing to bleed the tax payer for as much as she could, disputed the paper’s report that they had gone on the Christmas junket at a time the Marriott next door had spare accommodation.