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Bonkers Blog March 2011

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1 March (Part 1) - A cabinet of woodentops

If you attended Bexley council’s cabinet meeting expecting to see a low-grade version of a debate between Liam Fox asking for defence equipment and George Osborne digging his heels in you would be sorely disappointed. It may be low-grade but there is absolutely no debate. What you get is councillors quoting chunks of a fat document freely available at this meeting of the Bexley branch of the Mutual Admiration Society. I lost count of the number of times I heard one say “I agree with councillor…” or something very like it. Everything had been cobbled together some while ago and yesterday was just a charade to be played through because there is a legal requirement to hold a cabinet meeting in public. It was all over in fewer than 40 minutes. Of interest to those who foot the bills is that Teresa O’Neill announced that council tax would not rise next year bringing Bexley into line with all the other London councils which made their ‘freeze’ announcement several weeks ago and retaining our position among London’s top taxing councils. Their self-congratulation is undeserved. Bexley still compares badly with the rest of London in the value for money stakes

Among other announcements was that the price of petrol was high (really?) and that expenditure on highways would be maintained at current levels. Craske is therefore at liberty to go on spending vast sums on crazy schemes like those at Ruxley Corner and Wickham Lane and return soon afterwards to pour money into putting his mistakes right. Queen Mary’s Hospital is to be managed in future by local GPs. Today I failed in my doctor’s lottery to get an appointment for the third day on the trot. He couldn’t organise a drug-fuelled party in a pharmacy. Run a hospital? I don’t think so.

The documentation is far more interesting than the meeting. It reveals sweeping increases in charges, some doubling, many rising between 20 and 25%. If you have an annual season ticket for a car park get ready for an increase of more than £100. A comment from whoever looks after such issues (sorry I had my head in the book at the time and missed it) said that parking revenues are down in the current year but it’s a blip as a result of December’s snow. Presumably whoever it was has forgotten that we had a similar snowy period in the previous December (and January). Did he not consider the downturn might be caused by resistance to the constant hiking of charges? The supplied documentation says otherwise and anticipates another ‘blip’ in the coming year.

The public consultation was as everyone knew it would be something of a disaster partly brought on by apathy. 829 people sent in suggestions which the council boiled down to about 160 different ones. At the meeting last November councillor Ball was concerned that residents would make suggestions that favoured themselves and they would have to be disregarded - did he really expect residents to do otherwise? However he needn’t have worried, all but one of the 160 suggestions were dismissed out of hand. True there were a few that were less than intelligent and a fair number suggested things that are already happening but the vast majority were tossed aside. The glaring exception was that libraries should close on an extra day per week. Naturally that suggestion will be “taken into account and considered”. I shall probably be torn apart for this but it seems to me to be a pretty good idea. Libraries could be on a rota for their day off and it should reduce staff costs a bit. Part of my old job was developing staff rotas and I think it must save money if flexibly implemented. So that’s it, all that effort and just one suggestion makes it through the net. It was entirely predictable but it helped the council with another of their charades.

You may well have been disappointed if you attended expecting a debate but if you were there only to take up my suggestion of seeing the glowing gnome you will not have wasted your time. More a traffic light than cabinet member for traffic he was the colour of tomato juice. Is he blushing with embarrassment or in a rage knowing his mistakes are all so very public? Maybe something similar affects councillor Campbell too for he often looked like Craske’s twin. I expect the thought of a trial coming up for the alleged paedophile manager of the Thames Innovation Centre who Campbell supported and maintained in a job after sacking the whistleblower. I know these people are well versed in under-hand tactics but having his dirty washing hung out for public view is going to be an unedifying experience.


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