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Bonkers Blog March 2011

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1 March (Part 2) - Open government Bexley council style - impressions of attending a first public cabinet meeting

At the weekend I put up a notice about last night’s cabinet meeting and at least a couple of extra people showed up. I did not however expect to receive a completely unsolicited report on proceedings, so this second blog of the day comes from Phil of Welling; an alternative view entirely unedited…

protest_placardHeard there was to be a council meeting concerning the borough’s finances last Monday evening - open to the public - so thought I would go along. Meeting scheduled to start 7:30 pm. Arrived 7:10 and was shut out in the cold until 7:20. Several members of the public had turned up prepared with placards. (Example left.)

On being admitted to the council chamber there were several people seated at a U shaped table in the well of the chamber. These apparently were the councillor cabinet members. On either side behind the cabinet members in higher level galleries were many more people. These I learnt were other councillors but who were not cabinet members although it was noticed that some other councillors chose to sit with the public rather than with their peers. The public were directed to (very uncomfortable) benches at the far end of the chamber.

The chair/leader of the council/councillor Teresa O’Neill seated at the apex of the U opened the meeting by saying that it was a cabinet meeting and as such non-members of the cabinet would not be allowed to speak. With that several members of the public realised they were wasting their time and left. The non-cabinet councillors presumably already knew they were wasting their time but had to stay feigning interest in order to claim their expenses.

After the formalities of absence apologies etc. a Mike Ellsmore (whoever he is) was invited to speak. This he did at length about the council’s finances making several references to documents of which I and most others in the public gallery did not have and the comments were meaningless. The only bits I could understand were that council tax was to be frozen at last year’s level and that the council did not intend to dip into their reserves of £10 million.

Then followed a succession of cabinet members each making speeches praising themselves and extolling how financially brilliant was the management of their respective areas of responsibility. There was no discussion or debate about anything – presumably this had all been done in advance in secret.

The meeting was then closed leaving several significant thoughts hanging in the air e.g. what precisely had been the point of the meeting and what had been achieved by holding the meeting. The answer to both questions was seemingly ‘Not a lot’. No discussion had been held. No questioning of anything was allowed. No decisions had been taken. No significant information was imparted which was not apparently already in (unseen) documents. It was merely a meaningless charade which no doubt cost Bexley residents a fortune in councillor expenses.

Note : Mike Ellsmore, Director of Finance.


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