Mayor Alan Downing prefaced question time by announcing
that members of the public would be limited to 15 minutes but councillors would
be allowed “at least 15 minutes”.
Questions to the council have been effectively stifled in Bexley. You are not allowed to ask anything that could be answered by a council officer which results in serious questioning being restricted to those about policy. An alternative is to ask a question that allows a cabinet member to blow his own trumpet, it may not conform to the rules but it will most likely be allowed. Anything beyond that is likely to get a response of the “Because I can” variety.
Answers in the trumpet blowing category are traditionally provided by Mr. John Ault of 6 Westergate Road, Abbey Wood, SE2 0DR who failed to win Erith for the Conservatives in 2010. This time he provided an opportunity for councillor Colin Campbell to repeat his ‘concerned and worried’ speech about the loss of council tax benefit which will apply to many residents from next April. Councillor Campbell does, I must accept, sound genuinely concerned about the unexpected bills that may arrive on many doormats and has taken some steps to soften the blow.
Christine Bishop of 76 Danson Crescent, Welling, DA16 2AS is another regular purveyor of brass instruments to Cabinet Members and this time her chosen subject was Waitrose. 76 Danson Crescent is councillor Brian Bishop’s address; draw your own conclusions. Councillor Linda Bailey duly blew a well rehearsed tune extolling the council’s untiring efforts to attract a reluctant food store to downtown Sidcup. Is Mrs. Bishop from Welling likely to do her shopping in Sidcup or is she solely a Bexley council stooge? ‘Biffa’ Bailey criticised Waitrose management for knowing their business better than she does and finished by saying “we are still in hopes”.
Another possible stooge, Ms. Megan Clement of 105 Pickford Lane, Bexleyheath, DA7 4RW had previously come to notice for swallowing councillor Melvin Seymour’s lie that John Kerlen had Tweeted about dog faeces and Seymour’s letter box. She went on the record in the News Shopper to regret he was not convicted for the words he didn’t say. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Ms. Clement in the flesh because she failed to put in an appearance.
As is true of all council stooges, the questioners left immediately after question time finished. They have no real interest in democracy.
The web publication of addresses is a Bexley council imposed condition of acceptance of a question. If your spouse, landlord or parent objects you may be effectively disenfranchised but universal democracy is of no concern to Bexley council.
Councillors had 20 questions lined up for Cabinet members to answer, not all of them of the trumpet provisioning sort. Councillors Val Clark, Peter Craske and John Waters were certainly guilty of vigorously polishing the brassware before handing it to the grateful recipients but time ran out on all three of them. Fortunately councillor Ross Downing’s question was first on the list and of wider appeal; even though it too was probably a trumpet burnishing exercise.
Mayoress Downing was anxious to give council leader Teresa O’Neill the opportunity to claim credit for the partial rescue of Queen Mary’s Hospital. Saint Teresa of Brampton said she had been lobbying government and they had graciously accepted her ideas. Urgent care, chemotherapy, children’s services, radiotherapy, midwifery, acute care for older people, mental health, pathology and elective day surgery were all part of the QMS campus proposal thanks to the saintly intervention. (There were three more services but my shorthand skills and memory let me down.)
Councillor Pat Cammish said she need to preface her question with a short introduction. The boorish mayor told her she could get lost, it was question time. Her question was about the ‘Olympic Legacy’ and unintended or not it turned out to be another highly polished trumpet. Cabinet member for leisure Don Massey droned on for far too long about the Erith Yacht Club which had benefited to the tune of £3·2 million and the Europa Centre in Crayford, £6 million. Two ladies in the audience summed up his performance with commendable accuracy. “He does like the sound of his own voice doesn’t he?”
Councillor Chris Ball posed the first question clearly not from the trumpet appreciation society. It was about the proposed reductions to the Fire Service. Cabinet member Gareth Bacon said “no cuts are planned” which may be technically correct for Bexley but if, for example, Plumstead’s station is closed, its proximity to Bexley must have some effect. Council leader Teresa O’Neill made the point that with the reduction in smoking, the prevalence of fire alarms and more fire resistant furniture, fire cover could be reduced. Unfortunately none of that reduces the distance between burning premises and the fire station so it is a somewhat inflammatory response.
Councillor Sandra Bauer asked cabinet member Katie Perrior why there were vacant posts on Children’s Services. Ms. Perrior said she didn’t understand the question because there were no vacancies. Not for the first time Ms. Bauer claimed to have seen things which weren’t there.
And with that question time was over and we were denied answers about the slow payment of accounts by Bexley council (councillor Margaret O’Neill), why members of the public are denied the opportunity of asking questions at Scrutiny Committees, (councillor Alan Deadman), about the failure to consult over the Erith wind turbine (councillor Brenda Langstead), about the disappearance of Conservative councillors’ home addresses from the Register of Members’ Interests, the proposed Thamesmead ferry and Freemasonry among Conservative (all three from councillor Stefano Borella).