Last night saw the final meeting of Bexley council’s Scrutiny Function Sub-Group which has been discussing ways to improve the council’s scrutiny procedures. Some might argue that preventing wives scrutinising cabinet member husbands would offer a simple improvement but as an earlier meeting revealed that council leader Teresa O’Neill wants to influence Scrutiny Committees before they reach decisions, simple common sense and decency was unlikely to feature in the Sub-group’s final recommendations.
Councillor John Davey was substituted by councillor Philip Read which will have raised the level of debate by several notches. Read may be what BBC presenter Eddie Mair would term ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’ but there is no question that he is considerably more eloquent than the bumbling Davey.
The meeting was chaired by councillor Maxine Fothergill in her usual low key but effective style and began at 18:58. Apart from myself there was only one other person on the public benches who wasn’t obviously a councillor.
The ubiquitous councillor Alan Deadman (Labour) got the ball rolling by expressing some discontent with the recommendations. He said they brought us "no further forward. It was all coulds, shoulds and maybes” and paid only “lip service to calling the executive to task”. “It’s a mockery and absolutely pointless.” Philip Read set out to put him in his place.
“It is very disappointing that you asked to have your contribution added to the report.” Referring to the under representation of Labour on committees, he said “Your comments are unfounded because the electorate has spoken.” Read told Deadman to “sharpen up” and to “stop scoring party political points”. With a final flourish he added that Deadman was “Holier than Thou” and a “hypocrite”.
How anyone could label Alan Deadman Holier than Thou is a complete mystery to me. Deadman always comes across as a sincere old school Trade Unionist who will call a spade a bloody shovel when necessary. But a Holy Hypocrite? Never. Philip Read on the other hand…
I must confess to becoming slightly lost as to what was going on at this point because my copy of the meeting Agenda was missing the Recommendations under discussion (Section 5) and even if I had a complete copy I might not have known the old procedures well enough to make a meaningful comparison. However Read had also attacked Deadman for Labour’s alleged failure to take a full part in proceedings and that may have been be a little unfair.
The Conservative Labour split in Bexley is 52:11 so the Tories take all the plum jobs and leave the unpaid dregs to Labour. Then, as there are so few active Labour councillors, basically you have Borella, Deadman and Malik doing all the work, they are run off their feet trying to represent an alternative view at every meeting. What is sorely needed in Bexley is fewer Conservatives because as things are at the moment we may as well hand everything over to Teresa O’Neill to run her own personal fiefdom. Among my many Conservative minded friends there is only one who doesn’t intend to vote UKIP in future so maybe salvation is on the horizon.
After councillor Philip Read had concluded his prepared speech he was echoed by the insignificant Sybil Camsey who without an original thought in her silly head repeated many of Read’s words. “I am disappointed…” etc. Not to be outdone, councillor Caroline Newton started off the same way, slavishly copying Read with another “I am disappointed…” speech. Another dimwit riding the gravy train on a tide of elector apathy.
Councillor Alan Deadman went on to say that too many of the presentations to council by senior officers are “dull” and “certain officers need help”. “They get hold of a document and read it through to us. Why?” Alan is not wrong, perhaps I should name more officer names in future. Councillor Howard Marriner who always seems to be far too decent a chap to be a Bexley councillor agreed with him. That’s his promotion prospects screwed then.
Being somewhat hamstrung by having no Section 5 in my Agenda (†) and sensing the meeting was close to its end, I left at 19:28 in order to attend the Adult Services Committee meeting. I learned later than the Sub-group meeting actually ended at about 19:35 and no doubt the recommendations were adopted with only one dissenting voice.
† This was partially my fault as I spotted a lone copy of Section 5 on a desk as I made my way out. I should have gone looking for it earlier.