Last night’s Cabinet meeting was observed by Nicholas Dowling whose initial
interest in Bexley council was confined to their unjustified decision to triple
the price of residents’ parking permits. His flair for things financial soon led
him to conclude that the numbers bandied around by councillor Peter Craske to
‘prove’ his case were
pure fiction. Personally I don’t think a
flair for economics was essential to the realisation that something was wrong as soon as Craske went
on record as saying it costs the council nearly £250 to issue each one. If that was
really true why didn’t they triple the price again to cover their costs?
I think we know the answer.
Nick reports that the meeting lasted half an hour during which time the Cabinet considered, if that is the right word, 166 pages of Agenda. Why waste time when it has all been fixed in advance? It must be galling for Teresa O’Neill to be obliged to hold a public meeting and find the one who turns up is going to put the charade on the net; speaking of which I had better get on with it. Over to Nick.
On my arrival at the Civic Centre at 7:20 p.m. I found some diligent jobsworth had blocked off the best seats claiming that they were for councillor and council officer use only. Normally Kevin Fox is at the root of such pettiness but he was absent from the meeting despite being the nominated contact officer.
By the 7:30 p.m. start time there was an audience of eight Conservative councillors in addition to myself which is a jolly poor show considering the effort that must have been put in to concocting the spin and propaganda just for my delight and delectation.
Half the Agenda revolved around schools and young people so it seemed a trifle odd that the Cabinet member for Education, John Fuller was absent; but perhaps he was at the dress rehearsal so his presence would not be essential.
The meeting formalities were rattled through at breakneck speed, including an absolutely trivial amendment by councillor Gareth Bacon who claimed that one of his many sinecure roles had been mis-labelled in the Minutes. Nero was fiddling while Rome burned, he was indignantly bothered about it while admitting that it was only a trifling error, but something that must be corrected nonetheless. Hypocritical when you consider his missus won't allow more significant corrections to minutes if they come from Labour members.
The first motion to exclude the press and public from Agenda items relating to the Bird College, Adult Education and young people with complex learning difficulties was duly nodded through. In the event they didn’t discuss these items in any detail. It might have looked better if they hadn’t brought to the fore their eagerness to stifle openness and transparency.
Once again the microphone feedback problem arose with additional audible crackle and the ensuing shuffling and passing of microphone sets was hilarious to watch. Never let it be said that these people are not prepared to provide some light relief but you would have thought that this technical fault would have been remedied by now. Perhaps they have outsourced the maintenance contract.
The item on school administration arrangements for 2014/15 included a reference to a two month consultation. It got one response - assiduously ignored, of course. Still, the council loves these pointless exercises as to them it reinforces their inherent belief that they know best. A different perspective is that nobody believes they will take a blind bit of notice as is amply demonstrated time and time again when comments are invariably ignored. 2,219 signature petition anyone? In my three years of attending these meetings I cannot recall one single consultation recommendation by a Bexley resident that Bexley council has ever endorsed.
The item on the children’s performance management framework permitted councillor Katie Perrior, the Cabinet member for Children’s Services and Community Safety, to bemoan the fact that none of the Labour opposition was present to comment. The paltry eight out of forty six optional Conservatives present agreed in unison. They love this sort of easy political point scoring although the impact was limited by the absence of Labour people available for squirming. It was a puerile comment purely for the entertainment of small Tory minds.
Katie Perrior went on to admit that staffing and recruitment are key issues as it appears nobody really wants to work for the pittance Bexley council is willing to offer. The actual report is over 40 pages long and does not paint nearly as rosy a picture our Katie’s.
I will not bore you with the details but suffice to say the council is still way off of their own targets in numerous sectors. I would like to be able to tell you that this was highlighted by a councillor or two but this report elicited just the one question from Richard Gillespie – and I knew it wasn’t going to be much cop when he admitted that he could not locate what he wanted to query in the report.
For the record it was about some Action Team that had been brought in last November to address the damning OFSTED children services report findings. The reason he couldn’t locate it was that it wasn’t there but the officers dutifully answered the irrelevant point anyway. Another prize turkey making himself appear foolish.
Linda Bailey the Cabinet member for Economic Development & Regeneration kicked off the next Agenda item by repeating Katie Perrior’s gag about there being no opposition presence. She no doubt expected the same cheers and jeers of derision. Unfortunately for Linda two Labour councillors (Chris Ball and Sandra Bauer) had by then occupied the public seats and so another splendid Conservative gaffe with Linda Bailey looking even more ridiculous than usual while spouting patent nonsense.
I am, however, confident that the doltish Linda Bailey knows a “splendid deal” when she sees one and supposedly that is what we residents are going to get in relation to the preferred estate options for Bird College, Adult Education and young people with complex learning difficulties. She was endorsed by her cabinet colleague Colin Campbell (Finance & Corporate Services) who thought it was an “exceptionally good deal”.
We will have to take their word for it because us residents and taxpayers are not allowed to see any details. On the other hand the financial information supplied on Agenda pages 83-85 showed Bexley council turning a £3·3 million total capital cost – that will have to be paid out and budgeted for accordingly – into a net capital cost of £283,000 using dodgy accounting tricks. Deploying made up unrealised sales of property in which there has been little or no interest in to date along with completely unspecified contributions from existing budgets.
There are plenty of assumptions that will have to be fulfilled and £30,000 a year of lost revenue is acknowledged, additionally the council will be stumping up for £60,000 of removal costs. Trust this kind of economic magic at your peril. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
The boy Cabinet member for Adult Services, Chris Taylor, saw his chance to drone on about education for adults with learning difficulties. Alas he opted to repeat everything we had already heard everybody else say. So thanks for that sonny! Next time if you have nothing to add keep quiet - you will look the wiser for it.
Following this Peter Ellershaw the Director of Environment and Wellbeing delivered a piece he had devised earlier via a monotone speech with all the charisma of a piece of tarmac about allowing pavement parking in Roseacre Road Welling. All eight residents’ objections were ignored despite being a significant 30% of the 27 responses received.
It was noted that twice as many people wanted pavement parking as opposed it which was to ignore those who felt the council would do as they damn well pleased anyway. It could be argued that support was an unimpressive 37%.
Councillor John Waters, as the prime mover in this affair, was then invited to repeat everything that had already been said. He dutifully did.
Paul Moore, the Director of Customer Services, regaled us, (me?) with Bexley council’s most splendid performance management framework. He was most noteworthy for the fatuous comment that it was all part of the accountability and openness to the public by Bexley council as a whole. So much so that an actual copy of the data was not included for anyone present to look at and marvel over. They missed a real trick there huh?
I could have a field day with our utopian council’s cherry picked statistics on page 110 of the Agenda. It revealed that according to yet another survey 79,200 of Bexley’s 220,000 residents are not satisfied with the council’s performance.
For the final item we had our magnificent Chief Executive Will Tuckley ‘refreshing’ the Corporate Plan. You know, the wish list of things that the council plans to do but will change and amend as time goes on to make themselves look as great and good as they can. It is packed out with vacuous and often self-serving promises with few if any meaningful targets by which they will judge themselves – and as they can change them at will you won’t catch them out anyway! Luckily these 50+ pages were not at all scrutinised and nobody felt that they had anything at all to add to this piece of fantasy
In just 30 minutes one of the centre pieces of local democracy was totally trammelled. A 166 page Agenda had generated one solitary and irrelevant question. A complete farce. I expect they are proud of themselves.
For an encore councillor Malik wandering in after the meeting had officially closed. He was berating the traffic conditions; he’d been held up by the almost permanent traffic chaos which maroons the Civic Centre. Several petty Tories in true playground mode commented that he should not be allowed to sign in as he had missed the meeting. The loudest complaint was coming from the totally useless councillor Sybil Camsey who had herself contributed exactly the same to the meeting as had councillor Malik. i.e. absolutely nothing. Given that councillors are paid whether they attend or not, what point was she trying to make? It was another cheap political point by another cheap councillor.