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Bonkers Blog April 2013

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25 April (Part 1) - Fib and Fudge. Question time at Bexley council

At last there is meeting of the full council to report, the first ‘ordinary’ council meeting since November last year. Not bad going for a minimum councillor allowance of £9,418 a year. As you might imagine, it was a full Agenda and dragged on for 139 minutes.

Mayor DowningAs usual it began with the mayor spouting his ‘prohibition of recording’ drivel; not, you must understand, to prevent knowledge of his inadequacies spreading, but to protect the audience. Or so he says.

Having completed the routine lies he later said that any member of the audience who made a comment would be thrown out of the chamber, “I really mean it this time”. He insisted everyone showed him respect so nearly every councillor went on to address him as “Your Worship’. Some presumably were indulging their talent for sarcasm.

As always it was question time first where the main rule of the game is to try to ask a question that will elicit a straight-forward answer free of filibuster, fudge or fib. Mick Barnbrook who is a regular correspondent with the Information Commissioner knows that the Commissioner has put paid to Teresa O’Neill’s law breaking scheme to publish residents addresses so his question was “Please confirm that … the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 were adhered to.” The leader’s answer was a simple ”Yes”, which bearing in mind what the Information Commissioner has said and how Bexley council has reacted, strongly suggests that O’Neill would rather fib than admit a mistake.

Mr. Barnbrook then asked what she was going to do about the sensitive data that had been published over the past two years and O’Neill said “Nothing, because those people had consented to having their addresses published”.

Some people believe asking questions at council meetings is an essential part of the democratic process so to say that they freely consented to invasion of their privacy is like saying they had consented to run naked down the Broadway because the alternative was to have O’Neill cut off their oxygen supply. Would her victim be charged with outraging public decency or Teresa O’Neill with threatening murder? Given Bexley police’s track record on investigating council criminality maybe that isn’t a very good analogy. Even so, Mick would be well advised to seek the views of the Information Commissioner on that one.

Nicholas Dowling asked deputy leader Colin Campbell if he had succeeded in saving more than £29 million by March 2013. “29·6 million” said Campbell, but the sting came in Nick’s supplementary question. “How is that reconciled with a recorded reduction of only £7 million in spending?” No fib this time, but plenty of fudge. It was because costs had been “absorbed”. Good. but I still don’t understand how it is that tax went up 40% under the previous regime and this one fleeced the population via innumerable stealth taxes but tax is as high as it ever was.

Elwyn Bryant asked the leader if her policy of paying senior staff “at among the highest levels countrywide, will continue?” She said it was nothing to do with her, it was all down to decisions taken by the General Purposes Committee. Elwyn also asked if O’Neill would consider making a personal statement to the 2,219 residents who had signed his petition about excessive salaries but not been answered. I can only guess the answer was No because the Mayor got all ratty and started shouting threats and I am not sure what was said. Evidently Elwyn struck a nerve.

Bedonwell School Bedonwell School pathNext to the microphone was Mr. Chris Attard who is concerned about safety outside Bedonwell school. He asked cabinet member Gareth Bacon “Does a child have to die or be seriously maimed outside an infant school before Bexley council takes action to improve its road safety?”

In fact Bexley’s record on child road safety is not at all bad and Bacon lost no time in running through his file of positive facts, but unfortunately it would cost £12,000 to do anything about the ultra-narrow footpath outside Bedonwell School.

Cabinet member Bacon offered to meet Mr. Attard to discuss the matter but when Chris asked the Mayor if he could ask Bacon a question about it, the mayor, for whom child safety is always a priority said “No”. Maybe a child has to die before Downing shows any humility.

All the questioners disappeared soon after the question session ended reducing the audience numbers to a dozen or so who were presumably enthralled by councillors’ questions, their thoughts on bridges and tolls, and the London Living Wage.

More on that later…


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