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Bonkers Blog February 2013

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13 February (Part 1) - A point of view

Third party contributions come in all shapes and sizes but the stated facts in this one which came in last weekend seem to check out OK and it will give me a day off.

Budget Strategy 2014I was reading the introduction by our glorious leader Teresa O’Neill to the Budget Strategy 2014 - Update February 2013, click image to read it, and I was struck by what a tissue of fabrications and general misdirection it really was.

Without a shred of evidence she promises us that residents of Bexley will in some way be pleased that councillors and senior council officers have magnanimously decided to spend £42 million pounds on giving themselves a new Headquarters. Is she truly deluded? I fear for her sanity; or perhaps she just has to reassure herself.

OpinionThis is quickly qualified with a fatuous claim that the building will deliver ‘significant savings to council taxpayers’, which frankly is fundamentally untrue. Strategy 2014 is supposedly all about saving £35 million, so go do the maths Teresa. If you and your cronies have just blown that and a further cool £7 million I am afraid you have an awfully long way to go to start making any overall savings at all!

The leader then goes on to highlight what she feels are Bexley’s – I assume she means the council’s – strengths. Shall we see how they stack up under closer scrutiny?

Firstly, ‘Keeping Within our Budget’. Well seeing as they set it - and then alter it at will - should we be surprised that this is considered some sort of excellence here in Bexley? Even more of a shame though is the admission by the Director of Finance Mike Ellsmore that they will spend £157,000 more than was predicted in their own budget plan. (See page 3 of 5.)

Now, I recall that Ellsmore did not feel that this was material given an overall budget of just over £180 million but I am sure any normal person would feel that if they mismanaged their own finances by this sort of amount they would be in deep trouble. Perhaps as he only costs residents a mere £166,824 in salary (see blog for 28 January) why should we really expect any better?

Next on Teresa’s list, “Delivering our Planned Savings”. Not according to Table 1 on page 5 of the February 2013 update, and only four pages on from the leader’s introductory drivel, as it quite clearly highlights that nearly a million pounds of savings (£963,000) have not been achieved as per their own business plans.
£963 million not saved
Still they confidently predict that some extra £705,000 is already in the pipeline for 2013/14 - and given an extra £148,000 has already been found somewhere else via a mystical ‘full year effect’ we can all breathe easy – and, phew, it all magically balances out again. Ain’t it just marvellous how they do that!

Surely Teresa could not be disingenuous about continuously searching for efficiencies as this must be fixed in the DNA of all true blue Tories. Well dear reader I will leave you to judge her record. Strategy 2014 published in February 2011 meticulously tabulated and numbered all the planned savings…
and the highest numbered plan was 359. The update two years later tells us on page 33 that precisely two more business plans have been added. Impressive? Not really. That sort of dedication to the cause is hardly the clarion call of success on which to storm into the next round of cuts and redundancies; sorry savings and efficiencies in Bexley council speak. (†)
Two more plans
Finally we come to ‘Planning Ahead’. Well there is little point in me crystal ball gazing, after all that is Bexley council’s blue sky thinking department’s jurisdiction. And despite councillor Campbell’s upbeat portrayal of a £40 million funding gap by March 2018 and apparent positive relish at the thought of tackling such an enormous deficit I think we can be certain of just one thing and that is our council tax is on the way up, up and up!

Interestingly the supplementary report to the financial plans 2013/14 produced for the Public Cabinet meeting of 28th January 2013 pretty much summed up all that was inherently wrong in Teresa’s budget strategy introduction.

It appears that Boris Johnson must be calling in a favour from his Outer Boroughs ambassador as there is a tent going begging from some Olympic site and we can have it shipped to Marlborough Park Avenue in Sidcup and erected - I assume so future generations can laugh and marvel at the folly - for just £1·8 million. Clearly there had not been time to include this rash – and expensive – vanity project in the Agenda pack. Not a very good demonstration of planning ahead now was it?
Olympic tent
Given the substantial price tag I am not sure it will help much in the search for efficiencies, nor, I’m afraid, for the same reason is it likely to contribute at all to the planned savings. In a time of austerity and belt tightening it is nice to know that Teresa has her priorities sorted. Better luck next time you want to successfully peddle propaganda. Armchair auditors are watching you and you will be held to account!

† I recall that at least one of the original savings plans was abandoned so the quoted numbers, if they have been rejigged, may be one or two adrift. Councillor Craske had proposed putting children’s lives at risk by doing away with school crossing patrols. I suspect the idea was a sacrificial lamb dreamed up to enable the publicity stunt of climbing down later and Craske claiming the credit for not being an evil bastard.

If I had decided to unpick Teresa O’Neill’s budget update my feeble attempt at humour may have drawn attention to the scheme to bring into use a part of Erith cemetery untouched for the past 70 odd years. The council’s stated reason for doing so is the potential for it earning £194,000 in burial fees. Do your bit for Teresa and die.


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