The General Purposes Committee meeting was hidden away in a back room and not without good reason, there was little in it of which Bexley council could be proud. It was witnessed by two members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group, a man who has a job interview today and wanted to see if the Head of HR is a prize prat or not, and me.
The meeting didn’t begin well with me and the two BCMG members being slung out of our chosen seats for no stated reason. We moved, it made no difference to me, but Mick Barnbrook is a bit deficient in the aural department and was concerned about being placed further away from the action.
Chairman Geraldene Lucia-Hennis basically said “tough” but in a very friendly and good natured manner. She will never get the Mayor’s job. Why she cared where the public sat did not become clear to me but as the meeting commenced Mick took the opportunity to retake his original seat. No one said a word. I think I had the better view, maybe that is what Geraldene was anxious to offer.
I had been looking forward to going to this meeting for a week or so because the way I interpreted the Agenda, they were planning to sneak through a £5,000 a year pay rise for two deputy directors. I wanted to see if I was right and what the councillors would have to say about it.
Well I was right but beyond that I didn’t learn a thing. Not a single councillor mentioned the subject. No official reminded them that more taxpayers’ money was being thrown into the trough. Clearly an extra £10k.destined for some friends’ pockets is not worthy of comment.
The history goes back to November 2010 when the council’s management structure was last rearranged. Mr. Tuckley drew up a scheme involving two more deputy directors than were actually in post and that is the way things have been since then. The posts were never filled and the world didn’t end. This would appear to be the ultimate proof that Will Tuckley’s management skills are as bad as you would expect from someone who wrote to the police to suggest that I should be prosecuted for a council crime. Or it may mean that the amount of work expected of a deputy director is so small that doubling the load makes not a lot of difference. Or maybe it’s both.
Whatever the case, the status quo has been recognised and the two deputy director posts never will be filled and the spoils are to be handed out to those who are deemed to have done the extra work. The lucky pair is Graham Ward, Deputy Director of Customer Relations and the relatively unknown, Tariq Bashir, Deputy Director of Property.
There is a mystery surrounding Antonia Ainge, the Deputy Director of Leisure and wife of her boss Peter Ellershaw, Director of Wellbeing. I can follow the dubious logic of Ward and Bashir getting a leg up for doing what they have always done, but Mrs. Ellershaw is lumped in with them as equally due a pay rise. There is absolutely no reason that I can find to justify it however perverted the logic becomes. Perhaps being Deputy Director of Leisure and Director of Wellbeing is being taken far too literally.
The whole dubious farrago is being portrayed as a £200,000 (two deputy directors) a year saving. Mickey Mouse economics again. Mr. Tuckley makes another bad management call, luckily it is never implemented and voilá, £200,000 a year in the bank. Maybe if he was even more stupid than he is and made a lot more mistakes from which we can be saved in the nick of time, council tax could be abolished altogether.
With council services being farmed out to private industry and other councils - Kent and Bromley in the last year or so - one might wonder why director salaries are not being nudged in the opposite direction. An honest council might do that. Does such an entity exist?
Lower down the food chain, the plebs have seen their numbers decimated and their responsibilities increased and have been rewarded with a three year pay freeze, but the top brass are engineered another lump of gold on the pretence that they are having to work harder when in fact not a thing has changed for the past (nearly) three years. Even councillor Alan Deadman who is normally pretty astute when it comes to pay injustices was totally silent; maybe he doesn’t see it as an injustice and recalls what his party leader, Chris Ball, said. According to him, in connection with the petition, Tuckley is worth more than his quarter million pounds.
If you swallow that £200k. saved story, don’t overdo the celebrations, another part of the agenda reveals…
Sneaking in pay rises was not the only purpose of the meeting. Mr. Tuckley reported on the situation mentioned here only yesterday, Bexley’s poor record on child care. It was almost inevitable that in the short time taken by the Chief Executive there would be a surfeit of platitudes. “We want a service we can be proud of.” The situation requires “a fundamental reappraisal.” “We need the right process and to measure performance in the right way.” I could have done as well myself after a 15 minute read of the agenda.
His final two minutes were more revealing. “Our IT system is just not up to it.” “IT is absolutely central to professional practice.” “We need fewer management layers” and “there will be additional staff in the structure”.
Various people including councillors Alan Deadman and Colin Campbell debated the pros and cons of employing agency staff. Both admitted Bexley does not pay its agency care workers as well as any neighbouring boroughs - £2 an hour less than Bromley according to an agency care worker of my acquaintance - and this leads to problems. Councillor Campbell said he didn’t like spending money but the child care problem is an emergency and he is going to find an extra £1.2 million drawn from emergency reserves. It was he said, essential that Bexley recruited the right people. Head of Human Resources, Nick Hollier said he was “thinking carefully about recruitment” which is good to know. How much do we pay these mediocrities?
During the course of the meeting, councillor Campbell made an aside about Eric Pickles making announcements “dreamed up over breakfast” and indicated pretty firmly that he was not a Pickles’ fan. Who is? The man manufactures ideas good and bad at a rate of knots and doesn’t follow through on any of them. If he did I may have been able to show you a picture of the back of Campbell’s head taken at last night’s meeting but Bexley still defies Pickles’ photographic aspirations. Councillor Campbell said he was going to ignore his latest ideas too. Then he said something about not being around in two to three years time to see the end of the child care improvements if they took that long. What he meant by it remains a mystery. He has already moved house outside the borough. I’d be much happier if his boss was eyeing up the exit.
The meeting concluded after 54 minutes.