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first item on Wednesday’s Agenda was the deputation by
Howbury Friends (HF), a
group of unpaid volunteers that has in just a few years raised nearly half a
million pounds for their community. Bexley council is proposing to throw them on the
scrap heap in favour of their apparently penniless business partners Eco
Computers/Communities/Learning. Mrs. Melanie Hudson put the HF case to a council
which has clearly already made up its mind.
She told us of the HF’s vision for the future which involves 35 partnerships with other charitable organisations such as Charlton Athletic Community Trust and The Big Local. A minimum of £1 million pounds of funding over ten years had been secured but Mrs. Hudson related how cabinet member Don Massey had praised Eco Communities’ track record of running similar facilities elsewhere when scant evidence of that exists. After the mayor asked Melanie to “wrap up”, councillor Brenda Langstead was invited to speak.
The Labour councillor asked how much money had been raised for Slade Green - answer, well over £400,000 - and enquired about the numbers helped - well over 500 a week. Mrs. Hudson said they have only one part time member of staff and huge numbers of volunteers.
Councillor John Wilkinson said he had been at a meeting in Slade Green and no one asked questions about the Howbury Friends situation, insinuating that no one was interested. Mrs. Hudson said that her petition had raised more than 2,000 signatures in Slade Green. May I remind Melanie that it was cabinet member Don Massey who proposes rejecting the HF bid who also took the decision to put Elwyn Bryant’s 2,219 signature petition straight in the bin unread?
Cabinet member Don Massey was next to speak asking Mrs. Hudson why she objected to an outside enterprise being brought in and proceeded to reel off a list of their achievements which I am not alone in being unable to verify. He seemed to particularly relish telling Mrs. H. that Eco Learning scored a lot higher on financial standing apparently ignorant of the true position revealed by their filed accounts and Mrs. Hudson asked how Eco Learning managed to score higher on Finance. Answer came there none.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour) asked Melanie what the impact on the local community would be if the Lewisham based group took over the community centre. She said one big difference was that Eco Learning planned an £8 charge for after school clubs and Howbury friends charges only £1. No one can afford £8 and it will lead to increased crime levels, she said. The whole community will suffer.
’Biffa’ Bailey embarked on a political speech referring to the £8 million found by Bexley council for Howbury improvements and asked if HF had sat down with the preferred bidder to discuss plans. Silly question; of course the HF’s committee had met the Eco people. They said they could easily get help by offering to pay, including the existing volunteers if necessary.
Mrs. Hudson reminded Biffa that the council’s £8·6 million investment came from selling off the old site for £14 million. Slade Green had in effect funded the council, not the other way around. The audience cheered Melanie on while the council was reminded that half the £8 million went on schools which is a statutory responsibility. HF one BB nil. The mayor at this point said that Mrs. Hudson was making a political speech and told her to stop and very soon afterwards the mayor said that time was up. With all the most influential cabinet members anxious to put Mrs. Hudson down, the way the vote will go come 12th November cannot be in much doubt.
Is it just me that thinks of Theresa May and her ‘Nasty Party’ comment every time councillor Linda Bailey opens her mouth? I find it hard to imagine a nastier woman.
Eco Learning is apparently the new name for Eco Communities, adopted earlier this year in a further effort to impress Bexley council.