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Bonkers Blog October 2013

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3 October (Part 4) - Strategy 2014 – You couldn’t make it up but Bexley council can

I have been sitting on Nicholas Dowling’s account of his visit to Bexley council when he previewed the soon to be published accounts for too long. Nicholas first became interested in Bexley council accounts when councillor Peter Craske indulged in fiddling the numbers to show that a residents’ parking permit cost £250 to issue which he then used to justify his tripling of the charges. As Craske put it himself, the reason was “to avoid making further spending reductions in key services elsewhere”. An illegal act as proved by the Barnet case in the High Court.

Probably it is easiest if I just let Nicholas speak for himself while I get back to digging into councillor Cheryl Bacon’s game of make believe.


For some time I have had serious concerns around the so called £35 million savings trumpeted by our Conservative councillors. (See blog for 1st March 2013.)

Following my trip to the Civic Offices I no longer have any doubt at all about the questionable efficacy around the fig leaf of so called savings. During my time there I was able to to unearth several Strategy 2014 fabrications.

I based my modus operandi on the infamous quote from the film ‘Jerry McGuire’ of “Show me the money!” and queried a few of the so called income generating Strategy 2014 business cases last updated in January 2013. See http://www.bexley.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=11755&p=0.

One must be careful not to investigate anything too large as there will otherwise be unmanageable wriggle room for unscrupulous interpretation and misrepresentation; at which our beloved Bexley council is so adept.

When I submitted my requirements for the 2012/13 accounts I believe I caught Bexley council out. I asked for the advertising income received in that year, a question which encompassed the following three Strategy 2014 business cases:


2014/006.06 Advertising on the council’s website (supposedly generating £6,000 of savings in 2012/3);
2014/006.07 Advertising in council car parks (purportedly generating £3,000 of savings in 2012/13);
2014/006.08 Lamp post banner advertising in selected areas (notionally generating a further £3,000 of savings in 2012/13).


I was more than surprised when the figures supplied by the finance officers only showed income for the first of these business cases – and even here at a grand total of only £2,376.39. It fell a staggering £3,500 or 58% short of the stated savings.

Accounts

As presented, the other two cases had generated zero income and therefore could not have contributed any savings at all regardless of the specious claims in the Strategy 2014 update. I think we can safely classify these cases as performing in the ‘piss-poor’ category but Bexley council claims they are all ‘green rated’; i.e. on target and performing exactly as planned.

Don’t take my word for it, how about this comment from Dick Passmore the Head of Finance Environment and Corporate Services when I suggested the aforementioned Strategy 2014 business cases would be more accurate if red ringed and highlighted for councillors and the public at large:


“You asked about the income from two business cases included in Strategy 2014 which were 2014/6.07 (Advertising in Car Parks) and 2014/6.08 (Lamp post banner advertising) with a target income of £6,000 and £5,000 respectively in 2012/13…
The sources of advertising income were both investigated and it was found that they would not generate the required net income at this stage.”


It doesn’t look as if he cares, the misinformation is lightly dismissed!

Tricky Dickie’s words sound a klaxon warning that one should take everything in Strategy 2014 with a huge pinch of salt. Also bear in mind that in the latest Strategy 2014 update document Teresa O’Neill trotted out the now demonstrably false claim that she was ‘delivering our planned savings’. Why is she so deluded? Perhaps she should permit more genuine scrutiny of her council officers as they clearly knew that some of the business cases were not being followed at all. Then she wouldn’t look like such a bare faced liar.


Do you think the same applies to her Editorial on the Bexley magazine about the NHS changes introduced two days ago, Nick?

 

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