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Bonkers Blog October 2013

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17 October (Part 1) - Bexley council future cuts

Bexley’s cabinet met on Tuesday this week and there was a suprisingly large audience peaking at around 25 at one point. Two of the regulars mentioned here countless times, a handful of Bexley council employees and best part of 20 school pupils. There may have been four or five ‘ordinary’ members of the public present; no more. Several non-cabinet councillors adorned the reserved best seats.

I had read the Agenda beforehand and learned nothing much new by going to the meeting apart from the fact that all the proposals were approved unanimously after very little comment. As cabinet meetings are a charade with everything fixed earlier this is no great surprise. The two big topics of the evening were pay rises for staff and ways to plug the £38/40 million budget deficit over the next four years.

CutsLeader Teresa O’Neill told us that the council had saved £61·5 million since 2006, “most of it from efficiency savings” and now it had to save £10 million next year and much the same in the following three years. The demographics she said “were going the wrong way” and for both adults and children she was planning a “prevention agenda” which appears to be jargon for early intervention to prevent big problems arising later. There was to be some use of reserves.

A public consultation will start on 21st October and run through until 16th December. Let’s see if anyone notices.

Mr. Ellsmore (Director of Finance) then said the same thing and added that the council had made an advance payment into its pension fund. The claim was it gives an interest rate advantage.

Councillor Campbell said that “what marks out this council is innovation” - crap can be miraculously turned into trash - but after his 90 second speech I asked myself what he had said that added anything to our knowledge. The answer was absolutely nothing.

Councillor Katie Perrior (cabinet member for Children’s Services) said it had “been an incredibly difficult year but there has been steady progress”. Bexley was compared favourably with other boroughs and the future was “innovative and exciting”.

Cabinet member for Adult Services, councillor Chris Taylor said his future plans included preventing people going to “institutionalised homes” and instead stay at their own home. He particulary praised the council’s domicilliary care staff.

Councillor John Fuller (cabinet member for Education) said that Collyer’s School will soon take 100 autistic children back into the borough’s care. At present they are schooled outside.

Councillor Munir Malik asked if the council had lobbied for a bigger government grant but leader O’Neill responded only with a put down based on Labour’s 40% council tax rise ten years ago.

The meeting moved on to pay rises and duly approved a 1% across the board increase following a three year (four year for senior staff) pay freeze at a total cost in the region of £400,000 a year. No one mentioned the Agenda comment that chief executive Will Tuckley planned not to accept his rise. Maybe those 2,219 petition signatures, which Bexley council refused to even consider, against his quarter million pound pay is having some belated effect.

The discussion on Children’s Services’ performance saw Deputy Director Sheila Murphy praising the improvements, the better assessment statistics and the very good training. 28 people had been offered social services jobs and she looked forward to further improvements when they are in place. Just who was it who let things get so bad that it needs 28 social workers to fix the problems? Someone pass Sheila a mirror.

Katie Perrior quoted some much better adoption figures than were achieved last year but modestly claimed only to be “plodding along but definitely getting there”.

On Adults’ Services Director Mark Charters said they had been subject to “a very good review” and councillor Chris Taylor said Bexley had been voted top London borough for adults in care feeling safe.

Director Paul Moore said that compared to London averages Bexley showed “a strong performance with strong delivery”. No one at the meeting who had missed the week’s headlines would ever believe that Bexley was rated bottom of the UK heap by OFSTED.

The meeting ended at 20:03, just 33 minutes to digest the plans for the next four years and wave them all through. With efficiency savings like that in prospect the £40 million target should be reached with ease.

On the way out councillor Stefano Borella kindly wished me good night and hoped my bus would be along shortly. I think I managed to get out a few words of acknowledgement through the symptoms of yet another flu-like cold. However I rather hope he keeps his thoughts about buses to himself in future. I waited longer for a 229 to Thamesmead than I sat watching that meeting.

Note: The detail of potential cuts may be found on pages 31-33 of this pdf document available on the council’s website.
This is the first blog delivered from a new much faster computer. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and the time saved from its faster running is never likely to exceed the time wasted since last Saturday.


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