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Bonkers Blog October 2013

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23 October (Part 2) - Woman of the mouth

Cheryl BaconAnother meeting of the Public Realm Scrutiny Committee was held last night and chairman Cheryl Bacon went home £2,200 richer. She gets £8,802 a year for chairing the committee four times a year. This year she must have cost taxpayers far more than that because of the repercussions following her illegal activities on the evening of 19th June though perhaps the most costly thing of all will be her reputation. Yesterday’s meeting didn’t exactly help in that regard.

The meeting started well enough with no nonsensical announcement to the four members of the public in the gallery - plus me at a writing desk - that recording wasn’t allowed. Maybe it helped that Nicholas Dowling wasn’t there. However we’d only been going a minute when councillor Seán Newman objected to the minutes.

They did not, he thought, adequately reflect the true situation. The minutes did not record that the public had been excluded nor did it provide the standing order under which the chairman had excluded them. Madam Bacon asked if Seán was going to propose an amendment to which he replied that “keeping the public out is a very serious thing” but his difficulty with an amendment was that he was not present at the meeting of 19th June. Bacon seized her chance saying she was “happy with the reason as read” and pronounced the minutes approved.

With my head in my scribbling book I did not see which Tory hands were raised to approve the inadequate minuted statement, so I cannot name those complicit in Bacon’s lies, only inform you that they formed the majority.

You cannot really blame councillor Stefano Borella being a little late to the party, so quick was Bacon to subvert the democratic process, but he piped up almost immediately after Sean Newman had had his say. Stefano also said the minutes did not adequately reflect the situation. Borella said that chairman Bacon should not have closed the meeting without a vote and confirmed that no members of the public were allowed in. Bacon said she noted his comments but would “take the minutes as a correct record of the meeting”. Like a criminal caught in the act she made her excuse and ran away as fast as possible.

The meeting itself should have been interesting but wasn’t. Yet again anyone who had read the Agenda through in advance would learn almost nothing from his attendance.

Stuart CrichtonStuart Crichton the Principal of Bexley Adult Education College spoke about his good OFSTED report and was planning on obtaining an ‘outstanding’ by 2017. As anyone who has read his ‘autobiography’ on the college’s website will know, he doesn’t come across as stuffy or secretive which makes his Bexley appointment all the more mysterious, but suffice to say he came up with some encouraging statistics last night.

Councillor questions were of the usual poor standard. “Do you do trade based skills like bricklaying?”. “Yes”. A little better; “What monitoring is done on those who go into work?” “The percentage in full time employment?” Answer: “Don’t know”.

Councillor Maggie O’Neill was concerned that Bexley was doggedly stuck in the bottom half of London for numbers getting qualifications after the age of 18. She was told that improving the position was “an aspiration”. That was accepted as “good news”.

Mr. Frizoni very quickly ran through his annual parking service report. Bexley had not issued any Bus Lane PCNs or Moving Traffic PCNs which had helped put the borough close to the bottom of the London PCN table. The number of tickets issued in error had fallen dramatically, 1,182 last year, only 185 so far this year and though it pains me to say it Frizoni managed to make Bexley’s Parking Services sound like a scrupulously fair minded organisation, letting motorists off fines if it is their first offence or there are other mitigating circumstances. Maybe moving the adminstration to Bromley has introduced some humanity. The merger had made savings so far of £278,000, whether for Bexley or the two boroughs combined was not made clear. 6,000 different people had so far used Bexley’s Pay by Phone system.

Councillor John Waters remarked on footway parking offences being second to and only just behind yellow line offences. The man from Bromley, Ben Stevens, who now runs the joint service said it wasn’t peculiar to Bexley and he didn’t know why people parked on the pavement. He offered laziness as a possible explanation and reminded everyone there is no five minute grace time for footway parking.

Councillor Howard Marriner had noted the very flexible way in which the Bromley team deals with enquiries and offered them his thanks.

Councillor Seán Newman noted that 43% of appeals to PATAS were allowed. Mike Frizoni said that the 57% showed how fair Bexley’s procedures were. Being unfair 43% of the time cut no ice with him. Sean also said that his door to door canvassing in Abbey Wood had revealed an inadequate consultation on the new parking arrangements there and that the impact goes well beyond the consultation area. Cabinet member Bacon said that the consultation was hurried because Network Rail changed their minds about their Crossrail dates.

Rather worryingly for Abbey Wood residents, councillor Gareth Bacon said that Greenwich council was pressing ahead with a “massive” expansion of its part of the Abbey Wood CPZ and although Bexley might object, if it went ahead Bexley would likely have to follow suit to protect its residents. Councillor Newman reminded us that Bexley’s policy is that the affected residents must pay for the installation of a CPZ as well as the illegally high annual charges. Bacon refused to comment on that implied question.

A couple of chaps from NSL Parking Services were on hand to give a presentation entitled ‘Developing ideas to do things better: Using our expertise to make them succeed’. A bit like ‘Listening to you, Working for you’, probably useless waffle.

Neil Hutchings their Account Director for Bexley proceeded to read out the 15 bullet point headings in the paper copy of the presentation, stopping only to say that Mystery Shopping was plain clothes NSL staff asking CEOs questions in the street. While I was thinking what a waste of time his presentation was councillor John Waters congratulated Mr. Hutchings on “a very good presentation”. When asked what had brought about the big reduction in CEO error rate he said it was “a combination of everything”. How very informative.

Councillor Joseph Pollard asked the most interesting question of the evening. “What is the deployment strategy? How do you decide where to send people?” The answer was that a six week deployment plan sets out where everyone will go and when. Two CCTV cars always go to schools at in and out time. Why Pollard was satisfied by that I really do not know.

Sunday nights in Bexleyheath can be parking chaos it was said and we learned there is much reduced enforcement after 8 p.m.

Councillor Marriner remarked on the apparent failure to allow delivery vehicles 20 minutes to load and Ben Stevens from Bromley said the CEOs are instructed to give a ticket after five minutes of inactivity, after which drivers would have to argue their case on appeal. Another council official prepared to break the law when it suits him.

Councillor Newman said that nothing annoyed residents more than CCTV vehicles in contravention of the law themselves. Stevens said they had dispensation to do so. Newman also said that the CCTV cars sometimes take up one of only a small handful of parking bays themselves which is even more unpopular. Chairman Bacon said they couldn’t have it both ways; clearly unaware of the guidance that says that CCTV is not appropriate for such situations. If it was followed and CEOs patrolled on foot the problems related by Sean would not arise.

CCTV cars parking in Disabled Bays is we learned from Ben Stevens “an absolute no no”.

Councillor Maggie O’Neill said better publicity was required for the free Christmas parking days. However although it was conceded that this was true, cabinet member Gareth Bacon said there was no evidence that the free days “drives up trade and if that is so there is no point in doing it at all”.

After that councillor officer Jane Richardson in her usual clear voice read through Agenda Item 10. There is no point in me doing the same so if you are particularly interested may I suggest yout take a look for yourself?

The meeting ended just after 21:30, at least I assume it did. I slipped away as it appeared to be drawing to a close. For the last half hour or so I was the only member of the public there. Let’s hope the council is never silly enough to waste our money webcasting this stuff.


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