Since Bexley council was dragged kicking and screaming by Nicholas Dowling
and Eric Pickles a little closer to the land of transparency and honesty and
photography was allowed at council and committee meetings, only Elwyn Bryant has
made any serious attempt to grab photos. Other members of the public may have
snatched the odd picture on their phone but if so I have not noticed, though
one such photo was submitted last year.
I have imposed a rule upon myself which is not to illustrate formal meeting reports with photographs of councillors caught in unfortunate poses or council staff below the most senior level and to go easy on those who have not at some time or another tried to harm me personally or treat regular meeting attendees with total contempt.
Will Tuckley is all over the web anyway and qualifies for inclusion for his suggestion to his friends in the police that I should be arrested for republishing the obscenities that originated on councillor Craske’s phone line. I justified the inclusion of Nick Hollier to myself because of his refusal to seek out a witness who knows that Cheryl Bacon lied in an attempt to escape the consequences of her illegal ‘Closed Session’. There will no doubt be some borderline judgments to be made as time goes by but as a general rule no one is going to be pictured within the formal reports in other than a respectful way. But every man has his limits.
Wednesday’s Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting was the first to be chaired under the new recording and photography rules by the discredited councillor Cheryl Bacon. I asked Elwyn to make sure he took plenty of photos of her and secretly hoped some might be less than flattering. But Cheryl Bacon failed to turn up. She gets £8,800 for chairing four Public Realm meetings and she chickened out. So that’s £2,200 she has taken under false pretences.
The meeting was necessarily chaired by a substitute and councillor John Waters was duly lumbered. Elwyn, probably disappointed that Cheryl had metamorphosed from headless chicken to the yellow variety, almost gave up on picture taking and snapped only two of the chairman. As one shows him glugging water I have little choice if the ‘no unfortunate poses’ rule is not to be broken. I would certainly have considered breaking it for a councillor who has chosen to lie about me and others so comprehensively.
The usual crew was in the public gallery augmented by half a dozen ‘strangers’ some of whom were clearly prospective election candidates. Chairman John Waters asked if any of us objected to photography. None did.
It took exactly two minutes to get to Agenda Item 7 which was taken out of sequence and headed ‘Adult Learning, Skills and Employment Strategy’. Jacqueline Beckett, Head of Sustainable Employment and Skills addressed the meeting about the achievements of the past year. The main one was the reduction in local unemployment levels (borough average 26%) which councillor Deadman queried the previous evening. Some parts of the borough were closer to 40% Ms. Beckett said.
Tesco had guaranteed 100 jobs for unemployed Bexley residents. After delivering a seven minute catalogue of statistics none of which were sufficiently interesting to find a home here, the chairman called for questions.
Councillor Margaret O’Neill rose to the occasion and asked how many of the new jobs were zero hours contracts, a now familiar Labour party theme. Part of the response was obliterated by ‘noises off’ but as far as I could judge, councillor O’Neill did not get an answer.
Councillor Caroline Newton asked what sort of apprenticeships were being offered. Ms. Beckett said she didn’t know. It was revealed, one might have guessed, that most local people attending university go to Greenwich.
Councillor June Slaughter asked several questions but the answers were again entirely obliterated by the noises off.
Someone (noises off again) asked where “Crossrail’s one stop employment hub at Atrium Court” was. Ms. Beckett said it was in Erith, the first time I had ever heard it pronounced the posh and wrong way by anyone, except on the BBC.
Linda Bailey thought it necessary to comment that “there is a lot of good stuff in here” (the Employment Strategy) and wished to “thank all the officers, the work that goes into these and hopefully it will keep going up and up”. (Sic)
The next Agenda Item was a discussion on the Draft Budget and an address by a council officer whose name the public address system did not convey to the public gallery from which there was no line of sight to his name plate. I could identify him with a photograph, but it is not his fault that the Civic Chamber was not designed with the public in mind; so I will stick to my rule.
The anonymous council officer said that to prevent the council’s reserves falling too low all departments were to be required to trim their budgets a further 0·5% beyond what is already planned. There would be a similar squeeze on council contract prices. Public Health spending would be “restructured” and there would be a reduction in the “contingency”. Together these things are expected to save £1,500,000.
Councillor Seán Newman asked if further changes to contracts would affect front line services. Cabinet member Gareth Bacon told him “there might possibly be some impact”. Some things would be done less often. The emptying of dog poo bins was given as an example. Seán was assured that the graffiti removal services would be protected.
Councillor O’Neill queried the £53,000 cut to the “Community Trigger Scheme, which supports the wellbeing of residents”. Mr. Frizoni said the money would be taken from the Public Health Budget which seemed to satisfy Ms. O’Neill. She was also concerned about the cuts to Engineering Services which is I believe Trading Standards. There is to be a vicious cut of £358,000 attributed to “a small number of staff reductions”. Not sure how those two facts can be reconciled.
Councillor June Slaughter queried the “equalities impact” of the cuts to Community Safety. Mr. Frizoni said “to answer that question in isolation would be very difficult”. He “recognised that the impact would be greater than in some other areas. There will be a reduction in front line staff. The number of neighbourhood teams from three down to one. We won’t be able to do the proactive preventative work we have done in the past”.
A thoughtful councillor Marriner had similar concerns and by the look of his marked copy of the Agenda must have actually read it beforehand.
Councillor June Slaughter asked about the worsening domestic violence statistics and whether early prevention was being put at risk. (Background noises prevent an exact quotation.) Mr. Frizoni didn’t seem to know, he’d “have to check on the figures”.
Councillor Newman suggested that too many targets were being met and that more challenging objectives should be set. He didn’t think the council was performing quite as well as the plethora of green stars would have us believe. The chairman was not entirely unsympathetic. Cheryl Bacon would most likely have come down on a Labour councillor like the proverbial ton of bricks for an implied criticism like that.
The elderly gents (read hard of hearing) in the audience are always pleased when Mrs. Jane Richardson gets to speak. She is not just easy on the eye but much more importantly she is easy on the ear. Every syllable is as clear as a bell and she is almost unique in appearing to be on top of her brief. I am going to break the “no officer pictures unless they are evil’ rule to show the mumblers how it is done.
Mrs. Richardson mentioned the Sidcup ground works and how the weather has handicapped them. Emails are going out to nearby interested residents to update them weekly on developments. A £100,000 gift is coming from Cory Ltd. to renew the long footbridge across the A2016 in Thamesmead. The new clinic in Crayford is soon to open. Lesnes Abbey park and woods are to get a new look soon. The Queens Road roundabout and bridge renewal plans are on the final straight too.
The chairman complained that the Welling corner changes have been “taking an awful long time”. Since last April if I remember correctly. Mr. Frizoni blamed it on Boris Johnson, Traffic signals needed to be reprogrammed and he had no date for when it would be completed.
Councillor Slaughter was none too pleased about the Sidcup road works going on for a similarly silly period. Another thing she was unhappy about is that the Black Horse recreation still doesn’t comply with the approved plans and she clearly has a less than glowing opinion of the developer. She will accept nothing less than strict observance of the approved plan. Mrs. Richardson said she and her team were inspecting the site weekly.
Councillor Margaret O’Neill was not happy with access for the disabled at Erith station and wondered if improvements could be included in the Queens Road roundabout scheme. The answer was a lengthy ‘No’.
Following that the discussion moved on to various cycling issues which proved to be quite interesting and probably justifies a separate report and this one is already far too long.
The Public Realm meeting ended at twenty five to nine. 65 minutes. John Waters’ first chairmanship session being handled with rather more skill and charm than the aggressive Cheryl Bacon could ever muster.