who went to last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting expecting to hear what cuts
are planned for the next four years will have been sorely disappointed, this was a
meeting concerned only with generalities. Having said that no one apart from
a contingent from the Bexley Action Group and one other member of the public had
bothered to turn up subjecting only web viewers to that possible disappointment.
There was however a good turn out by the opposition parties, 14 out of 15 Labour members and 100% UKIP turned out for the spectacle. Only four Conservative councillors though, presumably the others had picked up all they needed to know at their various watering holes.
With the web cast archive available for those who care, this report will do no more than highlight the main theme, summed up by the leader who said the new budgetary plan to save another £40 million was based on “growth in our borough, growth brings income, prevention, so stopping the need for services that cost taxpayers money and about efficiency”.
Despite the lack of detail councillor John Davey made a cringe inducing speech in praise of the plan to save money about which he knows almost nothing, just like the rest of us, because if the leader is to be believed it all depends on the public consultation. That will take place during the holiday period following which decisions will be made or more likely confirmed.
Little was said about services that cost the taxpayer money and we already know what the council means by efficiency savings. Chopping staff numbers by up to 400, creating a new Deputy Chief Executive post, giving another director early retirement - last time that happened he went off with £300,000 in his pocket - and hiring new fat cats. This left growth as the most important discussion subject.
Mr. Tuckley expanded on the theme of expansion and it would appear that Bexley council has at last recognised that some of its old policies have been throttling the borough. As the new Bexley magazine acknowledges on Page 11, Teresa O’Neill’s stance on river crossings has cost “around 10,000 new jobs”.
It is well known that Bexley council has been the obstacle in the way of improved transport infrastructure since it changed colour in 2006. Who can forget the propaganda sheet they put out at your expense barely a year ago calling for a ferry not a bridge? Only Labour has been consistently in favour of better transport links until now, even UKIP sat on the fence during the election. The Labour view has triumphed and why is that?
The reason is probably not unconnected with something called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This is a new tax on business and could be a major revenue stream for the council while government grants dry up and Bexley council struggles to maintain its lie that it is a low council taxing borough. It is close to the bottom quartile of all London boroughs, 24th out of 32. Not that that stopped councillor Philip Read repeating the lie at this Cabinet meeting.
The Erith and Thamesmead political constituency has the longest river front of any London constituency and not a single crossing place; how do you attract businesses to Bexley and in particular the ripe for growth industrial north if business has to pay a high CIL and get very little in return?
After wasting years to protect her own back yard (Brampton Ward) the sleeping giant has woken up. She has decided we need a bridge after all and it should be in Belvedere. Apparently that is good and Gallions Reach is bad. Belvedere is good because the bridge would set foot on the A2016 and Gallions Reach is bad because a bridge there would set foot on the, err umm, A2016.
Labour leader Alan Deadman had seen councillor Gareth Bacon lying on BBC TV about Knee Hill and suggested what anyone with half a brain can see. If lorry drivers are stupid enough to want to climb Knee Hill, put some sort of height, width or axle weight restriction on it. He slipped in an extra comment to illustrate how Bexley council is no good at infrastructure. “300 odd new dwellings and one shop in Slade Green”. Soon to be no doctor in Slade Green either.
Councillor Don Massey fought a valiant but doomed attempt to persuade everyone that nothing has changed, his party was always in favour of a new bridge, just so long as it was in the right place. i.e. as far away as possible. The aforementioned propaganda sheet doesn’t help his case.
Massey said the last TfL consultation may well have shown Bexley people to be in favour of a bridge but it was of no consequence because only 0·5% of the population responded. Someone should have reminded him that that is half as much again as the last budget consultation response (663 responses from a population of around 232,000) which led to the council’s claim that residents were fully in support of the most recent round of cuts, but no one did.
My own personal view is that if you live in a city you get certain conveniences and some not so pleasant things, but a city, or even part of it, with poor transport links is not viable. The people of Greenwich have done their bit with river crossings since I used to walk through Blackwall holding my grandfather’s hand and return on a double deck bus. It is time for Bexley to share the burden. We need both bridges in order to share the load more equably. Who wants to suffer the A2 and M102 to Blackwall or a Silvertown tunnel a moment longer than they have to?
Whilst this was a Cabinet meeting, other councillors are allowed to speak and the only new one to do so was councillor Leitch of Sidcup. A personal bug bear of mine is the way that councillors throw political mud when it doesn’t help the current situation. I suppose blaming Gordon Brown for many of our financial woes is fair game but attempting to belittle the local opposition always strikes me as a step too far. They have their views genuinely held and I see no need for ridicule in the council chamber. That’s bloggers’ work!
In my view, and maybe I am being harsh, newly elected councillor Rob Leitch crossed my threshold between ‘untested’ and pompous supercilious ass by his reaction to Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Bexleyheath and Crayford, councillor Stefano Borella who had the temerity to suggest he had yet to meet anyone in favour of what Bexley council has done to Sidcup.
The Sidcup regeneration according to the gospel of St. Leitch “ is incredibly popular” so will those Sidcup residents who keep asking me to pop down there with my camera please shut up and listen to what the fount of all wisdom has to say.