People is the name of a new Bexley Scrutiny Committee and is one of
three enormous unwieldy vehicles created by Teresa O’Neill to make things more
complicated and probably less transparent. I should have counted the number of
people sitting around the huge doughnut shaped assembly which effectively
blocked any chance of a decent view by any of the three members of the public
present but a helpful councillor told me afterwards that it was 41. The picture
below deliberately excludes the invited guests on the bottom table.
The new council chamber is a characterless cavern and a mixed blessing from the public’s point of view. Maybe better acoustics but a much poorer view and harder seats.
I have no recollection of being at a meeting chaired by councillor James Hunt before but I thought he combined all the right qualities. Firm, fair, efficient and even entertaining at times; and no mumbling either.
James has always been a friendly enough guy so far as I am concerned but usually when I say that I’ll get an anonymous comment to say I don’t really know him; which is true.
In the 165 minutes of this meeting I don’t think I learned anything fundamentally new and sometimes I think councillors are blessed with rather short memories. Very little stood out as particularly interesting and we have heard about the Romanian gangs wrecking Bexley’s burglary statistics at least three times before. This has allowed Sutton to be the lowest crime London borough. We were also told yet again that a radiotherapy facility is due to open at Queen Mary’s in 2016. Don’t they have any new news?
Councillor Alex Sawyer said that he had asked Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling at the Crime and Disorder meeting exactly three months ago how many crimes were committed by people born outside the UK and despite being promised an answer by Ayling was still none the wiser. No meeting is complete without someone complaining that Peter Ayling doesn’t respond to, well anything really.
Labour councillor Brenda Langstead asked a similar question. What proportion of crimes are committed by Bexley residents? There’s nothing like a bit of good honest balance.
To my mind only a couple of new questions showed signs of relieving the monotony and the first of them came from councillor Alan Downing. It became apparent that Bexley’s grammar schools are not full of Bexley children and the places are filled by residents of boroughs far and wide which prompted councillor Alan Downing to suggest that Bexley schools are only interested in good SATS results and care little for the Eleven Plus. He referred to the antipathy of left leaning teachers; is there any other sort?
“Why aren’t the primary schools in Bexley educating children to the standard to gain entry to grammar schools? When the headmaster of an academy invited all the heads of primary schools to a meeting to discuss the possibility of their children coming into a grammar school, not one turned up”. He suggested that the council might do more to educate the head teachers.
Councillor Chris Beazley, UKIP, said much the same thing. As a parent he has found that primary schools are interested only in SATS. “What parents want and what the schools want is not necessarily the same thing.”
Towards the end of the meeting the normally placid councillor Roy Ashmole brought up the matter of Bexley council being lumbered with all sorts of legal costs for not carrying out the instructions of a High Court judge. He wanted to know what was being done about serious mistakes of this kind.
Chairman James Hunt tried to argue that a question linked to the OFSTED report on children’s services was not a matter for his People Committee. If it is not People related could Resources or Places handle it? Seems unlikely and Roy Ashmole, placid as he might normally be was no pushover. However in a sudden flash of inspiration a rather ruffled James Hunt remembered that the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services was a member of his own committee. So councillor Philip Read was asked to answer councillor Ashmole’s question. The answer was that the monumental cock up which has been reported in several legal journals was a one off, and there was no need to do anything about it. Despite the severe monetary losses to the council you may safely bet that no heads have rolled.
Councillor Ashmole may have persuaded me that the Hunt critics could have a point when they say I don’t really know him.