Bexley council almost achieved its goal of no scrutiny by members of the
public on Wednesday having rejected three questions
submitted eleven clear days earlier for being too late, however Chris Attard, the UKIP candidate for Lesnes Abbey
ward in May spoiled their day by renewing his
campaign for safer access to Bedonwell Infants School.
The footpath outside the school is ridiculously narrow, flanked on one side by the school fence and on the other by around a dozen parking bays.
Under pressure from Chris the council had hatched a plan to take a strip of land from the school but the Department of Education said the obvious solution was for Bexley council to use its own land for its own footpath and do something about the parking bays. Bexley council refused, preferring to encourage children to be driven to school and retain its hazardous footpath. However one parking space was removed to improve visibility for the school crossing patrol.
Clearly Chris’s patience with a council that puts children at risk was running out.
Cabinet member Don Massey immediately adopted an aggressive tone. His summary of the situation is no different to mine except that he failed to mention why the single parking bay was removed, thereby implying it was of more relevance to the footpath than it is. He was particularly aggrieved about the amount of officer time expended as a result of Mr. Attard’s campaign for child safety.
Councillor Massey assured fellow members that the school headmistress was happy with the present situation which is a little odd because it was the school that organised the 439 signature petition and the footpath situation is the same now as it ever was. Councillor Massey rammed home the point by saying there was a good highway safety record at the school.
Mr. Attard was allowed to respond and he asked why the council didn’t remove the parking bays as it was the simple solution. Councillor Massey said it was a matter of value for money and weighing risks and the council was still not in receipt of the petition and claimed the school had never seen it either. His main excuse for inaction was that Mr. Attard’s “perception of risk is very different to everyone else’s”, but naturally he respected him for it.
In my files is a more than three year old letter from the school to councillor Peter Craske, the cabinet member for Public Realm before the police traced obscenities to his phone line and arrested him on suspicion of Misconduct in Public Office.
The school’s letter does not make clear whether or not the petition was enclosed but it certainly referred to it and the footpath problem which had been reported for “over 20 years”. Councillor Massey’s assertion that the school is unaware of any problem is obviously a nonsense manufactured for the benefit of the webcast audience.
What has Bexley council achieved in the 40 months since the school sent Craske that letter? Absolutely nothing bar the incidental improved sight line to the school crossing patrol. Chris Attard is understandably angry, not helped by the fact that councillor McGannon’s (UKIP, Colyers) request for a follow up question was ignored. Councillor Massey clearly felt he had won the argument because as he sat down his visage was overwhelmed by a broad grin. Mr. Attard asked Massey what he found so amusing but got no answer.
In case you haven’t noticed; Public questioning in Bexley is nothing like fair. The questioner submits a short question in advance which the council may reject on a whim. The cabinet member is then allowed to speak uninterrupted for up to 15 minutes, spinning whatever line he likes, exactly that has happened. At the end the questioner is allowed to make one further comment. They call it democracy.
Following the only permitted question from a member of the public there were 50 questions from councillors to get through though only five of them were lucky.
Councillor Amaning (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) referred to the £1 million cut from the highways maintenance budget and asked how it might affect potholes. Councillor Massey said he expected to be able to repair 6,000 potholes and further details are available on the council’s website. Councillor Amaning also said the number of potholes was rising steeply, how was Massey going to tackle the spiralling problem. He blamed the deteriorating situation on three bad winters rather than the number four picked at random my Mike Frizoni but through a system of inspections he was “keeping our road network safe”. Councillor Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) was allowed to ask a follow up question.
Councillor Begho (Labour, Thamesmead East) asked how the £800,000 cut would affect the council’s remaining libraries. Cabinet member Sawyer said he was planning a meeting to discuss handing over more libraries to community groups, implying that that is how the money would be saved. Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) was allowed a follow up question.
Councillor Seymour (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) asked how a Thames bridge at Belvedere would benefit Bexley residents when, by implication, one at Gallions Reach wouldn’t. Councillor Massey repeated the new Tory buzz phrase “we need the right links in the right places”. He was “very pleased to see the Belvedere option on the table bringing fantastic opportunities for that area”. Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) was allowed a follow up question which elicited, “there are enormous growth opportunities for the borough as a whole”.
Why didn’t Bexley council suggest a Belvedere bridge long ago if it is such an obviously great idea?
Councillor Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) asked if there were enough school places for September 2014. Cabinet member John Fuller took the opportunity to repeat his usual good figures on school place choices before saying he was happy that there were no problems in 2014. Councillor Amaning was allowed to ask a follow up question from which we discovered that demand should continue to be within capacity until 2017 beyond which no reliable figures are available.
Councillor Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey) asked if the council leader was going to start paying senior salaries in line with the recommendations of the Secretary of State. The council leader said that future appointees will be paid less than those currently in post and her plans included total savings of around £1 million.
The leader really is for turning. It’s not all that long ago she said that huge salaries represented “value for money” and absolutely refused to countenance any change of direction.