leader is allowed 30 minutes at a full council meeting to say what
she has achieved and councillors’ comments are not time limited. At 20:51 last Wednesday Teresa
O’Neill began to speak. She said she had “been banging on doors for a very long
time” and residents were telling her about potholes. She blamed the recent
weather. Funding has been obtained, from where wasn’t stated, and £568,000 would
be spent on fixing the problem. That was it. After less than a minute the list
of her achievements was concluded though to be fair there were 19 pages of A4 to
be read for those so inclined.
Councillor Philip Read was interested in the twelfth page of that document and the work proposed for the Bexley Road shopping area of Northumberland Heath. In particular he wanted to know how many people visited the exhibition in the local library. Unfortunately no one had bothered to count them. I was not one of those visitors but I have received not altogether favourable comment on the scheme which will no doubt find its way here as soon as I find time to get some suitable photographs. Naturally there were no negative comments in the chamber.
Councillor Mick O’Hare made favourable comments about Lesnes Abbey Woods. I can see it whenever I look out of my window and maintenance goes on constantly but I have yet to see any sign of the significant changes announced at previous council meetings. O’Hare’s speech was the purest waffle managing to say only that “spending £3·5 million on the woods would go a long way towards making it better for our residents”. Pure genius. The money is coming from Lottery Funds.
Councillor Alan Downing was at pains to contrive circumstances in which the leader could claim that the new council HQ at 2 Watling Street cost the council tax payer nothing. This she was happy to do. She added that it ”provided better opportunities for residents”. I don’t know what she meant by that.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour) asked whether Redrow, the company contracted for the Howbury regeneration, had kept their promise to employ mainly local people. Teresa O’Neill didn’t know.
Councillor Chris Ball’s (Labour leader) first question provoked so much laughter I am not sure what it was. However I did detect that he spoke in favour of raising council tax on the grounds that the small increase that might fix the borough’s financial problems was “insignificant” and “irrelevant” for many people, him included. His theme was that a lot of people in great need were suffering because of Conservative cuts. He asked if the council leader agreed that there was a big divide between the “haves and have nots in the borough”. It was dangerous political territory and councillor Ball made his case well.
Teresa O’Neill said when she knocked on doors people were only saying “Thank you for not raising council tax”. She went on to say that it wasn’t a case of the odd tenner mentioned by councillor Ball but fixing the problems would “take an awful lot of money”. You may interpret that as Bexley Conservative’s having led us towards a calamitous financial situation. Ah, they have haven’t they? It’s called a £40 million black hole.
“Poor people don’t wear badges”, O’Neill said, “they manage on the money they have got. For keeping their council tax down, for that I am really proud”. So that’s a no then. She doesn’t agree with Chris Ball.
Councillor John Waters asked a question but for some reason his voice was the only one of the evening which was inaudible, though the traffic noises through the open windows on a warm evening did not help. Whatever the reason it gave councillor John Fuller (Cabinet Member for Education) the fourth or possibly fifth opportunity of the evening to trot out favourable educational statistics.
Time was almost up and the leader was asked to sum up. She said she had “created more jobs, it’s all about strategic management and this council can be proud, we have changed and produced a much better borough. That strategic management saves taxpayers’ money”.