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Bonkers Blog May 2014

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19 May (Part 1) - Planning for the ‘Whiteout’?

Note: ‘Whiteout’. The term used by council leader Teresa O’Neill to describe her ambition for a totally blue council in Bexley.

Not for turningIt would be a political earthquake if Bexley was not still in Tory hands next Friday morning. By my reckoning if Labour took every seat they might hope to get and half the UKIP candidates were elected it still wouldn't be enough to rid the borough of the scourge of Teresa O’Neill. Nor with UKIP having no whip system would any form of coalition be viable. Teresa O’Neill must have had similar thoughts because she has been busy planning her next council and looking for ideas to reduce the possibility of public scrutiny.

To this end the number of Overview and Scrutiny Committees will contract from its present seven to three. This will reduce the number of reports that can appear here and with it the opportunity for criticism.

The three new committees are expected to cover, and likely to be called, Resources, People, and Places.

The cabinet member for Finance and Corporate Services will report to ‘Resources’.

Four cabinet members will report to ‘People’. Adult Services, Children’s Services, Community Safety and Leisure, and Education.

‘Places’ will embrace Economic Development and Regeneration, and Public Realm, Environment and Leisure.

This contraction will reduce the opportunity for the public to check on what may be going on but a small bonus is that the amount spent on councillors extra allowances will fall from £88,001 to £56,889. £10,644 will come (disproportionately on 201 figures) out of opposition pockets.

At Full Council meetings, councillors have typically put forward two dozen questions. The Tories take the opportunity to boost a cabinet member’s ego and the opposition tries to embarrass them. As they only get the left over time after the public has taken up to 15 minutes of the 30 allocated for questions, no more than  handful of councillor questions are answered in public. I understand that Teresa O’Neill proposes the following change…

No change to timing (up to 15 minutes for members of the public with the remainder up to 30 minutes for Members) but there should be a maximum number of questions allowed (as all those submitted that aren’t asked require a written answer) to be determined by proportionality.

This may look innocuous but if applied to the present outgoing council it would mean that the Tories could ask five questions to Labour’s one. And if Teresa O’Neill gets the “whiteout” she hopes for it would mean the opposition could ask no questions at all. But there wouldn’t be an opposition anyway.

She may not achieve the ‘whiteout’ but you can see the way Teresa’s mind works. Cut out as much public scrutiny as possible and try to stop the opposition asking questions.


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