The fireworks at the beginning of the November 5th council meeting lost a little of their sparkle during the remainder of the questions session but they still managed to go out with a bang.
Whilst Mick Barnbrook was complaining about the fix that was Bexley’s Serious Case Review into the death of a child that Bexley council forgot about, mayor Marriner ruled that the names of council officers must not be mentioned in public questions. Stand by for a revision to their Constitution. This left Mr. Bryant whose question was due next in a difficult position. His main question made reference to the council’s FOI response that 49 complaints had been made about councillors and no public complaint was upheld. He asked Teresa O’Neill if she thought her Code of Conduct Committee and its procedures were fit for purpose.
The answer to that was always obvious, after all she had appointed an acknowledged liar to be chairman of the Standards Board and she was well pleased with herself for doing so. The process was “robust” she said.
Mr. Bryant’s supplementary question could have done with a few full stops but this is what it was going to be…
As a prime example of the serious failings of Bexley council's Code of Conduct procedures, despite four complaints from members of the public, together with supporting evidence from four councillors and the clerk of the meeting, all of whom were present at a Public Realm Meeting held on 19th June 2013 chaired by councillor Cheryl Bacon, she was deemed not to have unlawfully taken the meeting into closed session although nobody at the meeting supported councillor Bacon's account of what took place.
This has led to serious allegations of Misconduct in Public Office and Perverting the Course of Justice being made against the Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, councillor Cheryl Bacon and two other Bexley council employees, which are currently being investigated by Greenwich Police. Bearing this in mind, would the Leader agree that her decision to choose councillor Bacon as chair of the Members’ Code of Conduct Committee may have been a serious error of judgment?
Because of the mayor's new rule Mr. Bryant was only able to put the last sentence of his question to the council leader. The arrogant one replied that she “did not believe that to be the case”. Obviously she could not be privy to the off the record comments the police made to me the following day.
Next up was Mr. John Dunford who has been a Ukip candidate at several elections all the way back to 2006. He wanted to know why Bexley council had removed all reference to him from the election results pages of Bexley’s website.
Deputy council leader Gareth Bacon said he didn’t know that the council website carried election results but having rapidly brought himself up to the level of knowledge expected of a deputy leader he said the problem was due to a software error…
IF result$ =INSTR$("UKIP") THEN result$=" "
…and it had been fixed.
Mr. Dunford said it hadn’t because he had looked and Bacon said he had looked later and it was. I confess I’ve not had time to check. Cock up or conspiracy I don’t know. Normally I would say cock up but this being Bexley council, nothing can be ruled out.
After exactly 15 minutes public question time came to an end and councillors were allowed the remaining 15 minutes (question time total is restricted to 30 minutes) to ask their 69 questions.
Conservative councillor Cafer Munur wanted to know how much it costs to answer FOIs and the likely cost of an objection to the accounts. Gareth Bacon said that answering FOIs cost £76,000 per annum in direct costs and some additional staff time. The second question was not so easily answered as there have been no previous objections since 2010. In essence he didn’t know.
Labour councillor Danny Hackett said that there should be no attempt to put a price on democracy and if the Conservative administration was more open and accountable there would be fewer questions and objections and more money to spend on things like the Belvedere Splash Park. Councillor Bacon said “that is a complete nonsense”.
I have no up to date information on the objection to Bexley’s accounts. It has been suggested that Bexley has entered an illegal contract and the Audit Committee heard that audit fees alone might be upwards of £60,000 and putting right the wrongs inflicted would be on top of that. Councillor Hackett’s reference to the Splash Park looks to be anything but nonsense to me.
When councillor Rob Leitch stood up to ask how many looked after children attended an awards ceremony which cabinet member Read could have told him any time, the words “pathetic crawler” flashed across my mind, but I am not going to mention that because he seems to be quite a pleasant young chap who I suppose has got to swallow his pride if he is ever to climb the Conservatives’ greasy pole. Goodness knows what the answer was. Who cares? Ok, I suppose you should be told so I have checked the tape and Read took 117 seconds to say “83”. Rob Leitch and Read then wasted another 86 seconds on a mutual back slapping session.
And so the remaining time was whittled away with poor or non-existent answers and time wasting like the unscheduled question from councillor Christine Catterall until it was time for UKIP councillor Chris Beazley’s turn with just a minute to go. Would he be allowed to speak about the Romanian gangs which Borough Commander Peter Ayling has told the council several times have put a blot on his burglary statistics? No of course not.
With his eye on the clock former policeman councillor Alan Downing decided another jab in the eye was called for. He stood to deliver an irrelevant puff piece about the third consecutive Bexley Borough Commander to come under investigation for Perverting the Course of Justice, to howls of mirth from someone far from me and out of sight.
Ukip councillor Lynn Smith was quite rightly affronted by the way Bexley
Tories usurp and manipulate democracy but it’s the way thing are in this rotten
borough. Good on her for speaking her mind, it is about time someone other than
a few pensioners did so.
It’s easy to imagine Bexley’s clowns gathering in the bar afterwards to congratulate Downing on his magnificent contribution to the death of democracy.
I was later informed that while Lynn and Mick Barnrook were both out of the chamber for a short while he offered her words of encouragement but she was not pleased with him because of the comment on BiB that maybe Blackfen voters should have put their mark against Mick’s name and not hers.
Perhaps this is another opportunity to say that this blog is not Mick’s, I started it more than a year before I met him and whilst he might once in a while phone up to suggest things, he has never yet attempted to write a single word of it nor has he ever complained when I ignore him. Mick Barnbrook is innocent, OK?