Raiding motorist’s pockets is not by itself going to plug the black
hole in Bexley’s finances which is now put at around £50 million by 2018/19. They have other ideas up their sleeves, many
of them unwelcome.
The council did to its credit try to discover what residents might be thinking about future budgeting but less creditworthy was its web based approach which I found far too difficult to understand and gave a miss. It would appear that I was not alone; only 394 people responded, far fewer than the number dismissed as inconsequential following the Thames bridge consultation. About half of the respondents favoured an increase in council tax and the other half was against it.
It’s a tricky balancing act but Bexley council is going to take a route likely to please neither group. They expect to raise council tax by a whisker under 2% a year (1·99% avoids a referendum) and they are going to slash quite a lot of services. Here’s a flavour of their shopping list.
• Unsurprisingly, libraries are for the chop with £800,00 a year at stake. The days when I would spend hours browsing the reference library are long gone. When I went into Central Library for a particular volume earlier this year I don‘t think they had ever heard of it. Wikipedia to the rescue!
• The reception desk at Erith Town Hall (council tax queries) will close for two days a week. (£70,000 when fully implemented.)
• The new Contact Centre at Watling Street to be run down with longer response times and some services becoming unavailable except on line. (£50,000 rising to £100,000.)
• Reduced street cleaning (again!) and no litter collection patrols at all on distributor (main) roads. (£64,000.)
• Grass cutting reduced in stages by up to 55%. (£130,000 rising to £225,000.)
• Foots Cray recycling centre to be closed on more days (presently closed Wednesday only) and the same to be introduced in Thames Road - the main recycling centre. (£25,000 rising to £50,000.)
• One of two Graffiti Removal Teams to be stood down. (£52,000.)
• Closing one of the two Citizen’s Advice Bureaux. (£30,000.)
• Sidcup putting green and Hall Place cricket facilities to close. (Up to £45,000.)
• Bexley Voluntary Service Group will suffer a 20% cut to its grant. (£18,000 now with another £25,000 later.)
• Planning committee meetings recently reduced from 15 to 12 a year to be further reduced to ten. (£4,000.)
• Another £300,000 a year of council tax is to be extracted from the pockets of those on benefits via the phased reduction to their subsidy.
That is not all by any means but the extracts are perhaps the most likely to be seen by the general public. Care services are all going to see cuts and price hikes and the council itself is not immune. There are job cuts, some potentially risky such as the loss of the Community Safety and Anti-Social Behaviour Teams, and others of the believe it when you see it variety, such as cutting councillor allowances.
It may be interesting to think back on what the Conservatives have achieved during their eight years in power. Boris Johnson has funded two or three regeneration schemes which have, aided and abetted by the utility companies, seen constant traffic disruption across the borough.
Those eight years have seen Bexley fall from 21st worst council tax rate in London to 24th.
Without Teresa O’Neill and Gareth Bacon we would be using a Thames bridge right now instead of in ten years time - possibly.
Without the mismanagement of social services three Bexley children and an elderly lady might still be alive.
They spy on us more with extensions to the CCTV network.
Bloggers may not have suffered malicious prosecution.
I really cannot think of a single benefit that can be laid at Bexley’s Conservative council’s door. On the other hand we have not seen a 40% tax increase. Isn’t there a sensible middle way?