Attending Audit Committee meetings is no real bother, none of its members are from the Philip Read school of politics and chairman councillor Joe Pollard is not given much to do and by eight o’clock the public is slung out - well politely asked to leave with Joe in charge - because it wouldn’t do for the public to know too much about the financial pickle that Bexley council is in. Given the backlog of reporting that exists at the moment that is no bad thing.
Unusually, indeed for the first time ever, the meeting was held in the council chamber rather than one of the adjacent cupboards and committee officer Sandra Baxter had, as usual, made a good job of arranging the room to best suit the attending public. Both of them.
Neither of us learned a great deal from the meeting. The auditors, Grant Thornton represented by Geoffrey Banister, said that Bexley had been successful in obtaining ‘Best Value’, the supposedly cost neutral new Civic Offices being held up as a prime example. The man from Grant Thornton said that Bexley had made savings of £40 million from its budget which is broadly in line with the former Finance Director’s target. It is in stark contrast to the £61m or even £65m that leader Teresa O’Neill is fond of quoting. Mr. Bannister said however, that the “low hanging fruit has already disappeared” implying more pain to come.
Councillor Cafer Munir (Conservative) asked how much the objection to the accounts might cost the borough.
The auditor did not know but said a specialist team had been set up as essentially the same objections had been made in six or seven boroughs across London. Bexley council is assisting with that investigation and the costs are likely to be divided across all the boroughs involved.
Readers will be well versed in the dire straits of children’s services in Bexley in recent years, but what you probably won’t know is that Bexley council lost track of any money the children in care had saved. Councillor Steven Hall was “dismayed” to learn that the cash owed has still not been repaid, some of it outstanding for several years.
The problem was said to have been caused by the high level of turnover of staff in children’s services and unfamiliarity with procedures.