The prospect is somewhat daunting but I must press the Play button on the recorder again.
Councillor Beazley’s (UKIP, St. Michaels) interjection about the money that gurgles down the EU drain was rebutted by cabinet member Don Massey on the grounds that UKIP, like Labour, had failed to come up with any alternative budget proposals which was a very silly mistake because UKIP had come up with a very good one. To chop all councillor allowances by a third.
The UKIP Motion was rejected unanimously by the Conservatives in the Spring, thereby proving beyond all doubt that their loyalties are to themselves and not the borough.
It must have hit a nerve with the council leader because she jumped straight in. She said “You will be aware I wasn’t here at that meeting” and when that silly remark did not go down too well with the audience she added with obvious venom in her voice, “I was sitting by the side of my father’s bed watching him die. So I think you can take that back” she snapped; in both senses of the word.
Take back what? The reminder that Bexley Tories wanted the close to £300,000 involved to be planted in their pockets rather than the borough’s? It was a simple statement of fact from a party too ready to tell it like it is to be popular with old school politicians.
Everyone will sympathise with the fact that Teresa O’Neill lost both of her parents within the space of a month; I was tipped off on the day of her first loss but didn’t report it as it was a deeply personal matter. However I removed her bobbing head from the banner and gave all images a thin black outline instead of the usual two tone grey one as a subtle mark of respect. Probably no one noticed but it remained that way for about two months.
To drag up the death of a parent as the excuse for retaining councillors’ allowances at their present level must surely be deeply disrespectful and mark a new low point in Teresa O’Neill’s leadership. We didn’t save three hundred grand because I wasn’t here. Yeah that makes a lot of sense.
When the Orchestrator of Banal Excuses regained her composure she said “The Motion wasn’t costed” as if the division of eight hundred and thirty two thousand, seven hundred and forty two pounds and twenty four pence (the 2014/15 allowances) by three was beyond the capabilities of anyone on the council or the Director of Finance.
Actually it may have been. Chris Beazley told me after the meeting he had passed his suggestion to the Director of Finance for comment before making it a Motion, but he got none.
This will be one of those historic decisions that will for ever mark out Bexley council under Teresa O’Neill as an unthinking, uncaring apology for a democratic council. They couldn't consider reducing their allowances because no one knew how to divide a big number by three. Classic!
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) was not to be left out of this debate and reminded us, well I had forgotten and it seemed that I was not the only one, that his party had proposed reducing the number of councillors by a third. The Conservatives had squashed that idea too, eventually settling for a compromise Motion which carefully avoided numbers.
Teresa O’Neill said that a reduction in councillor numbers was in the Tory party manifesto in 2014 but “only the Conservative party had put forward the proposals needed”. Well I suppose they might as only the elected party would have the power to do so, but it’s not my recollection that they were alone in supporting the idea.
A member of the audience called out a reminder that Teresa O’Neill said the same in 2010 but no one did anything about it. A search of the News Shopper archive would prove the veracity of the unanswered assertion.
Councillor Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) tried his best to deflect the debate away from the leader’s weakness by talking about the NHS and saying that was “a clear priority which this administration has set out as our choices as the sort of council we want to be”.
Councillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) wanted to know if there had been any progress on improving council tax collection. There had been, it is now up to around 97% and payment by Direct Debit payment is up to 71%. Even I with a long record of using the old fashioned standing order switched to DD this year. I wonder if anyone won the prize for new sign ups or was that just another council scam?
That answer from Alison Griffin, Finance Director, marked the end of another section of the Agenda, the Financial Plans and Strategy 2018.
The leader signed it off on behalf of the cabinet and what councillors had said never could have any effect on the outcome, that is not how the cabinet system works, at least not in Bexley.
And precisely one hour into the meeting we still haven’t got to the really interesting bit. Parks for Sale!