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Bonkers Blog July 2015

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31 July (Part 2) - The last words

A couple more oddments before the weekend in which I plan to do very little on Bonkers.

Park Sales
Bexley council has ended the month with another Press Release, this time to try to justify its sale of parks. It announces that residents have the whole of the holiday period through to 18th September in which to make a comment.

The object is said to be to sell a tiny proportion of parkland in order to salt away enough money to maintain the remaining parks, otherwise we are going to see grass knee high as Bexley council claims is the case in Greenwich.

Naturally Bexley uses the highest of their various estimates of how much money they have already saved, the £91 million since 2007 one, rather than the £71 million since 2006 I recorded on ‘tape’ at the Resources Scrutiny meeting last March.


IdiotsIt doesn’t really matter what the precise figure is, it’s a lot and Bexley council should not have let the borough get to this state. The leader admitted only a few days ago that she decided not to raise council tax in case the electorate kicked her out for it. She is also keeping very quiet about the role she played in attempting to keep Bexley an obscure and inaccessible backwater. Now, far too late the OBE (Obscure Backwater Enforcer) is going for growth and the money that goes with it.

We are in the mess she helped create and now there is no money left the council says there is no alternative to their plan. Without access to their accounts one can only assume they are probably right. Unless you can think up a scheme that will raise around £20 million, you can kiss Old Farm Park, and all the others, goodbye.

If you participate in the consultation you will be asked to comment on alternatives of the council’s choosing. Removal of children’s playgrounds - spiteful or what? - less money spent on other unspecified council services, or a big, but again unspecified, council tax increase. I think you can safely say that if you don't want parks to be sold few alternatives are offered and you will be voting blind. In other words, a typical Bexley consultation. Very little point in taking part.

Consultation.

Scottish Power
Well the critical web page worked. After initially answering a question I hadn’t asked instead of explaining why they had broken the contract, and then when I complained a third and fourth time, not responding at all to my question, I sent Scottish Power a link to their very own Bonkers’ web page. They didn’t like that!

At 09:27 this morning they phoned me. Apologies, promises to send the responsible customer care assistants for retraining, financial compensation, and a promise that I can move to another supplier without penalty.

A result! But I am still not going to remove their web page.

 

31 July (Part 1) - None too bright?

Abbey Road in the vicinity of its junction with St. Augustine’s Road in Belvedere can be a bit tricky to negotiate. The road is narrow, reduced to only a couple of feet on one side where parking is permitted, there are bus stops more or less opposite each other, the middle white line kinks sharply at one point and it’s on a bend. An accident waiting to happen as my neighbour discovered when encountering a speeding bus on the wrong side of the road.

It suddenly being a quiet time on Bonkers I thought it was about time I went to study the scene myself equipped with my camera.
Bus stops
Photo 1 shows how the road veers to the left and how cars are forced across the centre line, as do the remaining three photographs. The drivers cannot really be at fault, it’s just a damn fool road design of the type for which Bexley is renowned.

As it happens, this one has been noticed by Bexley council, there have been four accidents causing injuries within the past three years. That will be why the area made an appearance in the Agenda of the last Transport Users’ Committee and now the plans have been made public by Mr. Rey, famed for various traffic restriction schemes across the borough.

Traffic islands that prevent access to residents’ drives, unnecessary parking restrictions justified by a lie, the farce which is Ruxley roundabout.

What is he going to do this time to solve a difficult problem? Move the bus stops? Disallow parking on a blind bend and allow a carriageway that can accommodate a bus? Nope!

Vinney Rey’s idea is to install a couple of traffic islands and surround them with more white lined chicanes. Frying pan to fire springs to mind.

Abbey Road Abbey Road Abbey Road Abbey Road

 

30 July (Part 3) - Crossrail accelerates

Crossrail CrossrailAbbey Wood’s Crossrail developments are about to enter a dramatic new phase. The line will be closed for seven weekends out of eight, there is a lot going on.

The utility diversion in Gayton and Felixstowe Roads should be completed within the next couple of weeks clearing the way for construction of the new station.

A new Bostall Manorway footbridge is due to be installed on 23rd August (see below), prefabricated and the job should be done in a day. The old bridge will remain in place until the new one is ready for use.

The new North Kent line platform is getting longer by the day.

Further down the track the connection to the new Plumstead sidings is very nearly made.

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail

 

30 July (Part 2) - Taking a stand

There was a brief reference to the energy company Scottish Power the other day and I confined my comment to ‘avoid at all costs’.

My argument with them has escalated since then and I told them that if they continued to ignore me I would not only report them to the regulator but give them publicity on Bonkers.

A web page makes for an easy reference when I spread the word about Scottish Power as widely as possible.

Maybe if you find yourself at loggerheads with one of these national brainless incompetent behemoths you would like to write your own story to get back at them. We could have a burgeoning Shame Section.

First up for me was BT. Now it is Scottish Power’s turn.

The Main (non-blog) Menu has been modified to create permanent links.

 

30 July (Part 1) - This and that

It’s time to wind down for the end of the month again. With most readers viewing Bonkers in ‘month mode’, adding something important within the last day or two and promptly losing it to the next month has always seemed like a waste to me. Actually there is not anything of great importance lined up for August either.

Bexley council has gone into hibernation mode and there is not another meeting of note until 13th October. Maybe the chairman of Planning might disagree, but apart from Audit and General Purposes there is next to nowt going on in the council chamber.

What is going on while councillors and residents alike take their holidays is another consultation period. And they wonder why so few people participate. Never mind, Bexley council interprets apathy as a lack of objection, and a lack of objection is support.

Park Sales
The month has been dominated by the proposed sell off of Old Farm Park and the possible closure of Belvedere’s Splash Park. Is it Splash Park or Splashpark? The inconsistency in documentation is driving me mad.

Old Farm Park
I don’t give much for Old Farm’s chances of avoiding the bulldozers, there is too much money at stake, the biggest chunk of all the various fire sales.


slaughter oneillCouncillor June Slaughter may have put up some great arguments to save her ward park and exposed the dishonesty within Bexley council but leader Teresa O’Neill (’Orrible Beady Eyes) will be even more determined to have her way. Vindictive? You bet!

And where else will the money come from?

I have remarked before that I thought it was discourteous of the Old Farm people to walk out on the Splash Park debate. This provocative comment posted to the Splash Park’s Facebook page may provide an interesting insight into what they were thinking at the time.
Facebook

Not being negative? Ha! Ha! At the moment I would give more for the Splash Park’s chances than Old Farm’s. Selling Old Farm will put many millions in the coffers. Closing the Splash Park saves ten grand (or was it twenty?) a year and a commercial saviour according to councillor Craske’s formula costs nothing. David Barnes is seriously misguided when he talks of expense. Maybe if he had stayed to listen to the debate…


Belvedere Splash Park
There was a campaign meeting last night attended by community leaders, all three ward councillors, mums and dads, and by the look of them, grandparents too!


TwitterHaving attended Bexley council’s various meetings on the subject I have found it perplexing that they have set down stringent conditions for a business takeover without a single figure attached. They speak of a bond without even defining what they mean by the term let alone a price put on it.

They talk of the need to have something sustainable without once suggesting how long a new facility should be good for. Nothing has been said about the refreshment kiosk and toilet block. Can they be taken over, can they be improved, can they be open all year instead of for only five months, will they allow the park to be shut at night, because at present it is also a short cut from the A206 to Heron Hill?

One would have thought that a council serious about saving the park and allowing only three months to do so would have given out a lot more detail for any business aspiring to keep the water facilities open and I fully expected that information to have been handed to the campaign group, or at least their ward councillors. But no, they hadn’t been given anything at all despite a meeting or two.

One begins to doubt the seriousness of the council’s offer. Their strategy appears to be to make things as difficult as possible for anyone who might stand in their way.

It’s not for me to reveal what the campaigners will do next, keep an eye on their Facebook page for that, but suffice to say there is a plan and their numbers include people with the requisite skills.

No one likes us, we don’t care
Someone who had a meeting with some councillors dropped me an email afterwards. can’t say who, which ones, why or when for obvious reasons, but it included the words, “they really hate you’ to which my reply was the same as it always is, “good”.

I hope it hurts even more that they cannot simply dismiss me as a political opponent. I am a lot closer to David Cameron than any of the current Labour leadership candidates although having seen his performance since May I am very glad that I decided I couldn’t vote for him.


FacebookIt’s not only me that Bexley council doesn’t like. They have, and not for the first time, been asking residents using other social media outlets to lay off the criticism. Joseph Goebbels lives!

Reporting us to the police doesn’t work any more, the cops have got wise to being suckered by false tales of arson and violence, and it provides ammunition for years to come.

But it’s nice to know that somebody loves us.

 

29 July (Part 2) - Abbey Wood Sainsbury’s opens

I drove past the new Sainsbury’s yesterday and got stuck on the roundabout outside. It was gridlocked by a tailback behind two buses picking up passengers at the stop and as there was no room for anyone to pass we had to wait while traffic built up across the station viaduct.

This morning I went back on foot (eleven minutes brisk walk) to see how bad the traffic queue might be with the new Sainsbury’s about to open. The road was clear in both directions and at 08:50 there were very few people waiting for the shop to open only ten minutes later. In those ten minutes things changed considerably.
Sainsburys Sainsburys Sainsburys Sainsburys
Either all the shoppers had driven in or the car park was occupied by a lot of staff, or perhaps more likely, suits from head office.

The staff inside were very attentive.
Sainsburys Sainsburys Sainsburys Sainsburys
The queue for the travelator was as you see, forty or so feet long, but the enormous lifts had few customers. Once at first floor level there were balloons and what I assume was free booze on offer.

Almost needless to say it was a nice store; spacious, light and airy.


O'NeillThere was little chance of me buying anything, I am allergic to shopping. I am allergic to gluten too so my main interest was the ‘Free From’ section where Sainsbury’s usually has a better selection than the other stores.

Abbey Wood was no exception but with bread prices 20% (50 pence) above those in the Asda a mile away, I’ll not be heading back in a hurry. Milk was 12% more expensive.

There were 15 checkout lines, staffed, but largely unemployed so soon after opening, and ten self-service tills.

My way out was blocked by two large Sainsbury’s men in dark suits near the top of the travelator who were so engrossed in their conversation that they failed to notice they were blocking the exit, it was momentarily annoying. Outside, the pedestrian crossing has not yet been commissioned.

Had I arrived half an hour earlier I may have seen someone you all know (Ovenfresh Bun Eater) in the cafe area, in one of her favourite striped jumpers. But fortunately an early bird BiB reader did and his camera phone came to the rescue.

 

29 July (Part 1) - Catching up with Bexley council

While I have been bogged down in park matters of both the wet and dry variety Bexley council has been issuing press releases.

Ward boundaries
It has been in the newspapers in recent days that Bexley council has decided that 45 will be the optimum number of councillors from 2018 onwards and has submitted its reasoning to the Boundaries Commission.

The Commission is expected to give its own ideas on numbers next month.

There is a wealth of detail linked from the council’s Electoral Review page. The compromise figure of 45 was predicted on BiB (final paragraph) six weeks ago and it is backed by all three parties.

Make the motorists pay!
Bexley is to try to remedy its estimated £230,000 losses on CCTV parking enforcement by turning its attention to moving traffic offences. It’s only three months since Teresa O’Neill stood in the council chamber to assure the gullible that although the council had taken the powers there was no decision to actually use them. Given the lead times in introducing such changes it is difficult not to assume it was an attempt to deceive residents.

If it is well signed and people have their wits about them it is unlikely to raise much money, but the attempt to fleece motorists via a new method begins on 1st August.

Press Release. (PDF)

Bexleyheath Broadway
More Broadway disruption begins on Monday 10th August. It’s an extension of the more central broken block scheme to the western end of Broadway as far as Lion Road. Well it needs smartening up but I thought we had no money. Oh, it’s Boris’ money. That’s free money isn’t it? Nobody actually pays.

Press Release. (PDF)

 

28 July (Part 2) - If you ever doubted Bexley council is up to no good…

What would I do without loyal readers? Yesterday, short of time as ever, I invited readers to play Spot the Difference between the March and May Splash Park reports.


O'NeillWhen Teresa O’Neill gets to know that the original report is now public alongside councillor Craske’s version her face may once again look as it did whilst listening to councillor Slaughter speaking about Old Farm Park. (See Photo, it’s a new one.)

I heard councillor Sawyer say in early May he had not seen the report, he was waiting for council officers to ensure it would answer all his questions. I am not at all sure that was the real reason and you may not either if you compare the two now available.


• Fairly inconsequential is that one mentions the number of children using the park, the later one doesn’t. Similarly one says no one knows the design capacity of the park, the other says the numbers were well beyond design capacity.

• Getting more controversial, the original report covers the risk of human soiling (nappies), the council version pulls Cryptosporidium out of the hat.

• Where the consultant’s report doesn’t mention maintenance as much as the council would like, the council makes sure it does.

• The real report refers to the poor workmanship of the replacement rubber surface installed in 2012 under the Conservative administration. It is edited out of the final version.

• The consultant says the filters may possibly be not very good at removing Cryptosporidium and Bexley council step that up to claiming that even replacement filters will not eradicate the problem introducing the word Cryptosporidium twice where it wasn’t present before.

• The March report “understood” there was not a single case of a bad test result being returned but Peter Crsake’s version on the web says “these results often showed levels of bacteria in between cleaning regimes that gave rise to concerns and prompted further investigation”.

• The original conclusion said nothing about further investigations being necessary, the council version does. It also devotes a large section to Cryptosporidium although the consultant had not seen fit to mention it at all.

• Where the consultant offers remedies the council drones on about breeding grounds for bacteria.

• The consultant offers a solution but Bexley council prefers to say “human soiling cannot be prevented”.

• The March report says that with attention to appropriate measures the park can continue. The council’s report emphasises “maintenance on an ongoing basis”. It also considerably beefs up the problems with a mains fed solution.


There is absolutely nothing in the report to suggest that council officers were ensuring that any question councillor Sawyer might have asked would be answered, it is perfectly obvious that they were enlarging the highlighted problems to ensure Bexley council could claim the problems were largely insurmountable.

The original report mentioned Cryptosporidium four times and only as a possibility, Bexley council mentions it twelve times and says that even improved filters may not eradicate it.

It is not hard to conclude that Bexley council has embellished the report to satisfy their own requirement and, put simply, they are crooks.

Here; see what you think. Green text is comment by the BIB reader who prepared the PDF comparison.

 

28 July (Part 1) - Splash the cash or slash the splash - concluded

This second report on the Splash Park debate leading to the inevitable vote to carry on regardless must be something of an anti-climax without any significant contribution from cabinet member Craske. After he eventually digressed and distorted his way to a standstill, cabinet member Massey picked up the reins. Could he do better? Could anyone do worse?


MasseyHe welcomed the publication of (the carefully reconstructed) technical report and the “real, serious and tangible issues that must be addressed and not easily resolved”. It will require “substantial investment whichever option is chosen” and “there are revenue implications as well”.

“We are not in a position to blank cheque any more and any solution must fit in with the budget constraints. I think it is right to postpone the decision for a few months so it can allow any interested party to come up with a solution. If not, by the end of the year, a dry solution will need to be formulated.”

Not bad. Nothing new, nothing we didn’t know already. Wisely, no other cabinet member wished to nail their colours to the mast. Councillors were invited to make a contribution to the debate.

No Conservative councillor said a word in favour of the Splash Park so as usual all the real scrutiny of decisions came from Labour.


NewmanSeán Newman‘s first question was why cabinet member Craske felt it was “prejudicial to meet with residents’ groups” and his second to suggest an apology was in order from him after “attacking the Splash Park group and insulting their intelligence and does not show anywhere that he really wants a constructive outcome to this. Councillor Sawyer earlier talked aboout cynicism over consultations. If we look at the front page of the pink Agenda paper it say Listening to you, Working for you. Well let’s listen. Overwhelmingly, local residents not just in Belvedere, said No, No, do not close our Splash park, but it is still on the agenda.”

“There was a request for a special meeting by six members of this council. It was denied. Unreasonably denied. I have this to say to members opposite, residents will keep on coming back and their voice will be heard.” Cheers and applause.

Craske repeated his denial that he refused to meet residents by referring once again to his email refusing a meeting. Strange man. Stranger still, he attempted to turn the tables on councillor Newman by asking him a question having forgotten that cabinet meetings are to enable councillors to question the cabinet.

There was of course no apology to the residents for the insults.

Councillor Cafer Munir (Conservative, East Wickham) wanted to stir things a little by accusing the opposition of the same. “The opposition have been extremely reckless in downplaying the health hazard. If they spent less time stirring the issue for cheap political points than actually coming to a solution we may very well be sitting here having a totally different conversation”. He asked about the “dry solution” which gave councillor Craske the opportunity to deny that the site would be built on.

Councillor Gill MacDonald objected to Craske’s assertion that she and other local councillors were not involved in the community and provided him with ample evidence that she and her colleagues were very much involved in the community, as anyone who resides to the North of the borough will know.

Her question was about the huge number of restrictions placed on “any potential operator” of the Splash Park and the provision of a mains water system, during which she revealed that Thames Water’s assessment fee would be between £30,000 and £50,000.

Councillor Craske accepted that her concerns for the Splash Park were genuine and then drifted off into his well rehearsed “cost neutral” speech.


McGannonCouncillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) felt “that we are spending too much time scoring points here when what we should be doing is setting up working parties to work with the community to help salvage these things. We are more interested in scoring those political points than solving the problem“. Widespread audience applause.

The trouble with these UKIP upstarts is that they have yet to realise that Bexley council’s idea of democracy is sham consultations and that Listening to you, Working for you is a meaningless sham slogan. But top marks for trying, councillor McGannon.

The leader gave Colin’s idea the thumbs down by saying they were going to wait for three months to see if any commercial interests approached them. Councillor McGannon thought the council should be more proactive.

Councillor David Leaf said “safety has to be a priority” and reeled off a list of things extracted from the council’s version of the consultant’s report.


FerreiraCouncillor Joe Ferreira thought it was unfair that opposition members were accused of not coming forward with ideas for the Splash Park when that was far from the truth. He wanted to know what sort of help the council would give to anyone who might wish to run the Splash Park and he didn’t like the “it’s down to you” attitude.

There was no answer.

Councillor Stefano Borella said that the campaigners were not “complainers and moaners“ but were concerned about “the facility they are worried about losing” and “they are not against another group coming in and running this, it’s not something I have heard about the group, they are open to that suggestion”.

Contrary to the suggestion that Labour has come up with no proposals they had come up with many and “at the time of the Belvedere Splash Park closure there were no proposals from the Conservative benches.”

I was wondering when someone might remember that, the council simply announced the closure. Game Over! It was the campaigners and Labour councillors who came up with ideas to save it, no one else. Certainly not Peter Craske.

Stefano asked what would happen to the children’s playground on the other side of Woolwich Road if a new one was built on the site of the Splash Park. The answer from Deputy Director Ainge was to have both but target them at different age ranges.

With no other questions asked or answered Deputy Leader Sawyer began his own summing up by stating that the technical report options were “never hidden from the public at all. The purpose of the report was not to look into steps that might save the Splash Park, it was to look into the options that might actually make the water safer”.

He “took no personal satisfaction in this report bearing out pretty much everything I said” at public meetings “where I took a fair amount of flak”. There was “some misconceptions about what I said”.

“It was said I had alluded to the fact [on November 1st] that we had had an outbreak of Cryptosporidium. Fortunately I have the note of that meeting and I said e-coli and what I loosely termed nasties.”

After painting dire warnings about the health risks Alex Sawyer said “It was about the children and that is where our focus should be”. Maybe he should speak to Peter Craske, for him it is about the money.

But then Sawyer changed his tune and said it was about the money. “It’s not about the capital it’s the revenue. It’s about the money on a year on year basis. That is why the conditions [for commercial operation] are so steep.”

“We do not come into politics to try and close things down.” How many times have we heard that now?


O'NeillThe leader asked councillor Craske “to wrap up”.

He said he wanted “the facility to open as a better facility than it is now”.

In an attempt to prove his pro-Splash Park credentials he said, “we did not put forward an alternative facility to the Splash Park In 2005 because we didn’t oppose it. We were quite happy for it to open, we thought it was a great facility and we have kept it going for ten years”. Which was rather different to what I have heard in the council chamber before when it was said that all the problems were Labour’s for implementing a mad and badly executed idea in the first place.

The leader said it was a really good debate so she called a vote to defer for three months the decision to close the park while awaiting commercial proposals. It was carried 100% of course and we must wait to see what transpires. There will be a public meeting tomorrow evening.

 

27 July (Part 2) - Splash the cash or slash the splash

While the South deserted the sinking ship leaving the North to man the bilge pumps alone, captain O’Neill ordered her crew to hold their course. First she asked Deputy Director Toni Ainge to repeat the Splash Park case for the prosecution.

The contents of her (allegedly) £40,000 consultant’s report is already well known to those with any interest in the subject and there is no shortage of versions of it.

There’s the Bonkers’ report on the council debate just two weeks ago, the council’s summary of their consultant’s report, the report itself dated May 2015 which cabinet member Craske so very generously arranged to put on line on 19th June, and there is the original consultant’s report dated March, before anyone messed around with it. I’ve had no time to play ‘Spot the Difference’, so if you have time on your hands…

The options are replacement of the existing system, a new mains fed system, or scrapping the Splash Park and installing swings and slides in its place, thereby ending a 100 year old tradition.

Unfortunately Thames Water will not consider any mains based proposal until they see a formal design, and whilst Ms. Ainge did not say so, that will cost money and Bexley council hasn’t got any.

A new recirculating system would cost anything between £175,000 and £380,000 and running costs somewhere between £35,000 and £45,000 a year. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue but that has gone up £3,000 in a fortnight.

None of that is acceptable to Bexley council which has spent the little money available elsewhere and so, quoting Ms. Ainge, “the report being considered by the public cabinet tonight proposes that a period of time is given to see whether it is possible to find a viable way forward to prevent the closure of the facility. It identifies that any potential solution must fully meet the requirements within the report, i.e. that any replacement park is designed in accordance with the consultant’s and specialist suppliers’ design requirement. Secondly that it is supported with a robust, viable and sustainable revenue business plan and thirdly it enables all risks associated with running the facility to be transferred from the council”.


CraskeCouncillor Craske stepped in to say “our position has been clear since last September, it hasn’t changed. We want to see this Splash Park reopen and reopen much better than it is but only on the basis of it being capital and revenue neutral”.

The audience, such is Peter Craske’s track record, was clearly finding his statement less than believable. Where has the money identified by councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) gone, and why is a facility that used to cost £20,000 a year to run, (according to Bexley’s own budget savings document) going to cost £45,000 in future?

Maybe all the savings were no better than guesses. Councillor Craske has form for that too - The Residents’ Parking Permits that cost nearly £250 each to administer.

Councillor Craske is easily riled as has been shown many times in the past so he mounted the first of his attacks on the campaigners. He compared them unfavourably with the Historical Society who “constructively” and successfully negotiated the retention of the borough archives in Bexley when the council’s original proposal was to dump them somewhere in Bromley.

It was hardly a fair comparison. The compromise of reducing archive accessibility in Bexley saved money year on year with no additional capital costs. A moment’s thought would show that finding two to four hundred thousand and twenty to forty thousand a year for ever more, plus putting money aside for another possible replacement ten years down the line is not quite the same as finding a home for dusty files and photographs and saving money year after year; but Craske hadn’t given the subject any thought so continued with his ridiculous comparison.


Save“You can set up a campaign that way or you can sit on the sidelines complaining and being negative but not actually come up with a single idea, that’s the same for their ward councillors.”

“Ward councillors have a duty to come forward with their solutions” he said, safe in the knowledge that councillor Francis had been effectively tricked into being an absentee and unable to refute the claim. (For the first time the meeting had been deferred into the school holiday period and caused a diary clash.)

“Examples I have just touched on, I can think of examples in Sidcup ward, Blackfen and in Northumberland Heath councillors campaigned for investment in their town centre. They are the two approaches and each have a different outcome.” Was that a threat?

“I was a bit surprised when I picked up the Bexley Times to see I had refused to meet anyone. I have had a consistent view to everyone, until we got to this decision I wouldn’t meet with anyone. I have consistently to ensure no particular view gets weight over another. I have consistently to every single group said I won’t meet anyone until after this meeting.”

So the Bexley Times was right then, what was Craske complaining about?

He was “disappointed to read that he had refused to meet and people make claims that are not true”.

At election time former cabinet member Sawyer had suggested a meeting as soon as the report was published but the new man on the job replied as follows to the request…


Thank you for your email.

Following my decision to publish in full the report by Watermans about the Splash Park, a report will be presented to the Cabinet shortly for consideration.

Until that time, I won't be meeting anyone, on either side of the arguments.

That is to ensure we have approached the matter with fairness and without one group getting an advantage over any other.

Once the Cabinet has reached a decision, then I am sure there will be opportunities for discussions.

Kind regards

Cllr Peter Craske


ReadPeter Craske may plead he did not refuse a meeting but clearly he did, at least at the time requested. Maybe Philip Read had the right idea.

Cabinet member Craske continued…

“What I don’t understand is why people think it’s solely the job of the council to provide these facilities and why it is only for the state to provide.”

I believe it was included in Faye Ockleford’s deputation, but business participation has been on the agenda ever since the Conservative election candidate persuaded the campaigners that it might be the only viable option.

Craske knows that. He may not have heard a leading campaigner say “Anna Firth has been absolutely brilliant” as I did, but he is absolutely wrong if he thinks her initiative has been rejected. But it may suit him to do so.

Sensing that Craske might be losing the plot, leader O’Neill asked the audience to cease correcting his misinformation.

Craske continued to twist the truth and the audience became ever more annoyed, T. O’N OBE (Obliteration, Banishment, Elimination) threatened them with ejection.

Councillor Craske then shifted his attack to the Labour administration which commissioned the Splash Park. It had run £170,000 over budget and impacted on playground provision elsewhere in the borough. “They also put a stupid plaque up.”

And the relevance to 2015 is?

Getting back on topic he said “there is clearly no point in doing it up to the state it is in now with the same problems”. Has anyone suggested that?

It got worse, he repeated the problems with the water quality identified  by the consultants, and the “water keeps going back and is recirculated and is sent round again and over the years the problem has built up and got worse and worse and there are serious health issues that result from that. There are water borne diseases like Cryptosporidium which is a very serious notifiable disease”.

The public asked how many cases there had been but as before, an embarrassing question resulted in more threats from the chair. For the record there has been no testing for Cryptosporidium.

Sensing once again that things were not going well, councillor Craske switched back to ancient history and a News Shopper report from 2005 that park patrons had suffered diarrhea. It seems prevalent in the council chamber too.

Rapidly changing tack again, councillor Craske said “I think we should listen to what people say and the best way of doing that is to look at the ballot box results. I mean a year after the site opened the people of Belvedere kicked out two of the Labour councillors. At the General Election just gone one candidate put forward a proposal for reopening the facility and that was the Conservative candidate and the News Shopper reported that the campaigners were outraged that someone had put forward a plan to reopen it. The Labour party candidate put forward no plans at all but was elected so I think we should listen to what people say and there’s a pretty good indication of what they said.”

We all voted on the future of the country based on a big puddle? I didn’t, did you?

And as if that wasn’t already pretty far removed from reality Craske added “that I don’t get why people are opposed to a business running it” and the repetition of the same tired untruth provoked more protest from the audience. Maybe Craske was doing it deliberately but it sounded as though he’d absolutely and totally lost the plot.

“People can either spend the next three months complaining and moaning or they can set out the details of their proposals to save the park. We can’t wait for ever and people have got to make up their minds.” True enough I suppose but that is exactly what the campaigners tried to do but Craske didn’t want to know.

I don’t know about you but I cannot take any more of this, Craske is going around in circles getting nowhere, upsetting everyone and shooting off insults and untrue allegations as if we were back in in his 2011 heyday.

Maybe the campaigners will hate me for this, but being of the conservative persuasion myself I was probably the nearest thing Craske had in the public gallery to an ideological friend. I can see absolutely where he is coming from and I can fully appreciates that he has been given a poisonous chalice - serves him right! - but the way he goes around his business is totally ridiculous, obnoxious even.

If even a friend, in that very limited sense, thinks Craske comes across like a rambling arse, what hope is there for a reconciliation with those less sympathetic to his views?

I am aware that this report is far from reading as a well structured piece but I think it may have captured the true nature of cabinet member Peter Craske’s defence of council policy fairly accurately. Rambling, unfocussed and often irrelevant.

Unfortunately there is more of this to come. Give me strength!

 

27 July (Part 1) - Try something new on Wednesday

Sainsbury’s Abbey Wood store will open on Wednesday but has evidently thought twice about flouting the Sunday trading laws. 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. has been toned down to a law abiding 11 till 5.

I expect I shall take a look but I doubt it will become my supermarket of choice, it will be a shorter walk than Asda but if I choose to drive, Belvedere is easy and Harrow Manorway is likely to be a nightmare.

The narrowed and already overloaded road may force me into Picardy Manorway and the A2016 when heading off to Blackwall in future.

Last time I did my weekly shop in Sainsbury’s the cheerful checkout girl told me it had cost twenty nine pence less than in Asda. I resisted asking if her name was Cheryl Bacon.
Sainsbury's Sainsbury's Sainsbury's Sainsbury's
The beautifully positioned but still prominent travelator warning is welcoming is it not but the garden and benches look nice enough before the mandatory etching and dumped litter takes over.

 

26 July (Part 4) - Snoozing, slaughtering and scowling

Hunt and ReadThe long awaited fight for Old Farm Park began in earnest with a question from councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) while councillors opposite were, as you can see, enraptured by his and subsequent arguments.

Joe wanted to know what the cabinet thought of the worry that once a park is sold, the land is gone for ever. He also noted with relief that Old Manor Way playground had been saved but quoting councillor Craske’s oft repeated assertion “when something comes out something must go in” asked what that something was.

Leader Teresa O’Neill failed to invite councillor Craske to respond which was a cunning move but I would suggest that Old Manor Way was one of Bexley council’s elaborate Aunt Sallies.

Deputy Director Toni Ainge has already said that council staff had assessed the land’s suitability for development and it would be a very incompetent council officer who missed the sewers, the multiple manhole covers, the dene holes and mineshafts. The fact that Conservative councillors took up the cudgels vigorously on residents’ behalf at possible risk to their reputations locally if they failed, and eighty year old council documents which placed difficulties in the path of any sale were miraculously found, suggests either a put up job or a council officer who should be shown the door.


LeitchCouncillor Rob Leitch (Conservative, Sidcup) was invited to speak next. He covered his back first as would any councillor hoping to progress under Bexley’s political dictatorship and he “would stress that I absolutely accept the harsh financial realities we face as a council and I am absolutely committed to my Conservative colleagues to come up with as many alternatives as possible”.

Thus hopefully smoothing his path the “however” word made its appearance.

“Less than a week ago at full council residents presented a petition of 2,500 signatures, and remember it was the people who put us here” and he was then drowned out by the applause.

“The key message from residents was that once land is sold it is impossible to get it back and therefore it is similar to the argument made for the use of reserves.”

Sharpening his dagger his message reached its climax; “I was expecting to spend the last weekend sifting through a hefty document of the technical evaluation, looking for strengths and weaknesses in the case put forward” but the whole document consisted of “just 270 odd words”.

He was very disappointed as the whole borough should be. There was “very little analysis”. It is essential that residents have the full story and with total transparency before being consulted, would be the simplest summary of his concluding remarks.

Rob Leitch was deservedly cheered to the rafters by Old Farm and Splash Park campaigners alike.


SlaughterCouncillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup), a still occasionally practising solicitor, adopted a more analytical approach to putting her head in the noose.

June was also disappointed by the 270 word appraisal of the proposed sale. The cabinet member’s promise was “I will be publishing the details of the report in full for anyone to see. Nothing will be kept secret or hidden in order to ensure openness and transparency” but the report is “so limited that it raises more questions than it gives answers”.


O'NeillIt says nothing about “the site abutting a Grade II Nature Conservation area” and it fails to mention the London Wildlife Trust recommendations.

Councillor Slaughter suggested the council may have deliberately delayed publication of a wildlife review until after the proposed sale went out for consultation. You can understand why leader O’Neill’s eyes were aiming daggers in June’s direction. It really is worth enlarging this one to see her scowl in all its ugly glory.

The report made “no reference to the council’s open spaces policy”, she said in a voice not entirely free of implied sarcasm. Maybe I should offer June a guest writing spot. I can imagine that Bexley Tories’ Kangaroo Court will be reconvened shortly.

But June wasn’t finished. “Bexley has the fourth lowest percentage of green space out of the 19 Outer London boroughs”. (Department for Communities and Local Government figures.)

No summary could do June total justice so here is her speech in full.

16·1 megabytes of my web space June (.mp3 & .ogg), but you are worth it!

The by now very sour faced chairman quickly asked councillor Craske to rescue her from this onslaught of home truths.

All he could come out with was a repetition of the assertion that all they were doing tonight was putting the proposals out for further consultation. He regretted that the response rate to consultations was “so small” and repeated that he was not going to make any comment beforehand, he had no prior interest in the consultation result “one way or the other”. A delightfully ambiguous response. Bexley council never does seem to be interested in consultation results.

What is councillor Craske going to do when the public votes decisively against selling Old Farm Park?

Members of the public were not happy with his question dodging and said so.

Deputy Director of Leisure and Parks Toni Ainge (£82,602 p.a. plus 20·6% pension contribution and 32 days leave) was invited to defend her 270 word technical report. She said it was only a summary. She confirmed that June Slaughter’s Wildlife Report was not ready for publication after 18 months “of process”.

Director Paul Moore said the report “would not adversely impact on the proposals”.


BorellaCouncillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) reminded everyone that all the Conservatives, even councillors Leitch and Slaughter, had already voted in council for all the sites to be considered for disposal. Stef is a very naughty boy, he knows full well that dissension in the ranks is not allowed.

Like councillor Ferreira before him, Stefano asked what was going to replace Old Manor Way on the list and like Joe he got no answer.

If Old Farm Park is saved “residents all over the borough will be very nervous about that”, the big question being would residents vote to save Old Farm Park without knowing if their own local park would be for the chop instead. Cock up or part of a cunning ‘bias the consultation’ strategy?

Leader O’Neill said that Stefano’s question was invalid “because there is nothing out yet”. Is that dementia or deception? Old Manor Way is definitely out.

A member of the public who corrected a similar statement from councillor Craske was asked to be quiet.

Deputy leader Alex Sawyer said that no site on the list “was more important than any other” which presumably explains why some have provoked vigorous protests and others barely a whimper. Politicians would be well advised to engage brain before opening mouth.

As if to apologise for the statement he immediately followed it with “politicians are not right all the time” and then made another big mistake. He suggested in front of those who had presented a 2,500 signature petition that people do not respond when requested.

The public did not like that either and were again told to be quiet.

Sawyer said that if the park is not sold there would be “no further playground provision in the borough”. Presumably Sawyer Junior would have to play with Mummy in Witham in future.

In Bexley “there would be no one to check if someone had left a razor blade on a slide or if a screw was loose”. Things were getting desperate now. Perhaps there has been a screw loose all along.

“Across the borough border beyond Shooters Hill [Greenwich] the grass is three to four feet high, that is what will happen to open spaces in this borough“.

The audience began widespread giggling while once again Alex trotted out his favourite “none of us came into politics to cut service” line. After a last ditch attempt to make amends for a succession of faux pas by praising the members of the audience for “getting off their backsides and coming along” he promptly sat down on his.

Labour leader Alan Deadman brought up the ‘something in something out’ question again and where his two able lieutenants had failed, met with a modicum of success. Director Paul Moore admitted “there was not a fallback list at this point in time”.


BeazleyCouncillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St. Michaels) suggested the council should encourage “some sort of voluntary group to maintain the parks”.

This went down very well with the audience and even councillor Craske’s response did not pour too much cold water on it, in fact he eventually got around to saying he “absolutely agreed”. Anything that might help bring the session to an end, but the suggestion will not actually raise a penny for his gaping black hole.

Chris Beazley was also keen to know where the consultation would be advertised. Toni Ainge said it would be advertised in all the usual places. A member of the audience suggested the Bexley Magazine would be a better place than the back pages of the News Shopper, poorly distributed and the Legal Notices little read.

Councillor Craske appeared to suggest that the council website was good enough but a restless audience made him difficult to hear.

The leader said it had been “a very good debate” and wrapped it up with a quick cabinet vote as soon as she could. Unanimous of course.

As the Splash Park debate commenced an amazing thing happened. All the Old Farm protesters noisily trooped out. Do they not think there might be strength in numbers? The Splash Park people have supported them on their Facebook page and supported them in the council chamber but the reverse seems to be far from true. When Bexley council has divided the opposition and ruled maybe they will regret their selfishness.

 

26 July (Part 3) - Felixslowe progress

A letter arrived from Crossrail yesterday to say that Felixstowe Road would be closed today for resurfacing. It would be nice to have it restored to normal after best part of a year, I must look it up, of one way working. (†)

I took a stroll down there between downpours to see how they were getting on but it looks as though the weather won the day.
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
I imagine that the old road will eventually form part of the waiting area for the new station. Meanwhile Abbey Wood has lost even more parking capacity. (Photo 4.)

† More than nine months.

 

26 July (Part 2) - Cllr. Massey advocates one to one obesity mentoring. For whom he didn’t say

At last the Cabinet meeting moved on to the sale of five open spaces, part of the March budget decision but yet to go forward to the formal public consultation stage.

She who must be obeyed said that the budget decisions had been the subject of widespread consultation without revealing anything of the results. You may safely guess why.

It fell to council official Toni Ainge to set the scene for the well planned fait accompli.


O'NeillThere are 27 sites with potential for redevelopment and for funding the council’s capital programme. They had been identified by various council officers with, as the audience murmured, no input from the public. The leader, visibly agitated, asked the public to be quiet and threatened their removal from the chamber. Teresa O’Neill OBE (Or Be Ejected). Widespread mocking "oooohs".

Ms. Ainge continued. The full technical assessments by all the council’s many departments was now complete for five sites. Old Farm Park, Old Manor Way playground, West Street park and Wilde Road East and West.

She said there were issues with Old Farm Park. One was the area was “deficient in semi-natural open space” and the other lack of “play provision”.

Old Manor Way playground we already know about, it has several large sewers running through it and is “a critical drainage area”. Additionally it is riddled with dene holes and mine shafts and therefore totally unsuitable for easy redevelopment. Someone didn’t do their homework when putting it on the sales list but it has allowed councillor Peter Craske to give it a reprieve and claim the credit. Maybe it was another ’aunt sally’ like Craske’s proposed abolition of lollypop ladies five years ago?

Nobody seems to much care about the other three sites although West Street has adverse parking implications.


CraskeCouncillor Craske wished to comment. His contribution was a reminder that tonight “the decision is not to formally dispose of any of the sites listed but to start a consultation on that. It would be wrong for us to express a view one way or the other”.

He accepted that disposal is unpopular “but every councillor has to take a wider view of the borough. If you remove an item something else has to go in its place, which may be worse”.

Apart from repeating the gradually exaggerated figure for the alleged savings on the new offices, £1 million, 1·5 million and now £2 million, much of what councillor Craske said was unexceptional.


MasseyCouncillor Don Massey wanted to get in on the act too but all he did was trample over Ms. Ainge’s territory again by quoting page 173 of the Agenda (see below) and reiterated all the old stuff about dene holes and mine shafts.

What was the point of that? Councillor Craske made the favourable decision on Old Manor Way several meetings ago. It’s over and done with. It’s coming to something when a cabinet member manages to make Peter Craske sound like an intellectual. £23,000 a year could be saved there.

Massey saw no reason why Old Farm Parks should not proceed to the next stage, and looking unashamedly at the leader, gave his opinion on obesity levels in the borough. The way to improve things was not parks but “organised activity and one to one mentoring. An open space near where you live does nothing for obesity”. To counter audience dissent he said, “what works is what happens in Thamesmead”.

He then formally threw his support behind the sale proposals to progress to the next stage.

“What are you going to sell off when these places have gone?” came a voice from the audience to the sound of applause, but answer came there none. The question is unanswerable.

Agenda
And then the council heavyweight threw the debate open to the other councillors present, the bit we had all been waiting for.

 

26 July (Part 1) - ‘Nasties’ in the pool said the nasties in the chamber

Splashpark
The statement above made in the original campaign leaflet last November is just as true today as it was then and the efforts to save it have not diminished either. Next Wednesday there is to be another open meeting in the Royal Standard in Nuxley Road.

Here’s the official campaign invitation for you to be there and help preserve a little of the borough’s heritage from those who are content to vote for their own allowances, increases to senior staff pay and unspecified financial hurdles for anyone who might be interested in mounting a Splash Park rescue operation.


On 29th July in the Royal Standard in Belvedere the Save Our Splash Park campaign will hold an open meeting with the aim of letting people know the position and seeing if any of the local community are interested or willing to form a charitable body to take on some role regarding the park.

By 22/10/2015 any bids to run the splash park must be submitted to the Council.

The council will decide if any bids meet their criteria. If they do, then it is possible the park may reopen as a privately run venue, probably offering more services than just the water park and attracting customers all year round.

If no bid is suitable, then the park will close and the Council have suggested they will replace the water park with a play park for younger children.


I could have sworn that I heard deputy leader Alex Sawyer stumble over the word Cryptosporidium at that original meeting, but maybe it was a later one, but a Freedom of Information request revealed Bexley council had not tested for it.

Last Wednesday I heard Alex Sawyer say he never had used the word but always referred to unidentified “nasties” instead. Nasties was certainly one of his favourite words and without a recording we will have to accept what he says. Odd that so many people believed he had uttered the C word. Good job it’s hard to pronounce.

 

25 July (Part 3) - Cabinets, costings and cretinous comments

The prospect is somewhat daunting but I must press the Play button on the recorder again.


Beazley O'NeillCouncillor 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!


NewmanCouncillor 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”.


Leaf/McGannon 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!

 

25 July (Part 2) - Belvedere’s not so superstore

If I had the time I would extend this blog to slagging off companies that have no idea about good customer service, maybe I just did with the reference to Abbey Wood station in the rain.

Top of my list would be Scottish Power but the things they can do wrong may be beyond my descriptive powers, I’ll just summarise by saying avoid that company at all costs.


AsdaToday Belvedere’s Asda would hit the headlines. I bought some gluten free loaves (£2·50 each) there a month or two ago and although they were within date two were stale and inedible. The manufacturer apologised and said they had made a bad batch and insisted on sending me two tokens for £3 each. I tried to redeem them this morning picking up three loaves at £2·50.

I was told I could not have £3 or £6 off because one loaf cost less than the token’s value. I joined the queue that was demanding to see the manager. Yes there was one and it wasn’t long past 8:30.

Last night under the influence of too much beer I bored the pants off a friend with stories of totally incompetent managers who didn’t have a clue what they were doing. In BT I never found one outside engineering circles who knew how the international telephone exchange worked but nevertheless issued instructions on how it should be operated. Asda must have a similar school of management.

I pointed out that I had £7·50 worth of eligible products and the tokens totalled only £6. No go! I had to buy an individual product costing £3 or more. I said, truthfully, there weren’t any.

They changed tack. I could get £3 off two loaves at £5. What do I do with the other token? “Come back next week and repeat the procedure” - probably encountering the same problem with another moronic manager.

I decided to go round twice there and then. A lowly paid but sympathetic cash desk operator took pity on me and slipped my purchases through the scanner in one go but pressed the end button half way through so as to produce two bills. Job done. Promote that man.

Sainsbury’s opens in Abbey Wood next week, but have you seen their prices! Doubt I will be seen there too often.

Now, how can I put off analysing that cabinet meeting tape a bit longer?

 

25 July (Part 1) - Abbey Wood station in the rain. An absolute disgrace

Despite the rain, ‘the gang’ converging from different parts of London decided to go to the Oval as apparently match rules allow play up to 20:45 - I’m no expert so please don’t complain if I am wrong.


StationI arrived at Abbey Wood station in torrential rain only a couple of minutes after the previous train was due but the crowded platform indicated it had not arrived. On the other side they were announcing that the Barnehurst train had failed again. The sixth failed train I had encountered in my four most recent travelling days. The seventh if that was the reason for the up train not showing, but the London bound passengers were given no information at all.

The Cannon Street train I planned to catch was briefly indicated as following the later Charing Cross train although it eventually arrived in front of it, but ten minutes late. So I spent nearly 20 minutes along with sixty or seventy people on a station platform that has shelter for about eight. Some crowded under the footbridge and others had no alternative but to risk a drowning.

The lift attendants who are always to be seen hanging around on the footbridge poised to react to the bell were nowhere to be seen. Who could blame them, it has no roof? The railway companies, whichever is responsible for the disgraceful conditions at Abbey Wood station, can expect to get a vivid description of the situation at the next Crossrail Liaison Panel meeting. Another two or more years of what took place yesterday is totally unacceptable.

Following an unfortunate incident with an umbrella a friendly conversation broke out among several unhappy passengers. There was considerable ignorance about the station construction stages and my statement that half the new footbridge would be removed was met with incredulity. “How will anyone get into the station?”

No one, literally, was aware that the access would be via Harrow Manorway to two island platforms.

My train eventually limped into London Bridge 25 minutes late, the cancellation notice went up on the Oval gate just as I arrived and we managed to find a city branch of Wetherspoons which was charging up to £4·25 for a pint of beer. Not the best of days out.

 

24 July - Caught at mid-wicket - or something

Right, the frivolity and sarcasm must end and the defence some councillors mounted to the attack on the family silver proposed by the Conservative cabinet in the face of savage government cuts to the grant must be analysed.


Trainers DeadmanThere were signs that some councillors dropped what they were doing in a hurry and rushed to the chamber - all hands to the pumps.

The first to speak was Labour leader Alan Deadman who began the debate as he usually does with important issues, by thanking the staff who had written the reports.

His first reference was to the supposed cuts in councillor allowances and he agreed there had been some but most had “fallen on this side of the table and a number of extra ones were found for over there”, a reference to the six £3,000 a year posts invented for scrutiny committees. “A redistribution of wealth” he called it. “We could have saved a lot more money”.

Councillor Deadman agreed that “reserves could only be used once” and should perhaps have gone on to say parks can only be sold once.

I think I heard councillor Deadman ask (through much nearby coughing) if the published receipts figure for the sale of open spaces included Old Farm Avenue Park while commenting that councillor Craske failed to make any mention of the proposed sale of that park, the splash park “or anything else in his portfolio in his ‘leadership approach comeback speech’”. The public clapped loudly.

Councillor Deadman had no particular quarrel with the cabinet members for Adults’ and Children’s Services. The same was not true of councillor Don Massey, who Deadman said had, not for the first time, accused him of scare mongering.

“Threatening a 55% hike in council tax could be describes as the same thing.” More cheers.


O'NeillCouncil leader Teresa O’Neill ruled that the question on the general sale of open spaces was invalid, tonight was for specific proposals.

She said that councillors’ allowances had not been increased since 2007 but failed to address the question of the newly introduced six £3,000 positions for her Conservative friends.

Cabinet member Don Massey was invited to answer the 55% question but instead launched a personal attack on councillor Deadman and his party. Apparently they are supposed to come up with an alternative budget each year. “When is Labour going to step up to the plate as they do in Barking & Dagenham and Lambeth?” apparently forgetting that they are Labour run councils.

He said he definitely hadn’t been scare mongering and he “cares about the residents of this borough”. Cue laughter.

Councillor Craske made no comment.


BorellaCouncillor Stefano Borella said he didn’t understand councillor Craske’s comparison of Bexley with Greece. “That is scaremongering and it is wrong.”

He objected to the Tory claim that they have been a low tax council and referred back to 1989 to 1991 when a Conservative administration raised tax by 42%.

Stefano made comparison with Bromley where council tax had been raised in small increments. If Bexley had done that “in 2010 when you had a massive mandate it would have protected a lot of services”.


No bridge“Greenwich started a growth programme many years ago and is reaping the rewards for it now”. Bexley did not. Quite the reverse. (Picture right.)

Referring to alternative budgets councilor Borella said “when Labour was in control of Bexley in 2002-2006 there was no opposition budget, ‘your job’ was the words you used”.

“If we had had better planning in the past we would be better dealing with some of the issues faced now.” More applause.

Council leader O’Neill complained that councillor Borella was smirking and said the comparison with Greece was valid, “it meant living within your means”. She could not resist the comment I have heard innumerable times before, the Tories may have raised council tax 42% within a couple of years but more recently “Labour raised taxes by 40% in four years”. So there!

“We could have put up council tax like other councils, we chose not to because we believed that Bexley taxpayers didn’t want those tax rises and they proved that at the ballot box.”

So there is the ultimate proof that Bexley has been managed not for the good of the borough but in a manner calculated to improve the Tories’ electoral chances.


MacDonaldCouncillor Gill MacDonald made the point that the council had cut back on meetings, scrutiny in particular, and asked council officers not to attend unless they have to but according to the schedule no savings had accrued or were expected.

“Does this mean that we are going to outsource committees and will it relate to planning and attendance only for a specific item, I don’t think that is going to work.”

Chairman O’Neill said the attendance provisions related only to officers and will save money but no light was shed on the amount or the absence of any estimate.

Councillor Chris Beazley said he appreciated that the budgetary situation owed a lot to the reduction in central government grants but sending £60 million a day to the EU would save an awful lot of parks, or words to that effect. I think that is why UKIP won the Euro-elections Chris and gained 14% of the General Election vote.

Look people, don’t all laugh at once, but as the skies darken and the heavens open, I have a long standing appointment at the Oval Cricket Ground, so that is all you are going to get today. There is lots awaiting comment and no doubt I shall be delivering councillor June Slaughter’s speech in full, the one that made Teresa O’Neill’s eyes pop out. If looks could kill…

 

23 July (Part 2) - Giving up

The expectation, as implied by the use of (Part 1) earlier today was, to carry on summarising this week’s Cabinet Meeting, but it is not to be, at least not today.


Broken train Broken trainThe planned three hour round trip across the river to my destination less than four miles away - thanks Bexley Tories, if it wasn’t for you I could probably have nipped across on a bus in minutes - took nearly five hours. I managed to get entangled with a broken Southeastern train on both the outward and homeward journey, although I must make clear that the delay was only half an hour in total. Unanticipated problems on the other side did most of the damage.

The broken down Barnehurst bound train had stopped short at Abbey Wood and instead of limping to the Slade Green depot It was sent back to Plumstead on the wrong track. Note the red rear lights in both photos.

One might expect it to be parked in the Plumstead sidings but my own train was held up while the failed one was allowed to get in front, thereby maximising the delay on the down side and introducing a new one on the up too. Excellent customer care.

Looking on the bright side I had plenty of time to look at the new Crossrail facility while waiting for a green signal.

I’m going to have to look seriously at saving time and I have made the first decision. I am going to stop participating in Facebook.

I began only a month ago and I still haven’t a clue what it is supposed to do although I did manage to use the Share button. It annoys me that it’s near impossible on a busy site to find again a comment one has read earlier.

The last straw was encountered late last night when after a long tiring day I stupidly decided to counter a Facebook comment that said councillor Peter Craske had been elected on 62% of the vote (implying he was popular) and went on to suggest he had absolutely nothing to do with the funny business in 2011. All that mucky homophobic hate crime stuff.

Obviously he is entirely innocent of all wrong doing and I wouldn’t dare say otherwise, but the police did trace the naughty blog post to his telephone line and naughty emails were signed off by Robin and Batman and came from Parsons Brinckerhoff the company with which councillor Craske placed a £4 million contract.
Batman
The content of the blog post could only have been known to someone holding an influential council position with intimate knowledge of car parks and councillor Craske was in charge of car parks at the time. An incredible series of unfortunate coincidences and Craske is innocent OK? Please remember that.

Despite councillor Craske being innocence personified I found myself arguing with a total stranger who was absolutely sure of the same thing. How mad is that? I’m not going to waste time on Facebook again.

The 62% vote was an incorrect reference to the total for the Conservatives in Blackfen & Lamorbey (councillor Craske's ward). The correct figure for the successful Tories is 29% of which Craske obtained 14%.

Where do people get these strange ideas from? It just shows how far we have to go to educate the apathetic and the gullible of this borough, but it is a weird electoral system that allows the council leader to claim an overwhelming mandate when the man planning to sell our parks would not be in office if fewer than 200 votes had been carefully placed elsewhere. Arithmetically that man would have been Mick Barnbrook.

2014 Election results.

Far too knackered to listen to recordings and write a complex blog this evening and there is unlikely to be time tomorrow. Maybe I should find something else to give up.

 

23 July (Part 1) - The case for cuts. (Continued)

The remaining five cabinet members set out to illustrate how their portfolios would suffer if the land sales up for discussion did not go ahead.


PallenCabinet Member Eileen Pallen began with a reminder that her Adults’ Social Care budget was larger than all others. She said that “some older residents provided valuable nan and granddad support for their children to go out to work. They are the backbone of the voluntary sector.”

“A little bit of support now can help prevent far larger bills coming to the council down the line.”

Getting closer to the point, councillor Pallen said she understood how people “stood up for the things that we believe are important to us. Quite often, unless a resident or their families use these [Adults’] services, people feel large sums of money that they may feel could be spent on other things without sometimes understanding that the council has a legal statutory responsibility to provide much of the cost of these services. It is our duty to make sure the money for those services are available.” One minute forty five seconds.


Read Councillor Read Philip said the emphasis in his department, Children’s Services, was also on “prevention is the key to holding down future higher costs and promoting better outcomes in the longer term”.

“Keeping families together benefits us all particularly in the case of children”, he said, to which there will no doubt be hollow laughter from several BiB readers maliciously deprived of their children by out of control social workers.

His strategies “would reduce other problems, for example anti-social behaviour, which would reduce complaints from residents and demands on education, health and the police”.

He was driving forward the aim to save money by reducing reliance on agency workers some of whom “set themselves up as private limited companies. Children’s Services was making a significant contribution to Strategy 2018”, the cuts. Four minutes forty five seconds.

If councillor Pallen was slow to demonstrate that her department needed every penny it could get, councillor Read never got there at all.


Craske Councillor Peter Craske was rather more focused, he immediately referred to the reduced government grants. It was 70% of income five years ago and will be down to 5% within three. £11 million down.

The country can “no longer invent money and borrow it. Look at Greece.”

“We have made a huge amount of savings already and the options become less, they become limited with each year that goes by.”

He continued in similar vein leading to “It’s taxpayers’ money and that is why we have to be careful with it. The theory of massive council tax rises has been tested to destruction in the past and by law we cannot raise council tax by more than 1·9% without a referendum that would cost £300,000”.

“We can’t pretend that there is money there that doesn’t exist. People can’t just moan and complain and I can’t complain, we have to come up with alternatives.”

“The scale of what is set out here is so big you can’t ignore it. Remember, if something comes out something else has to go in and that could be worse.”

“We want people to get involved, you can’t just sit back and moan and complain, it’s not good enough any more, everyone must play a role in this. If people don’t respond to the budget consultation then there’s a lot of questions to be asked.” Five minutes fifteen seconds.

If the object of the exercise was to demonstrate on behalf of the council how they are stuck between a rock and a hard face then Peter Craske made a far better fist of it than the earlier speakers. Those in the gallery who were recipients of his correspondence and knew a little more of his unorthodox approach to consultation, could be heard expressing their disbelief at the thinly veiled remarks directed towards them.

SawyerDeputy council leader Alex Sawyer managed to direct his words towards the need to avoid the financial pitfalls ahead without resort to a catalogue of figures. His favourite sound bite, “none of us came into politics to reduce services but we are where we are” was heard yet again. It”s about time he asked Priti to pen him a new slogan.

“It is inevitable that the public will sometimes disagree with us but we have to run this council in the interests of the whole borough.” Two minutes precisely.


Fuller I must have been so entranced by John Fuller’s oratory that I forgot to take a picture, all I have is this unfortunately timed slightly fuzzy image from the periphery of another shot. Apologies to John.

Being last to go, the Cabinet Member for Education could not be expected to add anything radically new so he announced “a different tack”.

“By 2016 two out of five councils in England”, he said, “would not be able to place their children into schools”. Let that sink in for a minute. “In Bexley we have done very well but those arriving in the borough are putting on more and more pressure which we have to pay for. We set our targets but things may go wrong.”

“Special Educational Needs is growing. We are allocated a grant for just under 900 children and we have 1,200.”

“We are expanding our schools and everything for the next year or two is covered but we need another ten and a half million. I’d just like to give my little warning there of what might happen in education.” Frightening, there are just too many of us.

A lot to think about from John Fuller in a very efficient two minutes and six seconds.

Council leader O’Neill then allowed questions from councillors which was the start of putting the meat into the meeting. Let the games begin, but later!

 

22 July (Part 3) - The case for cuts

The microphones which were constantly switching themselves off at last week’s council meeting must have had expert attention in the meantime because the sound was perfectly clear last night when people spoke into them, and most did.


O'NeillAfter spending no more than a few seconds on the preliminary formalities the council leader immediately began her explanation of the current budgetary situation. Make no mistake, it is dire but Teresa O’Neill OBE (Oratorical Best Ever?) explained it very clearly if somewhat boastfully.

She said she had been elected “because we are known for sound financial management of the borough” which raised the first of the evening’s many belly laughs.

The theme was “you can’t spend what you haven’t got, you have to live within your means and statutory responsibilities have to come first”.

Foolishly perhaps, she then referred to the 2015 General Election result and the plight of Greece. More jeers!

The government grant has reduced and responsibilities have increased due to more young people and more old people. There is an “element of crystal ball gazing but we have a good record”.

“Our long term plan is to be self-financing” so “the growth agenda is really important”. It was at this point the scare-mongering began with the claim that council tax would have been doubled since 2006 if nothing else had been done. A figure which my own calculations suggest is not far wrong.

“No alternative [strategies] came forward so we are where we are. There are no quick fixes, we have done the things that don’t impact residents, we’ve tried to protect the front line as much as possible, we have sought efficiencies, cut staff, frozen wages and cut allowances. We are looking to reduce councillors and moved to this site which saves us two million pounds a year in running costs.”

After a mere five minutes and 45 seconds she came to an end after making a fairly compelling case. Would it be nitpicking to remind people that the poorer members of society have had a raw deal from everything from cuts to Citizen’s Advice and Voluntary Services grants to the imposition of council tax on benefit claimants? But such people are not generally Tory voters.

Wages have gone up a bit and going up in excess of inflation again and new councillor allowances have been introduced, but never mind that, we are supposed to have forgotten by now.


GriffinDirector of Finance Alison Griffin took up the same theme but more detailed and technical.

The last financial year saw overspending reduced but there are “unprecedented financial challenges ahead. Between 2010 and 2018 government funding will have fallen by nearly 60%.”

As we have heard so often before, Children’s Services constantly put the budget under strain as does the aging population and the homeless. “There will be a £47 million funding gap by 2020/21. The recent budget, in particular the Living Wage, has not helped but the precise details won’t be known until near Christmas.

The Finance Director said the savings identified since 2010 were £74 million and £50 million had already been delivered. The further savings proposals up for discussion could save between fifteen and twenty one million pounds subject to consultation.

“There are some very difficult decisions to be faced. Use of reserves to fill any revenue gap is not sustainable.” It’s a bit like selling off the family silver and is definitely best avoided. Ironic that.

The Director spoke for precisely 13 minutes in suitably solemn tones and the recording put me in mind of a Captain whose First Mate had driven the ship on to the rocks with no hope of early rescue and very limited provisions on board to stave off an early death, as she laid down the rules for the crew and passengers’ only hope of survival.


MasseyAlmost needless to say, cabinet member Don Massey’s follow up speech was a bit of an anti-climax. He spoke for six minutes and covered the same familiar ground.

He wasted time by making an unnecessary reference to the Local and General Election results thereby alienating some members of the audience he was attempting to convince. One of several Bexley councillors with a tendency to place political gamesmanship above listening to residents.

He went back to 2006 for his lecture on council tax levels and repeated the leader’s assertion that doing nothing since then would have doubled council tax. Instead it has gone up 12% he said.

The recording reveals that to do nothing for the next five years would push up council tax by 55%, which represents a correction to last night’s quick blog written solely from memory.

Following councillor Massey’s address the other cabinet members took their turn to set the scene for the proposed savage programme of additional cuts, to which BiB will return another day.

 

22 July (Part 2) - It’s going to be a tricky one

That's blog writing, not just keeping a park open in the face of political intransigence.

Council meetings are a lot more interesting when I don’t have to listen in near solitary splendour trying to take note of anything interesting and the inevitable inconsistencies which arise when councillors stray from the truth. So yesterday’s cabinet meeting had the potential to be a good one, there were two campaign groups waiting on the steps when I arrived.
Waiting
Once inside they spread themselves across all three public gallery seating areas the total number must have been well in excess of 60 more likely 80. A large gathering by cabinet meeting standards.

My usual technique for reporting meetings is to audio record it and make a note of the time and the speaker’s name when anything interesting is said. Eventually I listen to the whole recording but the notes ensure I miss nothing drawn to my attention live.

The process typically takes two to three times the length of the meeting, tackling the longer ones in manageable segments, and generally finishing up with 5% to 10% of spoken statements, often in shortened form, committed to the blog. I confess that figure is a best guess.

Yesterday’s meeting confounds that process because almost all of it was interesting, the monetary facts, the budgetary decisions to be made, the arguments, the arrogance, the mendacity and the insults. Yes, councillor Peter Craske was back on form belittling residents as he did in the good old days before the cops felt his collar.

It’s amazing that council leader Teresa O’Neill OBE (Old Boy’s Ethics) reappointed him. It must be the case that it is either deliberate provocation of his many critics, that he has something on her for his own protection, or there is simply a lack of talent within Bexley council.

Not all the principal speakers descended to Craske’s level of debate, I was rather impressed by one or two and I suspect some campaigners will fall out with me for saying so but one can only tell it as it is or maybe that should be as I see it.
Sitting
What makes large gatherings such as was seen yesterday so welcome is that more people get to know the truth about Bexley council. I occasionally get emails along the lines of ‘Great read thank you, but it’s all exaggeration isn’t it?’.

I always check every blog for exaggeration and strive to avoid it. There is simply no need to stretch the truth. Meetings like yesterday’s serve to make that very obvious to even more people.

The Splash Park campaigners had asked councillors to put pertinent questions to the cabinet, Peter Craske in particular, but not a single Conservative dared offer any opposition - though the same was not true for Old Farm Avenue Park.

There was a good turn out of Conservatives considering the meeting was held in school holiday time instead of the customary ten days beforehand.

The noted absentees were Cheryl and Gareth Bacon, Linda Bailey, Nigel Betts, Brian and Christine Bishop, Christine Catterall, Graham D’Amiral, John Davey, Andy Dourmoush, Alan and Ross Downing, Maxine Fothergill, Louie French, Steven Hall, David Hurt, Geraldene Lucia-Hennis, Sharon Massey, Nick O’Hare, Joseph Pollard, Melvin Seymour, Colin The Splash Park Must Go Tandy and John Waters.

The notable absentee on the Labour side was Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) who has been the driving political force for the Splash Park. Yesterday’s date was in his diary nine months ago but for a vital commitment that took him a long way from Bexley and not the cabinet meeting. Now you might guess why the Cabinet meeting was uniquely deferred to the school holidays. It was the talk of the gossiping classes but given the dirty tricks for which Bexley council is renowned it would be folly to discount the story.

The formal report on the cabinet meeting will necessarily be presented in small chunks over several days. Commitments in Newham have got worse rather than better this week.

 

22 July (Part 1) - Not a shred of evidence?

New readers who have come here because of the Splash Park and Old Farm Avenue issues may not fully appreciate how dishonest Bexley council can be although those who attended last night’s cabinet meeting will likely have a pretty good idea.

At the present time Will Tuckley (Chief Executive), Lynn Tyler (Legal Team Manager), councillor Cheryl Bacon and a doorman of all people are all under police investigation for Misconduct in Public Office.

For protecting them from the consequences of various misdeeds three successive borough police commanders are also under investigation for the same offence. They are CS Dave Stringer, CS Victor Olisa, and CS Peter Ayling plus two police constables serving under him. One of them is now retired.

The oldest of the investigations is now more than three years old and all those involving police officers have been bundled together by the police under the same Department of Professional Standards (DPS) officer.

That officer has not always been very serious about the investigation which is admittedly complex. However there cannot be much excuse for trying to conduct an investigation using my redacted copy of a police report and not bothering to get a copy of the real thing. It took more than a year to overcome that hurdle.

Only within the past month or so has any police officer been interviewed by the DPS and now the investigating officer has changed, the original one has in some way disappeared. It’s almost inevitable after three plus years.

The new man is keen enough and introduced himself while asking a few questions by email. His response to the answers was one of puzzlement and he failed to understand several references. To cut a complex story short, certain vital and incriminating documents have simply disappeared from his file. Fortunately copies exist in the files of several Bexley residents so all may not be lost.

The Bexley council officers are subject to a separate investigation by Greenwich police. It has been going for a year now but has yet to hit the buffers known as ‘political interference’ as was that into cabinet member Peter Craske in 2011/12.

 

21 July (Part 3) - Fait accompli

Newham posterProbably every council in the land is in the financial mire. Bexley council certainly is and depending on your political view you will blame it on Gordon Brown, excessive austerity under George Osborne or on Bexley council for not seeing it coming soon enough.

They could have done what Bromley did and ease up council tax rates by small amounts each year instead of keeping their eye on the ballot box and keeping Bexley in its 24th position near the bottom of the council tax league table and deceiving people into thinking a freeze equated to low taxes.

Now they claim they have a mandate to do pretty much as they like because they won the 2014 election. An extra £1 million in 2011 (1% tax rise), £2 million in 2012 etc. would have made quite a difference although the council is now saying that without cuts council tax would have to double or go up 55% depending on who you listen to - and that all on the same evening.

So this evening Bexley council rubber stamped what has been on the cards for a long time; send four parks forward to the next stage - consultation before sale - and saving the Splash Park is given so many conditions that its fate becomes almost inevitable. In other words all the tin cans are kicked a little further down the road.

I listened to what the campaign groups were saying when they left at the end of their Agenda items and they were absolutely furious, with the main criticism being one of arrogance, condescension and in councillor Craske’s case, lying, subterfuge and cunning deception. It is difficult to disagree.

I can see the financial dilemmas staring the council in the face but the way they go about their business, Biffa Bailey, I can do what I like style, gets up everybody’s nose.

After getting their reaction first hand I popped back into the council chamber just in time to hear Will Tuckley and the top managerial staff, all 829 of them, awarded another 1% pay rise. Some £41 million in total pay. Not bad for a council that is flat broke.

The meeting went on for two and a half hours and there was lots worth reporting. Just don’t expect me to wade through the whole recording in just a day or two.

 

21 July (Part 2) - Wilton Road Stakeholder Forum

Wilton RoadIt’s all happening down in Abbey Wood. Not only have we got Crossrail and Network Rail calling meetings to keep everyone as happy as possible with their life of noise and dust and traffic chaos but Greenwich council is trying to keep everyone, traders in particular, sweet too.

Rather late in the day (15th July) Greenwich’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Danny Thorpe, invited the traders and all the relevant Bexley councillors, including his opposite number Linda Bailey, to The Link in Thamesmead to keep them all up to date on the £300,000 scheme set to improve the shopping area around Abbey Wood station.

I was rather looking forward to listening to councillor Bailey speak on this subject because Greenwich has made all the running so far, but alas although councillors from both sides of the borough border showed up in force last night, Linda didn’t. Maybe Teresa O’Neill will announce that fact at the next council meeting as she did when Labour (and Tory) councillors missed the first Crossrail Panel meeting. I’m sure she would like to be even handed.

Danny Thorpe not only chaired the meeting but he was supported by his Director of Regeneration and several knowledgeable support staff.

Just as is the case at the Crossrail Panel the chairman had to diplomatically deal with some damn fool questions. He kept his patience when asked about the noise and pollution caused by aircraft flying in and out of London City Airport and the state of Greenwich’s public toilets. Do they still have some? Bexley sold all theirs off. First they came for the bogs and good men stood by and did nothing. Now they come for your parks and playgrounds.

Despite all that quite a lot of useful information came to the fore.


No bridge Greenwich council is “seriously” talking to TfL about river crossings at both Gallions Reach and Belvedere and the word seriously was repeated in connection with a DLR extension to Thamesmead. “We must deliver all those crossings. There is a momentum now.”

The possibility of an Overground extension did not get a mention.

£6·08 million is to be spent on Public Realm in connection with the new Crossrail station and footfall in the surrounding area is expected to go up by 100%. Subsequent questioning tested that figure somewhat and maybe it should be regarded as a best guess.

There is to be a public square on the Bexley side of Harrow Manorway.

A retail consultant has been hired to plan and facilitate the improvements that will come from the £300,000 which in effect extends the area to be improved with the £6 million. That extended area will go as far as the Community Centre in Knee Hill.

It is the same retail consultant who redesigned Sidcup High Street and introduced what I always regarded as rather nice shop fronts. It should be possible to spend in the region of £15,000 on each of the shops around Wilton and Felixstowe Roads.

Artist’s impressions showed a green avenue from Knee Hill to the station and parking spaces in the Bexley council owned land at the end of Wilton Road facing Gayton Road, but only a small fraction of the money will be spent on improvements to the street. If there are to be basic infrastructure changes they will not be extensive. The consultant favoured removable seating provided by the traders to reduce overnight abuse and none of the Greenwich people were aware that Bexley has the car parking space up for sale, or at least on its consideration list.

The lady behind the redesign (Sally) appeared to be very keen on consultations offering to spend a couple of hours with each trader and to set up a ‘pop up tent’ in Wilton Road in the next few days so that shoppers could have their say too. Later on she started to speak of having one in the Community Centre, so keep your eyes peeled if you are local to the area.

An audience member said that “Bexley and Greenwich have never worked well together” and gave as an example the two betting shops opposite each other, one in each borough.

Do you remember when cabinet member Peter H. Craske labelled Greenwich council “disgraceful” in Bexley’s council chamber and found himself on the front page of the News Shopper for his pains? Does a leopard ever change its spots?
News Shopper
The differing parking enforcement regimes was the subject of audience comment as was the fact that the Wilton Road was “rubbish everywhere” and “Bexley no longer empties litter bins”. Chairman Danny Thorpe thought there might be scope for synchronising street cleaning and there was now “a greater will to get things moving”. On some days morning visitors might conclude that Bexley is clean and Greenwich is filthy and during the afternoon the reverse is true.

An interesting 90 minutes with the Greenwich council officers, Tom and Pippa and others, brimming with enthusiasm and Bexley showing its usual contempt for the north by staying away and contributing nothing.

 

21 July (Part 1) - Council leader faces questions

O'NeillThe leader’s Report to Council could be one big bore with its 17 page (this time) description of developments within the borough since last she stood in the same spot, however the lady mercifully says little about it, preferring to take questions almost immediately.

At last week’s meeting Teresa O’Neill OBE (Omitting Bloated Ego) began with the ominous statement (repeated below) that Old Farm Avenue Park would have to go whatever the protesters might say. Where else would the money come from?

As she was last time, the council leader was concerned about the large number of questions coming from councillors at full council meetings. She alleged that there were more duplicate questions than ever and that the Labour group must have set a target for questions. According to councillor O’Neill, Labour members were saving up case work for the quarterly council meetings rather than dealing with it at once.

I could see no evidence of it in the questions asked and for the record the number of questions has fallen from 69 to 55 to 47 over successive meetings and councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) later criticised the attempt to stifle interrogation. The leader said she wanted to see only less duplication.

The leader dragged up the subject of the temporary lifts at Abbey Wood station as an example of delayed case work. There was a lack of shelter for those waiting for them in the open, a subject which should not have been left until a council meeting. Councillor O’Neill said she had met with Network Rail to request a simple Perspex roof but as of yesterday (my observations) there was none. However there has always been a wooden porch style shelter which appears to be big enough for one wheel chair.

During this exchange the leader got in a dig about no Labour councillor attending the Crossrail Liaison Panel meetings which is true only of the first one, but then neither did any cabinet member or scrutiny chairman. (†)

Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) asked why Bexley council was housing people in “privately rented properties which are not fit to live in. Damp and mouldy. No one inspects the property.” This, she said, is allowed to occur because Bexley council “trusts the housing associations, They cannot be trusted, they are there to make money”.

Her concern was rewarded with a telling off by the council leader. One, that it was a good example of something that should not await a council meeting and secondly it was unfair to criticise housing associations and you have to “trust them and work with them”.

Councillor Langstead said she had raised the matter before but the mayor would not let her continue.


ClarkCouncillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling), chairman of the Transport Users’ Committee, sang the praises of her road safety team which allowed the leader to steer the debate around to the problem of parents parking on school zig-zags.

Councillor Edward Boateng (Labour, Erith) was worried about the welfare of staff displaced by the decision to contract Amey Community Services for facilities management. The leader said the contract would save money due to economies of scale and the staff transferred would be fully protected.

Councillor Borella had been surprised by the leader’s earlier attack on his party’s “behaviour” and reminded her that there were six absentees from the Conservative benches including their chief whip (£4,250 allowance), but his principal concerns were the increasing size of Bexley’s financial black hole and the state of the newly regenerated Broadway.

The black hole question merely prompted a reference to the previous Labour government and the Broadway question was answered by deputy leader Alex Sawyer. No question dodging or blame game from Alex.

“It is simply unacceptable” he said. He is seeking to recover all the costs and all the losses from contractors.

At the expiry of the allotted 30 minutes, the mayor invited Teresa O’Neill to sum up. It wasn’t really a summing up at all. She merely said that unemployment levels in Bexley had fallen again.

Leader’s comment about the sale of Old Farm Avenue Park.

† All concerned had good reasons but the Conservatives could have fielded one of their two £3,000 a year scrutiny committee vice-chairmen.

 

20 July (Part 2) - A fare argument

Agenda item 8 of last Wednesday’s council meeting was left overs from the previous meeting held on 22 April and consisted largely of councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) complaining on behalf of residents about the high cost of travel in the form of a Motion, the kernel of which was…


“This council considers the above mentioned increases excessive during this period of inadequate pay increments and a cost of living crisis.


Bus Tube Stefano ran through the recent history of fare rises and compared it unfavourably with wage increases over the same period and placed much of the blame firmly on Boris Johnson for extraordinarily steep rises in some TFL area fares.

Undoubtedly mayor Johnson’s record on fare increases has not been good.

Unfortunately for the Labour Group the record of the Labour government was rather worse with an annual price rise escalator which the Tory coalition felt obliged to reduce, so Bexley’s Conservatives lost no time in denigrating councillor Borella’s case and putting forward an alternative motion.


“This council resolves to make representations to the present and next Mayor of London and new secretary of State for Transport to stop above inflation increases that impact so adversely on residents, businesses and commuters in the London Borough of Bexley.”


It was proposed by councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) and referred in its opening paragraph to fare increases over a long period but intent on a bit of political tit for tat highlighted only Labour’s none too good record while in office. Annual rises of between six and seven and a half percent approximately throughout their last four years in office and not much better in preceding years.

Despite David Leaf referring to a long period he chose not go back to the early 1970s when local MP Edward Heath allowed rises four times higher than did the Labour government nor did councillor Leaf give GLC leader Ken Livingstone any credit for introducing the Zonal Fare system without which the current fare structures could not operate. Remember when every Underground station had its own fare chart?

When the vote was taken it was inevitably the Tories’ Motion which was adopted and it may well have been the better of the two. Personally I don’t think Bexley’s protestations, Tory or Labour inspired, will make a scrap of difference any more than protestations over the Splash Park tomorrow night will make a difference.

 

20 July (Part 1) - The axe is poised

I’ve been to Public Cabinet meetings where I have been the only person there apart from cabinet members and it has lasted less than half an hour. It won’t be like that tomorrow evening and to be fair it hasn’t usually been that way over the past year. Generally a few councillors will show up too and some might even ask a question. The public isn’t allowed to in case something too sensitive is asked and democracy is allowed a look in.

Two big issues are on the Agenda tomorrow, the fate of five public spaces (Old Manor Way Playground, Old Farm Avenue Park, West Street, Wilde Street East and Wilde Road West) and the Splash Park. It is already known that Old Manor Way is not to be sold because the subterranean ground conditions were found to be unsuitable for building and a comprehensive covenant was in place.

The Splash Park is in a far more difficult position. Councillor Peter Craske has effectively said he wants to see it closed. Under his predecessor the council spent months working with the consultant until the technical report said what was required and confined itself to a limited range of options one of which was always likely to be a non-starter. Mains water supply in the middle of a dense residential area at the top of a steep hill.

As usual Bexley council has been up to no good. Despite all the dire warnings about Cryptosporidium, Freedom of Information requests revealed no tests for it had been conducted.

The Agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is long but below is a tight edit of the most relevant passages. The numbered paragraphs refer to any commercial takeover because the council has turned its back on all other options. The money that had been found which could have saved the Splash Park is to be spent elsewhere.
Agenda
As may be seen, Craske is determined to make things as difficult as possible for any entrepreneur. No one apart from councillors can question him so the Splash Park campaigners have sent every one of them a list of questions that should be asked.

The questions are tabulated below and I shall be carefully recording the meeting to see if any councillors are tempted to do their civic duty. It will be an attractive option for Conservative councillors to simply not show up, they don’t have to.


· We have emailed Cllr Craske to clarify what he means regarding his stance but have had no reply. In the deputation we gave to Council we expressed an interest in working with the Council or private enterprise to look at potential solutions – we are at a loss to understand how meeting with us could cause such prejudice?
· Who instructed Watermans to only limit the report to three conclusions? And why was this restriction imposed – surely it would have been better to ask them to explore all possible avenues?
· Why are the stipulations in this report so rigid when Bexley Council have a history of being flexible when working with private enterprise and community groups to come to a solution all are happy with. E.g. Lesnes Abbey, Hall Place and Danson Park, the libraries, community centres etc.)
· What is the given response time from Thames Water regarding the mains fed solution? Has a projected daily consumption rate been included in the request? If so what technical model was used?
· With no official ‘date of submission’ for interested parties a full proposal addressing the reduction in size of the Splash Pad and a mains fed solution cannot be submitted until the response from Thames Water is received. Is there a ‘submission date’ and what is the possibility of reviewing that date if Thames Water are unable to respond in a time frame which allows for any serious proposal to be fully worked and submitted?
· How can anyone be expected to put together an informed comprehensive proposal when you haven’t given crucial information, such as the amount of the bond, the results from Thames Water, definitive submissions dates etc.. Nor detailed breakdowns of what elements of the park are to be included i.e. the public toilets, the kiosk, any public access rights etc.
· There seems to be several assumptions made in the report, the filters and equipment were not seen working or even looked at and the tank was not inspected and only a ‘guesstimate of its capacity is mentioned.
· The original designs for the park were modified to include the kiosk to help raise income to secure the provision of future works, upgrades and maintenance – was this the case?
· The kiosk has shown it can produce a profit of £9,000 to £13,000 during seasons with massive disruption and park closures. Why was the potential income that would arise from a well-run kiosk not included in the report to offset the annual running costs?
· Why did Alex Sawyer state in the meeting on November 1st that Cryptosporidium had been found 8 times in 2014 when FOI requests have shown that is wasn’t even tested for?
· Why, when the reported problems first started to arise in 2013 was a solution not looked into then, instead of doing nothing save increasing park closures, reducing staffing levels and dumping vast quantities of water nightly?
· Why is it being claimed that there has been only one piece of correspondence received when there have been numerous emails and letters sent to all members of the Council to which people have had replies, along with the petition that was handed in at the deputation?
· Why do our children’s voices not count in Council? Pupils from Lessness Heath Primary School wrote to Cllr Sawyer and he visited the school and was presented with hundreds of letters and pictures from the pupils who desperately wanted the park to remain open?
· Bexley’s own Public Consultation on the Budget Cuts showed an overwhelming response from Bexley residents to saving the park (nearly 1000 out of 1600). Why has this been ignored?
· Why did the current administration (in situ since 2006) not place the same caveats on running the park as they have now in the response to the report – as a responsible and financially astute organisation surely this should have been a requirement from the start, let alone during the last few years when knowledge of the impending central budget cuts were announced?


Expect to see the councillors who aren’t interested listed here sometime on Wednesday.

 

19 July (Part 3) - Arriving at Platform 1

Crossrail CrossrailNow that the new London bound North Kent line track bed at Abbey Wood station is nearing completion, work has started on the platform. Concrete has been poured to form the vertical support walls for the up platform.

Further along the line the track from the Plumstead train depot has taken another giant step towards connection to the Dartford bound track.

At the present rate of progress it will only be a few days before a train could in theory make its way to the new facility, the track switch is already in place. Presumably there will be a job for a man with a red flag until the signalling equipment is in place.

As with last week, the Plumstead track photos are hidden in a dark corner of Bonkers. Not easy to obtain; this week it wasn’t just dirty windows that were a problem, too many double glazed units were internally steamed up and I got off one train and waited for another after rushing the length of one carriage that had been extensively window scratched. Reflections were still a problem.

More Crossrail related blogs.

 

19 July (Part 2) - A gem of an idea

When my granddaughter was a bit younger she was addicted to soft play centres. I had no idea what one was until I was taken to Cirencester, but now know they are brightly coloured indoor playgrounds, sometimes in buildings of aircraft hanger proportion, where everything is made of rubber or vinyl covered polystyrene designed to safeguard children and humiliate adults. As a certified grumpy old man I came to dread the words “What do you want to do today Freya?“ and back came the answer “Soft Play!” Every single time.

I've seen quite a lot of them now, been shoeless down a fair number of slides myself. The prices varied tremendously in Swindon, Bristol, Keynsham, Chippenham and maybe some places I’ve forgotten but when Freya came to Bexley I couldn’t find one - which was perhaps not entirely bad news.


Kassiopi Soft PlayI’m hoping she may have grown out of Soft Play because I can no longer claim to live in a Soft Play vacuum. One has opened in Erith, opposite Morrison’s in the old Blockbuster.

I went by on the bus at 10 a.m. yesterday and there was a queue outside, by 2:30 (Photo 1) it had gone.

So why the blatant advertising on a site where I have so far refused all offers? It’s because Kassiopi Cove is run by the company that expressed an interest in running Belvedere’s Splash Park before councillor Peter Craske dreamed up all the obstacles to progress.

Nevertheless a company that in principle was prepared to do more to preserve the borough’s amenities than Bexley council ever would deserves to be a success, hence breaking the no advertisement rule.

Kassiopi Cove website.
Jacqueline’s Gems (parent company).

Kassiopi

 

19 July (Part 1) - Council money down the drain

It is almost a year since my regular contact with Bexley’s care workers ended and inevitably their plight has fallen off my radar to some extent.

Bexley council took delight in ensuring that these people got a very raw deal and the former cabinet member Chris Taylor would brag at council meetings that he had financially screwed their agencies into the ground with the lowest payment rates in South East London.

The mainly young ladies who took on this vital work were only paid for the time they were in their patients’ houses and at minimum wage. They weren’t paid for the time taken to get to the next appointment, for the costs involved or any allowance for the car they had to buy for themselves.


PallemHer Majesties’ Revenues and Customs had declared the terms of payment illegal but when has that ever stopped Bexley council, or I fear any council? There was a Radio 4 programme last Friday which revealed that nothing had changed since HMRC’s pronouncement. In Bexley the cabinet member has changed (see picture) but not the policy.

But maybe it is even worse than I knew. My contact with care workers was at an address with no parking restrictions. What if the only parking available is of the paid variety?

That is the situation outside my aunt’s house in East Ham. It is a residents only parking area and there is no alternative anywhere. There simply isn’t any unrestricted parking in Newham at all, at least not within a mile of my aunt’s house.

So although the care workers are supposed to show up four times a day and spend 15 minutes attending to matters, only the evening one can do any more than ask “Are you alright” and run back to their car within two or three minutes at most.

Unlike in Bexley where residents bays tend to be operational for only an hour or two a day Monday to Friday, Newham’s are 8 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

There is provision for a carer’s permit in Newham but the carers say that it is of use only if the care is to be continuous. The paperwork, which involves both doctors and social services, takes six weeks to process and the care package will have ended before then.

So not only do Newham’s Social Workers fight amongst each other to the detriment of patients but their department is at war with Parking Services too.

Meanwhile the money spent on care workers is mainly wasted and once again the patient suffers in the name of petty bureaucracy. Councils plead poverty and waste what money they have.

It’s a waste of time complaining to the Mayor of Newham, everyone I have met there says he never replies to anything. I feel a complaint to Stephen Timms MP coming on.

Does anyone know if Bexley caters for carers’ parking arrangements in a more sensible fashion or does idiocy reign supreme here too?

 

18 July (Part 3) - Dealing with Bexley council is no fun at all

It looked like a lot of fun for young families and the weather was kind but actually organising a function like the Erith Fun day can be anything but.

For someone whose only young grandchild is more than 100 miles away bouncy castles and candy floss hold little attraction but there are a good number of more serious attractions. Neighbourhood Watch, The Rotary Club, Further Education and I saw something medical in the distance. Something about A&E.

I spotted councillor Edward Boateng busy on the Erith Forum stall (Photo 4) along with Hugh Neal, Mr. Arthur Pewty himself however I have to confess that my main reason for looking in on Riverside Gardens was to see what I could learn about behind the scenes gossip.
Erith Fun Day Erith Fun Day Erith Fun Day Erith Fun Day
Health and Safety issues are inevitable when politicians spend their lives inventing new laws to justify their existence and almost never repeal old ones. Arranging a non-profit making event on public land is inevitably a traumatic experience for the volunteers who give up their time to benefit the community but at least we have a Listening council, Working for you and eager to guide residents through the red tape.

How did Bexley council set about helping this year? In the past there have been issues over toilet facilities and barriers facing the road. There aren’t normally any but during a public event the nanny state comes to the fore.

This year the council got its knickers in a twist over rubbish collection. Given the steep charges imposed for use of the public space you might think that it would come with the usual facilities. Litter bins for instance.

Not a bit of it, Bexley doesn't want its residents to use the litter bins while they are enjoying themselves. Please don’t put your lolly sticks and sweet wrappers in the council bins, hand them to the hard pressed volunteers.

OK, anything for a quiet life. ‘Please Mr. Highly Paid Council Official may we have one of your large wheeled bins? We’ll pay’.

‘No way, go and hire one yourself.’

A lot of phone calls revealed that nobody hires out large wheeled bins for a day. A long term contract, yes, but a day? Don’t be silly.

Back to Mr. HPCO in desperation. ‘You can’t hire a big bin for a day’.

‘Yeah we know but we had to make you jump through a few hoops because that is what jobsworths are paid to do. But now we have had our fun we will hire you one, just this once mind and you must ensure it is secured over the weekend.’

‘How do we do that?’

‘No idea but on no account can you chain it to a lamp post or the like.’

‘OK we will hand it back on Monday after we have sorted the rubbish and taken it down to the tip.’

‘Oh you can’t do that, far too simple. You may be a voluntary non-profit making group but you are also a commercial organisation. You must somehow get the bin to the weighbridge and pay the going rate.’

It’s good that no one expects to make money from community events in Erith because they won’t. Probably Teresa O’Neill OBE (Officers Bugger Erith) objects to seeing her plans to sell Riverside Gardens thwarted especially if the thwarting is by those pesky northerners.
Erith Fun Day
A brilliant series of Fun Day photos on The Grump.

 

18 July (Part 2) - Progress report on Lesnes Abbey Enhancement Project

Lesnes AbbeyNone.

Previous report.

 

18 July (Part 1) - Hip hurray! Life may soon return to normal

After a little less than ten weeks I don’t have to go to East Ham every couple of days, four times in some a weeks. The 95 year old who broke her hip and wrist is back home with Newham Social Services in attendance.

The Care Quality Commission may have rated Barts Health NHS Trust ‘Inadequate’ but the care, especially in their Rehabilitation Unit was superb as was the accommodation. Unfortunately Newham’s Social Services appears to be a bit of a disaster zone with staff at war with each other to the detriment of patients.

The Southeastern trains were often late, usually by only a few minutes, but just enough to see the back end of a Stratford bound DLR disappear into the tunnel at Woolwich Arsenal.


Break downOnly one SE train actually broke down. Its speedometer failed and apparently some (presumably obscure EU) regulation says it is OK for the driver to crawl at low speed to the Slade Green depot but not with passengers on board who suffered a 26 minute delay instead.

There is probably a law against it but I amused myself on journeys by counting the number of overheard conversations (including telephone) between Woolwich and East Ham and separately the number that were conducted in English. The ratio only twice fell outside the 10-20% range. Two English out of 22 conversations and six out of 28.

My aunt has lived in the same house since 1941 after being bombed out of Victoria Dock Road and she along with one other lady in her seventies is the only resident in the street who is not of Indian appearance. Ironically she was born there, Burma actually, and probably most of her neighbours are London born.

I had stocked my aunt’s cupboards and fridge with fresh food but it was barely necessary, her neighbours were quick to spot her return and came around - even from the next street - to offer help and bring around food. Fortunately my aunt likes curry and rice!

The ‘Indians’ certainly know how to look after the old folk but they make no secret of wanting to buy the aunt’s house when she pegs it. They like to have family living next door. Fortunately the 95 year old has no problems with their ideas.

So now my routine will change again. With luck, fewer trips across the river, but it’s too early to know exactly how things will pan out.

All of which is by way of an apology for being behind with the correspondence file. Some of the more time consuming issues are now many weeks old and sometimes other things have to take precedence. And there are also times when I just need a rest from it all.

 

17 July (Part 2) - A fine mess

You may have seen this on Bexley’s website.
PR
It’s a pretty good example of the propagandists art. How to make things sound positive when few things are.

Bexley council has no money. It fritters it away on big things like the Civic Offices which cost about £12 million more than a rebuild on the old site and little things by hiring a company from Wales to drive to Danson Park last Wednesday to wash the paddling pool.

I love the way they exaggerate. It's only a few months ago it was officially stated that savings were £71 million since 2006. Now council leader Teresa O’Neill OBE (Over Blown Estimates) is claiming £90 million since 2007. They invent the numbers as they go along.
PR
It’s like the new Offices. They used to save the borough £1·5 million a year and now it’s two million, even though accommodation costs must have gone down because of redundancies. Now there’s a figure that badly needs examining.

The new emphasis is to be on growth. I think we have already noticed. It has to be but it’s a pity that they were so keen to turn their back on it until recently. If growth had come earlier it might not be necessary to sell parks while remaining one of the highest taxing boroughs in London.
PR
No bridgeNo parks, no playgrounds, unswept roads, fewer libraries but “a great place to live”.

“The services that matter can continue.” Chargeable waste collections, pay for disabled bays, street lights out at eleven, the homeless sent to Manchester.

It’s a serious problem but who put us in the current position? The people who couldn’t see it coming and stood like silly Cnuts at the gateway to where they now expect the new money to be earned, waving a placard aimed at keeping the tide of progress at bay.

But never mind, there is going to be another consultation. As if that is going to help.

PR
Click any document image for source document.

 

17 July (Part 1) - Questionable practices

Bexley council has indulged in so many dishonest and sometimes illegal practices over the years that some of them fade into obscurity at the back of one’s mind.

I was reminded of one at last Wednesday’s Full Council meeting, the only meeting at which the public is routinely allowed questions - but only for 15 minutes including the often padded out answers.

In an effort to eliminate questions Bexley council once introduced many rules, one of which said that every resident asking a question must agree to having his name and address published on the council’s website. Young adults living with parents and people separated from abusive partners and indeed anyone who values a private life were effectively partially disenfranchised.

When the Information Commissioner got wind of Bexley’s disregard for data protection the practice was stopped although the timing suggested that Bexley council, which was already in a lot of trouble with the Commissioner at the time, jumped before they were pushed.

To replace that discouragement a new set of restrictions was introduced. Among them was that questions would only be permitted on matters of policy. When questions were carefully crafted to be about policy, Bexley council wriggled away from them by saying that once a policy was adopted it became a protocol, and questions about protocols were not admitted. When it was argued that a thesaurus defined policies and protocols similarly it was further stated that protocols were merely operational rules and operational matters were excluded from council question time.
Rules
The fact is that all this nonsense was designed to stop Mick Barnbrook and his pals asking questions, the rules were never applied to Tory lackeys embarking on sycophantic expeditions.

Eliot Smith’s question at the council meeting in April; “Given the lack of a safe crossing outside Trinity School, will you [Cabinet Member Don Massey] assure parents that you are taking their concerns seriously” was a long way from being a policy matter.

Another rule is that the questioner must be in the chamber to ask his own question. Until this week there had only been one instance since the new offices were opened of a questioner not being present and a substitute was happily accepted to voice her question.

Elwyn Bryant’s question was not caught by the policy net either but when he fell ill earlier this week he dropped straight into the other trap. Mick Barnbrook asked if he could be stand-in with the inevitable result. Maybe it is because Eliot is a Tory supporter or perhaps they feared Elwyn’s supplementary question; I do not know, but Bexley council are certainly inconsistent when it suits them.


BishopThe decision to leave Elwyn’s question unstated and unanswered left 29 minutes for councillors’ questions and the rarely heard Christine Bishop (Conservative, Crayford) was first to her feet and after the customary struggle with the microphone asked cabinet member Philip Read to say what Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons had to say about Bexley’s Youth Offending Team.

Had the answer been in any way negative the question would not have been asked so I hardly need report Read’s answer in detail. “It was highly commendable” and he took 90 seconds to say that.

The supplementary question which does not appear in the Agenda was clearly arranged beforehand because councillor Read was able to answer it with a prepared written speech, a phenomenon he repeated throughout the evening.

Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) asked an additional question but councillor Read refused to answer it.


Read Downing Councillor Ross Downing asked why Social Workers preferred to work for an agency than for Bexley council. Philip Read produced a list of reasons.

Better off in cash terms. Personal circumstances may make higher cash payments more attractive than a pension. Flexibility of employment and agency work is seen as “a short term career option” - which sounds rather worrying for a Social Worker.

Councillor Read referred in critical fashion to Social Workers who set themselves up as limited companies for tax reasons and Bexley was taking a leading role in attempting to put a stop to the practice.

Councillor Joe Ferriera (Labour, Erith) in an obvious reference to the Bexley magazine announcement asked why there were no Recycling Roadshows in the North of the borough.


Craske Cabinet member Craske pretended to know nothing of the earlier announcement and simply indicated that Joe’s question was based on a fallacy.

The reason for Craske’s claimed failure to understand the question is because he has quietly slipped in a Roadshow outside Morrison’s in Erith and is planning one for Belvedere. He and his cronies seemed to think that it was a very clever response when in reality those with longer memories will see it as a repeat of the Parsons Brinckerhoff question when Craske denied he had signed a £4 million pound contract with them. It was a number of contracts adding up to £4 million.

Such underhand tactics merely confirm everyone’s opinion of Craske. His council friends think he is a political genius and everyone else realises that dishonesty comes far too naturally to him.

A supplementary question produced an interesting statistic. At close of business on Wednesday, 9,121 people had signed up to pay the bin tax. Craske said he was confident of being on target but as the door to door canvassing and roadshows may have picked up all the eager gardeners already and the publicity period is more than half way through, signing up fewer than a third of the target subscriptions may be no cause for optimism.


Massey Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) asked how much the Chancellor’s changes to the welfare budget would cost Bexley council but cabinet member Massey did not know pending a meeting with the Finance Director. The Finance Director was present but she said nothing throughout the meeting. Nice work if you can get it.

When councillor Francis referred to the probable effect on housing and levels of poverty, Massey told him it was “political rhetoric” and “ping pong politics”. It was “a shame” that councillor Francis had asked his question. It sure was, supplementaries can be difficult to answer when the cabinet member hasn’t scripted them in advance.


Sharon Massey Ping pong politics and rhetoric may be frowned upon by councillor Don Massey but that didn’t stop him welcoming such comment by councillor David Leaf. “Does the cabinet member agree with me that the summer budget would help most families in Bexley?”

Of course he did, “it is something well worth stating” and went on to crow about the Conservative’s General Election victory. Not bad for a man not keen on political rhetoric and all within a time span of 75 seconds.

Councillor McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) was concerned about knife crime in schools. Cabinet Craske overcame the continuing microphone deficiencies with an acceptance that the statistics were getting slightly worse. Councillor McGannon thought the closure of parks may have a bearing on knife crime but councillor Craske professed not to understand the question.


Sharon Massey Councillor Sharon Massey said “crime was a parental responsibility, not just schools” and said she was “particularly concerned about the inference the rise in crime is attributed to young people”. All in the same sentence! Parents, schools. Hasn’t she just done the same thing?


Bettsy Councillor Rob Leitch briefly became a self-publicist when he asked if cabinet member Craske “would welcome interest from the local community to maintain and enhance the rose garden at Sidcup Place?“ “Absolutely” he would. Craske went on about campaigners and protesters “moaning and complaining” but the rose garden was “a good initiative”. Which set of ‘moaners’ could he have in mind?

Councillor Craske said the Labour group were “sneering” but as I could not see any of them all facial expressions were unknown to me, but they certainly said nothing. Councillor Ferreira began to refer to the residents’ group which looks after Erith’s Riverside Gardens, however the mayor called time and cut him off in mid flow.

It was a fairly interesting half hour under one of Bexley’s better mayoral chairmen (councillor Sybil Camsey) and at no time did I feel inclined to nod off, which is more than I can say for some people.

 

16 July (Part 2) - Another day, another protest

Unlike the Old Manor Way playground people and those from the Splash Park campaign who have been very noisy, not once did I hear anything directly about the similar campaign being conducted in Sidcup.


ProtestThere, as elsewhere in the borough, no one likes the idea of selling off parks and open spaces. “Once sold you can never get land back” and “it is pure folly to sell off the family silver”. Both comments heard yesterday evening outside the Civic Offices where a considerable number of residents had gathered, accompanied by hoots from sympathetic motorists passing by, to voice their opinion on the proposed sale of the park in Old Farm Avenue. Incidentally, both comments came from Conservative councillors.

The deputation was led by new councillor Rob Leitch who has in his first year in office moved well away from being a one trick pony confined to singing the praises of Sidcup High Street’s regeneration to a bundle of energy making his mark on the town both in the council chamber and in his ward.

He has been championed by long time councillor - she’d kill me if I said veteran - June Slaughter and both were out on the council steps along with councillor Aileen Beckwith clearly demonstrating which side they are on.

I don’t to be honest, know much about Aileen Beckwith. That will be because she has never done anything silly enough to get herself noticed. She smiles and acknowledges my presence which is a big advance on some I could name. The name Aileen has turned up in blogs only half a dozen times from which you may draw your own conclusion.

Councillor Slaughter presented the petition signatures to the Chief Executive. There were 2,500 and something. The actual number was lost due to the inadequate microphone system which continued to misbehave throughout the evening.


Mrs. Bridge ProtestCouncillor Leitch sponsored the deputation and Mrs. Tracey Bridge who was spokesman was allowed to speak for five whole minutes.

Her theme was that Bexley council is only the custodian of our land charged with looking after it for the benefit of residents. It is not for them to sell it off for short term unprincipled gain.

In the recent past Bexley council has refused nearby planning applications on the grounds that that corner of the borough has insufficient open spaces. Old Farm Avenue Park is home to bats, slow worms and peregrine falcons.

It was a hard hitting speech and no doubt supported by every Bexley resident. You may listen to it and the preliminaries here.

Rob Leitch Aileen BeckwithFollowing that councillor Leitch asked if Bexley had done anything to improve Old Farm Avenue Park.

Mrs. Bridge said the council had planted over 2,000 trees in 2003 which are only just reaching maturity. The aim was to improve conditions for wildlife. In 2013 the recommendation was that the park was given Grade II status.

Councillor Beckwith asked Mrs. Bridge to list the type of people using the park and she launched into a long list of sporting and other activities.

Prearranged questions and answers sometimes have their uses.


June Slaughter Chris BeazleyI wasn’t at first sure how councillor Slaughter asking Mrs. Bridge if she knew the sale proceeds were intended to safeguard other parks was supposed to help her case but Mrs. Bridge said she was aware of it, and went on to cast doubt on the legality of the scheme. The money cannot be ring fenced. I think Mrs. Bridge’s response could be summarised as she did not believe a word that Bexley council said. Wise woman.

Councillor Beazley (UKIP, St. Michaels) asked Mrs. Bridge if there were plans for residents to take a greater interest in maintaining the park in future years. There were.

And with that, mayor Sybil Camsey wrapped up proceedings and almost every member of the public left the building which means they will not have heard council leader Teresa O’Neill OBE (Ordering Blind Endorsement) say this…

I’m afraid she was imploring her loyal followers to stick with the faith and sell Old Farm Avenue Park regardless of the protestations. To hell with bats and slow worms. Profit before People and Peregrines. Vile woman.

 

16 July (Part 1) - Erith Fun Day

The day of fun and games by the river in Erith is more Arthur Pewty’s territory than Bonkers’ although I usually manage to get down there and take a few pictures.

There has been a tradition of a summer fête in Riverside Gardens for a long time but the sponsors have changed over the years. When it was The Erith Riverside Festival I’d occasionally meet the management who were always unhappy about the lack of support, or rather the downright hostility, from Bexley council. Eventually beaten into submission a new team stepped in but tales of Bexley council’s antipathy continued, so on Saturday, as well as taking pictures I shall be seeking out the organisers to see what may have been going on behind the scenes this year.

The forecast is that July’s gloomy skies will have partially lifted by Saturday so whether your interest is the Bar or the Bouncy Castle get yourself down to Erith for the magnificent views of the industrialised river before Bexley council’s plan to build on the last bit of accessible river bank resurfaces. Participate in Erith’s blossoming community spirit, thriving despite Bexley council’s best efforts.

A train every ten minutes and five bus routes, all within two minutes walk.
Fun Day
With no help from Bexley council. Profit before People.

 

15 July - Never trust a policeman

I try to see some good in our police force but it is difficult when they have had a hand in the murder of a family member (†) and spent 28 years covering it up. The evidence has shown that during the terms of office of every Met. Commissioner there has been widespread corruption going to the very top. They admit it but they are still reluctant to fully cooperate with the government backed panel charged with getting at the truth - or at least that part of it which hasn’t been shredded.

From my knowledge of the case there appears to be only one Met. Commissioner who may have been straight and almost inevitably Boris Johnson sacked him for his pains. A straight copper heading the Met? Oh no. That would never do.

Locally we seem to have some good guys. In Thamesmead, Welling and North Heath they are trying to engage with the public and win their trust but just when you think the cops may not be so bad after all, along comes a numbskull who puts everything back to square one.

I refer to the idiot in Bournemouth who issued a £100 fixed penalty fine to a woman driver gridlocked in stationary traffic who took a bite out of a banana. Would the monkey who did that have done the same to someone who sneezed and grabbed a handkerchief from a pocket or perhaps a smoker who dropped his fag end in his lap and was in danger of setting fire to his trousers?

For me, one idiot undid months of PR work on Twitter by PC Molnar and his friends. The Bournemouth buffoon demonstrated that however much you may admire individual officers it would be foolhardy to trust any of them.

It’s the same at higher levels.

When Commissioner Hogan-Howe appeared to have signed a personal letter promising to look into my three year old complaint about the corruption that was rife in Bexleyheath I felt quite buoyed up that somebody might care. It didn’t last long because two days later the lady arrested at Heathrow because a Bexley police worker ran off with her husband and false allegations were being bandied about, sent me an identical letter. Obviously they are mass produced.

However Hogan-Howe did do something and I was promised a call to explain.
Promise
That letter is more than three weeks old now and what has happened since? Absolutely nothing. As I said, it would be foolhardy to trust any of them.

† In the interest of total accuracy I must mention that Daniel Morgan was murdered a couple of years before my daughter’s relationship with his brother.

 

14 July (Part 3) - Saving the Splash Park. Imposed conditions near impossible to meet

Bexley council’s response to their Splash Park consultant’s report went up on their website yesterday in the form of a report to Cabinet. There is a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.

The content of the consultant’s report was covered in some detail in June. It listed the water quality problems and some expensive solutions.


Faye FrancisThe natural inclination of a council that said it didn’t want to spend any money on repairing its infrastructure and objected to the £20,000 a year (less kiosk profits) the park had cost to maintain was never in doubt. They unilaterally announced its closure last Autumn and only an energetic campaign led by Faye Ockleford and the three Belvedere councillors headed up by Daniel Francis (Labour) has kept the bulldozers at bay.

Every uncaring Conservative will have been asking themselves “what are we doing spending money on kiddies’ entertainment?”, hence councillor Tandy’s outburst, “the Splash Park has got to go”.

The cost of fixing the Splash Park’s problems are undoubtedly high. Estimates vary but they are all in the same ball park as what a Chief Executive with little to do and under investigation by the police for Misconduct in Public office costs each year, or if you prefer, what the Conservative councillors refused to give up when UKIP suggested slashing allowances by a third.

To add to the woes the consultant’s estimate of the ongoing running costs were higher than anticipated, in the region of £40,000 a year.

From the outset, Bexley council has said that Splash Park renewal must be cost neutral and whilst money has been identified which might just be sufficient to save the park, the responsible cabinet member refused to ring fence any of those sources. Belvedere is not a Conservative council’s favourite place, presumably that money will head south.


CraskeFrom every point of view the outlook for a rejuvenated Splash Park was never good. Putting councillor Peter Craske in charge may have been the last straw. He is now advocating a commercial venture or decommissioning. His absolute priority is no money can be spent.

To allow commercial interests to come forward the formal decision will be deferred to the Autumn but Craske intends to strike a hard bargain if he cannot be seen to kill the Splash Park now.

He wants a ten year bond, total risk transfer and insurance.

Any Conservative of the Slash and Burn persuasion, happy to preside over a cultural desert will see Craske’s point of view. What is a council doing running a paddling pool? They don’t run sports centres or gymnasiums, they don’t any longer run museums, they wanted nothing to do with Bexley’s historic buildings and they tried to sell off the allotments. If they can they will relinquish control of libraries too. The council’s ambition for Bexley is that it become a lifeless dormitory town at the end of Crossrail with the increased tax base preventing it falling to bottom place in the council tax league table.

The last thing Craske wants to do is run an entertainment facility for people who might not vote for his party . The same mind set, in reverse, that saw Craske spend money on CCTV in low crime Bexley village and none in Thamesmead.

For a Peter Craske document the cabinet report is remarkably free of outright lies. The most notable is Craske‘s reference to the Splash Park being supported by only “a small number of Bexley residents”. For someone who refused to meet any campaigner how would he know anything about the numbers?

5,719 people on Facebook would beg to differ, a number five to ten times larger than Bexley council has in the past taken as a ringing endorsement of its budgets etc.

Deputy council leader Alex Sawyer who said several times that he didn’t want to see the Splash Park closed will presumably be bitterly disappointed. A ten year banker’s bond to cover the failure of any commercial enterprise must surely be its death knell.

I take no pleasure in being a told-you-so know-it-all, I hate the idea of the borough becoming a Philistine’s Paradise and I am not at all confident that the Splash Park will not see high rise accommodation with stupendous views across the Thames.
Thames view

This photo from only half way up Heron Hill.

The covenant that prevents building on the site appears to be nothing but a myth.
Covenant
It stops nothing being built on the site apart from another public house.

Bexley council’s Press Release.
Bexley Times report.
News Shopper report.

 

14 July (Part 2) - Authoritarian Betts

I used to think I was quite good at remembering what subjects had been covered in old blogs. I can remember which day it was when Teresa O’Neill decided a metaphor by Hugh Neal (Arthur Pewty, Pitchforks and Flaming Torches) was me threatening arson. I can tell you exactly where I was when news of councillor Peter Craske’s arrest broke and I do not have to look up the URL for the lying Cheryl Bacon’s infamous ‘Closed Session’.

However with the number of blogs set to go over 3,000 later this week my memory is very often letting me down. It took a reader to remind me that councillor Nigel Betts is not the normally quiet nonentity which I assumed until last week when he advocated council law breaking. He has been so inclined before.

When former deputy leader Colin Campbell was campaigning to have FOI requesters ‘named and shamed’ it was councillor Nigel Betts who was egging him on.

I managed to find a brief reference to it in a five year old blog, (paragraphs 3 and 4). Once a despot, always a despot.

 

14 July (Part 1) - Reasonable?

Following yesterday’s rejection of an FOI application for a document which proves Bexley council operates outside the law and deliberately so, a correspondent provided me with copies of his correspondence with Bexley council.

He had asked for a copy of the document that gives the council leader the power to appoint her cabinet. I have no idea why and to my mind it is far too obscure a question to find a natural home on BiB. But each to his own.

Bexley council refused the request on the grounds that the information “is already reasonably accessible elsewhere”. A web link was provided to a set of documents, but reasonably? Really?

I started to count the pages in those documents but gave up. The final figure would be a long way over 1,000 and the required paragraph next to impossible to find.

The jobsworth who made the decision to refer to a massive document instead of the appropriate paragraph was Jemma Goode, Bexley’s Complaints and FOI Officer.

Giving as little information as possible has been developed into an art form in Bexley. If too much of the truth comes out the ivory tower may fall.

 

13 July - Cheats and crooks

Bexley council is built on disinformation and deception and occasionally downright fraud and criminality.


LeafletThe first item on today’s Agenda is a leaflet being distributed in Northumberland Heath where councillor Philip Read is the shameless culprit.

It’s the same situation as was seen two weeks ago when the Conservative message was that Bexley Labour was against Small Business Rates Relief. They aren’t of course but the Tories contrived a situation whereby it was all or nothing when voting on their budget proposals.

This time the deceitful message is that Bexley Labour was against spending money on Children’s Services. A particularly outrageous claim, not because the all or nothing rule applies again, but because it was the Conservative’s cuts and neglect of Children’s Services that led to it becoming by far the worst in London and getting an appalling OFSTED Report.

I imagine councillor Read will be running short of positive messages with which to bamboozle voters very soon. May I suggest he adopts some of the following from the same all or nothing budget proposals?


• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to sell off 27 (since reduced to 26) public parks and open spaces. Labour voted against it.
• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to decrease expenditure on Adults’ Services by 28%. Labour voted against it.
• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to increase parking charges by up to 50%. Labour voted against it.
• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to degrade the recycling services. Labour voted against it.
• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to reduce road cleaning. Labour voted against it.
• Bexley’s Conservative council voted to close libraries unless volunteers come forward. Labour voted against it.


I could go on and arguably it is a silly technique to pick whatever suits the situation from a single composite budget; but it’s exactly what the North Heath Numpty does in his silly leaflets.

As dishonesty goes, that is pretty minor stuff. Let me move on to Agenda Item 2.

Craske and TippettThis is the extraordinary dishonesty to be found in Bexley’s Parking Department. It’s been mentioned before but one aspect bubbled to the surface just a month ago. It concerns Bexley council’s dishonest relationship with the bailiffs who chase unpaid parking fines.

They have been up to no good since at least 2011 when the pair seen here (Greg Tippett and Peter Craske) were in charge of parking. In 2012 the Local Government Ombudsman came down on them like a ton of bricks and ordered their bailiffs’ malpractice to stop. They didn’t. They carried on regardless. They still are.

Other London boroughs employing the same bailiffs and the same dishonest contracts were also told to mend their ways. Hackney and Waltham Forest did, so the bailiffs must know what is legal and what is not.

However it is worse than that. Very senior officials at Bexley council know that their parking department is acting outside the law but have also chosen to do nothing about it. Their Legal Department and their Internal Auditors have said in no uncertain terms that the law is being broken wholesale. The problem is that they have done nothing to ensure their views are actioned.

I have access to the Internal Auditor’s report in the sense that a copy has been made available to the agent acting on my behalf and I can ask in general terms what it says, but I am unable to make it publicly available. To that end I requested a copy under the Freedom of Information Act.


Stevens and FrizoniAn internal report in which one part of Bexley council labels another part a bunch of crooks guilty of maladministration on the grand scale was never going to be handed over without a fight. My application was of course rejected on any pretext that could be cobbled together.


Dave HoganThe man whose misfortune it was to have to cobble together the excuses was Dave Hogan, Head of Internal Audit, pictured right, but don’t blame him, he would be under instructions from the Director of Finance or even the Chief Executive. His job may depend on protecting a totally corrupt council.

My request must therefore go for review and when that is rejected too it will go to the Information Commissioner. My agent has handled a good number of such cases and knows the ropes. Sooner or later the reports get into the public domain.

To be honest I prefer it when Bexley council plays hard ball. I get an opportunity to embarrass them three or four times instead of just once. They never learn.

My agent describes Bexley as just about the most dishonest council he has come across. Many get caught out, most of them then put their wrongs right. Some fight and end up in court and humiliated on TV. But Bexley is the first to have fully recognised the crookedness of their ways - originally in 2012 when the LGO stepped in - but decided against monitoring the situation to see that the criminal activity ceased. My agent calls it “a conspiracy to defraud the public”. He expects heads to roll eventually. Care to nominate some? Mike Frizoni, pictured above with Ben Stevens, has already gone.

 

12 July (Part 2) - Chipping away at the fundamentals

Planning rules have been relaxed over the years and last week’s budget took another step in that direction. With no effective border controls under the present government and the everybody welcome immigration policy of Labour from 1997 to 2010 it is hardly surprising that there is a housing crisis.

When people occasionally ask me what Bexley’s Chief Executive does to justify his quarter million pound salary package the only answer can be “not a lot”. Practically everything Bexley council is required to do has been privatised, out sourced, sold off and if asked to give examples of what may be safe from such a strategy I have always volunteered “Planning”. I couldn’t quite see how something so fundamental to the character of the borough could not be kept as close as possible to direct council control.

Maybe this is another subject on which Bonkers is always wrong, but planning staff are making noises about their jobs being on the line and being actively considered for “privatisation”.

I suppose there must be jobs that involve going out and measuring up which doesn’t need too much skill.

Everything is fair game for the axe apart from councillors’ own allowances. The Tories voted unanimously against the one third reduction proposed by UKIP.

 

12 July (Part 1) - Crossrail on track

Crossrail Crossrail I know some people don’t like Crossrail pictures appearing here but there is nothing much else ready today. Below are pictures of the prepared track bed from its nearest point to Lesnes Abbey, westward through to Abbey Wood station and reflecting varying ground conditions.

The watery soup just below the surface in the vicinity of the station has seen extensive piling with thick concrete on top but further east things are much more stable and it is likely that the usual 600mm of stone on top of compacted ‘type 2’ will be sufficient. This is what one of the structural engineers told me but experience has shown that such comments are not always reliable - or maybe minds get changed.

The ground behind Fendyke Road has been heavily contaminated by domestic refuse, bedsteads, old tyres and sanitary ware etc. over the years. It has been scraped out and sieved into a heap of top soil and large skips have been filled with rubbish for Erith, the large local construction plant company, to take away.

Photo 2 below was taken through the grill of the Lesnes Abbey (Green Chain) footbridge. Before that was installed there was a regular night time firework display as the local yobs threw metal scrap on to the electrified line below.

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
The carriage sidings which will soon be connected to the North Kent line at Plumstead have proved difficult to photograph thanks to Crossrail’s obsession with fences and the most effective way might be to hop over and take a walk along the track. On the assumption that Network Rail might object to that a different technique has been adopted and for the railway geeks the results are hidden away here. Southeastern’s grubby train windows are not as effective as fences.

More Crossrail related blogs.

 

11 July (Part 2) - Out of their minds?

It’s been threatened for quite a long time, it must be at least a month since I was tipped off that Bexley council would start a blog.

You may see their first effort on their website.

I’m all for it. More to look at, more to judge them by but you can bet it won’t be Will doing it. On second thoughts he can’t have much left to do. Today a Planning Officer whispered to me that planning is soon to be privatised too.

 

11 July (Part 1) - Out of our sight

There have been no significant Crossrail developments around Abbey Wood station in the last month. The track bed is for ever being extended and concreted, there are early signs of a new platform, holes have been dug and filled in ready for another visit by the big piling machine and Gayton Road is still a bit of a mess while the utility services are diverted.

A little way over the boundary with Greenwich preparations are well advanced for the new Bostall Manorway footbridge and near Plumstead the carriage sidings are not far off being connected to the North Kent line by Plumstead station.

I went along there in the week to see what could be seen from the road bridge at Plumstead station. Nothing unfortunately, the view is totally obstructed by a cross track signal gantry.

Not wishing the trip to be entirely wasted I wandered down the Ridgeway (Joseph Bazalgette’s old sewer which terminates at Crossness) and poked my telephoto lens through the small gaps between the trees and miscellaneous structures.

The track that can be seen from a passing train remained out of sight but conversely there is some which cannot be seen from a train. I am no nearer to working out what the huge concrete monstrosity by the North Kent trackside is. (Photo 1.)
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
More Crossrail related blogs.

 

10 July (Part 2) - A cut and dried decision?

While the News Shopper continues its steady decline - no attendance at council meetings, reprinting press releases with no added value, losing its senior reporters to the nationals and moving its headquarters to Sutton, the Bexley Times occasionally shows signs of recovery with in depth reports on local issues.


Bexley TimesThis week the paper version which I never see but is available on line, carries a couple of good reports on local issues. The saving of the Old Manor Way playground (Pages 12 and 13) and the latest Splash Park developments (Pages 16 and 17), all pretty accurately reported too.

It’s true that most of the latter could be written by carefully studying the consultant’s technical report but journalists often have no time for that degree of detail any more, but Sarah Linney did.

Those who read the Bonkers’ report may not learn a lot that is new about the Splash Park developments, except that the Bexley Times has been able to extend its report to cover the last few days.

It concludes with the most recent comments by Faye Ockleford, the Save the Splash Park campaign secretary. The mains-fed water solution is not viable because it would impede supplies (at the top of a steep hill) to residential premises. There is no consideration of the commercial options to which Anna Firth laid claim during the election campaign and cabinet member Peter Craske has refused a meeting.

That is very different to cabinet member Alex Sawyer’s reaction, he was always ready to meet anyone at a moment’s notice from the initial protest meeting to Anna Firth’s called within two days of the election.

I have known about Craske’s intransigence for several days but decided that making his words public might do the campaign no good at all. Craske is well known for acts of spite, however the Bexley Times report has to some extent let the cat out of the bag.

So with the permission of the Splash Park people I can report that Craske said, among other things…


A report will be presented to the Cabinet shortly for consideration. Until that time, I won't be meeting anyone, on either side of the arguments.

That is to ensure we have approached the matter with fairness and without one group getting an advantage over any other.


I think the campaigners are mystified by that; I certainly am.

What can be meant by “either side”? I was under the impression that there were indeed two sides. The one comprised of mums and dads and children and the one made up of people who share councillor Tandy’s views. “The Splash Park has got to go”.
Leaflet
If councillor Craske does not propose speaking to either side it could mean he is going to make the decision entirely alone. A charade he pulled of fairly successfully when claiming credit for saving Old Manor Way.

It was a clever stunt but it was a decision made on financial and practical grounds, not just dene holes and mine shafts but also Old Manor Way being in a marginally Conservative ward. I would guess that a strongly Labour ward (Belvedere) is at a serious disadvantage on top of which the monetary sums involved are frighteningly large.

The Bexley Times reports that campaigners are beginning to think Bexley council is intent on ‘cut and dry’. I’m tempted to say, ‘twas always thus.

 

10 July (Part 1) - Feedback

A few readers’ comments from yesterday to start this fine sunny Friday and with luck something more substantial later.

The Bin Tax
My experience at the door on Wednesday is being repeated across the borough. Some of the paid propagandists have been happy to talk, despite being adorned in Bexley regalia they are temporary staff hired in from across south London.

One at least was given a lesson in Bexley politics and the mathematics of the bin tax. Less collected at greater cost and one of the highest council tax rates around, he was told. Suitably educated he departed “feeling like a complete tit”. With language like that, this temporary worker obviously didn’t come from Bexley.

Bexley Bridge
The postbag suggests that the bridge over the River Cray in Bexley continues to occupy local residents’ minds. An attempt to secure local councillor opinion has been less than successful. It is reported that councillor Colin Tandy was prepared to say no more than “I am advised that it is fit for purpose at present”. I suppose it is or it would fall down although a 7·5 tonne weight limit on an A road might be judged otherwise.

The Bexley bridge is as far as I am concerned, something to be avoided at all costs and living 15 minutes drive away I am not best placed to judge local opinion. Mine is that a 140 year old bridge built to carry horse and carts will almost certainly be in need of replacement. My interest in the subject is as always, whether Bexley council can be relied upon to go about its business honestly.

The council’s official report says that the bridge was built in 1872 and first assessed as weak in 1992 when the weight limit was imposed. So far so factual but then Bexley’s report takes a trip into fantasy land.

It says the restriction is “enforced by the police” when correspondence between residents and police, which I have seen, makes it amply clear the police simply do not have the spare manpower for such things. “This arrangement has proved very effective” the report goes on to say which seems doubtful in the circumstances. Maybe that sort of falsehood for which Bexley council is renowned is upsetting the locals too, the people who will suffer 18 months of disruption when the bridge is replaced, in part due to the failure to enforce the restriction.

The council’s report goes on to say that the bridge is getting weaker - what do they expect with no enforcement - if it were taxpayers might not now be faced with a £1·7 million bill. Bexley, as usual, excuses the impact on taxpayers by saying TfL will pick up the tab as if Boris himself is dipping into his own pocket instead of ours.

It remains a puzzle as to why the council report on planning for the new bridge says the continued 7·5 tonne restriction is for “technical reasons”. A restriction to preserve the village’s narrow roads is understandable but ‘technical’ implies another weak bridge. Perhaps it’s yet another part of the report that should be take with a pinch of salt.

At the Transport Users’ Committee meeting last Tuesday, it was confirmed that the council has not as yet dreamed up any traffic disruption mitigation scheme. I suppose that is fine, it is not as though they ever devote much thought to such things.

No one reads Bonkers
That is more of less what was said to me at Thursday’s General Purposes meeting. I don’t really know how many people do. Statistics obtained from web servers and Google can be made to say almost anything.


Tweet If I take the reported number of unique visits in each month since 2009 and add them up the figure goes well over two million. It may sound impressive but it must be the case that the regular unique visitors last month are likely to be in large part the same unique visitors from May.

Probably my friend @ErithLink knows more about these things that I do. I’m in it for the long term drip drip drip effect of exposing Bexley council’s constant dishonesty. Fortunately this week provided a new drip. Its name is Nigel Betts.

 

9 July (Part 2) - Unknown councillor Nigel Betts seeks his 15 minutes of fame

There was only one item on the Agenda for last night’s General Purposes Committee and the chances of getting away from it within 15 minutes or so appeared to be good.


Cafer MunurFor a GP meeting there was a decent turnout, five members of the public and two councillors as spectators. The evening started well, I held the door open for the snooty Linda Bailey, there were not enough Agendas to go round and the Committee Officer Sandra Baxter noticed and offered me her own. I declined but swapped the offer for a sheet of writing paper because I had mislaid my notebook and councillor Steven Hall engaged in friendly chit chat.

It was everything a council meeting should be.

Ms. Baxter asked if I would be taking photos and I said I would snatch a quick one or two before the meeting began so as not to disrupt proceedings and then pack the camera away. I have been to enough General Purposes meetings to know that nothing very interesting happens that might warrant an excess of photography.

Committee

Photo taken before meeting started. Cllr. Bailey appears to be fully aware of it but raised no objection.

And so the meeting began. The new chairman, councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) asked that members pay special attention to microphones and made the customary formal announcement about recording and asked who might be taking photographs…

Agenda
… and all hell broke loose.

Well maybe a small exaggeration but I said I wouldn’t be taking pictures because “I took one of you before we started”.

Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) objected to the taking of photographs and councillor Sharon Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) commented that my photography was an offence against some unspecified law relating to the Protection of Adults. At first I thought Betts was only objecting to the taking of photographs before the meeting started…

…but no, he was bent on ensuring his elevation in these pages from almost unknown nonentity to buffoon and would-be law breaker. He wanted no photos at all.

He objected on the grounds that the council webcast meetings, that anything else was unnecessary and unwanted and I should be removed from the room if I reached for my camera again. (General Purposes is not webcast.)

Nigel BettsI thanked councillor Betts for providing better reading material for today than would otherwise be the case - Linda Bailey interjected that no one reads it - and felt obliged to remind councillor Betts of the law. (Link below.) See you in court!

Note: I have always felt that at small meetings where photography may become intrusive it is better to take a scene setting shot just before the meeting commences and no one has ever objected.

However if Bexley council is going to restrict photography to only when the meeting is in progress I shall be more than happy to bring along a large tripod and a 450mm lens and pick my own spot instead of theirs so that I can peer over their heads.

Maybe a video camera too.


Law

Click image for Government source web page.

The chairman dealt with the idiot in their midst in exemplary fashion by telling him he would deal with the matter at another time. If only all chairmen were as level headed in a crisis. Councillor Cheryl Bacon please take note.

The meeting got down to the business in hand which was to debate the Revised Disciplinary and Dismissal Procedures for the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and Monitoring Officer. Maybe what I was told about a possible prison sentence for Will Tuckley while in Greenwich police station has become more widely known.

The procedure was explained by Lorraine Barlow, Head of HR Advisory Services, and she was given quite a hard time. The principal dissent was over the manner in which any disciplinary hearing should be recorded.

Labour councillor Alan Deadman (North End) explained how important it was to get agreed notes. Councillor Sharon Massey said that might end up with people “sitting here all night”.

Alan Deadman reiterated that “with something as important as this” it was important to get the notes agreed “there and then” while memories were fresh but was told it would be “a practical nightmare”.

A note taker was the established tradition but every Conservatives who offered an opinion thought that an audio recording made more sense. Ms. Barlow was not happy with that and said the equipment “might not be entirely accurate because of volumes and people’s ability to make their voices clearly heard” (how very true) but more tellingly that it was not the procedure recommended by the national body which governs such things (ACAS).

At one time the recording idea was backed by councillor Andy Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) sitting in the public gallery but he was slapped down by bossy boots Sharon Massey who told him that he couldn’t speak until the chairman had invited him to do so. She constantly makes such interjections which are none of her business.

Vice-chairman Betts moved that the proposed procedures should all be adopted and although I saw councillor Aileen Beckwith (who had earlier spoken in favour of audio recording) raise her hand as seconder, the tape reveals that it was Ms. Bossy Boots who was credited with the dubious honour.

The Labour and UKIP members voted against the proposals because of the note taking stipulations.

The Labour/UKIP objections were based in particular on “the notes will not require formal agreement of all parties”. They feel that the tried and tested arrangement whereby notes are written on triple ’carbon’ (NCR) paper and agreed or amended where necessary by all parties immediately after the meeting is the only secure option. As much time as is necessary should be taken to reach that agreement because of the vitally important issues at stake. The possible dismissal of a Chief Executive.

This was the procedure adopted when Mick Barnbrook and others were interviewed by the police in connection with the investigation into councillor Cheryl Bacon’s lies. It took longer to agree the notes than it did to make the statement but at least everyone was in full agreement by the end.

What I found odd is that every Conservative who spoke, with, ironically, councillor Betts taking the lead, was in favour of audio recording yet they voted in favour of the proposed procedures which clearly state that “Recording of the hearing will not be permitted”. Maybe they didn’t notice that bit.

Why they cannot do both I have no idea. With maybe half a million compensation due to departing high ranking council officers one would think that every precaution should be taken - and at just one of the meetings I recorded I pressed the wrong button when closing the recorder down and lost the lot. I have listened to a large number of council audio recordings, quite often it is difficult to differentiate between two or more speakers.

Rejoice! Bexley has a new plonker. It’s been far too long.

 

9 July (Part 1) - Rubbish and lies. Craske’s back

rubbishI spotted the man draped in Bexley council regalia from the kitchen window and went straight to the front door and took the ‘Sorry we missed you card’ from his hand outstretched towards the letter box.

He may not have intended to immediately walk away because he lost no time in launching his spiel. I told him that I knew all about it and had already signed up. In return he said that almost no one was aware of the plan to charge for collecting garden waste and asked how it was I knew.

I said I was in the council chamber when it first crept into the budget documentation last October to which the man at the door said “I’ve not heard that one before”.

The charge was not formally approved by council until March this year.


With publicity for and awareness of the bin tax at such a low level, cabinet member Peter Craske has found it necessary to write to the News Shopper to combat the widespread disenchantment.
Letter
With the News Shopper’s on-line version being unavailable this week I doubt many people will have read it and with the paper version only going through three letter boxes in my street one must wonder why the council relies on it for distributing Legal Notices and the like.

Councillor Craske has a well deserved reputation for blurting out comments which are untrue but not everything he has said since being forgiven for the obscene blogging activities that occurred at his address has been a lie.

The assertions he makes in his letter are…


• The new charge for garden waste collection service costs only half the price of a tank of petrol.


This is a very silly analogy. In the 58 times I have filled my tank since buying the car I have never managed to squeeze in more than 30 litres.


• It is being introduced because the council’s budget has been reduced by 50% since 2010.


True although it was Bexley council’s decision to increase all fees and charges by substantial amounts instead of progressively easing up council tax. There was a choice but there was an electorate to be deceived. Craske has been responsible for some of the biggest price increases; some parking charges went up by a factor of three and more are proposed. (Disabled bays.)


• In order to protect essential services like social care for adults in need and protecting vulnerable children, things we have previously provided free at the point of use can no longer be provided in the same way.


Expenditure on Adults’ Services are to be cut by another 28% and Children’s Services were severely cut following the 2010 election.


• Garden waste is not a statutory requirement and if we did not do this the collections themselves would have to end.


Garden waste collection is not a statutory requirement. The only real alternative would have been more sensible monetary policies in earlier years. e.g. The easing up of council tax instead of a freeze.


• The new system is being introduced by councils of all political colours all over the country who face the same financial challenges.


Broadly true.


• We have ensured our price is one of the lowest in the country.


True. Watch it rise.


• The proposals were subject to a five month consultation period.


True and 77% of respondents voted against the bin tax.


• Our overall budget strategy has been endorsed at the ballot box.


The local elections took place before the bin tax was proposed. The clue is in the name of the strategy. Waste Strategy 2015-2020.


• The changes have also been reported by the News Shopper on several occasions.


This may or may not be true but the newspaper’s haphazard distribution policy makes the claim irrelevant. As the man at my door said, almost nobody knew.

It is perhaps worth repeating that as well as charging for the service, separated food and garden waste is a more valuable commodity than mixed and Bexley council will make £444,000 from that change.

 

8 July - Transport in Bexley. Crowded, slower, safer

The Transport User’s Sub-Committee ought to be an interesting meeting for anyone interested in the borough’s transport infrastructure but in practice those with such a keen interest would learn very little from attendance.

Probably I go to too many council meetings but I think I already knew the answers to almost all the councillors’ questions, even those for which no official answer was forthcoming.

Things are not helped by there being only one councillor on the committee (Stefano Borella, Labour, North End) with real enthusiasm for transport matters and the Vice-Chairman is councillor John Davey. The same John Davey who in 2009 was Vice-Chairman of the same committee which was happy to see several local roads wrecked and came up with the description ‘Bonkers’ for it, which in turn became the inspiration for this website.


Val ClarkThe meeting is chaired by councillor Val Clark who isn’t required to do a lot and does not a lot pretty well. I said Good Evening to her as I passed by on the way in but she kept her nose in the air as usual.

I had hoped to learn a little more about yesterday’s Broadway six vehicle bus crash but I was disappointed. The police officer present said he believed a motorist had pulled out in front of a bus which braked hard and those behind him didn’t. He was not a witness to the crash and later on confirmed that police numbers across the borough continue to reduce.

Having looked at the News Shopper’s pictures I cannot see any way that the new road layout can be to blame for putting 16 people in hospital.

Last time I went to the Transport meeting no provision had been made for any public attendance. Things were much better this time and I wasn’t even alone. A cyclist had been given permission to address the committee directly.

The South Eastern Railways man (Mike Gibson) was unable to attend but he had sent a written report. Unfortunately the chairman did not think it was necessary to circulate a copy to the public thereby turning what should have been a public meeting into something approaching a Cheryl Bacon style ‘Closed Session’. I have since obtained a copy.

Mr. Gibson’s report provided statistics showing small improvements to his company’s performance and passenger numbers had gone up by 30% since 2006. No new trains had been provided in that period other than the high speed stock running from Kent to St. Pancras. This is a government decision.

The recent hot weather raised the question of air-conditioning which was not thought to be technically possible on a stopping service for 1980 era trains and whilst technology has moved on, retro fitting trains is commercially unviable given that South Eastern’s contract ends in 2018. Taking trains out of service would not help the over crowding issues either.

Mr. Gibson’s report included a list of timetable changes anticipated for August 2016 when Cannon Street services will cease calling at London Bridge. For those who might be interested the summary is available here.


Seynour BorellaStefano Borella asked some Crossrail related questions but as he has attended the Liaison Committee meetings and councillor Melvin Seymour, the council’s official representative there has missed two out of three of them, councillor Seymour was at a disadvantage and no answer was forthcoming. I should emphasise that councillor Seymour had very good reasons for being absent.

Councillor John Davey complained about the unreliability of the cooling equipment on the existing rolling stock thereby proving he had not read Mr. Gibson’s report. The trains are not equipped with cooling equipment. Who elects these people?

Cabinet member Alex Sawyer revealed that he no longer used South Eastern trains preferring to drive to North Greenwich and use the Jubilee line and had no intention of using SE trains again. He said he would ask Mr. Gibson why there are no 12 car trains on the Bexleyheath line. Those who have been paying attention to the subject should have no difficulty in predicting the answer.

The chairman said she used the same route but generally took the 486 bus to North Greenwich.

Councillor Howard Marriner attempted to elicit more useful information by asking what progress had been made towards improving bus services to Darenth Valley Hospital. The chairman provided a lengthy answer which amounted to ‘absolutely none’. Not even a preliminary meeting.

Stefano Borella asked why some Night Bus frequencies were to be reduced but he got no answer. The N1 to Abbey Wood will be every 30 minutes all week instead of 20 minutes on Friday and Saturday but it is not the only affected route.


Sawyer The cyclist’s most interesting question was about the amount of the TfL award to the borough following the failure to secure mini-Holland status. He got no answer. He also wanted to know who would be ‘cycling champion’ now that councillor Gareth Bacon has given up the role. It is councillor Alex Sawyer if he can be dragged from his car.

Only an hour or two before I left for the meeting, a neighbour unaware of my intention told me how he was almost forced up the kerb in Abbey Road not far from its junction with St. Augustine’s Road. A bus had come around the bend at high speed on the wrong side of the road. I sympathised because buses on the wrong side of Abbey Road is not that unusual since it was unnecessarily narrowed. If my neighbour reads this blog he will I am sure be pleased to note that improving that junction is currently out for consultation. The proposal is for more narrowing.

Progressively bringing Bexley to a standstill is having its effect on accident statistics. A total standstill would presumably bring them down to zero and Bexley has been heading in that direction, so much so that it is now the 13th best borough in the country beaten only by rural backwaters with few roads and fewer cars. Almost every local authority area has been on an improving trend presumably reflecting research into safer vehicles. The Chairman said that “the Road Safety Team is absolutely brilliant”.

Seriously injured casualties were down another 23% in 2014 although slight injuries were up by almost as much.

Councillor Davey briefly mentioned the traffic disruption that will result from the Bexley bridge replacement. Nothing was known about plans to mitigate it but the chairman said the delay resulted from TfL funding which is not what was said at the Places Scrutiny meeting.

TfL may be dragging its feet on bridge funding but not apparently on bus stops. Every one across London has been surveyed and in Bexley 140 or more of them are to be modified. Is it any wonder that taxes are so high?

 

7 July (Part 2) - A bridge too far?

Twitter users may have noticed that James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup, took time off at the weekend to raise money for the Jimmy Mizen Foundation. He crossed all of London’s 21 bridges on foot, a distance in excess of 20 miles.


BrokenshireThat’s pretty impressive, almost a marathon but at a slower pace. I once covered a similar distance in a day but I was 50 years younger at the time. On the other hand it was up and down over the Brecon Beacons and misty and long before the days of GPS. A miracle we survived really.

You can add to the £1,300 James raised for the worthwhile local charity via the web.

A bridge nearer home has also occupied James’ time. He was asked to put pressure on the police to enforce the 7·5 tonne weight restriction on Bexley’s allegedly weak bridge over the Cray.

Mr. Brokenshire replied to say he had “seen no evidence that the bridge is currently not fit for its purpose”. Maybe he hasn’t but if it is fit for purpose one might wonder why £1·7 million has been allocated for its replacement, especially as the weight limit is not to be relaxed.

There was no comment on the enforcement question. No one seems bothered by that so one might assume that the bridge is quite good enough to carry 20 tonne (loaded) buses and the restriction is for the benefit of the village rather than the bridge. A not unreasonable situation if true which again makes replacement questionable.

The only known advantage of a replacement bridge is the slightly greater width but that is the very feature to have caused the Environment Agency to make representations.

 

7 July (Part 1) - The lying councillor Cheryl Bacon. An update

It’s a long time since a blog was devoted to the lying councillor Cheryl Bacon, 30th January in fact, and since then there have been no more than a couple of allusions to it in isolated blogs, the last one being in the final words of 27th May.

For new readers I should perhaps explain that Cheryl Bacon became a proven liar after she excluded every single member of the public from a meeting which she chaired because one of them attempted to make a recording of the meeting.


PoliceWhen next day she was told that the exclusion had broken the law she made up a story to the effect that six members of the public, including me, were all creating mayhem in the council chamber.

Her name was appended to a statement to that effect produced in the Legal Department. A number of very senior council officers who weren’t at the meeting blindly supported Bacon’s version of events - one might suspect they were under orders - but no witness was prepared to do so.

Four councillors from two parties made very clear written statements to the effect that no member of the public did anything other than sit on their chairs in amazement waiting to see what happened next. Statements by the council officers present made no reference to any misbehaviour and five Conservative councillors who wished to say as little as possible in writing notably said not a word in support of Cheryl Bacon.

Bexley council’s own internal report referred only to “an individual” with a recorder as did the initial statements to the press and by the police who had been called. Later however, if Bacon’s story was to have any chance of standing up, Bexley council had to lie. And they did. A statement by the Deputy Leader on BBC TV contained quite literally not a single truthful word.


Press reportThe Chief Executive was asked to investigate the conspiracy to defame six members of the public by interviewing councillors other than chairman Bacon so that the truth might emerge. He refused. His Legal Team Manager refused and the Director of Human Resources refused.

Eventually Bacon, the Chief Executive Will Tuckley, Legal Officer Lynn Tyler and a doorman were reported to the police for Misconduct in Public Office and the case was allocated to the Greenwich force. Interviewing of members of the public began last November and concluded in the Spring of this year with interviews with councillors.

Unlike Bexley police which has shown itself many times to be no more than an arm of Bexley council, Greenwich fully recognises the dangers that corrupt councils such as Bexley represent. They have spoken of life changing consequences on conviction and their intention not just to send the papers to the Crown Prosecution Service but to present the case in person to CPS officers so that no subtlety of the case goes unnoticed.

It has already been established that a crime has been committed.

That meeting was scheduled for April but unfortunately has not yet happened; the reason is not the political interference which plagued the Craske case but is altogether more mundane.

The lead police officer had to take a few weeks off work - I was told the reason but it is not right to make it public - and those few weeks have been extended more than anticipated. So the CPS presentation is delayed and I cannot see how it can take place before August. The wheels of justice turn very slowly. The maximum penalty for Misconduct in Public Office is life imprisonment.

Index to related blogs and documents.

 

6 July (Part 2) - Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

The big event in the council chamber last Tuesday was the petition to save Old Manor Way Playground and although everyone knows of the successful outcome by now, the path to that success may be less well known to those who weren’t there or didn’t follow the webcast very carefully indeed.

The petitioners undoubtedly did a good job and won the support of their local councillors and the right to have their on-line petition hosted on the council’s website. The Splash Park campaigners were not so favoured.

I had hoped that the Old Manor Way group would spend a few minutes outside the Civic Offices and afford a photo opportunity but they chose instead to take their seats early. The main seating area was full and they overflowed to both sides of the chamber.
Petition
Lauran AllamTheir speaker was Lauran Allam who had most certainly done her homework and presented her case in a most professional manner without the nervousness which is sometimes apparent at these events.

Five minutes are allowed for speakers but chairman Melvin Seymour said he would be relaxed about the limit as long as it was not extended unreasonably. That is a first in my experience.

Ms. Allam began by reminding everyone that the playground had been on its present site since 1939 and briefly covered the history of the houses in that area, however she soon got down to hard facts.

The playground area suffered ground instability problems which is why it wasn’t built on when the surrounding houses were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. There were dene holes there along with medieval tunnels and chalk mines. Thames Water has confirmed their presence and they mitigate the flood risk.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that the playground site is at medium to high risk of flooding. The playground plays its part in reducing that risk.

The present playground is securely fenced and a safe environment for children, the proposed alternative site is secluded and hidden and potentially more risky and maybe more likely to suffer a similar fate to Lesnes Abbey.

Old Manor Way is more than a playground, it is a community space where everyone can come together and relax. Bexley’s Strategy Report speaks of promoting social cohesion and closing the park would put up yet another barrier to achieving that aim. The council also aims to promote exercise and the outdoor life. Park closure makes both difficult to achieve. The borough’s obesity problem did not go unmentioned. The time allocated for Lauran’s speech was exceeded by no more than a few seconds.


Davey MarrinerCouncillors are allowed 15 minutes for questions and comment. John Davey was the first to speak and made a plea for cabinet member Peter Craske to take the petition fully into account when making his decision; presumably in recognition of the fact that all previous petitions to Bexley council have been ignored.

Councillor Howard Marriner then took what turned out to be the lead role in support of the park which falls within his ward. He said he had just the one point but it was important. It was a reference to the dim and distant past.

He said that the earliest reference to the playground was in 1935 when it was proposed by Crayford Urban District Council’s Open Spaces Committee. Rather than repeat what Howard said it may be easier to show an extract from the minutes of that meeting.

Minutes

Click image to see more of the 1935 Council Minutes.

A year later the council accepted the land as a gift with a covenant stipulating that it should remain a playground “for all time”. This, it was noted by several speakers, is different from ‘in perpetuity’ which is subject to a legal definition and expiry date.
Minutes
With a final flourish councillor Marriner produced the Deed of Covenant dated 3rd May 1939, “restricting use of the land to that of a Playing Field and Children’s Playground”.

“Our predecessors will be looking down on us now saying don’t you dare change it.”

Council officer Antonia Ainge acknowledged that the subterranean problems had been discovered during her technical studies made following the sale proposal. Councillor Betts appeared to confirm the situation when he said that the house developer was not renowned for giving away good building land. The underground problems will reduce its value.


Bacon Councillor Gareth Bacon thought the council should survey the number of people using the park to check Ms. Allam’s assertion that it was well used, the only negative voice to challenge the petitioners.

The chairman acknowledged the efforts of the three ward councillors, Hurt, Marriner and Pallen and it then fell to cabinet member Craske to say his piece.

Craske, as is his way, could not continue without first taking a swipe at someone, this time it was other campaign groups who might want to emulate “the constructive approach” of Ms. Allam and her supporters.

Throwing some cold water in the direction of Ms. Allam, councillor Craske said “if you remove that proposal another one has to be found. It doesn’t solve the problem it just moves the problem somewhere else”.


CraskeHe then dropped his little bombshell which has been reported already. “The technical evaluation backed up what has been said” and “on that the decision must be based”. He was “wary of on-line petitions“ they can be “signed by people living outside the area. The decision must be based on the technical evaluation” but he had received that report “last Friday and I’m quite happy to say what my decision is going to be”.

The playground was given its reprieve to plentiful applause.

Obviously Bexley council and councillor Craske will make the most of their apparent generosity but a careful study of what was said reveals only too clearly that the petitioners, thoroughly good as their own and councillor backed research was, may not have been the deciding factor in Craske’s decision. It was the technical report specifying what the ground problems were which had persuaded Craske of which way to jump several days earlier.

Bearing in mind what councilor Craske is currently saying in connection with the Splash Park, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Bexley may have become the “Listening council”.

 

6 July (Part 1) - Fly tipping is on the up

It’s illegal and it blights the landscape but fly tipping is widespread and probably inevitable. The News Shopper has reported today that incidents have risen by 20% over last year.


FreeAccording to the featured survey 20% of respondents said the cost of disposal was a significant factor. I’m surprised it wasn’t more.

It’s not like that everywhere, some councils take an enlightened view. The website extract shown here comes from an adjacent borough where council tax is 15% lower than Bexley’s. Just a few miles from the unwanted furniture below the council would take it away for free.

A second adjacent borough, Greenwich, where council tax is 12% lower than in Bexley, classes a three piece suite as one item and would remove it for a tenner.

Guess how much Bexley quoted to remove the suite below.

Fly tipping
Eighty pounds!

I don’t suppose it will end up on the street. Most likely it will be cut into small bits and distributed to several green bins for quite a long time into the future.

Bexley council. “Working for you.” We need a different slogan.

 

5 July (Part 3) - Wilton left wanting

At the beginning of March news came through that a rather sad looking Wilton Road, Abbey Wood, was due for a £300,000 revamp. Greenwich council (the boundary runs down the middle of the road) lost no time in calling the traders to a meeting to hear their opinions and take note of any concerns - mainly parking.


Wilton RoadIt took them just two weeks to arrange that meeting and ask what they would like to see in Wilton Road and encourage the formation of a traders’ association. The leader of Greenwich council chaired the meeting; she is councillor for the Abbey Wood ward.

What has Bexley done in the four months since the grant was announced apart from issue a Press Release which said the money must be spent by March 2016?

Not a lot it would seem.

The first sign of action came last Tuesday night when cabinet member Linda Bailey said (final blog paragraph) she was to hold a meeting the following Thursday. I didn’t expect to get an invitation as I did to the Greenwich meeting but I hoped to get a report from the traders.

Their report was not a lot of use as they had not received an invitation either, it was another of Bexley’s closed meetings but by yesterday they had received a little feedback.

Contrary to the hopes expressed by Labour councillors at the Places Scrutiny Committee, Bexley council is not keen on negotiating with an association but may speak to some traders on an individual basis. One shop owner may have had it right when he described Bexley’s meeting as “warm words and mission statements with no action”.

Another said he had lost all interest, “Bexley council will do what it likes anyway”. He is probably right, it is councillor Bailey’s very own catch phrase.

 

5 July (Part 2) - Something to hide

ProgrammeBy now the new Heritage Fund sponsored Lesnes Abbey Visitor Centre should have been nearing completion, instead there is nothing to be seen but a wasteland.

The old Centre was demolished and the site cleared by January and since then almost nothing has been done.


Lesnes Lesnes The most notable new feature is that the open mesh Heras fence has been screened to minimise the chances of anyone noticing the lack of progress within. It was until a few days ago only partially screened.

Elsewhere in the park nature is reclaiming the nettle and bramble patches for its own, but the mulberry tree has been given special attention.

Screen

 

5 July (Part 1) - Rubbish in Belvedere, rubbish in Brasted

The place, Erith & Thamesmead that is, hasn't been quite the same since Anna Firth the Conservative’s election candidate had to settle for being District councillor for Brasted, Chevening, Sundridge & Ide Hill rather than being an MP.

Anna went through a phase, until everyone became bored with it, of posing next to rubbish, no not Philip Read silly, dumped in the streets of Belvedere, as if she had some sort of magic solution to it that councillor Danny Hackett and Teresa Pearce lacked.


Fly tipping Fly tippingUnfortunately Anna’s magic touch appears to have deserted her on her own territory and her pet subject has made it to the pages of the Sevenoaks Chronicle.

Those with a trained legal mind, Anna Firth perhaps, may wish to look at the Legal Beagles website which suggests that imposing waste disposal charges, take it or leave it, was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in October last year. Not that illegality would be a disincentive to Bexley council of course.

 

4 July (Part 2) - Rhys Lawrie - It’s complicated

The last time the Rhys Lawrie murder cover-up was mentioned here was on the 24th June. It was reported that former Bexley social worker Suzetta Botman claimed to have no knowledge of an Initial Assessment on Rhys and Bexley police took that assurance at face value.

The blog almost immediately provoked an email from a former Bexley council employee…


An Initial Assessment is a very comprehensive form so I find it hard to believe that its author could have no recollection of the document four years later.

The social worker says she has no recollection of the IA form nor the family. When she was shown the form she still did not recognise the family nor the incident, but note how the statement is worded to carefully avoid stating that it was an IA form that she actually signed herself, and therefore wrote herself!


Very good points which caused me to review the original blog and read the documentation on which it was based again - and seek assistance from Rhys’s grandfather, Trevor.

He is especially suspicious of the Serious Case Review because it was supposed to be independent but instead was chaired by a former Director of Children’s Services at Bexley council and according to several informants, a close friend of the Director under whose nose Rhys’s murder occurred. Trevor has drawn my attention to this section of the Review.
Serious Case Review

The mid-December date is December 2007.

Note that there is no concern for Rhys’s wellbeing. Things were “good“, “friendly and relaxed”. No problems, no reason to do anything. Bexley council’s lack of action is vindicated.

The social worker to which Rory Patterson’s report (Line 3 above) refers is Suzetta Botman. And what proof is there of that?

Ms. Botman was definitely the Social Worker with responsibility for the Rhys case. All the correspondence at the time was addressed to her. For example, this letter, from Rhys’s doctors at the Lakeside Medical Practice in Yarnton Way.
Doctor's letter
And for good measure here is a very small part of the Initial Assessment which Suzetta Botman can’t remember.
Initial Assessment
So above is the ultimate proof that Suzetta Botman was the responsible Social Worker, that the Serious Case Review recorded she had found no family problems, that the Initial Assessment form was completed by Ms. Botman in 2008 and everything was entirely satisfactory; the only problem was that Ms. Botman could not remember any of it. Her police statement confirms it.

Or could the documents indicate something totally different?

That the reason that Suzetta Botman cannot remember the Initial assessment, a form which apparently has no provision for a signature, is a fabrication by Bexley council written after Rhys’s death.

Rhys’s grandfather certainly thinks so and given that he has lots of documents which indicate that things were anything but satisfactory in the murdered boy’s Erith home, he probably has good reason to be suspicious - and for Bexley’s Chief Executive and councillor Philip Read taking such exceptional measures to hinder enquiries.

When one or two things don’t add up one might assume human error. When absolutely nothing makes sense, from suppressed evidence, to unprotected crime scenes and 39 injuries constituting death from natural causes, one is entitled to assume that something stinks. Next time some reports of Rhys’s ill-treatment will be contrasted with Bexley council’s supposed ignorance of the situation.

 

4 July (Part 1) - Abbey Wood-on-Sea

The hole in the ground that was once Abbey Wood’s railway station is sometimes filled with water and at other times not, without any obvious correlation to rainfall. I asked the man in charge what was going on and why they had been digging the hole anyway.


Crossrail Crossrail CrossrailThe excavation is necessary to locate (and avoid) the piles that supported the old station because before long the site will be piled in connection with the diverted North Kent line and the new station.

Now that the old piles have been located, hardcore has been rolled in to support the massive piling machine which has become a familiar sight to Crossrail watchers.

Those who know the area will have assumed that the water is yet another indication of the high water table. The reason it is not linked very directly to rainfall is because it is in effect part of the Thames. The Network Rail engineers have noted that the water level goes up and down in perfect synchronicity with the tidal flow of the river very nearly a mile and a half away.

When the tide is in Crossrail’s pump has no chance of keeping pace with the inflow.

The ground further east is fortunately much more stable, hence the simpler ground preparation in that area and my own house is unlikely to float away at the next high tide.

More Crossrail related blogs.

 

3 July (Part 2) - At the Resources Committee meeting with insufficient resources

Councillor Steven Hall may have drawn the short straw when chairmanships were being handed out. The very words ‘People’ and ‘Places’ almost guarantee a lively debate for anyone interested in what is going on around town. On the other hand ‘Resources’ sounds a bit too heavy going and often the meeting is.


Steven HallOn Wednesday evening the sun must have got to me because I went to the Civic Offices expecting to listen to the Audit Committee at work and was directed to the main chamber where it was immediately obvious that a much bigger meeting was on the point of starting. As a result I was without my long lens and worse was that I had arranged another appointment for 9:15.

The meeting once again erred towards the boring end of the spectrum and as is often the case I wondered how councillors remain alert. Many of them do thus proving that being a councillor is not always the sinecure one might imagine.

There are of course always exceptions to any rule. One of chairman Hall’s first announcements was to say that vice-chairmen Andy Dourmoush and Maxine Fothergill would not be making any sort of report. Both are recipients of leader Teresa O’Neill’s largesse introduced last year as compensation for her wrecking the established format of scrutiny meetings. £750 per meeting each is the going rate for doing nothing. Councillor Hall said that no reports will be the new norm.

Councillor Fothergill was nevertheless kept quite busy because her car had unfortunately broken down on the way to the meeting. She is absent from the picture below because she spent a good part of the meeting nipping outside to use her phone. I hope she got home OK.
Resources

New committee member councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) was the first Tory to ask a question or more correctly make a suggestion. She wanted to see a report on how well the General Election arrangements went. The chairman agreed to have one added to the next Agenda.

Councillor Rob Leitch (Conservative, Sidcup) had noticed that £335,000 of projected savings for this year had slipped behind schedule and asked the Finance Director to comment. After a long delay she said that she had been working on “a funding gap of £30 million for future years” and 98% of 2015/16’s target (£14·8m.) was secure but if the 2% did slip she was looking for alternative savings.

Councillor Gill MacDonald (Labour, Belvedere) was sad to note that 28% of savings for 2015/16 was to come from Adults’ Services at a time when the population is aging. A thoughtful Ms. Griffin eventually began her answer with a reminder that the cuts had been agreed by the council and went on to say that Adults’ Services represented the largest part of the budget. Then, to wrap things up, she said that the cut had been agreed by the council in March.

Substitute member Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) referred to the 10% saving target for 2015/16 in Children’s Services. She was told that all of it would come from efficiency savings.

Councillor John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) wanted to know what consequences may have arisen from the two day a week closure of Erith Town Hall. Ms. Griffin said she “hadn’t seen any particular issues” but is “continuing to monitor”. Savings are on course to reach £70,000 a year.

Labour leader Alan Deadman (North End) was concerned about the degree of cuts to staff in HR and Legal, it could lead to the council being mismanaged. The chairman reminded him that the cuts had been made some time ago and cabinet member Don Massey said that as the council reduced in size so must the core departments.

Councillor Daniel Francis made his fourth - or maybe it was his fifth - intervention by referring to the possible merger of back office facilities with Newham and Havering. He was congratulated for having found the Romford Recorder’s report, I suspect he spotted it somewhere else. He was told that those negotiations were at an extremely early stage (a Memorandum of Understanding) but that some functions in Bexley now require less than one specialist post and the possibility of mergers must be examined. As many as 21 back office services could be merged.

Councillor Francis slipped in for the umpteenth time a complaint that the scheduling of meetings too often makes effective scrutiny impossible. His complaint fell on stony ground as it always does.

Councillor Husband referred to one of the biggest savings (£1·2 million) listed under cabinet member Linda Bailey’s Regeneration and Growth portfolio. Chairman Hall ruled that Strategic Planning & Regeneration Resources was not a resource for the Resources Committee.

The plan is to make all non-statutory functions self-financing and despite the Chairman’s ruling that Regeneration Resources were not relevant to the Resources Committee, the Finance Director commented.

She said a lot of the relevant teams work towards bringing inward investment to the borough. Greater flexibility from staff with appropriate skills could further enhance investment levels and that would pay for the services.

The Status Report (a collection of cross London statistics produced by the organisation known as London Councils) came in for the usual criticism. The problem is that it is always out of date and incomplete. It was alleged that it was inaccurate too because London councils are not compelled to submit their results and figures. Naturally councils that score badly are inclined not to submit any figures. Councillor Louie French (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said it was not worth the paper it was written on - especially now that it is printed grey on grey as councillor Slaughter remarked with a repeat of her complaint from the night before.

Cabinet member Don Massey said that some councils deliberately duck out and do not play ball with their submissions to the Status Report.

London Councils is an organisation of which Teresa O’Neill O.B.E. is the vice-chairman. Out of date. Behind the times. Erroneous.

Councillor Mabel Ogundayo asked a question relating to agency staffing levels in Children’s Services. Chairman Hall ruled that this HR related question was not appropriate to his committee but fortunately the Finance Director offered a brief response. The poor figures “will take quite some time to change”. The future will be “challenging”. “I don’t think we can be above average in everything any longer given our financial situation”.

At this point I had to leave having muddled my dates and double booked evening appointments. My intention was to complete this report by reference to the webcast. Unfortunately whilst my own recording made in a corner of the room comes through loud and clear the council’s webcast is, depending on speaker, at too low a volume for me to hear and it fails to make clear what happened during the surprise event that took place soon after my departure - apart from the amusement registered on Alison Griffin’s face.

It is evident that two proposals for future Sub-Committees were offered, one from Labour and another from the Conservatives, however councillor Francis proposed that both were taken on board.

This so bamboozled the assembled councillors that some of them believed they would be voting against their own proposal if they voted for Daniel Francis’ dual approach, which if lost would have resulted in separate votes. However it was passed by five votes to two (councillors Pollard and Leaf) with the remaining Tories abstaining in utter confusion. (This paragraph only obtained from a cooperative councillor.)

In some ways I find this a shame. I can never again report that Labour proposals are always rejected with a 100% block vote. A double blow because only the night before I lost the right to say that all public consultations, delegations and petitions are ignored, though the whole Splash Park story has yet to come out. At least not on BiB. You don’t really think that councillor Craske has metamorphosed into Santa Claus do you?

You may have noticed that a high proportion of questions originate from Labour sources. Those featured above are chosen subjectively on their supposed wider interest, if a proper count was undertaken the proportion might be very different. It would most likely be even higher than what may be seen above. There is no doubt about which party is most prepared to allow things to pass unchallenged. The docile majority party.

 

3 July (Part 1) - Audit Report

As reports are running two and a bit meetings behind the times - and don’t even ask about the important emails unanswered - it is perhaps a blessing that last night’s Audit Committee meeting revealed nothing of great interest. Well maybe it did, but the chairman very politely kicked the public - just two of us - out at 20:35.
Audit

One of Audit’s responsibilities is Risk Management, the routine stuff is claims from people tripping over paving stones, but a new one has made its presence felt in the past year. In the decade to 2014, there were six claims of child abuse by those who had been in Bexley’s care. Recently there have been seven in six months. According to the Agenda, it is the Jimmy Savill (sic) effect.

A number of councillors took the opportunity to be critical of the current structure of Scrutiny Committees which are too large, ill timed and appear to not always embrace subjects which seem appropriate to them. I thought that was the general idea behind the changes introduced by Teresa O’Neill’s in 2014.

There was no reference to the resident who had objected to the 2013/14 accounts (except in the minutes of the previous meeting) and discovered widespread “malpractice” in the parking department. That could cost a pretty penny.

 

2 July - After the climbdown

SeymourThe reprieve given to the Old Manor Way playground may have been by far the most startling thing to come out of Tuesday’s Places Scrutiny meeting but it was not the only revelation.

Peabody Housing Association provided an update on developments in Thamesmead and how their plans had been based on questionnaires sent to 16,000 homes with about 10% being interviewed at their doors - an exercise putting Bexley council’s feeble consultations to shame.

Unsurprisingly transport was high on the list of residents’ concerns and an extension of the DLR from Barking Riverside being especially popular.


Hackett At question time councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) asked why Peabody had apparently become a buy to let landlord, buying up what homes it could and letting them at market rates rather than at social rent levels.

The answer was that Peabody aimed to transfer 60 properties a year from social to market rent, it was policy and it would continue as it provided an income stream.

Councillor Borella (Labour, North End), always interested in transport matters, asked if Peabody favoured a Thames bridge or a tunnel. The answer was a tunnel which would take up far less valuable land space.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon (currently under investigation by the police for Misconduct in Public Office) said she was keen for Peabody to “design crime out” of Thamesmead. She doesn’t live there any more so that’s a decent start.


Seymour Councillor John Davey who was so dedicated to the wellbeing of South Thamesmead that he buzzed off to Crayford after achieving nothing in Lesnes Abbey ward, is also dedicated to the art of hogging a microphone while having nothing worthwhile to say. This time his contribution was to put on the record that Peabody’s approach is “absolutely brilliant”.


Seymour A recurring feature of Scrutiny Committees is that a Status Report summarises Bexley council’s progress towards various goals and traditionally it is a separate booklet printed in colour. It has become a victim of the cuts and is now part of the main Agenda and printed grey on grey. It is close to illegible, a point soon picked up by councillors June Slaughter and Aileen Beckwith. Councillor Beckwith said her eyesight wasn’t good enough to read it and she could not effectively scrutinise. It is “appalling” and she is right.

Councillor Slaughter was also interested in waste disposal; performance is slipping for much the same reasons that are affecting Bromley. There is less paper and more cardboard which is bulkier but weighs less and plastic pots are constantly getting thinner. “More has to be collected just to stay the same.”

Councillor Joe Ferreira remarked on the number of shop vacancies in Erith and council officer Jane Richardson said there were developments to be announced soon. This is likely to include children’s play areas. It has been reported elsewhere that the old Blockbuster store is being kitted out as a soft play centre.

Parking was the next major item on the Agenda and CCTV enforcement in particular. The restrictions placed by Eric Pickles in the dying days of the coalition government has pushed the number of unfair fines via mobile CCTV down from 1,002 to 365 comparing the April to June quarters of 2014 and 2015. The annual revenue loss is estimated to be £230,000. Some of this may be made up by foot patrols.

However a lot more will be recouped by spying on moving traffic, about which council leader Teresa O’Neill deceived the gullible as recently as last April. There are about 200 sites around the borough that could be enforced but at many it will not be worthwhile (from a revenue generation viewpoint) because the road layout makes an offence near impossible.

Fortunately for Bexley council there are a lot of sites which meet their criteria of being both busy and confusing where CCTV surveillance may prove to be profitable. Bexley will attempt to fill its coffers via CCTV surveillance from next August and Teresa O’Neill’s truth phobia is proved once again.

Councillor Val Clark confirmed her anti-democratic status by pronouncing Eric Pickles’ ten minute parking grace times to be “a detrimental step”.

Councillor Davey (Conservative, Crayford) didn’t seem to know what was meant by moving traffic offences and Deputy Director Bryce-Smith was forced into reeling off a list. Box junctions, no right turns etc. etc.


Seymour Moving on to rubbish, Cabinet member Peter Craske said in response to councillor Borella’s question that sign ups for the garden waste bin tax have now reached 5,500 and confirmed the target was 31,000. He claimed to be “on course” and “sure we would get there”.

Stephen Didsbury, the council’s Head of Waste, said that people generally are pretty good at recycling downstairs stuff but upstairs is frequently forgotten. Toilet roll centres and shampoo bottles too often end up in general waste and as for what people do with left over food still in its packaging. Ugh!

We were asked to “go the extra step further” but I fear that things will go backwards once water meters become universal. I always soak the labels from tins and jars but if that is going to cost money it will be done less often. The failure to separate the paper may not be much of an issue but the containers contaminated by food may be.

Cabinet member Linda Bailey said she had a meeting (†) planned for next Thursday (today) with the MP, ward councillors and traders to progress the Wilton Road development scheme. The expectation is that it will blend “seamlessly” with the Crossrail funded improvements and many of the design staff will be the same as an aid to ensuring that happens.

† Yesterday afternoon the leader of the Wilton Road traders’ association called me over while I was en-route to the station to ask what was going on because he had heard absolutely nothing over several weeks.

 

1 July (Part 3) - It’s too damned hot!

It’s just too hot to wade through the 150 minutes of yesterday’s recording of the Places meeting so here’s a few snippets from elsewhere before I make my weary way to the Audit Committee meeting.

Lesnes Abbey playground arson
There is now little doubt that the burned out slide will be replaced and the morons who did the deed will have cost the local taxpayers more than £100,000 as well as depriving Belvedere’s children of a summer of fun - as if the closure of the Splash `Park wasn’t enough deprivation.

Better news is that police have made it clear to a number of interested residents and councillors (and me) that they have a good idea of who the culprits are and ten of them have been arrested. Advice from the CPS is awaited. So exceptional work from the Thamesmead and Lesnes Safer Neighbourhood Teams.

The Belvedere Splash Park
Whilst the success of the Save Old Manor Way playground group may have put more pressure on a severely cash strapped council, a commercial rescue as advocated by Conservative General Election candidate, Anna Firth, is still a distinct possibility. The traditional playground across the road from the Splash Park is not a lot of use on a day like today. Not a bit of shade anywhere.

The Charlotte
From Crayford comes news that the Charlotte public house where councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis reigns supreme, is up for sale. Not had time to check that one out, but if true, where will councillor Sharon Massey go when she feels the need for oil covered flesh?

Crossrail
The preparations for the North Kent line diversion is going ahead at an amazing rate, the old station site has been excavated to a considerable depth (Photo 1), and apparently filled in again. The water table has proved to be a problem even during dry spells.
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail

The reinforced concrete track bed now extends almost to the western end of the existing platforms and a path has been cleared to just beyond the Lesnes Abbey footbridge to the east.

 

1 July (Part 2) - The North South divide

Bexley council has arranged Roadshows to explain its recycling changes and the imposition of a bin tax.
Roadshow

Extract from Bexley Magazine. Click to rotate.

There are no scheduled Roadshows North of the Bexleyheath railway line.

 

1 July (Part 1) - The Listening council or maybe a cornered council

The main event at last night’s Places Scrutiny Committee meeting was the presentation of the petition in support of the Save Old Manor Way Playground campaign. It was admirably fronted by campaigner Lauran Allam and met with a remarkable amount of support from both ward councillors and those from further afield.


CraskeCouncillor John Waters’ interest in park attendance levels was not well received by members of the public but I believe it was well intentioned and he was unfairly maligned. All of that will be reported in more detail another day but the responsible cabinet member, a hopefully reformed Peter Craske, then extracted a rabbit from his hat in the form of a beautifully executed stage managed request.

He said he had studied the issues carefully and had already decided what his recommendation to Cabinet would be. He asked chairman Melvin Seymour for permission to announce what that recommendation would be. It was to remove Old Manor Way playground from the list of parks and open spaces for sale. He did spoil it somewhat by stating that its removal means “another has to be found” but that bridge can be crossed further down the road.

It must be unprecedented for councillor Craske to provoke anything other than jeers in the council chamber and he probably blushed at the cheers that erupted behind him; but how would one tell?

Public
A recommendation to remove Old Manor Way from the list is of course no more than that but I cannot imagine Craske would be stupid enough to make that announcement without clearing the ground before him.

So good news for Old Manor Way and in line with my prediction last week.

And now for the bad news.

With the decision to replace the equipment destroyed at Lesnes Abbey due to go public in the immediate future and with it more than £100,00 taken unexpectedly from the budget, the outlook for the Splash Park must surely be bleaker than ever. Remaining hopes probably lie with commercial operation.

Given teenagers’ tendency to brag about their ‘achievements’ it is surprising that tongues have not wagged more quickly but the police officer who I spoke to on Sunday indicated that things were afoot. It might have helped if Bexley council had offered a reward for information leading to a conviction. £500 would seem like a fortune to a scallywag with a conscience.

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