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Bonkers Blog March 2015

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12 March (Part 1) - Bexley’s budget debate limps towards the vote

TweetI fear this report may disappoint Elaine but councillor John Waters manages to plumb the depths of idiocy towards the end and James Hunt is amusing if nothing else and helps to illustrate the mayor’s tolerance of irrelevancies if they come from Tory mouths.

Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) is still not convinced that the bin tax is not a tax. “It represents 2·9% on Band D. When there are residents in this borough who have the choice of eating or heating it is just not going to be paid.”

“Too many assumptions have been made”. They include “composting and that only 8% will go into general refuse and we found out [from the council officers in charge] that even if a dead bouquet is found in the bin it will be red tagged and rejected”.

Officers have said that “incineration costs will still stand at £289,000 a year”. “Members opposite have said there will be no increase in fly tipping but they have compared Bexley with Chiltern and The Forest of Dean and there has been no like for like comparison with Bexley”.

Switching off street lights brings “safety issues and behaviour issues. They have said that there won’t be any but they said that when the parks were going to be left open twenty four seven.”

“The bin tax represents 2·9% but increased parking charges represent 9% on the Bexley share at Band D, so this budget, as ever, punishes those who can’t afford it and it is short term not addressing long term problems.”

Councillor Maxine Fothergill (Conservative, Colyers) was called next but decided to say nothing so the spotlight moved to councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) who began in jocular fashion. “I am fat and I have drunk too much water and I shall be running out afterwards”. “I have lived in Bexley all my life [born in 1979], was educated here and even learned to sail in Thamesmead. I’ve even drunk the lake water there.” All of it by the looks of him.

Being elected was “an honour and a duty. Being a councillor is not all about long meetings and parties. Some people think we have a desire to cut everything and build on everything but it is not true.” (One minute and fifty seconds and no interruption from the useless mayor for going wildly off topic.)

“In 2006 nobody truly realised what we would be facing. Apparently, after 13 years of a Labour government we can’t blame Blair and Brown, but this Conservative administration has been planning for the worst and tonight we have a carefully planned budget which preserves the services all our residents need. It hasn’t been worked out in a couple of hours.”

At long last he got around to knocking Labour members. “At the People Scrutiny meeting they barely mentioned the budget; they mentioned instead that it got late, but tired or not they had a duty to comment. Their only interest was saving the Splash Park, a park that their administration put in on the cheap and one which is no longer fit for purpose. Don’t worry about vulnerable children so long as there is a Splash Park.” And with all that talk of splashing, councillor Hunt ran for the boy’s room leaving us not entirely convinced it was water he had been drinking.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) agreed that Bexley was in a very difficult position but “pressures in housing and pressures we are seeing in children’s services have been caused by government, but the biggest pressure is the Revenue Support Grant”.

“Taking into account the 2·9% bin charge, the 1·9% and the use of reserves it is a budget which equates to a 8·1% council tax increase and then there is the nine and a half percent increase in the council’s parking charge income.”

“If council tax had been raised by 1% in each of the past two years we would not now be looking at the precipice which we are.” After mentioning the long term refusal to countenance a Thames bridge the prospect of which is now bringing thousands of jobs to the borough (Ocado) and the failure to negotiate a proper contract with Tesco (the overage clause) he said “it is those mistakes which lead to the financial position we are in today”.

Councillor Borella introduced an amendment but as the public wasn’t allowed to see it it must remain a mystery. In any case the mayor refused to accept it on the grounds he had heard enough from Stefano for one night and quoted a Standing Order to support his decision.

Councillor Nick O’Hare (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) was next to speak and apart from singing the praises of the Finance Director he said nothing new. The budget was the result of “the last Labour government” and this budget is not like Labour’s “spend, spend, spend”. After 105 seconds councillor O’Hare had exhausted his store of platitudes and sat down.

Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) offered better value. “Councillor Newman is wrong” he began. “His assumptions are wrong and his figures are wrong. He says it will cost £289,000 to dispose of garden waste and we believe it will save £100,000.” Overall “we will save between five and six hundred thousand pounds a year by doing this”. “You cannot trust the Labour party to run this council.”

He then turned his attention to UKIP. In suggesting a reduction in councillor allowances “they had not taken account of them being frozen for five or six years. There is no earthly point in saving money unless you have some positive proposal on what you were going to do with it. Frankly it was just a gesture.”

Taken together they must be the most stupid comments of the night. Don’t save money unless you know what you are going to spend it on? That really does sound like Sharon Massey’s Looney Left.

Referring back to an earlier meeting when UKIP councillor Lynn Smith said “Boo” when the European Union was mentioned he said his party had made a DVD of the episode which they show at their parties to provide “a good laugh”. Lynn Smith complained and the Tories laughed at her. The mayor wasn’t interested.

ClarkCouncillor Val Clark (Falconwood & Welling) is another nasty piece of work in the John Waters mould. She too began by questioning councillor Newman’s arithmetic, this time in relation to parking charges and perpetuated the myth that Bexley’s charges are the lowest in London. It is wrong to label them a stealth tax, they are imposed to “ration road space and ensure a turn over. Businesses are not helped if cars are allowed to park all day. The increases [up to 50%] are reasonable and proportionate”.

Councillor Gareth Bacon summed up. He said there had been some good contributions during the evening. Councillor Leitch’s speech was “spectacular” but councillor Derry Begho‘s was not, neither was Danny Hackett’s or Endy Ezenwata’s. Abena Oppong-Asare was criticised for supporting Gordon Brown. Esther Amaning was in a time warp, Joe Ferreira was intelligent but selling parks ensures the future of those remaining. Seán Newman was dismissed for his punch lines and Daniel Francis had made “astonishing claims” and Bacon criticised his enthusiasm for a bridge which would bring “gridlock and smog”.

As I write, TfL is reporting queues for Blackwall are back to Eltham. Meanwhile in East Ham a nonagenarian is running short of food and Bacon is the principal cause.

Bacon continued. The Conservative contributions “were all based on good governance” the Labour contributions “were all based on their press release for tomorrow’s News Shopper” and five seconds after every Tory (except for Maxine Fothergill who had gone home early) voted for the budget my recorder threw up a low battery warning and I turned it off for fear it might corrupt the file if I left it any longer.


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