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Bonkers Blog March 2015

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13 March - Bexley’s budget meeting goes from shambles, through trickery to outright farce

After deputy leader Gareth Bacon had devoted the whole of his concluding speech to insulting Labour members and the vote to approve a 1·9% council tax increase was taken (inaudible on the webcast by the way) another vote was taken to approve some of the detail.

There were 33 such points of detail and no time was given for any discussion. Without anyone giving the details any thought whatsoever the usual block voting pattern followed. Cabinet member Gareth Bacon stood up immediately afterwards to gloat that hidden among the 33 detailed proposals was one to increase the discount on Business Rates Retail Relief to £1,500. An obvious bit of stage management and the Labour group had fallen into the Tory trap and unknowingly voted against it.

It’s their own fault but few councillors read agendas in advance. If they did there might be fewer damn fool questions at scrutiny meetings.

It has to be said that the Labour group always falls into Tory traps and one must assume that they are just not deviously dishonest enough to ever run a corrupt and sometimes criminal organisation like Bexley council - which reminds me. Plumstead police are to defer the submission of Cheryl Bacon and Will Tuckley’s case to the CPS on possible Misconduct charges because another witness has come forward.
In the weeks to come Bexley Conservatives will make mischief over the fact that Labour voted against Business Rates Relief and they will be technically correct in doing so. What they won’t be saying is that the vote was the result of another well planned and expertly executed Conservative dirty trick.

By contrast to the decision to allow no time to look through those 33 points before voting on them, the chairman, as if to prove it was all a stunt, allowed five minutes for the next set of details to be studied. It has to be said that most councillors spent the time fooling around or going to the toilet.

When the budget was finally laid to rest the Labour party put forward an amendment the effect of which was to ensure Belvedere’s Splash Park was not instantly bulldozed if the money to save it was not forthcoming dead on time. The meeting descended from shambles to farce. Chairman mayor Howard Marriner appeared to relish the opportunity to prove his incompetence.

Councillor Daniel Francis spoke first. £120,000 was available from a local business and councillor Sawyer had said [at a protest meeting] it would be spent at the Belvedere site. Councillor Sawyer begged to differ; the money had not been received and it did not have to be spent in Belvedere, although he would be happy if it was.

As the time approached 11 p.m. when council meetings must end, the legal officer and the mayor began fevered discussions but £108k. Bacon stood to interject that the Conservative group would be voting against the amendment, thereby proving, because no Tory had up until then spoken on the amendment, that Tories attend meetings only in a whip fodder capacity.

The woolly headed councillor John Davey (Conservative, failed in Lesnes Abbey ward, now failing in Crayford) stood to say that he was unhappy with the amendment because it was “woolly”. Councillor Francis came to the aid of Davey’s lack of comprehension.

Councillor Bacon attempted to speak again but the mayor wouldn’t let him, the mayor decided to go for an immediate vote, the result of which had already been directed by deputy leader Bacon. However after much dithering a vote was sought on closing the meeting on time instead. Things were getting dreadfully confusing.

Chairman Marriner had difficulty adding the figures but eventually announced that the closure vote was carried.

While Conservative councillors could be seen rolling around with mirth the muddling mayor then decided to proceed with the meeting . I don’t think anyone understood what was happening. Councillor Francis was allowed to request that the meeting be continued beyond 11 p.m. on the grounds that the amendment had been proposed but not seconded but all the Conservatives objected.

Councillor Francis objected again that an amendment was tabled at 10:56 but it was the mayor who had impeded the seconding by spending five minutes in a huddle with his legal advisor. The useless mayor looked to the deputy leader for an answer.

Gareth Bacon said “tough, it was all Labour’s fault” and an amendment designed to resuscitate a dying Splash Park was finally buried. The meeting was over.

CartDespite that the mayor took another vote to approve all outstanding items.

I asked Anna Firth (Tory contender, Erith & Thamesmead) a day or two later how Bexley’s meetings compared with Sevenoak’s but she declined to answer on the grounds that it was a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ style question.

If the BBC is looking for a comedy to replace Top Gear on Sunday they could do a lot worse than take the last 20 minutes of Bexley council’s webcast. A car crash of a meeting if ever there was one.

If you strip out all the insults, the idiocies, the pure nastiness of the average Tory councillor, I have to accept they got the better of the financial arguments. I had less sympathy for their constant jibing that Labour had not come up with an alternative budget. The Tories didn’t really come up with that budget at all. It was the Finance Director and her deputy on a combined £205,000 a year who came up with all the ideas to balance the books and by all accounts they (and Ms. Griffin’s able predecessor) have been working on it since the Conservatives successfully fooled the electorate with their low council tax claims in May 2014. No opposition party can compete with that, the Conservatives didn’t in 2002-2005 either. But elections are won on empty promises and slogans, and in Bexley council’s case, outright lies.


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