The council leader’s report covered the Boundaries consultation during which
she criticised Labour members for having no proposals ready and heaped mock
praise on UKIP for producing one which she said was “non-compliant”.
The sudden exit of the Chief Executive Will Tuckley was briefly mentioned. UKIP had suggested that the post be dropped thereby saving a million pounds by the time of the next election. The OBE (Overpayment Burden Extended) said “we couldn’t afford not to have a chief executive”. She plans to replace him next year.
When Eric Pickles was Communities Minister he said that councils should not need to employ both a full time Leader and a Chief Executive so by Eric’s standards it would appear that Teresa does not consider herself to be fully competent.
Inevitably garden waste was mentioned. “We got caught out with the numbers because all the predictions were we would get about 17,000 people to sign up. We got over 31,000 and that is absolutely fantastic”.
As said previously, commendably the leader does not outstay her welcome, so she wrapped things up there and invited questions.
First up was councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford). It was not a question but he was keen to win favour with his leader. The Road Safety team had “done an absolutely excellent job“ and he asked if Teresa O’Neill agreed with him. Of course she did because the statistics are among the best in the country. Second lowest ‘killed and seriously injured’ in the country.
Cabinet member Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Barnehurst) spoke about the Care Act and how its delayed introduction appeared to have saved some money. Unfortunately the introduction of the Living Wage had snatched those savings away. “People might think we have that money, but we haven’t.” She had spoken to the Minister for Social Care about it.
I was still waiting for a proper question but fortunately councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) came to the rescue with a multitude of questions about, mixed with criticism of, “the bin roll out”, the police, and the very direct and pertinent one about a Plan B for Old Farm Park. As we discovered, there isn’t one one but Teresa O’Neill thought that was OK because “you [Labour] haven’t come up with an alternative”.
She obviously has no intention whatsoever of listening to residents.
In answer to Joe’s police question, the leader said that there were more police than ever in Bexley, however they were not in the Safer Neighbourhood Teams but “that is down to deployment locally and the borough commander has carved up the pot differently”. So that’s CS Jeff Boothe put in his place.
On garden waste “there is no doubt our residents have been fantastic. Over 31,000 when everyone was predicting 17,000 is a hell of a difference, but it was cheaper to collect all those bins at the same time. It was cheaper to put out all the food bins at the same time. If the numbers had been as predicted as happened elsewhere, then the new bins would have gone out in a relatively short space of time. Because the numbers spiked they had to be ordered and then they were delivered in a fair way within the 10,000 batches into a particular area”.
“The Contact Centre was skilled up, they got the information very quickly, but we were let down by temporary workers that decided to walk off the job leaving a whole load of bins out there but lots of people put in lots of effort to ensure residents did not have the sorts of problems that you are talking about and your numbers [of complaints] are not vast numbers. The staff have been superb.”
Considering that the number of bin letters in the local newspapers ran into double figures the number of complaints must have been high and the leader’s excuses come across as a rearguard PR exercise as Mr. James said in last week’s News Shopper. (Click image to read.) One of three such letters on Page 14 of that issue.
Councillor James Hunt asked the leader a question and she passed it to Cabinet Member Craske. Something about diabetes. Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour North End) reminded councillor O’Neill it was leader’s question time not Peter Harold Craske Question Time and asked her about the bins again. His mother was without a bin for eight weeks. Then Stefano made the point made here many times. At the February Scrutiny meeting he had asked the appropriate question and was told that the council was banking on 32,000 sign ups. They actually said 30% which I conservatively estimated to be 30,000. Presumably Stefano asked for a more precise calculation.
The 17,000 bin excuse sounds very reasonable except that it was belatedly manufactured to mitigate criticism. That figure was not mentioned at any council meeting during the year, but admittedly it’s a clever piece of deception.
Councillor Borella also sought a reason for the drop in car parking revenue, while alluding to the 50% price hike.
On Bins Evading councillor O’Neill made no attempt to answer the question apart from saying Stefano was “wrong” and the drop in car parking receipts was due to the “loss of the car park across the road”. That'll be the little one behind the old Civic Offices.
Stefano may have stuck his oar in again but the Mayor said time was up. How convenient.