The final Agenda Item of any note at last night’s Scrutiny meeting was the
Cabinet Member’s report. Councillor Don Massey immediately announced that the
Accounts for both 2013/14 and 2014/15 were now closed which led straight away to
him giving his views on the cost of democracy. He didn’t like it that “certain people
have obsessions and that they didn’t realise the amount of money they incur against the Council”. This was
a clear reference to my objection to the 2013/14
accounts made because of well founded suspicions that Bexley Council was acting outside the law.
“Democracy was important but so is getting it in proportion” said Councillor Massey. He wondered whether the objection was “useful”.
Maybe Councillor Massey should be reminded that the Local Government Ombudsman warned Bexley Council in 2012 that it must begin to obey the law relating to bailiff charges. If instead of ignoring the Ombudsman while dishonestly assuring it that it had changed its ways it had actually done so, there would be no need for any resident to object and no additional audit fees.
The cost of the Council’s dishonest decision in 2012 is regrettable but what would Councillor Massey prefer? That Bexley Council continued to allow its contractors to defraud the public or run a law abiding ship? Maybe that is a silly question.
Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) who has many times asked what the objection cost but never what the objection was about said it was “one man on a crusade”. Perhaps he should ask the Internal Auditor for a copy of his report and gain some understanding of how serious the misconduct was.
Councillor Munur may be another Tory who would prefer to see a fraudulent money making machine than honesty. As if to confirm the truth of that assumption Councillor Munur asked "how can we protect ourselves from such crusades".
The obvious answer is to conduct an honest Council but Councillor Don Massey said there was “no answer to that one”.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) reminded the Committee that it was a challenge to the Council’s 2006/07 and 2007/08 Accounts that revealed they included fraudulent expenses and “gross abuse” which resulted in a criminal conviction. The right to challenge accounts must be preserved, he said. Councillor Massey said he agreed but made an exception for those with "obsessive natures". Well who else is going to spend two years eradicating only one or two of Bexley Council's criminal tendencies?
Councillor Massey turned his attention to Freedom of Information requests the costs of which “are mushrooming”. Whilst claiming to be a supporter of FOIs he disliked their costs and believed requesters should bear a contribution to the costs. He made a specific reference to FOIs coming from “not a direct resident” which may or may not have been a reference to Mr. Barnbrook - an unfortunately timed cough got in the way. Somewhat ironic given that Cabinet Member Don Massey exerts such power over all our finances while living well beyond the borough boundary.
Councillor June Slaughter said that the Council creates FOIs by being “unnecessarily evasive”. Earlier in the meeting she referred to “the Council wanting to hide things on its website”. Councillor Slaughter frequently makes a good point. She has again.