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Bonkers Blog February 2016

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29 February - Big boots may be filled. Almost literally

StewardNext Wednesday evening Bexley Council will confirm the predicted appointment of Gillian Steward as its new Chief Executive. She was chosen by Council Leader Teresa O’Neill on 3rd February thereby dashing any hopes Director and Deputy CE Paul Moore might have had that he would fill the vacancy permanently.

One might wonder why Bexley needs a Chief Executive at all given it has a full time Council Leader already, the financial saving would be at least eight times the cost of maintaining a Splash Park into the future.

Bexley has decided to pay the new Chief Executive no more than £2,000 a year for expenses which is just as well given Ms. Steward’s track record in earlier jobs, in Cornwall in particular.

In line with Bexley Council’s usual contempt for its residents, it plans to prevent the public from witnessing any discussion councillors may have regarding this expensive new appointment. Maybe it wouldn’t like knowledge of Ms. Steward’s past becoming too well known.

Cornish residents may have other ideas; I have already been in receipt of messages describing how residents there believe she was good only at lining her own pocket.

With luck, unlike her predecessor, Ms. Steward won’t find her name before Counsel at the CPS for her misdeeds.

Cornish experience


28 February (Part 2) - It will all come right in the end. Won’t it?

Lesnes Abbey park continues to be a total mess. Everywhere one looks is compressed mud and unfinished paths, at least I hope they are unfinished. It is possible to imagine a better overall design emerging eventually, however no one seems to be bothered about achieving it in an environmentally sympathetic way.

Will the grass and the areas taken over as material dumps ever recover?
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Since last week the metal fences have been painted battleship grey and the plastic sheet has been removed from the Visitor Centre’s roof.


28 February (Part 1) - Enjoy the nine mile (return) detour

Bridge Bridge BridgeBexley’s Cray bridge has been closed for a week, only four more to go, assuming that Bexley Council manages to complete this stage of the project on time. I can’t think of a precedent but there is a first time for everything.

These pictures are by Mr. Bryant who lives in Bexley Village and show the pedestrian route, the blocked road and the ‘Continuous Flight Auger’, as used at Abbey Wood station recently, preparing the foundations. It silently drills into the ground and than pumps in concrete to fill the hole as it is withdrawn.

Bexley Council’s Press Release.


27 February - The view from inside

Whilst out taking pictures one day within the past two weeks, I am being deliberately vague to make any guessing that might go on more difficult, someone came up for a chat. This person was at one time within the past five years (vague again) part of Bexley Council, but not any more.

I was assured that BiB’s repeated theme that Bexley Council is corrupt and frequently lies and generally cheats is absolutely correct. Patronage, favours and a disdain for independent thought were all mentioned as was animosity towards any councillor tempted to speak up for residents.

That Leader Teresa O’Neill is a domineering bully who dictates the Council’s chosen path of dishonesty above transparency was also said to be deadly accurate.

There is unfortunately no recording of the conversation so you can only take my word for it if you are so inclined, but personally it was hugely reassuring to have the 20 minutes of confirmation from an insider.


26 February - Vote for Councillor Rob Leitch

It’s not been easy to get to see the progress made by Councillor Leitch on his Sidcup Garden Project. The walled garden had been quietly abandoned by Bexley Council and it quickly became overgrown.

Rob organised a rescue party but it can work only on occasional weekends, generally ones that Crossrail has chosen to scupper the only easy way of getting there from Abbey Wood. Driving and parking in Bexley is best avoided and I’ve only managed to get to Sidcup once.
Fortunately others have been more supportive and now everyone can help. The tireless Councillor Leitch has secured backing from Tesco’s ‘Bags of Help’ scheme. It would be simplest to just let Rob describe how it works.

I am delighted to announce that the project has won further support from Tesco’s ‘Bags of Help’ scheme. This scheme, the funds for which are raised from the 5p tax on plastic bags, will see the Sidcup Garden Project compete with two other open space projects in the area for public votes. The top-placed project will receive £12,000, with second and third receiving £10,000 and £8,000 respectively.

Voting will take place in local Tesco stores between Saturday 27th February and Sunday 6th March. Local customers will be provided with a token with every transaction and encouraged to vote for the project they would like to see receive funding.

As such I am writing to urge the Tesco shoppers amongst you to support the Sidcup Garden Project over the coming weeks. Tokens will be issued and used in the following stores:

• Longlands Express
• Erith Express
• Welling Bellgrove Express
• Bexley Blackfen Express
• Northumberland Express
• Welling/ Wickham Express and main Welling store

Interesting to see Rob Leitch describe the five pence bag charge as a tax. His colleagues said the brown bin tax was not a tax because no one was compelled to pay it. But it was no different to a tax and so is the bag charge. Rob talks the same language as the rest of us.

Amazing that a few local shops appear to have raised £30,000 from the government’s plastic bag rip off already.


25 February (Part 4) - Another debate with an outcome fixed in advance

WebcastSad I know, but I watched the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s first webcast yesterday evening. Tempting though it might be I am not going to get into commenting regularly on how they run their meetings, that is for others.

However I cannot resist noting my stand out moment. It was when Council Leader Denise Hyland introduced the Motion in support of EU membership. She said she was moving it to “redress the balance” after Havering and Bromley Councils had voiced their support for Brexit.

Before any debate she said what the result was going to be. It was just like in Bexley, all cosily fixed up beforehand.

The Conservative Leader’s address was far more measured and logical.


25 February (Part 3) - The money boomerang

Having been knocking around Wilton Road daily for nearly 30 years I have got to know a number of the traders and over the past week have tried to squeeze a little information out of them regarding the £300,000 award that was allocated for improving their street.

When the subject was reported a week ago I was a little disbelieving that Bexley and Greenwich would add to Boris’s money pot and then snatch most of the money away. I was wrong.
Wilton Road
It is now apparent that of the £150,000 that the two councils contributed, approximately two thirds of it has already disappeared in fees. In fact if the planning fees I have been shown represent the average, £106,000 has been spent with nothing tangible to show for it. Why are planning fees being imposed when the plans are the council’s and the traders are simply asked to accept them?

The traders have also been told that they must contribute 10% of the planned expenditure if they are to receive any part of the grant. Where did that come from?

It was to be expected that the design consultant would have to be paid but the councils have been charging for their time too, £2,000 for registering the new Traders’ Association. Taking notes at meetings, hiring The Link, and helping with filling in application forms has all been taken from the £300k.

I have been told, I am assuming it is true, that the remaining money, including the Mayor’s £150,000, is to be divided equally across the two boroughs. I can understand that Greenwich taxpayers might not want to see any of their money spent in Bexley where there is a greater need. Depending on where one defines the end of Wilton Road, literally or including the shops around the corner, Bexley has ten premises in need of improvement and Greenwich has only six because the corporates have been excluded.

So why is Boris’s money being divided neatly in half? Surely he expected it to be used to improve the road as a whole, not to effectively favour one side over the other? Which council officers made this illogical decision?


25 February (Part 2) - Hazard by design

A trickle of emails prompted a return to the Bourne Road junction in Crayford.

The reports were that motorists found themselves on the slightly raised cycle track at night or when visibility was poor. It is easy to see why, it's all black and indistinguishable from the road. What happened to Bexley's favourite green cycle track paint, not that that is a lot better?

The tyre marks provide evidence of the accident waiting to happen.
Cycle track Cycle track Cycle track Refuge
At least the dangerous ironmongery was has been taken away


25 February (Part 1) - Chaos by design

I have given up on driving home via Albion Road and Church Road. First you have a roundabout that doesn’t allow anyone to maintain any lane discipline and then you get held up in a queue which prevents a right turn from Broadway into Church Road.

BashfordIt used to be possible to join an outside queue and turn right but since the award winning redesign the carriageway is narrower than it was.

I am not alone in thinking that the problem could be easily solved by slicing a couple of feet from the traffic island or maybe nudging it a little to the north,  but there is little possibility of common sense being applied because residents are up against Andrew Bashford, its designer and one of the men who inspired this website back in 2009 when he lied to me over Abbey Road, Belvedere. He said that his width reductions conformed to the Transport Research Laboratory’s recommendations unaware that those recommendations came from the department where my own son was the Senior Consultant.

Now buses struggle to pass each other.

The crossing is rarely used, perhaps because it is right next to a traffic light controlled crossing. Maybe Mr. Bashford hasn’t noticed.

Broadway Broadway Broadway Broadway
Mr. Bashford says he has no plans to change the junction to relieve congestion, he has no interest in anything that might take away the symmetry of Trinity Place. It is designed to please the eye, nothing else.

Things can only get worse under Stage 3 of the Phase II regeneration. Albion Road is to lose two of its four lanes.


24 February (Part 3) - Broadway cracking on

Broadway BroadwayIt’s five weeks since I was last in Bexleyheath for any reason other than attending a council meeting so it was about time that was put right to see how Phase II of the Broadway regeneration is coming along.

The Phase I blocks had to be dug up and replaced with tarmac after a year and it is still not difficult to find blocks that are reluctant to stay put. That problem was said to be one of design and specification rather than poor workmanship so now that the problem has been identified we are not going to see a repeat are we? Don’t hold your breath!

The photographs were taken at one o’clock today when traffic was light; even so one didn’t have to hang around for long to see the one way working create a queue around Trinity Place and into Albion Road.

Part of the problem would appear to be the poor design on the approach to Church Road. Aren’t all traffic problems in Bexley due to poor design?

While standing around waiting for the right moment to snatch a picture I saw some absolutely shocking examples of inconsiderate driving and I don’t just mean those travelling towards Welling who correctly (†) believe they are on a T junction with right of way, and those emerging from Albion Road who innocently believe they are on a roundabout. A few pictures tomorrow.

† The road direction signs show a T junction, not a roundabout. The circular pattern on the road is Bexley Council’s idiocy and should never be seen as anything else.


24 February (Part 2) - Where are they now?

It’s pretty much common knowledge that the Masseys are among Bexley’s Councillors who no longer live in the borough, but they do business here, or so it is said.

Certainly they set up a care agency which was opened at the end of 2014 as the photo and Tweet confirm.

Supreme Archived
But it is shown as ‘archived’. (Below.) Supreme’s website helpfully states what archiving means. (Above.)
Supreme Homecare is a franchise and it appears to be certain that Supreme Homecare (Bexley) Ltd. is no longer a Supreme Homecare franchisee.

What is more, their Companies House entry has changed within the last couple of days from Active, to this…

Companies HouseIt would appear that the man who controls Bexley’s purse string not only doesn’t live here, he quite likely doesn’t work here either.

Councillor Sharon Massey has started a business in Rochester.


24 February (Part 1) - Here we go again

There has been no wholesale extension to double yellow lines in Bexley for several months but the attraction of more fine revenue is just too great for Bexley Council.

Another batch is announced today.

ParkingAbbey Wood is on the list and has already suffered a massive reduction in car parking spaces not only because two out of three car parks disappeared because of Crossrail but Bexley Council also reduced the number of free bays and introduced a £3.80, soon to be £4.20, charge at some of those remaining.

The other locations affected are Anthony Road, Buckingham Road, Clifton Road, Ridley Road, Rippersley Road and Wickham Street in Welling.

Hazel Road, Hind Crescent, Moat Lane, Park Crescent, Page Crescent, Pearsewood Road and Randall Close  in Erith. Whitehill Road, Crayford.


23 February (Part 2) - Tax will be going up by 1·83%

The second part of the Cabinet meeting started well enough but from the point that Cabinet Member Don Massey was unable to resist slinging political barbs, it was all down hill.

But you probably want to know first by how much the Council Tax is going up. The headline figure is the maximum 1·99% plus the 2% Adults’ Care precept but it’s not quite that simple.

TaxThe GLA precept is going down so your bank account will only be raided for 1·83% more. In Greenwich, by contrast, where those horrible Labourites hold sway, the figure is 1·58%.

Click the image for a more readable version.

Finance Director Alison Griffin spent 55 seconds identifying where the money would be mainly going next year. “Growth, school places and transport and social infrastructure.”

Cabinet Member Don Massey said he didn’t have much to say and he said almost nothing. Somebody said “is that it?’

No bridge Cabinet Member Linda Bailey said the borough was going for growth and “it is a little bit outside our comfort zone but we are going ahead. It carries risks but it is managed risk”.

“The growth is predicated on significant investment in transport and infrastructure. It is no good going with housing if there is nothing to go with it. There has been a change over the last couple of years, we are now being courted by developers”.

From a council that was dead set on turning its back on transport infrastructure only a couple of years ago, this is one hell of a turnaround. “Bexley is now a council they [developers] can work with. Everyone has to work together”. Changed times, changed attitudes. Welcome to the real world Councillor Bailey.

The capital expenditure proposals were approved unanimously

MasseyMiss Griffin launched another of her short speeches which Councillor Massey welcomed and within seconds the Treasury Strategy was unanimously approved

Council Leader O’Neill said that it was with a heavy heart the Council was recommending a 3·99% Council Tax increase. The 2% Adults’ Care precept will just about cover the new Living Wage. Cabinet Member Eileen Pallen later said it might not quite do that. “It will be nowhere near enough”. The message was, don’t expect Social Care to improve after the 2% tax rise.

The government has been persuaded to provide an extra £720,000 to fund some gaps for two years only. The Finance Director launched the third of her short speeches, this time on her budget report.

Despite the cuts, the efficiency savings and the increased fees and charges, revenue streams are still insufficient. A million pounds will be taken from reserves. Another £25 million would have to be found between 2017 and 2020.

Councillor Don Massey said he was disappointed with the government’s support grant plan and he was also disappointed with the members opposite for not producing an alternative budget “but he was not surprised. They disparaged the Council’s reputation but their words were cheap. Actions are more meaningful than words.”

If Labour had had their way, Council Tax would have to go up by 57% he said.

By comparison, Councillor Craske was the perfect diplomat, not a critical word for anyone, instead he said he had listened to all the complaints about Bexley being spoiled by litter. As a result, he had decided to revert the litter picking schedules to what they used to be. He hoped everyone would back the strategy by voting for the budget next week.

Councillor Philip Read continued with the Labour thrashing. He said yet again that the staffing situation in social services was improving but claimed it could not have happened under Labour’s budget proposals last year.

In order to score a point over Councillor Daniel Francis he said he had been scouring his dictionary, saying that the word perverse “sums up Councillor Francis and his colleagues perfectly. ‘Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable and unacceptable’. They persistenly resist the financial realities facing Bexley with their demands for increasing expenditure. No doubt we will hear further examples of that tonight or in March.

He went on to rant about the financial instability of socialist run countries in Europe as though George Osborne has been a rip roaring success who has future proofed the British economy.

It was rather strange outburst; the Labour members have been generally cooperative with the Tory’s proposals. Only twenty minutes earlier Councillor Craske had thanked the Labour members for Belvedere for their help and understanding with his Splash Park proposals

O'NeillCabinet Members Alex Sawyer and John Fuller both managed to speak about the budget without resorting to unnecessary insults but that achievement proved impossible for Council Leader Teresa O’Neill.

Never one to be outshone by her henchmen when it comes to being thoroughly rude, she asked her Labour opposite number, Councillor Alan Deadman if he was going to make any “proposals in a sensible way rather than coming up with a fag packet”.

Is this really how any professional in any field should be talking to an elected leader of a political party? Is she really the best candidate for the job that Bexley Conservatives can find?

What a cow.

Wisely, Alan Deadman did not respond to Teresa O’Neill OBE’s (Obnoxious Bitch Excelling) appalling behaviour.


23 February (Part 1) - Belvedere Splash Park evaporates

Last night’s Cabinet meeting was a game of two halves, the formal killing off of the Belvedere Splash Park which was conducted in a civilised manner, and the discussion on the Capital and Financial Plans during which certain individuals reverted to type.

First a word of thanks to the Committee Officer, Kevin Fox, who had arranged the chamber rather more sensibly than is usually the case. Perhaps the public sitting behind councillors etc. will be a thing of the past now that it has been demonstrated how the arrangement puts tablet screens within range of long lenses.
There was some possibility that financial discussions might wander into areas that Bexley Council would rather keep secret and the Council Leader correctly called for a vote to be taken to authorise ejection of the public, all four of us. This is in marked contrast to the chairmanship of Councillor Cheryl Bacon at the Code of Conduct Sub-Committee meeting looking into Councillor Fothergill’s alleged misdeeds.

Councillor Bacon broke every rule in the book, among them making up her own mind that the public were not wanted and throwing them out without a word of debate; for which she is now the subject of a formal complaint.

That the Splash Park would close has never been in doubt since Bexley Council announced it without consultation in October 2014 and doctored the consultant’s report to make sure it said what they wanted it to say. The dreaded word Cryptosporidium was introduced because the first version inconveniently failed to state that it had been found at dangerous levels - because it hadn’t.

It fell to Council Officer Toni Ainge to give the official excuse for doing away with 100 years of watery tradition. She said it would cost too much to repair and too much to keep going. That, I think, we already knew was the Council’s position.

Eight organisations expressed an interest in running the Splash Park despite the imposition of draconian conditions by Bexley Council. “To fully resolve all design issues, to provide a reliable and robust business plan with no cost to the Council and the Council was indemnified against all risk.” Having seen the near impossible conditions only one organisation went on to make a formal submission and it was judged inadequate.

The Splash Park will therefore be decommissioned and alternative play facilities will be considered.

CraskeCouncillor Peter Craske was asked to elaborate. Peter Craske is not the man he once was. Gone are the days when he could be relied upon to fib his heart out and insult all and sundry, an hour or two in police custody appears to have changed all that and it may not be long before he is transformed from almost lovable old rogue to a reliable and straight member of a slightly crooked team.

His of course is not an easy hand to play with practically all the resident-facing hot potatoes in his hand. His messages are rarely popular but having been dealt a thoroughly bad hand he has learned to play it with a certain amount of panache.

He regretted that “the financial risks couldn’t make it work, in the end it hasn’t worked out”. He didn’t think the taxpayer should be asked to take on that risk either. He was instead going to design a new facility which was “innovative and forward looking”. A “key element” would be to provide all year round facilities for people with disabilities or special needs. He was “looking at £120 to £150,000 as a budget” but then slightly confused the issue by speaking of £250,000 with indications the extra may come from charitable sources. Cory Environmental remain interested.

Councillor Craske completely disowned the rumours that the park on the other side of Woolwich Road would be closed and expected the refreshment kiosk to cover the day to day expenditure on the Splash Park site. It will be “a significant investment in Belvedere”. He would find it “staggering” if his ideas were criticised. “It is something that everyone will surely welcome”.

Councillor Linda Bailey said that that when the initial announcement was made, “residents were concerned but would now be comforted”. She congratulated everyone who breathed.

FrancisThe opposition councillors did not give Councillor Craske quite such an easy ride as perhaps I have done. Councillor Gill MacDonald (Labour, Belvedere) was “disappointed” but pleased that the park opposite was not going to be redeveloped. She pointed out that the cost of decommissioning the Splash Park and creating a new play facility was broadly similar to renewing the Splash Park. Council Leader O’Neill reminded her that the difference was the ongoing costs associated with the latter, thereby admitting that those costs are the principal reason for the closure decision. £20,000 per annum when the closure was first announced rising to £40,000 when the first figure no longer suited them.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) made similar points and welcomed Councillor Craske’s assurance that neither of the Woolwich Road parks would be sold. He reiterated the point that the capital costs have not changed significantly and that the Splash Park has been axed to save the £20,000 maintenance cost. Council Leader O’Neill said it was closed because no business had been able to meet the Council’s requirements. A fine bit of nonsense if ever there was one.

UKIP Councillor Colin McGannon lent his support to Councillor Craske’s scheme and with that the death knell was sounded unanimously. More than 100 years of tradition ended in just nineteen minutes.


22 February - One for the train spotters

Arrivals Southeastern staff told me yesterday that a test train was due into Abbey Wood station at 04:30 this morning, so it was a bit disappointing to leave the house at 04:10 and see it go by.

In the event it probably didn’t make much difference; I had planned to photograph it on its approach to the Harrow Manorway flyover but it was so dark there with no street lights that probably even my f1·4 lens would prove inadequate.

The public was allowed on to the new platform shortly after 5 a.m. Most of it is roofed which was welcome on such a wet morning but as yet there are no benches. Only one of the three arrivals indicators was switched on but one was being worked on and displaying garbage.

All trains, even four coach ones, will stop at the far end of the platform for the foreseeable future to allow maximum space for work to continue at the rear, eastern, end.

The platform exit is a bit small but it’s the best that could be fitted in the available space.

But the first train arrived a minute early announced by the clatter generated as it passed by the new concrete wall.

For the real train buffs I should perhaps admit that the train shown leaving the station in the associated set of pictures is in fact the earlier test train. Even I can see it is different. There was a technical problem with the camera. I must learn to delete old files from the memory card more often.

In the dark and the rain I managed to walk into a bollard on the unlit flyover, fortunately I kicked it rather than crash into it totally. Then I misjudged where the bottom step was on the very dark staircase. Does Bexley Council care? Obviously not or the lights would not have been out since November.

A dozen Abbey Wood station photos.

PS: The closure of the northern station entrance has been deferred until April.


21 February (Part 2) - Open park surgery

Lesnes Abbey park, or at least the area that isn’t wooded, remains out of bounds from Monday to Friday. During the week there is a great deal of muddy activity, most of it involving carving new paths across the grass.

Their position is an improvement if the priority is to enjoy the views which is probably what interests most visitors. They look much nicer than the old black asphalt too but the number of adverse cambers is increasing, not that one often sees wheelchair users in the park as the entrance gates form an effective deterrent.

There has been no obvious progress with the visitor centre this week but if you would like to know more about it there is to be a ‘surgery’ between ten and three on 4th March.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Access to Harrow Manorway is being improved too. It’s a shame that pedestrian access from the flyover is so dangerous at present.
Harrow Manorway


21 February (Part 1) - One amazing job and a not so amazing ‘black hole’

In about a month’s time this grubby staircase from Harrow Manorway to Gayton Road will be the only route to Abbey Wood station for those who travel from north of the railway line on foot or by bus.
Within the past month I have seen men exchanging packets for cash on the lower section and a man ridding himself of an excess of beer in another dark corner.

Bexley Council has encouraged such behaviour by not bothering to fix the street lights which failed at least three months ago, probably four. None of them work on the eastern side of Harrow Manorway and only about half on the other side. The result is that the upper part of the staircase is completely dark at night.

Now Network Rail has made things worse.

Good BadThey have covered the handrail with a fence (Photo 2) making it even more dangerous than it was before.

You may think I am making this up but the first user I saw trying to get down, a lady who said she lived in Fendyke Road, had lost the use of her right arm and Network Rail has effectively taken away the left hand handrail.

It doesn’t have to be like that, the lower section manages to accommodate both a fence and a handrail. (Photo 1.)

The London bound North Kent line was realigned yesterday with the finishing touches being applied today. Moving the existing track was made to look very easy with a lot of specialist tools. As one passer-by said to me this morning, “they have done an amazing job”.

Another observer, seeing me busy with a camera, commented that “the newsagent told me that the best Crossrail photos are on Bexley is Bonkers, I’m going to take a look. You should look too”. I didn’t like to say anything but there is another 96 if you wish to take a look at the last week's work.

Index to all Crossrail blogs and photo features.

With thanks to various railway company employees for information, tip offs about photogenic events and patience with having lenses poked in their direction.


20 February - Get rich quick. Set up a staff recruitment agency

Occasionally oddments of information are received which are not usable for various reasons, for example the answer to an October 2015 FOI request asking how much had been spent on Social Worker agency staff was not by itself very interesting.

Nevertheless, the best part of six million pounds seemed to be an awful lot of money. How many Social Workers were there for goodness sake and what sort of salaries are being paid?
Without those figures, judging whether £5·61 million is reasonable is impossible. The information was filed away and I hoped I would remember where.

Then another of those little snippets of information came in. A job advertisement for a Senior Social Worker.
£32 an hour? That’s about £66,000 a year for the employee. How much for the agency?

All that was left to fill in the data gap was some idea of the number of social workers employed. Cabinet Member Philip Read always speaks of percentages of posts filled, percentage that are agency staff etc. but never real numbers. But everything comes to he who waits.

The figures may not be bang up to date but they aren't more than a couple of months old.

The borough is divided into five for the purposes of Social Services each run by a manager and an assistant manager. The teams each have five or six Social Workers and three support staff.

There are several centralized support teams too and the whole lot totals sixteen managers and assistant managers plus seventy Social Workers and their assistants. As Councillor Read has said several times recently, around 60% of the staff are now permanent employees.

Perhaps there is still not enough raw data to do the sums, but the total Social Services staff is about 86, of which approximately 40% (34) are agency staff. If the total bill is £5·61 million that works out at £165,000 each.

The weakness in the argument is that the £5·61 million is from 2014/15 when agency workers were more than 50% of the total, but even adjusting for that, the agencies must be raking in a fortune.

There is probably more to it than has so far been discovered but it becomes obvious why Cabinet Member Philip Read is so keen to put a London wide cap on what councils will pay the agencies.

With such a huge workforce it is difficult to believe they had no time to protect poor Rhys Lawrie.

A Bexley Councillor was involved with an employment agency. I’ve forgotten which one.


19 February - Giving with one hand…

To improve the Public Realm around Abbey Wood station once the new Crossrail station opens, £6 million has been earmarked. That would make the contrast with the adjacent Wilton Road far too great and to make it look a little more enticing, £300,000 was offered by the GLA and both Greenwich and Bexley Councils. (£150k. plus two times £75k.)

The initial exchange of ideas ranged over changes to the paving, the parking, maybe some benches, certainly some trees, possibly a proscenium arch, improved shop fronts and maybe interiors too. Step by step most of that has fallen by the wayside.

Wilton RoadFollowing public consultations, meetings with and design presentations to the newly formed Traders’ Association and latterly individual shop owners, offer letters have been sent out by Bexley and Greenwich Councils to shop owners during this past week.

Ever since the design consultants met with individual traders I have been hearing stories to the effect that a third of the money has gone already with nothing at all to show for it.

How true this is is hard to say but it was alleged that it hadn’t all gone on design consultant fees but that the Councils had been charging for their services too.

I might have taken it with a pinch of salt but having seen one of the proposals for the Bexley side of the road I was shocked to see that Bexley Council was adding £900 to the bill for the planning application at that address.

This is for a shop front redesign - actually just replacing what is there already - that is entirely a council proposal which the shop owner is not especially keen on.

To take back £900 for rubber stamping something that Bexley Council has already approved is extraordinarily mean spirited. The offer forbids the shop owner from making any changes to Bexley's proposed design. Perhaps his story that £100k. is already “missing” from the fund is true.

It was reported that ten applications were made from each side of the road which suggests that circa £18,000 of the Mayor’s money might be clawed back by the councils in planning fees alone.

I understand that one trader has already told his council to take a jump and I spent a couple of hours yesterday trying to persuade another not to do the same.

Probably both councils have wasted a great deal of taxpayers’ money on administration fees and getting uncompetitive quotes from favoured suppliers but telling them where they can stuff what is left of the money will do no good.

These people have made careers of wasting money and any suggestion that so much more could be done with the money if spent more carefully will cut no ice. Traders may as well take what is on offer and accept the unwanted new awning, or whatever. After all, it is not their own money going down the drain and taking a principled stand would jeopardise the whole project.

The views expressed to me may not be those of the Traders’ Association.


18 February (Part 3) - Cabinet Member says operating honestly will be very expensive and may not be useful

MasseyThe 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.


18 February (Part 1) - Resources. Bexley’s digital future

Steven HallIt was just as well I left home for yesterday's Resources Scrutiny meeting 20 minutes early so as to get to speak to Mick Barnbrook before the meeting began, for some clown had put temporary traffic lights in Long Lane that were specially timed to create a 30 minute queue back to Knee Hill but a queue no more than three cars long in the opposite direction. I have since discovered that it was like that for most of yesterday.

I scraped into the meeting with three minutes to spare but if I had missed the first hour it would not have mattered much, the subjects were unexciting and the acoustics as bad as ever. I could hear Chairman Steven Hall fifty feet away very clearly but Cabinet Member Don Massey who was closest to me at around ten feet came across as little better than a burbling sound.

It’s something to do with hearing him from multiple loudspeakers as well as directly, reminiscent of being at an air display in the 1950s where primitive public address speakers were spaced every couple of hundred yards along a mile and a half of runway.

I resisted the temptation to leave early and try my luck with the webcast because I didn't want to miss Item 8, Councillor Rob Leitch’s report on Bexley’s Digital Future.

Unfortunately Rob Leitch (a school teacher by trade) wasn’t there. “Away on business” apparently. When I was at school the longest trip out we got was a coach ride from Hampshire to see the Cutty Sark.

TwitterInstead of Rob we had four members of his Sub-Group saying how good it all was and how enthusiastic Councillor Leitch is for the project.

Bexley Council’s “quite dreadful” website came in for a good deal of criticism but Cabinet Member Don Massey believed that residents didn’t see it the same way because their requirements were not the same as councillors’. I would suggest that frequently waiting ten minutes for a page to appear is not good for anyone. (†)

My own concern is that a digital council can cut off some people from services totally.

Andy DourmoushNewham Council has created a system whereby the digitally disadvantaged cannot even have house visitors. Ordering parking permits is an entirely online service. Councillor Andy Dourmoush’s (Conservative, Longlands) suggestion that webless people can be given assistance at a library is total nonsense when you are 96 years old and the only possibility of getting outside is a car trip to an out of town supermarket.

Bexley does not appear to have solved that problem either.

The Sub-Group produced ten recommendations but only three provoked much interest. There's one which attempts to discourage Freedom of Information requests and two which affect councillors directly. Naturally it was only those that were discussed in any detail.

One of the two recommendations was that councillors should be encouraged to stop using paper and work from electronic documentation on tablets etc. A couple of councillors, Chairman Hall included, do so already. If the proportion rose to 50% the saving would be £13,000 per annum. The other recommendation was to cease the home delivery service for council documents and save another £34,000 a year. Several Conservatives didn’t like that either.

Some forthright views were expressed. I had every sympathy for Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) who found assimilation of on-screen documents more difficult than when they were presented on paper but less so when she strayed on to the expense that buying a tablet would cause her.

Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) said much the same thing but that well known Luddite, Councillor Alan Deadman, (Labour Leader, North End) said he has spent some of his allowance on a tablet and was gradually getting to grips with it. His view was that it was not right that only residents should feel the pain of cuts and if councillors wanted paper copies the answer was to print them themselves.

ScreenCabinet Member Don Massey “wholeheartedly agreed“ with Councillor Deadman. Councillor Slaughter wished to “come back” but the Chairman refused permission.

Some councillors and senior officers are already working entirely from tablets at meetings as you may see from the adjacent image.

Sometimes being forced to sit behind speakers offers advantages.

Note: The associated screenshot was taken at random from about twelve feet away at an oblique angle. It does not reveal anything significant and if it had done would not have been published. However perhaps Councillor Leitch should make an eleventh recommendation.

† The problem with the democracy
sub-domain was recently acknowledged by a council officer in an email to Mr. Elwyn Bryant.


17 February (Part 2) - Bexley’s finances. Dishonest? Certainly, but by their standards it isn’t a breach of the law

I do wonder whether if it is worth wasting an evening on attending the Audit Committee, if anything very interesting is due for discussion they throw the public out so that their dodgy deals remain secret, however Chairman Councillor Joe Pollard always does so very nicely. The same happened last night but the effort of attending was not entirely wasted.
The auditors were there as usual but Sue Exton from Grant Thornton, Bexley’s principal auditor, has retired and given that one of her last decisions was to judge some very funny business in Bexley to be lawful she is probably rather relieved not to have to show her face publicly here again.

ObjectionThe decision not to refer Bexley Council’s dubious practices to court refers to the discovery that Bexley had more than one parking contract, one to keep their Legal Department happy and another to please the contractor through the provision of illegal incentives for issuing extra tickets.

Back in 2014 I thought it wise not to reveal how big the incentive was but now that the Auditor has judged everything to be hunky-dory and no more can be done about it, it is probably safe to say that it was £4.41 per ticket.

Then there was the application of a whole host of extra and illegal charges by Bexley’s bailiffs. Huge number of people were systematically defrauded and it is not as though Bexley Council didn't know about. David Hogan, Bexley’s Internal Auditor, and to his credit, condemned the practice absolutely, saying over and over again it was ‘misconduct’.

We are led to believe that the practices have ceased now, four years after it was brought to Bexley’s attention by the Local Government Ombudsman. No heads rolled and very little of the money wrongly extorted was returned to the innocent victims.

I should perhaps declare an interest. The objector was me and it will have cost rather a lot of money in extra auditor's fees to prove what most people already knew. That Bexley Council is dishonest and the direction must have been set at the very top.

Not much else went on at the Audit meeting in public, I doubt the Tory members know anything about finance, one of them asked what the auditor's fee was. For 2014/15 it was printed in their report. £159,153. 2013/14 is as yet unknown.

For probing questions one has to rely on the Labour members. Councillor Daniel Francis (Belvedere) had cleverly linked an item from last week’s Places Scrutiny meeting with the official statement on progress made towards achieving the Strategy 2018 budget savings.

The latter said that the money raised by charging for parking in Danson Park and Hall Place was on course to be achieved in full. Similarly the money raised by charging the disabled for use of street parking bays was safely in the bag. In fact Deputy Director Bryce-Smith had said that no new parking revenue had been raised in Danson Park or Hall Place and Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said he had no intention of authorising charges for disabled bays outside residents' houses.

Two bits of the financial progress report are clearly nonsense and Councillor Francis asked how many more mistakes like that there might be. The Deputy Director of Finance didn't know.

Expertise on Contract and Parking Law kindly provided by NotoMob.


17 February (Part 1) - Pots and kettles. The hostilities continue

Long long ago, 23rd June 2011 to be precise, Councillor Peter Craske who was at the time Cabinet Member for Public Realm labelled Greenwich Council “disgraceful” for invoking the GLA Act to prevent Bexley from sorting out the traffic problems in County Gate. The Act allows an adjacent borough to ask the GLA to arbitrate if one borough’s actions is likely to impact adversely on another.

The News Shopper reporter heard him say it because she had been tipped off that that the notorious blogger known as Olly Cromwell was likely to be in the chamber. Bexley Council had accused Olly of harassment only the month before, his ‘crime’ was posting articles on Bexley is Bonkers. It wasn’t true then and it wouldn’t be true now, but when has the truth been a Bexley Council priority?

In the event the meeting was a relatively quiet affair except for Councillor Craske's outburst. It earned him front page coverage in the next issue of the newspaper. He was quoted as saying that “Greenwich insisted Bexley should pay for it”. ‘It’ being sorting out the problems that Greenwich thought might arise on their side of the border if Bexley rearranged County Gate.
News Shopper
A couple of years later the boot was on the other foot. Greenwich wanted to put a Controlled Parking Zone close to Falconwood station. Commuter parking was causing a problem in Colepits Wood Road (Greenwich).

Bexley Council objected on the grounds that commuter parking would be displaced into Bexley and used the GLA Act. The Mayor's office told the two boroughs to sort things out amicably but that has proved impossible.

Bexley's self imposed rules for creating a Controlled Parking Zone effectively means that further CPZs are banned in the borough. There have been no new ones for five years. If Bexley residents want one they must pay all the costs involved themselves.

The impasse is to be discussed yet again by Greenwich Council next week.


Scroll or click to see complete source document. Go to Page 6.

Bexley may have a reasonable case for not creating a new CPZ at Falconwood but when Greenwich Council did something similar it was “disgraceful”. In 2011 Greenwich Council said if Bexley wanted to help its residents it must pay for any alterations needed in Greenwich too. This time Greenwich is saying that Bexley must pay for the rearrangements that would be required in Bexley if Greenwich does what it wants to do. Greenwich presumably operates a heads we win tails you lose policy. Maybe it is how they keep their Council Tax down.

They are both as bad as each other.

From a suggestion by the author of the 853blog.


16 February - Built on the foundations of low cunning (and deteriorating services)

I picked up via Twitter the other day that Greenwich Council is going to webcast its first Council meeting this evening and I was curious to see how their rules and regulations compared to Bexley’s.

Although most Bexley chairmen have gradually dropped the ritual, they are supposed to ask those who plan to record the proceedings in some way to identify themselves and then everyone present is asked if they agree to be recorded or photographed. Fortunately few object and so far no one that I have any interest in photographing, but Bexley’s misinterpretation of the law does provide scope for a dispute.

Not so in Greenwich…
Compared to Bexley, Greenwich can sometimes be a breathe of fresh air although if I have interpreted the Royal Borough’s blogging scene correctly they do appear to indulge in more squabbles between rival councillors. In Bexley they all have to be kept on board for fear of an outbreak of honesty by discontents.

One of the most intensely annoying things about Bexley Council is their dishonest claim to be a low tax borough, for that you have to go back more than twenty years. You have to go back to 2000 for them to even be in the cheapest half - but only just - of the London tax table.

It has been getting worse pretty much every year since then.

According to Greenwich’s Agenda for this evening’s meeting their tax rate has remained static since 2008 but like most councils they will put up the rate by the maximum permitted (3·99%) next April.

To help justify this they have produced an interesting table of cross London tax rises over the past eight years. Greenwich in common with seven London boroughs has not increased Council Tax at all and beneath them in 28th worst place lies Bexley where rates have risen by 5·6% over the same period.


Scroll or click to see all London boroughs. Scroll to the bottom for Bexley!

You didn’t actually fall for this nonsense at the last election did you?

Election lies

15 February - Another playground for Belvedere. Totally water free

No Splash ParkBexley Council has today announced what it will do with the 100 year old water play facility at the top of Heron Hill in Belvedere now that it has confirmed its October 2014 decision not to bring the Splash Park up to modern standards.

Councillor Peter Craske plans to install an innovative new ‘dry’ facility with disabled children firmly in mind.

He says that spending £300,000 in Belvedere is more than Council Tax payers can afford. Just a few months ago he spent £105,000 in Lesnes Abbey park on just one slide, albeit a rather elaborate one.

One wonders how much playground Councillor Craske will be able to provide on the Splash Park site for the money he is prepared to spend. And why should he be spending anything when there is already a massive ‘dry’ playground the other side of the road? Perhaps the latter is ripe for redevelopment and with it more cash for Bexley Council?

Council Press Release. (What Councillor Craske says.)
Facebook comments. (What Belvedere residents say.)


14 February - Mud, sand and York stone

Bexley Council has taken the easy way out with Lesnes Abbey park, they failed to keep it clean so they closed it.

However no one works there at the weekend so its not difficult to get in and take a look. The main paths are reasonably mud free at the moment, most of them anyway, but wear sturdy shoes.

Some untidy hedges have been removed along New Road which appears to be a good thing and the meandering new paths have been topped off with a sandy material. I hope it is an interim stage because feet and bike wheels have churned it up somewhat. A new path has been driven out as far as Harrow Manorway (Photo 8). Another good thing because in the past the long grass would always leave walkers with wet shoes.

The new Visitor Centre (Photo 1) is making very slow progress, it is not obviously different from how it looked last week.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes


13 February (Part 1) - Tales from “the Nut House”

The blog that appeared here for nearly 48 hours explained in detail to weekend readers the reason the short lived original was withdrawn.

The explanation confused those who had not seen the original blog and it is simplest not to show either. Most of the original was an email the author of which subsequently withdrew permission for its publication. A pity because it illustrated the enormous powers available to councils and how Bexley may be abusing them.


12 February (Part 3) - No full weekend of trains from Abbey Wood until after Easter

No trains

Click to rotate.

CrossrailThe coming nine days are very important ones for Crossrail at Abbey Wood. The past two weeks have seen the first station support wall built, the new platform asphalted and the track bed finished. Tomorrow the ballast and rails go down.

Next weekend the new track will be connected with recently replaced ‘old’ track and on the 22nd February trains will use the new platform. It’s only ten coaches long but will be increased to twelve by the time the new station opens.

The plan to sign off the last two weeks of pictures on Sunday 14th has to be changed. The photo feature pages are automated but can only handle a maximum of 100 pictures, there are already 83 and a busy weekend is sure to push the number over the limit.

Index to Crossrail blogs and photo features.


12 February (Part 1) - Places. Mainly good but some cracks appearing

The Places Scrutiny Committee was chaired last night by Councillor Melvin Seymour in his usual easy going but effective style and his meeting provided more snippets of interesting information than James Hunt’s two days earlier.

Councillor Seymour is the only Committee Chairman who continues to go through the ritual of asking who intends to “film” the meeting and who objects to being photographed. I think I was the only member of the public present at the time and was tempted to raise my hand to both questions. I don’t think the law gives a choice to Committee members. I took only four pictures and I am not expecting to use all of them.
WaterThe meeting began with a brief update by Thames Water on their progress towards flooding Bexley with Smart Meters. They started in my road in November, two men gave me the low down on my doorstep just before Christmas and said I would get a phone call about a question I raised immediately after the New Year holiday. A letter said that there would be some tests to ensure my house had been connected to the right meter in mid-January. As yet none of that has happened.

Thames Water claimed to have fitted 1,300 meters in Bexley by the end of January. Householders who opted for meters before the current exercise commenced will not get Smart Meters, at least not for the next five years because no money is available for them.

Libraries was next on the Agenda and the partial privatisation of the service appears to have gone very well. None are closing and the Council run branches will be open for longer hours. There will be no half day closing from next April onwards. I am tempted to say “going forward” because councillors and officers appear to be under instruction to inject that annoying phrase as often as possible.

Councillor Stefano Borella said that Slade Green library, privatised a couple of years ago, was not running as smoothly as it should.

In response to a question from Councillor Ferreira (Labour, Erith), Deputy Director Bryce-Smith admitted that the charge for disposing of large items of domestic waste, £33, was completely out of line with neighbouring boroughs. Inevitably it was a contributory factor to the high level of fly tipping in the borough. Mr. Bryce-Smith is not known for his ability to lie, one wonders how he managed to rise to be near the top of Bexley Council’s tree, so he also admitted that last year’s “huge hike” in parking charges had caused usage to drop.

The scheme to charge for parking at Hall Place had been put on hold but the similar scheme for Danson Park was progressing but with difficulty. The needs of the restaurant have to be accommodated.

SeymourDeputy Leader Alex Sawyer continues to let the side down by appearing to be a rational and decent individual who has somehow wormed his way to the top of Bexley Council. Whilst not willing to complain quite so loudly about TfL failing to come up with the promised money for cycling in the borough as he did a couple of weeks ago he did accept that “motorists are increasingly being penalised in this country full stop”.

Councillor Borella (Labour, North End) asked Councillor Sawyer about the proposal to charge the disabled for use of their designated parking bays proposed by his predecessor. He made it admirably clear that he thought it was a thoroughly bad idea and not something he would support. “It doesn’t feel right and my view is not going to change.” Wow! Integrity and consideration given to the disadvantaged in Bexley’s council chamber. Pass the smelling salts.

Bexley Council has failed in its bid to get TfL to fund Public Realm improvements in Blackfen, Councillor Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen and Lamorbey) expressed her disappointment. The Council has also failed as yet to make any submission to the Thames Crossings consultation but expects to do so today, the last possible.

The £20 million for the Erith regeneration is expected to be a done deal within the next week.

The second stage of Phase II of the Broadway regeneration is the remodelling of Albion Road through to Gravel Hill. The four lane dual carriageway will be downgraded to a single track in each direction with a segregated cycle path. Mr. Bryce Smith said that together with removing the traffic lights in Gravel Hill at both Albion Road and Watling Street and replacement roundabouts, traffic speeds should increase. Like they did in Penhill Road I suppose.

Councillor Harold Marriner (Conservative, Barnehurst) was not impressed by the downgrading of the road width and expected objections at the consultation stage. Mr. Bryce-Smith said that the present Albion Road is “over designed”.

Segregated cycle tracks were a condition of TfL funding.

Trinity Square Councillor Stefano Borella was correctly concerned about the use of blocks in roads. The “deterioration was a disgrace”. Mr. Bryce-Smith said that they had been used only in side roads in the first stage of Phase II and implied they would not be used where subject to heavy traffic in Albion Road.

Several minutes after Councillor Borella had made his comment, Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) interjected with the only sour note of the meeting, her ill grace being allowed to fester for that time. She said she was “so fed up with Councillor Borello going on about this”. She objected to him voicing the concerns relayed to him by residents. She always calls him Borello, she must think it shows contempt but any contempt must be reserved for Councillor Bacon.

Councillor John Davey came up with a few ideas. He thought that pot hole repairs could be improved - Mr. Bryce-Smith was not sure they were practical - and he said that Sevenoaks Council was making money from running a petrol station, doing MOTs and clearing cesspits. Clearing cesspits in Watling Street, there must be a joke there somewhere.

Despite Chairman Seymour’s best efforts the meeting went on until ten minutes past ten. Out of sight of the webcams three Conservative councillors exchanged pleasantries with me which was nice. It really was rather silly of Leader O'Neill to decide that the best way to tackle social media criticism is insisting on secrecy and abusing police powers whenever necessary. Things could have been very different. Bexley might be a decent council if the Fat Controller was banished to Manchester and took the Masseys and the Bacons with her.


11 February (Part 2) - People scrutinised by committee

As already stated, Tuesday’s People Scrutiny Committee was not the most scintillating affair, nobody misbehaved themselves and interesting facts were few and far between.
I learned from David Bryce-Smith whose Deputy Directorship covers housing that the number of Bexley families banished to Manchester was now 42, the homelessness situation is far worse than it was six months ago. The first to go to Manchester hit the newspaper headlines. Now it is routine and homelessness is costing over a million pounds a year.

Councillor Alan Downing gave Cabinet Member Philip Read his opportunity to regale us with the successes he has achieved in Children’s Services since taking on the mess bequeathed to him by his predecessor Katie Perrior. Whilst things could hardly get worse it was probably not easy to pull things up from the depths to which things had been allowed to fall.

His ‘Academy’ for newly qualified social workers has allowed the projected overspend to be reduced and an improvement in the proportion of permanent staff against agency workers. His scheme to cap the level of payment to the agencies now had the support of 30 of the 32 London boroughs. He expects to lower the pay cap in due course. Permanent staff were now 67% of the total, 60% on the front line, and nearly all the temporary staff had been in post for more than six months.

Although Bexley has no hospital with an A&E Department it does have a 24 hour Urgent Care Unit, one of only three London boroughs with such a facility. There was a move to standardise facilities across London so Bexley’s favoured position was an area of concern - the Chairman’s words. However he “had the impression standards have to come up, they can’t go down”. Councillor James Hunt; the eternal optimist.


10 February (Part 3) - You’ve got to pick a pocket or two

Every year at about this time Bexley Council publishes its Fees and Charges for the coming financial year. Last year they said they would all be going up by 3% in line with inflation (when inflation was close to 1%) but lots of charges went up a great deal more, notably car park season tickets (50%).

This year their target for increases is 10% and the Council has dropped all pretence that the rises are inflation related, they are clearly to cover their past financial mismanagement. First the good news; car park annual season tickets are not going up again and neither is the brown bin tax - but no discounts so a 22% increase for most of us.

Politicians rely on us having poor memories or they would never get re-elected so I have kept all of Bexley’s Charges Schedules since 2010. Back then it cost 40 pence to park in one of the minor short stay parking bays and only 20 pence for further half hours. A pound for two hours. From April the same thing will be 60 pence for every half hour. £2.40 for two hours.

An hour of parking in the smaller car parks, Mill Road, Sidcup Place, Gayton Road etc. will cost 25% more (£1).

If you think motorists have been taking a thrashing give a thought to the homeless and the disabled. If you lose your home through no fault of own and are rehoused in a pokey flat there will be a £240 charge to have your belongings put in store and a minimum of £10 a week to keep them there. Free until now.

Those who give their lives to caring for the disabled and otherwise afflicted will see the price of a week’s respite double. Those with physical difficulties, up from £650 a week to £1,200. Worse if you look after someone with learning disabilities, that’s up from £650 to £1,443.

If you need someone to live in and lend a hand, no charge at present, a sliding scale from £60 to £110 a day come April.

Even the humble Emergency Link service for those at risk is £5.10 a week. I pay Newham Council £2.00 (it’s just gone up) to keep an ear open for my aunt.

O'NeillIf the thought of what this woman has done to the borough since her predecessor was convicted of fraud makes you want to curl up and die; then please don’t, you can’t afford it.

Six years ago the cost of the most basic funeral was £1,009. There were of course a plethora of miscellaneous charges on top but that was the cost of the plot. Now it is to be £1,815. A top of the range job has gone up from £4,570 to £18,088 in five years.

But there is no need to worry, Teresa O’Neill’s ambition is to see you die a pauper. Still free as far as I can see.

RIP Bexley.


10 February (Part 2) - Boundaries Commission. Their proposals for Bexley

The Boundaries Commission has written to Bexley Council with their ideas for ward changes. You may read their proposals on the BC’s website and they are seeking your views no later than 4th April 2016.

Bexley Council’s Press Release is available here. As expected the number of councillors is set to reduce from 63 to 45.


10 February (Part 1) - Belvedere Splash Park. The plug is pulled

No bridgeThe systematic destruction of the borough by Council Leader Teresa O’Neill continues, most of it can be traced back to her decision to attempt to make Bexley a sleepy backwater and turn her back on growth. Now we are paying the price for protecting her Brampton ward, children and all.

The OBE’s (Official Bexley Eradicator) fellow Luddite (pictured) and highest paid councillor in London, Councillor Gareth Bacon, now expects you to promote him within the GLA at the forthcoming election. He is already a Londonwide member, now he aspires to represent Bexley and Bromley. God help us.

Last night’s People Scrutiny meeting was a particularly boring affair despite the best efforts of Chairman Councillor James Hunt. The sound quality in my little corner was abysmal so I gave up trying to listen and hoped that my recorder might be doing a better job than the ear ‘oles. I spent the time reading the Agenda from end to end and in it found the little gems shown below.

The volunteer Splash Park campaign group never stood a chance. Bexley council set such a high hurdle in such a short time frame that there was no chance of raising the huge sums involved or even getting together a business plan. Never make the mistake of believing that an offer put forward by Bexley Council is genuine.

Splash ParkThere was a business proposal advocated by Anna Firth the Conservative Erith & Thamesmead General Election candidate about which no information was ever forthcoming but it would appear that it too has hit the buffers.

There will be no replacement Splash Park. I am not sure what private funding of a new playground means, Councillor Alex Sawyer when he was Cabinet Member for Public Realm offered that.

No doubt more information will come out at the Cabinet meeting but the answer will be the same. Bexley Council has successfully killed the 100 year old water feature.



8 February - General Purposes report. Generally dull

Another General Purposes Committee meeting is only two days away and the last one is not reported yet, it lasted fewer than 40 minutes.
General Purposes
The first item on the Agenda was a slightly technical report by Deputy Finance Director John Peters, the subject was the calculation of the Council Tax base, “a precursor to setting the Council Tax rate”. It is “the number of Band D equivalents in the borough”.

It is an estimate based on the number of new builds and demolitions taking into account the single person’s discount and Council Tax support scheme and an allowance for non-collection.

This year is up on 2015 by about 1,500 Band D properties and 900 of that is due to the phased withdrawal of Council Tax support. i.e. Poor people will in total have to cough up Council Tax equivalent to nearly 1,000 houses more than in 2015. The other 600 is due to new development.

As soon as John Peters had finished speaking Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) stepped in “to move the recommendation” - and then decided to ask a question.

How does “the levy for Adult Social care slot in?”. John Peters said it had no impact at all, it was just an extra 2% which would be tacked on at the end of all other calculations.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) wanted to know if the premiums on unoccupied property were actually collected. The answer was that a little over half were.

A similar report on Business Rates followed and there were no questions.

Pay Policy was next on the Agenda. The most noteworthy item was that the Chief Executive will no longer be paid £10,500 for his ten minute delivery of local election results. His or her expense allowance will be reduced by £2,000 per annum too. The salary ratio of the highest paid executive with the median will be 7:1.

The government is proposing that staff given exit payments in excess of £80,000 who rejoin the public sector within twelve months should be required to repay the sum on a sliding scale prompting memories of CE Nick Johnson. He went to work for Hammersmith after Bexley gave him a £300,000 pay off and a £50,000 pension for life.

The exit payment would likely be capped too with a proposed maximum of £95,000.

Councillor Betts was again eager to be first to move the proposals.

Next up was the Staff Disciplinary and Dismissal Procedures which were briefly mentioned last week. In essence Councillors may do whatever they like from running unlicensed strip shows to lying to and insulting members of the public but staff who “Act in a way prejudicial to the Council’s interests in dealing with members of the public” will, if found guilty, be dismissed without notice.

Bexley Council continues to refuse to allow disciplinary procedures to be recorded. Well it would rather cramp their rule bending style wouldn’t it?

Note: There is another GP meeting on Wednesday 10th. If you want to know what goes on there you will have to attend yourself because I have a conflicting engagement.


7 February (Part 3) - Any old iron?

LesnesBexley Council’s reaction to the excessive amount of mud left on the footpaths within Lesnes Abbey park was to close it to the public. The entrances are now protected by temporary steel railings in addition to the flimsy plastic barriers. Nobody is taking any notice whatsoever and ironically the paths have been cleaned up considerably. It is no longer a serious health and safety issue although hurdling over the barriers may be.

Once inside one is faced with a plethora of zinc coated ironwork. The gates are moderately attractive but what purpose do they serve?

Overall, things are beginning to shape up quite nicely. The paths are nicely contoured, adverse cambers not withstanding, and the views are improved.

Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes


7 February (Part 2) - The Wilton Wall

Wilton Wall Abbey Wood stationThose who have taken a look at the daily updates to the next Crossrail photo feature will have seen the new Abbey Wood island platform asphalted and the southern station support wall adorned with red shuttering. Yesterday the cavity was filled with concrete, it took fewer than seven hours including the preliminaries and clearing up afterwards.

The wraps are due to come off next Tuesday and Wednesday.

As you can see, it will be one massive plain concrete wall and that is only to support the span across the tracks. The station will be above it and totally dominate Wilton Road.

Abbey Wood station There are no plans for decorative cladding according to a usually well informed insider. The curved roof serves to soften the outline when viewed from above but only the pigeons will arrive that way.

Elsewhere the Church Manorway footbridge still has no disabled access and the Bostall Manorway bridge is nearly six months old and yet to see its first ‘customer’.

Abbey Wood station is still said to be on course to despatch the first train from the new London bound platform on 22nd February. I can’t see it being fully fitted out by then but the essentials should be there, like the luxury of a roof which Abbey Wood has not seen since the Victorian station was knocked down in 1987.

Index to Crossrail blogs and photo features.


6 February (Part 1) - Cabinet cuts go deeper

The last Cabinet meeting ended with a report from Finance Director Alison Griffin on how she was going to ship some jobs across the river to Newham and Havering, but not her own.

MasseyPallenImmediately beforehand, Cabinet Member Don Massey bemoaned the fact that Bexley had been treated especially badly by central government which had cut its grant by 40% against an Outer London average of 33% (Inner London 25%) and there would have to be a £2 million raid on the reserves.

Eileen Pallen, Cabinet Member for Adults’ Services said that the 2% Council Tax precept wouldn’t even cover the new Living Wage requirements.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) thought that the Council Leader should be complaining to ”her government” but the OBE preferred to make a joke at his expense.

The Finance Director’s proposals will affect “around 330 staff and deliver at least £1·6 million of savings”.

The detail is that “support services will be delivered with a shared service module with Havering and Newham” It will start with Financial Services and with “further integration of other services over time”. The Director spoke of providing “adequate services that will meet statutory requirements at a lower cost”. Her recommendation was that the new shared system should start on 1st April 2016.

Procurement Services will most likely be shared with Bromley. Licensing will probably go the same way. The remaining services, which were not specified, will be “outsourced” with over 20% savings probable. A public gallery cough obliterated the start date but it may have been an incredibly early 1st April 2016.

“The likelihood of compulsory redundancies is high.”

Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour Leader, North End) was concerned about the level of service that would be delivered to the borough by people who didn’t know Bexley. Cabinet Member Don Massey said he “had heard what you say” but asked “what are the alternatives?”.

The Cabinet voted unanimously for all the proposals.


5 February (Part 4) - Girl power gone to their heads

It’s only a week since the last General Purposes Committee meeting and there has been insufficient time in which to report it in full. The main thing I learned from it is that Bexley’s senior officers are not required to submit evidence to justify their expenses.

In looking through the Agenda for the next meeting, searching unsuccessfully for the Old Farm sale, I noticed that there are big changes afoot in the Finance Department. There is to be some sharing with Newham and Havering Councils and Bexley’s Deputy Director of Finance is to be shown the door with a fat cheque. John Peters was always very approachable and explained the situation clearly if a little quietly at times. And he is a man.

Bexley Council’s report on the present and planned organisation has been summarised (below) by the Finance Director, Alison Griffin, who came to Bexley from Camden and has been doing her mistress’s bidding by slashing away at services and recreational facilities for the past two years.

Hers was an ‘excellent appointment’ and it may well have been better than some but does the Finance Director have to be quite so full of herself? Is there no humility in Watling Street? Silly question.

In accordance with Bexley’s democratic traditions, the public and press will be excluded from next Wednesday’s meeting whenever it strays into anything financially interesting.


5 February (Part 3) - Girl power

Linked InMs. Steward is one of those people who flit from one council job to another in rapid succession.

She has been at the London Borough of Redbridge, Essex County Council, Cornwall County Council and West Sussex and has now been asked to leave in April. They are restructuring.

With Bexley having a vacancy for Chief Executive and the queen bee apparently on a mission to appoint women to all the top posts, would it be making five from two and two to suggest that Gill Steward wil be coming to Bexley very soon?

The Cornish people got fed up with her because they believed she lived in Hackney. Given Bexley’s past attitude to river crossings her commute if appointed may not be a lot more attractive.

How long before the new Chief Executive is under investigation by the police, like the last one?

Click any image for its source web page.

Cornwall Cornwall


5 February (Part 2) - This website

The IP address of the server that Bonkers runs on is changing today. It shouldn’t make a scrap of difference to anything or anyone. Famous last words!


5 February (Part 1) - A stay of execution

Contrary to all expectations the sale of Old Farm Park and its three smaller cousins does not appear on the Agenda for next Wednesday’s General Purposes Committee. The reason is as yet unknown.


3 February (Part 2) - Remind you of anything?

Last week’s General Purposes Committee meeting had an interesting piece hidden away at the back. It was the discipline procedure for staff. There were 30 serious offences. This was No. 19.
That seems remarkably similar to “conferring a financial or other material benefit on herself” for which Councillor Maxine Fothergill was found guilty of Misconduct and asked not to do it again.

But she is a Councillor and therefore entitled to the protection of her Conservative colleagues. Offence number 19 apples only to staff. And what is the penalty for staff under any one of those 30 sins? “Normally dismissal without notice.”

One rule for them…

Index to related blogs. (Maxine Fothergill.)


3 February (Part 1) - Money before morality

Betting BettingNewham Council is once again leading the way in protecting the poor and the gullible from the dubious attractions of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

They have done it before but this time have the support of 93 English Councils.

It is unlikely that Bexley is one of them because Bexley’s views on robbing the poor and the gullible is entirely different to Newham’s or any other right thinking public body.

The reason is not hard to discern, Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Public Realm is the country’s leading advocate of FOBTs. He is spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers.



2 February (Part 2) - The Transport Users’ Committee - Journey 7

There is very little left to report from the Transport Users’ Committee meeting. Just major road works.

BexleyThe Broadway regeneration scheme around Lion Road has not yet caused major problems but it may do soon when the road is resurfaced in late February or March. The project will be completed by mid-April. Lion Road works were supposed to have started on 10th August 2014 and take 24 weeks. They began two weeks late and 24th August to mid-April 2015 is 34 weeks.

Traffic signals will be introduced in North End Road at the junctions with Bridge Road and Colyers Lane. Lane closures will be extensive, going well beyond the areas of work. (It’s Bexley, don’t ask.) Start date, 8th February, completion mid-June.

The Bexley Cray bridge works were according to Deputy Leader Alex Sawyer getting negative comment only from a “small number of businesses down there”. He said that he checks periodically to see that there are men working on site. At present utility pipes are being diverted. Councillor Sawyer had rejected the traders’ request for free parking on the grounds that businesses need a “churn” of visitors.

“Traffic jams on the North Cray Road, even on a Sunday afternoon were quite excessive.” He is investigating the possibility of a manually operated Stop/Go board to more efficiently get traffic through.

Councillor Stefano Borella asked how the bridge weight restrictions would be enforced. Chairman Val Clark said “there will be a camera down there”. The Council is buying four mobile traffic enforcement cameras as part of its revenue raising activities.

Bexley Bexley Bexley Bexley
Photographs supplied by Elwyn Bryant. The telegraph pole is in a silly position and is suffering as a result.


2 February (Part 1) - No ifs or buts. Tax up by 3·99%

Griffin O'NeillWhile the disappointed young people were trooping out of the chamber, Chairman O’Neill pressed on regardless such that the beginning of the next Agenda item was lost among the sound of feet on wood and banging doors. However one could see Alison Griffin’s lips moving.

I heard her say that the Council Tax would be set on 2nd March. This year’s overspend is currently £285,000 but Strategy 2018 has produced a £13 million saving this year. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement was much worse for Bexley than anticipated.

There would be revision to the New Homes Bonus which forms such a big part of Bexley’s growth strategy. Early in her speech Ms. Griffin made a direct reference to the 2% Adult Care precept, a clear warning of the inevitable announcement to come.

There are plans for further savings of more than £21 million in 2016/17 rising to £31 million by 2019/20 on top of the £63 million savings already achieved. If this is possible what further proof can there be that Bexley Council has been profligate with your money in the past? Bexley is close to being the most highly taxed London borough and just a single generation ago it was close to being lowest.

In case the point had been missed, Ms. Griffin said “the planning assumption is that Council Tax will rise by 1.99% and the 2% precept for social care will also be used”. There will still be a gap of around £2 million in 2016/17 and £25 million by 2019/20.

The banging of doors and heavy footsteps obliterated the remainder of the Finance Director’s address but it was something about retaining Business Rates.


1 February (Part 3) - The Transport Users’ Committee - Journey 6

For a relatively short meeting the Transport Users’ covers a lot of ground but the Road Safety report did not produce a great deal of interest. Serious injuries are up “by a large percentage” (64%) but the actual numbers are low so a good run over the next two months may bring things back on track. If there is a single reason for the increase it is car drivers. The child injury figures remain good.

One way trafficCouncillor John Davey reported that residents were saying the arrangements put in place for the Cray bridge replacement in Bexley were “very dangerous”. Road design engineer Andrew Bashford was asked to respond.

The zebra crossing under the railway bridge was closed and people dodged across the road between queuing traffic while drivers were looking at the red light and moving off on the green without seeing them. Not good.

To counter it a signal controlled pedestrian crossing had been added to the temporary bridge lights which would have an adverse effect on traffic queues of about 15 seconds per cycle.

Mr. Elwyn Bryant who lives nearby has supplied these photographs.

Bexley Bexley Bexley Bexley
While school parking and crossing patrols were up for discussion it was suggested that teachers could provide some help. Cabinet Member John Fuller said he had pursued that idea and none of the teaching staff was interested in helping. “We have contacted every single school but had no responses in a positive manner.” Exactly the same response the police experienced when asking for help with Broadway school bus problems.

Chairman Val Clark said she had seen parents do the most amazing things outside schools, dropping them in the road and placing them at risk. “They don’t seem to care.” No teachers, she said, are interested in being trained as relief crossing patrols, “we just can’t get them to do it”. They are probably the same ones that Councillor Alan Downing suggests train children to fail their 11 plus exams because their political views oppose it.

Strange that the child accident statistics remain low.


1 February (Part 2) - Council Tax up

The Transport Committee meeting two weeks ago is not yet fully reported and neither is last week’s Cabinet Meeting - I wonder why?

However if Cabinet had been reported in full it would undoubtedly have referred to their very strong hints that Bexley’s Council Tax will be going up by the maximum permitted 4%.

I won’t like paying any more than you, the 4% increase that masqueraded as a bin tax was bad enough but with any luck Bexley will drop even further in the Council Tax League table, pushed further down by better authorities.

When they next tell you that Bexley is a low tax authority it will be another lie. Compared to other London authorities Bexley is no better now than it was under the much derided Labour Administration that lost power in 2006.

This will bear especially hard on the poor who now pay a rising proportion of Council Tax but didn’t pay anything only a couple of years ago.

Council’s Press Release. (PDF)


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