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Bonkers Blog July 2016

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20 July (Part 1) - Audit Committee in the dark

There is rarely a good reason to go to an Audit Committee meeting, it is not unknown for it to reveal something interesting, but it is rare. On a hot and sticky evening you might think that there would be no good reason to attend at all, but there were a few.

For trivia, there is the fact that it is usually all over and done with well inside an hour and by the end of the week it looks likely that the attendance will allow me to brag that all five evenings have been taken up by BiB related meetings.

Only slightly less trivial is the fact that the new Chairman is Councillor David Leaf who has proved to be intensely annoying at Council and Scrutiny meetings since he was re-elected in 2014.

His predecessor Joe Pollard did his best to make Audit meetings palatable by exchanging pleasantries with members of the public; there was none of that last night and Councillor Cafer (Conservative, East Wickham) alone made small talk, no one else offered any acknowledgement of a public presence.

While I am in a complaining mood , it was impossible to see what was going on. The bright evening sun through the window of an unlit room turned everyone into silhouettes; I spent the first 40 minutes thinking the man to the Chairman’s left was Vice-Chairman Brian Bishop but as the sun began to fade I discovered it was David Hogan, the Head of Internal Audit.
So how does Councillor David Leaf shape up as Chairman? I really have no idea, he did little more than call for the next Agenda item to be discussed every five minutes or so. There was none of the usual slagging off of the opposition.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) did what all the Labour Councillors seem to have been obliged to do over the past four weeks, that is make a comment about the consequences of Brexit on the borough’s economy based on the assumption it must be negative. “House building shares have gone right down.”

A disembodied voice came from the blackness of the right hand corner of the room which said that Brexit represented both risks and an opportunity. “There is an upside.” The camera tells me it was Finance Director Alison Griffin who can usually be relied upon to give a sensible response. Another disembodied voice, it may have been the Chairman, said that “we must not go talking down our economy and avoid the self-fulfilling prophesy of doom”.

An item on countering fraud provided the nearest the meeting got to excitement and it had saved £474,000 which is not to be sneezed at, but the number of people involved was tiny. One Blue Badge recovered, four single Person Council Tax Discounts withdrawn, one Notice to Quit. Seven people removed from Temporary Accommodation and nine taken off the Housing List. Including a few other things there was a total of 35 individuals and companies. Doesn’t seem like a lot of cheats uncovered from a population approaching 300,000.

The Agenda proclaimed that Bexley Council is “committed to the highest standards of openness and accountability” and that its Internal Audits are subject to External Review by another London borough at least once every five years”. Better than nothing perhaps but plenty of time for things to go wrong in between.


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