Before leaving the subject of
Councillor’s questions it might be worth
mentioning that Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer’s opinion of Thames Water is much the same as my own.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) enlarged on Councillor Slaughter’s question about the sewer network, first with a regret that the water utilities were not in public ownership and then a suggestion that Councillor Sawyer should meet personally with Thames Water officials in order to hold them to account.
The Cabinet Member said a letter will be “winging its way to the Chief Executive of Thames Water but I do not particularly expect a response if I am honest”. He said that state intervention was prohibited by European law, “but thanks to the good judgment of the residents of this borough…”, and masked by the jeers and cheers I think he went on to say that nationalisation may now be possible if, “God forbid, Jeremy Corbyn ever gets his hands on the levers of power”.
Perhaps Councillor Sawyer could, when writing to Thames Water, ask why it is that the company dug up my road at the end of last year and completed the installation of water meters by March but it still hasn’t commissioned them all.
The next item on the Agenda was left overs from the last meeting and the first (and because of time constraints, only) slot in the timetable was allocated to Councillor Langstead (Labour, North End) who continued her longstanding campaign for better housing conditions. Her Motion proposed a crack down on rogue landlords, better support and advice for those seeking social housing, more affordable housing and the lobbying of government to allow local authorities to build more homes and in her short speech she added that Boris Johnson’s affordable homes had been far from affordable. £600,000 for a three bedroom house!
It was a very reasonable Motion that one would think would be welcomed by most residents but the Tories did not want to see a Labour Councillor take the credit for it, so Cabinet Member Linda Bailey proposed an Amendment. It was a slightly more polished variant of the original with greater emphasis on the control of HMOs and designed to make it look as if the Tories’ recent record on housing is better than it actually has been.
Councillors Catterall and Munir (Conservative, both East Wickham) spoke in favour of the Amendment, the latter being particularly upset about Councillor Langstead’s suggested Landlord’s Register. He said it would duplicate national regulations but he attracted adverse comment for failing to declare that he was a landlord himself. Councillor Munir accused Labour members of having “tunnel vision”, the insult was in his pre-prepared script so he had to say it, irrelevant or not.
Councillor Borella was able to criticise Conservative housing policy on several levels, and the fact that Bexley Council has recently been in a bidding war to buy back houses it used to own is perhaps the silliest of them. He also referred unfavourably to the 2014 UKIP candidate for Barnehurst (pictured), kicked out of Labour after coming under suspicion of being a rogue landlord. Perhaps one day the Labour Members will come up with chapter and verse on what he is supposed to have done.
Councillor Borella said he was not happy that the Amendment made no reference to rogue landlords although otherwise there was much he could agree with.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) said that residents were very annoyed about the HMOs springing up in her ward and was very critical of the limited powers that government had given to local authorities.
Out of the blue The Mayor called for a vote on Councillor Bailey’s Amendment but immediately went into a huddle with the apparently unqualified Monitoring Officer. When she came up for air, the Mayor said there would be a vote on the Amendment followed by another on the Substantive Motion if the Amendment was carried.
Councillor Borella said that would be wrong and it was not the normal procedure. The Mayor said there was no time to follow the usual procedure.
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill also said the Mayor was wrong and there should be a summing up of the Amendment before the vote. The Mayor thanked the Leader for her opinion but she was going to the vote immediately.
After acknowledging the raised hands the Mayor decided on a role call instead which confused members of all parties. Labour Leader Alan Deadman said he was happy to accept the Amendment which further confused the hapless Mayor. She asked “for all those in favour” and the cries of “of what?” were numerous. The Mayor went back to square one, she wanted a vote on whether the Amendment was approved. Councillor David Leaf started quoting Standing Orders but few were listening. Someone called out that he was wasting time.
The Mayor again said she was “looking to see who was in favour”, but once more failed to make it clear what the vote was on. The recorder picked up murmurs of “Bullshit baffles brains” as the meeting headed for total farce.
In a rapid about turn, Cabinet Member Brad Smith was asked to sum up on the Substantive Motion, which was the Leader’s idea for the Amendment. Councillor Smith was obviously caught unawares as he waffled on about HMOs for a minute or so. He wanted to tackle all landlords, not just rogues.
Stefano Borella said he was entitled to a reply but the Mayor said he was not as she called for a vote.
Councillor Sybil Camsey spoke for most when she said she had no idea what she was voting on. She said there was “genuine confusion” about it.
The Monitoring Officer chipped in that the vote would be on the agreed Amendment which became the Substantive Motion when Labour raised no objections. It seemed a simple and logical conclusion but apparently well beyond Mayor Pallen’s comprehension. The vote went ahead and just for once hands of all colours went up together.