So you thought I took the day off yesterday? Not really. The updating of the
Councillors’ jobs list took a big chunk out of the day and it should have been
done a month ago. And then Bexley’s Constitutional Review Panel was
reconvening in the evening after a three year interval.
It consists of the Leader and her Deputy, three more Conservatives and one
Councillor each from UKIP and Labour. UKIP didn’t put in an
appearance. Maybe they are still celebrating somewhere.
The Panel wasn’t expecting an audience. There were no Agendas available and no Press Table. The former was put right quite quickly, the latter wasn’t.
The meeting of September 2013 was a much more interesting event as the main issue was whether or not Bexley Council would allow photography in the chamber. How quaint that seems now. A few pictures have not made the sky fall in as some Councillors feared but allowing audio and video recording has brought about big changes. Conservative bully boys no longer frequently indulge in their brand of hooliganism at Council meetings. Shame really. It was much more fun back then.
Before the Panel got around to Constitutional changes it looked at its Contract Procedures. This was over and done with in just under five minutes. All the proposals were accepted.
The Constitutional Review Panel sits to put forward its ideas to the Full Council and the Constitution is designed to not only regulate meetings but ensure that everything is geared towards the governing party always getting its own way.
One of the longer discussions was about how best to remove disruptive members of the public from meetings. As far as I know, the last time Bexley Council’s own stupidity led to that situation was in June 2013 ten weeks before the Panel last met. Probably the Panel didn’t realise at the time what Councillor Cheryl Bacon’s actions and subsequent lies would lead to.
The present situation with that case is that the Crown Prosecution Service has been considering charging Cheryl Bacon (Chairman of that meeting) and former Chief Executive Will Tuckley with Misconduct in Public Office. They have had the file for seven or eight months and don’t know how to handle it. They must know the evidence against both of them is solid but on the other hand they know a charge would be hugely embarrassing and would hit the headlines. So they do nothing instead.
Another of the longer debates was about petitions. Bexley Council’s petitions scheme is run under the provisions of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2010. That Act was overtaken by the Localism Act of 2011 which does not make any provision for petitions at all - so councils could abandon petitions, and some have.
The Panel has chosen to recommend the continuation of Bexley’s petition scheme unchanged. There is obviously no need to withdraw it as they have set up good defences. Any they deem “inappropriate will not be accepted” and those that are will be disregarded. History shows that every petition, no matter how big, has been thrown out, so there is no need to change things. The Council Leader said that she wanted to continue with petitions because it gave the appearance of being “open and transparent”.
While browsing the Agenda I noticed something I really should have spotted before. There are now only three Council meetings a year at which members of the public can answer questions. It used to be four.
That’s a whole 45 minutes a year for the public to question Bexley Council. Open and transparent? Pull the other one Teresa.