Leader Teresa O’Neill said she had more to say about her Financial Plan than she
did on the
Capital Programme. We are on “a journey to having a diminished government grant”
she said for the umpteenth time.
“The settlement this year is £56·2 million reducing to £39·6 million in three years time which is why growth is key. Social care costs keep increasing. The previous perception of Bexley as a green leafy suburb no longer recognises the needs within our borough and those that need to be paid for.”
“We can ask residents to do more instead of putting up Council Tax, they rose to the challenge of the garden waste scheme. They are up for the challenge.” She means more stealth taxes are coming.
The Leader claimed to have been lobbying for Crossrail and an extension to Ebbsfleet “stopping at Erith, Slade Green and Belvedere”, her perceived lack of direction provoking a little amusement. She repeated that if TfL can be persuaded to pay for things Bexley’s taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill. But we pay for work in all the other boroughs instead.
She concluded with her favourite theme. Residents had shown their trust in the Conservatives by electing them again in 2014.
Cabinet Member Don Massey said he “firmly believed in keeping Council Tax as low as possible, for you, for me and for all residents in Bexley”. Really? I thought he lived in Maidstone.
“Ever since we were elected in 2006 we have been committed to doing just that which is in stark contrast to those opposite who think you should raise as much as they can whenever you can.” They raided reserves and depleted them to £5·7 million. The General Fund now stands at £12·7 million.
“It is right to take difficult decisions but the opposition parties have not come up with any properly thought out or properly costed alternatives. Conservatives were astounded by claims at Public Cabinet that there had been loads. They are in a parallel universe.”
“What is your alternative?”
Labour Leader Alan Deadman produced his alternative which he said had been checked by the Director of Finance. It proposed saving £139,000 this year and more next and spending the same amount on improving services to residents.
The proposals were to stop the recently introduced £18,000 of Scrutiny Vice-Chair allowances, cut 5% off the Special Responsibility Allowances and losing a Cabinet member. (£43,000.)
Going 100% paperless at meetings instead of the target 50%, (£45,000) and £50,000 from revising the distribution arrangements for the Bexley Magazine. It could go on line, be distributed by email and left in supermarkets and libraries.
The money gained could be spent on improved litter collection, not charging for disabled parking, not increasing short term car parking charges by 20% and there would be enough left over to maintain a Splash Park.
Reducing their precious allowances! Surely there was no way the Conservatives would stand for that?
Councillor Deadman said his proposals had something for every resident in the borough. (Well maybe not councillors Alan and you know they always come first.)
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) said that it might have been better to have eased up Council Tax in previous years but Leader O’Neill said it would have had to have gone up by 80%. She plucks the figures out of the air. Councillor Don Massey had said a week earlier that the figure would have been 57%. Both figures assume making no economies at all which has never been Labour policy, but why let facts get in the way of a dishonest story?
Councillor Stefano Borella made reference to the four councillors who no longer live in the borough but the Mayor asked him to not to do it. Too embarrassing.
Stefano didn’t like the 20% increase in short term parking charges which would adversely affect high street shops but Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) thought that not to raise charges would be unfair on those who didn’t own a car. Bexley has the highest level of car ownership in London.
Councillor Borella concluded by saying it was about time councillors made sacrifices to help the people of Bexley.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) linked the £18,000 of Vice-Chairman payments to the Leader’s payroll vote. He thought making new allowances where none existed before was “disgraceful, they do nothing for this Council”. He was reprimanded by the Mayor for “not speaking to the Amendment” when very obviously those allowances were a large component of the Amendment.
Councillor Hackett continued to risk the Mayor’s wrath by stating the
unthinkable. “We are not here to line our own pockets, we are here to put the
people of our borough first. Do Conservatives really think it is fair to remove
money from services people really care about while giving money to backbenchers?
Will any of them have the bottle to vote with the Labour party on this?”
Councillor Rob Leitch (Conservative, Sidcup) began his response with the sort of toe curling subservience to the Mayor that I had hoped he had put behind him but spoke of “doing what is right rather than what is easy”. It sounded as though Councillor Hackett had won a convert. But no, Councillor Leitch did not address the Amendment at all, he was speaking far more generally. The partisan Chairman Mayor pretended not to notice.
At last Councillor Leitch got around to commenting on the Amendment. It was “a last minute populist press release motivated Amendment and was wholly irresponsible”. Additional support for his own Digital Futures recommendations is irresponsible? He was eventually stopped by the Mayor for wandering off topic, even she could ignore it no longer.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said that the present and future financial problems had come about following six years of Conservative government and in each year he had seen the grant to Bexley fall. The Amendment made savings now and protected services and local businesses now.
After speaking for just one sentence the Mayor told Councillor Daniel Francis to get to the point. He held up two pieces of paper which had been delivered to his home last Friday at a cost he estimated as being in the region of £15 a go. He risked the wrath of the Mayor again by suggesting there was “a clear split in the Tory group between those those who wanted to save money now and those who wanted to wait until 2018. Don’t delay until 2018, do it now and help our residents, not ourselves.”
Councillor Francis continued; Councillor Massey does not want to support the Amendment but he was “happy to force changes on our residents. There is to be a £450,000 cut in litter collection next year”.
Council Leader O’Neill complained that the Labour Amendment did not reduce any of their own allowances. That would be because she has not given Labour members any job which attracts a special allowance. She said it was herself and the Conservative members who asked for the Boundary Commission review but failed to mention that she spoke of doing so after the 2010 election and sat on her backside for a further five years. Nearly £300,000 down the drain.
Councillor Endy Ezenwata (Labour, Thamesmead East) attempted to add his comment but whilst he thought he had caught the Mayor’s eye earlier she said he had not. He intended to ask for a vote by roll call but the Mayor was not in a mood to accept that she had missed his earlier gesture. She was “sorry but you are too late”.
Im in charge!
The vote on the Amendment was taken. Unanimously rejected by the Tories with UKIP voting Conservative again.
The Tories didn’t want to see their allowances take a knock and UKIP weren’t
happy about the proposed magazine distribution arrangements. There can be no
picking and choosing when it comes to votes.
To be continued