the decision to put protection of their own allowances and home delivery of
Council documents above more frequent litter collection, Councillors were asked
to speak on the main motion, setting the 2016/17 Council Tax rate.
Councillor Brad Smith wanted to be first but mumbled away so quickly it was impossible to be sure what he was saying. It was something about schools and parking and how resident satisfaction had been improved.
Councillor Louie French spoke clearly enough but came out with nothing original. “The decision to raise Council Tax is not an easy one especially for those [almost mandatory swipe at opposition] on this side of the chamber.” There is no alternative and it is all the fault of the “demographic changes and 13 years of Labour government”.
Followed by “Leave no stone unturned. Savings alone are not going to help us. The money raised by the 2% Social Care precept is not enough. When faced with a difficult decision, it is easy to stand on the sidelines. Both nationally and locally the Labour party is fighting on the fringes. It is vitally important that Londoners elect Zac Goldsmith.” You get the idea, he is right behind the Tory budget and all the borough’s problems can be solved by more of the same.
Councillor Endy Ezenwata was invited to speak and nine seconds later the Mayor told him to stop. Not speaking to the Motion again. The Councillor went to disagree but lost his chance when the Mayor switched off his microphone. I’ve not seen anything like that happen before. Is the Mayor after Val Clark’s crown?
Councillor Seán Newman was invited to speak but he didn’t even get nine seconds without interruption. When he was allowed to get going he said “there hadn’t really been any forward planning on borough regeneration. The figures were vague and sometimes astonishing. The Council had come to regeneration far too late and as a result municipal bankruptcy is staring us in the face”.
Councillor David Leaf can always be relied upon to say something either inconsequential or abusive. He began with the latter. From the opposition he had heard only “nonsense”. He was keen to rake up last year when Labour was accused of voting against Business Rate Relief.
If it was part of the 2015/16 budget proposal the Labour group would have no alternative but to reject the whole lot if they disagreed with any part of it, which is always useful to those whose forté is political mischief. Like Councillor French, David Leaf thought all the budgetary problems could be laid at the door of the last Labour government. (†)
Councillor Leaf said that Labour would have raised Council Tax for the poorest people in the borough which is exactly what his party has done. It was the Conservatives who imposed a 15% Council Tax on residents in receipt of benefits.
Councillor Leaf also rejected Seán Newman’s claim that there had been no regeneration. He said there were more houses in the borough than when Labour was in power. Big deal!
Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) was more restrained remaining factual about the reduction in central government funding and thanking the Finance team for their budget planning.
Councillor Cafer Munur thought it would be clever to quote from the positive comments made in the “impartial” external auditor’s report, the same impartial auditor that decided to take no action over Bexley Council’s self confessed maladministration in respect of bailiff activity. What it had to do with the Motion no one knew but the Mayor didn’t care because Councillor Munir is one of her own. Quoting from someone else’s report is a useful technique for anyone without an original thought in his own head. It’s surprising that it has not been done before.
To round off, Councillor Munir attacked Labour. “They can’t see the difference between capital expenditure and revenue costs, they worked to the detriment of residents over new ward boundaries, and they have an inability to scrutinise.” The Conservatives applauded.
Councillor Alan Downing said “I am proud to be a Conservative and particularly proud to be a member of this Conservative Council”. He “wholeheartedly supported this budget” and made not a single criticism of opposition members.
Councillor Brian Bishop said “the budget was well planned”. It is “innovative and I think we got it exactly right”. He derided Labour’s Amendment “written on the back of a fag packet. It was political posturing”.
Councillor Steven Hall said he was “going to go easy on Labour and not have a go at them like Councillor Leaf did” and promptly had a go at them. “It was such a shame that they did not support the budget proposals.” He “was not quite sure the opposition had a growth agenda”.
After that he followed the familiar path. “Reduced government funding as a result of Labour’s overspend and difficult decisions have to be taken.”
Councillor James Hunt referred to the budget as not having been “produced in a back room somewhere”, yet another uncomplimentary reference to the Labour Amendment.
Labour Leader Alan Deadman voiced what many people will be thinking. “The Leader opposite turned round and told me before the meeting that no matter what this side of the chamber comes up with she won’t listen to it because it came from Labour”. He complained that his Amendment was criticised for being unbalanced but, he said, the Director of Finance had agreed it was balanced. The Mayor stopped him in his tracks.
Deputy Leader Alex Sawyer said the government settlement was “brutal and he did not care which government was at No. 10. If it is brutal it is brutal”. He didn’t like penalising motorists with increased car parking charges and using them as a “cash cow” but tough decisions were needed. With more than 50% of expenditure going on social care “each portfolio has to make a contribution for the greater good”. However the Labour Amendment “betrays those who went out and voted Labour in 2014”.
Councillor Daniel Francis’s statement was marred by a high level of background noise but he appeared to be making a number of historical comparisons between minor Conservative budget amendments in the past which were deemed to be part of an acceptable procedure but in similar circumstances his party’s amendments were posturing. Response rates to consultations in Labour’s time in the low hundreds were said to be “shameful” but double digit results now were acceptable.
He was lucky not to be cut short by the Mayor. Perhaps like the Leader she was not listening. Councillor Francis said there were areas of the budget he could not quite believe. £3 million pounds on a street light upgrade and switching them off to save £300,000 a year. Whose fault is it, he asked, that we are forced into this position? “Labour’s” said the voices opposite. The Mayor complained about the “mudslinging”. It was not clear which side she had in mind.
Councillor Borella said that it was not correct to say the budget did not affect front line services. The cost of respite care is “exhorbitant” and the users have no choice.
He referred to the failure of Children’s Services which had cost such an enormous sum of money. It was a Conservative strategy that led to the failure. He referred to the forthcoming £450,000 litter cuts too, going ahead even though rubbish is already “strewn everywhere”.
Council Leader Teresa O'Neill summed up. She said she had been reading Labour's last budget for 2006. Productive use of her time is it not?
They had “raided the reserves and put Council Tax up 40% over four years and they left the cupboard bare”. She said the big problem was that Bexley gets a government grant of £56·2 million, Greenwich gets £129·5 million and Lewisham gets £146·2 million. “If we got that we’d be giving money back let alone putting up Council Tax.” She blamed the delay with regeneration on Ken Livingstone. Hang on a moment, wasn’t it Ken who planned a bridge and Teresa O’Neill who successfully campaigned to have Boris cancel it? The bridge might not be universally popular but it is the key to the regeneration without which Bexley might well be on Seán Newman’s road to bankruptcy.
The vote, when it came, was entirely predictable with UKIP dressed in blue again. The choice of all or nothing can be a difficult one.
† An anonymous message, presumably from a Conservative Councillor, has said that there was an opportunity for Labour to have voted on Business Rate Relief separately. Such a correction is I think unique which probably lends extra credence to the report being a well founded complaint. I can only assume that the Labour group made an error of judgment. I vaguely remember them admitting to that once but not sure any more what the subject was. It would be helpful if those who dispute what is written here could supply a link or other reference.