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Bexley Cabinet meetings are not the place to go if you are looking for
anything exciting, disagreements are impossible because everything has been
thrashed out beforehand and the best that you can hope for is that Councillor
Peter Craske will pull another rabbit out of his hat; partial restoration of his
previous budget cuts being a favourite trick.
Last Tuesday there wasn’t even much chance of crude political insults either because Councillor Philip Read had absented himself from the meeting and to top it all the subject matter was all good news so it was backed by the opposition too. The Tories will probably spin that differently but if they do they will be lying again.
Chairman Teresa O’Neill began the meeting promptly in her own unique way, unlike all other committee chairmen she never welcomes members of the public, presumably because she doesn’t.
The first 62 pages of the Agenda were entitled “Ending the Education Services Grant and the Future Role of Education Services” and Ms. Tiotto (Director of Children’s Services) was asked to explain what they meant in practice. This she managed to do in three minutes and thirty seconds.
The Government rehash of Educational Grants will result in a net loss to Bexley of £1 million a year and the Council does not want to deliver Education Services which only meet the statutory minimum requirements, it therefore plans to spend more than the legal minimum amount, about £550,000 more. The belief is that good Education Services is one of the essential prerequisites for the Growth Agenda.
Councillor John Fuller (Cabinet Member for Education) reminded the Committee that all schools, including Academies, “look to the Council for help, assistance and guidance”.
Councillor Don Massey (Cabinet Member for Finance) said much the same thing; “there are good Academies and not so good Academies and some can stand on their own two feet but we still have responsibilities”.
Councillor Linda Bailey (Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Growth) said she likes the idea that the Council “provides a comfort blanket”.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) said the proposals were “fantastic”.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) thought that Academies had “a detrimental effect” on education but “welcomed” the proposals because “they are vital” and doing nothing is not an option. He had some concerns about the funding arrangements which are settled for only two years.
UKIP Councillor Colin McGannon (Colyers) added his party’s support for the extra spending. “An incredible result.”
The next topic for discussion was Adoption. Bexley has shunned working alongside other London boroughs but opted instead to work with Medway and Kent County Councils. The partnership has been working successfully for the past twelve months and the decision was taken to extend the arrangements.
In terms of adoption numbers Bexley is the junior partner with 236 ‘looked after children’ (in March 2017) of which 31 were Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers (UASC). Kent 1,898 total and 483 UASC and Medway 390 and 3.
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Thamesmead East) speaking for Labour wholeheartedly backed the partnership.
Councillor Peter Craske (Cabinet Member for Environment and Leisure) wanted to plug library services, use of which he said, was on the up.
He was particularly proud of the proposal to follow many other London boroughs and introduce ‘workaries’ in libraries which will provide office space for entrepreneurs. The first one will be in Welling on a six month trial basis. A workary appears to be a small scale Thames Innovation Centre as introduced by the Labour administration twelve years ago and which the Conservatives didn’t like at all. (Well it did need one hell of a lot of financial bailouts to keep it afloat.)
Another initiative which appears to be going ahead is a Post Office in Crayford Library. Councillor Bailey said the Post Office move was “brilliant”and “there would be a big market for this [workaries]”.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Erith) gave Labour’s backing to the proposals too.
Councillor Craske, showman and spin doctor that he is, couldn’t resist giving a little publicity to Bexley’s bid to be London Borough of Culture but to just four members of the public present plus one or two watching the webcast maybe Bonkers should give him some help.
There will be an all day event to celebrate the bid at Hall Place on 1st October.
Probably Bexley is quite well endowed with cultural icons, Crossness, Danson House, Hall Place, The Red House, several theatres and schools for the arts. What a pity that Councillor Craske destroyed the William Morris fountain in Broadway.