A couple of week’s ago Bexley’s Interim Director of Finance, Paul Thorogood,
gave his first budget report to Cabinet; Bexley Council has not been able to attract a
permanent replacement for Alison Griffin who left in June. I wonder why?
Among Mr. Thorogood’s comments were
• There is a forecast overspend of £834,000 this year in the general fund and the bad news is that assumes taking £1·9 million from the contingency fund.
• The overspend on Adult Services and Public Health is £3·2 million, 1·4 million of it attributed to a failure to achieve forecast savings, the rest due to increasing demand on services.
• The government is distributing “pressure funding” and Bexley’s share will be £928,000.
• Places, Community and Infrastructure has underspent - amount not specified by the Director but reported to be half a million.
• A budget gap of £37 million is forecast over the next four years, almost £9 million in the next financial year.
• Council officers have already identified where £8 million of the required savings will come from.
The Finance Director was commendably clear, brief and to the point. His Cabinet counterpart David Leaf was not.
Everyone knows that Councillor Leaf is in love with the sound of his own voice but on this occasion he rose to new heights of ecstacy.
He spoke for 13 minutes and 22 seconds at a rate ranging from 150 to just over 200 words a minute. In both the pubic gallery and on the Conservative benches eyes rolled before glazing over. No one could keep up with him and if his words carried any intelligence at all, none of it sank in.
Cabinet Member Peter Craske by contrast who followed Leaf to his feet averaged a sedate 85 words a minute and we were all grateful for the occasional pause for breath.
• He said the government had given Bexley £703,000 to fix the pot holes, “one of the highest figures in London” and to be spent my next March.
• A bike track would be created in Martens Grove.
• Hall Place is still doing well and is the setting for a new TV drama. £620,000 will be invested at the site.
• An architect has been appointed to design the new library and cinema in Sidcup and the protesters had been brought on board and were now “fully supportive”.
Cabinet Member Philip Read was another who put Councillor Leaf to shame with an object lesson in brevity. Unfortunately somewhat short on substance.
• The Council is a success.
• We won the election in May.
• Residents are satisfied.
• Children’s Services are a success.
• “The nonsense” from the opposition is that Bexley Council is facing a financial black hole but “we have a proven success” in filling them.
Deputy Leader Louie French spoke for only a minute.
• He thanked the staff who had worked on the budget proposals.
• “We must look for new revenue streams.” (He means more stealth taxes.)
• “We are Conservatives and that is why Bexley residents vote for us and continue to vote for us to make pragmatic decisions.”
Councillor Sawyer stretched himself to just over a minute.
• “We don’t have the answers to everything, nor can we do everything.”
• “We cannot trust government to help us.”
• “Our residents trust us.”
• “We must stand on our own two feet and live within our means.”
• “The next three and a half years will not be easy.”
The Tail End Charlies are left with little new to say but Cabinet Member John Fuller painted a rosy picture on Education and School Transport and repeated that independent schools are now more inclined than they were to seek Council help and guidance.
Cabinet Member Brad Smith (Adult’s Services) continued with his perennial theme that spending less can improve services.
Labour Leader Daniel Francis was broadly supportive of the budget and Councillor David Leaf spent another three minutes thanking him for the promised cooperation. (Worth mentioning for when Bexley Conservatives use Twitter to lie about Labour’s position.)