It is well known that Leader Teresa ONeill doesn’t like scrutiny of her
Council. The Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen are all Tories, the call in
arrangements are more restrictive than in other boroughs and occasionally Cabinet decisions get to Full Council without going
through the Scrutiny process at all. Within a few months of BiB’s first report
on a Council meeting I was reported to the police for “criticising Councillors”
and there have been three more similar brushes with the law since then and Bexley
Council continues to make reporting as inconvenient as it can.
Teresa O’Neill really hates scrutiny.
New Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) is understandably irritated by decisions that somehow bypass the Scrutiny process and provided an example at the last Children’s and Adults’ Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Last week at Full Council she was at it again, objecting to the lack of scrutiny of the £400 a year imposition on travel for disabled children. The policy was decided by Cabinet on 26 June but the Children’s Committee held on the 20th and Communities on 9th July didn’t mention the subject at all.
Councillor Perfect asked for “the Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee be requested to review the decision to introduce a contribution to post-16 travel assistance for students with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability. We need to make sure that the process of contributing to their transport costs to and from their place of education is as easy as possible and any issues are addressed before we go live on this policy.”
“The Communities Scrutiny Committee has a keen role in scrutinising the implementation of the policy change. We would therefore like the Communities Committee to look at the current wording of the transport policy where it states the Council will expect parents, carers and pupils who receive the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance to use that funding for enabling the students to travel to and from their place of learning unless exceptional circumstances apply”. (The foregoing is slightly abbreviated.)
The new policy will adversely affect parents who are already using their allowances to fund a motability vehicle and as such “the policy needs to be more appropriately worded.” Councillor Perfect provided several more examples where the policy would likely break down and she again asked for the Communities Scrutiny Committee to review the decision.
The request was accepted by the Mayor as a Motion and Councillor Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) seconded it with similar comments to her colleague.
The Mayor then invited the Chairman of the Communities Scrutiny Committee to respond.
Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, East Wickham) said that the subject would be scrutinised at her Committee and she said that no opposition Councillor had mentioned the subject at her recent meeting (which is true) but she had promised that the £400 transport levy would be discussed by a sub-Group. (I can find no evidence of that on the recording of the meeting but it is two and a half hours long and my attention may have wandered.)
Councillor Newton was accordingly “not entirely sure why this item is in front of us for debate this evening”.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) asked for the situation to be clarified but was rewarded mainly with aggression from the Mayor. “There can be no debate” he said.
Cabinet Member for Education John Fuller said he “had already agreed this and we are taking it to Overview and Scrutiny”. This he suggested could be an amendment to Councillor Perfect’s Motion.
Councillor Francis said it wasn’t really an amendment because the end result would be the same.
Just as agreement was about to break out on all sides Madam Bossy Boots objected. Council Leader Teresa O’Neill said “you can’t request that something goes back that is already going back”. Technically she may have a point but if one’s priority is always to prove Labour Councillors wrong, hair splitting becomes an essential skill.
After Councillor Francis carefully explained the situation to the Mayor he decided on the obvious compromise. The word back would be removed from the Motion.
While the whole chamber voted in favour of the compromise, Leader O’Neill could still be heard muttering “I thought we had already agreed”.
It was all a bit of a storm in a tea cup and it is not absolutely clear where the misunderstanding arose. Councillor Newton said promises were made at the Communities Committee meeting (Councillor Perfect is not one of its a Members) but the recording suggests otherwise.
Who knows? But Councillors are not happy unless they are squabbling.