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Bonkers Blog June 2018

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21 June (Part 2) - Avoiding the Bexley Path of Doom

I went into the Civic Offices yesterday evening convinced that the new Chairman of the Children’s and Adults’ Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee was Councillor Andy Dourmoush (Longlands) so when I saw him in the Chamber I offered him my best wishes for a successful meeting. He must think I am nuts because in fact the Chairman is Councillor Cafer Munur (Blackfen & Lamorbey).

Councillor Munur must be one of Teresa O’Neill’s rising young stars but despite that is a decent enough chap always ready with a friendly word. When Councillor Craske (Conservative, Blackfen & Lamorbey) was busy protesting he had no idea who I was and Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) was pretending I wasn’t there, Cafer stood out as the one blessed with a modicum of civility and common sense. He is a decent enough Chairman too.

CommitteeAs you can see the Committee is small and Councillor Munur chose a seating arrangement that ensures members of the public (only me) can see almost nothing. That may have been a problem except that nearly all of the meeting was taken up by a slide show. I wondered how that would come across on the webcast but despite the Agenda referring to a broadcast it appears there was none. The web cameras are set up to record Councillors sitting in very different positions.

The meeting didn’t really scrutinise anything, it appeared to be held merely to bring the new Committee Members up to speed.

There were two slide shows, the one covering Children’s Services was not especially interesting, it merely listed what the Council had to do and what it has done. Clearly it has done a lot since OFSTED condemned Bexley Council six years ago. It’s been much better since Cabinet Member Philip Read took on the job.

I found the Adults’ Services slide show much more interesting which may be because I was able to relate it to my experience of Newham’s Adults’ Services. To say that their moderately senior staff are as thick as two short planks is probably an insult to floorboards.

It would appear that Bexley’s Adults’ Services are not yet especially good either and in just a few aspects are judged to be among the worst in London (see Slide 3 and 4) but the relatively new Director, Stuart Rowbotham, was not short of ideas to improve things. Some have already had an effect. Slide 5’s 2017 figures are already much improved.

Bexley Council is constantly criticised for its outrageous lying so it was a refreshing change to see and hear Mr. Rowbotham freely admitting to past failures. “Some things don’t look good at all.” Fortunately his plans for the future looked to be excellent.

Back in the bad old days a long gone Cabinet Member bragged that he had driven down the price paid to companies providing domiciliary care services. When the care companies could no longer provide an adequate service he washed his hands of all responsibility saying the services were contracted out and no longer his concern.

That is not a view shared by Mr. Rowbotham and Cabinet Member Brad Smith, they have increased payment to care providers by 16% and are rearranging the services in a way that should make them much more reliable. Without boring you with the detail it is what I have arranged privately for my 98 year old aunt in Newham. I refuse to have anything to do with Newham Council’s so called services.

Committee Providing Adult Care is very expensive and the percentage of the population requiring help is getting ever higher. I probably shouldn’t have been amused to hear Mr. Rowbotham use the expression ‘Barnet Graph of Doom’ which apparently shows that on present trends it will not be long before Councils have no money left to spend on anything except care services. A disaster that has already beset Northamptonshire Council he told us.

Mr. Rowbotham seemed to be the right man to avoid such a disaster in Bexley although we may not like some of the consequences.

One such consequence may be the £400 charge being imposed on transport for 17 and 18 year olds requiring transport to special schools.

Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) used it as an example of badly timed Scrutiny meetings. She said that the meetings schedule in recent months had disallowed scrutiny of that Cabinet decision.

Chairman Cafer Munur said that if that was the case he was determined it should not happen on his watch.


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