A quick glance at the Agenda for last night’s Full Council meeting suggested
that it was going to be dull and the webcast might be an option. The
pre-arranged questions were lame and there was
nothing new to be found elsewhere in the Agenda. Until Mayor Brian Bishop takes
lessons from some of his predecessors and learns how to make a monkey of himself in
his role as Chairman of Bexley’s Council meetings, the risk that they will be
less than interesting will persist.
But reporting webcasts is a cop out so along I went where I found forty or more
people sitting in the public gallery.
It transpired that all but three of them were Bexley Social Services staff there to hear Cabinet Member Philip Read repeat his adulation for all concerned with the delivery of an excellent OFSTED cared-for children report.
Clearly they have performed a minor miracle in bringing the service to such a point after it plumbed the depths under Councillor Read’s predecessor in 2012 and no one should belittle it, but BiB readers have heard it all before and there is no need to repeat it all here.
The one minor difference from earlier times is that Councillor Read did not falsely accuse opposition Members of lacking in praise for his team’s achievement. For the record Labour Councillors Wendy Perfect (Northumberland Heath) and Mabel Ogundayo (Thamesmead East) once more stood and repeated their congratulatory message.
“Particular mention has to go to the Cabinet Member whose purpose and resolve to sort this service and ensure our most vulnerable children are well looked after and get the necessary support they deserve. Thank you Councillor Read.” (Wendy Perfect.)
“We are where we are because of the amazing dedicated hard working staff that we have in this Council. I take this opportunity to thank Ms. Tiotto for her dedication, it has been really really great to see. I back Councillor Read’s Motion.” (Mabel Ogundayo.)
Rather magnanimous coming from two Councillors who Read had gone out of his way to slag off only a few meetings ago.
As the staff members filed out the whole Council stood to applaud their achievement.
(Philip Read’s version of events.)
Questions were every bit as dull as I had anticipated, the first three were directed at Cabinet Member for Education John Fuller and two of them in essence asking him how things were going in the world of examination results and education standards. We learned that things were “good” and that Bexley schools achieve around the national average ratings in pretty much everything and maybe a little better here and there especially when measured against the London average.
Councillor Perfect’s questions were a little more contentious. She wanted to know if Councillor Fuller “regretted signing over most of our secondary schools to academies”.
Councillor Fuller reminded Councillor Perfect that it was “Labour that started it all off” and more than 200 schools went over to academy status under Messrs. Brown and Balls. “We had nothing to do with it as a Council, if they want to go, they go. They took the money offered and we could do nothing to stop them. We don’t encourage them but there is nothing we can do about it.”
Well even I knew that and unlike Councillor Perfect I do not pretend to be a spokesman on education.
Another Perfect question was would John Fuller apologise for the “stress and anxiety caused in the implementation of the Travel Assistance Policy this year”.
Cabinet Member Fuller responded robustly. He said the policy was not new, it had been in “for many years and there was no change in the policy”.
There were however more “enforcements”. Applicants were given “between six and eight weeks to apply” and the majority left it to the very last week and complained they had lost the forms. 111 people who were found to be not eligible under the policy appealed and twelve were upheld. 99 people who had once been given assistance no longer receive it because of their own changed circumstances.
Councillor Perfect was “staggered that you do not feel any need to apologise. Can you tell me how many cases there were in which the authority acted illegally?”.
There were “none” and Councillor Fuller reeled off a load of statistics which anyone not privy to the full facts must assume prove his case.
However Labour Members mouthed “rubbish” so who knows the truth?
The question I was looking forward to was Councillor Jackson’s (Conservative, Barnehurst) who asked the Cabinet Member for Growth what his assessment of the impact of the delay of the opening of the Elizabeth Line would be.
I hoped to hear how the borough, especially those in the North were suffering, instead I heard almost wholly political comments from Deputy Leader French.
He said he was "disappointed by the delay and local people would rightly question whether the Labour Mayor knew about the delays and why he is not managing the project correctly. Local residents and businesses will have to wait for the benefits of faster services to central London.” (Tell us something new!)
“I am concerned about the financial implications for TfL and the black hole the Labour Mayor has overseen during his time in office with the loss of passenger revenue during the delay estimated at £20 million.”
“The scheme’s budget has increased by almost £600 million and the government has had to provide a £350 million bail out to the Mayor. Bexley cannot afford the Mayor’s poor leadership where sound bites, PR and grandstanding continue to be his focus rather than doing his job and keeping London moving and keeping London safe.”
Councillor French cannot be faulted on facts but I had hoped that those of us interested in Crossrail might learn something new but inevitably he was not going to pass up an opportunity to criticise Mayor Khan. He presents such an easy target.
What is the impact on Bexley? Maybe an opportunity for the Council to claim it got its new road system in place before the first passenger carrying train rolls towards Plumstead.
To be continued