Perhaps I was too hasty in
dismissing last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting as an
event of little interest; my excuse is that listening to the webcast while
making conversation with an old lady who is not sure whether I am her father or
her brother is not conducive to paying close attention. Bexley Council thought
the first part of the meeting was sufficiently important
to issue a Press Release
about it yesterday; it prompted a revisit of the webcast.
Unfortunately the beginning of the meeting was not recorded at all so Ms. Ainge’s explanation of Connected Communities was at least partially missing. There had been 360 responses to a consultation which “included Councillors and key partners”. (Some Councillors had made multiple submissions.)
Whatever can Connected Communities be? Apparently nothing to do with public wifi and ultrafast broadband. It is to promote Cohesive Communities; Healthy Communities; Socially Active Communities and Successful Communities.
Probably the principal motivation is to save money. The Council wants to see a thriving voluntary sector, with “strong volunteers” and Civic participation and vibrant spaces and places. Not a bad thing obviously but in reality it is all part of the (relative painless) cuts agenda.
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer was the first to speak in favour of the plan. He wanted “Bexley to be a welcoming place which residents are proud to call home”. He wanted to see decision making “move away from the centre to working in partnership with residents and community groups as equals”. (A dramatic move for a Council with a long history of not allowing members of the public to speak at Scrutiny meetings.)
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) said that ‘Do it for Bexley’ really means ‘Do it for yourself’ and 24% of residents had no idea what the Council’s slogan meant. She is probably right but if the budgetary black hole is to be filled without impoverishing residents in her ward what else can be done?
Councillor Sawyer said that the 24% of ignorance represented an opportunity “and it was a great basis to build upon”. He said that Councillor Ogundayo’s suggestion that the Council should be doing everything “was an absolute nonsense, if volunteers want to do things, let them do it. Empower them”.
Cabinet Member Peter Craske said “he really didn’t get why people expect the state to do everything” - on a day his government floated the idea of dictating the amount of sleep we should all take.
Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) who is heavily involved in the Sidcup Community Garden said that volunteering brings new friendships.
The Cabinet formally voted in public to adopt a plan that it had privately approved before the meeting started.