With two meetings scheduled for the same evening I scraped into the Council Chamber
yesterday evening just in time to hear Mayor Bishop ask Councillors to behave themselves
during the meeting which in the main they did. There was a handful of members of
the public there to listen to Bexley Council formally increase Council Tax by 5%
and they had dwindled to two by the time the meeting ended two and three quarter hours later.
Just as Councillors do at the beginning of every meeting I am going to declare an interest here; I do not like paying tax and I resent having to pay more than strictly necessary, hence my lack of enthusiasm for the 4·99% increase. It could have been 3·99% if it were not for the cowardice shown over recycling. My guess is that we will get a three weekly residuals collection after the next election. That way we get the worst of both worlds; an extra 1% on the Council Tax and a reduced refuse service.
In 1992 my local taxes went up five fold. A single occupant of a band E house when the multi-millionaire Michael Heseltine decided to abolish the Community Charge the introduction of which the Tories had completely botched. Now we have local Tories proclaiming that we should only pay for the services we use (see Tweet). The irony seems to be lost on them.
I resigned my membership of the Conservative Party and haven’t had a good word to say about them since - although I have cast votes in their direction on the grounds that the other lot were worse.
In 2004 I complained to Bexley Council that Council Tax had been put up by 20% in two years and by four times the rate of inflation in that year alone and if they continued at that rate it would not take long for Council Tax to swallow up all of my pension.
The reply came back from the Council Leader himself who said that whilst he did not particularly like the increases because he had to pay them too, he nevertheless thought the increases were “reasonable”. Four times the rate of inflation was apparently reasonable but in 2019 according to members of his own party 50% above inflation rises are not. And people wonder why I am such a cynic when it comes to politics!
There are three ways of reporting last night’s meeting; the almost verbatim way which might bore you to death - the quick way or the very easy way. The latter might consist of no more than referring you to the Labour Group’s Press Release in which they say they would have preferred a different budget that spent some Section 106 money to fix Bexley’s dreadful homelessness statistics. There’s 1,400 families with 2,000 children between them with nowhere permanent to live in Bexley. How appalling is that?
Bexley Council has failed to spend nearly one and a half million pounds which was provided by housing developers to help solve the problem. The Council’s own budget statement (Page 333 of the recent Cabinet Agenda) admits they screwed up on homelessness but it was not something they were prepared to admit last night.
Let’s take the middle way for the Full Council meeting report.
For some unexplained reason the sound quality was not as good as usual and my recorder struggled somewhat. The view was limited too, OK for a hairdressers’ convention perhaps but not ideal for anything else.
The meeting could have been over much quicker if it was not for Labour’s last
minute Motion. Why they couldn’t have argued that particular case months ago I
have no idea unless they wanted to provide Tweedledum and Tweedledee with the
ammunition to Tweet constantly that Labour had no budget ideas.
An insight into a Labour strategist’s mind might be interesting. Most of the Labour Councillors put the case for fixing the housing crisis and to me it sounded reasonable enough and the Labour Leader’s point that some of the budget arithmetic seemed not to stack up appeared to be entirely valid.
He said that Bexley Council was spending less now on Social Services than it was in 2011/12.
Despite that a Councillor Twitter Direct Messaged me to say the Labour Motion was “back of a fag packet stuff that merely tinkered at the edges”, so what do I know?
When it came to the vote every Tory was against the Labour Amendment aided and abetted by the Independent Councillor for Thamesmead East, Danny Hackett. He was soon rewarded on Twitter.
The problem with Danny is that he has always been too damned honest; if he is not careful it will leave him isolated.
All the usual Tory suspects delivered their scripted speeches in support of their own budget and the only one that was a little out of the ordinary was Councillor Alan Downing’s.
He said he had achieved a level of notoriety by being the only Councillor who had come up with a new money raising idea. The dog walker’s tax. By the sound of it he had been ribbed mercilessly by his colleagues.
The discussion was rounded off by Councillor Leader Teresa O’Neill saying that “Bexley punched well above its weight” and was looked up to by many Councils some of which looked at what was happening in Bexley and simply copied from it.
It was no surprise at all that the budget vote divided precisely along party lines with the Independent abstaining. I’ve no idea why he did that, maybe the word Independent has been taken far too literally.
On the way out Deputy Leader Louie French was just in front of me struggling with an enormous pile of papers. I held the door for him as one does but right behind loomed the Council Leader herself. I continued to be unpaid doorman. She thanked me and not in a grudging way. I have never before received so much as a grunt from our dear Leader. I think it is my Council highlight of the year so far.
After eight years is it time to forgive her for asking the police to arrest me for being “critical” of Councillors and interferring in the Craske arrest business? I’ll have to think about it.
I may have time to review some of the recording at the weekend, but I may not.