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Bonkers Blog March 2019

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10 March - The budget debate - Seconds out, Round 2

After the Conservatives’ attempt to shred the Labour budget amendment and refusal to provide additional help for the homeless the Tories set about boosting their own scheme.

The first speaker was Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, Blackfen & Lamorbey). He said that the Council’s biggest achievements were in the field of Childrens’ and Adults’ Social Care and praised the voluntary sector for their contribution.

No Conservative speech would be complete without a slagging off of Labour politics and Councillor Munur did not disappoint. He thought that Labour Councillors should apologise for the “disgraceful” behaviour of their activists. They had allegedly referred to Bexley’s children in care as victims of Tory financial policies. Councillor Perfect could be heard protesting the activists’ innocence.
Full Council
Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, East Wickham) was next to speak and wished to see early implementation of the Housing Strategy and not the “rushed” spending of Labour’s £1·5 million. Somehow or other she managed to link their idea to “that other great Socialist and pension fund raider Robert Maxwell”. Councillor Putson (Labour, Belvedere) had been guilty of a “rant”.

CamseyCouncillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Crook Log) spoke on her favourite subject, children and Special Educational Needs children. Unsurprisingly Council Perfect was in her line of fire. Bexley had always done its best for children and had delivered the first Special Needs Free School in the country.

Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford) referred to the new recycling arrangements and was enthusiastic about the financial savings in prospect and getting rid of the recycling boxes. He was dismissive of complaints about the garden waste charges.

Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s & St. James) as already reported made jokes about his idea for a dog walkers’ tax. I heard nothing else worthy of inclusion here apart perhaps for his claim that the housing crisis began under a Labour government.

Nick O’Hare (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) was another Councillor who managed to add nothing significant to the debate, however he did find time for criticism of Labour. “Setting budgets is about making choices and Labour refuses to make choices.” He then expressed exactly the same message using alternative words before saying that Labour Leader Daniel Francis had engaged “in an extraordinary rant”. Running out of ideas he dragged up Labour’s 2002-2006 40% tax rise again.

Could Councillor Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) do any better? It was not a very high bar, but yes, just a bit. As Chairman of the Budget Joint Scrutiny Committee he had asked the Labour Group for “alternative proposals again and again but none was forthcoming, but I was not surprised at all. This is their trademark.”

He spoke in favour of BexleyCo which he said would enable £77 million to be invested in housing and town centres over the next four years.

“It takes a certain amount of skill to prepare a balanced budget. Theirs appear to have been written on the back of a cigarette packet and it is certainly a token gesture.”

Pallen Diment Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Bexleyheath) spoke only about the plans for looking after old people and countering their loneliness. The Council had paid a hospice to provide suitable services.

Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) spoke in favour of the budget setting process and against the Labour Group’s alleged failure to participate. He praised the increase in the SEN transport budget, up to two and three quarter million pounds in 2018/19 but the costs continue to rise.

“The Council has acted to control this budget” and he referred to the new route planning software which is generating large savings. (About £200,000.) “From next September we are introducing a modest contribution towards costs for those newly passing Keystage 4.”

Price increases are never far away.

Hunt BaconCouncillor James Hunt (Conservative, Blackfen & Lamorbey) spoke of “car parks and car parking” and “even my mother has grasped paying by phone. It will now always be cheaper to pay by phone. We are also freezing short term rates in car parks and one to two hour rates for on street parking for people who pay by phone”.

Very profound James but what about the 30% increase at my nearest car park?

Councillor Howard Jackson (Conservative, Barnehurst) said the Tory manifesto spoke of “keeping Council Tax as low as possible”. He thought the budget had achieved that. (It is going up by the maximum that the law allows.)

Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, West Heath) quoted many statistics which suggested that Social Care Services must be much improved. “The Labour Group’s Fake News is laid bare.”

Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative) spoke only about her Sidcup ward and how brilliant it was. The retail experience, the new library, the new cinema, two micro breweries and a spa hotel.

Councillor Daniel Francis said it remained the case that “the cake was 60% smaller than it was nine years ago. As a result of that, for the second year, we have to be heavily supported by drawing on our reserves”.

“In 104 days the budget gap grew from £14·4 million in November to £18·8 million. The Section 551 Officer [Finance Director] has said that in a few months time we will have to rip up the budget.”

He protested that when he had asked questions about overspends at Scrutiny meetings he was told that he could not ask the question. The overspend of the temporary accommodation budget had been kept secret for the first ten months of the financial year. A reference to Page 333 of the Cabinet Agenda published here yesterday.

Leader O’Neill summed up. “Councillor Francis obviously doesn’t understand the financial landscape. The Section 551 Officer has only put down red lines that say we do not know what the future holds”.

“The housing crisis started in 2004, Jeremy Corbyn said so. Bexley punches well above our weight which was shown last year when our residents voted for us and gave us a majority.” She asked the opposition to vote for her budget. They didn’t.

Tweedledum We will now have Tweedledum and Tweedledee Tweeting that Bexley Labour voted against various good things, like freezing short term parking fees. I don’t know why they do that. Having lost the amendment surely it makes sense to go with second best? There’s only a comparatively small difference between the two parties.

I’ll never make a politician will I?


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