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Bonkers Blog March 2011

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5 March (Part 1) - Open government Bexley council style - part 2 - click any image for photo gallery (2 images)

Council chamber My new friend Phil from Welling has evidently become addicted to attending council meeting as he has followed up his first report on a council meeting with another on last Wednesday’s fiasco. Thank you Phil, alternative views are always welcome, although I seem to detect a similar theme running through yours as in my own account.

Following a visit to the council cabinet meeting on Monday evening which for a first timer was largely incomprehensible I thought I would try again with a full council meeting on Wednesday evening.

One has to wonder what is the purpose of these meetings being open to the public. Is it to show the public what a wonderful job the council are doing supposedly on our behalf? If so I have grave doubts about some aspects of their actions and even more so about how they demonstrate their competence to the public who take enough interest to attend the meetings.

After Monday’s meeting with its many references to documents I had not seen, on Wednesday evening I particularly looked around for any available copies of an agenda or other relevant documents - but found none. Presumably they were available if you know how to go about obtaining one but should not a few be available for the public actually at the meeting? As a consequence, for much of the meeting, I (and many other members of the public) did not have a clue what was going on. Perhaps this was deliberate. It did not help that the mayor/chair of the meeting was at times almost inaudible to the public. Either her microphone was not switched on or it was not being used correctly.

There was a petition submitted - something about parking in Alma Road, Sidcup but no other details gleaned as the meeting was rapidly moved on to the next item. This was a deputation re possible closure of Belvedere library on which a spokesman was allowed to speak for five minutes whilst the councillors were then allowed 15. (Seems very unfair.)

Then followed questions submitted in advance by the public. An ultra strict 15 minutes was all that the council allowed for this and presumably they chose the order of the questions thereby ensuring awkward ones stood no chance of being aired. To save time the questions were not read out but without any documentation most of the public could only guess their content from the waffled answers.

Fifteen minutes were then allowed for questions from councillors which followed the same pattern - a bit like only hearing one side of a telephone conversation. The difference for this section though was that the chair allowed councillors to run over their allotted time. (Not very even handed!)

Those in the know knew this was the end of anything of interest and took their leave. I wasted the whole of my evening staying to the bitter end.

For an interlude debate 30 minutes was allocated to discussing whether the council should promote Fair Trade. Worthy as this scheme may be its relevance to council services was hard to see. Fortunately a large majority of councillors agreed and the motion was defeated.

Next up was Report from Leader of the Council. She merely referred to some written report of which, of course, most of the public attending the meeting had not seen. Councillors were invited to ask questions about the report which they did by reference to paragraph so and so which without the report the public could not follow. Several of the questions were clearly planted merely in order to give the leader or the responsible cabinet member an opportunity to blow their own trumpets.

Then followed a cross party mutual admiration session between the cabinet member responsible for regeneration of Slade Green and a Labour councillor. No doubt details of the proposals are available somewhere but if it was on the agenda then a reference copy or two for use by the public at the meeting would have been something.

Reference was made to an item 11 on the (unseen) agenda - Reports possibly? - but there did not seem to be any and the meeting was rapidly closed. Here endeth a wasted evening.

Presumably Bexley Council are obliged to admit the public to certain meetings but clearly they do not encourage attendance. Indeed as much as possible seems to be done to ensure proceedings cannot be followed or understood by the public. It is not surprising therefore that only a few stalwarts regularly choose to come out on cold nights to hold the council to account in whatever way they can. The Bexley is Bonkers blog is to be congratulated.

Dear Phil, As you will recognise, apart from running two short paragraphs together your report appears unedited, if it had been I may have slightly amended a couple of things. To obtain a written copy of the agenda, seek out Mr. Dave Easton who appears in the foreground of the picture above. He is an affable sort of fellow doing a difficult job with critics such as you and me to contend with. I am sure he will help you find an agenda. Having said that even those of us with the written agenda couldn’t follow the councillors’ question time because they made up extra ones, left some out and generally messed with the laid down sequence. One rule for us and another for them and the appallingly poor chairmanship allowed this to carry on without comment.

Another thing I would have covered in the cause of total accuracy is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the council re-orders questions to give themselves an easy ride and giving them ideas is tempting fate. The questions are accepted or not to a formula dictated by the council’s Standing Orders by a Ms. Green who carries out her instructions, unreasonable as they may be, meticulously as far as I can tell. Everyone is aware that the chairman Mrs. V. Clark plays fast and loose with Standing Orders but this one she has left unsullied so far. Thank you for your kind words about the blog but remember it is the council that provides the material. Maybe you should be sending them your thanks for their sterling efforts in the twin fields of dishonesty and corruption.

 

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