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Bonkers Blog May 2011

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31 May (Part 2) - Question Mayor Boris Johnson

I am indebted to Ray of Sidcup for letting me know about LBC Radio’s question the Mayor sessions. My question was “Does the Mayor approve of the website created by Bexley council to make false claims against a resident? http://malcolmknight.blogspot.com”.

I shall be busy elsewhere tomorrow so the blog for 1st June is available now.

 

31 May (Part 1) - Big Brother is alive and well in Bexley

Big Brother is watching you.Time for the end of month round-up again - and what a month. We’ve seen the new Constitution ratified, the one that bans any form of recording of council meetings and gets close to banning all questions too. Notomob have been out in force in support of Mr. Peaple who was subjected to police action by Bexley council for entirely lawful activities; i.e. warning customers that his shop was under CCTV surveillance.

Speaking of the police; they have not yet responded following my complaint over their refusal to tell me who instigated the Harassment Letter (apart from a promise of a phone call that didn’t materialize). In similar vein, Bexley council doesn’t seem to have done anything with my Subject Access Request either. No comment and not replying at all seems to be a major part of Bexley council’s defence against probing questions and it is being extended to Freedom of Information requests too as the list of FOIs introduced earlier this month shows. Nearly all are answered late including all those relating to the Harassment Letter and this website. Those answers are two weeks overdue.

It’s been a good month for lists. Council leader Teresa O’Neill announced that thanks to Conservative rule, Bexley now has one of the lowest rates of council tax so I produced a list to show what a lie that is. Bexley is 24th out of 32 in London. A list relating to the constitutional arrangements of all London Boroughs has also been provided to expose last week’s letter to the News Shopper as similarly untrue. The missing Redbridge has been added today and they roundly beat Bexley too. I think we’ll have to ask the other boroughs if they comply with government guidance and allow recording of meetings and make another list.

I didn’t plan on mentioning it this early, but my visit to the Civic Offices on 19th May was only necessary because Bexley council continues to withhold information about councillors’ Consent to Nomination Forms, so I went to look at the Register of Members’ Interests instead. As a result I saw more information on councillors than would have been the case if the FOI had been answered. As you may have noticed I said nothing of my visit but Bexley council thought they would announce it for me. Yet another of their mad schemes likely to back-fire on them. Clearly some very juvenile minds assemble in the council chamber. Unbelievably juvenile, I thought they had sunk about as low as they could with their clandestine emptying of dustbins.

Ahh, the announcement… Addresses have been added to the list of councillors in response to their decision to publish those of residents who ask questions. Use with care and consideration as the home addresses that would have been on the nomination forms have not been forthcoming. Instead all declared property is listed some of which may not be ‘home’. Addresses which councillors annotated ‘parent’s’ etc. have been excluded. If the council ever responds to the the FOI it will be possible to list only the home addresses.

With thanks to reader Paul from Devon who sent the photo of the ‘1984’ litter bin.

 

30 May (Part 4) - And now they have gone completely bonkers

Take a look at this, it’s not for the easily offended but it is the perfect illustration of what sort of people are governing Bexley and I don’t just mean the bad spelling. There is quite a lot of information on that blog which is known only to a couple of council officers and some Bexley councillors. It’s not secret stuff in the sense that I am upset by it being made public but it has never been mentioned on this blog and very few people know it, all of them are to be found at the Civic Offices. It is yet more proof that Bexley council is prepared to engage in criminal activity to try to keep residents quiet.

Perhaps I should explain a little. Elwyn Bryant and I booked a 2 pm appointment to visit the Civic Offices on Friday 19th May to look at the Register of Members’ Interests, as is our civic right. We left at 3:55 but before 9 o’clock next morning our visit was posted in scurrilous terms on a blog purporting to be mine. While at the Civic Office we were constantly under escort by a polite young council official and met two others, one known to me, on the way out. No one outside the council apart from Elwyn’s wife knew we were there but next day we are blogged and accused of sexual activity together in a council office.

It is true (as blogged) that I looked inside the Cinema car park with Nicholas Dowling, but he isn’t my type; we were not caught there kissing by Olly Cromwell as our council spy has blogged. Why is someone associated with Bexley council following us around town anyway?

Neither have Elwyn or I or any of the Bonkers Team spent money on an Ancestry subscription or on copies of wedding certificates. I had an Ancestry sub. until about three years ago and after logging nearly 5,000 relations grew tired of it but it left me reasonably proficient at genealogy research. Neither do Nicholas and I engage in “a good old sh*g” as our anonymous council insider has stated.

I’ve no idea who it is at Bexley council that thinks accusations of homosexuality against me or any of the team behind Bonkers will have any effect on us. Presumably it comes from a homophobe but such claims, along with raided dustbins, and Harassment Letters are all water off the duck’s back. The only thing I might be upset about is that the Profile photo isn’t of me.

 

30 May (Part 3) - Somebody thinks Bonkers is racist

Someone called Oliver Stuart has sent FOIs to Bexley council (and for some inexplicable reason to Havering, Lambeth and Barking & Dagenham too) asking about the number of questions I have asked of the council since 2006 (six to Bexley if memory serves correctly) and how many FOI requests I have made (none). Mr. Stuart seems to have a problem with racism as his questions all ask how many questions and FOIs have been rejected for reasons of racism. The man must be an idiot, where have you ever seen a hint of racism on this site?

Oliver Stuart is a serial FOI requester, he has made 14 requests to seven London Boroughs in the last week alone.

With luck Bexley council will reject his question on questions because all the information is available on their website. I’ll add his FOIs to my FOI list anyway.

 

30 May (Part 2) - Greenwich democracy reformed. Bexley democracy deformed

No openness in BexleyI remember the 1970s and early 80s when Greenwich was run by the Looniest of Left-wing councils; when alternate lamp posts proclaimed “Greenwich, a nuclear free zone” and councillor John Austin had helped jack up their rates to nearly the highest in London. Mr. Austin went on to be the MP for Erith & Thamesmead and serial house flipper brought to prominence in the Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files. I escaped to Bexley where rates were nearly lowest in London to get away from him; bad move, now the roles are reversed and it is Bexley that is off its head and Greenwich the enlightened one.

When a Greenwich blogger recorded a council meeting and put the audio on line a Greenwich councillor reacted not by calling in the police as Bexley did when their meeting was recorded, but by saying “It’s important we keep up with modern day communication strategies so I have no hang ups about it. Council meetings are a public venue where people come along, quite rightly, and represent their interests and the interests of their community. We have the press there who can take notes, so what’s the difference, really?”

Here in Bonkers Bexley we not only have the police called in but the Constitution is changed to make secrecy official. Bexley council; always on the wrong side of democracy.

 

30 May (Part 1) - Total Whitening or total BS?

Colgate toothpasteWhen you see a letter in the paper praising Bexley council it is unusual, it may be unprecedented. When it speaks of the council as “We” it’s suspicious. When a letter refers to statistics based on the Constitution of every borough in London it looks like an inside job. When a council leader you can’t trust will only say she has had “a number of exchanges with J. Colegate” but then goes all coy it looks like it’s worth digging further. So we did.

It can be confirmed that a J. Colegate, a Mrs. J. Colegate actually, has a close relationship with Bexley council, the mayor etc. We know the first name, the name of the man she married, her children’s names, address, the lot. There is an outside chance it’s the wrong family, but Colegate is not that common a name. Nevertheless I won’t publish the details while there is a scintilla of doubt, but councillors who can publish outright lies on their political website, distort the truth beyond recognition in The Bexleyheath Chronicle, usurp the Arts Council for political purposes, dishonestly announce Bexley’s council tax as one of the the lowest in London when it stands at 24th out of 32, victimise individual residents whether they be campaigning allotment holders, elderly ladies who’ve had their refuse bins vandalised, shopkeepers with placards or bloggers who know too much, are certainly not above planting a factually inaccurate letter praising themselves in a newspaper.

 

29 May (Part 4) - Round in circles - click any image for photo gallery (5 images)

Arts council websiteThere was a reader’s letter in the February issue of the Bexleyheath Chronicle criticising the fact that the taxpayer funded Arts Council of Bexley had links from its website to local Conservative party sites. In a letter the following month, councillor John Davey somewhat incredibly attempted to excuse it and was subsequently supported by councillor Catterall at a council meeting. Then someone had second thoughts and the front page links were withdrawn and hidden away where they couldn’t easily be seen.

But now we are back to square one big time. The only thing that is on the front page of the Arts Council site is what you see here. Four web links, two of them to the local Conservative party’s sites. I was not unduly critical of the previous compromise arrangement, not by Olly Cromwell’s standards anyway, but the current situation is just asking for more criticism. Does anyone really expect to Google Arts Council of Bexley and get a site that takes you to Lesnes Abbey Conservatives? Whether the fact that the links don’t work makes things better or even more idiotic I’m not sure.

Giving the page a title of ‘Jane McTrae’ would be just to confuse matters you might think, in fact it indicates the page is based on a template that loads of people have used. I have put some examples in the ‘photo gallery’; they are all titled ‘Jane McTrae’ and all look much the same (note the font on the names as well as the Jane McTrae title). Councillor Davey’s copyright notice on the web template is presumably to cover his sites’ content only. No one else claims copyright on the template.

 

29 May (Part 3) - Mary thinks it’s funny

Mary Portas - Mary Queen of Shops Bexley’s Town Centre Manager says he has asked the government’s newly appointed Shopping Czar, Mary Portas to take a look at Bexleyheath. His plan is to get businesses to chip in 1.15% of their business rates to fund “markets, events and (ominously) wardens”. 239 businesses will be balloted to see if they think it’s a good idea. It’s not known what Ms. Portas, otherwise known as Mary Queen of Shops, thinks of the idea but seeing her go head to head with Peter surveillance King of Bus Stops might be fun.

King Craske’s parking price hikes are “driving people away from local shops”. It is very bad to be “blatantly exploiting the needs of people to park by hiking the charges many times above the rate of inflation”. Who said that? None other than Conservative councillor Colin Tandy so it must be true!

Source : News Shopper news archive kindly resurrected by Orpington reader Derek A. Note how a Labour councillor said “the money raised may also be used to meet cuts in this year’s council budget”. They all come out with the same tired excuses.

 

29 May (Part 2) - Would you buy a used car from this pair?

Bexley council seems to be full of itself for going to court under the Proceeds of Crime 2002 Act to have £182,120 confiscated from a couple who had operated a car sales business from their home without planning permission. At least their customers were supplied with cars in exchange for their money and the company made a profit.

Another couple operating a business from their Bexley home weren’t so astute businessmen. Their travel agency went bust leaving holiday-makers rather disappointed, to put things mildly, as the business wasn’t ABTA registered. Bexley council knew all about that one too; how could they not when councillor Philip Read was the founder and managing director and the man who looked after the money was councillor Peter Reader?

Councillor Reader continues in business as an accountant, from a bungalow in King Harolds Way, Bexleyheath, where he offers “an innotive practise” (sic) with a website as is to be expected. The coding is a complete mess written to a standard that fell out of favour more than ten years ago, but that is no excuse for spelling his own address (more than once) and postcode incorrectly is it?

Source : Holiday-Truth.com

 

29 May (Part 1) - Site map

In the 20 months of this website’s existence nearly 100 feature pages have been created to illustrate various aspects of Bexley council’s bad behaviour and for the most part they get forgotten when blogs become old. A few are linked from the main site’s menu system but far from all. A revised and much extended Site map gives the old material a new lease of life. The Site map is available from the menu above and from the main site’s Miscellany menu.

 

28 May (Part 3) - Questions, letters, damn lies and statistics

Extract of letter in News Shopper dated 25th May 2011We are fortunate to be one of the few boroughs who actually allow time for public questions at council meetings.” Who does that sound like? It sounds like a councillor talking doesn’t it and all too reminiscent of leader Teresa O’Neill’s false claim that “Bexley now has one of the lowest council tax rates per household in outer London”. My list of all London’s council tax rates shows her to have been issuing totally false propaganda. The claim about public questions is complete nonsense too, compounded by that fact that the claim was part of a letter to the News Shopper which we are asked to believe wasn’t written by a councillor. Would an ordinary and genuine resident know every other borough’s constitutional procedures on questions? Of course not. It would take far too long to research, it has to be either inside knowledge or a made up statistic.

I know such a statistic would take a long time to research because as soon as the News Shopper’s editor published that letter (I suspect he is mischievous rather than gullible and is seeking a response) the Bonkers Team divided up London and shot off questions, phone calls and web searches to all 32 boroughs. Only Redbridge failed to reply and now we know exactly if we are one of the few that allow questions at council meetings. Guess what? We are not one of the few, we are one of the many. Only seven councils make no provision for questions.

Bexley is nowhere near being the best of the remaining 24 either. There are variations on the theme and three councils run meetings expressly designed for questions where pretty much anything goes so long as advance notice is given. Bexley doesn’t get a look in compared to that level of democracy. 20 councils have a similar system to Bexley which vary only in the detail; number of questions, time allowed - that sort of thing. Bexley’s two questions rule is not unduly generous and no council allows less time than Bexley’s 15 minutes. None have dared try eleven!

If a point is arbitrarily awarded for every question allowed and another for every five minutes of question time plus one more for allowing a supplementary question then the top scoring council gets twelve points and the worst gets four points. Bexley “one of the few boroughs that actually allow public questions” ties with Islington, Haringey and Bromley for 14th place. It’s true that there are 14 councils that fall behind Bexley but to state that there are few as good as Bexley when there are 16 that are as good or better makes the Shopper letter a lie. And who but a council stooge would phrase a letter that way? It’s an all too obvious plant by our ever more desperate council.

The ‘points chart’ is available here.

 

28 May (Part 2) - Credit card purchases

This morning’s Daily Telegraph has a front page feature on the use of council credit cards. No council has such an unsavoury history as Bexley when it comes to abuse of credit cards. No other has had a leader who finished up with a suspended prison sentence for abuse of his card and unless something has changed in the last couple of weeks we taxpayers are still around £2,000 out of pocket.

The beauty of paying by credit card is presumably that a payment to, for example, one of the lap-dancing clubs that councillors appear to look on kindly, won’t show in the ‘expenditure over £500 list’ as such, it will show only as a payment to Visa. Clever that.

The Telegraph is not suggesting current expenditure is fraudulent, just that a lot is going on credit card bills and some is unchecked. The newspaper includes a detailed report on Bexley council. How would you like to see £218,670 on your Visa statement? You are going to have to help pay this one.

 

28 May (Part 1) - Another council plot

A Mr. Johnson from from one of the allotment societies rang me yesterday; he hasn’t got a computer so news of the Harassment Letter that Bexley council persuaded the police to send me had only just reached him. He told me that he had been threatened by Bexley council too, not through the police but by Bexley’s legal department. He has received a letter signed by Mr. Guy Atkins, the man who unsuccessfully represented Bexley council at the Thames Innovation Centre Industrial Tribunal hearing, telling him that he is forbidden to represent fellow allotment holders at a meeting next Wednesday to discuss the future of Bexley’s allotments. Mr. Atkins says that the allotment man is banned from council premises because of his “behaviour”. Mr. Atkins has refused to explain what he means by that and the allotment holders will have to field another representative on Wednesday; a lady who lives in Lewisham. Bexley council is happy with that, the future of allotments is to be debated with someone from outside the borough!

Mr. Johnson has complained to his councillor, Gareth Bacon, but did not get any useful information from him. I suggested to Mr. Johnson that if Bexley council refuses to say why they have imposed a ban on him going to the Civic Offices - the unqualified catch-all of “behaviour” is not good enough - he issues a Subject Access Request to put them under some legal obligation to provide useful information. Democracy appears to be dead in Bexley, they discuss important matters with Lewisham residents on an unexplained whim.

 

27 May -A family affair - slide scrollbar to reveal

The original announcement

Bexley borough seems to be nicely stitched up by its ruling classes; they are not only able to arrange anything they like to favour themselves whether it be amending their Constitution to shield themselves from questions, call on the police to crack down on anyone that dares to criticize them, or place themselves in positions where taxpayers money just happens, by an enormous fluke which they are powerless to avoid, to rain down on them. So you have councillor Davey picking up cash from the health authority and freely indulging his love of art as chairman of the council funded Bexley Arts council. No protest at Craske’s vandalism of the William Morris fountain though. Councillor John Waters just happens to be on the receiving end of the the Early Years grants doled out by Bexley council on behalf of the government. Lucky him.

Some councillors have as many as 20 appointments to local bodies, not all paid by any means but presumably they help raise profiles; though how much time is available for each after attending to a full time job and the occasional council meeting is questionable. Some of the councillors’ full time jobs are quite impressive and so are their property portfolios.

There are 53 Conservative councillors in Bexley, twelve being married couples, so that makes 47 houses you might think. The true figure doesn’t quite reach twice that but 80 is close. Councillor couples are both councillors and both may exercise the power that goes with the position but other spouses are not without influence. Councillor Read has a wife who works in the council office with power to refuse questions. It may not be illegal but like everything about Bexley council it can at best be described as dubious.

Everyone who has perused The Guardian’s job vacancy columns is familiar with the non-jobs that councils employ. The biodiversity officers, the people I’ve watched measure advertisements in shops etc. I’m not sure if a PE and Sports Liaison Officer falls into the non-job category but Bexley has one. We can’t afford to get disabled kids to school and we can’t afford to fully fund disabled adults either but we can apparently afford to employ someone to assist the able-bodied with their pursuits. More than a week ago the Bexley Times did a pretty comprehensive report on Bexley’s PE and Sports Liaison Officer and not being a sporty person myself I could barely make head nor tail of it; except for one thing. The holder of the post is Julie Fuller of Chessington Avenue. The address sounded familiar and a quick check showed my memory has not entirely gone yet. Guess who else lives at that address? Play with the photo’s scrollbar and a familiar face will appear. Still not sure? Then click here. (Apologies to Internet Explorer 6 users. You won’t have got the scroll bar but trying to cater for a defective non-compliant browser dating from August 2001 is a waste of time.)

As I’ve said, nothing illegal, but everywhere we have councillors and their families neatly placed in a favourable position and on a nice little earner; except councillor Katie Perrior of course who “sadly isn’t rich”. Yeah right, company director and co-founder of the public relations company that ran Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaign and she cannot survive without her £22,615 councillor’s allowance.

 

26 May (Part 4) - Pick-pocketing Peter panned - click image for readable extract of Craske’s announcement

The original announcementIt’s always nice to get a flurry of responses within an hour or two of posting something new on the site. Not so nice perhaps when they are saying you have made a big boo-boo. Apparently I am too kind on King Craske by far; I failed to draw attention to his little bit of law breaking. I am increasing revenues “to help protect key universal services like adult social care, collecting waste and repairing roads from the spending reductions” said the purple faced one. Paying for waste collection with parking fee profits? Naughty naughty Peter, have you never read the Traffic Management Acts? Adult social care and collecting waste aren’t on the list of things that you can spend your parking profits on.

I expect you will want to amend your words so as not to give your greedy little game away. Go ahead, please do. I’ve preserved the evidence here.

No doubt the price increases will have the desired effect on traders as shoppers drive to Blue Water for free parking. The news media seems to think so.

 

26 May (Part 3) - Pick-pocketing Peter

Councillor Peter Craske“Changes to Sunday and evening car park charges.” The title of a new notice that King Craske, cabinet member for Public Realm (how pompous can they get?) added to the council website a few hours ago. “Changes” masks the full impact of what Craske has done, he means the old prices are going up and new charges are being introduced. This is very good news for Craske has told us so. 95% of you will welcome it with open arms, you backed his strategy in a survey; you like the idea of the artful question dodger picking your pocket. All day and all night every day of the week. You are turned on by the thought of a purple faced pygmy slipping his slimy little hand into handbags and trouser pockets whenever there’s a need to use a council car park. Council employees continue to park free in Bexleyheath town centre car parks. Councillors have their own free town centre car park. It’s Bexley council’s interpretation of the Prime Minister’s slogan “We are all in this together”.

Craske’s announcement says his plan “calmly deals with the largest reduction to council funding since the Second World War”. Craske doesn’t do anything calmly as those who have witnessed his many intemperate outbursts at council meetings will testify, and he has problems with the truth. He fails to mention that Bexley council benefitted from a 2.5% ‘bribe’ to freeze council tax this year so they have had all that extra money to spend. £36 million of it will go on refurbishing their new offices.

Craske has said that he expects parking revenue to decrease this year by more than £400,000 compared to last year; may I suggest you help him reach his target by parking in supermarket car parks while in Bexleyheath, it will save 50 pence an hour.

Craske will impose his price increases on June 6th. You can read his announcement here.

 

26 May (Part 2) - Spreading the word

Michael Barnbrook Michael Barnbrook and Nigel FarageBonkers team member Mike Barnbrook is tireless in spreading the word about Bonkers Bexley council and is constantly digging into its secrets and advertising this website. At the beginning of the year he was pictured in the council chamber with his newspaper headline protest against councillors and top officials lining their own pockets so generously. Last weekend he was spreading the word in the European Union HQ in Brussels. Nigel Farage the leader of UKIP listened intently to his message. “Bexley council is Bonkers”.

Michael has been in the forefront of bringing down law-breaking MPs and all those who have been jailed in recent months owe their incarceration to Mike’s insistence that they be subjected to police investigation. Bexley council is firmly in his sights.

The blog of 25th February gives more details of Mike’s role in the MP’s expenses scandals.

 

26 May (Part 1) - Legal notice

From today it is a legal requirement that a website which saves Cookies must notify readers of that fact. Bexley is Bonkers does not rely on Cookies and will operate without their assistance but the facility to enlarge the default text size for the blog will not work if Cookies are disallowed. The saved Cookie that defines the text size contains only the chosen size and some numbers that define the date on which the Cookie will self-destruct. An example of the saved Cookie is “blog_stylesmall_justwww.bexley-is-bonkers.co.uk/1600157034137630226894384443747230153468*”. The Cookie is saved only if you visit the Configure page and make a selection, otherwise there will be none. By choosing the blog text size you accept the simple Cookie as illustrated above will be stored on your device.

 

25 May - Fortress Bexley

Tweet by Philip David ReadAs reported yesterday the only questions allowed at council meetings are on policies, nothing else, that haven’t been mentioned before and from residents who have not been blacklisted. More and more enquiries will have to take the FOI route (Freedom of Information requests), however it cannot be long before Bexley council looks for disreputable ways of restricting those too.

Councillor Campbell, supported by councillor Betts, has already proposed publishing the names and addresses of those requesting information and councillor Philip Read has resorted to Twitter to insult those who make FOI requests and called them ‘prats’ within their hearing. His point about information being available on the council’s website might have some validity if things were easier to find. When I visited the Contact Centre to present my Subject Access Request the staff there failed to find it on the website and because of that didn’t know what to do with it. They rang the office dealing with FOIs but got no help there either.

If you follow developments closely you will know I have been listing FOIs that I know of and it is already suggesting that too many FOI requests are answered outside the statutory time limit. I rang the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) this morning to ask if he would accept the late answers as formal complaints and the answer was in the affirmative. I shall recommend complaining when they are ten days overdue; I don’t want to be accused of being unfair.

The council on the other hand plays fast and loose with the law. The Information Commissioner makes it very clear that provision must be made to cover the annual leave etc. of the individual(s) coordinating FOI requests. A council source assures me that Bexley doesn’t do that. The ICO also says that the 20 day countdown must start from the day after the request first hits any (council) inbox. Only today I have been shown evidence that Bexley doesn’t work like that.

When I was in the Contact Centre it was displaying large posters advising visitors that enquiries made electronically via their web form would be answered within two days and emails and letters within five. The last message I know of sent via web form went in last Friday and had not been acknowledged by yesterday lunchtime when I last checked on progress. Emails and letters fare no better. I have given up sending them - except that Tony Hughes who looks after certain maintenance issues in my neck of the woods can be relied on to respond within minutes. Apart from that the last time I sent in a detailed complaint the reply after much prompting was “your comments have been noted”. I know for a fact nothing was done about it. Notomob have had emails to councillor Craske, the Parking Manager and Will Tuckley the CEO ignored for a couple of weeks or so. No response apart from Craske’s nonsensical “Your allegations against me are 100% false”. The email contained no allegations.

BBC London News picked up last Monday’s report on dustbin thefts and have been trying to contact Bexley council about it. I wish them the best of luck. Everywhere you look we see Bexley council not wanting to answer questions, everywhere that is except in today’s News Shopper where the Star Letter is headed “Our councillors do listen to the public”. I’ve never heard anyone say that before. Avoiding meetings because people attended when none were expected is more their style. A letter praising Bexley council and Teresa O’Neill to such a degree is likely to be a specially commissioned ‘plant’. It’s a trick that Bexley council has pulled before and there’s no reason to suppose they wouldn’t pull it again in newspaper columns, especially as their own attempts at self-justification backfired so spectacularly in The Bexleyheath Chronicle.

 

24 May - Please stop talking because we don’t want to listen

Councillors voted blindCouncillors voted blind. That’s what the News Shopper said last Wednesday about the Tesco vote. They did it again within hours of the headline appearing; councillors voted unanimously to severely curtail the ability of the public to question the council. The restrictions were supposedly listed in Appendix A to the Agenda but it was omitted from that publication. That Agenda is now to hand and the principal restrictions are…


• Questions must not be similar to others asked within the last six months.
We reserve the right to get tame lackeys to plant easy questions to block genuine questions by real residents
• Questions relating to operational matters will not be accepted.
Please don’t question us on our many failings and injustices because we find it embarrassing
• Questions on human resource issues are not permitted.
Don’t ask about the Chief Executive’s high pay level because the Minister might get to hear that we are taking no notice of him
• Questions relating to Licensing or Planning are not permitted.
If a lap dancing club is opened in your road, tough titty, it’s your problem
• The mayor or chairman of any meeting will have discretion to introduce any sanction they can imagine on any questioner if they feel he is not respectful of the chairman or mayor.
The mayor or chairman’s habit of singling out individual residents for special punishment must be protected
• If the questioner does not attend the meeting his question may not be answered.
We prefer that you stand mute with no permission to actually pose the question and listen to any non-answer we deign to give. You must accept ridicule and rude gestures by councillors and if you do not attend your humiliation session we won’t answer your question - so there!
• Names and addresses of questioners will be published on the web and elsewhere.
As our contribution to transparency we reserve the right not to have our own home addresses published on the council’s website and as your contribution we insist that you must agree to publication. Otherwise we think it is fair to disenfranchise you from the questioning process


The council twice rejected a request that the new rules included the need for councillors to actually answer questions, so Craske-style filibusters, non-answers and lies are still permitted but going back to try to get an answer later is now forbidden. What is left is questions on policy only, that have not been asked by anyone else - answered or not - from residents who have not expressed their discontent in some way or other. And if that isn’t enough to stop questioning there is the appointed gatekeeper to Fortress Bexley, one Eva Read, for yes, the council leak machine went into overdrive after yesterday’s blog and confirmed my speculation that the wife of councillor Philip Read is in charge of question acceptance. You must agree it’s a neat arrangement that any bent council would be proud of.

Appendix A.

 

23 May (Part 3) - A twisted conspiracy question. Read all about it

Tweet by Philip David ReadThe inimitable Olly Cromwell has been at war with councillor Philip David Read for the last couple of months. Read is the idiot who thought cyber-squatting on bexley-is-bonkers.com was a good move and the unscrupulous political manipulator who made false allegations against Teresa Pearce MP in an untruthful letter to the News Shopper.

Read can’t resist taunting Olly on Twitter and further criticising Ms. Pearce; criticism which she has again shown to be false. Olly is convinced that Read has used someone within the council to discover his real name and address.

Reading through Olly’s blog for the second time I noted that “Read is married to Eva”, a fact extracted from the council’s website and that rang a bell. The lady whose job it is to accept or reject questions to the council is Eva Read; I wonder; could it be? What does the web reveal?

Not quite enough as it happens. A Philip D. Read married Janet Smith in Bexley in 1970 but Philip says he is married to Eva. Moving on to 1981 we have a Philip D. Read marrying Eva C. Laserna in Lambeth. Could be; nothing’s certain. What is needed is someone in the know to spill the beans - or deny it. This is more Olly’s territory than mine, but given Bexley council’s reputation for rejecting questions when it can you can’t entirely discount that they have a friendly interpreter of the rules in an important position.

If councillor Read believes that bloggers scrutinising Bexley council are bitter and twisted he only illustrates how little he knows. Probably if he saw my steadily increasing contacts list he would say that all of Bexley is bitter and twisted. Not quite right Philip, residents may be bitter but it’s the council that is twisted.

 

23 May (Part 2) - Another hypocrite. Bexley council is full of ’em!

I’m a bit sensitive to dustbin stories at the moment having had the entire contents of mine stolen last Thursday night. With Stalinists like councillor Tarrant around you can’t be sure what revenge the council might be planning on me. A couple of months ago Bexley council fined Mrs. Willoughby of Sidcup when her rubbish was mysteriously removed from her unlocked bin and dumped in a nearby road with no evidence that she was responsible. It’s a trick anyone can play on any other resident they may have taken a dislike to and unless caught in that act the council will never know who was responsible. It doesn’t stop our local Stalin, councillor Michael Tarrant, jumping to expensive conclusions though.

News Shopper headline of 30th March 2011On 30th March he wrote to the News Shopper complaining about Mrs. Willoughby’s assertion that Bexley was like “a Communist State”. Few would disagree with her. The News Shopper gave Tarrant’s letter ‘Star’ status which attracts a £10 prize. He entirely missed the point by wittering on about deliberate dumping; he said nothing about the council’s bins being unlockable and open to anyone with mischief in mind. He has no answer to that. Councillor Tarrant did not declare his ‘Star Letter’ windfall in the register of members’ interests as he should have done. Anyone up for reporting him to Bexley council’s Standards Board?


Councillor Michael TarrantI’ve had two phone calls since writing about my stolen rubbish, one to the effect that I should be worried about council criminals with malice in mind and the other from Carol of East Wickham. Carol has been issued with a £60 fine and an £80 removal charge because someone took a bag from her bin and put it in the litter bin at the end of her road. She is threatened with prosecution and dire consequences if she doesn’t pay up for a crime she didn’t commit.

Some of the rubbish she is alleged to have taken from her own bin and placed elsewhere is hers but some isn’t. Carol phoned her councillor to complain and tell him what she plans to do about the council’s unproven allegation. He was sympathetic to her plight and asked to be kept informed of “how she got on”. Nice of him you might think, but the councillor in question was none other than the Stalinist hypocrite councillor Michael George Tarrant.

Campaigning women on the phone can be bad news for Bexley council, it was one such example that led to Notomob coming to town.

 

23 May (Part 1) - Busy bumbling bees. “Working for you”

It’s all on the council’s website but I don’t suppose they expect anyone to be sad enough to read it all. Shamed by the fact that Teresa Pearce MP had caught me out over the lap dancing issue I’ve waded through the minutes of recent committee meetings to see what else I have missed. Here’s a brief selection…


• Responsibility for “Protection of children from harm” has been transferred to the Trading Services Department. What do they do? Weigh them, measure their height and stack them neatly, face up?
• The Health Committee met on 22nd March to consider, among other things, a report on the Bexley Care Trust. “It was noted that in some areas the Care Trust had performed well, although in others they had performed less well.” Wow! That is informative isn’t it, no other details provided, and it took 13 well paid councillors to come up with that gem.
• On 30th March the Children’s Services and Education Committee met and got in a muddle over expenditure on consultants. A council officer had to explain that they couldn’t go by what was listed on the ‘Payments over £500 list’ because that was unreliable and “not meaningful”. Well done Committee chairman Nigel Betts for highlighting what my accountant friend has been saying for a long time.
• The Licensing Committee (the chairman is on a bonus of £8,802 a year) met four times in the last seven months, 11th October (for seven minutes), 18th January (four minutes), 29th March (where they considered three items including bringing lap dancing clubs to Bexley by lowering the licence fees and were on their way home again within ten minutes) and again on 18th May. Hard working bunch aren’t they? Ten minutes every couple of months. Good job they have a sub-Committee to do the real work.

 

22 May (Part 3) - Hypocrisy or what?

Katie Perrior - Full time Director of Inhouse PR“Your article is misleading.” So began a letter from councillor Katie Perrior in the current issue of the Bexleyheath Chronicle (and its sister titles). “I could not be a councillor if I did not get something (an allowance of more than £22,500) as I would be out of pocket by thousands of pounds during the course of a year for travel, childcare, telephone costs, admin support etc. I believe as a mother who works part time and juggles family life with 20 plus hours a week of council work…" etc. etc. “The majority of Bexley’s residents are not rich and sadly, nor am I. Editor please get your facts right.”

What a hypocrite, seems to me Editor Bob Griffiths was spot on and it is Katie who is economical with the truth. She is a director at the West End public relations company Inhouse PR and one of their “Senior Team”. Katie refers to herself as “Full Time Director” (not part time as she wrote in the paper). She has worked on the TV programme ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’; (I think we know the answer to that one Katie), owns two houses in the borough and pleads poverty to the Bexleyheath Chronicle. Who does she think she is fooling? Previous report.

 

22 May (Part 2) - Lap dancing clubs in Bexley - just what is our Licensing Committee up to?

I once suggested that Bexley council’s Standards Board might meet in a lap dancing club, but I believed I was joking; now I’m not so sure. Teresa Pearce, MP for Erith & Thamesmead has dug up something that had passed me by; that Bexley council has cut the licence fee for a lap dancing club from £22,573 to £8,995. What were they thinking of? The whole meeting lasted only ten minutes but that doesn’t surprise me, I’ve long thought that council meetings are pure theatre and the real work is done at the bar of the Old Bexley & Sidcup Conservative Association.

Teresa says such clubs “create a culture in which it is acceptable to treat women as sex objects”, very likely if not certainly, but I have heard that it has financed many an impoverished student through university. Whatever one’s views it is probably indisputable that very few would want one near their home. Teresa says that “areas surrounding the clubs can become ‘no-go’ areas for women”. I doubt all men are totally comfortable about walking by such an establishment either.

The councillors who approved the fee reduction were Michael Slaughter (chairman), Brian Beckwith, Stefano Borella, John Davey, Alan Deadman, Ross Downing, Eleanor Hurt, Eileen Pallen, Harry Persaud, Philip Read, Melvin Seymour, Brad Smith and John Wilkinson. Read what Teresa has to say on her website where she is running a petition against Bexley being a favoured location for sex clubs as the council’s low fees have encouraged.

 

22 May (Part 1) - Rogues Gallery

The list of councillors has been extensively revised though it is not yet complete. Allowances have proved to be a problem as the source material could be clearer. The amount of money involved is listed in one document and the jobs and names in another; one shows seven Labour councillors may be awarded £2,661 a year for Scrutiny Committee work but only four Scrutiny Committees are listed with a paid Labour spokesman. This may be due them being so few in number they have to take on two roles in which case only one allowance is payable. The corresponding Conservative chairmen get £8,802 - all these sums being in addition to the standard councillor rate of £9,418. Several committees are listed in one document but not the other and it is not possible to deduce if their Chairmen are paid or not.

The documentation says the basic £9,418 is to allow councillors “to cover incidental costs arising from such things as postage, telephone calls and travel and subsistence within the borough”. As I have said before, BT (other communications companies are available) will sell you an inclusive call tariff for not much over £200 a year and as councillors are unlikely not to already have had a phone before election, the additional telephone costs should be zero. Travel around the borough cannot cost more than £712 a year, the price of an annual bus Oyster Card. Why does a councillor need more than £1,000 a year allowance?

There are a few rules about collecting allowances one being that councillors are at liberty not to take the money and the other is that only one extra allowance may be claimed. As you might imagine, no one declines to take these enormous sums and the Conservatives have distributed their jobs such that none of them foregoes an allowance. No cabinet member for example works in a paid capacity on any Committee, that might deprive someone else of £8,802.

I am surprised to see councillor Chris Taylor appointed to chair the Adults’ Services Committee, in fact it its deeply ironic, he is still wet behind the ears himself. He took nearly a year to pluck up courage to make his maiden speech and a right old mess he made of that. So Bexley council appoint an inexperienced boy to be chairman of one of their Overview and Scrutiny Committees and he is a Political Adviser to the Greater London Authority too; it explains a lot.

Provision has been made to list councillors’ addresses although there is a potential problem of their making. As the council has been dragging its feet with Freedom of Information requests I am not sure which of their addresses is ‘home’ and many councillors have more than one address in the borough, one as many as four. I shall have to list them all!

 

21 May - No blog today

Well not much of one anyway because I am working on other pages. There is a new one on the Fraser Road parking problems mentioned in the blog of 10th May. Blogs tend to disappear from view,so the Fraser Road issue has been given its own entry on the main site menus, there are new photos and the text is revised and extended.

I am also revising the list of councillors and their allowances to account for the musical chairs played last Wednesday. It’s not finished yet but you may visit it to see how I am getting on. Councillors’ addresses will appear on that page before very long. The list of outstanding Freedom of Information requests has been updated too. Those outstanding more than 20 days in contravention of the legal requirement will be notified to the Information Commissioner next week.

My Subject Access Request to Bexley council in respect of the Harassment Letter that they persuaded the police to issue is, I hope, progressing. The council is charged with providing me with every last bit of detail they have on me. If the Subject Access Request doesn’t reveal who was responsible for the Harassment Letter that will be another one for the Information Commissioner.

Big Brother Watch has returned to Bexley council again this week with a video of the Notomob. Our beloved council has become expert at scoring own goals and Bonkers’ photos are getting everywhere! Put Bexley council into Google and after the council’s own site for which they pay for top entry you get several pages of sites devoted to criticising the rotten borough. Currently Olly Cromwell’s site has displaced Bonkers from the top spot and he has certainly been a busy boy in the last few days. There’s another good blog on Bexley council at “Old Holborn” too. Definitely worth a read if only for the description of me as “an elderly gent”.

Last Wednesday’s News Shopper must have been hard up for a front page. “Councillors voted blind”; a story dating back to 26th April and reported here the following day. What the Shopper says is entirely true. The public was kicked out of the meeting for ten minutes to allow councillors to ask questions while mere mortals were kept in the dark and when we went back into the chamber several councillors told the Bonkers Team they had been refused answers to all their financial questions. So the cretinous Conservatives voted for taking over the Woolwich building without having a clue if selling off the Civic Offices site would raise a decent amount of money. The more I think about it the more I am inclined to think a purpose built new building should have received more consideration. The Woolwich is always going to be a bodge, is acknowledged to have a shorter life than a new building and doesn’t look big enough. Indeed it isn’t big enough, it will need an extension.

Richard Edwards, erstwhile manager of Bexley council’s Thames Innovation Centre and instrumental in the sacking of the TIC whistleblower, pleaded guilty to a charge of paedophilia at Woolwich Crown Court last week. Edwards faced ten charges and received sentences of between one and six months in jail for each of them, to run concurrently. The man who confirmed that the whistleblower should be sacked, councillor Colin Campbell, is our new deputy council leader. Nice to know what sort of people we have in charge of the borough.

 

20 May (Part 2) - AVarice again

Chief Executive Will TuckleyMy report on Will Tuckley getting a nice £8,000 bonus for being at the AV Referendum count was short on detail; so here’s a bit more obtained from official records for Bexley’s AV referendum.


• 1 Returning Officer - £8,174
• 122 Presiding Officers - £29,738
• 244 Poll Clerks - £35,075
• 12 Supervising Officers - £2,925
• Travel & Subsistence - £14,175
• Training - £23,625
• Accommodation - £60,750
• Equipment - £1,220
• Equipment Transport - £6,100
• Printing ballot papers - £6,883
• Postal voting costs - £62,947
• Polling card cost - £67,038
• Counting costs - £26,326
• Other miscellaneous costs - £14,326


Those Lib Dems certainly cost us a lot of money didn’t they? £359,303 in total. The pay for ‘junior’ members of the team does not seem excessive, though if four members of my family who always participate in elections are anything to go by, they will be council employees who have taken a day’s leave, but why does a man on a near quarter of a million package need paying to do his job as Returning Officer? Do you think he took a day’s leave, it’s not as though he is short of it? Who else do you know who gets more than six weeks paid leave in a year?

And another thing… If you are being paid to do a day’s work at a reasonable rate of pay (the Officers and Clerks) why are you able to claim your subsistence and travel costs?

 

20 May (Part 1) - Dirty tricks?

I have been warned a few times that sooner or later Bexley council will retaliate against my attempt to expose their shortcomings. “Strange and unexplained disasters will affect your life, disasters that you won’t even associate with the council” was what one of Bexley’s victims wrote. I don’t really believe it but then I wouldn’t have believed that Bexley council would go to the police about me publishing what is in effect news about Bexley council, nor send in the cops to see off a man guilty of standing on the pavement. So I am a little wary of what a council with much to hide might do, but it’s not something I often think about.

One thing I do watch out for is dustbin security; with Stalinist tyrants like councillor Tarrant around and unlockable bins you can’t be too careful. Around 8:30 last night I put out my green bin, it contained one of those charity bag/sacks and one Tesco bag both filled only with things that can’t be recycled. As I have a new neighbour since last weekend who had more rubbish than bin space I allowed her to add a black sack of old baby clothes to my bin. At 6:50 this morning I checked the contents of the bin as I always do on my way out and it was empty. No other bin had been emptied but everything in mine was gone. I’m not particularly worried by it, maybe my stolen rubbish will be found by councillor Tarrant but it won’t have my name in it. I am meticulous about not putting identifiable material in any bin but I do wonder who would want to steal the contents. In case it is Tarrant who finds it I’ll give him a clue; the charity sack had ‘Scope’ written on it.

 

19 May - Sams the man

Mayor Ray SamsTwankey has gone and be thankful for small mercies and last night councillor Ray Sams (St. Michael’s) was elected Mayor of Bexley. He was proposed by councillor John Fuller with an amusing speech which revealed that Ray is a Charlton supporter and that he used to run a record shop. We must look forward to better run council meetings in the coming year, though last night’s did not perhaps augur well.

One of the few items up for discussion was the iniquitous restrictions on residents asking questions at council meetings (proposed and seconded by the new poisonous pairing of O’Neill and Campbell - see final paragraph) which was always likely to be nodded through by the sheep who make up Bexley’s undemocratic council, but in practice they weren’t even given the opportunity to ruminate on the subject. “It is proposed that the protocol on public Questions at Council and Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings attached as Appendix A to the Panel’s report be agreed.” At which everyone turned to Appendix A to see what they were about to vote for, except that no one did. How do I know? Because Appendix A had been omitted from the Agenda (council officials confirmed it later). Nobody noticed the missing Appendix, not even our shiny new mayor. So this bunch of spineless anti-democrats didn’t even know what they were voting on. Every last one of them voted to restrict the public’s ability to ask searching questions, even the Labour lot, one of whom, opposition leader Chris Ball, had expressed disquiet about some of the proposals at the Scrutiny Committee meeting. Not one of them was prepared to stick up for residents and I doubt we are ever seen as anything but the enemy.

The outgoing mayor made a long speech thanking everyone for the wonderful year she had enjoyed, a bit like one of those rambling Oscar speeches where everyone gets a thank you including the man who laid the red carpet, but Twankey failed to remember the people who had made her year of being ferried around in limousines possible; the forgotten and hard-pressed Bexley tax-payer, the disabled children deprived of travel assistance, the disabled adults deprived of care and everyone deprived of public toilets.

Other personnel changes were as whispered to me by Olly Cromwell several weeks ago. Simon Windle is no longer deputy to leader Teresa O’Neill, replaced by Colin Campbell of TIC fame and councillor Mrs. Slaughter is no longer a cabinet member. I am sorry to see Simon go as he was businesslike and got his message across without the constant political sniping that O’Neill in particular can’t resist; presumably some degree of integrity would not go down too well with her. Now we have Campbell who is much more of a ruffian and the fact that he had borrowed a tie for last night’s meeting has done nothing to persuade me otherwise. I am going to have to revise the table of monetary allowances to take account of these changes. Integrity comes at a high price, Simon will lose the deputy leader’s allowance of nearly £18,000 a year.

 

18 May - Newsreel

Notomob and Bexley’s VCA certification


After Notomob member Nigel Wise’s success in driving Richmond’s uncertified gestapo wagons off the road attentions were turned to several other councils, among them Wirral, Southwark and Bexley. At the first two correspondence is on-going but in Bexley everyone has gone to ground. Craske went into idiot mode, or should that be remained in idiot mode, and gave a one sentence reply that didn’t answer any question, just passed the buck, and Greg Tippett the Assistant Parking Manager didn’t respond at all. A complaint about that to Will Tuckley the Chief Executive has also resulted in a stony silence. Another good illustration of how his near quarter million pound salary package is money straight down the drain and not the “good value” the delusional council leader believes it to be; and another example of how Bexley council treats residents and non-residents alike with contempt.

Southwark council has pulled the stunt I forecast and persuaded the Vehicle Certification Authority to back date their certificates. An FOI has gone into them requesting copies of all the correspondence between the council and the VCA.

For the benefit of Notomob members who spent last Saturday assisting Bexley council carry out its obligations lawfully a page of pictures has been added to Bonkers. At present it consists of all the photographs taken and many are near duplicates. It will be edited in a week’s time after Notomob have taken any they might need.


Freedom of Information


On all sides Bexley’s secretive council has put up barriers to questioning but FOI requests have legal backing; not that that has stopped them hatching plans to circumvent the law. One thing they appear to be doing now as a matter of routine is to delay answering questions to close to the prescribed 20 day timetable; this needs to be monitored. I have therefore published a page which lists those FOIs I know of and the associated dates. The page is currently almost empty but I aim to populate it as soon as I can so that everyone can see if Bexley council is satisfying its legal obligations.

An FOI has recently gone to the council asking how many are currently outstanding beyond the 20 day limit. In future all FOI requests made by members of the Bonkers Team which go to day 21 will be notified to the Information Commissioner so that he is fully aware of Bexley council’s failures.

The list of FOIs is available from the Miscellaneous Menu on the main site pages. i.e. not the Blog pages.


Police Harassment


An acknowledgement of my complaint to the Metropolitan Police Professional Standards Directorate about Bexleyheath police refusing to tell me who had complained about this blog and what the specific complaint was was received yesterday. The delay is not as long as it might appear due to intervening Bank Holidays and the fact that my printer failed while printing the complaint and it took about a week to choose and install a new one.


Councillors’ Addresses


The FOI seeking electoral details of current councillors’ electoral nomination papers so that their addresses can be put on line when the council starts to publish residents’ addresses on their website is still unanswered. There can be no excuse for this, it is very easy to comply and will be the subject of a complaint to the Information Commissioner if the 20 day deadline is exceeded. Meanwhile alternative sources of information are being pursued. The final decision to publish residents’ addresses will I believe be taken by council this evening and I may choose to publish the addresses already obtained immediately depending on what I hear in the chamber.


Comparison with Bromley


A reader from Bromley sent me some information about how his council proposed to use fixed CCTV cameras for parking control in Petts Wood and how they dealt with the public reaction to it. Like in Bexley, CCTV was installed on the pretext of being for personal safety but that doesn’t raise money. In response to a petition organised by residents Bromley council debated the issue and decided against persecuting motorists and damaging businesses. Contrast that with Bexley where an identical plan was proposed by councillor Craske as part of Strategy 2014 (the cuts!) and it went through as a bundle of revenue raising measures with no public debate whatsoever. No member of the public had an opportunity to comment on any part of Craske’s proposals. Par for the course in Bexley where, as Mr. Shering said in The Shopper last week, “Council forgets the basics of democracy”.

 

17 May - The blame game

War emergency planWe are about to see the end of the incompetent and irrational mayor Val Clark, aka Widow Twankey; for tomorrow she will be gone - and Good Riddance.

Among her claims to fame is…


• Singling out members of the public at council meetings and criticising them for “parsimonious appreciation’. Link
• Allowing councillor Craske to insult and attempt to belittle a member of the public at a council meeting. Link
• Allowing Conservative councillors to ramble on ‘for ever’ and label Christians a rabble. Link
• Allowing councillor Craske to filibuster and repeatedly not answer questions. Link. One example of many!
• Allowing councillor Craske to blatantly lie in answer to a member of the public’s question. Link. One example of several
• Allowing one councillor to call another a “tosser” without challenge. Link
• Writing to a member of the public to tell him how good a chairman she is because of her 20 years experience. Link
• Writing to another member of the public to suggest he read Citrine’s ABC of Chairmanship. Link
• Refusing to correct minutes in contravention of said book. Link
• Refusing the public the opportunity to record council meetings in contravention of guidance from the Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Link
• Bringing in the police to prevent members of the public from entering the Civic Offices with a camera - even if there was no intention of using it. Link
• Stating she would grant permission for recording on request but refusing every such request. Link
• Hiring a team of bouncers to prevent a wide variety of ‘offences’ (including carrying a placard) at a cost of £1,320 a time. Link
• Provoking Constitutional change to restrict the ability of all residents to question the council. Link
• Reducing the time for public questions at the meeting of 2nd March 2011 from 15 minutes to eleven and ignoring protestations from members of the public. Link


The last of these provoked an official complaint and as recently as last Friday I said that the council had still not managed to dream up a response. The problem for the mayor and the council is that they could not simply deny the time reduction happened as they knew there was a video tape of the proceedings so a suitable whitewash was going to take more time to prepare than their usual run of the mill denial of all wrong-doing. I can imagine that when a criminal is charged with a crime by the police he will, if he is rich enough, call in a top barrister, and if he isn’t rich he will look to his criminal friends for advice.

In the council the well paid lawyer is readily available, always on hand and loyal thanks to the post’s 27% pay rise last year. And if you want to consult a criminal, they are not strangers to our Civic Offices either. So what did all this legal expertise and application of devious minds produce by way of excuse for mayor Twankey? It wasn’t her fault; someone else was in charge of the stop watch! The Assistant Chief Executive. So we have someone on £122,00 a year and he can’t even tell the time.

Another limp excuse was that the Constitution says that the time shall not exceed 15 minutes - stand by for only two minutes being allocated at some point in the future. Yet another excuse is to imply that poor old Twankey was entirely unaware of her error because there is no record of any one complaining. This poses an interesting question. If protests from the public are not recorded how is this bunch of charlatans and cheats going to know who has shown disrespect or behaved badly in the chamber in order to ban them from future question times or worse?

The councillors who dreamed up this ingenious method of getting Twankey off the hook, i.e. blame it all on Andrew Cresswell the Assistant Chief Executive, were Cheryl Bacon (Cray Meadows, £17,770) and John Fuller (Lesnes). At least I will have the satisfaction of being able to vote against him in three years time.

If you are desperate to read the whole sorry charade, then it is here.

The picture above shows the cover of Bexley’s restricted (but now declassified) War Emergency Plan. It probably comes in useful for ideas on how to implement totalitarian control.

 

16 May (Part 2) - Arts and farts

I’m not ashamed to say that I do occasionally swap information with Olly Cromwell who runs that other thorn in Bexley council’s side, the You’ve Been Cromwelled blog. He’s covered the Arts Council of Bexley website today as I did yesterday. Olly told me of their broken website at the end of last week though I had spotted the problem a week earlier when doing a Google search for ‘Bexley council’ to make sure Bonkers was retaining its high position. I noticed that the Arts Council’s Google position had dropped and saw the reason why but I didn’t think it was a big story and I still don’t. It is perhaps a small insight into how Bexley Conservatives operate but in the lying and cheating stakes it barely gets off the starting block.

Olly however has a far more suspicious mind than me and is prepared to put two and two together and risk occasionally making five. Olly’s blog will tell you how much tax payers’ money is being sucked up by The Arts Council of Bexley and who is implicated in the sucking. Whether his speculation is valid or not it’s yet another case of a Bexley councillor just happening to be in the right place to attract council cash. I prefer to think that every last one of them must be coincidence, but as you will have noted I always give Bexley council the benefit of any doubt. Definitely a boring old fart.

But Olly knows how to inject a bit of excitement into things. Go and read his blog, you know you want to.

 

16 May (Part 1) - Bus fuss

B11 bus climbs New RoadCarole’s tussle with Transport for London (TfL) and Bedonwell School appears to be coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Largely on her own initiative she won the support of TfL’s Driver Communications Manager and travelled with him on the B11 bus from school last week. He was joined by councillor John Fuller and the manager of Bexleyheath bus garage whose presence was unfortunate in one way as every driver would guess what was going on when they saw him get on a B11 with Carole. As you might expect no B11 driver gave Carole a problem that afternoon. The garage manager brought along his ‘Big Red Book’ of rules for drivers and in particular Page 6 which says there is no ‘two buggy rule’. So you could say that most of Carole’s problems could have been solved months ago if only all bus drivers looked at the rule book once in a while. Carole has reported that John Fuller was helpful in countering one or two of the comments of the TfL guys and local drivers are to get a reminder about the buggy situation. So everything there is looking good.

The deputy head at Bedonwell School has stepped in to help in a way that the head teacher never did and as a result Carole’s not yet five year old son, previously labelled ‘a fussy eater’, has been allowed to join the school breakfast club. He enjoys that because he can spend an extra hour with his friends. Ironically this means he can leave home earlier which in turn means it is conveniently timed for a lift to school by car and - you’ve guessed it - he doesn’t need the morning bus any more. So thanks are due to councillor John Fuller for standing by Carole, and to Mrs. Wright the deputy head at Bedonwell School.

 

15 May (Part 2) - The artful fee dodger - click any image for photo gallery (3 images)

Arts council websiteThe image shows what you currently get if you try to find The Arts Council of Bexley on the web. Bit of a mess isn’t it? The Home page seems to have gone missing and it’s been like it for a week. The Arts Council of Bexley is funded by Bexley council taxpayers and has been accused of carrying links to Conservative party sites; something that has been defended in the council chamber. You can see by the list of folders that it includes folders for ETCA (Erith & Thamesmead Conservatives) and Lesnes (Lesnes Abbey Conservatives). Thanks to this technical glitch I can now see with near certainty what councillor John Davey, who has claimed responsibility for the website in a letter to a newspaper, has been up to.

Apologies if this is a little bit on the techie side but Davey has arranged that his political domain names (the bit that goes before the .co.uk or whatever) doesn’t go to web storage space that is dedicated to that domain which would be the orthodox way of going about providing a website; he has fixed things so that his Conservative party address is automatically redirected to the Arts Council of Bexley web space, thereby saving the cost of buying web space for the Conservative party’s exclusive use. Cunning eh? Normally the redirection would be masked from public view, the glitch has given the game away.

Note that the address bars (URL bar) in the images in the gallery section (click the picture) show artscouncilofbexley.org.uk and not Conservative party addresses. The moral of the story is that if you are going to be a little underhand, make sure the cover-up is foolproof.

 

15 May (Part 1) - If at first you don’t succeed - click any image for photo gallery (2 images)

Ruts at Ruxley Ruts at RuxleyThe roundabout at the southern end of North Cray Road (Ruxley corner) is not a good example of Bexley’s road planning skills; what is? In order to give themselves something to do someone at Bexley council decided to redesign a roundabout that councillor Craske said in an email to an enquirer had never been the scene of a serious accident. The following links show the various stages of disruption and cock-up

• Blog for 25th July 2010
• Blog for 24th February 2011
Roads Report

If you read the history of the appalling waste of money at Ruxley corner you will see that a perfectly good roundabout was re-engineered to make it impossible for large vehicles to negotiate without going right around it so as to approach the exit from a different direction. Then instead of rebuilding the mess properly stubbornness has dictated an unsatisfactory compromise. Large vehicles still can’t get around the tight corner and have to mount a double height kerb. Responsible councils design roads with the aid of software into which you enter junction dimensions and it tells you if large vehicles can manage it. As far as I know you can’t enter vindictiveness and spite into the program so it wouldn’t suit Bexley council.

Always remember that it is councillor Craske who signs off these road schemes, the same man who lies to the public at council meetings. No £4m. contract. FOIs cost more than parking enforcement. Quoting the results of a survey of which council officers have no knowledge. Need I go on?

 

14 May (Part 2) - Notomob support Martin Peaple - click any image for photo gallery (5 images)

Mr. Peaple and his sign The notomob Gestapo wagon on North Cray RoadBecause Bexley council called in the cops to try to scare Mr. Peaple, the Sidcup man who tried to warn potential customers of the perils of parking outside his shop, the Notomob turned up in Bexley in considerable numbers today to show support. While attending the event I heard how Bexley council, if not actively spreading misinformation to its parking contractor’s staff, is certainly impeding Notomob’s message to them. This is that Notomob are there to help them conduct parking enforcement lawfully and to assist in their proper aim of reducing parking infringements to zero. They are against ‘revenue driven’ enforcement. i.e. hiding up side streets with long lenses and not making their signage obvious, but basically Notomob is on the side of the enforcement staff and their assistance would, if circumstances demanded it, extend to helping parking enforcement staff should any member of the public become aggressive towards them.

It’s a win-win situation; while Notomob is on the scene parking staff are safe and motorists are dissuaded from breaking parking regulations. Councillor Craske may not be happy that revenue from fines is decreasing but if he could possibly bring himself to be honest with himself he may remember that extracting the maximum fine revenue from motorists is not what parking regulations are all about - not if he obeys the law anyway.

On the way home I spotted a gestapo wagon parked at the Bexley end of North Cray Road. Why it was there is anyone’s guess as no one is very likely to stop on a bus stop on a dual carriageway with very few houses nearby. As a safety measure it is an utter failure. Why aren’t they in and around the shopping areas on a Saturday morning? Scared it might give Notomob too much publicity perhaps? It’s a bit late for that, most motorists seem to know who they are after the News Shopper publicity and give them a friendly hoot as they go by.

 

14 May (Part 1) - We’re skint, but we can afford this - click any image for photo gallery (4 images)

Shops and parking places Width restriction Width restrictionHere we go again. A road restricted for no advantage except that it provides work for idle hands to do. Perhaps it will go the same way as the Brampton Road width restrictors and be removed in a few years time. Do we really need a ramp warning before a ‘No entry’?

The road shown does nothing other than serve as a parking area for the shops by Belvedere station plus a place for delivery vehicles to stop. It’s not used as a race track, it’s far too narrow and congested for that. Nevertheless Bexley council thinks it should spend some of your money on pointless restrictions. The delivery lorries will quite likely go up on the pavement on their way out. It’s another little problem for business but Bexley council won’t care about that.

A document issued by The Department of Transport a couple of days ago says “We are freeing local authorities from central government control and letting them determine their own solutions”. All government departments seem to be under the impression that local authorities are competent and not vindictive money-grabbers. There are some very interesting tables and graphs in that document and I do hope the Notomob take note of the statistics when going about their business of helping Bexley’s gestapo wagons.

 

13 May (Part 2) - Newsreel

I have a bit of a backlog of things submitted by contributors so I am going to make a quick summary of a few of them to try to get myself up to date.

James Brokenshire MP


The Conservative Home blog is telling us that James, MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup is no longer the junior minister for anti-social behaviour, he has moved on to Under Secretary for security. So I suppose that means all hope of seeing him take action against the anti-social activities of bent councils has gone for ever; not that he was ever particularly interested in such issues and keeping his nose clean seems to have paid off. As I said before, maybe he has his eye on the Home Secretary’s job. Now he has security in his portfolio maybe he will take an interest in the number of policemen and bouncers Bexley council thinks appropriate to guard their empire from marauding pensioners. Fat chance.


The Notomob


Notomob is being stonewalled by Bexley council with its VCA enquiries.. Councillor Craske has gone to ground - no surprise there - and so has his Parking Manager, Greg Tippett. Apparently they have no answers. My suspicion is that Bexley council will ask the Certification Authority to issue a backdated certificate for its gestapo wagons and declare all is well. Just imagine it if you failed to tax or insure your car for a couple of years and when you are found out said "Sorry, I’ll pay up now". It wouldn’t work for you and it shouldn’t work for them.

NSL managers are no better, in a nutshell they are politely saying “No comment”. With a million pound a year contract (Source : Bexley council’s website) to protect, maybe admitting nothing is to be expected.


Cabinet jobs


Olly Cromwell, he of the linguistically colourful You’ve Been Cromwelled blog, keeps getting leaks, apparently from council sources with some indications they are from councillor Philip Read. Well he is stupid enough. His anonymous source told Olly a few weeks ago that the deputy council leader, Simon Windle, had resigned that position and now Olly’s source is telling him that councillor Campbell has taken on that role. Seems a shame, Simon comes across as almost decent by Bexley council standards but Campbell is a loud bruiser with no scruples. Should make an interesting partnership with that other loud bruiser without scruples, Teresa O’Neill. I suppose the truth will come out at the next council meeting on the 18th.


General Purposes Sub-Committee - 10th May 2011


Village GreenYou always have to be suspicious when a council meeting is held at ten in the morning, it may mean they don’t want anybody to be there to listen; a view reinforced when there are only four agendas available for members of the public to pick up. I was unable to nip along to that meeting to keep myself abreast of any interesting developments councillor Cheryl Bacon, along with fellow members Peter Catterall and Alan Deadman, might be prepared to put on public view.

The Committee was considering a case put forward by a very large number of residents from the Stansted Crescent and Carisbrooke Avenue area area of Albany Park that the wooded open space shown in the photograph should be registered as a village green under the Commons Registration Act of 2006. Many residents had used the space as a playground, a picnic area and a short cut for 30 and some more than 50 years and considered that they had established rights to its use.

Nothing too controversial there then you might think, but that is because no one has told you that Bexley council sold the land to the London and Quadrant Housing Association nearly 15 years ago and no one had told the local residents either. The land carried on being used and maintained in the same old way as if nothing had changed. Council deception or council boob? Cheryl and her two pals may know but I doubt we ever will. They decided it would be best for them if they continued their navel gazing in private. Not exactly upfront with democracy are they?

If I get to hear the result of the Committee’s deliberations I’ll let you know. Maybe one of the local residents will spill some beans? Maybe the answer is 42.


Councillor Sawyer


Remember the not very well known marriage between councillor Sawyer and Priti Patel, MP for Witham? Sawyer’s address was sought from the council and after they displayed some reluctance a request for a copy of the councillor’s electoral nomination form was submitted under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. This notice is much the same as what is pinned up in polling stations so it’s not exactly a state secret. It’s a month since that request went in and photocopying a sheet of paper back and front is not something that should take more than a day or two. There is no sign of the papers for the other councillors which were requested later so that all councillor addresses can be published here the moment Bexley council puts residents addresses on theirs. It looks like Bexley council is dragging its feet once more thinking yet again there is one rule for them and another for those who are fool enough to vote them in.


Mayor Val Clark


The complaints about the mayor for cutting public question time from eleven to 15 minutes at the meeting on 3rd March never has been heard by Bexley’s standards board. It should have been heard on 14th April but the meeting was mysteriously postponed. Since then nada! The problem is of course that its an open and shut case. The mayor is guilty and she is up against video evidence. That is why all recording is now banned and despite what this week’s Bexley Times reports, permission to film cannot be obtained, the mayor has spoken. The longer this drags on the more dishonest Bexley council looks, they should just come clean, admonish the mayor for trashing her beloved Standing Orders and hope the next mayor is not so incompetent. On the other hand I suppose they think any reputation they might have had is shot to pieces anyway and putting just one wrong right will not make any difference; yeah, I suppose they have a point there.

 

13 May (Part 1) - Bexley Conservatives. They just can’t stop lying

It’s not long since Bexley Conservative’s website included the most outrageous lies about Labour councillors Newman and O’Neill, now they are at it again. On 11th May the Bexley Conservatives, Putting Bexley First site was updated to include, “Teresa O’Neill, Leader of Bexley’s Conservative Council, said: Bexley now has one of the lowest council tax rates per household in outer London”. Didn’t seem right to me. Almost every year I’ve lived in Bexley I have watched councils of every colour put up local taxes more than other boroughs; The rates may have been almost the lowest 25 years ago but all those above average tax rises must have taken their toll. How come we are still “one of the lowest”? I couldn’t find a London Borough tax league table on line so I had to make my own. There are 32 London boroughs and Bexley ranks 24th on that list. Among the outer boroughs Bexley is not “one of the lowest”, it just escapes being in the bottom third. Council leader Teresa O’Neill’s top priority seems to be deception and when she makes a political statement you can be pretty damn sure it won’t be true.

 

12 May (Part 2) - Support the Mob

map of assembly pointLast November’s report on the parking situation in Blackfen Road has had totally unforeseen consequences. Motorcyclists following gestapo wagons, a shop worker splashed all over The News Shopper after Bexley council set their lapdogs on him and given blog of the week status at Big Brother Watch and now the hiatus over Bexley council’s VCA certification. To celebrate these events and show support for Martin Peaple, the shop worker the police failed to intimidate, Notomob are sending as many of their members as they can spare to Bexley next Saturday 14th May. They will assemble in Wingate Road behind the shops in Sidcup Hill from before 9 a.m. for a photo opportunity (press expected) at 9:30.

The above information is already available elsewhere on the web and I do wonder if Bexley council will react by pulling their cars off the road for the day or perhaps calling on their friends in the police to try to crush Notomob’s entirely lawful activities. You may be interested to know that the number of penalty notices issued in Blackfen Road has fallen dramatically since my visit there. From in the region of 1,500 in 2010 (Source : SETyres customer complaints) to under 500 in the last six months. (Source : FOI request delivered by Bexley council only 12 days late. Recent bank holidays all accounted for.)

 

12 May (Part 1) - Teresa O’Neill. Guilty as charged

News Shopper headlineThere was a brilliant letter in yesterday’s News Shopper, I urge you to get a copy if you can. Peter Shering, the writer has certainly got the measure of council leader Teresa O’Neill, so much so that there were accusations of someone writing under a pseudonym at last night’s meeting of the Bonkers team.

Mr. Shering is concerned about the dictatorial aspects of Bexley council, its quest for absolute control exhibited by “the lengths Cllr O’Neill and her colleagues are going to cut people out of decisions” and its rigging of its Constitution to stifle questions and to make questioners “suffer further sanctions”. (Link to News Shopper letter added 18th May 2011.)

There are other ways in which Bexley council is circumventing its responsibilities to democracy and that is not observing the law on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. They are supposed to reply within 20 working days. My colleagues have unanswered FOIs going back as far as last October. Sometimes Bexley council doesn’t answer questions accurately, or gives a totally naive answer as it did over staff parking privileges. At other times they dodge giving an answer by saying it would be too expensive to provide it. Their decision and no appeal process. This is the FOI equivalent of telling a complainer he is “vexatious” and refusing to talk to him any more or getting a warning about behaviour from the mayor and suffering one of Mr. Shering’s “further sanctions”. All are devices employed by Bexley council to shield itself from scrutiny. Sending in the police to intimidate residents is another.

I think we have got to the stage where an FOI request on the date of submission of all currently outstanding FOI requests would be a good move.

Copy of the News Shopper’s Star Letter added 26th May 2011.

 

11 May (Part 2) - Now watch them wriggle

The News Shopper has relegated Bexley council’s parking enforcement policies to page 3 this week, maybe Linda Piper its chief reporter is worried that three front pages in a row will render her liable to a harassment warning or a ban from entering the council chamber. The Shopper’s article refers to Richmond council which has been guilty of using its gestapo wagons without first obtaining approval from the Vehicle Certification Authority (VCA). As a result Richmond has had to withdraw all its CCTV cars from use and is likely to have to refund all the fines levied since March 2009. Linda Piper has rightly appended a question mark to her headline because nothing is for sure but could Bexley council be equally guilty?

According to The Shopper, Bexley council sought VCA certification only for its cars. Richmond sought certification for its car, its camera and its recording equipment. Unfortunately for Richmond council they weren’t using the type of camera for which they had certification - I believe because they changed their cars and didn’t bother to apply for certification again. So they had no certification for the cameras actually in use. When challenged on this Richmond council first denied everything and when backed into a corner, blamed the certification authority. Everything fell apart when it reached the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service where Richmond’s actions were branded “wholly unreasonable”.

VCA certificationsDenying everything and blaming someone else looks very much like a Bexley council tactic; is the case against Bexley council exactly the same as the Richmond one? Well not quite. I understand that Richmond sought approval for their cars and their cameras but allowed the camera details to go out of date. Because of that they are in big trouble. Bexley doesn’t appear to have bothered about seeking approval for their cameras at all. For comparison I have included a fully compliant certificate by Ealing council alongside Bexley’s.

This is the Notomob’s case and they are the experts who will pursue it but it seems to me that not seeking approval for a camera at all is a bigger mistake than seeking approval but getting the details wrong or letting them expire.

I suspect we are going to see an awful lot of wriggling by Bexley council’s parking department in the coming weeks.

Once again I am indebted to Notomob for providing the background information for this report.

(Link to News Shopper page added 18th May 2011.)

 

11 May (Part 1) - Freedom to Misinform

Car park fullA reply to a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request…

“Parking spaces are provided at a number of our administrative buildings. Staff based at the Civic Offices make use of the spare capacity in both the Albion Road and Cinema car parks except for the weeks running up to Christmas where staff parking is restricted. All staff currently receive free car parking although this will change when the Council relocates its administrative buildings onto one site. No revenue is lost from the public as Council staff are using spare capacity in the car parks.”

What planet are they living on? If there is spare capacity in council car parks and it is given to Bexley council employees to freely use of course revenue is lost. Most obviously it is lost because the spare capacity could be sold off at an attractive price to other local employers. How much is the benefit of being entirely exempt from the council’s draconian parking enforcement regime worth? How much revenue is lost when a car park is full because it is crammed with council employee’s cars?

This is another example of how Bexley council’s priority is not its residents but its fat cat salaries, the inflated councillor allowances and privileges for its staff. Councillors have their own free car park; can’t have them harassed by gestapo wagons like everyone else or having to dip into their £22,650 allowances can we? I would suggest another FOI along the lines of…

“Is the free car parking facility declared as a benefit in kind for tax purposes and does the exemption from charges apply at weekends and on bank holidays?”

In accordance with Bonkers’ policy of not indulging in deliberate deception (that’s Bexley council’s job) I must inform you that the Car Park Full photograph above is a Photoshop job. It did not originally say “Full”.

 

10 May - The law says the aim is “no penalty charges” - click any image for photo gallery (5 images)

Today I return to the subject of covert CCTV surveillance of bus stops. Don’t all groan; this is a new story. Firstly let’s look at what the legislation says about Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE). “Enforcement authorities should run their CPE operations (both on and off-street) efficiently, effectively and economically. The purpose of penalty charges is to dissuade motorists from breaking parking restrictions. The objective of CPE should be for 100 per cent compliance, with no penalty charges.” Does Bexley council follow that? Of course not, if they did they would not hide their camera cars up side streets and set the police on members of the public who help with the council’s legal obligation of “100% compliance” by warning shoppers with a home made notice. Let’s not beat around the bush; if Bexley council’s priority was to operate within the law they wouldn’t hide CCTV cars in side streets or attempt to have warning notices taken away. So what’s the latest example of Bexley council’s CPE failures?

Shop sand bus stop Gate. Cross over and bus stop Car liable to get a ticketWhere Erith Road meets Fraser Road in Erith there are several small shops with a bus stop in front of them (one bus every 12 minutes on route 99) and a road opposite which is on rising ground. Bexley’s gestapo wagon parks at that higher level and trains its camera on the bus stop. (Photo 1). In doing so it peers straight into the bedrooms of the flats above the shops. Why does it park out of sight? To illegally maximise revenue.

An additional problem (Photo 2) is that the bus stop has been extended over a pavement crossover provided for shop deliveries and access to the flats above. Anyone stopping in front of the gates to open them is ticketed because the back end of all but the smallest vehicles hangs a foot over the pavement for a few seconds. The owner of the car in Photo 3 received a fine for doing just that. He appealed but Bexley council wouldn’t budge. One of the occupants of the flats is disabled, she stands no chance against Bexley’s gestapo as she takes far too long to open the gates.


Notomob notice Newspaper letterThe Notomob have been active in the area and the Nisa shop owner has one of their notices displayed in his window. He is therefore ‘guilty’ of the same ‘offence’ as Mr. Peaple who did his best to ensure compliance with CPE legislation while Bexley council preferred flouting it.

The effect of Bexley council’s activities is devastating on local businesses. As one shop owner in Fraser Road said to me, “customers just carry on by and go to the big supermarkets or out of town shopping centres”. I imagine Mr. Newland whose letter appears in the current issue of The Greenwich Mercury is one of those drivers.

This story was brought to Bonker’s attention by the Notomob team and their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.

 

9 May - Turning her back on the electorate

Council leader Teresa O'NeillAt a time when many local authorities are merging departments and sharing chief executives Bexley’s council leader has turned her back on anything that might cut the high cost of its top layers of beaucracy. Islington, Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster, The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea are all intent on merging departments and sharing executives. In Lewisham the Chief Executive is to work part-time. The Local Government Minister Bob Neil has said, “I want to see more sharing management, expertise and resources. Incremental changes won’t be enough. Councils need to think about how they can radically reconfigure services”.

O’Neill (Bexley council’s leader) defied Mr. Neil (the man from the ministry) over the issue of transparency at council meetings and enshrined that defiance in a revised Constitution. She is defying Mr. Neil again over his wish to see “sharing” and “radically reconfigured services”. What did we get that is radical in Bexley? Public conveniences shut, a historic fountain filled with dirt, parking charges raised and a leader who says that executives on £200,000 plus benefits are “good value for money”. There will be workers in this borough who slave all year to make as much as Will Tuckley picked up last Thursday afternoon.

It was suggested last month that it might be possible to hold a local referendum asking the population if they thought the high salaries paid to Bexley council executives who have been so enthusiastically imposing cuts on everyone but themselves should also be cut, but it would appear that the referendum legislation does not apply to London boroughs. An alternative approach would be to organise a petition, requiring only two thousand signatures, which would force Bexley council to debate the issue in public. It is within the council’s power to declare all attempts to curtail their greed as “vexatious” but if they do it will be yet more evidence that the main priority of Bexley council is to protect themselves from public questioning.

Things of this nature tend to always take far longer than anticipated but it is my understanding that those proposing such a scheme are talking to council officials about the procedure and will then move on to preparing the documentation.

 

8 May (Part 2) - The door slams shut

The various tricks Bexley council uses to shield itself from questions have been listed before. In the past they have lost questions, delayed them so they miss the cut-off time, reject them because they don’t like them, curtail the time given for answers and plant fake questions from their Tory party friends. Because some questioners overcame the obstacles they now propose to publish questioners’ address details on the web under the blatantly irrelevant pretext that it is the only way to ensure the questioner is a Bexley resident, and ban any questioner the mayor doesn’t like from ever asking questions. The News Shopper has twice suggested I will be on that list but I had always assumed that the ban would apply to those who had had warning letters from the mayor for "parsimonious appreciation" and the like. I thought we might soon find out at the forthcoming council meeting but I underestimated the council’s deviousness.

The extra restrictions placed on questions were approved by the Constitutional Review Panel on 27th April but they have yet to go before the full council for rubber-stamping on 18th May. There is the remotest possibility that the changes won’t be approved but the original proposals have always included implementing them immediately. i.e. on the 18th. So now we don’t know under which set of rules questions can be submitted for the 18th so the council has taken the easy way out. Refuse all questions for the next council meeting. “Thank you for your questions. However, the agenda for the Annual Meeting of the Council does not include an item on Questions. The next opportunity for questions to be put would be at the meeting in July.”

Thanks to Mr. Peaple, Bexley council is currently splurged across the net; blog of the week at Big Brother Watch, and because of that, widely repeated with the nice descriptive phrase “Bexley Council, well known for their controversial methods”. We can all see how that reputation was earned and it feels good to have played a small part in getting that message widely known.

Among the questions that Bexley council has side-stepped with its shameful manoeuvring are these…


What new evidence has surfaced to suggest that members of the public need to be assured that questions submitted to the full council meeting are genuine by including the name and address of the person submitting the question?

Does Bexley Council not assure themselves that the questions are genuine and that the person submitting the question is on the electoral register before it prints the question in the agenda?

Is Bexley Council insured against any claim by a member of the public for damage to their person or property as a result of having their address published?

What are the implications to the council with regard to the Data Protection Act?

Will it be a breach of an individuals right to freedom of speech under the Human Rights Act if a member of the public wishes to submit a question but does not want their address published, as a result of which the council refuse to print the question?

Is the threat to publish an individual’s address no more than an attempt to intimidate members of the public not to submit questions to the full council meeting?

 

8 May (Part 1) - Voluntary giving?

I have mixed views on charities mainly because I know of an old lady, getting on for 100, who gives nearly all her state pension to charities because they bombard her with up to a dozen begging letters every week. She thinks that if they send her a useless pen or a raffle ticket she is compelled to send them a cheque. Her family’s efforts to get charities to behave more responsibly towards a near centenarian with little money have fallen on deaf ears.

Giving to charities should be a choice freely made without any element of compulsion. I watched this charity page for quite a while until it petered out two months ago. It shows an appeal for funds for the mayor of Bexley’s favoured charity, The EllenorLions Hospice, and those who generously donated money to it - mainly councillors and council staff. I was intrigued by the anonymous donation of £1,000 but didn’t feel it was much of an issue. In an idle moment I passed the link to Olly Cromwell because he likes to poke his nose into murky areas. This morning I see he is giving his opinion about a nice round £1,000 payment to the EllenorLions Hospice shown in Bexley’s accounts and linking it to the anonymous donation. I have my doubts about it for several reasons - one of which is Bexley council is skilled at cover ups and this isn’t well executed - but why Bexley council is paying any money at all, beyond what councillors choose to pay out of their own pockets, beats me. The total given to The EllenorLions Hospice by Bexley council in recent months is £3,224.

I should probably ask you to go across to Olly’s site and read it for yourself but as usual it is not for those of a delicate disposition. He also mentions the huge sums which regularly find their way from Bexley council to Bexley Crossroads Care Ltd and the extravagance of carving trees in woods both of which have been covered here in recent days.

 

7 May (Part 2) - AVarice

Chief Executive Will TuckleyIf you were on a salary package in the region of £240,000 a year (source : The Taxpayers’ Alliance Rich List) you might expect to have to work hard, shoulder a lot of responsibility and put in the odd hour here and there without expecting to get paid overtime for it.

But much of Bexley council’s services are contracted out; refuse collection, street cleaning, parking services, tax collection, road design, all out to private contractors. So what is left to do? Decide the best way to manage the council’s money, no, UBS Global Asset Management (UK) Ltd looks after that. What about having to be the borough’s electoral Returning Officer? That’s a nice little job reading out the results after an army of counters does the real work. That’ll fill in a few hours to justify the fat-cattery. Think again.

A little bird whispered to me Chief Executive Will Tuckley will get a nice £8,000 cheque for his afternoon’s work. Maybe that isn’t exactly right because I tried to find out the going rate from government websites and they weren’t particularly clear about it. However it seems the approved fee for this week’s AV Referendum is £2,500 per parliamentary constituency and Bexley has three; so that works out about right. One interesting thing the Electoral Commission says about the payment is that Returning Officers don’t have to claim it. I don’t think I will bother with a Freedom of Information request to find out if Tuckley is going to because the council’s website admits he always has done in the past. £8,624 for the last European election for example. Looks like my informant was right.

For the record the Bexley AV vote was 14,929 : Yes and 48,630 : No. There were 94 spoiled or otherwise rejected votes.

 

7 May (Part 1) - Feeding the fuzz and feedback’s a buzz

Holly Tree Parade, SidcupI was going to take the day off today but someone suggested that there would be no way of confirming that Bexley council hadn’t had me carted off to a police cell for exposing some of their trickery and idiocy. Mind you, they are pretty good at doing the latter for themselves. Who but an idiot with Stalinist tendencies would ask the police to take action on something that is not a crime? The Notomob have liaised with the Met. police at high level and been assured that warning motorists there is a CCTV car in the vicinity is not a crime. The picture shows the scene of the ‘non-crime’ which recently hit the headlines.

So why did Bexley’s police do the council’s bidding? I suggested it was because they were in in each others pockets and an email asked me if it was wise to say that. Nothing you read here is without foundation and that remark was given some thought. If you had access to the papers that went between the council and the police after Ian Clement, the ex-council leader, was accused of misusing his Bexley council credit card you would know how evidence can mysteriously fail to reach the Crown Prosecution Service so as to imply ‘no crime’. When that came to light the CPS acknowledged there was a problem but no one got into trouble for it. Isn’t that enough to justify the remark? Do I need to add that Clement’s council credit card paid for the then Bexley police commander’s dinner?

Email comment is always nice to have, maybe I would change my tune if it wasn’t complimentary, but - tempting fate - it never is. Here’s some from the past couple of weeks…


Keep up the great work.
Love your site.
Bexley-is-Bonkers! is the first and only lighthouse for people who are up against the council’s dirty tactics.
I am disgusted by Bexley council.
You give a voice where it was taken away and that is a huge reassurance.
I hate Bexley council with all my heart.
I wish you the best of luck in fighting the corrupt and bureaucratic swine.
As an employee of Bexley council I follow your site and enjoy it.
What a great site.
I’ve been through s**t with Bexley council and now I feel empowered knowing that they are being closely monitored.
Bravo! Keep up the good work!
Just the sort of website I would have been proud of writing myself!


That is quite enough for now. I plan to be back tomorrow with another report on Bexley council raising drawbridges to deter the inquisitive.

 

6 May (Part 4) - Where feeble men fear to tread

Teresa Pearce MPTeresa Pearce MP is a very dangerous woman. She may be putting me in grave danger of being persuaded to vote Labour for the first time in my life. I clearly remember being slung out of a Labour hustings (now there’s a term you don’t often hear) in 1959 for heckling and the experience more or less fixed my political views ever since.

I know that MPs are instructed to act against constituents who don’t agree with them; “At times a constituent’s demands may conflict with party policy and an MP will have to decide where their first loyalty should lie”: if that isn’t a veiled threat I don’t know what is. Perhaps it explains why our Conservative MPs are so loathe to speak their mind about Bexley council and face the inevitable wrath of their (de)selection committees stuffed with Conservative councillors. The depressing thing is that if the political parties all changed places probably nothing would change.

Meanwhile the only real chance we have of seeing Bexley council tackled politically is fearless Teresa who represents Erith & Thamesmead. I think it is fashionable to call ladies who speak their mind ‘feisty’ not fearless, but you never did expect to see political correctness on Bonkers did you?. So what has fearless Teresa been up to? Bringing up the subject of Nick Johnson, ex-Bexley council CEO and fat cat par excellence in the House of Commons, that’s what.

In the House she and her colleague the MP for Hammersmith said yesterday afternoon…( cut down with some comments)

“The chief executive of Notting Hill Housing (Ms. Kate Davies), who featured in the popular press along with her partner (Mr. Nick Johnson), who was director of housing and regeneration for Hammersmith and Fulham, earns £200,000 a year and he earns £260,000 a year as a consultant.

Their jobs have been to run the two main social landlords in Hammersmith & Fulham and they are also advisers to the Conservative party. Mr. Nick Johnson, has been paid more than £830,000 as consultant and director of regeneration in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Is it true (said Teresa Pearce) that the contract was given to Mr. Johnson under a corporate vehicle so that national insurance on those payments was not paid by Hammersmith & Fulham? Yes. (was the reply.) But this is an extreme case so let me read what the Minister for Housing and Local Government said. I should point out that Mr. Johnson retired on a permanent ill-health pension as chief executive of the London borough of Bexley with a £300,000 lump sum and a £50,000 a year pension that was payable immediately. Within three months, he had taken up his £260,000 a year job, first running Hammersmith & Fulham Homes and then as director of housing and regeneration in Hammersmith & Fulham. The House can imagine my views on this.

When I raised the matter in the House, the Secretary of State appeared to take Mr. Johnson’s side. The council (Hammersmith & Fulham) has certainly taken his side, as the Daily Mail reported this week, “the council defended the move, saying Mr. Johnson was ‘excellent value for money’.”

I want to praise the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who said: “Town hall pensions cost every council tax-paying household over £300 a year. Hard-pressed taxpayers cannot afford to foot an ever-growing bill. It’s not justifiable to have healthy employees working in local government and claiming an ill-health benefit at the same time. Councils have power to stop such payments and should use them.” What is Mr. Johnson being paid to do that means that he is such good value for money for the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham? How is Mr. Johnson earning his money? As director of housing and regeneration he was in charge and is still, because even though Hammersmith & Fulham has now appointed a director of housing and regeneration on about £170,000 a year, Mr. Johnson is still retained as a consultant to help him out.”

You tell ‘em Teresa and keep reminding the country of the tricks that Bexley council played around the time Nick was so unfortunately unwell. The Bonkers team has put in a Freedom of Information request about Mr. Johnson’s time at Bexley in an attempt to uncover some of the cover-ups that are costing us £50,000 a year.

The full transcript of Ms. Pearce’s speech and that of her colleague Andy Slaughter is available in Hansard and begins at ‘column 862’.

 

6 May (Part 3) - Life is vexing

When Bexley council runs out of excuses and lies it usually resorts to labelling a resident “vexatious” after which they refuse to talk to him at all. I assumed they had some sort of definition of vexatious but a Freedom of Information request reveals that they have not. “The definition of Vexatious is not contained in the Constitution” was the answer, which I suppose is nice and convenient because they can make it up as they go along.

According to my dictionary vexatious means “tending to cause annoyance or worry”, so I am going to try my hand at being vexatious.

Someone at Bexley council believed to be councillor Craske or acting on his instructions reported Mr. Martin Peaple to the police for doing a civic duty by warning drivers that they shouldn’t park outside his shop. The law requires the council to do that but Bexley isn’t very good at it; what is it good at? The police (widely believed to be in Bexley council’s pocket) responded by sending an officer to knock on Mr. Peaple’s door. Like my harassment letter, this latest collusion between two public bodies vying with each other to see who can be held in most contempt, has spread like wildfire across the net. So I would like to add to councillor Craske’s worries by pointing out the story is now today’s entry on The Big Brother Watch website.

Craske has gone into ostrich mode again as he is wont to do. He is refusing to talk to anyone about the reasonable questions being posed by the man from Richmond. Richmond man probably has no idea how devious Bexley council can be. Welcome to Bexley Mr. Wise, home to “a mob of nasty, evil people who seem to thrive on other people’s pain and hurt”.

 

6 May (Part 2) - Nice work if you can get it - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

Sculpture in Lesnes Abbey WoodsThe finer points of accountancy escape me. An accountant has explained again how the expenditure Bexley council publishes on its website is not enough to tell the whole story and I thought I understood but I’ve half forgotten it already. I think I shall stick with his summary which was “things that look suspicious might not be and things that look OK may be hiding something; and round numbers are always suspicious”. I can just about remember that.

One of the things that caught my eye on the March expenditure list was £31,710 to the sculptor Philip Bews. Enquiries reveal that he was commissioned to produce sculptures in Bursted Woods. They look suspiciously like the sculpture (see photo) that appeared in Lesnes Abbey Wood last year. I pass it several times a week and everyone who looks at it likes it, but thirty one thousand for wood carving! I know Bexley council says it received a grant for ‘regeneration’ but is this the way to spend so much money when we are supposed to be hard up? The Lesnes Abbey sculpture has been badly burned by vandals.

The ‘round figures’ seem to be donations from Bexley council to their favoured charities. I would give more examples but Bexley’s website has been down all day but one I remember was a charity helping battered women. I expect they need all the money they can get but who on Bexley council makes these decisions? I can guess how it works in practice.

Every time I look into local charities or small businesses being given large grants by Bexley council I seem to find one thing in common. It is run by a Bexley councillor receiving a fat fee. Sometimes more than one Bexley councillor.

Again I am hampered by Bexley council’s website being down all day but from memory Bexley Crossroads Care has had a Bexley councillor as its director. The NHS Care Trust has three Bexley councillors as directors. The Neighbourhood Watch is run by a would-be Conservative councillor - he wasn’t elected.

Then there are the local business on the receiving end of grants. Bexley Manor Nursery School with councillor John Waters on its board and the granddaddy of them all, the Thames Innovation Centre, largely run by Bexley councillors which has been on the receiving end of barrow-loads of Bexley tax payers’ cash.

One can argue that businesses, charities and public bodies taking lots of Bexley’s cash should have someone on their board who represents the donor but whether that is justified or not it makes for a nice little boost for councillors’ earnings. Your heart no doubt bleeds for the likes of Katie Perrior who couldn’t possibly do her part time voluntary job without being paid £22,650 to do it and writes to The Chronicle to ask us to feel sorry for her.

 

6 May (Part 1) - News Shopper on acid

News Shopper on-line News Shopper on paperI think I am a bit annoyed with The News Shopper. In their issue dated 4th May they described Bonkers as posting “anti-Bexley council blogs”. Can’t argue with that. But their on-line variant has changed the equivalent paragraph to “vitriolic anti-Bexley council blogs”. In my opinion the most vitriolic words about Bexley council that you will find anywhere on this website were taken from the News Shopper. Bexley council has been “taken over by a mob of nasty, evil people who seem to thrive on other people’s pain and hurt”. That’s vitriolic. True, but definitely vitriolic!

 

5 May (Part 2) - Craske ducks it

Regular readers of this blog will know that councillor Craske never answers a question. He will filibuster at council meetings, he will sometimes blatantly lie (do I have to give all the examples again?), he will sometimes answer a question that wasn’t asked, but he will never give you a straight answer. So I hardly need tell you his response to this afternoon’s email do I? Which variant on the theme will it be? He sort of blames someone else. “Your allegations against me are 100% false.” I don’t know about you but I can’t see any accusations in Mr. Wise’s email. Can you?

Maybe the little man will be famous yet. In the Daily Mail perhaps, just like Nick Johnson the former Bexley Chief Executive.

 

5 May (Part 1) - Piling on the pressure

It is a ‘slow news day’. We need some Apache attack helicopters over the Civic Centre, a man with a score to settle and some well directed barbs at anyone who might ever have worn a white nightie. That would keep things lively for days on end as the survivors argued that entering the mayor’s parlour with a video camera strapped to a hat is contrary to their hastily cobbled together constitution. But if there is a man to do such a deed it must be the fearless Olly Cromwell who is never short of ammunition to spray at any likely looking target.

My idea of excitement for today was to write to Chris Loynes, the council’s Head of Democratic Services, to ask him for the home addresses of all the elected councillors to publish on this site the moment the first resident’s address is posted on the council’s website for having the temerity to ask the council a question. It is perhaps a nasty trick but what else can you do when the council votes to be nasty to residents? I was going to ask Mr. Loynes nicely but point out that if he didn’t play ball I would have to FOI their Consent to Nomination Forms which he couldn’t refuse; but my plans were derailed. An early morning email came from someone who had noticed the earlier reference to my address plan and thought he would help out by putting in a suitable Freedom of Information request.

FOI’s are a useful tool. Ever since the council implied I was a racist when I asked why they spent so much money on foreign language translations rather than helping people learn English I’ve been curious about the cost. I get the impression that there is a lot less emphasis on translating council documents than there used to be but even so it cost £79,000 in the last 12 months.

The Notomob seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in Bexley and weren’t happy to see that a mob helper from Sidcup had been reported to plod for the non-crime of standing on the pavement. One of their leading members, Nigel Wise who beat Richmond council to a pulp over their gestapo wagons, decided to send councillor Craske an email…


• As it was not a police matter why did someone from Bexley Council cause police time to be wasted on visiting a man who was not committing any offence?
• Was it you who asked The Police to waste their time? If it was not yourself please advise me who was responsible.
• Mr. Peaple was actually assisting the local authority in their obligation made plain by the Secretary of State to advertise adequately the presence of CCTV enforcement. It is clear that Bexley Parking Personnel are unaware of these obligations. Please retrain all Parking Staff accordingly.
• Who in the council persuaded the police that the operation of CPE was for revenue raising and not the prevention and avoidance of wrongful parking.
• There clearly ought to be a vacancy after that council officer is sacked. Was this yourself?
• If it was not yourself then please advise me who it was. I look forward to receiving your reply giving answers to the above questions. Your failure to reply will result in my contacting he Chief Executive at Bexley for an Official Complaint to be launched. This will firstly be into why you have not responded to a mail from a member of the public and secondly to look into your involvement in this disgusting episode.


The pressure on Bexley council is relentless and so it should be while they insist on behaving like part of a police state. The News Shopper’s report has just become available on their website.. The Daily Mail has said they may cover Craske’s stupidity next Saturday and The Notomob have planned a special treat for Bexley council to show support for Mr. Peaple. Watch this space.

 

4 May - Welcome to Bexley

Welcome to BexleyNow that council leader Teresa O’Neill is officially sucking up to Boris Johnson you can expect to see some of Bexley’s ideas being adopted by City Hall. Their new welcome sign was on display for the first time yesterday. I jest of course and if you feel so inclined you can read the full story on the London SE1 Community website.

Another joke is Bexley council who once again have splashed themselves all over today’s News Shopper. It’s another parking story and someone on Bexley council has seen fit to get the police to do their dirty work again. A shop worker who warned motorists of the presence of a Bexley gestapo wagon was visited by his friendly neighbourhood plod and shown a picture of himself trying to save shoppers a fine. Quite how a photo of a man with a placard found its way from the gestapo car to plod is something the council doesn’t want to talk about. The policeman as it turns out was your actual friendly neighbourhood bobby because he is reported to have said “it’s not a police matter” which begs the question, why on earth did the police not tell Bexley council to take a jump? I think we know.

Try if you can to get a copy of The Shopper, they don’t allow a direct web link to their ‘paper’ issues and I don’t think it is right to ‘borrow’ their hard work while it is current. Nor do I believe in spoiling their stories in advance but I do know there is another nice parking story brewing which I hope one of the papers will take on board for next week. (News Shopper link to front page added 11th May 2011)

So who do you think is the idiot whose antics keep the news media alive with anti-Bexley council stories? Yesterday I said it had been leaked to me that it was councillor Craske (cabinet member for transport, £22,650) who went to the police to report me for harassing the council. I’ve no proof but it lends credence to the story that we now know that someone of influence with responsibility for parking matters has persuaded the cops to take up a case which appears to be “not a police matter”.

No joking matter is my disabled friend Carole’s ongoing battle with some bus drivers. I haven’t been with her in the mornings since Easter as things were going well but she no longer gets help in the afternoon from another friend who doesn’t have a spare child seat in her car any more. As anyone who travels on a bus just after 3 p.m. will know, it’s not a lot of fun even when the school children on board are well behaved. Now Carole has to contend with them as well as two children and her disability.

She is not a lady who gives up easily and has raised the issue of buggies on buses to the highest levels within Transport for London (TfL). She is now on first name terms with their Driver Communications Manager. Yesterday Carole tried to get on a B11 that already had two small buggies on board and although they will take three (I have a photo as proof) some drivers think two is the limit and not just guidance. Beyond two some drivers insist that buggies must be folded, but Carole just cannot do that for herself. So Carole managed to get herself and her buggy half on the bus and with help from no one was allowed no further. The driver was shown Carole’s disability card but he told her to get off and wait 15 minutes for the next bus - which might be just as full - but she stood her ground. The driver called the police and Carole called TfL’s Driver Communications Manager. The bus driver refused to talk to his manager, probably thinking Carole was bluffing.

The stand-off went on until the next bus came along with passengers inconvenienced, not that I have any sympathy for them as not one volunteered to fold up the buggy. Fortunately the next bus was driven by a man more flexible than the first who recognised a regular passenger and came to her rescue. I would have loved to be there with my camera; I would like even more to have been a fly on the wall when the driver got back to base to find a TfL manager wanting to speak to him.

Carole has a meeting set up next week with TfL and councillor John Fuller. I’m not sure what influence he has over TfL but at least he is maintaining a close interest, which is more than one can say for his fellow ward councillor and Bedonwell School Governor John Davey (£9,543 + £7,782 from the Bexley Care Trust) who has done what he always has done in my experience; look steadfastly the other way.

 

3 May (Part 2) - Will sick Nick be nicked?

A Daily Mail webpage headline Permanently sick Nick Johnson hard at workBexley council’s accusation of harassment got this blog noticed in places it hadn’t penetrated before. Within 48 hours The Independent on Sunday, planning an article on the £50,000 ‘permanently sick’ pension that Bexley taxpayers are forced to stump up for its former chief executive Nick Johnson, was asking questions. I answered some and gave Jonathan Owen, the journalist, some contacts I thought might prove helpful. As recently as last Friday members of the Bonkers team were still in contact with The Indie journalist and at that stage it wasn’t a certainty that the article would appear, but it did. You can read it on line at The Independent’s website. The Mail on Sunday jumped on the bandwagon by updating a report it had first made last October.

The new thing that the Indie reports is that HM Revenue & Customs is taking an interest. Teresa Pearce MP for Erith & Thamesmead and former senior tax investigator at PricewaterhouseCoopers is quoted as saying “it’s not within the spirit of the law, definitely not” and “within a year of him being judged to be in permanently ill health he was pictured in a hard hat, with a spade, digging, in a brochure for Hammersmith & Fulham Homes – this is just so barefaced that it’s insulting. Whatever he is paid for holding that office should go through the payroll and it doesn’t. HMRC should investigate this.”

It’s refreshing to find an MP willing to speak up for injustice and unafraid to question shady deals head on; unlike some whose ability to sit on the fence and face all directions at once never ceases to amaze. Essex man got the measure of James Brokenshire (MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup) when he was rejected as prospective MP for Witham for being "slick but ‘too clever’ by qualifying every statement”. That looks like it was a razor sharp perception but I suppose he has his climb towards Home Secretary to consider above all else. Upset the local constituency party and you could be in big trouble. Three weeks ago The Sunday Telegraph reported that Bromley & Chislehurst Conservatives were threatening their MP Bob Neill with deselection if he continued to issue guidance that councillors should do the decent thing and reduce their allowances and open up meetings to bloggers and Tweeters etc. Are there no honourable Tories any more or is scheming for their own ends all they know? The fearless Olly Cromwell has something to say on the same subject - in his own inimitable style of course.

I think I have wandered a little from my intended point with this blog; which was that whoever reported me to the police last month set up some sort of butterfly effect. (A butterfly flapping its wings in China can set off a tornado in the Caribbean - or similar.) Such idiocy could yet be a contributory factor in another high level investigation into Bexley’s rotten council. For the record, a leaker told me it was councillor Craske who thought it was a good idea to call in plod. That could be a wind-up, I don’t know and I doubt my Subject Access Request will turn up anything useful, especially if the leaker is correct and some idiot loner was responsible.

 

3 May (Part 1) - Playing a-round with our money - click image for photo gallery (2 images)

A Belvedere playgroundThere’s a children’s playground three minutes walk from my home. I’d never been in it until the Easter holiday weekend and it looked pretty good to me. It must have cost quite a lot. Anyone have an idea how much? Well in March alone £631,940.45 went to two of the big playground equipment manufacturers. That’s an awful lot of money. How much did Bexley council prune from the getting disabled children to school budget? £1·6 million wasn’t it? Speaking of playgrounds, I wonder why Bexley council found it necessary to pay the Thamesview (Thamesmead) Golf Centre £1,800.

Another big payout close to my home was ‘an event’ in Belvedere on Easter Sunday (with another planned for this month). “London Borough of Bexley want to raise awareness and celebrate the work they have done on the Belvedere Green Links Programme. They plan to run a series of events with the assistance of Seventeen Events: Events will include a business networking event and official launch event in May; attendees will include local businesses and official dignitaries.” And how much of your money did Bexley council spend partying and celebrating? A mere £20,021.40 on the glorification of councillors with only “official dignitaries” invited. A bit of a difference from the effort put in by leader Teresa O’Neill when she invited the public to her ‘have your say’ sessions in libraries and then dodged them upon hearing a few residents had taken her seriously and turned up.

What are Green Links anyway? Cycle paths according to ‘Seventeen Events’ the company that profited from Bexley council’s need to drag dignitaries from their homes on Easter Sunday. Maybe they were tempted by a souvenir bag from the company ‘Rocket Bags’ who were paid £2,940 to produce them but a celebration of cycle paths by councillors and invited dignitaries doesn’t benefit residents, it just costs them the price of a dozen houses’ council tax.

I clearly remember councillor Campbell (St. Mary’s. £22.650) saying at the meeting which approved refurbishing of the old Woolwich building for council offices that savings would in part come from not having to maintain or upgrade the existing council buildings, he specifically mentioned air conditioning and I felt so sorry for council staff having to go without that I mentioned it in my report. Now I see it isn’t strictly true. More than £8,000 was spent on “air conditioning construction costs” in March. The cynic sitting next to me at that meeting muttered “illusory” when Campbell came out with his savings theory and I wondered myself if neglecting old buildings would affect the resale value of those not scheduled for demolition. The cynic is probably right.

D’you remember councillor Craske telling us there was no £4m. contract with the transport consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff? It may not have been exactly £4m. but Craske is paying them nevertheless. Another £34,463.95 in March. Not that it compares with what UBS Global Asset Management (UK) Ltd. took us for in March, a cool £95,533.78. Why are we paying a Chief Executive around £240,000 a year; “good value for money” according to council leader Teresa O’Neill, and paying consultants to do the job of managing our assets for him? Exactly what use is Will Tuckley?

 

2 May (Part 2) - Three into two won’t go - ever!

Just over six months ago the leader of Bexley council, Teresa O’Neill said when forecasting the cuts to be inflicted on the population, “We have not discounted reducing the number of councillors” but since then she has uttered not another word about it. The subject wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the council’s cuts documents nor has it ever been on the agenda of any of the council or cabinet meetings held since. It wouldn’t be popular among the money-grabbing classes; there are far too many of them riding Bexley’s gravy train. Meanwhile, down the road in Bromley, the council there has drawn up plans to reduce the number of councillors per ward from three to two. Nothing can happen until 2014 but at least they weren’t so dishonest as to grab a cheap headline and hastily retreat.

So what has a council with such a fine record of lining members’ pockets done with the idea since 27th October 2010 when the leader first went public with it? Mr. Bryant, never one to give up pursuing Bexley council’s failures, asked the appropriate question at the council meeting of 17th November and was told “nothing”. At the March meeting, the answer was just the same, the leader said once again that she was all hot air. Well not quite, but she may as well have done; and then most recently on 6th April the indefatigable Mr. Bryant put in another question asking what progress had been made towards reducing the number (and £900k. cost) of councillors. He didn’t get an answer because that was the meeting where mayor Val Clark rigged the questions session by getting ex-councillor David Leaf to ask sycophantic time-wasting questions before anyone else could get a look in. However Mr. Bryant has received an answer from the leader through the post. It is of the time-honoured “I refer you to the answer I gave before” variety. Or in simple language, the leader has done absolutely nothing about reducing the number of passengers on the Bexley gravy train and her statement to the News Shopper was never anything other than a sop to the masses. You may prefer to call it a lie, but beware you may get a police accusation of harassment if you do.

Mr. Bryant won’t be asking his question again because he has been banned from doing so. So have I and so have you. Under the revised Constitution introduced by a small coterie of Conservative cronies each with much to hide from public scrutiny, no one may ask a question which is “substantially the same as one asked within the last six months”. It won’t matter if the last time it was asked it got no answer or a completely dishonest answer, the mere fact it was asked is enough to stop all further questioning. I am sure once a few criminal minds are applied to that and the other similar provisions it will be possible to put a stop to almost anything. I can be banned for making it obvious I have no respect for the mayor or the council’s idea of democracy and quite likely you can be banned if you agree with me. If you are a councillor who has seen a colleague face the beak after too many questions were asked by a resident you wouldn’t want to risk close questioning again would you?

 

2 May (Part 1) - Flak over Flackley

Ever since the editor of the Bexleyheath Chronicle discovered that £2,585 hotel bill for the cabinet’s Christmas jaunt to Rye excuses and accusations have been flying to and fro. It would be so much easier if the council came out with the truth of the matter because what we have heard so far doesn’t quite add up.

Leader Teresa O’Neill said that cabinet members paid for themselves in advance but the council seems to have paid out on a very big bill and their Payments Manager, presumably acting under instructions, won’t say any more about it. There have been suggestions that cabinet members didn’t claim subsistence for the trip which is not the same thing as paying for themselves; what might help is sight of the hotel’s bill and a Freedom of Information request has gone in for it, so far without response. It can’t be that difficult to make a copy and put it in the post can it?

It’s hard to know the workings of a politician’s mind, why MPs think we should pay for their duck houses and porn movies and locally how the council leader can have the gall to stand before public and press and say she doesn’t agree that councillors should “cut their allowances so as to suffer the same pain they are inflicting on the public” or for that matter blatantly lie on their political website. Probably they are so remote from ordinary life and have for so long been placing themselves in positions where money drops into their lap like magic that they have difficulty distinguishing right from the immoral.

Katie Perrior (Blackfen & Lamorbey, £22,650) in a letter to the Bexleyheath Chronicle claims she knows that “many people believe (being given an allowance) is not right” but says without it “only the rich would apply”. She goes on to bleat that she would be out of pocket if she did not get her allowance, quoting travel, childcare, telephone and support costs. She claims to put in 20 hours a week of council work which is a not too shabby £22 an hour. Probably more than half the local population would be very pleased to get that (it’s twice the average hourly wage) and they get their spouses to look after the children when they are out in the evening, pay for their own bus to work, pay the phone company around £17 a month for ‘free calls’ and somehow buy a computer out of their own pocket. Probably Ms. Perrior’s expenditure would be much the same if she wasn’t a councillor apart from the occasional bus ride to the Civic Centre. If she uses a car she doesn’t even have to pay to park. Despite claiming to be a “mother who works part-time” and being “best placed to know exactly what residents are going through" she still can’t explain why the meeting couldn’t have been held in the council offices or in the Marriott next door.

Incidentally, among the voluntary jobs (and being a councillor is a voluntary job) available right now in Bexley is a newsletter editor for the MS Society, a treasurer for the Scouts Council, voluntary jobs with the Met. Police, Shopmobility and charity shops. Loads of things are listed at http://www.do-it.org.uk and just because they don’t pay the national wage for turning up at a few meetings or hand out directorships of loss making companies doesn’t mean only rich people apply. Katie Perrior, like most politicians, hasn’t got a clue about what real people do and collecting twenty two grand for a sinecure does not make her “best placed to know”. Whatever did she do for money before picking up her cabinet position and the extra thirteen grand that goes with it?

 

1 May - April’s highlights

It always seems a shame to me when a month’s worth of blogs disappears from view so here is a brief summary of the past month to get May off to a flying start.


• Council scores massive own goal by reporting this blog to the police for “alarming” them leading to local press coverage, massively increased readership and not unconnected to today’s coverage in The Independent on Sunday. The Bonkers team was happy to play its part in that.
• Council plants its own questions at meetings to deny residents the opportunity to ask their own.
• Leader Teresa O’Neill states publicly that she does not agree that councillors should “cut their allowances so as to suffer the same pain they are inflicting on the public”.
• Council changes its Constitution to confirm its ad-hoc decision to have nothing to do with the government’s plea to local councils to allow greater transparency including recording of meetings for use on blogs etc.
• Council changes its Constitution to restrict residents’ ability to ask questions at council meetings.
• Council initially refuses to provide electoral registration papers for councillor Alex Sawyer to frustrate enquiries as to why they were so keen to keep secret his marriage to the MP Priti Patel.
• Bexley council lost the first round of the Industrial Tribunal case brought by a whistleblower who was sacked for voicing her concerns to her manager who was subsequently charged with paedophilia offences but supported by Bexley council throughout and beyond both his arrest and charge.
• Bexley council approved refurbishment of the old Woolwich Building Society HQ building for use as Civic Offices at a cost of £36m.
• Bexley Conservatives harass and alarm two Labour councillors by telling outrageous lies about them on a Conservative party website.

 

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