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Bonkers Blog February 2013

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24 February (Part 1) - Setting the record straight

It’s strange what persuades readers to let their keyboards loose on the Contact page. When I reported Bexley council’s failure to provide the public with a report that should have accompanied an Agenda on Monday and which I considered to be a breach of the Local Government Act 1985, no one took any notice. But when the public was deprived of the Agenda for the next Public Cabinet meeting several people got quite agitated about it. Peculiar when you consider that at best only half a dozen would have turned out in the cold to attend it.

In the former case democracy itself took a knock, albeit a very small one by Bexley standards, and in the latter, because of Mr. Barnbrook’s timely intervention, a dozen councillors were inconvenienced. I have my views on which is the most significant but the Inbox does not agree. A regular and valued contributor goes further and suggests I have been far too forgiving of Paul Moore, the Director of Customer and Corporate Services.

Whilst I do not fully understand the amount of interest shown in this particular Bexley council failure I shall attempt, if the phrase has not been totally discredited by a dishonest leader of the council, to set the record straight with a list of events shorn of comment. Readers can then draw their own conclusions as to whether or not I have been hoodwinked by Mr. Moore.


Tuesday 19th February
• 07:00 approx. I first noticed that the Public Cabinet Agenda was not on line. I told no one but monitored the appropriate page regularly thereafter.
Friday 22nd February
• 08:26. Posted blog drawing attention to the Agenda’s absence and made reference to Mr. Barnbrook. I made no attempt to contact him.
• 13:45. Posted blog announcing that Bexley council had placed the missing Agenda to its website “around mid-day”.
• 15:10. Mr. Barnbrook telephoned to request that I clarify exactly what I had guessed he might do.
• 15:30. Mr. Barnbrook failed to contact Mr. Fox by telephone. †
• 15:45. Mr. Barnbrook emailed a Ms. Lingham at the council offices referring to his “telephone conversation fifteen minutes ago” and went on to reiterate his case that “the Public Cabinet Meeting scheduled for Monday 25th February, 2013, cannot legally take place”.
• 16:12. Mr. Barnbrook called me again to say he had phoned Mr. Fox but that he was not in the office so had sent an email instead.
• 17:10. Mr. Barnbrook attempted to speak to Ms. Lingham again but was told by John Adams that she was away at an important meeting. He asked that she should call him upon her return but she never did. †
• 18:07. Mr. Barnbrook informed me by email that he had resent his email timed at 15:45 because he was concerned the first one had not reached his Sent box.
• 18:27. Mr. Barnbrook phoned me having got cold feet about the legal situation. I emailed him a link to the relevant legislation.
• 20:44. I telephoned Mr. Bryant on another matter but during that call he informed me that he believed the Public Cabinet meeting had been postponed to March 4th and that the Agenda posted at mid-day had been removed.
• 21:24. Posted blog to the effect that the meeting had been deferred and the Agenda posted around mid-day had been removed.
• 21:44. Mr. Moore emailed Mr. Barnbrook, copied to Mr. Alabi Head of Legal. “The meeting will now take place on Monday 4th March at 7.30pm. The agenda has been published on the Council’s website this evening.” ††
• 23:57. Mr. Moore emailed me, copied to Mr. Alabi Head of Legal and also from his bexley.gov address to advise me “the agenda for Public Cabinet on 4th March was published earlier this evening”. †††
Saturday 23rd February
• 10:14. I emailed my thanks to Mr. Moore for his advice of the previous evening.

† The timing of this call is approximate. My telephone records the details of all incoming and outgoing calls. Mr. Barnbrook’s does not
†† Mr. Barnbrook did not make me aware of this email until today. Sunday morning. It does not thank him for guiding Bexley council away from another brush with the law.
††† This email was not seen until Saturday morning.


I am uncertain whether my search for the Agenda circa 9 p.m. on Friday was inadequate or whether it didn’t go on line until later. Mr. Moore told Mr. Barnbrook that it had been posted by quarter to ten and I assume that if it had gone on line much earlier Ms. Lingham would have told Mick Barnbrook about it before she went home but she left Mick in the dark..

I try not to go beyond the known facts when writing blogs and as such I have no knowledge of how Bexley council came to make this mistake or if it was not a mistake but had some ulterior motive. The facts are only that Bexley council did not publish an Agenda in the timescale required by law. There is no doubt about that and they deferred their meeting and provided an Agenda at the very last possible moment without apology or explanation.

The most obvious explanation is that the council moved its meeting because Mr. Barnbrook made it clear he expected the law to be upheld. It has been suggested that the decision to move the meeting to 4th March was taken a while ago and the real failure was not updating the Calendar of Meetings. Publishing an Agenda for 25th February on the 22nd rather puts paid to that theory. “If they have made a cock-up, why don't they acknowledge it and thank Mr. Barnbrook for bringing it to their attention?” says another inquisitor. What? I would have thought any council officer who goes on the record for thanking Mick Barnbrook for anything will risk kissing his pension goodbye! “Please don’t be seduced by Mr. Moore” says another. Probably good advice. John Watson of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group has been in pursuit of Bexley council for far longer than I have and constantly reminds me that they are “all cheats and liars”. My meetings with Bexley police should have taught me that.

Apologies to those who think this is all rather dry and academic stuff, but the number of comments, some anonymous, persuaded me that all the known facts should be made available to those who require them.

 

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