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Bonkers Blog March 2013

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28 March - Dumb insolence

Teresa O'NeillThis is almost certainly going to be the last entry on the March blog. It’s not just because Easter is approaching, though that is a factor, but it simply isn’t sensible to keep producing stories from very little.

Teresa O’Neill, the leader of Bexley council, has learned a lot over the past three years. Marching into the police station with a pack of lies expecting her military wing to close down all sources of criticism served only to expose her contempt for the law. Her activities are far more subtle now.

Few will notice that her council has gone into hiding. It is only a handful of days short of five months since Bexley council last met in full session with what passes for scrutiny by the public and the next scheduled meeting is four weeks away. But councillors still award themselves nearly a million pounds a year for their hard work. That source of information about council affairs has effectively dried up. So have other sources. Nothing much gets answered…


• The first question to council (for April’s meeting) I know of went in last December. Still unacknowledged.
• Further questions went in in February with requests that the council address the Data Protection Act aspects of their policy of publishing sensitive personal data on their website. Again no answer.
• The council is still operating with no Constitution available for inspection. A week has gone by since they were asked to comment. Nothing! If it was my complaint I'd send the file straight to Eric Pickles. Sometimes the BCMG is just too reasonable.
The Complaints Procedure is bypassed so that only one man can dismiss a complaint without any possibility of redress.
• Incriminating notes relating to complaints are destroyed before a complaint is resolved. (Not yet fully reported.)
• Forgetting to take minutes at important meetings (the Craske case) and (conveniently) no one can remember what was said. (Not yet fully reported.)
• The Local Government Ombudsman has still not delivered his final report on mayor Alan Downing’s pen jabbing exercise and year old abuse of the aurally disadvantaged. Nothing happens fast.
• The Crown Prosecution Service ‘lost’ all of Elwyn Bryant’s papers on the Craske affair. The man who was handling the case was transferred elsewhere and the papers disappeared with him. Elwyn has had to start all over again.
• The police asked last week that nothing new is said publicly about their investigation into certain obscenities, not that that one matters a great deal because they are playing their cards close to their chests and there is nothing to say anyway.


You’ll get the idea. Pull up the drawbridge. Say nothing. Hope that critics will lose interest while quietly racking up officers’ pay to ensure their loyalty. Headless chicken syndrome has been replaced by a gang of possums playing dead.

Happy Easter!

 

27 March (Part 2) - Design failure

Coralline Walk Coralline Walk  Coralline WalkWhat’s with the plague of keep left signs in Lower Road asked a reader. Photo 1 shows eight, two more are only just excluded and a similar number may be seen further down the road. My correspondent says he has not seen vehicles on the wrong side of the road though I have to confess I have, several times. The narrowing of Belvedere’s B213 has become so frustrating to some drivers they pass buses (and once me) by ignoring the keep left signs.


Coralline WalkMy recollection is that ASDA were going to pay for road revisions outside the new store. As the only exit is in the Erith direction the temptation is to do an early U turn so a central reservation has been installed with a rough surface to deter driving over it. Obviously the people who design these things have no idea of the standard of driving frequently seen in these parts. Hence the introduction of cones.

Bexley council has provided the following explanation…


The keep left bollards that you refer to are in fact associated with the traffic islands recently implemented which are intended to slow vehicles down whilst offering protection to right turning vehicles. They were not introduced to address an issue of motorists driving on the wrong side of the carriageway.


What the council doesn’t seem to have realised is that narrowing the road at this point means that if two buses should come along at once, and off peak 14 are scheduled each hour on three different routes, the second one is left tailing out into the carriageway and blocking it. And the man in charge gets a bonus.

 

27 March (Part 1) - It costs no more to get it right, but they don’t

Failed websiteI assumed I was alone in being slightly confused by my council tax demand but I was wrong as yesterday’s mailbag revealed. Twelve totally redundant paying in slips are apparently widespread. No wonder Bexley’s website says they send out 4.7 tonnes of council tax bills each year.

Nowhere does my bill tell me the sort code of the bank I am to pay. Hidden on the paying in slip and In the tiniest of print I discovered that Bexley banks with NatWest and their collection account number is 21101183 but there is no banking information whatsoever on the bill itself. No sort code and you are stuffed.

Others are confused by the Reference Number and Service Number. I was prepared to guess which to use but I was then told that if I went on line to pay I would require an Account Number which might be different yet again. I went on line to check and it’s true so I thought I’d do everyone a favour by emailing Bexley council for the definitive answer but their spanking new website failed. See illustration.

The council tax bill is quite unlike the Thames Water bill that comes in at the same time of the year. That lists all conceivable payment methods and gives precise details for each. A sort code for Internet or telephone banking from Bexley council? Forget it. I’ve used the sort code (51-70-14) I used last year and crossed all fingers. Incredible what management skills you can get by paying the sixth highest salaries in the country?

 

26 March - Sweet Coralline

Coralline Walk Coralline Walk Coralline WalkYet another submission from a Bonkers reader. Bonkers to be out in this cold weather if you ask me. And who’d be an MP?

Coralline Walk may boast one of the most attractive names in the borough but the reality hasn’t always lived up to the promise. But it’s amazing what a bit of paint can do as has been demonstrated by the refurbishment of several tower blocks visible from the trains going into London Bridge.

The rejuvenated concrete shown is close to Abbey Wood station and has been spruced up through the joint efforts of Dulux and its “Let’s Colour Campaign” and Trust Thamesmead, and presumably a number of enthusiastic residents.

And what has this got to do with Bexley council? Not a lot, but Lesnes Abbey councillors John Davey (Conservative majority over Labour, 289) and Eleanor Hurt (majority 6) were both present. Presumably this bit of wall painting will not draw the attention of the council’s clean up team.

Ribbon cutting by a frozen Teresa Pearce, dog by Dulux, pictures by Brian Barnett. Sunday 24th March.

 

25 March (Part 2) - i-con or i-sore?

The usual Bonkers’ fare has been in short supply recently; the last three blogs have all been the work of others to varying degree and merely reshaped by myself. The council tax statistics were far more critical of Bexley council than I allowed, there is a difference between political deceptions and bare faced lies and Teresa O’Neill was very selective when she quoted figures. They were irrelevant and calculated to deceive, there can be little doubt about that, but they fell a little short of a lie.

Today’s Part 2 is again the opinion of a reader and arrives here shortened rather than significantly altered. Everyone is entitled to their view. The photographs were taken on 13th February 2013.


New Civic Centre Site for houses Site for housesI’m frequently perturbed by the sheer arrogance of Teresa O’Neill. Currently her big wheeze is the new civic building that is supposed to herald a bright new future for austerity Bexley. Lest we forget, the council and Teresa’s Strategy 2014 is all about saving 35 million pounds over three years and despite this challenging goal they fully support the super idea of splashing out £42 million on their own spanking new offices. Will they never learn?

Of course every possible opportunity is deployed to reassure themselves, in their own tiny minds, that this is what residents actually want.

The local Pravda – or Bexley magazine – in true five year plan style trumpets the ‘Landmark town centre project [that] brings investment and jobs’ and suitably illustrates those points with an empty, muddy field. Well I for one am not totally convinced by the claim and supporting evidence supplied!


Save a millionOnce again we are treated to their favourite mantra that ‘moving all of its office staff into one building will save the council more than £1 million a year’. It’s the usual sham economics highlighted on Bonkers many times before.

Annual budgets are based on the previous year’s spend so you can only ever claim the saving once. That’s what will show in the accounts, anything else is just the propaganda machine being used by the glorious leader Teresa O’Neill at every chance she gets.


Iconic My other favourite piece of drivel from this disingenuous woman is that she is doing the residents of our borough some sort of favour by reusing “a much loved” - and her favourite word is “iconic” - building. Well, iconic is the sort of grand word with a generally misunderstood meaning which would undoubtedly suit a politician; but come on are you really sure that anybody else has any sort of affection for this tatty piece of dated 1980’s architecture? It is a bulky brick eyesore devoid of any semblance of elegance. It is a blot on the landscape which makes absolutely no effort to blend with the surroundings, preferring instead to revel in a bizarre garish electric (Tory?) blue façade and mock pagoda style with little or no architectural merit.

Even Bexley council cannot find anything good to say about it. In their report on Bexley’s Local Distinctiveness - it never ceases to amaze me what drool Bexley council spends money on producing - a staggering 79 pages in all with just a single mention of our ‘iconic’ Woolwich building on page 27. “The former Woolwich building at the corner of the A220 road and Watling Street, which has views to the south of the borough towards Hall Place and the A2 motorway”. Is that it? Its only merit is that you can see it from the A2?

So carry on regardless Teresa as unfortunately it is far too late to alter your course now. Don’t worry, I’m sure you and your cronies will come up with some sort of flannel for the electorate but here is a free piece of advice for you from another politician of old; ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time; and all of the people some of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’ You really should get out more and talk to real residents. They don’t care a whit for such an expensive folly and frankly you cannot hide this one at all!


Perhaps a few reminders of the facts is in order. Bexley council swapped its existing building with Tesco who had bought the Woolwich site hoping to open a supermarket there. Tesco retained most of the land which they sold to Bellway for housing. The precise terms of the swap with Bexley has been kept secret.

Of the £42 million cost of the new building - I thought they originally said £36 million - half is being spent on refurbishment. On the council’s own admission it would have been far cheaper to have rebuilt on the existing site. It’s not all bad, the existing building is undoubtedly dated and fails to meet present day needs and the new supermarket will be in a much better place than Erith Road.

On the other hand we are supposed to be hard up. The average Bexley council tax payer is contributing £440 (42 million pounds and 95,819 dwellings) to keeping Bexley councillors in the style they believe they deserve while care workers exist on the minimum wage and don’t get paid for the time taken getting from one job to the next or reimbursed the cost of doing so. Contrasted with that it’s clear to see what Bexley councillors value most. Their own comfort and prestige.

 

25 March (Part 1) - Keeping you in the dark

LegislationMy council tax bill arrived this morning and unlike every previous year I can remember it is not accompanied by a booklet to tell me where my money is going (†). All I got was a notice aimed at those on Council Tax Benefits which makes a brief reference to instalments being payable over twelve months on application. Why should I have to apply, Mr. Pickles says it is my right?

To confuse the issue further Bexley council has sent me twelve paying in slips but told me that my “Statutory Instalment Plan is payable as follows” and gives me ten dates.

Personally I do not much care whether it is ten or twelve payments, thanks to the idiotic policies of governments past and present my utility bills now exceed my rates bill, and if the payment was to any other body I’d probably send the lot in one go, but for Bexley I shall go to the trouble of setting up a standing order.

If you are unfortunately feeling the squeeze remember it is the right of everyone to pay over twelve months, not just those affected by the reforms as Bexley’s notice may imply.

† £15,899,368 to the police last year, the worst performing police in London.

 

24 March (Part 2) - Statistics and lies

Bromley council's graphWhen any Bexley cabinet member stands up at a meeting and makes a statement including numbers it is wise to take a closer look to make sure the wool is not being pulled over residents’ eyes.

During Teresa O’Neill’s announcement that council tax was to be frozen in Bexley for a third consecutive year she left me with the impression that Bexley was the second most hard done by council in London. I mentioned that to a friend from Bromley who immediately said it could not be true because Bromley was second worst off. Some enquiries were called for.

O’Neill said the total tax take from the borough was second lowest in London, one above Waltham Forest, which when you think about it is a bit of a nonsense. Being at the bottom of that league table might mean the borough’s housing stock is not worth much by London standards or it may mean the borough is not densely populated. It’s not a good basis for comparisons, something per-capita based would be more honest. The leader provided one of those figures too which put Bexley fourth from the bottom.

Bromley has found a different way of expressing the figures which gets them into second to bottom place with Bexley 5th worst off. Click their associated histogram for the whole story.

Who’s right? 5th, 4th or 2nd from the bottom? Probably all of them. It’s typical of politicians to play with the numbers to gain some perceived advantage.

One fact remains however. Bromley has raised its tax rate in an attempt to avoid the sort of black hole which Bexley is heading for but its rate is still likely to remain second lowest in Outer London.

Government figures - if you have the time to wade through them, confuse the issue even more. Bromley drops to bottom place.

Note: I have not received my tax demand yet. Leaving it late aren’t they?

 

24 March (Part 1) - Courting trouble

Few will doubt that Bexley council’s parking services regard themselves as above the law, they admitted to the retired policeman that they don’t bother with such trifles as the first stage appeal and not so long ago the Parking Adjudicator took them to task for only allowing 13 days for that appeal instead of the statutory 14. When they are forced to consider an appeal they are frequently unreasonable and totally lacking in common sense.

If it were not for readers I would not know that phone parking can involve phonetics, speaking your registration number into a voice recognition computer while standing by a busy road; a recipe for a goodly number of mistakes I would have thought. A Bonkers reader tells me he has fallen foul of exactly that. His registration number includes three Ls and one was missed by the machine. It took his money without checking that the given number does not exist and when he returned to his car it was adorned with a PCN.

Anyone with a brain would recognise what had happened and waived the fee but brains are in extraordinarily short supply at Parking Services so now the case has gone to court. Just how much of our money are these useless bureaucrats prepared to waste? I am reminded of the comment in the News Shopper some four or five years ago. Bexley council has been taken over by a mob of nasty, evil people who seem to thrive on other people’s pain and hurt.

BBC reportOn 11th February a blog drew attention to a BBC report to the effect that the signs Bexley tapes to lamp post when it suspends parking bays do not comply with the regulations. They are not of an approved type and Bexley has not sought permission to vary them. At the following Public Realm meeting cabinet member Gareth Bacon told councillor Malik that that didn’t matter, he claimed a court had confirmed it. (N.B. This fact was not reported in the blog.)

Since then, John Watson of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group has received FOI confirmation from the Department of Transport that Bexley has no dispensation to use non-standard signs. The Parking Adjudicator has not been supporting councillor Bacon’s assertion and the Barnet bloggers have been covering this same issue. One has reproduced a couple of very recent PATAS judgments. According to PATAS their reference case covering non compliant temporary signage is Campbell v Camden. Case reference 2090523567. (You may have to go to their search page and input the number directly as the PATAS site is notoriously unresponsive to direct page accesses.)

I think the key phrase may be: “The statutory instrument is the TSRGD. The upshot is that the Council is required to prove the presence not of any sign, however clear, but a sign that is either specified in the TSRGD or authorised by the Secretary of State.

PATAS is still inclined to follow this ruling and the Dept. of Transport confirms that Bexley’s signs are unauthorised. Thankfully PATAS is not yet subservient to councillor Gareth Bacon. It makes you wonder how he justifies Mike Frizoni’s massive bonus.

 

23 March - Because she can

Complaints procedureI’m not very good at complaints. I’ve been known to make one and when the postman eventually delivered a response to chuck it unopened in the bin because so much time has gone by I’ve lost interest. I’m quite good at boycotts however. I’ve only just gone back to Marks & Spencer after returning an umbrella that had rusted away in only four months in 1968 and the manager of the Aldershot branch told me he couldn’t replace it because “I must have got it wet”. ASDA in Belvedere stands no chance of getting my money after their mail order operation swindled me a few months ago.

So I’m full of admiration for the elderly gentleman who batted letters to and from Bexley council for two and a half years after the crooks admitted they had fined him after they ignored statutory procedures but wouldn’t admit that what they did was illegal. Illegality is Bexley council’s hallmark. Publishing residents’ addresses contrary to the Data Protection Act, not making meeting Agendas available to the public, operating without a Constitution; you name it, they’ve done it.

The guys from the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) don’t share my reluctance to complain and they jump through Bexley council’s hoops frequently. The procedure seems to be; write a letter of complaint (Stage 1), chase the council three weeks later when they’ve not heard anything. Get an evasive answer, tell them it isn’t good enough (Stage 2). Get a damn fool or dishonest answer. Complain about it (Stage 3). Be told that Bexley council has nothing more to say, then go to the Information Commissioner or Local Government Ombudsman and start all over again.

Bexley council seems to have given up on this game and has taken to breaking its own rules. It’s happened twice recently to my knowledge. (†)

You will recall that when Peter Craske got himself in a spot of bother last year he left the Cabinet and the Fib Controller passed most of his responsibilities to councillor Gareth Bacon. It slowly dawned on some people that he was then subject to scrutiny by his wife. Hardly best practice one would have thought. The BCMG complained that it was not in the public interest for the scrutiny function to be compromised in this way. Mr. Tuckley replied that Teresa O’Neill was legally entitled to do absolutely what she liked and her decision was approved by council, so there was nothing whatever he could do. The BCMG went in with the Stage 2 complaint and got this reply…
Tuckley's reply
So there is no avenue left apart from immediate escalation to the Local Government Ombudsman. As yet I have no idea whether that is planned. On the other hand we do know that councillor leader Teresa O’Neill is more than willing to sacrifice accountability if it keeps her dishonourable little clique happy. And residents pay the price.

Because she can. A reference to the leader’s dictatorial answer to a question last year.
† Within 25 minutes of this blog entry going on line two more examples were relayed to me. The procedure may save time on all sides but it deprives the complainant of his right under Bexley council’s own rules to have more than one person assess the validity of the complaint.

 

22 March (Part 4) - Keep it in the family

TWAGSBexley council teems with liaisons. Directors and Deputy Directors, man and wife. Cabinet members and Scrutiny chairmen hitched. HR and Occupational Health, linked. Twelve elected representatives married to each other, and there is no easy way to identify the civil partners.

When you go to council meetings questions are planted by councillors’ spouses or close friends. If you see a pro Bexley council letter in the newspaper it’s odds on, if it’s not from a councillor, that the author can be linked to one. Only a couple of months ago a journalist was dropping dark hints to me that he is hamstrung by Bexley council’s tentacles getting everywhere, and as for the police: they are joined at the hip.


UKIP in BexleyheathI picked up on the news today that UKIP has won their first London borough seat (†), completely annihilating the Conservatives who had held it before. Earlier this month I had the first tentative contact from a would-be Bexley UKIP candidate and last Wednesday whilst leaving the Civic Centre I overheard a councillor in conversation about the threat they imposed. And then I belatedly looked at yesterday’s Bexley Times - those adverts are such a turn-off! - and what did I find? A two page article about UKIP’s presence in Bexley.

For balance, ahem! the Bexley Times has gone to Brian Silk, supposedly just the average Bexley man in the street. Mr. Silk condemns UKIP as “a party that harbours homophobia, no matter how they try to disguise it”. I always research pro Bexley comments in the press and I wondered if I should similarly investigate those who might round on anyone showing a lack of enthusiasm for Bexley council. So I did.

Brian Silk, luckily for me has his own website, and on it the Bexley council link is there for all to see.

“My name is Brian Silk and I live in Erith. My partner is Joe Pollard” and lest there should be any doubt there is a direct link to councillor Pollard’s page on Bexley council’s website.

Like the journalist said, Bexley council has their tentacles everywhere.

† London Borough of Havering. UKIP 39%. Conservatives 13%.

 

22 March (Part 3) - Bexley council. A job well done

The English language can be a strange beast. If I recognise a man from North of Hadrian’s Wall by his accent and refer to him by the first four letters of his country’s name he might swell with pride and reach for his hip flask. If someone refers to me by the first four letters of the Isles of my birth I might be slightly annoyed as I don’t like the term but wouldn’t consider it to be abusive; yet if a similar abbreviation of his country of origin is applied to a man with his roots in Lahore there will be few circumstances in which it will not be - abusive that is. And if that abbreviation is daubed on the wall of one’s house there can be little doubting what it is. A pretty nasty crime.

Hate Crime Repainted wall Wet paintThis website attracts quite a lot of cries for help and when it is possible and not likely to take up all my time I do what I can.

On Wednesday afternoon a distressed reader told me of the racist slogans and pictures that had appeared on her wall. I immediately emailed her a copy of Bexley’s Hate Crime Leaflet and the council phone number to call. By early evening she had done so.

At lunchtime next day I took myself over to her address which is in a nice part of the borough to see if Bexley council had responded as everyone would hope. As you can see from the photographs, they had lost no time at all in doing what they could to relieve and comfort the occupier. The new paint was still wet. The police showed up too. All within hours of her report. A pretty good result I’m sure you will agree.

For the record the perpetrators of this crime were doubly ignorant. Their victim is not Pakistani.

Note: Click first image for complete leaflet or either photograph for a larger version.

 

22 March (Part 2) - Questionable purposes

Following yesterday’s report on the General Purposes meeting, Mr. Barnbrook has done what I have come to expect of him. He has submitted a Freedom of information request about the appearance of the words ‘Deputy Director Leisure’ only once in the Agenda where it speaks of the requirement to increase the pay level. Unlike the other two Deputy Director recipients of the taxpayers’ largesse that post is not referenced anywhere else in the document and is devoid of any explanation of any pay rise, even an irrational one.

 

22 March (Part 1) - Bexley council. Breaking the law again

Peter CraskeEveryone who has been even mildly amused or amazed after reading of the goings on at Bexley council should give thanks to councillor Peter Craske, for it was he who swept aside the objections to the wrecking of the B213 running through Belvedere leaving local residents and bus drivers to suffer the consequences daily. That crazy act was the spur that led to this web site and it was Craske’s cock and bull story about Residents’ Parking Permits that drove Nicholas Dowling into the arms of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group. Now he is frequently the source of stories for Bonkers, today’s blog is largely down to him.

Later Craske was so careless with security on his internet connection that it became the source of the infamous obscene blog without which Bexley would have been a duller place. He is irreplaceable.

If council leader Teresa O’Neill would kindly restore him to a cabinet position come next May local bloggers and journalists alike would be overjoyed. We miss his red faced prevarication at council meetings and his unrivalled ability to fling insults in the direction of the general public. Who do we want? “Craske”. When do we want him? "Now”.

Regular readers will be aware that Bexley council’s Constitution has been missing from their website for far too long. Kevin Fox (Head of Committee Services) has provided a number of lame excuses as to why that may be. I suspected it was illegal but my excuse for doing nothing more about it is a lack of free time. Nick Dowling is more assiduous.

When I last saw him he showed me this…
Legislation
“The problem with that” says I, “is that they will have a paper copy at the Civic Centre, the lack of a web version is not illegal”. Nick had already thought of that, he had scheduled a visit and yesterday he was as good as his word. This is what he reported back…


The Contact Centre was more than helpful and eventually got me through on the phone to Sandra Baxter who informed me she was a Committee Officer.

She asked if I required any specific section but I explained I was not very familiar with the document so didn’t know and as it was not available on the Internet I wanted to look for myself. Someone was muttering in the background that he had already explained to me why it was not there. It must have been Kevin Fox.

Ms. Baxter admitted that they only had a very old paper copy of the Constitution and it had not been kept up to date.

On being so informed I asked to be put through to the Monitoring Officer, Akin Alabi, but unfortunately he was on holiday so I got Lynn Tyler, a Team Manager from the Legal Department instead. She had absolutely no idea about the legislation on this matter and freely admitted as much.

She told me to let Akin know and he would deal with it on his return. I said that as Bexley council was breaking the law and I had brought this fact to her attention perhaps she should do something about it straight away. Somewhat flustered she said she would have to talk to Kevin Fox about it. I asked if he could get back to me about the matter this afternoon [Thursday 21st March] and she told me that she would pass on my request. I felt somewhat sorry for her really – but maybe not all that much.


Nick must be a bit of an optimist. A quick response from Kevin Fox? He’s got to be joking.

 

21 March - Better paid jobs for the boys - and girls

The General Purposes Committee meeting was hidden away in a back room and not without good reason, there was little in it of which Bexley council could be proud. It was witnessed by two members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group, a man who has a job interview today and wanted to see if the Head of HR is a prize prat or not, and me.

Lucia-HennisThe meeting didn’t begin well with me and the two BCMG members being slung out of our chosen seats for no stated reason. We moved, it made no difference to me, but Mick Barnbrook is a bit deficient in the aural department and was concerned about being placed further away from the action.

Chairman Geraldene Lucia-Hennis basically said “tough” but in a very friendly and good natured manner. She will never get the Mayor’s job. Why she cared where the public sat did not become clear to me but as the meeting commenced Mick took the opportunity to retake his original seat. No one said a word. I think I had the better view, maybe that is what Geraldene was anxious to offer.

I had been looking forward to going to this meeting for a week or so because the way I interpreted the Agenda, they were planning to sneak through a £5,000 a year pay rise for two deputy directors. I wanted to see if I was right and what the councillors would have to say about it.

Well I was right but beyond that I didn’t learn a thing. Not a single councillor mentioned the subject. No official reminded them that more taxpayers’ money was being thrown into the trough. Clearly an extra £10k.destined for some friends’ pockets is not worthy of comment.

The history goes back to November 2010 when the council’s management structure was last rearranged. Mr. Tuckley drew up a scheme involving two more deputy directors than were actually in post and that is the way things have been since then. The posts were never filled and the world didn’t end. This would appear to be the ultimate proof that Will Tuckley’s management skills are as bad as you would expect from someone who wrote to the police to suggest that I should be prosecuted for a council crime. Or it may mean that the amount of work expected of a deputy director is so small that doubling the load makes not a lot of difference. Or maybe it’s both.

Whatever the case, the status quo has been recognised and the two deputy director posts never will be filled and the spoils are to be handed out to those who are deemed to have done the extra work. The lucky pair is Graham Ward, Deputy Director of Customer Relations and the relatively unknown, Tariq Bashir, Deputy Director of Property.

Antonia AingeThere is a mystery surrounding Antonia Ainge, the Deputy Director of Leisure and wife of her boss Peter Ellershaw, Director of Wellbeing. I can follow the dubious logic of Ward and Bashir getting a leg up for doing what they have always done, but Mrs. Ellershaw is lumped in with them as equally due a pay rise. There is absolutely no reason that I can find to justify it however perverted the logic becomes. Perhaps being Deputy Director of Leisure and Director of Wellbeing is being taken far too literally.

The whole dubious farrago is being portrayed as a £200,000 (two deputy directors) a year saving. Mickey Mouse economics again. Mr. Tuckley makes another bad management call, luckily it is never implemented and voilá, £200,000 a year in the bank. Maybe if he was even more stupid than he is and made a lot more mistakes from which we can be saved in the nick of time, council tax could be abolished altogether.

With council services being farmed out to private industry and other councils - Kent and Bromley in the last year or so - one might wonder why director salaries are not being nudged in the opposite direction. An honest council might do that. Does such an entity exist?

Lower down the food chain, the plebs have seen their numbers decimated and their responsibilities increased and have been rewarded with a three year pay freeze, but the top brass are engineered another lump of gold on the pretence that they are having to work harder when in fact not a thing has changed for the past (nearly) three years. Even councillor Alan Deadman who is normally pretty astute when it comes to pay injustices was totally silent; maybe he doesn’t see it as an injustice and recalls what his party leader, Chris Ball, said. According to him, in connection with the petition, Tuckley is worth more than his quarter million pounds.

Agenda extract
If you swallow that £200k. saved story, don’t overdo the celebrations, another part of the agenda reveals…
Agenda extract

Sneaking in pay rises was not the only purpose of the meeting. Mr. Tuckley reported on the situation mentioned here only yesterday, Bexley’s poor record on child care. It was almost inevitable that in the short time taken by the Chief Executive there would be a surfeit of platitudes. “We want a service we can be proud of.” The situation requires “a fundamental reappraisal.” “We need the right process and to measure performance in the right way.” I could have done as well myself after a 15 minute read of the agenda.

His final two minutes were more revealing. “Our IT system is just not up to it.” “IT is absolutely central to professional practice.” “We need fewer management layers” and “there will be additional staff in the structure”.

Various people including councillors Alan Deadman and Colin Campbell debated the pros and cons of employing agency staff. Both admitted Bexley does not pay its agency care workers as well as any neighbouring boroughs - £2 an hour less than Bromley according to an agency care worker of my acquaintance - and this leads to problems. Councillor Campbell said he didn’t like spending money but the child care problem is an emergency and he is going to find an extra £1.2 million drawn from emergency reserves. It was he said, essential that Bexley recruited the right people. Head of Human Resources, Nick Hollier said he was “thinking carefully about recruitment” which is good to know. How much do we pay these mediocrities?

During the course of the meeting, councillor Campbell made an aside about Eric Pickles making announcements “dreamed up over breakfast” and indicated pretty firmly that he was not a Pickles’ fan. Who is? The man manufactures ideas good and bad at a rate of knots and doesn’t follow through on any of them. If he did I may have been able to show you a picture of the back of Campbell’s head taken at last night’s meeting but Bexley still defies Pickles’ photographic aspirations. Councillor Campbell said he was going to ignore his latest ideas too. Then he said something about not being around in two to three years time to see the end of the child care improvements if they took that long. What he meant by it remains a mystery. He has already moved house outside the borough. I’d be much happier if his boss was eyeing up the exit.

The meeting concluded after 54 minutes.

 

20 March - Jobs for the boys - and girls

Those who don’t accept Bexley council’s propaganda at face value will know that they messed up in a fairly big way when it came to safeguarding children in care. Five months ago their dirty washing was aired in public at a Cabinet meeting, if you can call seven ordinary Bexley folk and the three coppers sent to guard them as ‘the public’. For what it is worth the council’s contrition did seem sincere but maybe that is just me being gullible again.

Dame Moira GibbThe decision was to bring in an outside consultant - OFSTED demanded it; but not any old consultant of course: one of their mates with the same mindset; the former Chief Executive of Camden Council, Dame Moira Gibb. Bexley said they would spend £1.1 million on funding her. Naturally, as a bureaucrat, she set up a committee. Only a tiny one (†), to keep things efficient and not too expensive.

How is the Dame getting on? Quite well in one respect, she picks up a little over five thousand every time she puts in an appearance but maybe not so well in others.

Bexley council has helpfully set up a web page to inform residents of progress. It may be viewed here and says almost nothing. Bexley’s ideas to tackle their problem were first published in August 2012. The document (PDF) looks a little neglected, still being in draft form eight months later.

What the grand Dame reports to OFSTED to conform with their requirements (see below) does not seem to be available for public viewing. But at least we are beginning to get some idea of how much she charges. (††)

On the other hand, with such luminaries as Maureen Holkham, Nick Hollier and Linda Tottman on board her committee I do have some sympathy with Dame Moira. Maybe she earns her keep. Rarely can a bigger collection of expensive dead wood have assembled around one Bexley table.

Improvement notice
† If you didn’t check the link; the Committee is comprised of 22 officials and an observer.
†† From the lists of expenditure over £500.

 

19 March - Bexleyheath. Keep out

Bexleyheath Broadway Bexleyheath Broadway Bexleyheath BroadwayStill nothing of note to report. Meanwhile here are some pictures of how Bexleyheath is faring under the ill-conceived traffic diversions.

The first picture shows a bus in the far distance at the Watling Street/Gravel Hill junction - click image to enlarge. It took six minutes to get to where the photographer was standing.

The reason isn’t hard to see, traffic exiting Highland Road blocks the junction because of congestion in Arnsberg Way which queues all the way down to the Broadway junction with Albion Road which is traffic light controlled due to the decision to send diverted traffic around town in a counter-clockwise direction. It always seemed to be a mad idea but at least we have the pleasure of knowing that the man who sanctioned it was given a £9,469 bonus.

 

17 March - ASDA. Another ugly warehouse in Belvedere

Belvedere ASDAMy plan for the weekend was to get some photographs of a handful of Frizoni Follies reported during the past week but I chickened out at the sight of the weather. My camera and lens is water resistant but I’m not so sure I am. I took another look at Belvedere’s ASDA site instead to see how they were getting along. Pretty quickly seems to be the answer. See how it looked exactly a month ago. Not only is the end wall now in place but so is the front entrance.

Who decided to colour the canopy B&Q orange rather than ASDA green? The council approved plans showed green. I suppose they can always nip next door for some paint.


Belvedere ASDA

 

15 March - Coincidence or cause for optimism?

Members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) have suggested to me that something must be afoot with Bexley council’s perverse policy, no, I mean rule book issue, by which their consent to allowing a question at a Full Council meeting is conditional on them publishing the questioner’s name and address on the world wide web. It’s probably unwise for anyone to assume anything where Bexley council is concerned and the BCMG’s advice to me when I first bumped into them to remember that Bexley’s default position is to “lie and cheat” has too often been correct. Nevertheless they point to the following recent developments.


• A letter seeking the reason for the address policy sent to chief executive Will Tuckley on 11th December 2012 was answered on 4th January but only to the extent that he said “The Council's agreed protocol currently requires the names and addresses of individuals submitting public questions to Council meetings to be published in the agenda” which strongly suggested that he had no reasonable answer. A follow up question remains unanswered.
A telephone enquiry to the Information Commissioner at the beginning of February extracted from them the opinion that Bexley council’s cavalier attitude towards data handling was was “a clear breach” of the Data Protection Act.
• By the middle of February the BCMG had submitted at least two questions for the next Full Council meeting which included a request for them not to publish their addresses. A definitive response is still awaited.
• By the end of February Bexley council had withdrawn its Constitution from its website. It is still unavailable.
• On 1st March at my meeting with former Bexley police Commander Victor Olisa, his DCI, expressed shock when learning of the council’s policy having previously pointed out that releasing addresses not normally in the public domain can have unfortunate consequences.
• On 4th March the BCMG asked Bexley council why its proposed questions to council had not been either accepted or rejected. By then one was two full months old, the others nearer six weeks.
• Ten days later the BCMG was once again advised by the Head of Committee Services that he was not yet in a position to give an answer.


Teresa O'NeillThe ICO’s formal response to Bexley council’s probable law breaking will be a long time coming as such decisions always are and the Constitutional Review Panel has not sat for 23 months and no future meeting is planned.

According to the Head of Committee Services “the Constitution Review Panel has delegated authority to officers to make such changes”. It must be hoped that freed from the malevolent intentions of council leader Teresa O’Neill the officers will feel they are able to take full account of all the relevant laws of this country. Something that O’Neill too often in the past has felt does not apply to her.

Or maybe the BCMG is guilty of counting too many chickens.

 

14 March - Nothing new there then

There are so many Bexley issues with the Information Commissioner (ICO), the Local Government Ombudsman and with the council itself that you might think there would be no shortage of blogging material but I would prefer to wait for each case to conclude rather than report them piecemeal. The latter might make little sense to occasional readers and those with better things to do than remember everything written here. However I’ll make an exception for one item which surely cannot be too far from a conclusion.

Will TuckleyOn 31st May 2012 the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) requested a copy of chief executive Will Tuckley’s business diary for that month under the Freedom of Information Act. You would think that’d be an easy one to fulfill, just send a copy with his daughter’s birthday party and his wedding anniversary blanked out and job done.

Nothing is that easy in Bexley; no answer was forthcoming.

Separately another request was sent for the June diary and confusingly this did find an answer in October 2012. Better late than never.

A complaint about the first request went to the ICO and nothing happened for three months but when a copy of the diary eventually turned up it was just as uninteresting as the June diary. I didn’t even bother to report it here, it was just a typed list of what Bexley council claimed was in Tuckley’s original diary. The complaint went back to the ICO as it wasn’t a proper, photostat or whatever, copy. They eventually got around to pressing Bexley council to do the obvious and send a recognisable copy with anything personal blocked out.

Bexley council concluded the second circuit of the loop in the same old way. Another typed list of appointments, meetings and conferences has been prepared. But it’s not the same as before. There are 22 significant differences which does tend to confirm that they just make these things up as they go along. The BCMG has gone back to the ICO to give them the evidence that Bexley council doesn’t tell the truth when it responds to FOIs.

I told you there wasn’t anything new to report.

 

12 March - Biter bitten

Criticise a Bexley councillor - get threatened with arrest. Use the C word alongside a picture of an unidentified house which a councillor thinks is his - seven court appearances, 120 hours of community service and £620 court costs (†). Make a joke about a snowbound airport - fined £385 with £600 costs (†). Call the police to tell them you are a mentally ill convicted murderer and you have an irresistible urge to repeat the crime - police sit on their hands with tragic results in Bexleyheath Broadway. Stupid laws passed by stupid politicians or police and magistrates with no sense? Or all of those things?

Now we have an MP caught up with the same nonsense.

Timothy LoughtonTimothy Loughton, Member of Parliament for East Worthing & Shoreham sided with his local council when he said in an email that one of his constituents was “unkempt” and that he talked “b*****ks”. Result: put in a police cell, interviewed by detectives for 90 minutes, file sent to Crown Prosecution Service and kept on bail for six months while the police trawled through all his emails. The CPS are reported to have said “these were serious allegations” which clearly was b*****ks of the highest order.

Whilst plebs can only turn to Twitter and blogs in response to police idiocy, MPs have an extra weapon within their grasp. An End of Day Adjournment Debate, and Mr. Loughton has called one for tomorrow. Should be an interesting listen if you can spare the time.

Ridiculous though his “crime” was I cannot but feel that the primary cause of his predicament was a law passed by his predecessors in 1998. The secondary problem is that nothing is ever done quickly when wrongs need to be righted. Maybe David Cameron could go some way to restore his tarnished reputation by installing a Minister for Correcting Blatant State Imposed Stupidities.

† Both verdicts overturned on appeal to higher courts.

The recorded debate may be viewed here.

 

11 March - Jam on it

Anyone stuck in Saturday’s Broadway jam may be interested in how jammy the man whose name goes on all Bexley council’s traffic related notices is. I mean Mike Frizoni, the Deputy Director of Public Realm Management. He is the only senior Bexley council employee who gets a bonus.

Bexley statement
You might wonder why Frizoni is the one man to get a bonus. Is it for having his name stuck on many of the borough’s lamp posts perhaps?

The official answer suggests that no one else is worth a bonus.


Market premia are applied to posts to retain or recruit suitably skilled and experienced staff to key roles.

Consideration of market premia is on case by case basis taking into account a range of factors which might in some cases include comparative pay of neighbouring boroughs or other authorities, the criticality of a role at a particular time, the need to retain an employee with a particular skill set, the scarceness in the market of candidates with the appropriate skill set or the requirement to ensure a combination of the right skills in a service. The market premium paid to Mr. Frizoni was agreed on the basis of those factors.

It has not been considered that market premia for other senior staff are required.


Friend’s in high places? The rest of the over-paid gang must look on enviously and neighbouring boroughs can relax, safe in the knowledge that Frizoni might not be too anxious to apply his dubious ‘skill sets’ to wrecking their roads too.

 

10 March - The money goes around but the buses don’t

During the course of yesterday afternoon I received three reports that Bexleyheath was gridlocked. Once again the traffic problems were centred on the Shopping Centre car park. A bus passenger reported it took more than hour for a 96 to crawl from Welling Corner to Upton Road - so still not reached the Broadway. Running a shop in Bexleyheath cannot be a load of fun at the moment.

Bexley BIDOne organisation trying to improve the shop owners’ lot is the BID, or to give it its proper name, the Bexleyheath Business Improvement District. Exactly half of London’s 32 boroughs have BIDs and they appear to be sponsored by the Greater London Authority and supported by councils. Locally the BID manager is Ian Payne who is a Bexley council employee with an office at Marks & Spencer.

Last week councillor Margaret O’Neill cast doubt on the BID’s success in raising awareness of Bexleyheath as a shopping centre. I find BH to be an uninspiring shopping experience, there is little there of any interest, no unique selling point that I can discern, and I’d rather wander around Welling or Dartford if I had to; but I accept I’m not your typical shopper. I don’t go at all except when absolutely necessary. I wondered what the BID is doing that might draw me to Bexleyheath but have discovered very little.


Clock Tower. Click to enlargeQueen's bustIf web reports are anything to go by, most of their time is spent raising money for a bust of the Queen to be placed on one of the remaining empty spaces of the Clock Tower.

The plan was announced by mayor Alan Downing on 4th June last year and he said it was to be financed by public subscription - the poor old tax payer was to be let off the hook. I have nothing whatever against the Queen but I cannot see how having her smiling down on Broadway from 15 feet above our heads will bring people to the town. After the initial stares no one will notice her. If that sort of thing is good for the economy of the town, put the water back in the William Morris fountain. In these straitened times I’m more likely to stick my hand in my pocket to support the borough’s food banks than the Queen but the BID is the chief fund raiser.

One of their fund raising stunts was a quiz night in the Marriott Hotel. £10 a head including buffet. If the Marriott deducted its costs, £10 each would not go very far. Maybe that is why the BID aimed higher for their next event, an altogether more upmarket affair - held in the Churchill Room at the House of Commons no less.

The price went up to £25 but it included booze as well as grub and once again all profits went to the the Queen’s sculpture fund. I hope the losses weren’t too great because my enquiries revealed that hire of the Churchill Room for the afternoon will knock you back around £2,000. Bob Neil, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst was the headlined guest, maybe he pulled some strings and got the room at a knock down price but why him, aren’t our own MPs good enough? Maybe the Bexleyheath BID manager forgets which town he is working for, it would be an easy mistake to make for he’s the Deputy Mayor of Bromley. Whatever the event cost, all of it was paid by the BID, the whole £25 ticket price was donated to the sculpture fund.

Good of them to shell out like that but wait a minute. Our mayor said the Bexley council tax payer wasn’t going to foot the sculpture bill but they are making a major contribution towards the BID who spend the money on hospitality and give the admission fee away. It would be simpler if Bexley council had funded the sculpture directly. A one off 2% levy on councillors’ allowances would have done the trick. Don’t be silly; much better if you and I pay.

 

9 March - Bexley council, the School for Scandal

Private EyeBefore Bexley was run by Will Tuckley and Teresa O’Neill we had Nick Johnson and the convicted fraudster Ian Clement. In 2007 the two cobbled together over a tax payer funded dinner a nice little deal that saw Johnson leave with a £300k. pay off and £50k. a year for life after fewer than four years service. We are still footing the bill.

Although the official excuse given was poor health Johnson took up a similar but better paid job with Hammersmith & Fulham council where the same standard of behaviour prevails. He kept his pension through a tax avoidance scheme.

H&F council is embarked on a scheme to knock down the Earl’s Court exhibition hall and clear some of the surrounding area for new housing. Long term residents there must be persuaded to move away - which is where Mr. Johnson’s skills come into play. It has been suggested he has made offers of an unauthorised nature.

Apart from the Private Eye comment seen here, the Guardian website has a report including an audio recording of the dubious incident involving the former Bexley chief executive. The quality of the recording is unfortunately extremely poor.

 

8 March (Part 2) - Good cop, bad cop

A few readers got to the end of yesterday’s council meeting report and as a consequence asked why there is no report on what Victor Olisa had to say for himself last Friday. Well the fact is I don’t quite know what to say.

You will have seen the good cop, bad cop routine on the TV many times and it was a bit like that except that the two cops present both went from one extreme to the other. More so Olisa than the DCI. I learned a bit about their failed obscene blog investigation from the questions they refused to answer.

It was obvious that Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa didn’t like this blog and he several times referred to councillor Peter Craske as “the victim” which I queried and he justified.

In accepting the invitation I said I didn’t really have any more to say from which you might conclude the meeting represented an opportunity for the police to explain their position. They did and I would summarise their stance as somewhere between belligerent and aggressive.

For various reasons I do not judge this to be the right time to deliver a blow by blow account and maybe there never will be, but basically my view of Bexley police didn’t change very much. This time they didn’t beat me up with their fists but it felt much the same.

 

8 March (Part 1) - Paddling their own canoe - with your money

Bridge propagandaThe Sidcup Community Group’s website currently features ‘Consultation Fatigue’ which lists the items on which Bexley council was asking (at the time the feature was first posted) for your views. Sidcup High Street, Bexley’s Core Strategy, ‘Picture of Health’, the police station closures, local health issues and the Thames crossings proposals. The Listening Council!

But do they really want your views or to impose their own? On all those issues bar one they were content to announce the consultation and go back to sleep. But not so the Thames crossings. On that they wanted to influence the result and were prepared to spend money on it. Your money to put forward the local Conservative point of view. Or is it just leader Teresa O’Neill’s point of view?

Printing her propaganda sheet cost £3,366. Shouldn’t it have come out of Conservative party funds, or even Brampton Conservative Association funds?

Note: Printing and distribution cost obtained under FOI.

 

7 March (Part 2) - War of words

Compared to previous years we have lost a council meeting. The one usually held at this time of the year has disappeared as part of leader Teresa O’Neill’s mission to clamp down on opportunities to check up on her. Instead we are left only with the meeting at which she can boast with an army of 50 sycophants to support her. Mayor Alan Downing who chaired the meeting didn’t bother to dress up for the occasion, the doorman looked smarter. Actually he is smarter and certainly far more civilized.

Alan DowningDowning started with his usual diatribe about the need to observe “protocols” which is puzzling because only last month the Director of Corporate Services said these protocols were not protocols - which can be questioned - but are rule book issues - which can’t. But the mayor says they are protocols so I suppose the Director must have fibbed.

Then Downing droned on about respecting his office. All councillors must stand up only one at a time and face him when speaking. This puts their nether regions in close proximity with the desk microphones which in many cases is very appropriate. He also insisted that “discourtesy would not be tolerated” which is fair enough if the rule is applied universally. Downing was equipped with an egg timer and no councillor could speak for more than five minutes.

During the Declaration of Interests which followed, various councillors admitted the extent to which their hands are deep in the public trough but no one bothered to stand up and Downing became excessively agitated by their failure to bow, scrape and lick his boots. Maybe I too should declare an interest.

My natural inclination has always been towards the Conservatives, though David Cameron has put paid to any prospect of me voting that way again. Nevertheless an old dog has trouble with new tricks and I probably have a tendency to think like an old Tory.

Posh housesThe problem I have with new Tories is that they live in a bubble immune from the realities of life. They don’t see the widespread poverty and overcrowding that is prevalent in the country and of which we have more than our fair share in the north of the borough. Not even the Labour members dare live there.

If the Conservatives lived or even shopped in Thamesmead they might be suitably shocked and I don’t only mean the heavily pregnant young woman I saw leaning on the wall outside Iceland, dangling a fag over the head of her toddler and accompanied by two young fellows and all three of them clasping a can of lager (†). Many more are genuinely struggling while councillors live in posh houses.

You may nevertheless detect some pro-Conservative bias in this report.


Teresa O'NeillLeader Teresa O’Neill said she was “proud to propose our budget”. For the fourth, she can’t count, year running council tax was to be frozen despite the “economic mess the Labour government left behind”. She had “looked more strategically at expenditure instead of sticking plaster solutions”. In the future she must contend “with inflation on contracts and no interest on investments” but she had proved that “strategic financial planning works”.

Bexley gets the fourth lowest central government per capita financial settlement in London (£202.40 : average £423.78) and because of the type of housing has the second lowest tax take in Outer London, just above Waltham Forest. If O’Neill wasn’t so keen to have me arrested I might say "well done”. She spoke for six minutes which was enough to throw two jibes in the direction of councillor Malik.

Deputy leader Colin Campbell seconded the motion, saying that he was on track to save £36 million by the end of next year, not by the end of this month as currently reported by the Bexley Times. The “next four years will be challenging” however. That could be code for tax may have to go up.

Opposition councillor Seán Newman shared that concern. “The leader of Bromley Council has said that Eric Pickles’ hand outs for freezing tax were a short term financial gimmick” and Bexley was “heading for the financial cliff”. “Bexley had levied £7.4 million of stealth taxes through the back door and it was equivalent to a 9% council tax increase each year.”

The council claims to be a ‘Listening Council’ but rejects petitions and avoids opening up meetings to public scrutiny to the extent demanded by government - and “its finances are not credible”.

Councillor Alan Deadman is always concerned about the fate of Bexley council’s rank and file staff and last night was no exception. They have “suffered a four year pay freeze and a 17% effective cut in wages”. A 1% council tax increase would have gone some way to plugging the looming financial black hole.

Councillor Brenda Langstead was not impressed by the GLA precept being reduced by £3·72 a year and contrasted that with the 5% tax imposition on those on benefits. She was greeted by jeers from the Conservative benches. (Courtesy breach No. 1 Mr. Mayor.)

John FullerCabinet member John Fuller took the mickey out of the opposition with a Monty Python quotation which I felt was a little beneath him and finished up by saying Bromley residents could afford a 1% increase and Bexley residents couldn’t. Not his finest hour.

Councillor Munir Malik said Bexley residents might be relieved at no increase because it would help them pay for Boris Johnson’s hiking of public transport costs - not to mention the taxes on fuel which were “sky rocketing”. He made a reference to the effect of bad bankers on the economy and the Tories laughed at him. (Courtesy breach No. 2.)

Parking charges had been temporarily frozen only after years of increases and councillor Craske’s policies had not been popular. The “draconian enforcement regime was another stealth tax by the back door”. We need a rethink on how we can help small business. It was not only the big names that were closing their doors, so were the small shops some of whom blamed parking restrictions. The £35 million cut from the council’s budget had lost £100 million to the wider Bexley economy, and we need more river crossings. Councillor Malik always provides good value from his permitted five minutes.

Cabinet member Gareth Bacon responded, facing the mayor with his mouth well beyond microphone reach. Fortunately he was closest to the public gallery so not totally inaudible. “Public transport fares had risen to fund the tube upgrades” which will please the tubeless little old ladies of Thamesmead who councillor Malik had in mind. “Unfortunately” - note Bacon’s word - Bexley was not able to impose massive parking charges to fund the council as had been possible in Westminster and a bridge in Thamesmead couldn’t be justified because no one wants to go there. Apparently crossings cannot be justified by traffic wishing to pass through so presumably the ferry is in jeopardy too.

The myriad stealth taxes (Bacon again) introduced in recent years by Bexley council were not stealth taxes they were “service charges”. The problems of the poor in Thamesmead were just “sob stories”. So Nasty Tories are still alive and well and not a figment of Theresa May’s imagination. He was “fully proud” of what the council had done.

Labour councillor Margaret O’Neill was “disappointed” by Bacon’s attitude. She said traders in Erith were forecasting there would be no independent shops left in five year’s time. Even in Bexleyheath sales were up by only 0.8% last year whereas nationally the figure was 1.9%. Parking was a factor. The BID (Business Improvement District) in Bexleyheath was “floundering” but in Dartford it was a success. (Maybe it is because the front page of Bexley BID’s website is still wishing shoppers a Happy Christmas.)

Councillor Sandra Bauer was concerned about the poverty in Thamesmead.

Chris TaylorCouncillor Chris Taylor said Labour was good at spending other people’s money and in Bexley they played at “student politics”. (Courtesy breach No. 3?) He said the mark of a compassionate and civilised society is how we look after the poor. Then he proudly announced that he had been able to cut the expenditure on the poor to £44.90 (per what I didn’t hear) compared to the £52.30 London average.

For a pensioner on a fixed income, Taylor said, a council tax freeze was essential. Labour policies had degenerated from the ”back of a fag packet” variety to “soggy dog end”. (Courtesy breach No. 4.) Taylor isn’t very good at metaphors is he? Maybe he needs a pitchfork up his bum.

Councillor Stefano Borella said Bexley was heading for a £40 million black hole and reminded councillor Chris Taylor that when MCCH (Bexley’s care provider) cut staff wages by up to 50% Taylor said it “wasn’t my problem” and proceded to extend their contract. What was it Taylor said about compassion?

Cabinet member Linda Bailey answered councillor O’Neill’s questions about the BID - correctly as it happens - but referred to her throughout as Mrs. O’Neill. What do you think the clown Downing would have said if the boot was on the other foot? (Courtesy breach No. 5.)


Chris BallLabour leader Chris Ball and school head master in his spare time raised the point that has been made here several times. If the 40% tax increase imposed by his party was so very wrong, why have the Conservatives never given it back? It fixed a funding gap and allowed schools to be fully funded for the first time, said councillor Ball. If the council intends to make similar cuts in the next four years as they have in the recent past “every non-core service will come under attack”.

Cabinet member Don Massey said that councillor Ball was “all mouth and no trousers”. (Courtesy breach No. 6.)

Cabinet member Katie Perrior said that “Labour’s performance [at this meeting] was woefully poor”.

Leader Teresa O’Neill rose to her feet again to reinforce Perrior’s message. “I am astounded that Labour has no alternative policy and that is absolutely amazing”. I thought they had said their policy was to increase the tax by 1% and save it as a hedge against the £40 million black hole but who am I to spoil a good story?

“Yes there is a £40 million black hole” O’Neill said but unlike Labour who “spend money how they like, we put residents first”.

The vote was taken and split exactly along party lines lines as it always does. Kevin Fox was in difficulty trying to add up the result; you would think that 52:11 was engraved on his brain by now but apparently not. Actually one Conservative was absent. 52-1= umm! Not sure, but with his leader unable to count the number of tax frozen years correctly his job must still be safe.

The main business being over by 21:15 I left as I had promised the members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group I’d tell them how I got on at the meeting Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa called in connection with his failure to charge Bexley council’s obscene blogger and my intention to send a file to Scotland Yard. You didn’t know I’d been to see the cops? Shame on you, it was all recorded on the Timeline as it happened.

† I didn’t make that up, it is exactly what I observed just a few months ago.

 

7 March (Part 1) - Loitering with intent

Gestapo wagon Gestapo wagonA new weapon has been unlashed on the roads of Bexley, they are equipped with number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and the local Notomob coordinator and Martin Peaple have offered the following observations.

Who is Martin Peaple new readers may ask. Martin achieved fame while working in a Sidcup shop by deciding to warn customers tempted to park directly outside because it was a bus stop. He considered they might prefer to obey the law.

Bexley council, dismayed at the probable loss of income, had a quiet word with the police who were not at all fazed by the fact that Martin had broken no laws and happily did Bexley council’s bidding and paid Martin a home visit to warn him that his totally legal acts were unwelcome in a borough led by a dishonest politician. It was in many ways a repeat of my own threat of arrest if I continued to “criticise councillors”. And the police wonder why I firmly believe they are - or at least were in Borough Commander Dave Stringer’s day - in Bexley council’s pocket.

According to Martin and the Notomob the new spy cars were redundant from their previous Olympic duties and the ANPR has not yet been brought into use.

ANPR cars can check residents’ parking permits against the council's data base but there are problems. They need to go very slowly, around 5 m.p.h., creating a hazard or congestion. Cars may be parked too closely and visitors’ permits won’t be on the data base. And what about blue badges?

They cannot patrol car parks while there is any non-phone option for payment so stand by for that becoming the only permissible method. Bexley’s new cars have a camera on a telescopic mast which mean they can hide even more successfully than before and raise the camera from behind parked vans etc.

It looks like they have already started.

Note: As far as I could tell the van in these photographs was parked entirely legally. Martin Peaple’s story is still featured on Big Brother Watch.

 

6 March (Part 2) - Scrutiny of the group that scrutinises the committee that scrutinises the council

Complicated isn’t it? The council has a Scrutiny Function Sub-Group to scrutinise the Scrutiny Committees that keep an eye on Cabinet decisions. Is it through lack of trust or is incompetence a problem?

Teresa O’NeillTuesdays are not a good day for me to be at a keyboard or a council meeting so I asked Nick Dowling if he would kindly scrutinise the Scrutiny Sub-Group’s attempt to put the Scrutiny Committees under scrutiny while all of them are scrutinised by the council leader. He did the same for me last January.

On that occasion he was able to reveal the proof that Scrutiny Committees operate only if they agree to dance at the end of Teresa O’Neill’s string. “The chairman let slip that the leader wants the Conservative Group to discuss the proposals of Scrutiny Groups before they are finally discussed by the Scrutiny Group.” Well she would wouldn’t she? Any dishonest council leader would do the same thing.

Nick sent over his report with the request that I shorten it and liven it up a bit. OK then; I’ll cut it down to size…


The meeting was scheduled for 45 minutes earlier than most meetings. The council website said so but the screen in the foyer announced otherwise. Upon arrival at the appointed time the Civic Centre was locked up.

The meeting was once again chaired by Maxine Fothergill and she ran a good show.

As before, the star performer was councillor Alan Deadman; hurray! And the booby prize went to councillor John Davey - again. Boo and hiss!

There was a mess up with the microphones which was rectified in a professional manner quite unlike the performance for which mayor Alan Downing, aided and abetted by the purple faced Craske, is famed.

Then they tried to guess how much the meeting had cost the taxpayer. Far more than if they hadn’t bothered presumably. Everyone went home at 20:14.


Those interested in whether the whole exercise was worth while will have to trawl through Nick’s unexpurgated account.


Having dashed to make the blasted meeting of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Function Sub-Group yesterday evening I was rather surprised that the door to the council was locked shut when I arrived at 18:45. I could see that the screen in the foyer was advertising the meeting – at 18:30 it said, contrary to the council’s website that had stated 18:45 – but the security guard was nowhere in sight. Just as I was about to give up and go home councillor Philip Read wandered down the stairs and seeing my predicament kindly let me in. Still it does not reflect well on the council’s organisation that immediately prior to a public meeting it was nigh on impossible to get in to view it. I do not think it was a deliberate ploy but perhaps I should not give them any more ideas to try and stifle democracy in the borough.

It transpired that the screen was wrong as the meeting was only just officially starting as I sat down - sadly one begins to expect this type of shoddiness from Bexley council and this lack of attention to detail is symptomatic of a general malaise and inability to get things right.

Generally the meeting was a fairly jovial and light hearted affair. There was an air of relative informality and I guess that we had chairman councillor Maxine Fothergill to thank for that. There was a real exchange of views and it all seemed to flow fairly naturally across agenda points and items. Yes, there was some of the inevitable political point scoring but generally speaking a consensus seemed to arise. It was probably the best Bexley council meeting I have attended in the past three years, although given the very low expectation level I have at these affairs perhaps it was inevitable that at some juncture one of them should be alright.

Alan DeadmanCouncillor Deadman (Labour, North End) was in fine form highlighting that many councillors do not participate much in committee debates or ask questions at all. He went on to point out that it will always be up to the majority party to pluck up the courage to challenge their own cabinet and the current failure to do so has made the entire overview and scrutiny function here at Bexley a barely tokenistic affair. He saw information as the key given that without knowledge it is somewhat difficult to have an overview of, or scrutinise, anything meaningfully. As the council outsources almost all of their functions he felt it was vital for the right experts to provide pertinent information and advice as well as it also being sensible to get stakeholders involved as early on as possible in order to ensure services are relevant and delivered appropriately. How true; and it just about encapsulated everything that is wrong with the current state of affairs.

We had, in my experience, the unique occurrence of the council’s contact officer for this group, Louise Peek, actually providing direct clarification and input to the meeting itself. She highlighted that there was a facility for pre-scrutiny already available but that it had not been taken up by any councillors in the last few years. The Conservative deputy whip Sybil Camsey knowledgeably agreed that councillors were not using the facility but she knew it was there. She felt that it was up to the chair of committees to follow up and challenge cabinet members. Easy to say but not something I have ever seen demonstrated by any of our motley crew. Her final issue was that cabinet members should explain fully why the will or will not accept a recommendation and update councillors of progress or not on the recommendations. Sounded like common sense to me and I am somewhat amazed that this is not normal practice here in Bexley where the council is listening to and working for us.

John DaveyIt was left to councillor John Davey (Conservative, Lesnes Abbey) in his own indomitable, and supremely dull, style to explain that at Wandsworth the council officers did not need to come back with answers to committee members questions as they were well briefed and knew their stuff. Clearly the point being here that in Bexley this is far from the case with the likes of Maureen Holkham et al. This was supported by councillor Caroline Newton who also felt that cabinet members and council officers should be much better prepared. I could not agree more with them and given the amounts that some of them are paid we who pay those salaries really deserve so much more.

Councillor Newton rather lost my admiration when she went on to indicate that she felt the existing overview and scrutiny provisions did not really need to be radically overhauled. She is a Conservative after all and works for the Institute of Chartered Accountants so is bound to be somewhat risk averse. Perhaps she also has one eye on her political masters as well and given that the chump councillor Davey agreed with her it does not bode well for anything meaningful to come out of this sub-group in the fullness of time.

Davey’s insightful contribution could be summed up by: more could be achieved with the existing provisions if they were better implemented and used by his fellow councillors. Profound; or perhaps not! Indeed councillor Chris Ball, from the public gallery, made the point that it would be a greatly missed opportunity if the current overview and scrutiny system was not overhauled and he emphasised that it would be much more beneficial to focus on the form that could be achieved within known costs and budgets. Alas it appeared that this was not anything the chairman was going to be very interested in. Likewise councillor Stefano Borello’s idea that a chair position could be given to the opposition party was met with a polite but total brush-off.

June SlaughterCouncillor June Slaughter came in late – perhaps she had been caught out by the early start to this meeting, or perhaps the building was still locked. She was having some difficulty following some of the mumblings from the committee and asked for the microphones to be switched on. In a glowing example of how this sort of thing should be handled the offending councillor at the time – Howard Marriner - could not switch his on fast enough and apologised profusely as did councillor Deadman when he later fell foul of this faux pas as well.

Still in full drone mode councillor John Davey had more to say on saving the council money via overview and scrutiny as councillors at Bromley had told him that if it was done effectively the sky was the limit. He pointed out that Paul Moore the Director of Customer & Corporate Services (cost to council tax payers, £171,184) wanted to cut spending on overview and scrutiny – perhaps because he realises what a pointless exercise it all is. Still, Davey thought that savings could be achieved by taking council officers reports as read. And it is cost cutting like this that he feels will save us all. I am afraid that I just cannot take him very seriously.

The chairman, councillor Maxine Fothergill, then went on to read out her summary report findings – costing heavens only knows what? This was actually a rather boring and tedious exercise. At one point councillor Sybil Camsey felt she had been misquoted and wanted to clarify her point. A hair splitting exercise of the highest order but it did liven things up for a moment or two as some grovelling and back-tracking was required by the chair. It was felt that good things were emerging and feedback was requested from committee members on the ten page appendix. We will wait with baited breath to see if anything actually comes of it all.

The final item on the agenda related to the costs of the meeting which in true Bexley style managed to convey very little and seemed to have more holes in its logic than a sieve. The council estimated that the last meeting cost at least £400 but could not indicate any facilities costs for heating, lighting, opening the civic offices, etc.; well, here is an idea for them as they have a room charge if you or I wanted to hire one for a meeting why do they not just indicate that?

The council decided to use an approximation of pension costs but admitted that not all employees are members of the pension scheme which could therefore have an impact on their estimate. Given that they must know who works on the meeting in order to arrive at the total number of hours it seems strange that they cannot establish definitively whether the individuals concerned are in the pension scheme or not and modify the cost accordingly. Of course the costs of councillor participation were not approximated at all which seems somewhat strange given that there were six times as many of them present as council officers.

Writing up the minutes took 1·5 hours which conveniently works out to 30 minutes per page. Which if we assume a generous 500 words per A4 page gives us a typing speed of about 17 words per minute. Not in the least impressive is it?

Still it is nice to know that fanciful guesses and any sort of a dodgy rationale will suffice at Bexley council. Some things will never change!

 

6 March (Part 1) - Propaganda machine goes into overdrive

Newham magazineA News Shopper reporter is never in evidence at council meetings and hasn’t been for more than a year so it must rely on council press releases which might explain how Gareth Bacon gets to hog the headlines with his bridge agenda.

There are of course mixed views on Bexley’s isolation from the North but at the time of writing none of the Shopper’s on line commentators have a good word to say for Bacon which is my experience too. Today’s paper edition is much the same with the only anti-crossing campaigner still believing the massive six lane road and rail bridge has been resurrected. Propaganda really does work on some people!

Yesterday I referred to what Greenwich council has been saying about the bridge, today it is Newham’s turn. It would be interesting to know how many of the 1,245 people they polled live in Bexley. Maybe an FOI is called for. Click image for the full story extracted from Newham’s fortnightly magazine to householders.

 

5 March (Part 2) - Bexley the bridge bashing borough

Bexley council’s propaganda machine has been working overtime this morning. This is what their publicity man John Ferry was told to say…


John FerryAt its meeting last night (4 March), Bexley's Cabinet approved the Council's formal response to the Mayor of London's latest consultation on new river crossings in east London.

In its response the Council makes clear its support in principle for the proposed new tunnel at Silvertown, but warns against a return to a fixed link option at Thamesmead, pressing instead for other, more suitable, crossing locations to be considered.

Bexley launched a campaign in January to make local people aware of the Mayor's consultation and the dangers of letting a bridge proposal re-emerge. A Council leaflet distributed to homes in the affected areas set out the case against a bridge or tunnel in Thamesmead, which included increased traffic passing along Bexley's residential roads.

In its formal response to the consultation, the Council also reminds Transport for London and the Mayor of the findings of an independent government inspector appointed to consider the previous proposal for a bridge link. As well as raising concerns about the adequacy of the traffic modelling, the inspector cast doubt on the ability of local roads to accommodate traffic and highlighted potentially negative regeneration and environmental impacts - including poor air quality.

Cllr Gareth Bacon, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Public Realm said: "Our message to Transport for London and those who are pushing for a fixed link at Thamesmead is clear. Bexley will not stand by and let the bridge back in with all the congestion that would entail in our borough. It has been proven to be a fundamentally flawed idea and would be disastrous for local people. There are other locations which would be clearly much better suited, such as Woolwich."

Cllr Bacon went on to say: "We are committed to ensuring the Mayor makes the right decision for Bexley."


I have no recollection whatsoever of councillor Bacon saying anything like that last sentence but it is the sort of gloss the publicity man would make up. For an alternative approach by Greenwich council read the comment on the 853blog.

 

5 March (Part 1) - Postponed Cabinet meeting

There was something of a carnival atmosphere at last night’s Cabinet meeting. Usually it consists of the eight members and a couple of councillor observers, but we were treated to the entire gang of 63. Apparently there was to be a Conservative Party knees up afterwards and they appeared to be in the mood for a jolly. The opposition planned a similar more sober function for themselves. I noticed no frivolity there.

Members of the public present numbered three and a desk had been set out in accordance with the legislation for the use of press and bloggers. However just as the meeting was due to start and I was about to make my move it was occupied by two people wearing Bexley council badges. I made do with a notebook perched on my knee which in some ways is preferable.

PinkTaking centre stage and a beacon among a sea of drab dark suits was council leader Teresa O’Neill resplendent in dazzling pink. She began with a reference to the postponement from last week. Her explanation implied that it was her brilliant idea. She said it “was the right thing to do” and because it placed the Cabinet meeting only two days before Full Council she asked members to resist asking questions and “keep your powder dry till Wednesday”. Cannon fire tomorrow? Oh, goody!

The leader then announced with some relish that council tax will be “frozen for the fourth year running” while those who have to pay it will know that she really meant to say third. More accurately she said it was “residents” money and “saving it is paramount in what we do”. No mention of the tripling of the charge for parking outside their own houses or her refusal to countenance paying her favoured staff any less than at the sixth highest rate in the country.

Finance Director Mike Ellsmore was left with very little to say. Budgeting gets “increasingly challenging” he said as though it would be news to struggling households, but nevertheless he had managed to put about £4 million into reserves. It makes sense. Spending has gone down just a little, tax take is similar; put the difference in the piggy bank. Councillor Colin Campbell said it was all down to his “sound financial management”. So far so sensible; then the village idiot stood up.


CraskeCouncillor Craske had perhaps been on the happy juice too early because he started comparing Bexley council with Liverpool and our very own Derek Hatton said that the Liverpudlian council forecast that freezing council tax would cause “riots in the streets”. “Are you worried?” he asked councillor Campbell. Councillor Campbell smiled back at the loon in a manner that I interpreted as dismissive.

Councillor Stefano Borella was concerned about a forecast budget shortfall of £8·5 million. Teresa O’Neill said “forward planning” would look after that.

Councillor Munir Malik had a list of questions and comments. “A freeze comes at a cost. What services have been lost to provide the luxury of a zero increase? Who is paying for this electoral bribe? What further bribes are coming? Residents are struggling with higher prices, fuel etc. What is the negative impact of frozen council tax on the local economy? Has the Cabinet made an assessment? There may not be riots but there will be hurt.”

It was such a long list I felt there was no way he would get anything but a quick fob off and I was right. After O’Neill made the mandatory reference to a £10 million deficit left by the last Labour council, Colin Campbell simply refused to answer any of the questions telling Munir he should do the research himself.

Cabinet member Gareth Bacon made some derogatory remarks about councillor Malik and his “monologue” but put his finger on what he believed to be a weakness in Munir’s argument. If people are struggling with a range of increasing prices how will putting up council tax rates help? With Council Tax Benefit withdrawn and everyone but a few pensioners having to pay it from April he is probably more right than wrong.

Environment Director Peter Ellershaw introduced the subject of river crossings. Bexley is in favour of more he told us and he wasn’t alone. Everyone wanted more but just not in our back yard. The “resurfacing of the fixed link proposal” was labelled “unfortunate”.

T shirtCouncillor Gareth Bacon said for the umpteenth time that he favoured a new crossing at Silvertown and was against a fixed link at Gallions Reach. He repeated all the tired old arguments about all the traffic having to go up Knee Hill and said a bridge would do little to regenerate the borough. Presumably the favoured ferry will do even less. He also revealed that both leader O’Neill and GLA member James Cleverly had privately lobbied Boris Johnson against a bridge at Gallions Reach.

In response to councillor Borella who said that tolls were a jobs tax on South East London, Bacon indicated he was not wildly enthusiastic about tolls and that he would favour not only a Docklands Light Railway extension to Bexley but also a new road bridge; so long as it wasn’t in Bexley. A bridge at Woolwich connecting the North and South Circular roads was his favoured solution. Not a bad idea if they can find room for the ramps. Why wasn’t it included in the consultation paper?

Game overAfter a long, often repetitive but not uninteresting statement by cabinet member Gareth Bacon, councillor Munir Malik rose to his feet to question “councillor Bacon’s monologue”. What his question was to be we never discovered because Controller O’Neill said use of the word monologue was “rude” and demanded that Munir apologise for it. Munir said he didn’t think the M word was a rude one but if councillor Bacon apologised for using the same word he would too. This was not to be. O’Neill behaved like the petty dictator she is and said that it was her game and it was her ball and her daddy was bigger than Munir’s daddy so if she said Munir wasn’t allowed to play then Munir couldn’t play. And so, not for the first time, councillor Malik was not allowed to put the case for the people he represents in Thamesmead.

Councillor Borella who was sitting alongside Malik attempted to ask the questions on his behalf but made the mistake of saying he didn’t think his colleague deserved to be called rude for borrowing Gareth Bacon’s word but the ball owner was having none of that and stomped off towards the exit with it tucked under her arm. So there!

O’Neill blew the whistle on her fiasco at 20:14 and the Tories headed off to their private party in high spirits led by the Pink Pinocchio.

 

4 March (Part 3) - Council Tax frozen

At this evening’s Cabinet Meeting council leader Teresa O’Neill announced that Bexley’s Council Tax for 2013/14 will be frozen at this year’s levels. This will be the third successive year the tax rate has not gone up - except for those whose benefit has been withdrawn who will pay 5% instead of nothing. The leader untruthfully claimed that this was the fourth year of the freeze but while that may have been their intention in 2010/11 it didn’t actually happen. Three years is a decent enough achievement, but Teresa O’Neill can never resist a good lie.

The full report on the meeting may appear tomorrow if the time can be squeezed out of a tight schedule. It would have been deadly dull but fortunately councillor Munir Malik brightened things up towards the end.

 

4 March (Part 2) - Another Ghost of Craske?

No parking signs No parking signs Car caught in trapA reader told me he had been given a PCN for parking in a space off the Broadway which had no restrictions. He didn’t understand the reason given on the PCN (wrong class of vehicle) so I went to take a look. I can see what has happened.

A cul-de-sac has single yellow lines along its length apart from a single car length space. You can drive along as the owner of the red Nissan has and get out, look on the walls either side of the space for any restriction notice and there is none. You then walk away oblivious of the faded white paint on the road. Even if you see the ‘Motorcycles Only” painted on the road you might draw the wrong conclusion. Take a look at the large version of photo 3 to see if you agree. Does it or does it not look equally likely that the ‘Motorcycles’ written on the ground might apply to the left of the road where it is written?

Without any notices to say what the yellow line restrictions are - there are none whatever the entire length of the road - and no signs on posts or wall to say what can park in the unmarked space I would guess that a trip to the Parking Adjudicator would prove to be a worthwhile investment.

The faded state of the yellow line and road marking suggest nothing has changed in some years. How much money would the neglect have been worth to Bexley council, and who doesn’t think it was deliberate? As the Two and a Half Year Parking Saga proved, Civil Enforcement Officers are supposed to check the signage every time they issue a ticket. It looks as though Bexley council and NSL is every bit as crooked as Bexley council and Vinci Parking.

If you know the owner of W177 NLH perhaps you would let him know. I have lots more photos if needed.

 

4 March (Part 1) - Ghost of Craske

ANPR ANPROne of Peter Craske’s schemes to screw the Bexley motorist more than ever before was to redeploy the fixed CCTV cameras installed for reasons of public safety to instead raise money by surveying the roads for anyone who might commit a minor misdemeanour. He, using the weasel words so closely associated with a man who had developed lying to an art form, said it was getting “value for money” from the system.

For reasons which were never made clear officially this plan was halted more than a year ago and before implementation. It was felt at the time it might conflict with Bexley’s plan to take over the CCTV surveillance duties from other boroughs; something else that never came to fruition.

Craske's plan
Now the old scheme may be about to creep in by stealth. New gestapo wagons have been seen on the streets of Bexley and they are equipped with Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. The one shown was spotted last week by a B-i-B reader lurking in Blackfen, one of Bexley council’s favourite revenue raising honeypots. (See that reader’s photograph.)

I imagine the Notomob people will know what dirty deeds a malevolent council can do with ANPR technology and I will endeavour to pick their brains.

There has been no mention of these new spy cars at any relevant council meeting.

 

1 March (Part 2) - Cock up. No conspiracy

Bexley BulletinThis time last week Bexley council was busy working out what to do about Mick Barnbrook’s phone call which drew attention to the Agenda for the following Monday’s Cabinet Meeting not meeting legal requirements. The council in the shape of Paul Moore and his legal adviser took the only realistic course the council could. They postponed the meeting.

A few cynics wrote to suggest various conspiracy theories but all the evidence points to a simple administrative and presumably unintentional delay to publication of the Agenda and ignorance of the law. Call it incompetence if you like but the featured document on the left, the Bexley Bulletin, shows that on that fateful Friday 22nd February it was the intention to hold a Public Cabinet meeting on 25th February.

Bexley council¹s Bulletins are available here.

 

1 March (Part 1) - Finance, fiction fraud or fib?

What would you do if you absolutely had to get your expenditure down by £25 a week? A regular drinker might reduce his consumption by a pint of beer a day. A 4x4 owner might swap it for a Fiesta. Either would go a long way towards establishing a new more economical way of life and permanently lower outgoings.

Bexley Conservatives announced nearly three years ago that they wanted to see £35 million of savings and set about attacking services to adult carers and transport for disabled children on the one hand and filling fountains with dirt on the other. At nearly every council meeting we are told that Bexley is on course to save £35 million when comparing March 2011 with March 2014.

Congratulations Bexley council. You’ve successfully controlled the extravagances of the past and are the toast of every grateful council tax payer. Right? Well probably not, this is Bexley remember. It doesn’t look at figures as you and I do.

I once swapped a large mortgaged house out in the sticks where a season ticket to London now costs £425 a month (†) for a small house I owned outright in London. It saved a lot of money. At the same time I got rid of an old car which did 25 miles a gallon if I was careful. Two children left university and got themselves decent jobs - this was twenty odd years ago. I’m still not spending money on those things and the total savings reduced my expenditure by a figure not far removed from the average UK income. Why am I not rich?

LandfillTen or so years ago Bexley council stopped piling all its rubbish into landfill and as a consequence doesn’t have to pay the tax. It moved with the times just as my own life did. If I had an accountant he wouldn’t be harping on about me not paying a fortune to South West Trains but Bexley still claims to save £3 million a year by not living in the past and dumping rubbish in landfill.

Bexley’s fantasists seem to think that money they saved in the past accumulates for ever but refuse collection costs actually creep upwards not down and the fact our great grandfathers ripped up the Abbey Wood to Erith tram line won’t help pay today’s bills.

Where else has Bexley saved money? The dog fouling warden has gone - £15,000 a year in the doggie bag. No more public loos - forty grand in the porcelain pot. Produce PDFs instead of paper in the Social Care department - £14,000 in a brown envelope. Do away with parking meters - £30,000 in the slot.

They are all one offs difficult to repeat but if you accumulate the figures year on year for long enough they could end up saving more than Bexley’s total expenditure. Just like my season ticket and mortgage from the 1980s would now exceed my total expenditure if I still counted them as savings. My accounts, such as they are, don’t feature season tickets. In Bexley however things are different. The dirt in the fountain is still worth twenty grand a year. For how long do they intend to keep counting that in?

The only real measure of any saving over time is a comparison of total outgoings, before and after. It is those outgoings which dictate the required income. Nothing else counts.

How has Bexley been doing two thirds of the way through a period in which it said it would save £35 million? One might guess it will have reduced spending by around £10 million in the first year and improve on it in succeeding years until it gets down to a £35 million reduction compared with the bad old days.

What has happened in practice? It’s not difficult to find out because Appendix B of Bexley’s Budget Book helpfully lists all the savings attributable to each Cabinet portfolio. There are some comparison complications because Peter Craske’s Public Realm and Safety (+) responsibilities were redistributed to Katie Perrior (Children’s Services) and Gareth Bacon (Environment) following his brush with the law, however it is possible to deduce that the numbers belie the fine words.


Claimed savings
to March 2013
Actual Spend
2011/12
Projected Spend
2012/13
Adult’s Services £7,264,000 £61,067,000 £61,000,000
Children’s Services &
Community Safety
£2,458,000 £28,720,000
£2,750,000 +
£31,400,000
Economic Dev. & Regeneration £984,000 £14,061,000 £12,100,000
Education £2,878,000 £16,766,000 £12,800,000
Environment & Public Realm £3,066,000 £38,931,000 £38,600,000
Finance & Corporate Services £5,850,000 £12,288,000 £13,500,000
Leisure £1,111,000 £12,316,000 £11,500,000
Grand Total £23,611,000 £186,899,000 £180,900,000


If you add up all the claimed savings, no water in the fountain for the past couple of years, no toilets on Broadway, any number of penny pinching economies, you might be forgiven for thinking that after two years and £23 million saved, the £35 million saving target is within our grasp - and maybe it is. If that’s how you do your arithmetic. But look at what is being spent. Not much of a reduction is it? All those painful cut backs to services but the money is still going out almost as fast as ever. Maybe Bromley is more transparent with its arithmetic.

Interesting that there is a 24% reduction in education spending. It must be all those head teachers rushing headlong to Academy status to get away from the clutches of Bexley council. But the tax payer still pays, so that’s four million which isn’t really a saving at all. The tax payer is just paying into a different pot.

Figures taken from Budget Book 2012/13 and Budget Book 2014 (draft).

From an idea by Nicholas Dowling.

† £19 a quarter in 1961 when £425 was more than I earned in a year.

 

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