Another council meeting last night, the General Purposes Committee and they
too were considering the latest accounts.
The Agenda was a mere 323 pages instead of 346 at the Audit Committee.
John Watson and Nicholas Dowling beat me into Room 105 at the Civic Centre which had been laid out with desks in a doughnut pattern so that the public could not have a clear view of proceedings. The main council chamber affords a clear view only from the centre of the public gallery and no one is allowed close enough to read name displays which is a nuisance when trying to identify guests and officers. Occasionally the U shaped chamber is turned into ‘a doughnut’ too just to prove they are in charge and assisting public scrutiny counts for nothing.
John brought the visibility problem to the attention of the chairman, councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis. He asked if two councillors could move to the side tables so that he could see them and they did not obstruct the view of others. The chairman said “No”, adding that “councillors could sit where they liked”. The customary lack of consideration for the public proved to be a mistake.
Later and just a couple of minutes before the meeting was due to start Mick Barnbrook showed up and asked much the same question referring to his hearing loss and the lack of microphones in Room 105. The chairman said Mick was late and she had already gone over that ground with the obvious implication he should shut up and suffer his disability in silence.
I have no way of telling just how poor Mick’s hearing is but a friend of 30 years is deaf and if I talk straight at her, communication problems are generally avoided, but if I should be by her side and begin talking she is not even aware I have opened my mouth. Mick seems to be heading in the same direction. He kicked up a bit of a fuss at not being able to half listen, half lip read.
Councillor Aileen Beckwith did the decent thing and removed herself to a more visible position but the boorish pig otherwise known as councillor Colin Campbell immediately took her place to ensure the view remained blocked. Mick retaliated by taking a seat within a couple of feet of the councillors’ tables and Lucia-Hennis, perhaps realising where this was leading, let him stay there. A reasonable chairman would have asked councillors to shuffle around a bit to provide a better view at the outset, but however wrong they are, Bexley councillors will never give an inch. Power corrupts, absolute power has corrupted them absolutely. In the event no councillor said more than a dozen words and two said nothing at all.
The meeting was another occasion for running an eye over the audited accounts but this committee (chairman and five councillors) gave them even less consideration than Audit. The Accounts were nodded through after nine minutes and the meeting ended before eight o’clock despite the delayed 19:30 start.
During the meeting councillor Campbell said he considered the accounts had become far too long for anyone to read, councillor Munir Malik countered that by saying they have become far easier to read and digest. Grant Thornton, he believed, had brought the accounts up to a new level. Labour supporting private enterprise over public bodies? Whatever next? Probably both men have a point.
323 pages are far too many to summarise here but a small number of items came to my attention almost at random. The Broadway Shopping Centre provided a rental income of £1·5 million in 2012/13 and the council’s reserves are earmarked for the Bexley First project. That’s the refurbishment of the old Woolwich Building Society H.Q.
The council’s income from sales and services (such as taking away old sofas and hunting rats) reduced by about 23% in 2012/13 (by £5,934,000.) It’s what happens when you keep jacking up the prices.
A statement of known expenditure for 2013/14 showed another £25 million earmarked for the new Civic Offices. It seems a lot to pay to get rid of doughnut shaped meeting rooms. Getting rid of Lucia-Hennis and those of her ilk requires only a pencil and ballot paper.