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Bonkers Blog January 2014

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30 January (Part 1) - Across the board price increases

Too much of Tuesday was spent on the phone trying to get my broadband connection fixed and the Cabinet meeting report was necessarily short but now that the problem is out of my hands I can return to checking out the recording to remind myself who said what.

Apart from myself, the BAG contingent and regular attendee John Watson, there was a group of about eight sitting behind them. I was led to believe they were prospective Labour party candidates for the 2014 election.

Chairman Teresa O’Neill opened the meeting without any formalities at all. No welcome for the members of the public - not surprising I suppose, not a single one of them is going to vote Tory in May - and no warnings about who could take photos from where. Maybe she had noticed that no one had brought a camera. The sound system was on its best behaviour and everyone could be heard perfectly. That does not happen very often.

The leader began by saying that two thirds of the consultation respondents were in favour of the council’s proposals and only 10% were against. The actual results are shown below (scroll or click) so that you can see if you can replicate her arithmetic.

Budget

At a quick glance it seems to me that the sum of the first two columns rarely reaches two thirds, I’ll have to create a spreadsheet to see where I am going wrong. Ms. O’Neill acknowledged the public’s disagreement with the ‘Aunt Sally’ plan to close the Archive Centre.

The Director of Finance, Mr. Ellsmore, said that one of the ways in which Bexley’s £40 million black hole was to be filled would be an across the board 3% increase in fees and charges. The charges document shows the real increases vary between nothing and 20% (Survey Fees), 25% (Commercial Waste charges) and even 50% (Clinical Waste). Lots of the smaller increases are above 3% and some less. Inflation currently stands at 2%. “Government funding has reduced by just over 40% since 2010” the DoF added.

The introduction of free school meals is to be fully funded by government and they will pay Bexley £2.30 per meal while Bexley pays its contractor only £2.25. Mayor Johnson is proposing to cut his precept by 1.5% leading to a small reduction in council tax if Bexley freezes theirs as expected.

Councillor Campbell waffled on somewhat (we learned nothing new) about the need for the increases in fees and said that unlike the Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, he did not believe that the answer to everything was a tax rise. I sometimes worry that I often agree with our Colin. The first reaction should never be more tax but after four years of savage cuts a case might be made for it.

Colin Campbell went on to say that by 2018 “this authority will have saved £100 million”. He didn’t say the year from which he started counting, I suppose it must be 2006 because I’ve only heard him claim £35 million for the past four years and £40 million for the next, up until now. Perhaps he has become demob. happy.

“We are delivering”, he said, but indicated that mistakes had been made in Children’s Services and “they are of our own making”.

Councillor Don Massey reiterated his present position that he is hopeful of saving the local archive centre. Staffing levels will be reduced.

Councillor Katie Perrior said she was “investing the council’s money in families, helping them when they are vulnerable and showing signs that could escalate to children going into care which doesn’t have the best outcome. It is much better for children to stay with their own families”. I’ve no idea what this actually entails as all Ms. Perrior told us was that it involves “key workers” and the “overall aim was to reduce referrals to children’s social care”. The theory sounded good, no one wants Bexley’s former neglectfulness leading to any more murders.

And so the shortest Cabinet meeting in recent memory drew to a close. £40 million saved in a shade under 20 minutes. They make it sound so easy but 20 minutes also makes it sound as if it has not been fully thought through.

 

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