The last General Purposes Committee meeting I attended lasted half an hour and I spent twice as long as that on the bus getting there and back. So when I was presented with an alternative attraction last night I asked Nicholas Dowling if he could possibly take my place at the Civic Centre. Fortunately he responded with very little arm twisting, this is his account of what happened.
Malcolm was lucky I had nothing better to do than wander up to the Civic Centre for seven thirty to watch local democracy in action. It started well because I was particularly impressed by the seating arrangements in the Council Chamber. For the first time that I recall - comfy seats! Perhaps they’d been acquired from the nearby Boardroom and it’s a pity they aren’t proffered more often. I and the other two members of the public present could rightly consider ourselves spoiled.
Despite there being only two items on the agenda, both of which looked inconsequential to me, councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis had dragged herself away from organising strip shows at her Charlotte public house in Crayford. Like me she probably thought the meeting was likely to be over and done with quickly.
The proposed ‘Diversion to Part of Public Footpath 2’ was considered in virtually no depth at all; and perhaps rightly so.
Footpath 2 runs close to Crossness Sewage Works and has a long, if less than exalted, history. Mr. Dave Green, Head of Engineering Services, informed the committee that the question was one of simply regularising what the public has already put into effect.
There was only one question and it came from the ubiquitous Labour councillor Alan Deadman. He enquired how the public could follow the current route of the path. Mr. Green conceded that it was currently impossible for them to do so, thus revealing how Bexley council had clearly been remiss in its duty to maintain a public right of way. Neither should they be too proud of the fact that it has taken them so many years to regularise the fait accompli. The amended route and alterations to Bexley’s definitive map were duly agreed.
It was an intriguingly transparent process regarding a public right of way. Not at all like Mike Frizoni, Deputy Director of Public Realm Management and his decision to close the bridleway running through Mount Mascal stables. Perhaps Dave could give his boss Mike a session or two on how to correctly deal with this sort of affair. Best practice should be encouraged rather than deciding to deliberately exclude residents while concocting dodgy deals and perhaps seal it all with a secret handshake.
The second and final item related to the Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations 2013 and the statements of policy about exercise of discretionary functions. Pretty much enough said; and thankfully the committee members had little appetite for it either.
Councillor Deadman wanted Bexley council to ensure that ‘member level appointments with flexible retirement options’ agreed by members (that’s councillors to me and you) should be discussed by the full pension committee. It was the first instance that I can recall in my four years of attending council meetings that a Conservative cabinet member (Colin Campbell – Finance) largely agreed with the opposition and an amendment was duly tabled and passed. Shock, horror it appears democracy can be meaningfully practised in Bexley after all.
I am not sure that Colin’s glorious leader will thank him but as he is not standing for re-election in May perhaps her displeasure will not overly bother him.
Why the fuss I hear you say? Well I can only assume that councillor Deadman had the infamous duo of Nick Johnson and Ian Clement in mind and wanted some sort of guarantee against overly cosy and unscrutinised deals being far too easy to accomplish amongst dishonest and corrupt individuals. Well done him, and it would be unfair not to personally thank the chairman Geraldene Lucia-Hennis and her fellow Conservative committee members Maxine Fothergill, Graham D’Amiral and Aileen Beckwith, who also fully backed the amendment. I’m sure that you all will have made your leader proud!
Well with that brief moment of Bexley’s political history rapidly receding the clock reached 7:45 p.m. and the meeting was duly closed. Thankfully it had indeed been a very quick one.