This is the fifth and last of the reports on last Wednesday’s council
meeting. The previous four covered what might be termed the ‘popular’ subjects
but they have failed to adequately portray the true nature of a Bexley council
meeting. The arrogance, the contrived pre-arranged questions, the jeering, the
political insults and the tribal voting pattern all have to be seen to be fully
appreciated. The webcast is not up to the job because it features only one selected
councillor and their voice alone. The antics off and the mayor’s constant procedural errors go unrecorded.
The same goes for my own recording, a week after the event it is not always possible to remember what the rabble was doing while one of their number was speaking. I scribble descriptive notes timed to the recording, so let’s see if they are any good.
The previous council meeting (4th March 2015) was a disaster for any councillor who might be hanging on to the idea that webcasts enhance its reputation and the end was particularly chaotic. The mayor refused to extend the meeting beyond 11 p.m. but then went on to take a vote several minutes later. None of this was reflected in the minutes and councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) brought the omission to the mayor’s attention. Here’s his formal written amendment…
Councillor Borella complained that various matters had been left unresolved and neither did he approve of the Leader and Deputy Leader making representations to the mayor around 11 p.m. presumably to influence his decision in their favour.
Councillor Howard Marriner wasn’t interested in minutes that might accurately reflect his incompetent chairmanship and the blue rinsed sheep around him were only too willing to sweep his embarrassment under the carpet. There was no way the Tories were going to vote in favour of honesty and none of them did.
The large numbers who were part of the Splash Park deputation gasped in disbelief at what had unfolded before them, but to the few regular attendees it was just dirty business as usual.
After the Splash Park deputation and the only public question had been dealt with, councillors were able to put their own questions.
The first came from councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) and his chosen subject was, surprise, surprise, Belvedere Splash Park.
His concern, after Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) had publicly stated that “the Splash Park’s got to go” and made disparaging remarks about its 5,000 Facebook supporters, was whether there was any chance at all that petitions would be seriously considered.
Cabinet member Alex Sawyer began by saying yet again “I do not wish to see the Splash Park closed” but went on to excuse councillor Tandy by suggesting that when he said the Splash Park had to close he meant the filtration system had to close.
Few would believe him but in Tory circles the proverb relating to honour among thieves is paramount. Of the 27 water samples taken last year 18 were unacceptable and some would not respond to chlorine treatment, Councillor Sawyer proudly informed us.
A detailed study of the situation had commenced on November 4th 2014 (after the announcement that the Splash Park would close and three days after the first public protest meeting), the intention being to identify the possible options. Councillor Sawyer confirmed that the technical report is still unavailable and until it is he cannot begin to make a decision. The audience was not happy with his acceptance of the situation and failure to obtain any reason for its delay.
The long awaited report will cover three options…
• Converting the system to a mains fed Installation.
• Upgrading the filtration system.
• Complete renewal.
Councillor Sawyer repeated his refusal to ring fence any donations that may be available from commercial sources.
The next question was from councillor Borella about the possible disposal of the Old Manor Way playground. He wanted to know why it had been favoured with a petition on the council’s website when the Splash Park had not and made reference to David Evennett’s dismissive letter to residents.
Councillor Sharon know-it-all Massey (Conservative, Danson Park), rapidly supported by council leader O’Neill, objected that councillor Borella was asking two questions when only one is allowed. Maybe that was his intention ultimately but at the time of the interruption there was most definitely only one question. Councillor Sawyer said he thought the Splash Park should have been given the same on-line petition facilities evidently having forgotten that he had made it clear early on that he would take no notice of any petition. I was under the impression that that is why the Splash Park people didn’t immediately organise one.
Having disposed of a couple of genuine questions the first of the time wasters lumbered to his feet. Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) invited cabinet member Philip Read to brag about the lifting of the Improvement Notice imposed on Bexley council last September. Philip Read “welcomed the question” and repeated his well worn story about how wonderful his department now is.
After two minutes the mayor told Read his time was up but he said he had three more paragraphs to read, so he carried on. More pro-Tory favouritism from mayor Marriner.
The next Agenda Item was Motions which have to be completed by 9 p.m. but as this meeting was exceptional in starting at 19:45 instead of 19:30 the Labour Group asked for an extension while the loud mouthed Sharon Massey could be heard once again in her self-appointed chairman impersonation role.
The request for a time extension was unanimously rejected by the Conservatives and councillor Brian Bishop was invited to present his motion “succinctly” which he did to Tory applause. The detail was reported on 23rd April.
With time running out for Motions, the Conservatives employed delaying tactics and when councillor Borella stood in an attempt to get proceedings moving he was shouted down by the loud mouth Massey.
It is councillor Sharon Massey who is heard yelling “No, No, No” or something similar
His aim was to modify councillor Bishop’s Motion with the totally innocuous words “encouraging the creation of London Living Wage”. As already reported, Bexley Conservatives are not in favour of paying decent wages so unanimously rejected the Labour Amendment. Unbelievable but true.
The next item on the Agenda was Teresa O’Neill’s Leader’s Report. She doesn’t usually make too much of a meal of it and this was no exception. Questions were soon invited but before doing so there was a mild reprimand for councillors. “What do our residents think [of what they see on the webcast]?"
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) wanted to know if any compensation would be forthcoming from Tesco following their retreat from The Broadway. Answer: “No”.
Councillor James Hunt had a ‘new’ question for the Leader on Children’s Services who immediately passed it on to cabinet member Philip Read.
He spent two and a half minutes reading from the answer he had printed out in advance. Another well rehearsed piece of theatre from Bexley council.
Councillor Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey) asked about libraries and we learned that four groups had expressed an interest in taking over Blackfen Library.
Councillor Andy Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) made a statement about how brilliant Bexley’s Children’s Services are but it was interpreted as a question nevertheless. Cabinet member Philip Read picked up another of his pre-prepared written answer in which he couldn’t resist including a relatively mild jibe - for him - at his opposition counterpart councillor Mabel Ogundayo.
The mayor told Read he had run out of time after two minutes but he carried on for another 80 seconds nevertheless. So pleased was councillor Philip Read with his written answer to a ’spontaneous’ question that he offered every member a copy.
The meeting moved on to Agenda Item 11 which can be quite ‘technical’ as it looks at the work of various council committees. Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked the first question of note but was again the subject of abusive catcalls from councillor Sharon Massey who simply cannot remember that she is not in the saloon bar of The Charlotte watching oiled men disrobe.
Perhaps because of Sharon Massey’s interruption, councillor James Hunt could not remember what Joe’s question was.
Councillor Daniel Francis complained that the timetabling of meetings precluded some items from being included in the Agenda of this, the last council meeting of the year, thereby effectively preventing discussion for all time.
It was a complex question beyond the intellectual capacity of the mayor but the situation was recognised by councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) who recommended to him that the subject should not be discussed. The logic seemed to be that if an item was accidentally or otherwise missing from an Agenda the subject matter it might have included cannot be discussed. The hapless chairman councillor Marriner eagerly grasped at the straw. Once again democracy was successfully subverted by Bexley council.
Councillor Francis was rewarded with low level jeering from the muppets opposite but he was not discouraged. He had another Motion up his sleeve for Agenda Item 12. He said that next year’s timetable of meetings would result in intervals of 141, 134 and 132 days between cabinet meetings and the next opportunity to scrutinise decisions. He moved that a cabinet meeting be brought forwards by two weeks and an extra full council meeting be scheduled.
Council leader O’Neill claimed to understand the problem but said “neither idea was a goer”. Following their leader the Tory sheep rejected Daniel Francis’s Amendment unanimously. Once again democracy in Bexley was kicked into the long grass.
Plus ça change.