I didn’t think a scrutiny meeting could be much less exciting that
Melvin Seymour chaired last Wednesday but I was wrong. Councillor James Hunt
chaired an even duller one yesterday evening, and don’t blame either chairman,
both do a decent enough job, it’s just that the guest speakers have little new
to report and the questions are few and usually seek nothing more than a small clarification.
Almost the most interesting thing to report is that I was the only member of the public present and the blogger’s table was absent so I sat at a councillor’s desk in a comfortable chair and not one of the hard plastic perspiration inducing monstrosities that Bexley council deems acceptable for members of the public.
Usually the police commander is at the People Scrutiny meeting with some statistics to report but this time the police were not included in the Agenda. However the Clinical Commissioning Group was.
The CCG told us that everything was going well at both Queen Mary’s Hospital and in the Urgent Care Centre in Erith. Councillor Sharon Massey said she had heard the same, so it must be true.
Unfortunately two GP surgeries had been found lacking when inspected. The CCG speaker was careful not to name them but not everyone was so cautious. The Westwood Surgery in Welling has been rated ‘Inadequate’ and the Bexley Group Practice ‘Needs Improvement’. One of them is mine and for both the shortcomings were administrative rather than clinical. I am not in the least bit surprised.
The meeting moved on to Children’s Services where traditionally councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) and cabinet member Philip Read lock horns.
Mabel was rightly disappointed that yet another Bexley council consultation had fallen on largely deaf ears. 29 people had thought fit to comment on the ‘remodelling’ of Children’s Centres and she thought it was a mistake to have held the consultation over the summer period which was perhaps not the best line of attack as it had run from 24th August until 7th October. Not what most people would call the height of summer.
Councillor Read said he had done his best to encourage responses but he had concluded that the low response rate meant that “the remodelling was by and large acceptable to the parents in the borough”. Or perhaps it is consultation fatigue.
Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St. Michael’s) questioned the continued recruitment of social workers from outside the UK, mainly Irish. Councillor Read said recruitment difficulties had led to the extension of the net as far as Australia. The Agenda revealed that filling Bexley with newly qualified social workers instead of employing agency staff could save as much as £968,000 a year.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) opened the questioning on education with one about parents’ choice of placements but the answer was “Bexley’s schools are very full”.
Councillor Alan Downing asked much the same question as he has asked at least twice before. He said that only one in six of those Bexley children who take the grammar school selection test pass and that it was “a sad reflection on our primary schools”.
The answer on a previous occasion amounted to Bexley’s primary school teachers are a bunch of lefties who don’t like grammar schools so the children are not coached for the examination. This time the answer was that other boroughs enter “able and bright young people for the test” and “so the competition is very fierce”. If Bexley’s children can’t compete they must be less bright than elsewhere but no, “because they do very very well in terms of the outcomes at Key Stage 2”. Keep asking the question Alan, one day you will get a straight answer.
Councillor Brenda Langstead feared that the Living Wage announcement will lead to a two tier care system where only those with substantial funds would be able to obtain a place in a care home. It was “acknowledged that it was a challenge” and there would be “dialogues with our providers”. The Deputy Director said the council was compelled by law to put eligible people into care homes and the cabinet member said she was going to see the minister about the problem next week. The days when a cabinet member would boast of financially screwing the care providers into the ground would appear to have been left behind.
The subject of housing revealed that nearly 800 people are currently in temporary accommodation and just over 400 in “nightly acquired emergency accommodation, a fair proportion out of borough”. The figures have all approximately doubled in a year. Later in the meeting it transpired that “a fair proportion” meant 300 and that 30 families were in Manchester. When Homeleigh is brought into use that figure would reduce.
There was some inconclusive dithering when the debate switched to the plan for Bexley council to duck out of monitoring CCTV. “The council is working very closely with the borough commander” but “they are unable to monitor from the police station”. It looks like good news for wrong-doers. On the other hand the borough commander is on the record as saying CCTV doesn’t in practice solve many crimes but it makes people feel safer.
By nine twenty the meeting was well into considering the budget proposals which were the same as those I had heard discussed at the cabinet meeting two weeks ago and at Places Scrutiny last week and will possibly have to endure again this evening - Resources Scrutiny - so I packed my bag and left a little early. Six or seven minutes early if the one hour fifty seven minute webcast is a reliable guide. I’m not sure it is, the first five minutes of the meeting appears to be missing.