Councillor Peter Craske spent last weekend and the beginning of this week
Twitter trailing his plans to reveal all sorts of goodies at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting,
so he was probably disappointed that the only member of the pubic he managed to
attract to his conjuring show was me.
Unfortunately I had seen a near identical performance only six months ago and Peter Craske’s repertoire of pranks relies too heavily on snatching bags of sweets from the kiddywinkies and throwing the odd one or two back after they have stopped crying. Smiles all around!
As protocol demands the meeting began with a formal statement of the Council’s current financial situation by whoever is in charge of the purse strings at the time. On Tuesday Taryn Eves, Strategy Manager, did the honours.
She said that this year £1·7 million had been put into reserves and the Council is working towards being financially self-sufficient by 2020.
Low interest rates had allowed temporary accommodation to be purchased for the homeless but every 1% rate rise would increase Council costs by about a million.
£5·1 million will have to be found to balance the budget next year and £8·9, £9·4 and £12·4 million in the following years. There is currently no plan to fall back on reserves although that cannot be entirely ruled out.
Growth and a 3·99% Council Tax increase each year will see Council Tax receipts rise by 22% over the next four years. Hold on to your wallets!
Ritual requires the Cabinet Member for Finance to share the financial limelight so Councillor Don Massey said a few words most of which are not worth repeating. However his reinforcement of Ms. Eves’s 22% Council Tax increase might be. Two thirds of Council income comes from Council Tax and that proportion is rising.
Growth must make its contribution and Councillor Massey referred to the need to concrete over as much of the borough as possible - or in his more carefully chosen words, we must build more homes. On parks, green spaces, SSIs (Sites of Scientific Interest); anywhere so long as the Council can make money.
Unlike Ms. Eves (and her Agenda report), Councillor Massey “Couldn’t see inflation creeping back in” and in another contradiction said that the unexpected reduction in bank rate from 0·5% to 0·25% last year had hurt the Council’s budget.
At last the ruddy showman took to the stage hoping against hope that no one would rumble his over-used cunning stunt. Everyone is grateful when thrown a sweet or two after having their own bag stolen.
The unpopular street cleaning schedule will be restored to its former frequency and Councillor Craske promised he is no longer considering a three weekly rubbish collection. It will remain at every two weeks.
30 roads which are not easy to clean because of all day on-street parking will be cleared over a two day period to allow the job to be done properly. Weed spraying will go back to four times a year too.
The grounds maintenance budget is also to be restored to its former glory and grass cutting which was cut to nine mows a year has been put back to twelve. If twelve can be justified whoever was it who thought nine was a reasonable number?
Popular parks will be provided with 140 litre waste bins to replace 200 of the existing 80 litre bins. 20,000 square metres of shrub beds will be covered with wood bark mulch. Danson Lake needs attention too.
Two more Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras will help to catch fly-tippers. Town centre waste bins will be replaced with better quality non-rusting bins and the recycling depots will be “given a brand new look”.
Community safety issues in Northumberland Heath will be addressed, literary festivals will be held in libraries and a permanent museum will be created in Bexleyheath’s Central Library.
Street parties are on the agenda too, they will be held across the borough starting in the autumn. There’s a £5·1 million black hole but there is an election to be won, it’s sweetie time folks!
It was really rather odd that less than a week earlier, at the Resources Scrutiny Meeting, the Cabinet Member for Finance had no plans for spending the £2·8 million. The Cabinet probably cobbled something together around a weekend BBQ. Burghers anyone?