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Bonkers Blog April 2011

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7 April - Cuts are for the riff-raff not for us says the Fat Controller

The Council ChamberI didn’t expect a large turnout for last night’s council meeting, but I was wrong, the Bexley Council for Equality and Diversity (BCED), no longer supported by Bexley council, turned out in force and swelled the numbers in the public gallery to at least 150.

When the meeting started chairman Widow Twankey’s first priority was to remind everyone that she had no intention of following government guidelines on open and transparent local government and had banned filming of meetings nor would she ever grant permission to anyone who sought it. She said this was to protect members of the public from being filmed without their permission. So now we have two TLCs, The Liar Craske and The Liar Clark. When a video camera was used in the council chamber a few members of the public had the backs of their heads captured on tape; if Twankey is so concerned for public privacy maybe she should turn off the town’s CCTV system.

There were deputations from the BCED and on behalf of parents and carers of adults with learning disabilities whose activities have been slashed by the council’s cuts programme. A Mr. John Stanton spoke movingly of the impact on people whose lives had revolved around the lost social activities while I surveyed all the councillors to try to judge by their expressions if they were in the slightest bit interested in what was being said. Most I will give the benefit of the doubt but councillor John Davey (Lesnes Abbey, £9,543 + £7,782 from the Bexley Care Trust) appeared to be in a dream-world staring into space every time I looked. Another exception was Twankey herself whose eyes were darting all around the chamber at councillors and public alike as if she was a bag of nerves and after the mess she made of last month’s meeting that might be understandable.

Following the charade of deputations the meeting moved on to questions from the public. My view of this section is that it is another waste of time, the answers are worthless but the antics surrounding them may be entertaining. The procedure is that 15 minutes is devoted to reading out answers to questions that (in contravention of the mayor’s favoured book on chairmanship) are not read out. If the questioner is present he is allowed to ask a subsidiary question after his first one is answered and if a question is unanswered because of lack of time the questioner gets his answer in the post. That procedure, inadequate as it may be, is abused. Twankey doesn’t accept questions which are too difficult to answer. One of my associates had his rejected totally this month and Twankey didn’t have the courtesy to let him know. Mine was watered down to the point that a simple fobbing off answer will be possible without getting to the heart of the matter. Last month my question which should have been answered by post is still unanswered and questions that do get through are often not answered properly at the meeting. In all the time I have attended council meetings Craske has never yet answered a question and instead filibusters, prevaricates, throws around insults and lies.

Yesterday the council tried a new trick, the planted question, and its associate, the queue jump. Last month my contributor Phil thought the council might be shuffling the order of questions to ensure only the easiest got an airing at meetings. I still don’t believe this is the norm but there may be signs of change. Do you really believe that any ordinary Bexley citizen would be so concerned about the prospect of Ken Livingston becoming Mayor of London again that he would write in with a question about the likely effect on Bexley and stand at the lectern to hear the answer?

Do you believe that any ordinary citizen would ask how well the borough has worked with the Mayor of London on transport issues? Does a question asking what discussions the council leader has had with government ministers on the Localism Bill sound like the sort of genuine question a Bexley resident might ask? No, neither do I and the game was carelessly given away by mayor Twankey who addressed the questioner as councillor Leaf. Yes, they are so desperate to avoid answering questions that they dragged an ex-councillor into the chamber to pose fake questions and cause genuine ones to go unanswered.

There was just time for resident Michael Barnbrook to get in two questions. He asked Fat Controller O’Neill if councillors should not “cut their allowances so as to suffer the same pain they are inflicting on the public” and when she indicated that pain was reserved for the public and not the ruling classes he asked “Do you have no shame?” I did not hear the answer because the public applause was too loud.

Mr. Barnbrook also addressed a question to councillor Craske (TLC) to the effect that the one thing the recent public consultations had shown clearly is that residents (74.2% of responses, the highest level of consistency for any response) wanted to see a reduction in the spending on parking controls and made reference to Bexley’s fatuous slogan “Listening to you”. Craske’s downfall is that he has lied so often (and so differently on occasions) that he knows that every figure he offers will be contradicted by one he has given earlier so he had little option but to fall back on the tried and tested ‘I refer the gentleman to the answer I gave earlier’. When pressed a bit harder he couldn’t resist an outright lie. He said that he was now spending less on parking controls than what was spent on answering Mr. Barnbrook’s questions under Freedom of Information legislation. This is typical of the irreverence with which the council treats public question time. As I said at the outset, I am more interested in the way the questions are answered and their excuses for avoiding them, than the answers themselves; by and large they are lies.

Was there anything good to report? I have to admit there was. Twankey had made good use of her stop-watch and the timing of questions was meticulous. She even cut off a councillor in mid flow when he ran out of time; that has never happened before. Councillor Campbell (St. Mary’s, £22,650) seemed to make a decent job of explaining why there is a £100,000 loan facility for the Thames Innovations Centre and said that it had made a profit this year. Given the amount the council itself spends there I would expect nothing less. Councillor Campbell also spoke in praise of the co-operation given by MPs and how it was a two-way operation which provoked councillor Deadman (North End, £12,114) into one of his trademark bits of idiot-speak. He bemoaned the fact that the borough was not represented by any Labour MPs. I expect the MP for Erith & Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce, will be having a quiet word in his shell-like.

Photograph taken at a Cabinet meeting before Twankey’s latest attack on democracy.


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