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Bonkers Blog April 2011

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30 April - Bexley Conservatives. Panic and desperation

When I attend a council meeting I go with a notebook and up to six colleagues some of whom take their own notes. Any councillor who stands out by virtue of idiocy or unexpected wisdom is likely to get a mention here a few hours later. Two councillors who have never strayed beyond the middle ground are Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) and Margaret O’Neill (Labour, Erith), so their names have not appeared on the Bonkers Blog before. What’s changed? What have they done now to warrant inclusion? Err… nothing actually, but they are both the victims of totally unwarranted Conservative party slurs.

At last Wednesday’s extraordinary council meeting to discuss where the new Civic Centre should be the Labour representatives were the only ones to put forward the case for the Erith site. In doing so Seán Newman pointed out that the Erith site had very good rail connections. There is a ten minute interval service which would allow leader Teresa O’Neill to be in Boris Johnson’s office in 40 minutes and a half hourly service in the other direction if councillor Craske feels the urge to screw up Sidcup again. Sean said that by contrast Bexleyheath didn’t really have its own railway station and Barnehurst station was closer. It was a clear reference to Bexleyheath’s station being less than ideally placed for the town’s centre. Google Maps confirms councillor Newman is right, 1·4 miles against only 0·8. It wasn’t worth reporting, non-controversial facts don’t generally get an airing here, there’s no room for verbatim accounts.

I try to be factual on Bonkers, I don’t believe readers would appreciate having their time wasted by blatant misinformation. How would you feel if I spun Seán Newman’s comments as…


Councillors were left stunned by an outburst from Labour Councillor Seán Newman when he claimed there was no railway station in Bexleyheath! The news will come as a huge shock to the thousands of commuters who use Bexley’s busiest train station every day.


Then, because at heart I am a Tory myself I could make something up so as to put the knife in and twist it.


Councillor Peter Craske commented, “Improving public transport is rightly a major concern for our residents and a key priority for Bexley Council, yet a Labour Councillor who doesn’t even know trains run to Bexleyheath.


It would be a total misrepresentation of the facts, there was no outburst, everything was calm, and it would probably reflect more badly on me than councillor Newman because who would be so gullible as to believe he doesn’t know there is a railway station close to where he lives? But Bexley’s Conservatives think you are that gullible because that is exactly what they have posted on their own website. Take a look for yourself; they may make things up, Bonkers doesn’t.

Bexley Conservatives don’t stop there; Labour councillor Margaret O’Neill spoke up for the Erith site too. She may have said that she had not seen it, someone on the Labour side of the chamber said that but I have no specific note about who it was. On the other hand I do have a note that a Conservative councillor said it wasn’t worth visiting the Erith site because it was just open space filled with trees and nothing much to see, while leader Teresa O’Neill said that she and councillor Linda Bailey had arranged an official tour and spent a morning there. I think the Conservative who said it wasn’t worth going was Katie Perrior (Blackfen & Lamorbey, £22,650) but again I didn’t note it as while it was a slightly amusing contrast between two Tories it was too trivial to be worthy of a report.

Councillor Margaret O’Neill said nothing else about the geographical location of the site; she probably said she hadn’t been in to explore it but neither had all the Tories. So how do the Conservative’s spin it on their website?


At the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council on 27th April, Labour Cllr Margaret O’Neill had no idea where the centre of Erith Ward was located and complained that Council Officers had not taken the time to give her a personal guided tour. O’Neill who has represented Erith Ward since it’s creation in 2002 then went on to support the building of swanky new offices for councillors in the centre of Erith, which she claimed to be confused about the exact location.


Except that an Erith councillor supported building in Erith - what else would you expect of an Erith councillor? - every word of that is a complete fabrication. Reporting idiocy is something I like to do; I have checked the notes of all my colleagues and no one has anything about Margaret O’Neill, she said her piece in an unremarkable way and if it were not for Tory lies she would not warrant a mention here.

Not content with attributing a totally untrue statement to Margaret O’Neill, Bexley Conservatives compounded their lies with more manufactured nonsense…


Cllr Colin Campbell, Cabinet Member responsible for the consolidation of Bexley’s property portfolio said: “It is an utter disgrace that the Labour councillors for Erith have no idea of the geography of the ward they have represented for many years. It is also unbelievable that they were then prepared to support a major redevelopment project with no idea of the location, and ignoring the fact that the cost of such a project would cost Bexley taxpayers millions in extra council tax. This shows that Labour in Bexley are a complete shambles and cannot be trusted with the borough finances”


No Colin, it shows no such thing because you made up almost every word of that and distorted the rest without a shred of supporting evidence. What it shows is that the Tories on Bexley council are running around like headless chickens not knowing what to do about the constant exposure of their dishonesty and maladministration by two local newspapers and two local bloggers who will no longer keep quiet in the face of a near daily affront to democracy. Is it any wonder that Bexley council has approved a new Constitution expressly designed to prevent residents from engaging in democracy in the way recommended by central government? i.e. No recording of council meetings. When you next read the words lie and Bexley council in the same sentence I hope you will accept that it doesn’t happen without good reason. They really are beyond the pale.

 

29 April - Planning. Full of surprises

I have just returned from a council planning committee meeting and by the time this goes on line it will be very nearly Royal Wedding Day (hence the slightly premature blog date) but my plan for the day failed to take account of the celebrations and I won’t have time for either TV or computer.

The last time I was involved with a planning application was in 1973 when mine was won only on appeal and my solicitor told me too late in the day that the usual procedure was to cross some palms with silver and save an awful lot of time. Times I hope have changed.

This evening’s meeting was chaired by councillor John Fuller and I suppose the fact he acts in that capacity means the list of allowances I obtained from the council and use on the site must be out of date. Fuller was one of the councillors who rallied round to protect councillor Craske from one of his public lying outbursts so he is probably no more trustworthy than any of his cronies but I cannot deny he handled the planning meeting in a businesslike and fair manner. Having someone in charge of something as sensitive as planning who is happy to do favours for his pals seems potentially dangerous to me but I’m all for giving the benefit of any doubt; this evening he did a good job.

There’s no way I am going to get into debating the rights and wrongs of planning decisions, that probably requires a lifetime of study of the relevant law, so I’m making no comment. Well maybe just this once!

Party divisions were not in evidence which is to be expected (anything else would be worrying) and I saw councillor John Waters (Conservative) speak what I thought were wise words and be immediately backed by councillor Malik (Labour). That was a refreshing change. The only other notable speaker was councillor Michael Slaughter (Longlands, £18,255) and if I hear him tell everyone he has been a councillor for over 30 years even one more time I think I may scream. I wouldn’t mind if he spoke sense but if he ever does I’ve not heard it. Perhaps I’m not the only one that thinks that because his recommendations were roundly rejected.

 

28 April (Part 2) - Newsreel

The council’s decision to go to the police to try to put a stop to the Bonkers site was a mixed blessing; it provided heaps of free publicity but the repercussions have taken up so much time that actually getting something on line is getting to be problematical. I know I am neglecting some emails and maybe the odd phone call too. If you find yourself a victim of that please don’t be afraid to make contact again, my filing system is probably not perfect.

To try to catch up with some recent events I’ll shall attempt listing them here in a shorthand fashion.

Harassment letter


The policeman who sent the letter was so interested in the case that he went on leave immediately afterwards without referring it to any of his colleagues. He’s not back until next week but before he went said the complainant wanted to keep his identity secret and didn’t say what he found so alarming about the site. We have an ex-police inspector on the Bonkers team who recommended I complained to the Met’s Professional Standards people, so I did. No reply as yet.

An intermediary acting on my behalf extracted the information that the police were worried about threats of physical violence. I am sure you will agree there has never been any so it looks as though the council has lied to the police. It wouldn’t be the first time but that is another story.


In the news


The News Shopper kindly highlighted the council’s accusation of harassment in their pre-Easter issue and returned to the subject this week. The monthly Bexleyheath Chronicle (and its sister papers) gave a little plug to the website this week and the editor dropped me a short email of encouragement. This morning a national newspaper has been sniffing around aspects of our stinking council so as you will appreciate, their stupidity has done them no favours so far.


NotoMob


NoToMob came to Bexley on the strength of my report on Craske’s reign of terror in Blackfen. That in turn came about because a lady from Sidcup (hello Jo) phoned me seeking help after being fined for backing out of SETyres and lingering on the pavement for a few seconds to allow traffic to clear. Jo has every reason to be proud of herself because she eventually had the fine cancelled but her victimisation by Craske has led to this week’s Shopper splashing Notomob across the whole of its front page.

Did you read in the national press at the beginning of this week about Richmond council being found to be operating its gestapo wagons illegally? They didn’t have the correct certification for the cameras. Notomob were involved in that landmark ruling by the Parking and Traffic Appeals Tribunal and I have known for some while that they were investigating Bexley council too for similar certification violations. This morning Notomob have announced on their website that Bexley council may be in the same boat as Richmond. Craske must be even more purple than usual today.


Zero tolerance


During this year I have spoken to and met some of the people whose idea of a good day out is to lovingly tend their allotment. A simple and relaxing way of life one would have thought but Bexley council doesn’t like them. One suspects that has something to do with allotment holders occupying ground which would be worth many millions as building plots but paying a relative pittance in rent. Their devotion to their cause is impressive but their trials and tribulations at the hands of Bexley council I have judged too complicated to be reported on a blog. However an allotment holder was prompted to call me after reading of my harassment letter in the newspapers for he had received something similar, albeit not from the police.

Things came to a head when the Secretary of an Allotment Committee was summoned to the council offices and as she was new to the job she asked if it was OK to bring along an experienced member. She was told that was no problem until she said who was coming along with her. The man in question had some while ago fought the council’s plans to sell off allotment plots, successfully as it happens. but his card has been marked. Bexley council doesn’t want to talk to him and won’t let him represent other allotment holders at a meeting. He has received a letter from the council, the legal department apparently, which says they operate a “zero tolerance policy” and refers to his “behaviour”. It doesn’t say whether his behaviour is bad or good, just that he must modify it. He has asked what he has done wrong but they cannot or won’t tell him. Ironically the Committee Secretary who they are prepared to meet is not even a Bexley resident while the campaigner against allotment sales is. Not being willing to state what residents are supposed to have done to upset the council appears to be widespread policy. And what is wrong with upsetting the council anyway? Are we all supposed to be in such awe of their position that we should worship their every move?

Dare I mention what publicans say about the council officer who looks after licensing? No I had better not, I’ve managed to avoid swear words on this site so far and I don’t plan on starting now - unless a councillor says “tosser” again.


Neighbourhood Watch


Someone drew my attention to the amount of money Bexley council is donating to Neighbourhood Watch, a registered charity. A Watch was formed where I live two years ago. Fewer than 30 people attended an exploratory meeting and that included the organisers and several policemen. Since then I have received one newsletter through my door and that was fully six months out of date - it included some sort of offer which was well past its sell-by date. I don’t know who would donate money to a charity such as Neighbourhood Watch, I would have thought a small subscription for membership would be a better business model. Locally they are not big spenders, their accounts say that over the last five years they’ve had an income of less than £20k. and spent most of it. I don’t know how those figures come about as Bexley council has handed them £7·5k. in the last few months alone. The youve-been-cromwelled website has picked this up in more detail than I have and has sought an explanation via Freedom of Information request. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know there is a link between the Watch’s bosses and Bexley’s Conservative party. The borough appears to be stitched up by one enormous clique.


The Bonkers Team. Who are they?


I’ve mentioned this before but we have a lot of new readers so I will say it again. I, Malcolm Knight, started this website because Bexley council didn’t want to discuss a local issue with me and when they eventually did they showed themselves to be neither truthful nor competent. In the 19 months since then the site has attracted others who have ploughed a similar furrow and now we all meet at least once a week to discuss strategies. We have been accused by a few councillors of being extreme right wingers and I suspect some readers may believe we are Labour supporters. Neither would be accurate as politics doesn’t usually enter our conversation. None of us really care who runs Bexley as long as they live up to its slogan, “Listening to you, working for you”; at the moment that is just a very bad joke.

For the record, the team includes voters for all the parties you are likely to have heard of. I’m the life-long Conservative whose X on any first-past-the-post election ballot paper has always gone in the same place even though I’ve been less than enthusiastic about it in recent years. I thought it would be a record I’d take to my grave unless Bexley council has me bumped off before 2014 but it looks like I am going to have to change. Someone said to me yesterday that Idi Amin could put on a blue rosette in Bexley and he would be elected but that is south Bexley talk. Up here in the north Eleanor Hurt (Lesnes Abbey, £9,543) was elected on a margin of six votes. It would only take another three of my neighbours to be swayed by what they read on Bonkers and it will be bye-bye Eleanor. Personally I’d rather see the back of John Davey (£9,543 + £7,782 from the Bexley Care Trust) any day.

 

28 April (Part 1) - Under the Jackboot

Yesterday evening a small group of council dictators (the Constitutional Review Panel) met to rubber stamp their draconian proposals to strangle yet another avenue for open democracy in this thoroughly disreputable borough. The councillors concerned were Graham D’Amiral (Blendon & Penhill, £9,543), Caroline Newton (St. Michael’s, £9,543), June Slaughter (Sidcup, £22,650), Simon Windle (Barnehurst, £27,048) and Teresa Ann Jade O’Neill (Brampton, £35,844) who chaired the meeting. Councillor Chris Ball, the Labour opposition leader was also present but as his was the lone voice against an arrangement designed solely to erect a barrier between residents and the dictatorship which is Bexley council I will not include his name in the same sentence as the bunch of cowards who want to hide themselves as much as possible from public scrutiny.

I reported the proposals when they first leaked out nearly two weeks ago and the News Shopper devoted page 2 of yesterday’s edition to the further restrictions on open and transparent governance. It was proposed that any resident who dares to ask a question of the council will have to stand before the council but not be allowed to state his question. It would be answered by any old tripe the council came out with, and very often the answer is a load of old tripe, and then withdraw totally silently. For this privilege, and as a deterrent to asking a question in the first place the resident must agree to having his address published on the council’s website.

As stated, councillor Ball was the only voice on the side of the people. He said it was unreasonable to publish residents’ addresses, it was only necessary to check that the questioner was a resident. Councillor June Slaughter said her address was well known and she didn’t see why residents’ addresses should not be just as well known, totally ignoring the fact that she has decided to make herself a public figure and residents have not. Councillor Ball tried to explain this simple fact to her but she wasn’t bright enough to spot the flaw in her argument. Councillor Windle claimed to be able to see the point but that didn’t stop him voting for addresses to be published.

Similar flawed logic was applied to confirm the intention to defy government guidance by banning any form of recording at council meetings. Once again councillor Ball attempted to inject some sense into the assembled thick skulls by pointing out that blogging and tweeting was now a fact of modern life but the thought of the mayor being caught out malevolently manipulating Standing Orders again was too much to contemplate.

In a little over 20 minutes this bunch of hypocrites (all but one of those present won’t allow their own addresses to appear on the council’s website) signed off the proposals with one concession, that questioners do not have to walk silently away after their question is answered, they will be allowed to make a secondary one. If it is deemed to be disrespectful by the mayor, that person will not be allowed to ask any more questions ever again.

I don’t much care if my address is published on the council’s website, with a little lateral thinking Google will provide it with a few clicks and it’s in the telephone book, but I am aware that a lot of people will regard publication as a deterrent. Several times when researching features for this website I have had to find the address of a councillor but chose not to publish it for reasons of privacy. The most recent example was when revealing councillor Alex Sawyer’s secretive marriage to Priti Patel MP. Before that there was the examination of councillor Waters’ links to a council funded nursery and leader O’Neill’s directorship of that hotbed of criminality, the Thames Innovation Centre. It seems to me that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and when the first resident has his address published I shall add a page of councillors’ addresses to this site. Expect to see a change to identifications such as Teresa O’Neill (Brampton, £35,844) to something more expansive too. You can guess what that will be.

 

27 April - Thames Innovation Centre Whistleblower 1 : Bexley council nil

I have followed the saga that has unfolded at the Thames Innovation Centre with great interest for it appears to have most of the ingredients of a good crime thriller. No deaths as far as I know but sex, misappropriated money, the police, disappearing suspects and possibly drugs too, all with intriguing Bexley council connections. However I’ve felt it unwise to get into the detail pending an Industrial Tribunal case being brought by the whistleblower who got the sack for her pains. This morning there was a pre-trial hearing in Ashford and I attended the Court as an observer along with Mike Barnbrook, valuable for his experience of the law and experienced campaigner for honesty in politics as a number of convicted MPs and our own ex-council leader Ian Clement are only too well aware.

Needless to say, Bexley council is not happy with the prospect of having their dirty washing hung out for public scrutiny and attempted to have the case thrown out, but they failed. There will be a full trial. Having been privileged to look through some of the evidence and witness statements I am looking forward eagerly to Bexley council’s day before the Adjudicator. There are ten directors at Bexley council’s Thames Innovation Centre and only five employees, did they really fail to notice that something was awry? We shall have to wait for the 28th June which is plenty of time for the cabinet member in charge, Colin Campbell (St. Mary’s, £22,650) to go out and buy a tie, the absence of which makes him so conspicuous at council meetings. Bexley council might not give a damn about maintaining professional standards but it looks like the Court does.

 

26 April (Part 2) - Tesco deal approved

Civic CentreThere have been two meetings this evening at the Civic Centre, the cabinet and the full council. Why two I am not quite sure as both had only a single topic, the site of the new council offices. Three proposals were on the table; rebuild on the present site, build new on a triangular plot immediately north of Erith’s fish roundabout, or refurbish the old Woolwich building. Under each scheme either part or all of the existing site would be sold and Tesco is the favoured buyer. The deal isn’t signed yet but Tesco is definitely front runner. There were others but the public is not allowed to know who nor how much was on offer. Bexley council is not renowned for transparency and tonight was no exception, when the subject of money cropped up the public was excluded. The council has its aura of secrecy to maintain encouraging thoughts of corruption. The presentation included the slightly worrying phrase “transparency must be traded for speed”. To prove transparency was the order of the day the public was excluded for ten minutes while financial questions were asked, no answers were forthcoming according to several councillors.

The Labour group clearly preferred the Erith option but it probably wasn’t the cheapest, in fact councillor Gareth Bacon may have strayed a little from the official script by confirming that Erith would cost more and in the present financial circumstances that is what counts.

A group of residents from near the Woolwich building were very concerned about the lack of parking spaces on that site; only 65 against a requirement the council estimated to be in the region of 300. It was suggested that public car parking space might be taken. e.g. the cinema multi-storey.

The council meeting was familiar in some respects, we got the usual diatribes which served no purpose other than to score points against the opposition party. Councillor Don Massey (Cray Meadows, £18,301) and Mike Slaughter (Longlands, £18,255) were the worst offenders and councillor Linda Bailey (Danson Park, £22,141) took a different tack by repeatedly describing Labour party opinion as “rubbish”. It wasn’t picked up by the chairman mayor but as she is happy for Labour councillors to be called tossers that comes as no great surprise.

Councillor Campbell said refurbishing the Woolwich building would cost nothing once the old buildings were sold and so the vote inevitably went totally along party lines. Probably the correct decision; money is in short supply but maintaining an old building not designed for modern technology and its high power requirement eventually becomes far too expensive if not impossible; and council staff are as entitled to enjoy modern facilities, such as air conditioning, just as much as any other office staff. If it wasn’t for the fact that it has been agreed that contract procedure rules and financial regulations can be waived and already every financial question is deemed to be secret I might be tempted to say I was persuaded the best compromise was achieved this evening, but the secrecy and stated intention of “trading transparency” contrives to makes things look underhand as things usually are in Bexley.

 

26 April (Part 1) - Does the Tesco deal checkout?

Civic Centre Woolwich Building Society HQThe council seems to be cock-a-hoop at the prospect of moving from the Civic Centre to the Woolwich Building Society headquarters building that has lain empty for five years. It is likely to be a popular move but if it is such good business for Bexley council why was it ever necessary for a campaign group to fight the original plan for Tesco to open a major store in a residential area?

The council’s own report identifies many problems with the Woolwich building. “The main entrance atrium is not suited to a modern council building” and the Woolwich “hacked off the cabling on vacation”. “The double height former basement requires conversion to be useable office space.” It’s going to cost £36 million to fix it and extend it. The council was prepared to inflict a lot of damage on local services to save £35·4 million; and now they spend it on themselves.

Redeveloping the existing site would “provide a highly efficient purpose built Council office”. Their words not mine and it was by far the cheapest option.

There must be more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps that is why the meetings to rubber stamp the latest proposals are to be held in secret. No press, no public. Much of the council’s written report is unavailable (the Confidential Appendix) but what can be read says that moving to the Woolwich building will save a million pounds a year. Not much is it for an outlay of £36 million? Some of the small savings will have been lost through expenditure on the originally preferred but now abandoned scheme (consultants’ fees etc.).

Removing the council offices to Erith Road/Watling Street may well be a popular move but the dithering will have cost a lot of money and very little is going to be saved. Tesco will have been promised everything they want which will explain why the council proposes that “the Director of Finance and Resources be authorised to agree any waivers to Contract Procedure Rules or Financial Regulations” to ensure no obstacles get in the way.

The campaign group that has been fighting the prospect of a Tesco superstore in Erith Road says it is “determined not to be pushed into accepting something unsuitable” and will “follow planning applications closely”. Call me a cynic but all the signs are of a deal stitched up pretty tightly already what with ‘public’ meetings going into closed sessions and the waiving of rules. Anything other than a faît accompli would not be Tesco’s way. At least they aim to provide another 550 town centre parking spaces; just think what that will do to Craske’s parking revenue projections.

 

21 April - Bonkers is closing down - but only for the Easter break

The main anti-democratic event of the past week in Bonkers Bexley has been the proposal to stifle questions at council meetings. The effect will be that the council need not answer any question that it doesn’t want to and allow those who have asked difficult questions and been dissatisfied with the answer to be permanently banned from asking more. One of the Bonkers team had put forward the revolutionary idea that the next constitutional review meeting should consider recommending that councillors answered questions at council meetings instead of giving irrelevant speeches but there is no sign of that being adopted.

Someone who questioned the powers that be on that issue and the new restrictions was immediately rebuffed with, “No decisions have been made in relation to changes to the Council’s Constitution”. True, but that disguises the fact that the proposals are known only because of a leak and that there is no opportunity for objections to residents being silenced again. In yet another example of council deviousness, it proposes to suspend the existing constitution and immediately substitute the new one. All this to be decided by leader O’Neill, four of her co-conspirators and the leader of the Labour opposition Chris Ball. If he does object what chance does he stand?

One cannot help but wonder if the rush to introduce these changes has anything to do with the fact that the Bonkers team intends to attend planning meetings in future and had formally requested to be informed of the questioning procedure. The next planning meeting is scheduled for 28th April, the day after the constitution is likely to be changed. Never mind, we can sit and take notes and see if we can eventually make sense of any “funny business” that may be going on.

Maybe the loss of question time will be no great loss after all. One of the questions at last month’s meeting was to request a breakdown of councillor Craske’s estimated £783,200 cost of operating the borough’s Controlled Parking Zones, to see where the money was going. Craske either answers questions untruthfully - “No £4m. contract”, “parking enforcement costs less than answering FOIs” etc. - or doesn’t answer them at all. This time he chose a combination of the two. The full and thorough written reply from Craske was “This information has been provided already”. I can understand this particular response, he has fudged so many figures in the past that their contradictions became a huge embarrassment. Best to say nothing. Soon it will in effect be official policy and all questions will have to take the FOI route.

The blog is going to take a few days off over Easter; I shall be spending the weekend with the head of the Transport Research Laboratory department that issued the report that Bexley’s road planning department told me justified one of their mad-cap schemes. I got it straight from the horse’s mouth that that was another Bexley council lie. My road safety expert friend after looking around town once said that whoever planned this is “either incompetent or malicious”. I think he was wrong and Bexley council is both. Just to be absolutely fair to Craske as I always am, this comment was made in the very earliest days of his reign of terror, when most of what my friend saw was the result of someone else’s incompetence.

Before I disappear I must mention that Bexley council had second thoughts about releasing the electoral registration details for Alex Sawyer and produced the information. If they hadn’t blocked the website from their server they would have known that the required information had already been extracted from another source. Also some news which I have only just been authorised to place here, the Industrial Tribunal pre-hearing of the whistleblower sacked from the Thames Innovation Centre is to be heard at Ashford House, County Square Shopping Centre, Ashford on Wednesday 27th April at 10:00 am. Case No. 1102704.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday, Craske included for who needs Redemption more than him? Bonkers will be back, probably by Easter Monday.

 

20 April - Bexley council’s complaints procedure. Another sham

You may be wondering, having read of Bexley council’s involvement with criminals and its atrocious record with ‘transparency’, not to mention its self-serving nature, why more people don’t take their complaints beyond the newspapers’ letter columns and the borough’s watering holes. Maybe it’s the way the council deals with complaints. From the Standards Board for England website…


“The Government should introduce, as a matter of urgency, secondary legislation to require a majority of independent members and an independent chair for Standards Committees and sub-committees in England. This is a critical element of our proposals to improve the existing system and to lay the ground for the subsequent introduction of the locally based system.”


Obviously they must know the existing system isn’t working properly, it certainly isn’t in Bexley where the rules are outrageously exploited and to my mind even the proposed amendments would not be enough to defeat the anti-democratic forces that are present in Bexley council.

When the standards legislation was introduced the intention was to have independent people on the boards and assessment sub-committees to ensure there were no political fixes. I know a few people who applied for the position in Bexley; they were told they would have to be interviewed by the council leader but inevitably they didn’t get to that stage; far too dangerous to have someone with no party loyalties in a position of power. Far more sensible to hire in one of their own to ensure the Bexley Standards Board is nothing for Bexley council to worry about. I once put in a complaint about councillor Craske. The assessment sub-committee came back with a nonsense excuse discredited by the council’s own meeting minutes. An appeal against that decision came back with an entirely different unbelievable excuse. They can make up any excuse they like and with the Standards Board for England being wound up there is nothing that can be done about it.

My only other complaint was against the mayor reducing residents’ question time six weeks ago and the council knows that there is video evidence to support it. Their response is simple; don’t meet to discuss the complaint. They can play almost any game they like.

My complaint against Craske was heard at a meeting of two Conservative councillors and chaired by the ‘independent’ Mrs. Sue Threader. The assessment sub-committee is not always made up of two Conservative councillors, every sixth meeting has one Conservative and one Labour. A one to eleven ratio between the parties doesn’t reflect the council’s political make-up. Goodness knows where the numbers came from.

Obviously two Conservative councillors hearing a complaint about another Conservative councillor is far from being an unbiased ‘jury’ and the chairman, independent or not is unlikely to have any influence on the result. But just to make sure, Bexley have selected not a local resident, a solicitor, clergyman or someone of similar standing, but one of their own. Mrs. Threader was formerly deputy chief executive of Conservative controlled Mole Valley District Council (Surrey).

The chairmen and their deputies don’t do this very occasional job out of the goodness of their hearts of course, the chairman’s job attracts a nice little allowance of £2,133 a year.

The Government keeps saying it is handing power back to local people when in practice they are doing no such thing. They are handing power back to the political classes to abuse in any way they think fit. A standards board filled with political appointees ensures that complaints about misbehaviour of councillors can be dismissed on any pretext and as developments earlier this week have shown, they are free to change their Standing Orders and Constitution to choke off any attempt to expose them. Finally they are free to falsely accuse me of threatening physical violence against them. I am “a threat to individual safety” were the words conveyed to me from the police by an intermediary. Bexley’s disreputable council is hell-bent on taking every legal step to restrict freedom and transparency in the borough and a few which may step beyond those boundaries.

 

19 April (Part 3) - Sham consultations

The Mayor is a monkeyOne reason for launching this website 18 months ago was a badly run consultation by Bexley council so it is not inappropriate that my short history of Bexley straining credibility should examine another sham consultation, albeit a rather more important one. The 2009 consultation on whether Bexley council should have a Mayor elected by residents and ‘separate’ cabinet or the present system of councillors who elect a leader (who selects the cabinet) and Mayor. The former allows an elected Mayor to be independent and non-political, the current system, given party politics, never could. So an elected Mayor is not likely to be popular among local politicians. Residents however may see an advantage. Hartlepool Football Club’s mascot (he dresses as a monkey) was made Mayor of that town in 2002 and has topped every reselection poll since.

The most recent Mayoral consultation in Bexley took place in 2009. Well not really a consultation as we shall see. The Bexleyheath Chronicle ran its own poll and found that 85% of respondents fancied the idea of an elected Mayor. Bexley council ran a poll via the Bexley Magazine delivered to every household, put out adverts on its own advertising sites and asked the News Shopper to make a big front page splash of the Mayor proposals as part of its quest for true democracy. You believe it? Then you’ve not been paying attention. Of course they didn’t, they did none of that. They put a short notice in the public announcements section of the News Shopper and hid an on-line poll on its website. At the end of it they said that 99 people had taken part, 81 of them on-line and 81 of the 99 in favour of the status quo - and the council had got what it wanted.

Linda Piper, Chief Reporter for the News Shopper summed it up rather nicely in her headline of 11th November 2009. “Poor response to online vote but council is satisfied.” Do I detect a note of sarcasm there?

Mr. Barnbrook who has been instrumental in unseating dishonest MPs and is not usually unaware of council activities knew nothing of the consultation until he read the News Shopper headline and was not best pleased by it. He made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about the consultation but was refused by the council saying personal details could not be disclosed. On appeal it was agreed he could have a note of all the 99 responses with personal information redacted, but he received only 32, all from the on-line lists. His request for the whole set was ignored.

I have the 32 responses before me now. Four made at one minute intervals on 8th September 2009 are word for word identical. Suspicious that. The redacted answers aren’t marked as to which Mayoral option they are voting for. Is “Less costly”, “Only way forward”, “Less corrupt” a vote for or against an elected Mayor?

Mr. Barnbrook complained that the on-line poll was too easily fiddled and had not been advertised except as a short legal announcement in one local newspaper that isn’t distributed to every address as the Bexley Magazine is. He got nowhere with his complaint of course, the council had got what it wanted on the strength of 99 votes and maintained that was a pretty good result. However along the way the following facts tumbled out of the correspondence.


The council said that responders’ personal information was deliberately not requested for the consultation. So why was the FOI request turned down on 16th January 2010 because of “Personal Information”?

There was no check on whether non-residents could vote on-line but a check was made for duplicate IP addresses. Technically that is easily circumvented and in any case the four identically worded responses in four minutes suggests the check didn’t work - or the council’s claim was not truthful.


I can’t help but wonder if the reason Mr. Barnbrook only got hold of 32 of the 81 on-line responses and none of those received in other forms has something to do with the number of Conservative councillors. The numbers match quite closely and there was certainly no check against 49 councillors swinging the vote; or a lesser number voting several times.

A complaint of maladministration was made to the Local Government Ombudsman but it was rejected on the grounds that everyone in the borough had been adversely affected by Bexley council’s actions and LGO rules allow them to investigate only if the individual complainant is disadvantaged. The whole system is contrived to permit widespread malpractice as will be seen when Bexley’s Standards Board comes in for examination - maybe tomorrow.

 

19 April (Part 2) - Time bomb. Tick, tick

On 13 April when someone within the Civic Centre told me that his access to this website had been blocked I added, in parenthesis ‘libraries too probably’, to the blog. I have had two reports within the last couple of days that that isn’t the case. Apologies if my speculative comment caused confusion.

Witham in SE LondonSpeaking of confusion, Adam White, when writing for Time magazine last year was thoroughly confused by English geography, but something he saw or was told must have caused it. I wonder what that could be.

Adam told his readers that Priti Patel was MP for Witham in South East London. A journalistic mistake possibly but it seems an odd coincidence bearing in mind what we now know. All these facts have been brought together here in case someone else is looking into this mystery. Why on earth was Alex Sawyer’s marriage to Priti kept under wraps and require a Civic Centre leaker to bring it to light? It’s not something to be ashamed of is it? But perhaps there is something fishy going on. Maybe Alex and Priti live apart. That might explain everything.

Bexley council is currently refusing to release the electoral registration details for Alex Sawyer (Northumberland Heath, £9,543) which is in itself odd but it’s amazing what you can find on the web, so I now have an address should it be needed.

 

19 April (Part 1) - Dirt. Diversions. Development. Dishonesty and Dames. (Pantomime Dames)

ABC of ChairmanshipBexley councillors may choose to wallow in dirt but its residents may have little choice. A correspondent from Sidcup reports how he sat in the park at Sidcup Place surrounded by empty crisp packets and discarded beer cans when the ‘litter man’ came by, so he asked why the park was so filthy. The man (a Serco employee presumably) said “to save money a full litter pick of Sidcup Place will now only happen once a week”. No cuts to councillors’ allowances or fat cats’ pay of course.

Another Sidcup resident complains about the constant disruptions in Station Road and the idiocy of closing off St. John’s Road, Craybrooke Road and Church Avenue. Craske gets an unflattering mention but the madness in Sidcup predates his arrival on the scene. Complaints about Sidcup and its roads are nothing new of course and it is remiss of me not to have got there with my camera. Keyboard bashing has become my major occupation unfortunately.

The council has announced that it plans to buy the old Woolwich Building Society Headquarters and develop a new Civic Centre there and allow Tesco to have the existing ‘Town Hall’. How much money was wasted on consultancy fees before someone with a bit of common sense backed down and did what many local residents will prefer? See the council’s announcement.

Someone, referring to Bexley council, asked me yesterday “Why don’t they just start telling the truth and be honest with people?” Good question. Not such an easy option if you’ve done neither for many years and have so many skeletons to keep buried.

Finally a female well-wisher sent me a parcel. In it was a copy of Citrine’s ABC of Chairmanship marked three shillings and sixpence and apparently bought at a boot fair for slightly less than twice that. Perfect condition and complete with dust jacket. If I have interpreted the Roman numerals correctly it was published in the year of my birth. So it started life when the population was fighting a tyranny in jackboots and in its seventh decade it finds itself engaged in fighting tyranny again. The female donor wasn’t Twankey.

I shall return to weightier matters later today.

 

18 April (Part 3) - Don’t tell Audit

I think I promised a bit of a history lesson for today about Bexley’s unenviable record in the honesty stakes to satisfy all the new readers that the council very kindly directed my way. It’s not an easy job; I have before me a pile of papers 22 millimetres thick when compressed, all concerned with the Ian Clement expenses cover-up alone. Far too much to put on line, I am going to have to attempt a different tack.

There have been two local government scandals in London in recent years that kept the national press occupied for a long time, one still rumbles on and I had one of the Sundays ask for information for their new investigation only last week. Both scandals involved Bexley. Coincidence? Probably not. Dishonesty and scheming has been and continues to be endemic in our benighted borough. Just look at the latest attempt to subvert democracy.

Probably this short extract from an email, redacted under Freedom of Information rules, but telling just the same, sums it all up. (Click image for complete email.)

Redacted emailIt is pretty well known that former Bexley council leader Ian Clement left to work for Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) and while there misbehaved with his mayoral credit card. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, just £227 if I remember correctly, but he was given a suspended prison sentence for it just the same.

Back here in Bexley our Ian had a council credit card too, no one of any note knew about it according to our current leader. Believe that if you like. An investigation showed that Mr. Clement had spent £2,087.85 that couldn’t be justified. If the council’s website is up to date it has not been recovered 20 months after the investigation was completed.

Mr. Clement got up to all sorts of tricks like staying at hotels overnight when an early morning journey would have been easy enough, but mainly it was wining and dining. One ‘lunch’ bill was settled after ten in the evening. Quite some lunch and quite some bill but no one at all at Bexley council knew anything about anything. Not his deputy, the current leader Teresa O’Neill, not the top brass, no one. I wonder who signed off the council cheque. Presumably whoever it was who sent the email above.

Among the many people entertained at public expense was the then Chief Executive Nick Johnson and the incoming replacement Will Tuckley. Nick went off on a sickness pension of £50,000 a year and a golden good-bye said to exceed £300,000. He’s been in the news on and off ever since because this sick man charged straight into a new £260k. job with Hammersmith and Fulham council. Bexley tax payers continue to fund his pension and it is all legal. There is a detailed report of these shenanigans on the Daily Mail website. The Sunday paper journalist who said he was working on another exposé asked if I knew what sickness afflicted Nick Johnson. He should have looked at the Hammersmith & Fulham Conservatives’ website which says that Nick Johnson suffered a heart attack while working for Bexley council and that he didn’t really want to leave. I suppose that is why he needed such a large sum to persuade him that he should.

A few paragraphs here is a totally inadequate summary of the events of 2009 but the local press summarised it quite well. The News Shopper’s report is worth a read and some newspaper cuttings which have otherwise disappeared from view are indexed on this site. For in depth research a complete list of the queried expenditure is available here and Bexley council’s final report on credit card use is also available on-line.(PDF file.)

 

18 April (Part 2) - Tape evidence frightens council

The complaint about mayor Twankey curtailing public question time at the meeting she chaired on 2nd March was due to be heard by the local Standards Assessment Sub-Committee on 14th April. The Members Services Manager (nice bloke with a difficult job) has today announced the meeting was postponed. I wonder why; I don’t think anyone will be disputing the mayor went badly off the rails that night. The Standards Sub-Committee is heavily biased against public complaints and they are usually quite inventive with their cover-ups. An outbreak of honesty doesn’t seem very likely.

 

18 April (Part 1) - Funny money

The list of things costing more than £500 which Bexley council has to publish because Mr. Pickles says so is a rich source of amusement, amazement and mystery. It shows we are still bunging the Thames Innovation Centre eighteen thousand most months to do things that could be done within the Civic Centre but at least this way the TIC may show a profit. The company that has the leisure centre contract (Boxwood Leisure Ltd.) runs off with best part of a quarter of a million every month and for some unknown reason a Maidstone firm of solicitors (Brachers) got “a grant” of £802,667. Nice for them.

Devon County Council was paid £101k. and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea received more than half a million.

Nearer to home Bromley council was paid £8,086 for gritting our roads. Looks like Craske’s planning wasn’t up to the job again. Why Price Waterhouse Coopers had to give ninety thousand pounds’ worth of advice to Bexley council is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was them that recommended saving £68k. by not paying for terrorist insurance in future.

An accountant friend doesn’t think much of Bexley’s £500 listing, he says it barely complies with government regulations. The Payments Manager has admitted that Bexley’s data complies only with the mandatory elements of the legislation and any extras that might provide a complete paper trail are omitted.

There is no Invoice number, just a near random number meaningless to anyone outside the council and maybe to them too. Tracking refunds against invoices is impossible. The Payments Manager, in a weak moment perhaps, promised to have the website amended to better explain refunds but nearly two months have passed since then and nothing has changed.

About Boxwood leisure the council had this to say…

“In Spring 2008, Bexley opened Sidcup Leisure Centre – the third and final facility of a £30 million 3-centre scheme delivered on time and to budget through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between the London Borough of Bexley and Boxwood Leisure consortium. A key strength of the Partnership is its ‘win-win’ nature - embracing often competing public/private sector drivers of increasing participation and generating profit.”

“Win-win” and “generating profit”? Who for?

 

17 April (Part 2) - Hang ‘em and flog ‘em

Not my words of course, I might get arrested for them, but from the Daily Mail when reporting a speech by the wife of councillor Alex Sawyer (Northumberland Heath, £9,543).

I’ve a feeling this blog will be long and wide ranging; blame it on ex-councillor Leaf who connived with Bexley councillors to restrict residents’ question time at the meeting on 6th April, for it is he who prompted the enquiries which have led to today’s jottings. When I got home that evening I Googled David Leaf and found he was still claiming to be councillor for Belvedere. “Welcome to Cllr David Leaf’s Website”. I should have taken a copy for it had gone two days later, but Google’s cache came to the rescue.

From that undemocratic episode flowed information that ex-councillor Leaf was research assistant to Priti Patel, Conservative MP for the very safe seat of Witham, Essex and then the revelation that she is married to Alex Sawyer, councillor for Northumberland Heath.

Ms. Patel gives every impression of being a proper Conservative, not the namby-pambies most are now, almost indistinguishable from any other main-stream politician. At her Witham constituency selection committee meeting in 2006 she wowed her inquisitors and trounced the candidate who was favourite to win, one James Brokenshire. Can’t say I am surprised. I have a friend who is a Ugandan Asian (‘morning Tariq) and to listen to him you’d think he is more British than I am. Ms. Patel comes from the same mould. “I said I would never vote for the euro because I want to see a Britain that is governed by the British for the British.”

So Priti is no Liberal Democrat, good for her, we need a choice of politicians not uniform colourless nonentities, but is she, excuse me, whiter than white? Her website says…
Priti's address
She lives with her husband and son in the heart of her new constituency Witham? How many husbands has she got? The husband we know about says something entirely different on the Bexley council website…
Alex's address
Alex Sawyer says he lives in Welling. This may not be a scandal of Daily Telegraph Expense File proportions but both can’t be right. But did you expect the truth? Probably not.

James Brokenshire must have been very upset by being shoved aside by Essex Man in favour of the aptly named Priti. Essex Man said of him, “James was slick but he tried to be too clever by qualifying every statement, whereas Priti jumped straight in and told them what they wanted to hear”. Qualifying statements and by implication sitting on the fence. Sound familiar?

The Queen Mary Hospital campaigner John Hemming-Clark, labelled Brokenshire a liar which I thought was more than a bit OTT on the evidence available but there is not much doubt that James Brokenshire MP faces an uphill struggle to prevent the demise of Queen Mary’s. He was quoted in the News Shopper of 30th March 2011 as saying he is pressing for Queen Mary’s to be taken out of the South London Healthcare Trust’s hands and two weeks later (12th April) the Trust says (I have the letter) “Queen Mary’s Sidcup is one of South London Healthcare NHS Trust’s main sites. There are no plans for this to change”. I think the MP is probably living up to the reputation he earned at the Witham selection meeting. Qualifying everything and facing both ways at once. He’s in a difficult position, facing an angry electorate and looking over his shoulder for his ministerial career. It would be surprising if the odd fib didn’t pass his lips. In fact I know they do.

When one of his constituents pressed him for an appointment to discuss his Queen Mary concerns he found all the MP’s surgery time had already been booked, but five minutes later James happily made an appointment with a substitute constituent hastily arranged by the first one. Is no one honest any more?

With thanks to ex-councillor Leaf and his co-conspirators for being instrumental in exposing the Sawyer/Patel link and the unusual stated living arrangements.

 

17 April (Part 1) - Under the Jackboot again

Yesterday’s blog on this subject was dashed off in a hurry to bring news of these most horrendous proposals by Bexley council at the earliest possible opportunity, but it is possible it makes little sense to residents unfamiliar with council procedures. At the moment the council allows a resident to ask a question and if it is approved that resident can stand in the council chamber, not to ask the question as you might expect, but to have his question answered. The audience in the public gallery may not know what the question is and cannot tell if the answer has any relevancy to the question. Very often it doesn’t; sometimes it is blatantly untruthful. Under the current procedure the resident, if he is quick witted enough, can ask a secondary question which may go some way towards getting an answer or exposing the original answer’s untruthfulness.

Under the new proposals the resident will have to stand mute before the council while a cabinet member can filibuster or lie to him. At the end he will have to walk silently away even if provided with a blatant untruth. e.g. “There is no £4m. contact with Parsons Brinckerhoff” or “We spend less on parking enforcement than we spend on answering Freedom of Information requests”. If the resident doesn’t remain silent he can be labelled disrespectful and banned from asking questions ever again. “The Mayor may rule as out of order any question which (is) … submitted by someone who has been the subject of a warning from the London Borough of Bexley regarding their behaviour.” The mayor not so long ago selected a resident for a warning for “parsimonious appreciation”. Not clapping often enough in the council chamber. If adopted these proposals will spell the end of all questioning of the council as everything apart from questions of the David Leaf variety can be ruled against Standing Orders. It’s a proposal worthy of The Third Reich.

 

16 April (Part 3) - Too generous by far

Spreadsheet of expenditure over £500
I am told I was far too generous in putting forward the theory that Bexley cabinet members didn’t claim for subsistence when they went off on a pre-Christmas jolly to the Flackley Ash Hotel in Rye. I didn’t think I was all that generous as it would mean that councillors consider it normally OK to have everything paid for them by you and me and then claim ninety pounds a night on top. But it was the only theory I could come up with which fitted the available facts that an invoice came in for £2,585, the council paid it (see above) and the Payments Manager said that it really cost £900 less than that.

Clearly something doesn’t add up but mine was a relatively simple explanation. It seems it may have been wrong. While researching another matter I came across this. It comes from the papers which led to former council leader Ian Clement’s fall from grace and ultimate conviction.
Extract from letter which led to the investigation into alleged fraud by former leader Ian Clement
It clearly states that councillors can’t claim subsistence when everything has already been paid by the council. So maybe the cabinet’s claim to have saved tax payers’ money by paying for themselves (which I interpreted as not claiming subsistence) is a bigger deception than I suspected. Or it could be that the Payments Manager’s email is not all that it seems, or that the payments listed on the council website are not true either. Actually that is not entirely unthinkable. A friendly accountant has sent me an explanation as to why they are unreliable at least. When I have got my head around the jargon I may be able to share the information here.

I reproduce below the Payments Manager’s email to help convince readers further that the Bonkers Team does not go around making things up.


The payment was for an annual two-day strategy session attended by the Council’s Cabinet, Management Board and two senior managers. The meeting took place from Friday lunchtime, involved working on Friday evening and on Saturday morning until lunchtime.
The cost covered all conference facilities, food and accommodation.
Cabinet members decided in advance of the meeting that they would meet the full cost of their food and accommodation, which reduced the actual cost to the Council to £1,685.92 for the 19 people who attended.
No overtime or additional hours payments were made to any of the managers who took part.
Regards
Miss Bel Temel
Payments Manager


It wasn’t really a two day session. It ran from mid-day Friday until mid-day Saturday. It probably needs an FOI request or two to sort this one out properly.

 

16 April (Part 2) - The disabled are buggied in Bexley

Bedonwell School governors and staffWhile councillors spend their time plotting against residents the disabled among us have to get on with their lives as best they can and suffer the cuts the council so readily inflicted. I have been in the habit of reporting the experiences of my disabled friend Carole on Saturdays especially her problem in getting a four year old to and from school on a crowded bus with an eight month old baby in a buggy too. With schools on their Easter break this week there have not been any new problems but correspondence with TfL continues and will be reported here if it ever reaches a conclusion. Councillor Fuller (Lesnes Abbey, £9,543) has not completely lost interest and is still lurking on the sidelines and may yet prove helpful.

What concerns me most is the effect the buses and school have on an impressionable four year old mind. The young lad has always been well behaved in my presence but it is clear that he regards bus drivers as some sort of enemy of his mum. I don’t expect bus drivers to be well versed in child psychology but you would expect school staff and governors to be better informed. When the buses let mother and child down both get sent to the head teacher’s office and made to sign a form with “disabled mum could not get to school on time because of bus trouble”. Then the four year old is made to be a spectacle before his class mates by being taken into class via “the back door”. Goodness knows what a four year old makes of all this humiliation but it could scar him for life. Carole says the Educational Welfare Officer has refused to speak to her. You’d think the head teacher, Ms. Brooks, would know better wouldn’t you?

Finally, for those awaiting the appearance of NoToMob on the streets of Bexley today, they are dividing their time between ‘us’ and Westminster. They will be along shortly.

 

16 April (Part 1) - Under the Jackboot

Your listening council has tried giving false answers to questions, it has tried not answering questions, it has tried losing questions, it has tried rejecting questions, it has tried cutting question time and it has tried planting fake questions. This week they tried forcing closure of this blog.

They have tried hiring bouncers at council meetings, they have surrounded themselves with their military wing, Bexley’s police, they have rejected advice from the Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government (Bob Neill, MP) to open up meetings to “Citizen Journalists” and now they are going to attempt a near total clamp down on questioning. Anything to prevent scrutiny.

On 27th April 2011 this thoroughly disreputable council is meeting to discuss amendments to the questioning procedures. Among their recommendations and proposals are…


• To disallow filming of meetings because the result may be edited. Presumably Bob Neill was entirely unaware that videos could be edited when he made his recommendations.
• To recommend web casting once the new Civic Centre is ready. i.e. kick the idea into the long grass.
• That the mayor may disallow questions from anyone he/she may have taken a dislike to.
• That questions which are in any way similar to another asked within the last six months will not be permitted.
• Residents whose questions are accepted will have their personal details, name and address etc. published.
• Questions relating to staffing levels and salaries will not be permitted.
• The mayor will be given permission to throw out any questioner who she deems disrespectful, the judgment being entirely his/hers.
• If the questioner fails to attend the meeting his/her question will be rejected.
• If any question is accepted but rewarded with a non-answer or falsehood the questioner will not be allowed to raise a secondary question.


They really are worried that too much information on their dishonest practices is leaking out into the big wide world aren’t they? They appear to be prepared to stoop to the lowest levels in their rush to put as many obstacles as possible in the way of democracy and accountability. Can there be any more proof that Bexley council has something that it is desperate to hide?

Can you imagine the result of these changes? Nick Dowling’s questions all rejected because the mayor says he doesn’t applaud loudly enough at meetings. Mr. Bryant’s questions all rejected because he got up councillors’ noses by standing as an independent councillor. Mr. Barnbrook is definitely persona non grata because councillors already refer to him as a Nazi to his face. My questions ruled out because it is pretty obvious I am no friend of the council.

All contentious issues can be ruled out by getting Ms. Priti Patel MP’s research assistant and ex-Bexley councillor David Leaf to sell himself out again with a series of fake and innocuous questions on as many subjects as possible. Result? No other Bexley resident is able to enquire about the same subject for six months. Repeat ad-infinitum. It’s not Mick Barnbrook who is the Nazi is it?

This is a quick summary of the council’s proposals to stamp on local democracy hard. The full document is on line.

 

15 April (Part 2) - Residents showered with TLC again

Council meeting minutesThe harassment issue has been referred to the Met. Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards and for that and other reasons is unlikely to surface again until next month so it would appear I must return to the routine reporting of councillors’ peculiar relationships with the truth. Inevitably the name Craske comes to the fore.

Last November, and recorded in a blog two months ago, councillor Craske in one of his intemperate outbursts at a council meeting offered to remove the Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) from Albert Road, Bexley. It never happened of course, it was just Craske losing his cool again. The outburst had been directed at Nick Dowling who has been asking Craske to justify his soon to triple CPZ charges for a very long time. At the next council meeting Nicholas asked Craske why he hadn’t removed the CPZ. It was perhaps a slightly cheeky question but Craske made the offer so why not follow up on it?

Craske said he had arranged a survey. You can see his full response in the official council minutes reproduced here. Rather oddly the minute writer failed to record the fact that Craske said that residents didn’t want the CPZ removed and neither for that matter has Nicholas run a campaign for removal of any CPZ. That was Craske’s offer and came straight out of the blue because Craske cannot control his own tongue.

Mr. Dowling was surprised to hear that a survey of residents had taken place as he had heard nothing about it from his neighbours or anyone else. So Nick decided he should find out more. He put in a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to discover what questions the residents of Albert Road were asked and what they said in reply.

The FOI question and answer is reproduced below.


FOI answer
Surprise, surprise, the council does not have any answer. How would you interpret that given Craske’s unenviable track record in the truth and integrity department? No one in Albert Road knows about the survey, no one in the council has any evidence that there was a survey. You can be pretty sure there was no survey, yet councillor Craske is prepared to stand up at a council meeting and swear there was. Listening to you, working for you, deceiving you at every opportunity.

 

15 April (Part 1) - The police state of Bexley

Forty three minutes after putting that harassment letter on-line last Monday I received an email from an influential Bonkers reader offering to make enquiries on my behalf. Four hours later Bexley Police Borough Commander Dave Stringer found that enquiry on his desk. My influential reader felt the whole thing was “mad” and “sinister”.

Yesterday I received a little bit of feedback. Among the things said was…


“They do not intend that you should have to stop blogging or reporting on council meetings.”
“They confirmed that name calling etc. is not a police matter."
“They feel that there has at some point been something written that amounts to a threat to an individual’s personal safety.”


My esteemed reader said “I would be very surprised if you had ever made such a threat as it’s not your style at all but the police made it clear that this is the reason for you being issued with the harassment letter.”

It certainly isn’t my style. I have gone through 67 years of life without getting involved in a serious argument, let alone violence. Well not if you ignore the time I was beaten up by a Bexleyheath policeman on my own doorstep in a case of mistaken identity. The then Borough Commander was very apologetic indeed. In fact he referred his own officer to the complaints authority. But apart from that nothing. Not so much as a parking ticket or a speeding fine, certainly no criminal record or even the most minor of brushes with the law.

I’ve racked my brain for anything on the site that could be construed as a threat and the best I could come up with was the blog that suggested councillor Craske was ill-advised to make his route to work public on the web. I specifically advised that he had the reference removed. It is still there so Craske can’t have taken my little tease too seriously. On the other hand the Craske theory is attractive if you can believe the council’s leaks machine.

My ultra-helpful reader went on to say “What they propose is that they talk to you one to one about what the actual problem is” and “they have tried to contact you”. I don’t think they tried very hard. I have one phone number on the Contact page and another in the phone book. Lots of other people have found my email address on the site but a Detective Inspector hasn’t been able to detect it.

However, as my special reader had encouraged me to help the detective to make contact, I emailed him this morning…


Dear DI Marshall,

As you will know, within an hour or two of receipt of your letter, Xxxxxxxxx contacted me to offer to intervene on my behalf with Borough Commander Stringer and yesterday reported back certain information and that you have been trying to contact me. Your letter not only attracted the immediate attention of Xxxxxxxxx but also that of the press and has been widely discussed on a variety of websites across the country. Such near unique action by yourself implies a complaint of a very serious nature and that published comment has gone well beyond the normal bounds of what is commonly found on the net. If I am to address the problem I must know who I have offended and where on the site the problem is. Upon receipt of this information two members of the Bexley-is Bonkers team will be happy to see you at a mutually convenient venue. An afternoon next week (not Thursday) would be convenient.

I hope to hear from you soon.

regards,

Malcolm Knight


It took exactly 30 minutes for DI Marshall to reply. His short email included “I am unable to provide personal details of those who have contacted police regarding your web site as they have stated they do not wish to be named at this stage. I am duty bound to comply with their request unless or until legal action requires such information to be revealed.”

So we have a dilemma which defies logic. The police don’t want me to stop blogging but tell me if I offend some anonymous coward again I will be subject to criminal proceedings. Only at that stage will they reveal who the coward is. So they sort of encourage me to carry on blogging but if I say “boo” to the wrong person they may come and arrest me. I don’t see what else I can do, I’ll just have to carry on regardless and see where this madness goes next.

 

14 April (Part 2) - A taster for things to come

For the benefit of my many new readers I shall regurgitate an old story to illustrate the depths to which Bexley council is prepared to sink to persecute its residents and why so many people have come to believe Bexley council is severely lacking in the honesty and integrity department.

When Bexley council made a false demand against a Bexley taxpayer for £1,250,000, yes you read that right, £1.25 million! Senior High Court Judge Lewison threw their case out in no uncertain terms. The precise words the High Court Judge used to condemn Bexley Council’s conduct was “unconscionable” and that “they had effectively set a trap”. You can read the full judgment here.

“Unconscionable” is very strong language for a High Court Judge and defined in the dictionary as “monstrously extortionate; unscrupulous; having no conscience; irreconcilable with what is right”. Judge Lewison didn’t mince his words did he?

Councillor Colin Campbell, Cabinet Member (St. Mary’s, £22,650) and councillor Nigel Betts (Falconwood & Welling, £13,173) both refused to support an inquiry into which Bexley Council employees were responsible for making this false demand. More recently they have worked together to try to deprive residents of their statutory right to make Freedom of Information requests. This is typical of Bexley council’s attitude to good management and governance and I shall be spelling out a few more recent examples over coming days.

There are a couple more snippets of information to pass on before I close down for the day, The repercussions of Monday’s harassment letter are still rumbling around the net. It is mentioned on the EU referendum forum now and although I think I have replied to all the support emails I have received I would like to offer sincere thanks for all the helpful advice. A very helpful intermediary went to the police on my behalf and I shall report more fully on this tomorrow, not that there is a huge amount to say yet but there may be a sign that common sense is about to break out - on the part of the police anyway; too much to hope for the council too.

During the last week or so Bonkers has been on the receiving end of rumours about Bexley councillors. Bonkers doesn’t deal in rumours so there has been no hint of anything here but since it may now be found on the web I suppose I must give it a link if only not to appear behind the times. The more scurrilous aspects of it I doubt very much but if true are nobody else’s business. On the other hand if the big cabinet row story is true I know whose side I would be on.

The Harassment letter banner has now gone from the blogs for technical reasons and it wasn’t attractive to look at.

 

14 April (Part 1) - Where next?

I am soft pedalling on Bonkers for a few days; it is because of the infamous letter but not in the way that Bexleyheath (sic) council will have hoped for. While certain unspoken developments drift towards their conclusion I am busy assembling a collection of documents you haven’t seen before which should make Bexley council squirm. Episode one by Monday with any luck.

Until this week I found myself fielding relatively straight-forward questions about parking tickets and the like hoping that one of them might make an interesting story for the blog; now thanks to Bexley council’s assistance on the site publicity front I find myself in conversation with Sunday Newspapers and hoping that Bexley council will make an interesting story for their front page. Pandora’s box got opened!

There are moves afoot to arrange a local referendum, probably to call for a reduction in councillors allowances and fat cat’s pay. Personally I think I’d prefer the toilets vote mentioned in the Shopper’s letters columns this week. The opening salvo will be sent in the direction of council leader O’Neill quite soon. Under the Local Authorities (Referendums) (Petitions & Directions) Regulations 2000, 8,653 signatures are needed to force a referendum. Not my scheme but I will lend support obviously. Expect every conceivable obstacle to be put in its path by Bexley council.

Returning to the subject of the infamous letter I hear that I am not the only local blogger to have received one. His is even weirder than mine, didn’t even get his name right apparently. If you are happy to have your computer screen peppered with bad language you can read what he has to say about it here but the basic complaint is that this blogger is accused of putting stuff on the Bonkers site. Totally untrue. I have used someone else’s input on the Bonkers blog but that was someone completely different. The local CID have done a grand job of investigating this one; I’m inclined to think they don’t really want anything to do with it.

Before the end of the day I shall revert back to the old banner heading for the blog. The harassment letter may show as a scrolling strip in your web browser but in its raw state on my computer it displays full size and leaves me with very little screen space to write the text. So just because it is a thorough nuisance to me it has to go. It will remain on ‘non-blog’ pages for a while longer because I don’t have to edit them very often so it’s currently doing no harm.

 

13 April (Part 2) - Everywhere has gone Bonkers

Nearly every madcap idea from Bexley council has a tendency to come back and bite them on the bum. They have closed down access to the bonkers website for council staff (libraries too probably) but in doing so have sent news of their carryings-on nationwide. I picked up these two items from a business discussion forum where my harassment letter was being discussed…
Forum post 1
Forum post 2

…and for good measure Bexley is Bonkers now gets a mention on the Daily Express website. And to think some of us were thinking of paying for flyers and handing them out in the Broadway. There has even been a whisper that Bonkers has been mentioned in the tea-rooms of the House of Commons.

 

13 April (Part 1) - Fame at last!

It’s been a good week. On Monday there was confirmation that Bexley councillors read the blog, yesterday the story was picked up by several other bloggers which boosted the number of Bonkers readers very nicely thank you, and today I must say a very big thank you to the News Shopper (Bexley edition) which runs the story on page 3. They don’t give the actual web address but mention the site by name and my name too. Google either and the site is available for all to see. More readers! Lovely.

The Shopper carries a reader’s letter which ends “Let’s have a vote. Councillors or toilets?” Actually that is not as silly as it sounds and it is one of several things that will be discussed at this evening’s meeting of the Bonkers supporters club. One thing we can take off the agenda is how to increase the number of hits on Bexley is Bonkers. Thanks to Bexley council generating so much free publicity for the site, that is something which can be deferred for another time.

 

12 April - Harassment and alarm. Headless chicken syndrome - click image to read full version

Letter alleging harassment
So Bexleyheath council (who might they be?) claim I am harassing councillors and alarming them. I suppose I would be alarmed too if I was shown to be incompetent and worse on a daily basis, but harassing them; how come?

The last time I sent an email to a councillor was on 17th September 2009 when I advised John Davey (Lesnes Abbey, £9,543 + £7,782 from the Bexley Care Trust) of the existence of this site, then no more than a page or two. I have made none of the Freedom of Information requests which are admitted within council to be giving them so many headaches. I wrote to the mayor after my very first attendance at a council meeting because having come from a business background myself and not unfamiliar with high-level meetings I was absolutely appalled that her chairmanship skills were so obviously lacking. The mayor told me that she was wonderful and I did no more about it. No point; people that deluded don’t listen.

I did send an official complaint when councillor Craske made personal remarks about Mr. Elwyn Bryant and when the reply came up with an excuse which was proved false by the council’s own minutes I sent it back under the appeals procedure. That came back with another obvious lie but as I had in the meantime seen a letter from the Standards Board for England saying that they were themselves being closed down and in future there would be no sanctions against any local Standards Board however corrupt it might be I felt I had better things to do than pursue a lost cause.

A complaint I made against the mayor when she blatantly played fast and loose with Standing Orders and the timing of questions wasn’t even acknowledged. I haven’t gone out of my way to be awkward with formal questions at council meetings either. I have asked if any precautions have been taken against the council’s website going down during a major power cut as it did when EDF cables were vandalised in July 2009 and I asked what if anything was being done to retrieve the £1,931.95 that the council’s website says is still owed by convicted Conservative fraudster and ex-council leader Ian Clement. I left my questions late so that the council had the option of replying privately by post and was rewarded with no answer at all.

So how else might I have been harassing them? If examining the inner workings of council, much of which they should be ashamed of, is harassment then I suppose they may have a point, but none of it has been made up and I frequently link to original documents or put things within quotation marks to indicate authenticity. If I was fundamentally wrong about anything a reasonable council would have sought corrections but they have said nothing; presumably because they know what is written here is always basically true.

Not really harassment in the accepted sense of the word is it? What about the nicknames? I was a little surprised to have to explain ‘The Fat Controller’ to some readers; I had believed it was well known that the FC is the big boss man in the Thomas the Tank Engine series of books. Twankey came about after I first described a council meeting as a pantomime and the mayor looks so like a pantomime dame dressed up in her regalia that Widow Twankey seemed not inappropriate. What would she have preferred, the Ugly Sister? Unlike some others in the council chamber I do stand up when requested while she enters the chamber although I must point out it is to show respect for the office, not for her.

Where else should I look for signs of harassment? I have published some councillors addresses on the site but only those which show up after 30 seconds playing with Google and when I once published a freely available email address I took care to encode it in such a way that it would not attract spam.

Could it be NoToMob that’s upset them? The council won’t be liking their attentions and NTB told me (and it’s on their website) that it was Bonkers that attracted them to Bexley and it was me who provided contact details (including phone numbers with permission) of unfairly penalized residents. Saving motorists a pound or two is bound to get up councillors’ noses. How will they fund their Christmas outings?

What finally tipped this utterly brainless council into showing their hand and proving they read Bonkers so that it becomes worthwhile addressing them directly via its pages? My guess is that the last straw was when I turned up at Boris Johnson‘s little publicity stunt down at Erith station last week. I was the only ‘nobody’ there and got the beady eye from the Fat Controller. I was there because her office leaks and because Erith Station car park is publicly accessible property and the council had not spent £1,320 on a team of bouncers to cut the riff-raff down to size as she was advocating at a council meeting only two days later.

Calling councillors Twankey, the Fat Controller or TLC is pretty mild stuff in the world of blogging, I never use bad language except when reporting insults traded between councillors. If they don’t like that sort of heat they shouldn’t be in their chosen kitchen - and I don’t make them read the blog anyway - but thanks council for making it appear more influential than it probably is. But there again I may be wrong on that. Twankey won’t like to hear it but the site is not entirely without friends in high places. I shouldn’t put this one in quotations marks because I cannot reveal the source but I will say that someone deeply into Tory politics in Bexley said “your blog is the best thing there has ever been for democracy in Bexley” and went on to tell how councillors read it and are running around like headless chickens not knowing what to do about it. He certainly got that right!

Oh, the alarm thing. Yes Twankey and co. should perhaps be alarmed. Once I’ve called a supporters meeting to discuss the ideas that flowed in overnight they should probably feel alarmed. All legal and above board of course, but a blog may prove to be the least of their concerns.

 

11 April (Part 3) - ‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello. What’s goin’ on ‘ere then?

Flackley Ash Hotel, Rye, SussexDo you remember the case I picked up from the Bexleyheath Chronicle on 23 March? The one where ten Bexley cabinet members and nine members of staff took themselves off to Sussex for a few days before Christmas and lo and behold a bill for £2,585 showed up in the council’s accounts. No one has been allowed to know why The Flackley Ash Hotel in Rye was so much better than somewhere closer or even the Civic Centre but let’s accept for a moment it was.

At the last council meeting I heard FC leader O’Neill bragging about how Bexley councillors are so much more careful with money than their counterparts in other boroughs and that they didn’t claim some things they are entitled to. I have no notes of the context and mayor Twankey doesn’t allow recordings but I remember it was said, just not sure about what. Maybe it was a reference to the Christmas jolly, maybe it wasn’t but I have nevertheless been gathering information about how much that little beano cost. You see, the council department that stuck that £2,585 figure on the web now says it didn’t cost that at all because “Cabinet members decided in advance of the meeting that they would meet the full cost of their food and accommodation, which reduced the actual cost to the Council to £1,685.92 for the 19 people who attended”.

There is something funny with the arithmetic there. £2,585 for 19 people is £136 each but reducing the cost by £900 because ten cabinet members decided in advance to pay for themselves can only be squared if we accept that those councillors accepted a much lower standard of accommodation than other guests. I think we can rule that out and there is no getting away from the fact that the hotel sent a bill for £2,585. I did wonder if the hotel billed the cabinet members individually and separately but it can’t be that either because that wouldn’t have reduced the published bill by £900 as stated by the council’s own Payments Manager. So it’s a mystery that doesn’t quite add up. Or does it?

Buried on the council’s website is the fact that cabinet members are entitled to claim ninety pounds subsistence for an overnight stay. £90 each for ten people? It looks like we have found our missing £900. It would appear that the cabinet didn’t decide “that they would meet the full cost of their food and accommodation” but decided not to put in a subsistence claim. Does anyone think they should? When I was at work and needed to be away overnight I was given an allowance which would be enough to cover a room in a cheap hotel. If I was sent on a training course involving an overnight stay and food was provided I didn’t get anything. However it seems that our esteemed cabinet members think it’s the norm to get all their board and lodgings paid for at our expense and get subsistence on top and when they don’t claim the extra ninety quid we are supposed to be grateful. They set themselves up as whiter-than-white and the council sends out a letter saying they paid for the Christmas jolly themselves and I don’t think it is true at all.

I suppose the disreputable crew that runs Bexley council will say I am harassing them again but if they won’t tell the whole story we have to try to work it out for ourselves. As always, if I am wrong then I am ready with the Delete key at any time.

 

11 April (Part 2) - I thought they were cleverer than that

Although the object if this website is to inform Bexley residents of some of the murkier goings on in council I would be less than human if I didn’t wonder what councillors and staff think about it, but the fact is I don’t (or didn’t!) really know. I have never used any leaked information from current council employees, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone losing their job, and the number of leaks from councillors can be counted on the fingers of one hand so the truth is I really didn’t know what they think of Bonkers or even if they read it. The Tory grandee who reads it every day and said that mayor Val Clark was about as useful as a chocolate teapot was as good as it got.

I thought their silence was a clever policy as far as the council is concerned. The quieter they are the more difficult my job is, but now the councillors have shown they do read Bonkers as anyone who reached this blog today via the site’s front page will know. Bexley council have at long last acknowledged the existence of Bexley-is-Bonkers and additionally banned their employees from looking at it. One of my ‘friends’ at Bexley council contacted me to say the site has just been barred on the council’s webserver. It’s a milestone in Bonkers’ development but what is it that they are trying to hide?

The council broke their silence by getting their friends in the CID to send a letter warning me about the way I “criticise the way Bexleyheath Council is run by Councillors”. They say it is harassment. We are prevented from asking councillors questions because they plant their own, we are not allowed to take photos and now we are not allowed to criticise them. It really is The Police State of Bexley.

How is criticism harassment? If I get things wrong I correct them. The About page has said as much since the day the site was created. On one occasion I quoted the News Shopper which was quoting a councillor. That councillor asked me if I could amend his quoted words because the News Shopper had it wrong. I took his word for it and gladly did so. That facility is open to anyone but no one else has ever made contact to say Bonkers was anything but truthful. Should I assume they don’t like nicknames such as Twankey and Fat Controller? For goodness sake! Some London blogs label their councillors with words which would get the **** treatment in even the most scurrilous of newspapers. I called the mayor a ‘Lemon’. Oh, goodness me, whatever next?

One could say that if councillors feel harassed by such low level mickey-taking they shouldn’t go out of their way to read the blogs as they clearly have been. It seems altogether more likely that councillors want to have the site closed down because they don’t like their comfy and lucrative little world disturbed by “modern communication methods” and the sentiment “that elected representatives who have put themselves up for public office should be prepared for their decisions … to have a direct line of communication to their electorate”. Both quotations being words of wisdom from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Unfortunately Eric Pickles (the Minster) and Bob Neill MP both seem to have this quaint idea that Bexley councillors harbour the same ideas about democracy as they do.

More revelations about Bexley council’s financial fiddling coming just as soon as my email inbox can be dealt with!

 

11 April (Part 1) - Ghost riders

Outline cycling logoI thought this ghostly image of a cyclist on the pavement in Abbey Road, Belvedere was mildly amusing when I photographed it last year but it’s nothing like as funny as the video a Welling resident has posted on YouTube about Bexley council’s (and TfL’s) madcap cycling schemes. Take a look for yourself, it’s hilarious, well it would be if they hadn’t cost you a fortune. The author said he never saw a cyclist while making the video. More ghost riders perhaps?

The same author has done another; this time it illustrates the decline of Welling caused by political decisions. It’s amazing how many people despise Bexley council and everything it stands for. The more critical I am the more support rolls in; probably it is not going too far to say there is widespread hatred for Bexley council. Only once have I received a contrary email and that writer is so obsessed with this site that he accused a contributor to the News Shopper forum who criticised Bexley council of being me! No one else has ever had a good word to say about anything Bexley council has done. On the contrary, one serving councillor congratulated me for “scrupulously accurate” reporting and an ex-councillor said “you are fast becoming the only way to know what’s going on in meetings”. And then there was the councillor who liked Bonkers so much he tried to set up a Bonkers of his own. Absolutely bonkers, but nice to know he cared.

 

10 April (Part 2) - Marriage of convenience

Extract from the marriage register for Alex Sawyer Extract from the marriage register for Ms. Priti PatelConvenient for question planting that is, not to mention the odd bit of Nick Clegg style nepotism and string pulling.

A well-wisher within Bexley council’s political classes dropped this little morsel into my inbox today after having second thoughts about his fellow councillors stitching up question time at last Wednesday’s meeting: the one where ex-councillor David Leaf addressed fake questions to the council so as to deprive genuine residents of the opportunity to hold the council to account. I have to be extra careful when handling leaks from council sources because they might be false in the hope of compromising Bonkers by encouraging circulation of bad information. However this leak seems to check out.

The images shown are extracts from publicly available on-line marriage records. It shows that Ms. Priti Patel (MP for Witham, Essex since May 2010) married Alex Sawyer in Bexley seven years ago. Ms. Patel is, as I discovered last week, ex-councillor David Leaf’s employer, but who the hell is Alex Sawyer? Well for those who don’t know, he is Conservative councillor for Northumberland Heath (£9,543).

So the stitching up and deceit goes rather further than I first thought. All concerned probably think that they have been very clever to get one over Bexley residents by manipulating council procedures. Poor Priti, probably innocently linked to Bexley’s corruption but councillors need to learn that subverting democracy is not a good idea.

 

10 April (Part 1) - Scamera hunting - (The NoToMob call it ‘$chunting’) - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

NoToMob in Walnut Tree RoadAfter finding no scamera cars in Bexleyheath or Welling over three hours yesterday I wondered if they had been scared away from two of their most profitable areas. Later my NoToMob contact told me one had been in Welling until about 08:30 but that was before he got on the scene. I think there is a network of helpful contacts living or working close to favoured scamera sites (the NoToMob jargon is ‘honeypots’) but all of them reported a blank, even Blackfen Road. They were still reporting “no cars” when I spotted the three motorcyclists who had decided to tour the lesser known honeypots after finding three cars missing from the pigpen (more NoToMob jargon). They got lucky in Long Lane but the scamera operator immediately radio’d NSL for instructions and then went on a slow time-wasting tour of residential streets which eventually led to Walnut Tree Road, outside the old Erith Town Hall where there is a bus stop to be watched. (See picture.) At 2:30 they escorted the gestapo wagon back to base and NoToMob left for an appointment in Medway. NSL knew that schunting was to finish at 2:30 and a gestapo wagon went to park outside KFC in Welling immediately afterwards.

There have been more strange anti-motorist activities in other parts of town. Tomorrow Bexley council is increasing parking charges and extending charging periods to all night and Sundays in most car parks. All of that is documented in official documents, but I am told that street parking signs that used to say ‘08.30 to 17:30’ have been augmented by more that say ‘08:30 to 18:30’ - and then a few days later the new signs, but not their poles, were taken away. Such a time extension is not listed in any of the council’s recent price hiking documents so I have no idea why new signs should have gone up and then disappeared. Maybe TLC is due another FOI.

 

9 April - The NoToMob returns to Bexley - click any image for photo gallery (4 images)

NoToMobNoToMob were unable to spend long in Bexley today but I thought I would try my luck at an interception somewhere, however a bus and Shank’s Pony are no match for a motorbike, nor a gestapo wagon come to that. I started in Bexleyheath Broadway around 10:30 a.m. but it was clear and a short bus ride showed Welling to be the same. I hung around there for an hour and briefly spoke to an NSL lady putting a penalty notice on a car displaying the payment receipt face down. Are people really that careless or do they flip over in the draught caused by the shutting door? The parking attendant was perfectly civil to me but when I spied a gaggle of four and took a photo from far too far away they immediately ran over and surrounded me, saying I wasn’t allowed to take photographs of them. I said “I am actually and if you don’t believe me call a policeman”. While one used his phone another demanded I show him the picture. It was going to be useless at the range I took it but I didn’t see any reason to prove it. I told them where I was going next and walked away. I didn’t hear from them again and the very much magnified photo is in the gallery section.

Just as I was about to get back on a bus to Welling I spotted three NoToMob riders heading towards Welling and just managed to grab a photo as they swept by, but when I got to Welling the cupboard was bare. I didn’t see a gestapo wagon during the three hours I was looking. Maybe NoToMob have driven them away already.

While in Welling I looked in the library and saw it advertised “Refreshments” but found none. One of the librarians said there had never been any refreshments available and was surprised to hear the sign outside indicated otherwise. While back in Bexleyheath I looked in the Central Library because that advertised “Refreshments” too but there was only a chocolate bar dispensing machine. Should I find it odd that one centre of learning encourages me to eat chocolate and another, Bedonwell School, confiscates chocolate buttons from four year olds? Probably not; one represents an opportunity for Bexley council to extract money from the public and the other represents an opportunity to show who is boss.

Yesterday I took a phone call from someone who asked why some words appear in red on the blog. It’s simple enough. Your web browser displays text in red if the words are set to do something when clicked on. Most of the time clicking on the red will take you to another part of the site which has more information on the subject matter highlighted. Sometimes a click will take you to another website. You may also get a little pop-up explanation to tell you exactly what will happen, but not always because that is a fairly recent innovation and sometimes I forget to add the code! Abbreviations may provide a pop-up explanation too; see NSL above or TLC and Twankey elsewhere. Just hover your mouse pointer (or click) over the text.

There is no report on Carole’s trip to school on the B11 bus this week because nothing much has happened, one slightly too fussy bus driver and no contacts with officialdom. As the Easter holidays have started I have taken the opportunity to turn off my alarm clock.

 

8 April (Part 2) - Predatory Peter

Referendum dateThere were two items on the Agenda of last Wednesday’s council meeting that caught my eye which I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blog. Both were Craske related and I would have been interested in what he had to say on one of them. The plan was that he put forward a motion on the forthcoming referendum. “The London Borough of Bexley notes the implications for local residents of the referendum on the alternative vote system, and urges all residents who oppose changing the voting system to vote ‘No’ on 5th May.”

Unfortunately it was ruled out of order as it fell foul of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. A pity because I would have liked to have heard councillor Craske’s views on the Alternative Vote system, no really I would! I know that Nick Clegg described it as “a miserable little compromise”, I know that only three countries world-wide use it and one of those is in the process of abandoning it and I know a collection of luvvies and second rate comedians is keen that we should vote for it - which seems to me a pretty good reason to vote ‘No’. Why should anyone care what a collection of actors, poets and athletes think about AV?

As we weren’t able to hear councillor Craske tell 200 odd people why he thought AV was bad I’ll make up for his disappointment by referring rather more than 200 people to what twenty new MPs had to say about it. Their views were recorded by Daniel Hannan, MEP.

Craske strikes me as the sort of old fashioned Tory that brought his party into such disrepute during the nineteen eighties. No humility for anyone other than those in privileged positions, or to put it more simply “wickedly selfish and deceitful”. One bit of deceit practiced by Craske was detailed in the Strategy 2014 document (the proposed cuts) put before the cabinet on 3 November 2010. He said that he planned “commencement of enforcement of moving traffic contraventions using Mobile In-car Camera Enforcement and fixed CCTV. Also use fixed CCTV for no stopping parking contraventions”. He said that the reason was to get “more value for money” from the systems. Weasel words to avoid saying “to raise extra revenue” which would be illegal.

The version of Strategy 2014 put out for public consumption in February pushed the proposal to persecute motorists even more than in the past back to the year 2012/13. Since then more revenue streams have been sought and Craske is nothing if not devious, so hidden in last Wednesday’s meeting Agenda were proposals to “Accelerate expenditure reductions” and one of them was to bring forward the stepped-up CCTV attack on motorists to this year 2011/2012. No formal warning to residents, just attack them without warning. “Accelerate expenditure reductions” is a very odd way of describing a revenue hike but then if you expect honesty from Bexley council you must be very new to the borough. Craske anticipates robbing motorists of an extra £81,000 this year. He doesn’t say which day this new imposition starts (probably wants to keep it an unpleasant surprise) but it is safest to assume it is right now.

The NoToMob continue to be active in Bexley. Today their representative went to the Civic Centre to ask to see evidence that Bexley’s CCTV systems had the correct certification for parking and bus lane enforcement. The ‘Listening council’ refused to see him and under pressure (and only via an intermediary on an internal telephone) insisted that if he wanted to know he must make a Freedom of Information request. How ridiculous is that? Craske’s department cannot confirm they are acting lawfully and insist on a time consuming procedure which Craske himself was complaining about only two days ago. You couldn’t make it up!

 

8 April (Part 1) - Priti Pathetic

Priti Patel MPSo who is this David Leaf who was so keen to sell himself on Wednesday evening at the behest of mayor Val Clark and do his bit for suppression of democracy in this borough? A bit of research shows that the former Conservative Bexley councillor came 5th in the vote for his former Belvedere seat in May 2010. Must have been really popular to sink that decisively. His own website describes himself as “formally (sic) a Conservative councillor” but still “involved in local politics”. Actually that isn’t the whole truth; he has a job in Westminster as researcher to Conservative MP for Witham, Essex, Priti Patel. Incongruously Ms. Patel claims on her website that she “believes in the principles of accountability, transparency and fair play”. Maybe someone should tell her that her research assistant doesn’t.

 

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.

 

6 April - The Inspire Community Trust

The Inspire Community Trust (ICT) is yet another of those quasi-quangos registered as charities to which Bexley council has sub-contracted so many of its services. One must wonder why Moneybags Tuckley has to be paid as much money as he is when so few of the council’s responsibilities are left for him to manage. Olly Cromwell, famed for being banned from the council chamber for filming there, has extracted information from the Charities Commission which shows that the ICT spends nearly 70% of its ‘donations’ on staff wages. Not what most people expect of a charity, but then you are not supposed to know that; the ICT and Bexley council try to keep it under wraps. The ICT website doesn‘t say a word about its charity status.

One of the things the ICT does is issue (via the Post Office) Freedom passes for disabled people. Carole (who I escort most days on the school run) got hers from ICT and was referred back there because her four year old son was judged to be her carer when it was him who called for assistance when his mother’s disability caused an emergency on the way to school. One part of ICT said they couldn’t help the son in his role of carer and referred Carole to another part of ICT which couldn’t give assistance because the son was not disabled. So ICT achieved absolutely nothing; which is not a lot for the near £200,000 it costs Bexley’s taxpayers every month.

Olly Cromwell’s website has more details on who runs The Inspire Community Trust and he is attempting to find out who exactly does benefit from it. The employee on eighty grand a year is one; who are the others?

 

5 April - The police state of Bexley

Police barring entry List of banned activities Tyrant otherwise known as Widow TwankeyThe 9th of March was the day that Bexley council showed its true colours. A man who goes by the name Olly Cromwell (photo far left) had given Mayor Twankey advance notice of his intention to take a video camera into the council chamber. Only a week earlier he had done so with great effect and caught our dishonest and incompetent Mayor breaking Standing Orders and generally manipulating the meeting to the disadvantage of the public in attendance. She had been caught on tape red-handed and wasn’t going to risk that again. A month later the council still hasn’t managed to dream up a half-plausible lie to cover themselves following the inevitable official complaint to their Standards Board, even though they have the advantage of a constitution which doesn’t follow government guidelines and allows the Standards Board to be rigged against honesty and democracy.

Twankey’s attitude to open and transparent local government, poking two fingers in the direction of the Under Secretary of State at the Communities Department, banning photography and enforcing her anti-democratic tantrum with 27 police officers and about a dozen bouncers doesn’t come cheap. I can now report thanks to the FOI legislation that Mayor Twankey spent £1,320 on the heavy mob. The cost of the police operation is unknown.

Another public council meeting is scheduled for tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Twankey has learned anything from her many mistakes.

FOI request by Olly Cromwell.

 

4 April - Boris Johnson and the Fat Controller; together again - click any image for photo gallery (5 images)

The Fat Controller and Boris Johnson Boris Johnson and low-emission vansThanks to Civic Centre leaks, Bonkers was able to be at Erith railway station at 10 this morning to see Mayor Johnson’s photocall publicizing the extension of the London Low Emissions Zone regulations to small vans from January next year. It clearly wasn’t intended for public consumption as apart from Fat Controller O’Neill (FC) and Moneybags Tuckley there were only a few press photographers, some representatives from the motor trade and a couple of Boris’s aides present. Unlike Bexley’s fat cats, Boris didn’t see the need for police protection or hired bouncers. The aides asked everyone with a camera who they represented and when told, asked if there was anything they could do to help. Bexley council please note.

The FC, coincidence or not, had her back towards me nearly all the time and I shall spare you the photo of that view, but her young companion may be easier on the eye. See photo gallery.

If you are asking yourself what has this event got to do with Bexley you are not alone. I put the same question to one of Boris’s aides. She said “nothing”. One can only assume that it is because Boris “admires” Teresa and the fact she has agreed to bumble around London for him paid solely by Bexley’s taxpayers.

 

2 April (Part 2) - Carole’s battle with TfL and the money grabbing TLC

There is not a lot to say about Carole’s school run this week as her son has been unwell and off school; at least it ensures he gets a decent meal at lunchtime and doesn’t have it taken away by a ‘nutty’ school teacher.

I’m not sure if I said before but Carole is learning to drive, it’s the only complete solution to getting to school reliably and she has already been provided with a Motability vehicle in which she is taking driving lessons. Getting it and a Blue Badge proved to be very simple, however Bexley council knows how to cause a problem. There is a yellow line outside Carole’s house so she has to keep her badge on display. Every day the gestapo man comes down Carole’s cul-de-sac to look at the badge, he must know the car by now, every day it’s the same one outside the same house in a road only 50 yards long. But yesterday the inevitable happened and the Blue Badge had fallen from its normal position so Carole got a parking ticket. A Motability car with the appropriate disability tax disc on the windscreen can go across the Dartford bridge for nothing because the authorities know that Motability cars are by definition for the severely disabled. The same applies to the London congestion zone, but on a yellow line one slip - literally - and councils issue a £100 fine on a vehicle displaying a tax disc only available to the disabled and accepted elsewhere without question.

 

2 April (Part1) - The NoToMob comes to Bexley

The NoToMob will be out and about again in Bexley today. Maybe not as many as last week but some will be. As before, please don’t do anything that may impede their progress as Craske will be very keen to give them a ticket if he can.

 

1 April - Mayor Val Clark. Serial offender against local democracy

Widow TwankeyMad Mayor’s month of shame - March 2011

• Curtails public question time.
• Bans questions which might expose her incompetence.
• Surrounds herself with police protection at public council meetings. More police than public!
• Hires gangs of bouncers to impose her undemocratic decisions.
• Institutes bag searches on entry to public council meetings.
• Bans entry to the Civic Centre by anyone carrying a camera under threat of arrest by police.
• Bans entry to the Civic Centre by anyone carrying a placard or slogan.
• Refuses requests for exemption from restrictions. (Requests for exemption being permitted under council standing orders.)
• Fails to follow basic rules of chairmanship.
• Refuses to correct minutes of meetings.
• Writes to members of the public to admonish them for perfectly reasonable behaviour at public meetings. e.g. Not applauding enthusiastically.
• Allows councillors to abuse each other at meetings verbally. e.g. “Tosser”.
• Allows councillors to insult and abuse members of the public at council meetings; including laughing, jeering and gesturing.

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