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Bonkers Blog February 2011

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26 February (Part 1) - A bit of a conundrum. Suggestions welcome

One of my fears in producing this website is that Bexley’s councillors and staff with something to hide will clam up and remain resolutely silent. There are already signs of it. I have seen two near identical letters circulated within the council which encourage councillors to say nothing although the increasing number of informants may make that tactic difficult to maintain. The council’s published customer services standards include responding to the on-line contact form within two days and to email and letters within five. It is an ambitious target and inevitably missed sometimes, I’m not unduly concerned about that, it is the deliberate kicking of things into the long grass which is the real problem.

This site began because of the persistent failure to respond to enquiries about the narrowing of Abbey Road. Andrew Bashford of the roads department and councillor Davey went into long periods of silence and needed threats of Ombudsman involvement before deciding to feed me dubious information about surveys and road safety issues and eventually trying to silence me with technicalities which required the expertise of the Transport Research Laboratory to debunk. It’s a tactic they employ all too often. We have councillors refusing to give a straight yes or no answer to the simple question of whether they are receptive to the idea of cutting allowances and pay to complement their plans to cut everything else the council touches. More complex issues are deferred or blocked when managers reclassify enquiries as Freedom of Information requests which operate under a different set of rules which permit further delays.

An example of the first is councillor David Hurt (Barnehurst £22,141 per year; wife Lesnes Abbey £9,543) who is responsible for huge cuts in health and care services but cannot bring himself to answer a question about his allowance put to him almost four months ago. An example of the second tactic which is growing in popularity is Tina Brooke’s (Parking Manager) fobbing off the MP James Brokenshire who sent her a sheaf of statistics and asked how they could possibly justify Craske’s proposal to triple the price of residents’ parking permits. Her response was disrespectful of an MP and treated Mr. Brokenshire as if he was a simple soul who would would accept as an answer figures he already knew and were part of his enquiry and her assertion that she didn’t recognise “some of the data”. All the data came from her department and the reason it didn’t add up was solely because the council, or maybe Craske, had falsified much of it.

A suitably worded complaint is with Ms. Brooks’ superiors. It’s debatable whether that fact should be revealed here; one school of thought is that publicity will drive malpractice deeper underground another is that it encourages the truth. It’s an impossible call, I’m no good at reading dishonest minds. One of my correspondents is convinced that Bexley council will always “lie and cheat” but I’d prefer to think that if every lie is exposed, like Philip Read’s untruthful and mischievous letter in this week’s Shopper councillors and staff may think twice about consistently lying. Yes I have my doubts too but one way or another the pressure on corruption and dishonesty must be maintained.


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