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Bonkers Blog October 2011

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31 October (Part 2) - Plod. Still protecting their friends

Harassment letterA lot has happened since Bexley council put this website on the map by reporting me to the police for harassment. The police didn't bother to date the letter (or sign it for that matter) and it is more than six months since the postman knocked on my door. I asked Bexleyheath police how I was harassing Bexley council and who in particular but they declined to answer.

Bexley council were asked under Freedom of Information legislation who made the complaint but once again they preferred to break the law and not answer. The Information Commissioner eventually leant on them hard enough for it to be revealed that Chief Executive Will Tuckley did it.

Long before that I discovered that the policeman who issued the letter was Detective Inspector Keith Marshall and it was he who was refusing to provide any information to assist me in deciding whether I should change tack or not; so I complained about him to the Director of Professional Standards (DPS). On 20th April I wrote “My complaint against DI Keith Marshall is that he has clearly not researched what is on my blog and gives the strong impression he has merely taken the word of one of his friends on the council. He is refusing to say who made the complaint or (except via my MP) give any clue as to what my offence may be. Without that information I can do nothing to modify my web activities but he threatens me with arrest if I do not do so”.

Following that I heard nothing. I phoned the DPS twice to enquire about the lack of progress but on both occasions received an apology that Bexleyheath police were refusing to reply to their emails. After a while I forgot all about it. Meanwhile I was shown some correspondence which said I had been threatened with arrest because I had “written something that amounts to a threat to an individual’s personal safety”. I knew I hadn’t and if DI Marshall believed I had it must be because Will Tuckley misinformed him or someone in the police was desperate to find a good excuse. Certainly the police could not have read the the blog.

And now the postman has knocked again; the DPS has replied to my complaint. They’ve dismissed it of course, but their excuse is risible. The complaint is dismissed because although “I do not doubt what you told us, there is no independent witness”. So it was my word against a DI? No contest then, policemen are never wrong. But no it wasn’t that at all; believe it or not the DPS in the sixth months they’ve been dealing with my complaint “have been unable to contact DI Keith Marshall”. My complaint has been “referenced” only against the original “allegation of crime” by Will Tuckley, which I’m told, but do not know for sure, was based on untrue stories of violent behaviour. So yet another example of Bexley council and the police being pretty much one and the same organisation with a common agenda based on corruption, dishonesty and incompetence.

 

31 October (Part 1) - Highlights of the month

The petition on excessive salaries


At the beginning of October the newspapers were still carrying news of our Listening council’s plan to stuff its metaphorical fingers in its ears and break its own rules by refusing to accept the petition. Since then there have been two developments. Old Bexley & Sidcup MP, James Brokenshire, at a private meeting, advocated staff sharing at the highest level. If it’s good enough for some low paid staff to lose their jobs and others to help out in neighbouring boroughs, why not the quarter millionaires?

The other was that the number of signatures has just about doubled in the last four weeks. The earliest council meeting where a petition might be presented is 22nd February 2012. The petitioners are hoping that many of their signatories will turn out for the debate even if presented with nothing but a bunch of mutes demonstrating their democratic credentials. Put it in your diary but don’t be surprised if Bexley council changes the date as a spoiling tactic.

Bexley council got themselves a mention for this latest bit of idiocy on MP Douglas Carswell’s blog too.


Bexley in the news


Whilst the BBC’s One Show was definitely a damp squib, Bexley council did earn themselves a mention in The Sunday Times, and The Bexleyheath Chronicle (and all its variants) gave them the front page for their dubious parking enforcement practices. That one has a good deal of mileage left in it.

On TV this month was councillor Katie Perrior, the one who claims to be best placed to know how local residents are struggling financially, complaining that she couldn’t watch a film during her Premium grade British Airways flight to the States and she only got £50 compensation.


Freedom of Information


Bexley council has been reprimanded twice this month, it may be more, I am not privy to everything the Information Commissioner (IC) says, for refusing to answer FOIs without legal justification. If they do what the IC has asked we will soon know who gave the previous Chief Executive, Nick Johnson his £31,000 pay increase which was so neatly timed to benefit his pension and golden good-bye.

The Information Commissioner will soon be hearing about the Metropolitan Police’s conclusion that exposing anything at all, even the date of an enquiry they probably never made, about Bexley council’s dirty blogger is not in the public interest. So now we know that Bexley council’s preference is to keep a criminal out of the public eye rather than behave as any honest and law-abiding organisation would. We always thought it, now we know it.

It has been put to me that the Met. Police in the shape of Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer has been forced to help block exposure to maintain his unhealthily close relationship with a dishonest council. If the Information Commissioner eventually over-rules him he will be able to say “I tried my best”. The trouble with that theory is that it makes Borough Commander Stringer just as dishonest as the top brass at Bexley council.


Council luxuries


While the general population faces Bexley’s range of stealth taxes and the desperate economic straits the country finds itself in, the council has delivered them a calculated snub by taking itself off for a break at its favoured hotel, The Flackley Ash near Rye in Sussex.


Blogger charged with harassment


Criticising Bexley council is a dangerous game. Another Bexley blogger was arrested and charged by the police this week after councillor Melvin Seymour toddled off to the cop shop again as is his wont when he falls out with one of his electors. Last time it was an old man driven to burning down his house in protest at Bexley council’s failure to listen to him. Bexley council prosecuted him for dishonestly claiming benefits but the court cleared him. Obviously someone who burns his own house down needs professional help urgently but councillor Seymour’s preferred course of action was to accuse the elderly gent of harassing him with the result he was given an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.

On 7th May 2009 councillor Seymour was the beneficiary of a £26.10 lunch at Pizza Express paid for on his GLA expense account by the convicted fraudster and one time Bexley council leader, Ian Clement.


A big thank you to councillor John Davey


Most readers may not realise that they owe their daily dose of Bexley council news to Lesnes Abbey ward councillor John Davey, for without him telling me that the redesign of one of my nearest roads was “Bonkers” while being Vice-Chairman of the (now abolished) Transport Scrutiny Sub-Committee responsible for the folly, I might never have begun to probe into Bexley council’s lies. Now look where he has taken us…

That totally unreliable measure of a website’s success, the raw unadulterated number of Bonkers’ hits continues to climb. It’s a useless number except for revealing long term trends. Bonkers hits went up by 32·71% in October compared with September 2011. Perhaps a little exceptional but at least the figure never actually goes down.

 

30 October - Between a rock and a hard place

I got it wrong yesterday; “weekends are always lower than Monday to Friday”. Not yesterday, the highest number of unique visitors ever. It must be the Olly or Notomob effect, so let me tell you a little of what happened when Nigel Wise came to town.

Smart car and signHidden signHidden signNigel met Bexley council’s Parking Manager Tina Brooks last Friday; her chief claim to fame until now has been to write to James Brokenshire MP to explain that she didn’t recognise her own figures that he had presented to her seeking an explanation. To get away with that is a rare skill for which she appears to have been promoted as she now calls herself the Traffic and Parking Manager and brought along two of her juniors to face Nigel and the Notomob’s local coordinator who wears the identifier Peperami (Pep) on his hi-vis vest. Nigel had wanted to bring along a newspaper reporter but Tina, like the rest of Bexley council, isn’t a fan of openness and transparency, in fact she repeatedly asked Nigel and Pep (N&P) to confirm they were not carrying recording equipment. Nor were they allowed to take notes or carry away copies of any documentation. N&P have done the next best thing and both have phoned me with a report of Friday’s events and emailed to me the first draft of their press-pack which will go out to the newspapers tomorrow. Watch out for Wednesday’s News Shopper.

You may be disappointed that I cannot report a great deal about N&P’s thoughts about the meeting or their plans for the future as it appears that Ms. Brooks reads the Notomob’s forum and this blog and I am reluctant to spoil a forthcoming newspaper story. However it is clear enough that Bexley does not have correct certification for their CCTV cars but believe they have a suitable substitute document which N&P were not allowed to see. When ten or a dozen valid certificates from other local authorities were spread across the table for Ms. Brooks to see she covered her eyes saying “No, I will not look at them”. It would seem that Bexley council employs petulant schoolgirls as managers.

Bexley council is now caught between a rock and a hard place. It knows its papers are not in order and it knows that if it applies for correct certification it is tantamount to accepting that it is in the same boat as Richmond council. I am informed that the Get Out of Jail Free card of getting back-dated certificates has been blocked by government intervention.

The meeting ranged across issues other than equipment certification, it included the inadequate signs used to warn motorists, Those shown above supplied by a reader from Willersley Road, Sidcup are typical. The wrong sign, shown upside down, no advance warning and not visible to approaching motorists. Ms. Brooks accepted that Bexley’s signs are inadequate.

As well as sending me his draft press release, Peperami sent me another document for my eyes only. I am not expert in these things but if I interpret it correctly, Ms. Brooks is in for a very unpleasant surprise once she is persuaded to take the blinkers from her eyes.

If Notomob are to carry this issue forward they require help from unfairly penalized motorists. If you have recently appealed a Bexley Penalty Notice resulting from CCTV surveillance to the Parking Adjudicator, whether you have had your hearing or it is still to come, Notomob would very much like to hear from you and maybe take a look at your documentation. Peperami, their Bexley coordinator, may be emailed via the Contact menu at the top of this page.

On a point of pedantic detail, the certificates are now called ‘letters’ despite them being issued by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA). It is all part of the smoke-screen put up by the authorities to try to muddy the waters.

 

29 October - Question time

It’s the weekend and people have better things to do than read blogs and it’s a good time to relax and write something that needs almost no research, like answer some of the questions that have arisen this month.

Tempting fate I suppose, but I have still not been taken to task for publishing this site but I do seem to be attracting more comment from people who believe it could be done better.


Why not publish council good news stories too?


That’s the council’s job. They have links to News on their website front page and the Conservatives have their own websites. The latter is where you will read about Bexley having the lowest parking charges in SE London, that Bexley has among the lowest council tax rates in outer London and that Labour councillors don’t know that there is a railway station in Bexleyheath. If the best they can do is lie it suggests they can find nothing good to say about their achievements.

Actually Bonkers is not all bad news. A councillor giving a genuinely warm welcome to members of the public at a meeting won’t be overlooked and chairmen who acquit themselves well are given suitable credit.

Milk bottle topA couple of weeks ago someone at Bexley council asked me if I could pinpoint areas close to where I live which flood after rain. I suggested they look at a drain cover which stood proud of the road surface in front of a bus stop so when it rained a puddle formed around the drain hole and anyone waiting for a bus got a good soaking. Last week that problem was fixed. That will be Tony Hugh’s department on the ball again.

I collected a neighbour’s Blue Badge from Erith Library two weeks ago and everything was handled very efficiently.

Forty eight hours after I pictured the overflowing paper bin a very pleasant young man came out to tidy up. He told me that the plastic lids of milk and fizzy drink bottles can now be recycled but preferably detached from each other when placed in the bin. Whatever happened to the recycling guidance books that used to be sent out? A victim of the cuts maybe?


Is Bonkers a Labour party site?


It must be because it criticises Bexley council and local Conservative websites but not Labour’s, or so I am told. Bearing in mind their meagre representation on Bexley council, Labour councillors have come in for more than their fair share of stick. To criticise website design for being “awful” seems to be a little below the belt, despite me sometimes looking at the underlying code and recoiling in horror at the complexities employed to achieve very little. But if you insist…

Labour’s websites are the worst offenders. One of their sites still thanks voters for their electoral support 18 months ago and the Links page takes you to a six month out of date blog, to a school and a church site neither of which exist (404 errors) and to a site which Teresa Pearce MP abandoned six months ago and circulated an announcement to that effect. No sign of them rebutting the Tory lies. Maybe that's why people suggest Bonkers is Labour’s on-line opposition to the Conservatives.

From reading the local press I think it is more than likely that Teresa Pearce is the most active and effective of our local MPs but giving credit where it is due does not make Bonkers an off-shoot of the Labour party.


Is Bonkers connected to the British National Party?


I can only guess where that suggestion comes from. Quite a lot of my reports are based on information supplied by Michael Barnbrook who in January 2009 stood as the BNP candidate in the Welling by election and came within eight votes of winning. Mr. Barnbrook is no longer a member of the BNP. My own association is limited to reading their 2001 general election manifesto and chucking it away.


What is the connection to the Bexley Council Monitoring Group?


I’m never quite sure. I meet its founding member for an hour or so most weeks and compare notes; that’s about as far as it goes. I have also been known to solve the odd problem he might have with his website.


Why has the contact telephone been disconnected?


Because I was getting too many calls that should be directed to a solicitor or Citzen’s Advice Bureau and whilst that is not in itself a problem, 20 from the same source in a week takes up far too much time.


Why does the site banner keep changing?


Because it can. The website is designed in a modular fashion and it takes about two seconds to swap modules and change the banner. The Home page content changes approximately weekly because slightly more than 50% of blog readers enter the site via the Home page and for it to always be the same would get boring. The Craske based Home page is used more often than the others because when it is there the Google ranking is better. I don’t know why.


How many hits does Bonkers get?


Website hitsThe perennial old question and you will never see a counter like this on a Bonkers page, not even if the errant apostrophe is removed.

As indicated in today’s opening remarks, weekends are always lower than Monday to Friday and school holidays always see a drop too. Ignoring school holidays, page views rise by between 4% and 6% each week but with the number of pages increasing that is not so very surprising. What may be surprising is the number of visits coming in from Northern Italy and that whoever set up the Thames innovation Centre’s server managed to get two spelling mistakes into those three words.

As for 73,135 hits in 13 or 14 months. I’d be keeping very quiet about that if it was me.

 

28 October (Part 2) - Where’s Olly?

Melvin SeymourThis is a quick late night blog about the Bexley blogger Olly Cromwell, for those interested in what happened to him today after the dawn raid on his home by Bexleyheath police. He was arrested and spent seven and a half hours in a police cell charged with harassing Bexley councillors. All his computer equipment has been seized, also his mobile phone and his wife’s laptop. He is bailed to appear in court on 7th November. His bail conditions prevent him blogging about Bexley councillors. Olly says the complaint was brought by councillor Melvin Seymour (Crayford, £18,220) - pictured left.

Councillor Seymour seems to be easily harassed and makes a habit of taking neighbours to court. In 2009 he claimed he was intimidated by a 69 year old man and that the old man nearly hit him while driving his car. The elderly gent landed up in court too.

Blog timed 22:30.

 

28 October (Part 1) - Moving Heaven and Earth to protect their own

StringerTeresa O'NeillWill TuckleyThe truth about my Freedom of Information requests about Borough Commander Stringer’s failed, or possibly non-existent, investigation into the obscene blog which someone at Bexley council must have had a hand in is a little more complicated than so far revealed. Briefly, a four part FOI was submitted on 2nd September and rejected and appealed (that’s the new bit) on 6th September. Then when news of the loss came through last Friday the original, but slightly modified FOI was resubmitted under the guidance of a ‘Police FOI Support Officer’. That officer decided to split it into its four component parts. The FOI of the 2nd September and the resubmitted one (four?) may be viewed here. Only the final paragraphs differ.

The original reason for rejection was given as ‘Section 40(5) - Personal Information’, and under the guidance of the Police FOI Support Officer the FOI was amended from asking if two named individuals were interviewed and “anybody” was substituted. The objections to my FOI being “Personal’ were thereby entirely overcome to the satisfaction of the very same Support Officer who had rejected the original on 2nd September. From then on it should be plain sailing, right? But no, you reckon without the police big guns being scared witless about revealing that they did absolutely nothing about investigating a hate crime by one of their mates in Bexley council. They must be protected at all costs.

Not content with labelling the FOI ‘Personal’ the police have additionally judged, on appeal, both original and resubmitted FOIs to be not in the public interest. “The public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

That is not the sort of response you would expect if some (relatively speaking) nobody like Chris Loynes was the criminal is it? Should we now assume that it is an altogether bigger fish, like Will Tuckley or Teresa O’Neill perhaps? Borough Commander Stringer must be desperate to protect his paymasters if the police are persuaded at higher level that acknowledging crimes by Bexley council would not be in the public interest. The suspicion of corruption in high places within Bexley council and Bexleyheath police gets ever greater. Their conclusion that it is in the public interest to leave a criminal to operate freely within Bexley council rather than expose him or her says all you need to know about Bexleyheath police and Bexley council.

I was going to answer some of this week’s questions from readers tomorrow but I am bringing one forward. “What is my relationship with the blogger who calls himself Olly Cromwell?” Somewhat ‘arm’s length’ actually; he vigorously and justifiably protested when accused by Bexleyheath police of being a contributor to Bonkers. I would similarly protest if accused of playing any part with his website. He may quote from Bonkers but I don’t supply him with material.

Police raidI don’t know Olly’s real name and the closest I come to knowing his address is that he once blogged that he was in David Evenett’s constituency. We have never spoken on the telephone nor met, except at the Civic Centre in the days when he was allowed inside, and my longest conversation with him was at the Civic Centre where I tried to persuade him to tone down his language. Beyond that he emails me copies of his Bexley related FOI requests so that I can add them to my FOI page - and I’m afraid I frequently don’t get around to doing so.

Those who have visited his website will know that Olly doesn’t much like Bexley council or Bexleyheath police and says so in a style which is different to that you see here. As of this morning I can claim another difference between Olly and myself; I did not suffer a heavy handed police raid at 7 a.m. As it happens Olly wasn’t at home even at that hour and so the police were unable to cart him away. Gave his wife and children a fright though, but never mind that, if it saves just one councillor or official from criminal charges it must be worthwhile.

Olly has been ordered to report to Bexleyheath police station at 12:30 today to face possible harassment charges.

 

27 October - Nick Johnson. Still embarrassing Bexley council

Daily Mail webpage headlineNick JohnsonNick Johnson with bucket and spadeAnyone new around here may need a little refresher course on Nick Johnson. He was Bexley’s Chief Executive before Will Tuckley and was as cosily tucked up with the then council leader Ian Clement as Will Tuckley is with Teresa O’Neill. Another mutual admiration society.

Mr. Johnson retired on grounds of ill health in November 2007 and by the following March had miraculously recovered to take a similar job in Hammersmith leaving Bexley taxpayers with a £50,000 a year pension bill on top of the reported £300,000 pay-off. Mystery surrounded the detail; time for some Freedom of Information (FOI) questions.


Le Pont De La TourThe first of these was for details of his pay, annual increments and their dates. It turned out that he went from £153,468 in December 2003 by annual increments to £167,211 in July 2007 and for no known reason to £198,480 two months later. The obvious next question (30th June 2011) was “Why the £31,000 jump”. “A technical adjustment” said Bexley council. The speculation was that a conveniently timed pay increase agreed over one of Ian Clement’s credit card funded dinners in a posh restaurant would nicely boost Nick’s pension.

The next FOI (12th July) asked for the nature of the technical adjustment to be explained and Bexley council went very quiet indeed. Several further enquiries were made about the fate of that FOI with no further information forthcoming and on 9th September the matter was reported to the Information Commissioner (IC). Six weeks later Bexley council was told to answer the FOI within ten days. They expire next week.

Bexley’s attitude to FOIs is appalling. Just a few days ago I referred to the nine page lecture on the law delivered by the IC to Bexley council and the Nick Johnson question provokes another two pages. His covering letter reveals something of the IC’s frustration with Bexley. It refers to the 20 day limit being “statutory” (section 10 of the Act) and to “serious contraventions of section 10 are recorded and persistent contraventions will result in placing a public authority on our monitoring programme. Our monitoring programme is proving very successful at improving practices amongst public authorities who have shown a long term reluctance or inability to respond to information requests within the statutory timescales". After explaining that even stronger sanctions can result in further delay the ICO informs the questioner that if he wishes that step to be taken he is "able to do so” because “your concerns have been taken seriously. Thank you for bring this matter to the attention of the Information Commissioner.”

Do I detect that with so many FOIs (plus at least one Subject Access Request) being ignored, the Information Commissioner is losing patience with Bexley council?

Previous blogs about Nick Johnson…


2 November 2010 - More greed and amoral behaviour. It’s endemic!
18 April 2011 - Don’t tell audit
6 May 2011 - Where feeble men fear to tread
12 June 2011 - Freedom of Information
28 July 2011 - Newsreel

 

26 October - Newsreel

Money for old rope


Bexley council’s Head of Committee Services has confirmed in writing that there is nothing in its Constitution that requires a councillor to reply or otherwise respond to any enquiry or question from a member of the public whether from his own ward or not. Recent experience suggests they take full advantage of their licence to do nothing.

However the Head of Committee Services accepts that councillors should abide by the terms of The Code of Conduct issued by the Standards Board for England, one of their ten principles being “Openness – members should be as open as possible about their actions and those of their authority, and should be prepared to give reasons for those actions.” Maybe that goes some way to counter the lack of a Constitutional requirement. Unfortunately Bexley council’s Standards Board is unfairly constituted, politically biased more than the representation of the two parties would justify, and has a track record of making up flimsy excuses or even inventing untruthful ones when caught in a tight spot.


The obscene blog


It has become apparent that James Brokenshire MP, despite being generally sympathetic and helpful with attempts to get Bexleyheath police to behave in an honest and responsible manner, had not actually read Bexley’s blog until recently and having done so was suitably disgusted. He said he would write to Detective Superintendent Stringer again. From this I deduce that James Brokenshire is not one of the three or four visitors to this website with House of Commons addresses who are seen most days.

In a separate and unexpected move Chief Superintendent Stringer accepted a request for the whole of the file relating to Bexley's libellous hate crime against myself and Elwyn Bryant to be released. It probably counts for nothing as he will have passed that buck to someone else, but advice is that closed case papers must be released on request. I will not be holding my breath on that one.

When Bexley council was asked under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act “How many criminal investigations are currently being investigated or have been investigated in the last six months against Bexley Council by the Metropolitan Police?” they managed to reply almost immediately. They do not know.


Bexley the new Richmond?


On the 11th May the News Shopper carried an article by the much missed reporter Linda Piper suggesting that the NoToMob’s Nigel Wise who proved Richmond Council operated its CCTV cars illegally was on the trail of Bexley council too. If you think that is a story that fizzled out then you would be wrong. Nigel has a meeting scheduled with Bexley council’s parking manager Tina Brooks on Friday 28th. I’m sure he will let us know how he gets on before too long. I’m expecting today’s Bexley Chronicle to have something to say about this but as yet I’ve not been able to get hold of a copy. When I do this entry may be augmented.

PS. Bob Griffiths the Editor of The Chronicle series of newspapers has put a front page article in all his newspapers about Nigel Wise’s activities. My information is that Bob took an active part in helping Nigel and met council officials who attempted to pull the wool over his eyes.


Anonymous comment


The anonymous messaging made possible by the new Contact form is both useful and extremely frustrating. Anonymity doesn’t allow a simple ‘thank you’ to be sent and it doesn't allow any reason to be given for not using a comment. Most often this is because it has been used already, but it feels impolite not to be able to acknowledge the intended assistance. But there it is; as long as its users understand the situation.


Rubbish recycling - Click image for photo gallery


Overflowing rubbishWhilst Bexley’s record on recycling is on the whole good, nothing is perfect. The picture (taken yesterday) is of my nearest recycling centre and shows the paper bin now approaching four weeks without being emptied. Last time this happened Serge Poulo who was looking after such things at the time told me there was a dispute between the council and the contractor, the latter apparently claiming that the paper was badly contaminated. Mr. Poulo seemed to think that couldn’t possibly be true but as a regular observer of the bins I knew he was wrong. Some people put anything through the large opening, not only plastic, polystyrene and tins, but also broken furniture.

After Mr. Poulo moved on I was never able to get his successor to reply to email so I gave up reporting problems. Mr. Poulo must be a popular man, for some unexplained reason ‘Serge Poulo’ is a regular Google search bringing visitors to the Bonkers site. Not as frequent as ‘Chris Loynes’ or ‘Eva Read’, but close.

 

25 October - Bexley council, splashing your cash again

Flackley Ash HotelFlackley Ash HotelFlackley Ash HotelAt a time when record numbers of people are losing their jobs, with prices going up faster than many people can remember and Bexley council’s parking charges up by anything between 20% and infinity (24/7 charges introduced), we can at least rest assured that their top brass are continuing to enjoy their little luxuries. It may not be councillor Campbell’s idea of luxury if he had to put up with a candlewick bedspread like he did last year, but most people wouldn't complain about a freebie or subsidised weekend at the Flackley Ash Hotel. Yes, it seems from reports that they have done it again. Bexley’s golden boys, and I assume the cabinet too, have taken themselves off for another little beano to the Flackley Ash.

Last year Bexley council misled the local press about the date of their visit and claimed they had paid for it out of their own pockets. Enquiries revealed that at best cabinet members paid for only two thirds of the bill and then probably claimed it back again via their £90.25 a night subsistence allowance. They refused to give a simple truthful statement about the need for council business to be conducted in plush surroundings and the truth of the matter was still being prised out of them as recently as last July; nine months after their little bit of indulgence at tax payers’ expense. Now it seems they have done it all over again.

Previous blogs on last year’s Flackley Ash Hotel trip…


23 March 2011 - Press round up
11 April 2011 - ‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello. What’s goin’ on ‘ere then?
16 April 2011 - Too generous by far
2 May 2011 - Flak over Flackley
5 July 2011 - Flackley Ash Hotel - So good they went there twice
24 July 2011 - Flackley Ash - The truth at last

 

24 October - Bexley. Slowest borough in London

Local Government OmbudsmanI have in front of me a nine page ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office, plus a two page covering letter about a Freedom of Information request refused by Bexley council at the end of 2010. Those nine pages attempt to explain to Bexley council why every one of their excuses for refusing to answer an FOI request was wrong in law. Bexley council has been told to comply with the request; the answer will either be a simple “No” or if not, a figure with a pound sign in front of it. Either way it is not a difficult one to answer, it requires no research or adding up but Bexley council has fought long and hard to keep the answer secret without any legal basis for it. I shall refrain from providing further details until Bexley council gets around to obeying the law. However the delay aroused curiosity about other areas in which Bexley might be performing equally badly. Where does one start?

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) had one or two interesting things to say about Bexley council, they keep records of how quickly councils respond to their enquiries. It shows that Bexley has got slower in each of the last three years and their average response time is now 36·5 days. The LGO compares Bexley with other councils and says it is in the worst 6% of London boroughs. There are only 32 London boroughs so being in the bottom 6% must mean Bexley is worst or next to worst with their performance on a downward trend. We hear a lot about Bexley having the lowest car parking charges in S.E. London and among the lowest council tax in Outer London (neither true) and that Bexley is top borough for recycling, which isn’t absolutely correct according to the capitalwastefacts (†) website, and now we know that Bexley is best (or maybe second best) with delaying tactics too.

Another recent LGO decision concerned education provision for Bexley’s deaf children. The usual privacy constraints prevent details being given but it seems that the problem has been going on for a long time. The Bexley Times reported  more than a year ago on the dire situation Bexley council has allowed to develop.

† Click here for Capital Waste Facts spreadsheet and download the second on their list of three spreadsheets. Then select the Dry Recycling or Composting tabs, or more simply check this summary.

 

23 October - The money is running out

William Morris Fountain, BexleyheathLast week’s Bexley Times reported that the leader of Bromley council, Stephen Carr, let the cat out of the bag by announcing that he was looking at service mergers with Bexley beyond those which will see 35 library workers lose their jobs next January. Bexley council leader Teresa O’Neill had to admit that secret talks were going on. It reminds me just a little of her announcement this time last year when she said she was looking at reducing the number of councillors per ward from three to two, but we heard no more of that while Bromley got on with the necessary arrangements. However these latest announcements are more likely to go through; cutting councillor numbers affects the local government gravy train and cutting council staff is just a necessary evil that won’t affect the favoured few’s own lifestyles.

You could protect eight or ten council jobs by getting rid of the Chief Executive, or alternatively sharing a few of the top brass with another council. At a meeting last Friday, Bexley’s MP, James Brokenshire said that David Cameron lived in an area where the local council, West Oxfordshire, shared its two top posts with neighbouring Cotswold District Council. Mr. Brokenshire seemed to think that was a thoroughly good idea. Ms. O’Neill will likely prefer to slash more lowly jobs. Maybe she should start counting them before she goes any further. Bexley council’s website claims to have 2,000, 5000 and 8,000 (approx.) people working for it depending on which page you look at.

Bexley’s Budget Book does not make for pleasant reading. The fact that councillor Craske’s money making ‘hit the motorist’ schemes have resulted in reduced revenue is completely overshadowed by the way so many other things are going rapidly down the drain. Just one quotation gives a clue of things to come. “On the best projections of available resources and likely spending, the council will need to borrow in the order of £44m. over the next three years.” I thought the plan was to save £35 million in those three years but with accountants who believe in £3 million savings a year from recycling and £20,000 every single year from filling a historic fountain with soil, maybe we are.

Bexley council is still counting the fountain as one of the borough’s attractions on its website. Another is that the mayor’s name is Val Clark.

 

22 October (Part 2) - Bexley council. A family affair

Marriage recordsWhen I worked for the General Post Office, then part of the Civil Service, if a female member of staff married she had to leave the permanent payroll. Later when the rules were relaxed after the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, if an office romance blossomed the couple concerned would be dispersed to different departments. I personally arranged a few such ‘redeployments’. It was natural, it is what any professional would expect in a professional organisation. Bexley council however does not conduct itself in a professional manner.

I was criticized on Bexley’s obscene blog for trawling around genealogy websites but as far as I know there is no law against it even in Bexley where the police operate under ‘funny’ rules. So I just happened to stumble across the interesting entry shown to the left. It shows a Peter Ellershaw marrying Antonia Ainge in May 2005. Both names sounded familiar and so they should, both appear on the same page of Bexley council’s website. Antonia Ainge reports directly to Peter Ellershaw, Director of Bexley council’s Environment & Wellbeing department. Is it a coincidence? Enquiries to a usually reliable source say not and as the names could not be described as common I think you will agree the relationship looks more than likely.

How are Antonia Ainge’s reports and recommendations to be fairly judged by her boss? Who is responsible for her appraisal?

A couple of weeks ago Toni Ainge was nominated for the Local Government Chronicle’s ‘Rising Stars’ award. I wonder who nominated her for that?

No matter what council stone is turned in Bexley a bad smell is almost guaranteed.

The image shown here is an edited composite of the original website screen grabs. Click it to view the originals.

 

22 October (Part 1) - The Contact form and Internet Explorer 6

The Contact form presented considerable technical difficulties; it shouldn’t have done but it did. Because the Bonkers server refuses to send messages back to itself, the ISP’s decision, not mine, the messages are being sent to a Hotmail account. Hotmail unfortunately sees them as spam and dumps them. To overcome this the Contact form sends its messages with a fake From address (mine) and Hotmail has been set to accept it as a safe sender. As always there is a snag. If when sending a message the Reply email address is omitted it will not be rejected because the secondary (fake) email address takes its place. Such messages cannot receive a reply. No effort will be made to correct that failing because it unintentionally allows messages to be sent totally anonymously.

I had an opportunity to check out the site on Internet Explorer 6 yesterday. The ‘Pickle jar’ wasn’t positioned precisely as I expected but to my alarm the drop down menu wasn't appearing at all. This has prompted dusting off a ten year old computer and installing the original version of Windows XP which includes Internet Explorer 6. That has allowed the following problems to be fixed…


• The flipping book pages in the June 2011 and July 2011 blogs are now correctly positioned.
• The dates of blog entries now appear in the correct colour green. IE6 was allowing the link colour of red to take precedence over the font colour.
• The menus have been restored. (Navigation is possible without the menu drop down but is cumbersome.)

 

21 October (Part 2) - Bexley in the newspapers

Councillor Gareth Bacon has an article in today’s Guardian about recycling in London in which he not unnaturally plugs Bexley’s high ranking among London’s boroughs. In my view he should be congratulated on achieving a good service without imposing draconian financial penalties on residents unlike some other councils, most of which if my newspaper has been reporting in an unbiased fashion, are both Northern and Labour controlled. I just wish he wouldn’t allow his success to be exaggerated. Bexley is not making a real saving of £3 million a year as they would have us believe, if it was, either the cost would be going down next year or the income would be going up, but in practice nothing much is changing. Their calculation is deeply flawed.

The News Shopper reports on its website today that Bexley council has held an Awards Ceremony to celebrate a success in the London in Bloom competition. This is rather odd because when the Tax Payers’ Alliance asked Bexley council what they were spending on Awards Ceremonies they replied “from a cursory search no record of attendance at or hosting of Award Ceremonies was found”. That's doubly odd then. Didn’t ex mayor Val Clark write to some residents for being ‘parsimonious with their appreciation’ when they found the council meeting they thought they were attending was supplanted by an Awards Ceremony? Why is the truth such a difficult concept for Bexley council?

 

21 October (Part 1) - The obscene blog. An update

Following Bexleyheath police’s failure to achieve any meaningful investigation into the Bexley council inspired obscene blog and their written response which included glaring technical errors a Freedom of Information request was sent to the Metropolitan Police, the progress of which, or lack of, has been as follows…


• 2nd September 2011. Information sought on the dates of four different aspects of the failed enquiry.
• 6th September. FOI rejected claiming personal information had been sought.
• 6th September. Original FOI divided into its four component and resubmitted as four FOIs.
• 9th September. FOIs acknowledged, one rejected as being personal. (Subject to appeal.)
• 12th October. Reminder to Met. Police that the 20 days had expired.
• 18th October. Complaint of no response from Met Police sent to the Information Commissioner.
• 20th October. Police reply to my enquiry of 12th October.


Yesterday’s response from the Metropolitan Police and the exchange of emails over the past 24 hours show that the police lost the FOIs. They issued four acknowledgements to the requests made on 6th September and accept that their IT systems issued them but the requests themselves are simply lost. Despite the police locally doing their best to obstruct justice by doing little or nothing useful, marking the file RESTRICTED, and attempting a technically inept excuse for their inaction, I am inclined to believe that the FOIs were indeed the subject of an administrative or IT error and the four FOIs, with a minor change of wording, have been resubmitted today. All four have been accepted.

All FOIs were submitted electronically via the Met. Police’s website and all correspondence was by email.

 

20 October (Part 2) - Opposition slaughtered

Sidcup ChronicleCouncillor Mike SlaughterTwice in the last three weeks I’ve been tipped off that councillor Mike Slaughter backed the extension of opening hours at the Sidcup branch of Morrisons while being a shareholder in that company. I scanned the Planning Committee minutes for clues but found nothing definitive and without proof it is only tittle-tattle and best avoided. But yesterday someone sent me the November 2011 newsletter of the Sidcup Community Group and there it was as bold as brass…

“We will not be able to rely on Bexley’s Planning department that’s for sure. No surprise that increased opening hours of Morrisons was supported by a councillor who holds shares in the company.” On the assumption that the SCG is not in the habit of making things up some research was called for. My mistake it turns out was checking the Bexleyheath Chronicle last month and not the Sidcup edition. Editor Bob Griffiths has the story too.

“Councillor [Mike] Slaughter declared he had some shares in the company [Morrisons]… The Chairman invited comments from the twelve members present and not one had any questions so it was put to the vote. Who took the lead to approve? Councillor M. Slaughter.”

Council’s generally define what they mean by a “Prejudicial Interest” and make their policy available on the web. All those I have checked define relevant share holdings as prejudicial and all but a few councils require that affected members should remove themselves from any meeting. A very few exempt small share holdings. Bexley council appears not to publish its policy but the minutes of many of its meetings record councillors withdrawing as one would expect. Why did councillor Slaughter think he should be different?

 

20 October (Part 1) - ‘Notomobe?’ Can’t the BBC get anything right?

Notomob and BBC in SidcupNotomob and scamera car in SidcupIf you missed last night’s One Show and plan to catch it on i-Player later, then don’t bother. Although Bexley people will recognise that a lot of the street scenes were Bexley, along with the Dom Littlewood interview and talk to camera inserts, I don’t think the word Bexley passed anyone’s lips. Notomob got a little publicity but would anyone have understood what they are all about afterwards? I doubt it.

The BBC sent a production crew from Cardiff for this event, four people in total, who spent the whole day working on the project and when I left late morning they were talking about getting an interview at the Civic Centre “for balance”, but for that they finished up in Medway. The main event, an interview with Notomob member ‘esinem’ could have been filmed anywhere. Maybe the whisper that came down from the BBC that Bexley council planned to use their favoured Harassment attack on them had a greater effect than was initially admitted.

Photos by Martin Peaple. The BBC reports on the origins of the Notomob’s V for Vendetta mask here.

‘Notomobe’ : The BBC’s politically correct pronunciation of Notomob.

 

19 October (Part 4) - Cabinet meeting 18th October 2011 - click image for photo gallery (1 very different image)

Yesterday’s meeting was dominated by discussion of the Howbury area of Slade Green on the eastern extremity of the borough. Bexley council has sold the site to Redrow Homes and a whole new community of homes, new roads, shops and schools are planned to renew a deprived area; but not everyone is happy. According to Paul Moore, Director of Corporate Services, Howbury has been a priority for the council for more than 30 years “but we are not there yet”, which seemed to indicate a long history of setback and failure. A petition of 2,280 signatures was presented to the council by ‘Howbury Friends’ whose leader, Melanie Hudson, backed by about 40 supporters in the public gallery, raced through her address so quickly that my shorthand skills could not keep up.

Among the points made were that 36·5% of children in the area were living in poverty, 36% leave school with no qualifications at all, that Slade Green was in the top 5% of most deprived wards in the country and that Bexley council had neither consulted enough nor done enough to help the community which is largely served by voluntary and self-help groups. A particular source of concern was the loss of sporting facilities and the community meeting rooms which are currently available, albeit in a possibly run down state in need of renewal.

The cabinet chairman, council leader Teresa O’Neill was in a generous frame of mind in that she allowed Ms. Hudson to speak for longer than the allotted five minutes and accepted a question from the floor without a word of complaint. The latter is totally unprecedented in my experience, such interruptions are usually severely stamped on, but perhaps I have not heard the leader handle a petition before as they are usually presented to council rather than cabinet meetings where (ex) mayor Val Clark set the tone. Leader O’Neill achieved a much more relaxed meeting; she summed up Ms. Hudson‘s address as her being happy with the proposals for housing and schools but not with the provision for community activities which was probably about right.

Councillor Linda Bailey said that the proposals on the table were generous and suggested that it may be possible to hire out the school hall as a substitute sports hall at affordable rates. The petitioners expressed concern about what “affordable rates” might mean and were supported by councillor Borella, he too was “very worried about the pricing of facilities”.

Councillor Brenda Langstead reminded the meeting that the recently increased car parking charges resulted in lower revenue, clearly indicating that council greed can be counter-productive. She also said that the rejuvenation of the Howbury area would result in community facilities being reduced to less than a third of what there is now.

The Howbury Friends were still concerned about the lack of community space for the many voluntary activities the local population have organised for themselves. Councillor John Davey thought he would set their minds at rest. “I am a governor of Erith School and they hire out their hall at a meeting at a cost neutral price”. “How much?” asked Ms. Hudson, she was naturally concerned to know whether her volunteer groups could afford the price. “We don’t make a profit” said councillor Davey unhelpfully. Ms. Hudson tried putting her question another way to see if Davey could understand. Eventually the answer came. “I don’t know.” Councillor John Davey; ever the duffer.

Councillor Campbell spoke more sense, he advocated that the Howbury scheme should be grabbed quick because no more capital projects could be funded in the present economic climate. Inflation wasn’t going to go down any time soon, the cost of public services were being transferred from central to local government and along with it all risk. Things could only get worse. Sometimes I find myself warming to councillor Campbell’s straight talking (but the feeling only lasts for a few TICs); and then the guillotine descended and the vote was called and the cabinet unanimously approved the Howbury proposals. So what good did the petition achieve? Nothing was changed.

Following that the Transport Implementation Plan wasn’t discussed at all; no one had anything to say. A similar fate awaited the ‘Ageing Well’ Action Plan with nothing of great note said, and so, at little more than 70 minutes after the meeting started, all the councillors could make their way back to their free car parking facilities. Mr. Loynes (Head of Democratic Services) who used to attend such meetings was absent.

Gift tie for councillor CampbellAfter the meeting concluded the relatively light mood continued; Mr. Barnbrook of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group is a firm believer in keeping up appearances and attends council meetings in a suit, tie and well polished shoes. It upsets him that the deputy leader of the council almost never wears a tie. He decided to present councillor Campbell with one in silk Tory blue. The gift was well intentioned with no ulterior motive but councillor Campbell declined it. Had he done so I would not have had anything to report and in hindsight he may regret not telling his benefactor that he would donate it to his nearest charity shop.

“You are going to need this when she (motioning towards the leader) goes to work for Boris Johnson” said Mr. B., after which the conversation took a turn for the worse with the deputy leader contriving a joke involving undergarments both male and female. There were smiles all round. If I had been presenting a gift to a politician and was keen that it should be accepted I would wrap it in a brown envelope rather than a Marks & Spencer bag. Perhaps Mr. Barnbrook would have more success with his generosity if he presented some of his cast offs to councillor Borella and friends. Sometimes the Labour bench has, sartorially speaking, more in common with a meths drinkers’ convention than a council chamber. Councillors Ball and Malik I should hasten to add were absent last night.

 

19 October (Part 3) - The One Show

The One Show logoThe One Show announcementAt the time of writing nothing has been received from the BBC to indicate that Bexley council will not feature as previously scheduled on this evening’s The One Show. BBC 1 at 7 p.m.

P.S. See second image.

 

19 October (Part 2) - Opaque Bexley

Pickles and O'NeillFour weeks ago, the Bexley Council Monitoring Group got themselves all over the local papers because of Bexley council’s idiotic announcement that they would disregard their own rules and refuse to accept a petition of 2,000 signatures because they didn’t like the subject matter. Since then their decision has been reported by Daniel Hannan MEP on his Direct Democracy website.

The same day that the BCMG appeared in the newspapers I sent an email to Eric Pickles drawing his attention to Bexley council’s antics and asking for comment for the blog. Yesterday I received a reply. He has referred me to Bexley council’s policy on petitions and appears to naively believe that Bexley council will stick to their own rules or follow his recommendations and guidance. They have a 100% track record of ignoring him so far.

 

19 October (Part 1) - Transparent Bexley

Bexley is Bonkers logoWhen the revolving ‘Pickle Jar’ (†) was introduced a couple of weeks ago it exposed some shortcomings in the way the Bonkers logo was displayed and last Friday the problem was solved by making the logo transparent. That caused a problem for readers still using Internet Explorer 5·5 and 6·0 which don’t support transparent images. Internet Explorer users are close to 50% of total site visitors and getting on for 10% of them are still using IE6, which adds up to a fairly big number not seeing Bonkers as they should. So as of yesterday afternoon those old browsers will load a utility that should provide them with transparency. Unfortunately it produces yet another problem, the banner is pushed downwards by a couple of pixels so that the Pickle Jar no longer aligns with it perfectly, but that is going to be as good as it gets.

Something else introduced yesterday, this time at a reader’s request, is that an email may be sent from the Contact page without the need for am email client (Outlook etc.) to be installed on the computer.

† Pickle Jar : So named by reader Paul whose discerning eye sees a revolving multi-faceted jar containing one rather large Pickle.

 

18 October - Bexley police. Law unto themselves

Bexley TimesAt the Crime and Disorder committee meeting on 7th September, Chief Superintendent Stringer, Bexley’s borough police commander, spoke up in favour of knife arches. To say the idea went down like a lead balloon might be a slight exaggeration, but no one spoke in favour, citing their deterrent effect on shoppers and potential for increasing the fear of crime. The young people from the Youth Council said they would have the same bad effect in schools.

Within the past eight days we have had two stabbings in Broadway, a fatality in Bexley, and two more stabbings a few hundred yards beyond the borough boundary in Abbey Wood. None would have been prevented by a knife arch.

The minutes of the 7th September meeting show that the police were going to deploy the knife arches whatever Bexley council thought. “Inspector Padfield reported that Bexley Police would be making use of weapon arches in hub areas such as Bexleyheath and within schools.” Councillor Craske’s only contribution to the meeting was to praise the usefulness of CCTV yet in last week’s Bexley Times he is quoted as welcoming knife arches, which is not what was said at the council meeting at all. Minutes of council meeting.

CS StringerIt’s a pity that the Borough Commander doesn’t act independently of Bexley council more often or he may have made more progress in investigating Bexley council’s hate crime, their obscene blog. The police claimed to have carried out some investigations but their brief report made no technical sense and led to the belief it simply wasn’t true. A Freedom of Information request seeking the dates certain things were said to have been investigated was at first rejected and when that problem was overcome the police set up their second line of defence. viz. that they are refusing to answer the FOI or answer any questions as to why not. The FOI request is now two weeks overdue. A report on the failure to comply with the law has gone to the Information Commissioner.

It seems to me that Commander Stringer’s investigation has been either ineffective or corrupted by outside influences. Time will no doubt tell.

 

17 October (Part 3) - No data. No idea

When councillor Craske was busy making up numbers in an attempt to justify the near tripling of the price of Residents’ Parking Permits, one of the figures he was emailing to anyone who complained was that he was spending £11,000 a year on IT to keep the records of the 3,000 permits issued each year. So he must be recording all the relevant information, right? Err… No.

A Freedom of Information request (ref. 11/900) elicited the following information about parking permits…


• We do not hold the data to confirm how many permits are issued and refunded on a monthly basis.
• We do not hold any data to confirm how many permits were applied for online.
• We do not hold any data on how many permits the Library Service issue.
• We do not hold any data on how many permits were returned to Parking Services for a refund.
• We do not hold any data on how many permits were returned to the Libraries for a refund.
• We do not hold any data on how many visitor scratch card booklets have been issued, however, we can provide the number of applications made for scratch cards but not the number of scratch cards sold as a result of the applications.


If they don’t keep records is there not a possibility of fraud? Are there really no checks on how many permits and scratch cards are issued by libraries? Only public bodies can afford to be so unprofessional knowing that their incompetence will be paid for by a largely apathetic public ready to swallow the line that a single parking permit can cost £140 just for the printing and another eighty odd pounds for the staff to organise it and keep the records - if they do keep any records.

‘We do not hold the data’. The perfect excuse for councillor Craske to make up any figure he needs.

 

17 October (Part 2) - Bexley council criticized by leading Conservatives

Daniel HannanDouglas CarswellIf these men look familiar it might be because you have seen them on TV. On the left is Daniel Hannan who is Conservative MEP for South East England famed for several speeches delivered to the EU in Brussels and Strasbourg. The second is Douglas Carswell who is Conservative MP for Harwich and Clacton. Together they run a website called Direct Democracy with the aim of “promoting the idea of localism and participatory democracy within the United Kingdom”.

Somehow (†) they have stumbled upon Bexley council’s anti-democratic stance on… well almost everything really. They have decided that Bexley council’s announcement that they will ignore any petition calling on them to discuss top salaries is beyond the pale. “Do they not realise how bad this looks?”

Probably not. Link.

† OK, time to own up. We at Bonkers HQ did it.

 

17 October (Part 1) - Reading between the loynes

Web statisticsStudying web statistics can become addictive. These were the top searches on Google that led to www.bexley-is-bonkers.co.uk between midnight and 6 a.m. yesterday morning (Sunday). Alarmingly there were several singleton enquiries all based on the words murder, Bexley and the date of 16th October. Sadly those searchers obviously knew of the events in Bexley village overnight. (Three men were arrested yesterday evening. (Source : BBC News. At the time of writing this is not covered by the local press.)

But what's with all this interest in Chris Loynes? It started on 25th September and there have been between four and a dozen such enquiries every day since then. Why should a little known local government officer be the subject of so much interest?

Over the same period there have been even more searches for “Eva Read Bexley” which is even more surprising.


Visits : The number of ‘hits’ derived from Google searches between midnight and 6 a.m. 16th October 2011
Pages/Visit : The average number of pages viewed by each visitor
Average Time on Site : As stated
% New visits : Hits from people who had not been to Bonkers before
Bounce Rate : Percentage of visitors who exited the site from the same page they first came to.

 

16 October (Part 2) - Bexley hits the less well off. (50 pence extra for rowing in the park)

Bexley family in Lesnes Abbey ParkThe statistics show that the biggest visitors to this website are the communications companies because as you would expect, all their customers are lumped together and counted as one source, but behind them you get the large companies with their own net facilities. Highest among those are newspapers; quite some way above “The Houses of Parliament”, so it was pleasing but not perhaps surprising to get a call from The Sunday Times last week. Bexley, they said, was just about the worst council in the country for sneaking in price rises to help keep the Will Tuckleys and Katie Perriors of this world in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Could the Bonkers team expand on the information they had collected from councils and could anyone be persuaded to be interviewed to give the story some local colour?

We aim to please, so off went the Strategy 2014 document and the complete list of sneaky price increases to the journalist Cal Flyn. Today’s Sunday Times carries the story on page 5. The picture is from the ST and is of Bonkers reader Coralie Skelton in Lesnes Abbey Park.

Commenting for the ST is housing minister Grant Shapps. He speaks of “lazy councils” and recommends that “local authorities should cut out excessive chief executive pay”. Now isn’t that exactly what my petitioning friends have been saying? And do I need to repeat that Bexley in full on ‘Listening to you, working for you’ mode has already announced that it will stick its fingers firmly in its ears when the petition is eventually presented? A helpful councillor has already said that if forced into a debate Bexley council will sit in total silence with their arms folded and refuse to say anything at all. Well let them. Maybe I will have a word with a few friendly journalists when they do.

The “50 pence extra for rowing in the park” is taken from the Sunday Times article. The ST is not available on the web without subscription.

 

16 October (Part 1) - Bexley’s ‘Poor little rich girl’. (£50 compensation and still complaining)

Katie Perrior on WatchdogI never get around to watching TV, one programme a week currently, but fortunately readers are more on the ball, hence the picture of councillor Katie Perrior on BBC’s Watchdog on 6th October. I don’t know whether she made a genuine complaint like a normal viewer or was called in to fill a hole as an ‘industry insider’, but the story was she had booked a British Airways flight to the USA and decided to “treat myself to an upgrade” only to find that her inflight entertainment system didn’t work. Katie’s complaint to BA resulted in £50 compensation but that wasn’t good enough for her, she complained to Watchdog; or as I suspect is more likely was bemoaning her luck in a posh wine bar with her media friends when it was realised that her disappointment with BA would ideally fill out a programme highlighting several BA failings.

Nothing much wrong with any of that, but what is a struggling Bexley mother, unable to be a councillor without her £22,615 allowance, who knows what it is like to be “not rich”, doing flitting off to the States at all, let alone splashing out on an upgrade to ‘Premium’ as a treat? Presumably it is because her letter to the Bexley Chronicle last March was an attempt to deceive the electorate. If that is how she thinks a councillor should behave, she is in good company at Bexley council.

Earlier blogs on Katie Perrior…


2 May 2011 - Flak over Flackley
22 May 2011 - Hypocrisy or what?
4 June 2011 - Taking lessons from Joseph
12 August 2011 - One broke the law, the other wants to
27 September 2011 - High flyer


For those tempted to watch the programme on BBC i-Player, our Katie comes on at 30:37 into the recording.
Ms. Perrior’s impoverished status taken from her letter to the Bexley Chronicle available on-line. May 2011 issue.

 

15 October (Part 2) - The council’s best intentions? Sounds ominous - click any image for photo gallery (6 images)

Garden viewGarden viewGarden viewThese rather poor photographs have been supplied by Bexley council‘s solicitor to the couple with the unusual garden. It is part of the latest round in their vendetta against a resident who has annoyed the council in the past.

In an accompanying letter Bexley council‘s Senior Solicitor (Litigation), Mr. Guy Atkins describes the garden as “ramshackle” but acknowledges it is less so than earlier this year. He has refused to withdraw the “formal procedural steps” towards criminal prosecution under Section 215 of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 because he is concerned that the residents will “import more items and materials onto the site”. Mr. Atkins assures them of “the council‘s best and unbiased intentions in this matter” but the residents remain under a five day warning that they may be prosecuted and given a criminal record.

There are more photographs in the photo gallery. I've seen far worse sights when criss-crossing the borough on the train that runs from Abbey Wood to Eltham.

Bexley council’s legal department discussed elsewhere.

Earlier blogs on this subject…


22 September - Don't dare to be different
23 September - The absolutely not listening council
2 October - Collusion
6 October - Bexley council pulling the strings

 

15 October (Part 1) - Setting the record straight

Letter to Evening StandardSetting the record straight. That is what one of Bexley council’s new web features is titled. In it the council tries to refute what is said about them in the media. They complain that “Unfortunately, final media reports are not always completely accurate or balanced”. This section of the website enables us to set the record straight.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Lowest car parking charges in SE London? One of the lowest council tax rates in Outer London? £3 million saved last year on recycling? None of it true. Nothing is straight about Bexley council, not even their new web pages.

In the first item leader Teresa O’Neill refers to 2,279 staff employed. Click image for the complete statement.

The Evening Standard’s report was poorly researched but the council’s figures are flawed too. The published list is not even the top 100 websites. It has counted as web pages all the internal links that modern web pages require for them to provide the facilities they do. Nearly half of Bexley council’s web pages are web utilities which are never viewed. Does no one at Bexley council understand anything?


Summary of responsibilities of the Chief ExecutiveWill Tuckley the chief executive claims 8,198 paid staff, nearly four times O’Neill’s figure.

Stand by for another one of Bexley council’s excuse pages. Not only might we see Bexley on The One Show next Wednesday but the Bonkers’ team has been working with the national media during the past week and we are hopeful things will come to fruition very very soon.

 

14 October (Part 3) - Councillor Craske said it. Get the pinch of salt ready

FOI responseIn recent days I have been inundated with documentation much of which I haven't read yet and some has been given only a cursory glance. One thing I noticed was that Bexley council doesn’t keep any records of the proportion of Residents’ Parking Permits bought on-line as this response to an FOI revealed.

Bexley magazineWhen the parking shop was closed on 29th January 2010 councillor Craske said in the council’s magazine that 62% of purchases were on-line.

It's a bit like the survey of permit holders he claimed at a council meeting to have conducted. An FOI showed that was false too.

 

14 October (Part 2) - £9 million bill for council

Wednesday was a good day for motorists unjustly and illegally fined by greedy councils. The man who was persuaded to park on the pavement in Lovell Road, Welling by confusing signage received the result of his appeal from the Parking Adjudicator. Bexley council is in the wrong again. On a rather larger scale, Notomob’s case that Westminster council’s fixed CCTV installations are uncertificated was also upheld by the adjudicator. A magnificent effort by Notomob. Full report here.

Next Wednesday may be another good day…
The One Show
Photos of BBC interviewing Notomob.

 

14 October (Part 1) - Technical adjustment

To cater for future development of the website the ‘Bexley Council is Bonkers’ logo is now overlaid on the banner with the aid of transparency. Internet Explorer 6 and earlier browsers do not support transparency and the banner will appear as a solid block on those old browsers. IE6 was introduced in 27th August 2001 and is now generally to be found only on old office computers. If a fix can be introduced it will be but it is not high priority.

 

13 October - Give us a clue; do

CluedoWas it the mayor in his Parlour on his i-Pad, leader Teresa O’Neill in her Chamber with a Blackberry, Will Tuckley in his Counting House on his gold plated laptop or Chris Loynes in the Library on his Notebook. Who at Bexley council cobbled together the obscenities posted on Google blogspot? Mr. Loynes is certainly the man in the spotlight for it was he who made the arrangements for Elwyn Bryant and myself to inspect the Register of Members’ Interests. In any open and transparent council that visit would have been unnecessary because the Register would be available on-line. In any open, transparent and honest council the author of the obscene blog would have long ago been exposed so that the council could in that overused phrase, ‘move on’. But no, this is Bexley, deeply dishonest Bexley where there is an established track record of council law breaking and fraudulent leaders. What have they and their military wing done?


• A Subject Access Request has been ignored and is now five months old. Bexley council will not respond to even the simplest of enquiries about it. The case is now under investigation by the Information Commissioner.
• The police when asked to investigate did not engage in even the most elementary enquiries. Instead they provided no evidence that didn’t sit on their hands until they eventually said their enquiries were exhausted.
• Under pressure from two MPs, one the Minister for Crime and Security, the borough Police Commander, Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer, ever ready to do Bexley council’s bidding, did nothing but write a meaningless letter.
• Attempts to discuss the case by telephone fail because someone somewhere regards the issue as so sensitive that the file has been marked ‘RESTRICTED’.
• A Freedom of Information Request to the Metropolitan Police asking technical questions and for dates was initially rejected on the grounds the questions were ‘Personal’.
• When the FOIs were eventually accepted they were never answered, these too have been referred to the Information Commissioner.


So the people who run Bexley have ganged up to protect one of their own; a perpetrator of a hate crime. A criminal. Who do you think that criminal is?

The speculation is centred on Chris Loynes. Head of Democratic Services and the one man who definitely did have the facts about the visit to the Civic Centre at his fingertips. For the past few months attempts to contact Mr. Loynes have failed. “He will be in this afternoon.” “He won’t be back until next week.” “He is on long term sick leave.” All rather inconsistent and we thought we had heard all the excuses. But no. The latest is “I’ll get Mr. Loynes to call you back.” And where does that call back come from? None other than from Nick Hollier, Director of Human Resources. Why should a call to Chris Loynes In the Democratic Services department get a call back from the Director of HR? To ensure consistency of excuse perhaps? To get their inconsistent responses sorted out? Does every call for someone who is absent get filtered through the Head of HR? I suspect not, but maybe if the someone was suspended for gross misconduct maybe they would.

Why can Bexley council never behave in a responsible and honest fashion? If there is a criminal in their midst why not just get rid of him, apologise for his behaviour and move on? Perhaps their is truth in the old adage about “honour among thieves”; Broadway is so very close to Arnsberg Way in every sense of the words.

Bexley council has recently taken to combatting adverse media reports on its website. Maybe if there is no truth in the Chris Loynes speculation they could say so there? Currently the fifth highest search phrase (Keyword) on Google - the highest are the obvious ones like ‘Bexley’ and ‘Bexley council’ - that leads to this website is ‘Chris Loynes Bexley'. That’s a bit odd isn’t it?

Speaking of adverse media reports, there have been suggestions that Bexley council would feature on the BBC’s The One Show this evening. I have been assured this is not the case but they may well get star billing on a later date.

 

12 October - Bexleyhealth Report

With councillors Malik, Newman and Sawyer in the public gallery to help justify their allowances the audience number just managed to reach double figures but after half an hour they disappeared and who can blame them, there was little to relieve the tedium and with a wife and toddler waiting in Witham there is no real contest for Alex Sawyer.

The meeting was chaired by councillor Ross Downing who did her best to keep things interesting with a light-hearted and sometimes jokey approach. Not everyone agreed it was appropriate but maybe they are still amazed by her husband’ performance last week.

There was half a dozen NHS professionals there. Mr. Pharoah representing the London Health Programme told us that cancer still had “poor outcomes” because of “late diagnosis” which I think most of us knew already. Earlier in the day I heard that a friend prescribed Ibuprofen, Codeine and a trip to a chiropractor for a painful back and much reduced mobility suffered all year is now believed to have myeloma of the spine. Most people will have a similar story to tell. Councillor Ashmole asked what Mr. Pharoah was doing about it but was told only that the situation was “complicated”.

The ambulance service man was interesting. Philip de Bruyn told us that since Queen Mary’s A&E Department closed, journeys to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, had risen to 9,759 (up 45%). Darent Valley Hospital to 3,890 (up 48%) and to the Princess Royal in Farnborough, 1301 (up 372%). To Sidcup the figure had fallen to 179 (down 3·5%). Overall the numbers had gone up (†) as were those classified as life-threatening.

Councillor Ball asked if there was a surge in 999 ambulance calls early in the morning because people don’t expect much from over-night medical services these days. The answer was “No”, the peak came in the middle of Monday morning because people couldn’t get hold of their doctors at the weekend and when they did get to see them there was a surge of GP referrals. Once again the GPs seem to be the weakest link.

Mr. de Bruyn modestly told an impressive story of mainly on target results for the local ambulance service including some which were UK best.

"The Chief Midwife’s report I would not describe as modest. Once again some impressive statistics were presented. 60 more midwives compared to a year ago. “Serious Incidents” reduced by a half. A new water birthing facility at Farnborough producing a “High woman satisfaction rate”. Consultants on call at all times. Plenty to be proud of I am sure, but it was all a little over-done and tinged with condescension. It was left to councillor Lucia-Hennis to bring the Chief Midwife down to earth with a bump. She said something like, “I have been presented with three new grandchildren this year. None of the mothers were told of the wonderful new facilities at Farnborough and elsewhere”.

Something that characterised all the medical reports was the excessive use of acronyms. I knew what ENT was, I could work out what CS was because it was in a maternity context. I guessed that the HSMR was something to do with mortality rates but the U of SUI remained a mystery. Only councillor Gillespie was honest enough or perhaps brave enough to own up that he was having to guess too. Chairman Downing gently chided him for his ignorance. The medical professionals filled in some of the gaps in our knowledge.

Towards the end of the meeting the future of the Queen Mary's Hospital site was discussed. Those interested should take a look at last night’s agenda (Go to Page 41 for the QMH update) as it is far too long to be summarised here. However the council’s planning officer reminded the meeting that QMH was subject to “green belt protection” so any development must be severely restricted. His four sentences delivered at close to ten o'clock will have done his time off in lieu status no harm at all.

By then the number in the public gallery had fallen to the five usual suspects. The press was not represented.

† Ambulance journeys 25 November 2010 to 31 August 2011.

 

11 October (Part 3) - One rule for them…

Bexley council has a Customer charter authorised by its cabinet that imposes minimum standards on its employees for answering letters and phone calls. Bexley council has a Customer services statement authorised by its cabinet that imposes minimum standards on its employees for answering letters and phone calls and emails. No I am not trapped in a repeat loop, there are very similar pages on the council’s messy website but they don’t say the same thing. Not that it matters, that isn’t the point I wanted to make. That was that the cabinet’s statement on service standards recognises that answering correspondence quickly is important but it specifically doesn’t apply to themselves. An enquiry on that very point produced a clear answer. Councillors can do what they like; where have I heard that expression before? There is no requirement on them to answer any enquiry, by email, letter, or in the street.

 

11 October (Part 2) - Sending emails

A personal message to the gentleman who phoned from a Withheld number at 15:37 yesterday leaving a message to say that when he clicked on the email button on the Contact page his computer reported “mail client is not properly installed” and asked for advice.

This will occur if the computer includes a software package such as Microsoft Works or Microsoft Office but the user hasn’t set it up with the details supplied by his ISP, preferring instead to use their webmail facilities. I shall look into providing a php based form on the Contact page as I understand that may solve the problem. Meanwhile if you are using webmail try using mail@ followed by the domain name which is bexley-is-bonkers.co.uk. The email address is not put on the site in a fully readable format because it would attract spam. The mail@ is changed occasionally as a spam prevention measure.

 

11 October (Part 1) - Bexleyheath Police Farce

Chief Inspector StringerWhen the police said that their enquiries into Bexley council’s obscene blog were exhausted I thought it was more than likely that they had sat on their hands for a decent period and then given their stock ‘let’s look after Bexley council’ reply and so I dashed off my first ever Freedom of Information request. It asked a few technical questions about what had been done and the dates on which anything might have been done. The FOI was at first rejected on the grounds the questions were “personal” but after some argument they were accepted. There has been no response and the answers are now a week overdue. Another indication of police corruption?

A friend who visited an exhibition of police history a couple of weeks ago found that the City of London police were one of many exhibitors. He posed the obscene blog question to a senior officer there and asked if it was a particularly difficult crime to solve. “Oh no”, came the answer. “We have a special understanding with Google, that’s an easy one.”

Last week a solicitor contacted me and suggested an interesting legal route towards forcing the police to come clean. Maybe it would be worth a try.

 

10 October (Part 2) - Inaccurate and misleading

Inaccurate and misleading
Bexley council is still harping on about the petition against fat cat salaries, I’m beginning to think they are worried. One of their excuses is that Will Tuckley controls a £500 million pound budget - as if that is a valid reason. How big a budget does any government minister control? Far more than that and on half Tuckley’s salary. Earlier today I was reading how Wiltshire County Council with a billion pound budget paid their Chief Executive £183,000 and decided that even that was too much and dropped the post entirely. Bexley’s £500 million budget excuse is totally irrelevant.

If you work your way through the nightmare that is Bexley council’s website you will eventually find the page that includes the text in the panel above. It includes the link http://www.bexley.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6814 but it is not active, they make you type it out as deterrent to looking.

When you get to the page it is about Will Tuckley only. The introductory page says it covers all senior managers. Inaccurate and misleading?

If the intention was to inform, all the data would be clearly tabulated, but it is not. It is a long and less than comprehensive narrative which fails to mention the total remuneration, just the component parts. Inaccurate and misleading?

The page says that the poor Chief Executive has to work some evenings and weekends and is on call for emergencies and doesn’t get paid extra for it. That is exactly what any middle or senior manager would expect. It’s identical to the conditions I enjoyed before retirement. The page fails to mention the council’s Flexi-time arrangements and the Time off in lieu scheme. Inaccurate and misleading?

Does Tuckley’s generous Annual Leave entitlement of 32 days a year include Public Holidays or not? It doesn’t say but what do you think? Answer.

The page confirms the £208,983 figure used on the petition and separately mentions the £8,264 payment if there is an election. £7,077 towards running a car - with the alternative of taking the cash. £2,829 allowance for hospitality etc. The 20% of salary paid by the council towards his pension scheme. Who is being misleading here? Bexley council? Or the petitioners who didn't want to over-egg the pudding by telling residents the real cost of Will Tuckley? The Taxpayers’s Alliance put Tuckley's benefits above £240,000 a year ago. The total cost could be close to £270,000. The petitioner’s figure is neither inaccurate nor misleading but Bexley council’s webpage is not as transparent as they like to make out.

Interesting to see how a handful of mainly elderly gentlemen can panic Bexley council so easily.

 

10 October (Part 1) - BBC Panorama

For reasons half forgotten, a forthcoming Panorama programme likely to expose the British National Party as being run by fraudsters and criminals was mentioned here a month ago; but the programme was postponed. However it is now scheduled for this evening at 20:30 on BBC1.

I had a phone call from a Panorama producer a few days ago. I’ll say no more or we’ll have Will Tuckley dashing down the road to see his mate Dave Stringer again.

 

9 October (Part 2) - The petition rolls on

Eric Pickles and Teresa O'NeillThe chaps who have been gathering signatures began their task in Brampton Ward because it is ‘home’ to council leader Teresa O’Neill who has many times gone on the record to say what wonderful value the council’s top brass is. Now we know that her next door neighbours do not agree; virtually everyone in the nearby streets do not agree but what wasn’t so clear is whether the poshest areas of Bexley would say the same. Following the encounter with Bexley’s rudest councillor last Thursday the petitioners decided to give some attention to the Millionaires’ Rows to the south of the borough and where better to start than councillor Downing’s Steynton Avenue? Far from being a difficult patch as half expected the success rate was as high as ever and the 2,000 signature petition is now three quarters complete. There was a refusal from a Porsche polisher who lives next door to a councillor but the man in Camden Road opposite councillor Campbell (who, unlike Downing, was quite good humoured about not signing but decided he had to rush off in his Merc somewhere) was far more typical. “I earn more than that. The difference is I have to work for mine and if I make any mistakes I’m out on my ear. Gimme that; let me sign it.”

Nobody likes Bexley council except perhaps Eric who might give a green light to the gravy train in return for having his Pickles squeezed by Teresa O’Neill.

 

9 October (Part 1) - Danson Festival

Danson Festival logoThe Danson Festival was discussed in council committee last Thursday. Much of the agenda was taken up with a list of the entertainments on offer, the record visitor numbers and the amount of advertising needed to attract 70,000 plus visitors.

The agenda is rather reticent about the costs; it mentions that the advertising was obtained at below normal rates and that Cory Environmental Trust’s sponsorship and cost reduction measures together brought in £28,000 but that a shortfall of £32,000 will have to be met from efficiencies elsewhere. It looks as though the fun and games comes at a high price. Although the council’s agenda dodged the issue it is known that the management company, Richmond Event Management, put in a bill for £118,000. The local press at the time reported that the rubbish clear up afterwards wasn’t all it might have been and the council committee heard that 0·94 tonnes of paper and cardboard, 0·86 tonnes of plastics and cans and 0·4 tonnes of glass was collected and sent for recycling; so a useful £63 will have been made from the litter left behind. (Using the council’s figures).

 

8 October - Site maintenance

I have had a complaint. “Can you make your website an inch narrower?” As the complainer didn’t say whether he was looking on a Blackberry or his internet enabled plasma TV it wasn’t a very helpful suggestion but I have at times regretted fixing the page width at 1040 pixels back in 2009 because it is just a bit too wide for older 1024x768 screens. So I have grasped the nettle and reduced the width to 960 pixels which is much the same as the BBC use. It’s not all that easy to make a web page look OK on all the devices that might view it but I feel it is important to try. Some organisations don’t bother presumably because they couldn't give a stuff for their readers. Here’s an example of the same site as viewed at three different screen sizes. The people who did it should be shot.

Note: The complainer is well known to me; I wouldn’t ordinarily seek to take the proverbial out of a reader, not unless it’s a councillor anyway!
Bexley website wide
Bexley website mediumAt medium screen widths the option to change Contrast ironically disappears because it gets placed over a tree. The Services and Features menus merge and become inaccessible.

Bexley website narrowWith smaller screens the A-Z list of Services disappears entirely.

If you click on the link “Bexley publishes the top 100 websites visited by staff” you will see a letter from council leader Teresa O’Neill - yes, she is still around apparently, just invisible to those who don’t watch TV - to the Evening Standard about an article they published last Tuesday about the websites visited by Bexley council staff. Of all the things they could choose to criticise Bexley council for the Evening Standard chooses web stats!

I have to say I agree with Teresa O’Neill. Website statistics need to be studied with great care and many of the numbers Bexley council published will have a rational explanation and many will be worthless. Nearly half of the so called top 100 sites visited are not websites at all but various internet facilities that support websites. If Bexley council feels that publishing their web statistics is worthwhile, can they please do the job properly?

It’s not very impressive that they decided to publish some unimportant numbers but it took complaints by the Bexley Council Monitoring Group to get last year’s Accounts published on line. More about that another time.

I’m expecting Mr. Cromwell’s website to be back on line before the weekend is out. Hosted in some shack under a palm tree on a Pacific Island I suspect and probably brasher and ruder than ever.

 

7 October (Part 2) - Rattling their cages

Council's statement on salaries
It’s always nice when Bexley council acknowledges their critics, whether it be a harassment letter or a press statement. Today they have posted a message on their website about the Bexley Council Monitoring Group’s petition which if I have counted correctly has now had five press mentions. The council gives it a heading of ‘Setting the record straight’: when was any Bexley council statement straight? Cheapest car parking, among the lowest council tax rates, top recycler, £3 million pound saved. Straight as a corkscrew. Their statement is that the petition is inaccurate and misleading; note that they do not say in what way it is inaccurate or misleading. All the illustrative figures were taken from Bexley council’s website. The petition does not require the council to debate individual salaries as Bexley council dishonestly claimed in its initial press release…
Petition
A recent conversation with a councillor who I would rather not name revealed that they had all been told the petition was “inaccurate and misleading” but when that councillor was shown the petition (s)he realised that it was quite different to the officially disseminated information.

Bexley council is in full on headless chicken mode; to mark the occasion the site’s Home page and the site banner has been overlaid with a new graphic.

 

7 October (Part 1) - Refuse to accept their rubbish figures - click table for expanded version

Cost of rubbish disposal tableA reader from Bromley has pointed out that the cost of refuse collections table published a couple of days ago doesn’t add up. Nothing in Bexley quite adds up but I should have noticed. Adding the rows sideways, two rows tally and two don’t, though I accept that one is probably a mistype. I still think the whole thing is an arithmetical fiddle. If I decide to get rid of the unwatched box set of DVDs given to me last Christmas by sending them to a friend as a birthday present it might cost me £2 to take the bus to the Post Office (the collection cost) and £10 to have them take the parcel away (the disposal cost).

If I decide a better idea is to recycle the DVDs through ebay for £20 and deliver the package in my own car using £5’s worth of petrol I will have made £15. I won’t have made £15 plus the £12 I might otherwise have spent disposing of the discs according to the original plan. Yet this is exactly the flawed logic that Bexley council employ in their accounting for refuse disposal costs - and then cannot even add the fiddled numbers correctly.

£3 million saved last year - yeah, right!

 

6 October (Part 3) - Crime and Disorder - click image for photo gallery (1 image)

Dead wood in and out of the council chamberThere was a meeting of the Crime and Disorder committee at the Civic Offices last night. There was no disorder but the expenditure of time and money might be considered a crime. It was chaired by councillor Alan Downing who controls it well enough and he began by welcoming “Members” to the meeting. I can imagine he would not welcome three members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group being present but I have not known any other chairman to not welcome members of the public to a meeting before. When councillor Steven Hall chaired the Audit Committee in June he even managed to sound totally sincere with his welcome. Councillor Downing didn’t even welcome his guest speakers, not even Police Commander Stringer, so perhaps he really is the rudest councillor in Bexley.

The principal guest speaker was Mr. Nick Darvill who presented the work of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust which was impressive, surprising and sometimes moving. CACT appears to be doing an amazing job, keeping youngsters on the straight and narrow. The CACT website might be a bit of an eye-opener if you are not already aware of their work. I was ready to give a round of applause when Mr. Darvill sat down but he didn’t even get a word of thanks which was really quite embarrassing. Maybe councillor Val Clark will be sending out some of her parsimonious appreciation letters.

After that things went further downhill. Councillors Ball, Clark, Craske, Hall, Massey and Read all made comments at one time or another but nothing of any note. Read begins every question or comment by heaping praise on the council and if I mention that councillor Steven Hall (East Wickham) asked the most incisive questions, like “how are children [to be placed on a remedial course] identified?” and “what sanctions are there against children who don’t turn up [at CACT training sessions]?” you will understand why the others are not worth quoting.

In an Agenda segment that seemed like a digression to me councillor Ball asked what safeguards there were against the new council performance parameters being chosen by cabinet members solely to massage the cabinet member’s self-esteem. Perhaps he had in mind the spurious claim to have “the lowest parking charges in SE London” but if he did it would be impossible for the crimson councillor Craske to blush any more.

Councillor Alex Sawyer had been appointed to chair a sub-committee on the probation service and presented his report in a businesslike fashion. He went through it quickly and clearly and I understood every point he was making which is in stark contrast to the waffling that comes from too many of those present. I have yet to decide whether councillor Sawyer is a cut above the average Bexley councillor or whether I am biased because from many angles, most angles if I am honest, he could be mistaken for my own son’s twin brother - if he had one. It is hard for me not to stare. But on balance I suspect Sawyer is a good deal brighter than some of his colleagues.

Councillor Sawyer opined that some of those who didn’t co-operate with the probation services should perhaps be shown “more stick and a little less carrot”. This should make for harmonious matrimonial relations when he next meets up with Ms. Patel his wife, the MP for Witham, who was on BBC Question Time two weeks ago expounding the virtues of capital punishment.

We had to wait until nearly ten o’clock to hear the words of wisdom from Borough Police Commander, Chief Inspector Dave Stringer; and we didn’t get any. In commenting on a trial in Barnehurst of greater cooperation between his Safer Neighbourhood Team and the Neighbourhood Watch he said that “not much data came in because there is not much crime in Barnehurst”. Brilliant! Couldn’t he have worked that out before he wasted everyone’s time?

The quotations attributed to councillor Hall may not be word perfect but they are very close. Similarly councillor Ball’s comment about ‘Cabinet Portfolio Priorities’ is only an indication of his precise words. With recording banned that is the best that could be achieved. The dead tree outside the Bexley Civic Offices is intended to symbolise the calibre of most of the people inside last night. The total number of members of the public present was four. Apathy allows the dead wood to rule.

 

6 October (Part 2) - Is he the rudest councillor in Bexley?

Councillor Alan DowningMy colleague Elwyn Bryant sent an email to his ward councillor Alan Downing (St. Mary’s £18,220 - his wife, Cray Meadows, ditto) a week ago and as there had been no response approached him at the Civic Offices to ask about it. Downing said “Why should I reply?” “Well it’s normal practice to reply to correspondence.” “Only if it is useful to me to do so.” said Downing, adding “I guess you will quote me on this.” He then appeared to get rather flustered, asked Elwyn to go and backed away.

 

6 October (Part 1) - Bexley council pulling the strings - click any image for photo gallery (2 images)

StringNo stringYesterday I returned to the garden which Bexley council has described as ‘derelict’ for a meeting with interested parties and while there went into the back garden which I didn’t when I photographed the removal of the neighbour’s roof rubbish. I noticed that the neighbour’s tension string pulling the fence over had been removed too. The collusion between Bexley council and the neighbour was certainly thorough.

 

5 October (Part 2) - Refuse disposal costs - click either table for expanded versions

After casting doubt on Bexley council’s claim to be London’s top recycler - the figure relies on Bexley throwing away far more food and garden waste than other boroughs - and seriously doubting Bexley council saved anything last year on refuse collection, let alone the £3 million they claimed, someone sent me these council documents.

They show that however you dress the figures up, refuse collection is costly. Bexley spends £44.83 net (sum of final column, Figure 1) on collecting the average household’s rubbish. If you are one of the many who considers refuse collection to be the only service you can see the council providing in return for your council tax, it is obviously not much of a bargain.

However the figures do show exactly what I suspected; ‘manufacturing’ more compost is costing a lot of money but it helps boost Bexley in the refuse recycling league table. If a quarter of the amount collected was composted at home the saving would be little more than fifty pence per household but Bexley would fall dramatically in the league table. It’s not much money to spend on boosting Bexley councillors’ egos. If you love Bexley council, go out and clip your hedge.

 

5 October (Part 1) - Newsreel

2010/11 Budget Book


Yesterday the council belatedly put last year’s budget book on line. A cursory examination shows that they spent £353,000 on upgrading the car park at the Thames Innovation Centre. According to figures revealed in the Public Realm meeting agenda the TIC has been responsible for creating nine new jobs. The TIC may have originally been a Labour job creation scheme but don’t let the Tories fool you into thinking they can manage money any better.


Intimidation


It’s not just gardeners, allotment association members and bloggers who Bexley council try to smother, it's social housing tenants too. A family that was moved into London & Quadrant accommodation discovered it was a timber framed building with little or no sound installation so they could literally hear their upstairs neighbours roll over while in bed. There were complaints to L&Q, Bexley council and local councillors. When both tenant and councillors seemed likely to meet at a public event Bexley council wrote to the tenant warning him that he must on no account approach his councillors in a public place. L&Q were much more helpful, they accepted there was a problem and moved the family which is now very content with their new accommodation.

Name and contact details of tenant known but withheld for fear of retaliation by Bexley council.


Not all bad


Two sources of critical material for the blog wish to show that some Bexley staff members remain impervious to the culture coming down from on high. A hedge on council property that had grown to twelve or more feet high was found to be damaging neighbouring property. The owner of that property asked the council to inspect their hedge and Phil Goddard who is engaged on ‘Ground Maintenance’ said there was no budget available for the job but agreed that a serious problem was developing. Two weeks later the hedge had been trimmed to the total satisfaction of the adjacent property owner.

When a heavily laden Serco refuse vehicle ran over a pavement and badly damaged it Tony Hughes and Andrew Jones who are part of the Craske/Frizoni outfit had it repaired the same day. There is some dispute about how long they took to get to the site but it seems it must have been between five and twenty minutes. Maybe they have taken a leaf out of the parking enforcement rule book and hide in side streets and pounce the moment they see a job to do.


Bexley council staff’s use of the web


I’m not sure why anyone would want to know but someone asked the council in an FOI what were the top website destinations of council employees from their office computers. The FOI was never answered but a few days ago a new page popped up on the council’s website giving exactly that information. If you want to see your best guess confirmed and that Google, the BBC, Amazon and ebay all feature highly then maybe this is council tax money well spent. Thousands of hours a month were spent looking at the BBC and Amazon, all in staff lunch breaks I expect.

OK, if it is such a good idea to tell the world that Bexley staff spent 125 hours looking at Sky News last month I had better get in on the act myself…


"bexley is bonkers" "bexley council" bexley bonkers"
"bexleyisbonkers" "bexley phone parking" "bonkers bexley"
"fat controller bexley" "alex sawyer priti patel" "bexley recycling statistics"
"chris loynes bexley" "priti patel alex sawyer" "commander stringer"

What’s that all about? The top twelve keywords entered into search engines last month that resulted in a direct link to the Bexley is Bonkers website. Thousands of them in some cases. Marginally more fascinating than the fact that Bexley council staff shop at Amazon I’m sure you will agree. But maybe not much more. The sequence reads from left to right.


More guidance to councils from Mr. Pickles


The Secretary of State for Communities is still trying to get councils to be more transparent. After asking Bexley to be more welcoming to “Citizen Journalists” (and failing in his attempt) he has asked them to publish the names of all their employees earning more than £58,200 a year and how much more Tuckley is paid compared to the lowest earners.

The PDF file of the code of practice issued last week may be downloaded from the government department’s website.

 

4 October (Part 3) - Pigs might fly - Click the YouTube button to see the ‘Biffa Bailey’ video again full-size

Regular readers will remember Olly Cromwell for his persistent attempts to do what the government says he should be free to do, namely video a public council meeting if he wants to. For his pains councillor Linda Bailey set upon him physically with her now infamous cry of “I can do what I like”. Following that he was banned from attending future council meetings.

Last night he decided to find out if the ban applied to committee meetings too. He sat quietly behind me waiting for the meeting to begin. At 19:30 as the Public Realm meeting was due to start, councillor and meeting chairman Cheryl Bacon said there was someone in the room who was “likely to disrupt the meeting” and the doorman asked Olly to leave or he would call the police. Olly said he would like him to do that and we sat patiently waiting for the fuzz to appear. Thirteen minutes later we had the pleasure of the company of one Inspector, one Sergeant and three Police Constables. As soon as they appeared Olly got up and walked out without uttering a word. Unfortunately I involuntarily broke my rule to never say anything in the council chamber; I said “That’s democracy Bexley style” at which councillor June Slaughter who was sitting within six feet of me turned around to say Olly was being evicted “because he writes offensive nonsense”. Olly strives to get at the truth which will be offensive to many at Bexley council and his blog writing style is undoubtedly crude, but I’m not convinced it is all “nonsense”. But probably councillor Slaughter is typical when she believes that residents can be excluded from the democratic process for crudity or any other activity they might choose to label anti-Bexley. Accusations of being ‘Vexatious’ spring to mind.

You might think that Olly getting up and leaving the meeting without a word being spoken would be the end of the matter, but no, Bexleyheath’s finest had their paymasters to please. They tried to arrest him for breach of the peace. They took him to a small room to interrogate him. They claimed he had breached the peace and they were entitled to have his name and address. Olly said they weren’t having either. The senior officer intervened and threatened him with arrest for “abusive electronic communications”. Olly continued to say no; instead he berated them for enforcing council rules rather than upholding the law of the land.

Olly said the Civic Offices were public buildings and it was his right to be there. The police said the council chamber was a private building and he was trespassing. If the Town Hall is not a public building then surely nothing is a public building?

The five policemen were intent on getting Olly for something so they invented a crime called ‘Prevention of Breach of the Peace’ which must be some sort of thought crime. Olly eventually left without any more illegal harassment by Bexley council’s puppets. Muppets.

The three preceding paragraphs include information supplied by Olly himself.

The Notomob crew are inclined to pop in and out of the council chamber at intervals, drinks; smokes or weak bladders I do not know, but they report that police remained on the premises and were still there when they left around 21:30. The police had gone by 21:50. One must assume that Bexleyheath police regard the totally law-abiding Notomob as a threat and me and two friends as harmless. What is more worrying is that Bexleyheath was five officers short for an hour or so and three short for two hours or more (the senior officers got fed up and went home earlier) because of Bexley council’s stupidity over a man who has done nothing worse than write a few rude words on a blog. A blog which was removed when it mentioned the less than impressive Chief Inspector Stringer of Bexleyheath police. The same Chief Inspector Stringer who has failed to investigate a rather worse crime that while probably not committed by Chris Loynes of Bexley council, then by someone to whom he passed information. Is it too much to hope for the end of one rule for them, one rule for everyone else? Pigs might fly.

 

4 October (Part 2) - Barbarism at the Public Realm meeting

When I first went to a Public Realm meeting I was looking forward to seeing councillor Craske in the chair but he takes a back seat and is often to be seen staring into space and looking very bored indeed, not that anyone could reasonably blame him for that. Cheryl Bacon is the barely adequate chairman; maybe the “barely” could be dropped if she learned how to use the microphone, as it is she can be close to inaudible. She should take lessons from Jane Richardson, the council’s Deputy Director of Strategic Planning and Regeneration who is something of an expert in the field, every word comes across perfectly.

Philip Read TwittererAs is becoming the norm, I knew every one of the people in the public gallery by name. All eight of us; soon reduced to seven as will be reported later. Councillors Downing, Sawyer and Read were also in the audience but they didn’t remain until the end, the twit Read had an urgent appointment with his Twitter account to be kept. By the time the meeting ended at 21:50 only three members of the public had stayed the course.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon began the meeting by reminding members of the public that Bexley council is intent on defying government guidelines and that no form of recording was permitted. She was so keen on restricting that aspect of democracy that she repeated the message half way through the meeting. A “barely adequate” chairman shouldn’t be expected to favour a permanent record.

Councillor Bacon’s chairmanship did not get off to a good start. Councillors Tandy, Malik and June Slaughter all objected to the way she was unwilling to listen to possible issues with the minutes of the last meeting. She wanted them signed A.S.A.P.

Not for the first time Munir Malik was the only councillor asking sharp questions. He asked why the preface to the draft Parking Report compared Bexley with the very different boroughs of Camden and Newham and his colleague Brenda Langstead asked why it compared Bexley’s parking charges with the only nearby one which was dearer, namely the central tourist area of Greenwich. Mike Frizoni, Deputy Director of Public Realm Management excused the deceptions in the preface by saying that a table buried within the report provided more comparisons.

Far from sharp was the questioning of councillor Colin Tandy who was mugging up on road safety with a copy of The Highway Code by his side. He was concerned that ice-cream vans were parking on yellow lines and thought that the enforcement contractor should be alerted when it happened. Something along the lines of John Major’s ‘Cones Hot-line’ presumably. Councillor Tandy was so anxious that the ice-cream problem should be licked that he raised the issue twice. Or maybe he isn’t anxious at all and the repetition should be taken as a warning of impending senility.

Councillors Brad Smith and James Spencer were both interested in why the “myths” about Bexley’s draconian parking regime circulated so widely when, or so it was implied, Bexley is such a paragon of humanely administered benevolence. No answer was forthcoming from anyone.

With the debate centred on ice-cream and myth it was left to councillor Malik to demonstrate yet again that it is not mandatory for Bexley councillors to be ineffectual. The Thamesmead Tiger got into his stride…

Why is the parking regime in Bexley “barbaric”? Why are Bexley’s mobile camera cars displaying the wrong sort of warning sign on the wrong side of the road? Why (following the introduction of telephone parking I assume) are roads that were full of cars now less than 25% full? Why is pavement parking so severely frowned on when in many cases it is the sensible thing to do? We need “to play fair” he said, and “be more friendly to users of our streets”. Mike Frizoni conceded that parking revenue was indeed down but councillor Craske; are you ready for this? was sympathetic to Munir’s remarks about pavement parking. Maybe he hadn’t fully woken up at the time because he went on to attempt a justification for comparing Bexley with Camden.

Councillor Munir MalikCouncillor Malik wasn’t finished. He claimed that “parking revenue was being used to keep down council tax” and both he and councillor Smith didn’t seem to like the implications of 6,459 penalty notices being cancelled on appeal. 841 cases went to the Parking Adjudicator and in 413 of them Bexley council was found to be at fault. Their point was that too many PCNs were issued incorrectly. Mr. Frizoni seemed to think that didn’t matter because the contractor didn’t get paid for such cases. Councillor Malik’s thoughts were with the several thousand Bexley residents a year who are put through unnecessary trauma and stress by Bexley’s “barbaric” parking regime. It is for that reason that five of the eight members of the public present were our motorcycling friends from Notomob, including Martin Peaple who Bexley council set their lapdogs on, Bexleyheath’s bovver boys in blue.

Among other things noted was that both councillor Malik and Deputy Director Frizoni had both met with Greenwich council over the County Gate issue - whether together or separately was not made clear - and that Greenwich promised to conduct surveys of nearby roads last month. Whether they did so or not is unknown. A possibly interesting statistic provided was that NSL (the parking contractor) is contracted to work 52,800 hours a year on behalf of Bexley but achieved only 48,995 hours. There was no talk of a penalty or rebate being imposed only that they hope to do better next year. Well it’s only taxpayers’ money wasted.

Something else that has so far proved to be a waste is the CCTV network. It was grossly over-specified because there were hopes that the spare capacity could be sold off to other local authorities with Bexley monitoring towns both far and near. At the time of writing none of this has come to fruition.

Despite councillor Read’s twitter shown above I have no note nor any recollection of any councillor talking about parking in Northumberland Heath.

 

4 October (Part 1) - Boris takes the pledge

There was a letter from a Mr. Leman in last week’s News Shopper drawing attention to “massive roadworks in Bexley, Crayford and Bexleyheath making thousands of us late for work” which went on to suggest overnight and weekend working to speed up completion. The letter blames utility companies although the longest disruption I ever saw locally was caused by Bexley council and its contractor; the B213 between Abbey Wood and Belvedere was in chaos for more than a year from the beginning of 2009. But Mr. Leman has a point and the Mayor of London agrees with him. Boris has given us his pledge…

On TRLN roads, (Transport for London’s Road Network), he has introduced a cap on the number of roadworks allowed at any one time and his instructions to contractors include not leaving the works standing idle, keeping the road open at peak times and if that isn’t possible to work 24/7. The cap is being steadily reduced to speed traffic flow. By next Spring ‘Road Rental’ will be introduced. Bus drivers’ responsibilities have been extended to reporting roadworks that do not comply with the Mayor’s requirements.

On non-TRLN roads, local authorities still do their own thing which may explain why my friend who drives daily across Bromley and Bexley is always so scathing about Bexley’s failure to keep the traffic flowing. 95% of London’s roads are maintained by local authorities but the Mayor has “encouraged” them to implement similar rules and regulations to those he has. Presumably Bexley council will do what it always does with guidelines and ignore them, but when you see roadworks in Bexley dragging on and on, remember it’s a council failure to live up to its slogan. “Working for You.”

 

3 October - Mayor Sams scores another own goal

Mayor Ray SamsFilibusters and lies. Curtailing question time. Planting friendly questions to waste time. Restricting questions to matters of policy. Publishing the names and addresses of questioners on their website to act as a deterrent. Changing their constitution so that anyone Bexley council dislikes can be barred from asking questions. Banning questions that have been asked before, even if they weren’t answered. Stretching the interval between meetings to sixteen weeks. Bexley council is ingenious with its attempts to block democracy wherever it can.

A school of thought is that it is not worth asking Bexley council questions at meetings because it is rare to get a straight answer. In practice all it gives is an opportunity for a cabinet member to try to be clever or flippant in front of a tiny audience few of whom will believe a word he is saying. Asking questions via Freedom of Information (FOI) request should be more effective. If Bexley council lies or otherwise refuses to respond the questioner has recourse to the Information Commissioner and when appropriate, cases can be given coverage here with an audience of several thousands rather than the handful in the council chamber.

But not everyone agrees and some believe that open democracy should not be so easily given up and not all questions can be shaped into an FOI. One such individual attempted to put forward such a question for the next council meeting on 2nd November. “Will the Leader of the Council please state what steps have been taken by her or Bexley’s Cabinet in order to comply with the recommendation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, that no employee of the Council should receive a salary package in excess of £100.000.00. And, if no such steps have been taken, would the Leader explain in as much detail as possible, why not?”

The question was immediately thrown out by the grinning clown pictured above. The question does not fall foul of any of the obstacles put in the way by the cretins in charge of Bexley council, the similar question posed in the petition doesn’t count because the petition has yet to be presented. The grinning buffoon says the question is “vexatious”. Bexley council has no definition of the word vexatious, a recent FOI proved that, but the dictionary says that it is something that would cause annoyance. All questioning annoys Bexley council so as a ‘catch-all, kick out every question’ routine it is hard to fault.

But Sam’s intransigence and refusal to accept a question confers a few advantages over answering it. An answer would almost certainly have provided proof that Bexley council is intent on raising two fingers in Eric Pickles’ direction just as not answering it does, but by rejecting it he provides proof positive that Bexley council’s fatuous slogan “Listening to you’ is a public relations fraud just like the ‘Saving £3 million’ advert for recycling. It certainly proves that mayor Sams and the ne’re do wells who cling to his skirt are not going to take any notice of either government or the local population, and sooner or later that will prove to be a lethal combination.

In his inaugural speech, Sams claimed to be a keen Charlton FC supporter but on the football club’s forum it says he treats supporters the same as he does Bexley residents. Typical Sams’ quote… “go away I don't want to talk to you". Nice man.

 

2 October - Collusion? - Click any image for photo gallery (4 images)

Netting on a shed roofNetting being removedScrap dealerSomething that has been reported more than once is that influential offenders against planning conditions are tipped off by Bexley council before they carry out an inspection. No one has ever been able to provide documentary evidence so such reports are not a lot of use, but last week something happened which suggests there may be some truth in the stories.

The first photo on the left was taken on my first visit to the ‘fairy grotto’ garden. It shows the complainant’s garden buildings to be a worse eyesore than the lady Bexley council has been hounding. The following day I showed it and some similar ones to the council inspector, John Waring. The rubbish has been on the shed roof for a year or more but by one of those strange coincidences, less than a week later it was taken away.

If it wasn’t a coincidence it would have been because the untidy garden owner had seen the pictures here or Bexley council had tipped him off that having a less tidy garden than the neighbour he was complaining about might not do his case any good.

While I was taking the photos of the rubbish removal someone asked if I was the victim’s solicitor. I said “No” and briefly explained what I was doing. At the time I was unaware that person was the complaining neighbour but he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about or anything of this website; so it seems reasonable to conclude that the rubbish removal was a huge coincidence or Bexley council does indeed take sides and assist those with which it has links or against those who have criticised it in the past.

The scrap men were of East European origin. It looked as though they had recently acquired the truck from a North London electrical contractor. Maybe Bexley council could check the truck out and if the owners have no waste licence, prosecute the complaining neighbour for illegal waste disposal. The vehicle registration number and other details are clearly visible in the photo gallery.

 

1 October - Daft as a brush

GoldenbroomboyBexley ManThe News Shopper did a well researched feature on the petition against excessive salaries last week and on its letter page two out of three emailed comments were on the same subject. Someone calling himself Golden Broom Boy had flown into action without engaging his brain claiming a pay cut would breach contracts. The petition asked for contracts to be renegotiated, that’s all. It called on the council to take “appropriate steps to revise all Contracts of Employment”. How do you think Bexley council changed the conditions of lesser mortals Broom Boy?

John Watson got his group’s petition an airing on LBC radio yesterday morning. (Transcript here.) Bexley council’s statement was read out by LBC presenter Nick Ferrari who didn’t find it difficult to shoot it down. John Watson and his friends are working hard to provide Bexley council with more media excitement.

Something John and his team have done already is to ask every councillor to sign the petition but they will all refuse or ignore it. If John gets a reply it will be along the lines of “I decline to sign your petition as it is a total misrepresentation of the actual truth”. How do I know? Because that is what councillor Val Clark (Falconwood & Welling) has said already and circulated as a draft reply to all her colleagues. The woman showed herself to be a complete and utter twit as mayor and she proves herself to be the consummate idiot now. How can a request to “appeal to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Teresa O’Neill, to support her Government and do the right thing by urgently taking the appropriate steps to revise all Contracts of Employment of staff at Bexley Council to ensure that no individual’s salary package exceeds £100,000.00 as recommended by Eric Pickles” be misrepresenting the facts? The only facts are that the Minister for Communities has told councils what he considers to be reasonable and Bexley is intent on ignoring him and misrepresenting both uncomfortable truths. You would expect a greater intellect from a councillor but they all seem incapable of rising to any occasion. Intellectually bereft.

It seems councillor Sybil Camsey was right, no councillor will read the petition, they won’t take any notice and they don’t care.

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