Answers to councillors’ questions tend to fall into two categories. Those
from Labour members which get no answer or a dishonest one, and those from
Conservative councillors who are provided with a catalogue of favourable facts
and half truths exactly as the questioner intended, thereby enhancing their
chance of promotion. Last night was no exception. There were 32 questions and
time for three answers.
Councillor Deadman (Labour) asked Cabinet member Colin Campbell if he could agree that “the bedroom tax will bring personal hardship for many people”. Campbell said he had checked with the relevant government department and had been unable to identify any such levy and was therefore unable to answer the question.
Councillor Deadman tried again and Campbell replied that only 965 Bexley social housing tenants had a single spare bedroom with a further 289 having two or more - the ‘or more’ being pretty much nil as few council tenants occupy houses that big. Quite a lot of tenants had already agreed to the financial changes and a very few had asked to be moved. The flexibility to do so is restricted; in Campbell’s words “the trick is finding the housing”. Councillor Philip Read felt it necessary to reinforce that by reminding His Worship of the patently obvious; “housing is a finite resource”. On the other hand councillor Read may have recognised that the mayor is not very bright and will have forgotten.
Councillor Malik’s (Labour) question was not as subtle as it might have been. Rather long and likely to be seen as politically motivated. It referred to millionaires who were benefitting from the reduction in their income tax rate to 45% and asked how many might be living in Bexley and possibly able to spread their good fortune around the borough.
Campbell treated us to a political history lesson ranging from James Callaghan’s iniquitous 98% tax rate in 1974 to the munificence of Margaret Thatcher’s 40% - plus, if I remember correctly a further 9% of National Insurance contribution. Better but still too much. What 98% had to do with the question wasn’t clear but we did eventually learn that there were “less (sic) than 200 houses in the top council tax band in Bexley”. Campbell admitted that might not in any way relate to millionaire status.
Councillor John Waters (Conservative) stood up to say that “the tone of the question highlights the difference between the parties” which was another statement of the obvious”.
Councillor Val Clark (Conservative) asked Colin Campbell how much money might be saved by moving to the new premises next year. A question clearly well into Category 2. Campbell was happy to oblige and whatever the cost, anyone who sat for two hours in the sweat box which was the council chamber last night and wincing at the noise from the defective microphones will be looking forward to the move. Campbell said of the Contact Centre “I can’t believe we designed it”.
It would appear that Campbell’s financial forecasting is on a par with those architectural skills as he also said that offers for the sites no longer required were coming in “above expectation”.
“In May next year we will be on a removal van” he said, adding, “but some of us won’t”. Was that a personal reference to his future plans or recognition that some of his cronies might expect to be run out of town by UKIP and/or Independents next May?
Whilst councillors’ questions can be extended to 30 minutes, the next two or three on parking stupidities and self inflicted traffic chaos were best put on ice, and so they were.
Time for councillor Peter Craske to make his bid for rehabilitation…