I attend the Adults’ Services Committee meeting I find it much the same;
reasonably well run, no political mud slinging of the Cheryl Bacon variety and
maybe because of that, tedious in the extreme. Last Thursday’s was no exception. I went not with the
intention of writing a detailed report but because a friend is on the receiving
end of Bexley’s care services and I was interested in how she might be affected
by £465,000’s worth of cuts, or efficiency savings to borrow the council’s
euphemism. I wasn’t sure how the council can get half a million quids’ worth of
savings from a service which is contracted out at the lowest price to companies
that cannot even to afford to pay their workers minimum pay. The meeting’s
Agenda says they are going to squeeze those contracts still further but I came away no wiser
I was the only member of the public in attendance and four councillors acknowledged my presence in a friendly manner, councillors Borella, Catterall, Hall and Seymour. Another was his usual boorish self, volunteering a rude answer to a question I had not asked. The same councillor who once observed that obscene homophobic blogging is not a crime.
Chairman Eileen Pallen read out the standard warning on taking photographs but as I didn’t intend taking a selfie no member of the public was likely to be offended by the presence of a lens. I think I surprised her when I said I would not be taking any pictures, I had already taken the one you can see here before the meeting started. I was sitting right at the back of the chamber on the highest of the tiered seats and even from there there was no decent view of anyone not at the top table.
The sound system was working very well and I think I am detecting a pattern to its variable performance. In recent times it has been good when doorman Mal Chivers is on duty and poor when he is not.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour) asked a very long question come statement and he took five minutes to complete it. It concerned “massive changes to benefits” and the fact that “a lot of people on benefits are working”. He said paying a living wage would reduce benefit costs which have not been falling. He was concerned for the street sleepers who can now be seen on Broadway and the shortage of social housing.
Stefano was not very happy with the council’s website where it relates to housing. It was not very accessible and it was wrong to rely so heavily on the site when so many of the intended readership do not have computers. He was concerned too about the adverse effects of what he did not call the bedroom tax and cited several examples of where this “terrible pernicious tax is dividing our community”. People cannot downsize from two to one bedroom properties because there aren’t any available.
To complete the council’s attack on the disadvantaged, councillor Borella reminded the committee that grants for the Law Centre and Citizens Advice Bureau had been taken away. “It will put another pressure on the front door of the council and will we be able to cope?” For his pains, Councillor Borella was mildly rebuked for the length of his question.
Council officer David Bryce-Smith said housing problems were worsening because private landlords were less keen on taking tenants on benefits and because of the demolition of the Larner Road estate. The latter will begin to come back on stream from next October. He acknowledged the lack of one bedroom properties and offered some hope that the Law Centre and the CAB would get some support.
In response to a question from councillor Edward Boateng (Labour) concerning evictions David Bryce Smith said “we do have households for example who choose to pay discretionary matters rather than pay their rent, for example to pay for a Sky Sports subscription rather than pay their rent. We may decide those people have made themselves intentionally homeless”. In such circumstances the council might offer a private landlord a deposit bond but landlords were reluctant to accept them.
Cabinet member Chris Taylor went into self-congratulatory mode by saying “the homeless team we have here in Bexley are very good and it’s probably one of the hardest jobs to do in the council but they are very strict in employing the policy… it’s not an easy job but they work very well. It is not an easy ride.”
Very little intelligence came out of the meeting which could not be gained by reading the Agenda so there is little point in extending this report further. If anyone has a particular thirst for knowledge there is a recording; 87 megabytes of MP3. It is nice and clear except of a certain gentleman who never switches his microphone on and sometimes covers his mouth with his hand. Obviously not one of the council’s bad guys or I would have named him.