The Resources Scrutiny Committee which held its first meeting last night has more members than any similar predecessor and last night’s went on for three whole hours while the last similar meeting was all done and dusted in 50 minutes. Maybe the lack of scrutiny planned by Teresa O’Neill will not be as severe as she may have hoped and the Labour opposition seemed determined to play a role in that.
The new chairman is councillor Steven Hall who has been promoted from Audit where he always did a decent enough job of running the show. I often feel he’d like to be more open with the public than he actually is; he’s an expert in polite conversations that reveal absolutely nothing.
It is tempting to categorise Bexley councillors into the good (some) , the bad (quite a lot) and the indifferent (far too many) and at this stage of the electoral cycle, the untested too. Steven Hall is blessed with a committee which is not marred by a surfeit of ‘the bad’ so he is almost guaranteed a fairly easy ride and probably the advent of webcasting is going to calm things down a peg or two as well. The only really bad egg on the Resources Scrutiny Committee is the liar Cheryl Bacon.
The first half of last night’s meeting took the form of a training session because only four of the new committee members had been a member of the Finance Scrutiny Committee which is a big component of the new fangled Resources. The two Directors present, Finance and Corporate Services, had produced a neat little booklet to explain their roles and the always helpful Dave Easton (he’s in charge of the electoral roll and elections) let me have a copy. Webcast viewers will not have been so lucky.
Director of Finance Mike Ellsmore’s spoken summary of his role was uninterrupted but Paul Moore (Customer and Corporate Services) was not so lucky, his account becoming fragmented by questions. Mr. Ellsmore’s ‘lecture’ may be of wide interest (and he speaks more clearly than his colleague) and so is reproduced here.
More than an hour and a half went by before the real meeting began and some
of the subject matter can get quite ‘technical’ which does not make for
interesting reading, or I suspect web viewing. Mr. Easton’s report on the new
electoral registation system was interesting but perhaps too long to find a place here.
At the two and a half hour mark councillor Danny Hackett representing Lesnes Abbey ward for Labour threw a spanner into the works by reminding the committee and me of what had been obvious at the full council meeting more than a month earlier; that the Cabinet were likely to put forward a vitally important budgetary proposal this evening (15th July) and let it go before the council next week for a vote without the Resources Scrutiny Committee having any opportunity to voice any concerns it might have. Surely everyone could see there was something wrong there but apparently cabinet member Gareth Bacon isn’t bright enough to do that and waffled on with blinkers firmly attached saying it was good enough that every councillor could cast his vote at the full council meeting.
Maybe the dictators who run Bexley council are not satisfied with reducing the scrutiny committees from seven to three and are aiming to do away with them altogether, for that is what is proposed in this case, and on a decision that is going to lead to around 400 people losing their jobs. The Bacons take around £100k. from the public purse each year so probably the fate of lesser mortals is not something either of them want to be questioned on.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour Belvedere) did his best to explain to the cabinet simpleton that a vote at a full council meeting was no substitute for proper scrutiny but Gareth Bacon is impervious to reasoned argument. He knows that the Tory sheep will back the cuts 100% and believes that an opposition party is just an unnecessary encumbrance.
Fortunately the chairman is not so daft and formally recognised the good point that councillor Hackett had made. Not that it did any good because this “democratic deficit” as Danny Hackett had called it had been approved unanimously by the Tory majority at the council meeting on 11th June. When it comes to punching democracy in the face Bexley Conservatives have few equals.
The meeting ended with thanks to Director Mike Ellsmore who will not have to suffer any more three hour meetings because he is to retire in September and Bexley council is about to close down for its long summer recess.
Among the several negatives that could be heaped on public meetings at the new Civic Offices is the much greater distance from both free parking spots and bus stops so I was grateful to the driver of the 229 at the end of Mayplace Road West at 10:35 who waited for me to cross the road and run to the bus stop and then get me home to Lesnes Abbey almost non-stop in a record breaking 15 minutes.