I don’t propose to cover yesterday’s General Purposes Committee meeting in any detail, it trod much the same ground as the Resources meeting and the Cabinet meeting. Slashing jobs, grabbing money and rearranging the deck chairs at board level.
It was chaired by councillor Peter Craske slowly clawing himself up the greasy pole after his unfortunate brush with the law caused him to lose his cabinet post three years ago.
The committee officer Sandra Baxter had responded to the criticisms of last week (Audit Committee) by arranging the tables in a U fashion so that the public could see and she did what she could to let people hear by placing small boundary effect microphones on two tables.
There were no loudspeakers so they didn’t help me and if they were connected to the loop system in the chamber next door it didn’t help my deaf friends Elwyn and Mick. I keep forgetting to look for the Hearing Loop symbol in the new offices, there’s not one in the main chamber.
Chairman Craske doesn’t help by whispering all the time. Maybe it’s deliberate, he has a chequered history when it comes to microphones, but for now he gets the benefit of the doubt.
When Elwyn Bryant asked Mick Barnbrook in a low voice if he could hear and Mick whispered back the councillors complained that they were interrupting the meeting. The noises created by members of the public can be a bit of a nuisance when one is already straining every sinew to hear, but being reprimanded for not being able to hear seems just a little too typical of Bexley council to me. I said nothing as usual but I did resort to scribbling notes at one point.
Somewhat to my surprise councillor Aileen Beckwith voiced disquiet at the effect of so many planned job cuts but she was soon put down by councillor Sharon Massey sitting alongside her.
Will Tuckley sought to justify his plans which involve more pay at the very top but fewer people at the level below. He didn’t think anyone would be worked too hard, quoted Bexley staff’s better than average sickness levels and in response to a comment about pay said that Bexley’s total pay bill is less than any other London borough.
At one point he spoke of everything having to be slimmed down but I have yet to hear anything about the recurrent election promise to cut the number of councillors.
I don’t know where he gets his figures from but given that Bexley has privatised everything from council tax collection to (some) libraries his claim seems all too believable even if it is a worthless statistic.
Chris Beazley the UKIP member of the committee reminded Tuckley that pay in excess of £100,000 has to be approved by full council and with all the changes of personnel in the offing the opportunity should be taken to do that. This was of course lead balloon territory and Tuckley dismissed it saying the council had approved high salaries yonks ago and that was good enough. And I thought we were entering a new era of cut backs.
What is going on at the top is very complicated. Councillor Hackett put forward his interpretation at the meeting and Will Tuckley told him he has it all wrong.
As far as I can work out we are going to have a Chief Executive (Tuckley) and his deputy (Moore) doubling as a director on increased pay. Then there will be four more directors and six deputies. Four are currently under Ellershaw who is getting a Golden Goodbye and the other is Graham Ward who is taking half his new empire from the retiring Finance Director, and Tony Allen (IT) and Tariq Bashire (Property) now under Mike Ellsmore will go to… No I give up. I have obviously followed the intricacies no better than the General Purposes Committee. Probably councillor Beckworth has it about right when she said she has concerns for it all.