As already noted, last night’s cabinet meeting was one of the better meetings
I have attended. A friendly chat with several councillors, a good clear view of
proceedings, and even leader Teresa O’Neill appeared to be full of bon homie,
unless perchance your name was Seán Newman or Daniel Francis.
The leader began by saying how well Strategy 2014 had gone, she came out with a new figure for the money saved, this time it was £61·5 million, “somewhere near to 60% of council tax”. “Tonight”, she said, “we will be setting the council tax” thereby confirming her dictator status. The council will do that next week.
Finance Director Alison Griffin took four minutes to present her budgetary plan. She said the council tax would be set against a government grant cut of 14·4% and the net effect must be a council tax rise of 1·9% supplemented by a £2·9 million dip into reserves and an across the board increase in fees and charges of 3%.
There is little provision for the unforeseen and in that event a further raid on reserves would become necessary. Using the reserves is “not a sustainable position for the future”.
Alison was followed by deputy leader Gareth Bacon who repeated his old speech about the present situation being “by far the worst” he had known. He will raise tax “with a heavy heart”. “It is not a great postion to be in but it is something we are trying to plan for. This is not the end of the story it is the beginning.”
Bacon was followed by Children’s Services cabinet member Philip Read who spoke of saving another £50 million in the next four years which he “views with trepidation” but “would protect front line services”. There was a thinly veiled attack on the Labour opposition for not coming up with any alternative proposal.
Cabinet member for Adults’ Services Eileen Pallen said that Bexley had the third highest proportion of older people in London, close behind Havering and Bromley and it was“ necessary to have the financial stability to provide them with the services we will all need”. Homelessness is likely to add £1·5 million to expenditure his year.
Education cabinet member John Fuller made a commendably short address referring to “the increase of [the number] High Needs Children” and outlined how he was dealing with it.
Linda Bailey was “sad” to see tax rates rising and strayed into political matters by referring to the May 2014 election. She claimed credit (justifiably) for several infrastructure initiatives brought to the borough and referred to the need to for “more investment into the borough”. After 85 seconds she was done.
Later Bailey proved her “I can do what I like” credentials by claiming the cabinet was setting the council tax rate thereby confirming her mind set. Councillors are just voting fodder.
Don Massey went on rather longer and excused his 50% parking charge increases by saying they had been frozen for three years and inflation was to blame. Readers will no doubt calculate whether that is a lie or not.
The aim was to keep Kent commuters out of Bexley.
In referring to waste charges, I think Massey said it was costing seven to eight million pounds but someone coughed over the vital passage. I hope it isn’t 78 million pounds. Maybe it was £7·8 million?
Alex Sawyer, in referring to last year’s election, said that “it didn’t really matter which party had won, very difficult decisions would have to be made”. A glum looking cabinet member said he “could not be the bringer of jollity”.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour) referred to the consultations which showed that some changes will be “unpopular” and promised a more energetic debate next Wednesday. The full council meeting.
Leader O’Neill said consultations were made well in advance to be “open and transparent”.
Councillor Rob Leitch referred to the list of open spaces proposed for sale as revealed by Alex Sawyer on 10th February and reported here a week later, though still before any other outlet.
The council had followed that with a press release. Rob wanted to know when that provisional list will become a confirmed list (but no officer was able to tell him) and was looking for further consultation on any plots which might go up for sale. Teresa O’Neill said the aim was to be “open and transparent” which is presumably why no discussion had been allowed on the subject, councillor Francis was left in the dark and FOIs requests rejected - until the list was published here, thanks to Alex Sawyer. Lies so easily trip off her tongue.
With that the meeting moved on to less exiting areas of the Agenda.