The remaining five cabinet members set out to illustrate how their portfolios would suffer if the land sales up for discussion did not go ahead.
Cabinet Member Eileen Pallen began with a reminder that her Adults’ Social Care budget was larger than all others. She said that “some older residents provided valuable nan and granddad support for their children to go out to work. They are the backbone of the voluntary sector.”
“A little bit of support now can help prevent far larger bills coming to the council down the line.”
Getting closer to the point, councillor Pallen said she understood how people “stood up for the things that we believe are important to us. Quite often, unless a resident or their families use these [Adults’] services, people feel large sums of money that they may feel could be spent on other things without sometimes understanding that the council has a legal statutory responsibility to provide much of the cost of these services. It is our duty to make sure the money for those services are available.” One minute forty five seconds.
Councillor Read Philip said the emphasis in his department, Children’s Services, was also on “prevention is the key to holding down future higher costs and promoting better outcomes in the longer term”.
“Keeping families together benefits us all particularly in the case of children”, he said, to which there will no doubt be hollow laughter from several BiB readers maliciously deprived of their children by out of control social workers.
His strategies “would reduce other problems, for example anti-social behaviour, which would reduce complaints from residents and demands on education, health and the police”.
He was driving forward the aim to save money by reducing reliance on agency workers some of whom “set themselves up as private limited companies. Children’s Services was making a significant contribution to Strategy 2018”, the cuts. Four minutes forty five seconds.
If councillor Pallen was slow to demonstrate that her department needed every penny it could get, councillor Read never got there at all.
Councillor Peter Craske was rather more focused, he immediately referred to the reduced government grants. It was 70% of income five years ago and will be down to 5% within three. £11 million down.
The country can “no longer invent money and borrow it. Look at Greece.”
“We have made a huge amount of savings already and the options become less, they become limited with each year that goes by.”
He continued in similar vein leading to “It’s taxpayers’ money and that is why we have to be careful with it. The theory of massive council tax rises has been tested to destruction in the past and by law we cannot raise council tax by more than 1·9% without a referendum that would cost £300,000”.
“We can’t pretend that there is money there that doesn’t exist. People can’t just moan and complain and I can’t complain, we have to come up with alternatives.”
“The scale of what is set out here is so big you can’t ignore it. Remember, if something comes out something else has to go in and that could be worse.”
“We want people to get involved, you can’t just sit back and moan and complain, it’s not good enough any more, everyone must play a role in this. If people don’t respond to the budget consultation then there’s a lot of questions to be asked.” Five minutes fifteen seconds.
If the object of the exercise was to demonstrate on behalf of the council how they are stuck between a rock and a hard face then Peter Craske made a far better fist of it than the earlier speakers. Those in the gallery who were recipients of his correspondence and knew a little more of his unorthodox approach to consultation, could be heard expressing their disbelief at the thinly veiled remarks directed towards them.
council leader Alex Sawyer managed to direct his words towards the need to avoid the
financial pitfalls ahead without resort to a catalogue of figures. His favourite
sound bite, “none of us came into politics to reduce services but we are where
we are” was heard yet again. It”s about time he asked Priti to pen him a new slogan.
“It is inevitable that the public will sometimes disagree with us but we have to run this council in the interests of the whole borough.” Two minutes precisely.
I must have been so entranced by John Fuller’s oratory that I forgot to take a picture, all I have is this unfortunately timed slightly fuzzy image from the periphery of another shot. Apologies to John.
Being last to go, the Cabinet Member for Education could not be expected to add anything radically new so he announced “a different tack”.
“By 2016 two out of five councils in England”, he said, “would not be able to place their children into schools”. Let that sink in for a minute. “In Bexley we have done very well but those arriving in the borough are putting on more and more pressure which we have to pay for. We set our targets but things may go wrong.”
“Special Educational Needs is growing. We are allocated a grant for just under 900 children and we have 1,200.”
“We are expanding our schools and everything for the next year or two is covered but we need another ten and a half million. I’d just like to give my little warning there of what might happen in education.” Frightening, there are just too many of us.
A lot to think about from John Fuller in a very efficient two minutes and six seconds.
Council leader O’Neill then allowed questions from councillors which was the start of putting the meat into the meeting. Let the games begin, but later!