Right, the frivolity and sarcasm must end and the defence some councillors mounted to the attack on the family silver proposed by the Conservative cabinet in the face of savage government cuts to the grant must be analysed.
There were signs that some councillors dropped what they were doing in a hurry and rushed to the chamber - all hands to the pumps.
The first to speak was Labour leader Alan Deadman who began the debate as he usually does with important issues, by thanking the staff who had written the reports.
His first reference was to the supposed cuts in councillor allowances and he agreed there had been some but most had “fallen on this side of the table and a number of extra ones were found for over there”, a reference to the six £3,000 a year posts invented for scrutiny committees. “A redistribution of wealth” he called it. “We could have saved a lot more money”.
Councillor Deadman agreed that “reserves could only be used once” and should perhaps have gone on to say parks can only be sold once.
I think I heard councillor Deadman ask (through much nearby coughing) if the published receipts figure for the sale of open spaces included Old Farm Avenue Park while commenting that councillor Craske failed to make any mention of the proposed sale of that park, the splash park “or anything else in his portfolio in his ‘leadership approach comeback speech’”. The public clapped loudly.
Councillor Deadman had no particular quarrel with the cabinet members for Adults’ and Children’s Services. The same was not true of councillor Don Massey, who Deadman said had, not for the first time, accused him of scare mongering.
“Threatening a 55% hike in council tax could be describes as the same thing.” More cheers.
Council leader Teresa O’Neill ruled that the question on the general sale of open spaces was invalid, tonight was for specific proposals.
She said that councillors’ allowances had not been increased since 2007 but failed to address the question of the newly introduced six £3,000 positions for her Conservative friends.
Cabinet member Don Massey was invited to answer the 55% question but instead launched a personal attack on councillor Deadman and his party. Apparently they are supposed to come up with an alternative budget each year. “When is Labour going to step up to the plate as they do in Barking & Dagenham and Lambeth?” apparently forgetting that they are Labour run councils.
He said he definitely hadn’t been scare mongering and he “cares about the residents of this borough”. Cue laughter.
Councillor Craske made no comment.
Councillor Stefano Borella said he didn’t understand councillor Craske’s comparison of Bexley with Greece. “That is scaremongering and it is wrong.”
He objected to the Tory claim that they have been a low tax council and referred back to 1989 to 1991 when a Conservative administration raised tax by 42%.
Stefano made comparison with Bromley where council tax had been raised in small increments. If Bexley had done that “in 2010 when you had a massive mandate it would have protected a lot of services”.
“Greenwich started a growth programme many years ago and is reaping the rewards for it now”. Bexley did not. Quite the reverse. (Picture right.)
Referring to alternative budgets councilor Borella said “when Labour was in control of Bexley in 2002-2006 there was no opposition budget, ‘your job’ was the words you used”.
“If we had had better planning in the past we would be better dealing with some of the issues faced now.” More applause.
Council leader O’Neill complained that councillor Borella was smirking and said the comparison with Greece was valid, “it meant living within your means”. She could not resist the comment I have heard innumerable times before, the Tories may have raised council tax 42% within a couple of years but more recently “Labour raised taxes by 40% in four years”. So there!
“We could have put up council tax like other councils, we chose not to because we believed that Bexley taxpayers didn’t want those tax rises and they proved that at the ballot box.”
So there is the ultimate proof that Bexley has been managed not for the good of the borough but in a manner calculated to improve the Tories’ electoral chances.
Councillor Gill MacDonald made the point that the council had cut back on meetings, scrutiny in particular, and asked council officers not to attend unless they have to but according to the schedule no savings had accrued or were expected.
“Does this mean that we are going to outsource committees and will it relate to planning and attendance only for a specific item, I don’t think that is going to work.”
Chairman O’Neill said the attendance provisions related only to officers and will save money but no light was shed on the amount or the absence of any estimate.
Councillor Chris Beazley said he appreciated that the budgetary situation owed a lot to the reduction in central government grants but sending £60 million a day to the EU would save an awful lot of parks, or words to that effect. I think that is why UKIP won the Euro-elections Chris and gained 14% of the General Election vote.
Look people, don’t all laugh at once, but as the skies darken and the heavens open, I have a long standing appointment at the Oval Cricket Ground, so that is all you are going to get today. There is lots awaiting comment and no doubt I shall be delivering councillor June Slaughter’s speech in full, the one that made Teresa O’Neill’s eyes pop out. If looks could kill…