in for council leader Teresa O’Neill who has sadly suffered the second tragic
family bereavement within six weeks, deputy leader Gareth Bacon made his by now
well rehearsed speech on why Bexley council, one could easily say most councils,
is heading towards financial meltdown.
The government grant has fallen from more than 70% (2006) of council revenue, now it is 14% and heading down to 5% by 2017. Bacon’s speech was not entirely devoid of political comment, but not to excess. A decent enough speech by one of Bexley’s few intelligent councillors. Not that I am a fan you will understand, I am sure that many a con artist has been in possession of a good grey cell count.
In my naivety I thought that all that was required next was that the opposition parties put forward their own ideas and comment, the tax increase would be nodded through and we could all get an early night.
Unfortunately, cabinet member Don Massey wanted to hog the limelight too, and so the meeting was set on its steady decline into chaos. He launched straight into an attack on Labour and UKIP.
Massey claimed that parking charge increases which top out at 50%, were justified because they have been frozen at what was in 2012 one of the highest levels to be found in SE London, for three years.
The cabinet member could not resist an attack on councillor Seán Newman who had labelled the charge for garden waste collection a ‘bin tax’. It is not of course but it will have the effect of bumping up my council charges by 3·2% (based on last year’s bill) and I am in band E, so lower bands will suffer even more.
Massey claimed that councillor Newman was half a million pounds out with his calculations yet Seán is only claiming a 2·9% effective tax rise. Which councillor is trying to bamboozle us most?
Mayor Marriner, acting as chairman, then asked whether any other member wished to speak, in a tone suggesting he saw as little need for it as I did. Little did he know that this simple question would lead to another three hours of verbal fisticuffs.
Labour leader Alan Deadman said he had reservations about the sustainability of the budget, you can only use reserves or sell off assets once. He complained about central government insisting on the provision of extra services and then “walked away from it”.
Councillor Deadman restated what everyone already knows, that Bexley’s consultation exercise results have been ignored. “They won’t listen to the electorate who put them in charge.”
Councillor Stefano Borella responded to Don Massey’s criticism that Labour had not put forward an alternative budget by reminding him that the Conservatives in opposition had taken the same course. He then proceeded to read from the long list of Conservative councillors who never make any contribution to scrutiny meetings.
The silent pension supplementers have been mentioned here many times but Stefano has been taking notes and is questioning what use they are. Conservative members “are more interested in getting home early” than participating in three, going on four, hour long meetings. They “make a sound case for reducing the number of councillors. The only value those members offer is to vote according to the whip”. Not an original thought but absolutely true just the same.
The 20% tax (up from nothing three years ago) for those on benefits did not go unremarked and was met with jeering from the ruling nasty party opposite.
Councillor Chris Beazley spoke for UKIP and said the most important thing to do was protecting front line services and it was at that point that he played his million pound saving masterstroke of reducing councillors’ generous rates of pay. This was reported yesterday so at fewer than 25 minutes into a three hour recording, it presents a convenient moment to break off and attend to some domestic affairs that I am too often forced to neglect.
At this point I had intended to present an extract from the meeting Agenda but the council’s website currently presents the Pension Board Agenda when clicking on the link for the Full Council.