Maybe the days when I can neglect BIB at the weekend and on the last day of
the month, when a blog is inevitably short-lived, are gone.
Yesterday the two blogs about Teresa ’O’Neill and the locked park at the end of her garden were visited more than 2,000 times. It was quiet, as is usual for a Sunday, until early afternoon, then things went slightly crazy. A bit odd because there was no new blog until just after four.
It is always tempting to add to the ruling party’s discomfiture, especially when they show they are rattled by attacking BiB on social media. They like to be a secretive lot so what about spilling a few beans about how far some have been prepared to go to keep it like that?
On Friday May 20th 2011 I inspected the councillors’ Register of Interests along with Elwyn Bryant who was already well known to Bexley council. It was not available on line and we had to make an appointment to visit the Civic Offices. We weren’t allowed to take a copy and were chaperoned throughout the two hours it took us to make a hand written copy. It is by my side as I write and it tells me who was a Freemason and how many houses each owned in Bexley. Quite a lot of councillors owned three and one managed four.
Bexley council didn’t like what Elwyn and I had done and by the following morning the famed obscene blog was posted via councillor Craske’s phone line. It made direct references to our visit.
During the following year it became compulsory under the Localism Act to make the Register accessible on the web although Bexley council managed to go through a period when it was not available on paper or electronically. Illegal but why would they care?
When the Register did find its way on to the web the content had been severely edited. Section 32 of the Localism Act allows a councillor to withhold information if he can convince the Monitoring Officer that to do otherwise could prove dangerous. Bexley’s Monitoring Officer wouldn’t be in a job if he was over zealous.
Fifteen councillors in London availed themselves of that get out clause. Eleven of them were in Bexley. Does that or does that not indicate that Bexley councillors are more likely to bend the rules to their advantage than any others in the whole of the metropolis?
That was in 2013 and the exercise will not be repeated, checking the Interests of 1800 plus councillors is not something to be recommended. Some councils no longer allow access to councillors’ names without providing a post code.
Four of those Bexley councillors are no longer in office. Peter Craske has relented (click to see how it used to be) and restored his home address to the Register. The others have simply become more cunning. They no longer refer to the Section 32 exemption, they prefer to be vague or misleading.
To be a councillor one must either have residential or business interests in the borough. Councillor Andy Dourmoush for example (Conservative, Longlands) does not claim to live in Bexley but he is part owner of a business in Erith. Probably he will not have much interest in a park in Sidcup but he is vice-chairman of a Scrutiny committee which nets him an extra £3,000 a year.
The Masseys also admit only to their business address and either no longer live in Camden Road, Bexley or they are seeking to deceive the electorate.
Both Bacons are even more devious, instead of listing “Any beneficial interest in land which is within the London Borough of Bexley” they simply say they live in Bexley. It’s a bit like answering a question about one’s age by simply saying “I’m alive”. Val Clark plays the same trick. There is no reference to Standard Road any more and perhaps the Bacons sold their house in Hurst Road.
There are several councillors who claim not to own any land in Bexley and they are generally the younger ones, probably living with parents or renting but one UKIP and one Labour councillor may not be so easily explained. One had a Bexley address at the time of the last election and now says “Not applicable” against his land interest. He could be renting too.
The other says “Address withheld” which appears to be a Section 32 exemption. Is councillor Boateng under some sort of threat?
Council leader Teresa O’Neill is not as secretive as she was in 2013 when all her addresses in Bexley were a state secret. However one must wonder what happened to the house in Brunswick Road, Bexleyheath. Zoopla says it has not changed hands during the past five years so how come it was listed in her Register of Interests in 2011 and not now?
All you can be sure of in Bexley is that if a councillor thinks they can get away with deception then that is what they will do. Hiding a whole park and falsely labelling it Educational Land will be just one of many examples.
There is a postscript to this blog.