By Bexley Council standards, last night’s Cabinet meeting was a civilized affair and someone had arranged
the chamber so that the public had a better view than a row of backs. A big improvement on the normal
situation and all three residents present could see who was speaking.
Just for once, Leader Teresa O’Neill did no gloating at all and Cabinet Member Linda Bailey spouted only a few platitudes while Philip Read was on his best behaviour. Alex Sawyer didn’t say anything at all. Fortunately Peter Craske was his usual good value, providing in this instance an unnecessary and irrelevant history lesson.
As usual the meeting began with Director of Finance, Alison Griffin, repeating the usual frightening numbers. Maybe repeating is the wrong word, the figures always seem to be expressed slightly differently.
This time Ms. Griffin said that her estimate of the money the Council would have available to spend would be “around £200 million in the next three years rising to £215 million by 2020/21/22 and this assumes that Council Tax will rise by 3·99% over [in each of] the next three years”.
“The financial funding gap is £14 million in 2017/18 rising to £30 million in 2020/21.” Last week the savings target for the current year was £21 million.
Don Massey, Cabinet Member for Finance and Harassment of Neighbours was concerned about Brexit. He said it would “have enormous consequences for this Councilְ’s financial position but it would take many weeks, many months, indeed many years before we can determine the full effects”.
He claimed that the Council’s proposals to change the Council Tax Support Scheme was not an attempt to save money. New applicants will get £17·45 a week less than hitherto.
Cabinet Member Philip Read said he “was proud to be a Councillor in Bexley as it had not taken the soft option of putting up Council Tax”. As Bexley is in a slightly worse position on Council Tax rates relative to other London boroughs compared with when the Conservative administration took over it is difficult to see why that should make him especially proud.
Raising taxes, he said, was "basically an immorality" and the residents of St. Michael’s ward where there was a by-election on 30th June “appreciated the decision not to raise [tax] levels and maintain it at the minimum level up to 2018”. You will I hope note that Bexley’s proposal is to maintain tax at the maximum permitted level not the minimum as stated by Councillor Read.
Philip Read forgot to say that the permanent “front line” posts in his Children’s Services Department had risen to 73% so Teresa O’Neill spoke up for him.
Cabinet Member Peter Craske showed no real interest in the financial quagmire from which Ms. Griffin is trying to find an escape route, his mind was firmly set on 2006 because it was exactly ten years since a Conservative Cabinet first sat in Bexley’s Council chamber. He wanted to recount its many successes.
It approved a new school in Crayford, it scrapped the Welling bus lane and it secured a reduction in Bexley’s contribution to the Freedom Pass scheme. Bexley had been paying £8 million a year and it went down to £4 million. (It has since gone up to £6·8 million in 2016/17.)
Having recounted three, Peter Craske ran out of successes to report and he preferred instead to accuse the opposition of “sneering”. I was hoping he might have carried through to 2012 and told us how he apparently rose to defend the Council from critical bloggers and came to be arrested by the police for the obscenities that originated on his home phone line.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said “there was certainly no sneering on this side” and he had supported Councillor Craske’s pursuit of smart Freedom cards. He welcomed the new emphasis on growth but said it should have been done earlier. “If we had done then what other boroughs were doing we would not have the level of black hole we now have.”
Cabinet Member Craske wasn't the only one to indulge in nostalgia, Don Massey thought it was relevant to remind everyone that unlike some of the borough's neighbours it did not invest in any Icelandic bank back in 2008. Something that makes it even more curious that Bexley’s financial position, in terms of Council Tax levels at least, continues to be worse than them.
The final item on the Agenda was the sale of parks and open spaces. 27 were proposed originally, one fell by the wayside because no competent council would have listed it in the first place, and four, including Old Farm Park, are already as good as sold.
Six more have reached the top of the list. They are
• Land at Junction of Bexley Road and Kempton Close, Erith
• Millfield Open Space, Crayford
• Land at Gable Close and Maiden Lane Land
• Land adjacent to 1 Holly Hill Road, Erith
• Junction of Napier Road/Wellington Rd, Erith
• Junction of Fraser Road/Alford Road, Erith
They will go through the usual procedure which means that the consultation will be started any day now.
Councillor Craske said that the four sites already approved for sale are expected to raise £10 million and then made it as clear as he possibly could that the remaining 16 sites will not be sold at all. They are
• Berwick Crescent (Triangular site to east), Sidcup
• Hook Lane Open Space, Welling
• Land adjacent to 115 Frinsted Road, Erith
• Land adjacent to 44 Maximfeldt Road, Erith
• Land adjacent to 1 Slade Garden, Slade Green
• Land adjacent to 14 Stuart Road Welling
• Land fronting 11 & 12 Court Avenue, Belvedere
• Land fronting 65-69 Blackfen Road, Sidcup
• Land adjacent to 246 Bedonwell Road, Belvedere
• Land adjacent to 95 The Grove, Bexley
• Land at St. James and North Cray Road
• Land at Gayton Road adjacent to 28 Wilton Road, Abbey Wood
• Land adjacent to 154 Upper Abbey Road
• Berwick Crescent (Two corner plots to south west), Sidcup
• Erith Station/Stonewood Road
• Land adjacent to 1 Pearswood Road, Northend, Erith
Councillor Ferreira (Labour, Erith) repeated his party’s view, that like that of the new Deputy Leader Rob Leitch, the sale of land is unsustainable. In particular he wanted to know why the six named sites had been chosen and not others. No one had an answer.
The Deputy Leader said he would be supporting the sale of a further six open spaces because unlike the first four which he had opposed, “it was important to distinguish sizeable parks and small patches of highway land”. He said being a Cabinet Member, (and not Councillor for Sidcup) “requires a whole borough perspective”.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) said that Councillor Leitch was originally against the sale of any open space. Millfield Open Space in Crayford is quite obviously an open space. He was concerned too that the 16 reprieved spaces will eventually be sold off for which remark he was reprimanded by Councillor Craske for spreading false claims.
Everything referred to above was approved unanimously and the meeting lasted a little under 50 minutes.