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Last night’s Bexley Council meeting was a very silly one. Probably not a
strong enough word as you will soon see. There were no questions from members of the
public because all those I am aware of were thrown out as being unacceptable. The Mayor
can do what she likes, and that will be the theme of this blog.
Some useful information came out of the meeting - not a lot - and BiB will cover that later. In the mean time the silly bits. Not just the silly bits, but more importantly the utterly disgraceful bits.
The Chief Executive’s instructions that a map of the seating area must appear in the Agenda had been overlooked but the barrier was there as normal but had gone further than ever before. For the first time It forbade public access to the water dispenser. Not that it mattered much, there were only four members of the public present and three of them left within the first hour complaining that they couldn’t hear a thing despite two of them prominently sporting hearing aids.
That left just me struggling to hear what was going on. With the Labour members’ backs facing me I missed quite a lot of what they said.
There was of course no Press Desk because as the Chief Executive has correctly pointed out the law only says common sense should be applied to provision of a table and she does not possess an abundance of that commodity.
It was my turn to be silly too. The law says that I may take photographs during Council meetings without putting any restrictions on the equipment used. So I took along a 450mm lens instead of the usual 200 to see if I could hold it steady in the comparatively dim light.
It’s cruel but I can now see every pimple. The Chief Executive removed the gloves when she decided to be spiteful. Two can play that game.
This was the first Council meeting to be held under the new Constitution. There may have been an element of testing its limits.
The fun and games began when the Labour group put forward a motion that Bexley Council should pay the London Living Wage (LLW) to its staff, anathema to the nastier elements of the nasty party of course. It was Councillor Amaning’s (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) motion but in her absence was moved by her ward colleague Councillor Hackett. The Motion included incentives to be offered to local business that followed suit.
Councillor Hackett reeled off a list of 15 London Councils that already paid the LLW. I’m not sure it helped his case that they were all Labour controlled.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) was the first to condemn the idea. She moved that the Motion should not be considered but that the idea should be floated by Cabinet Member Don Massey in private instead. The ruse was seconded by Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands), another member of the disreputable wing of Bexley Councillors. They received 100% support from the blue sheep.
Councillor Brenda Langstead wanted Bexley Council to adopt the standards for care services recommended by the public services union UNISON. Referring back to an earlier meeting at which Councillor Sharon Massey said she would be unwilling to be a Councillor for the Living Wage, Brenda said care workers did not even reach that pay level.
Bexley Council as you might imagine did not approve of anything that may have come from a union and Councillor James Hunt put forward an alternative. It spoke only of providing a “high quality and value for money” service. We know what Bexley’s idea of value for money care services is because former Cabinet Member for Adult Care told us. Under him Bexley was paying the smallest care rate of any south London council.
Despite Labour objections that Councillor Hunt's suggestion was so far away from the original motion that it was no substitute, the Mayor told them politely to shut up. In contrast she was almost subservient to Councillor Hunt “thanking” and “begging” him to continue.
Part of Councillor Hunt’s objection to the Motion was that as it had been held over from the July meeting, the level of pay quoted was no longer up to date. Pathetic or what? Councillor Hackett had covered that point in his opening remarks.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) brought up another point of order but the Mayor told him to shut up too, less politely this time. Councillor Hunt went on to say that UNISON’s Charter was national and not specific to Bexley the logic of which is that it shouldn’t apply anywhere. He said the Charter was a “publicity stunt” and continued to speak over his allotted time without rebuke from the Mayor.
Councillor John Fuller seconded Hunt’s so called amendment based on the fact it would increase costs and the number of users would therefore decrease. He said that all the worst payers were Labour boroughs and Bexley is now half way up the London league table. Taylor’s malign influence is a thing of the past.
The Mayor took it upon herself to extend the discussions and allowed Councillor Leaf to speak again. He rambled on about the Labour party to such an extent that the Mayor asked him to get back on track. He rambled again and Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) asked the Mayor to adhere to the Council’s agreed Constitutional timetable. She refused claiming she had the discretion to override the Constitution. “Thank you very much, it is my ruling.”
Councillor Lyn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey)) spoke up for family carers who get paid next to nothing.
The responsible Cabinet Member Brad Smith spoke in favour of James Hunt’s amendment saying that “Bexley is far better than UNISON’s Charter”.
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvdere) said something which I didn’t quite catch - back to recorder - but whatever it was Councillor Sybil Camsey thought it worthy of personal criticism. It must have been something about the Mayor breaking the Constitutional rules because she said that the Mayor has the authority to drive a coach and horses through the Constitution. I have broken off and wasted best part of an hour reading it but the nearest I got to it was that the Mayor could interpret the rules how she wished (Paragraph 34.3). Surely that doesn't mean she can change them wholesale?
Logically if the Mayor can adapt the Constitution as she thinks fit well there lies chaos - and before long that is what we got.
Councillor Newman tried again but the Mayor began to lose her temper as she told him imperiously “I have ruled”. I was expecting ‘We are not amused’ next. Councillor Newman formally moved a point of order but the Mayor ignored him and asked for the vote to be taken. When Councillor Newman spoke again he was accused of being disrespectful. “What about the rules?” he said.
The Mayor announced that “the Motion is carried”. She meant the Conservative substitute one, not the real thing.
Before the next Agenda item could be taken, Councillor Daniel Francis also queried the Mayor’s interpretation of the rules. What sort of interpretation does a number like 30 minutes require? He was “seeking guidance on the issue that one Member of the Council can overrule all other 62 Members on any procedural rule”. The Mayor said feedback could be given after the meeting but her decision was final. Councillor Francis asked for “feedback now”.
Councillor Newman asked where the Constitution gave the Mayor the right to use her discretion on procedural rules. Clue: the answer is nowhere.
The Mayor moved on to the Leader’s Report. Ironically she introduced the Item by saying it would run to 30 minutes - unless she changed her mind as she had done earlier.
The useful stuff reported by the Leader will appear in a later blog, this one is for covering Bexley Council’s difficulty in understanding the concept of a Constitutional Democracy. In a final swipe at the Labour group she reminded them that they were part of the Constitutional Review Committee which approved the Constitution. Only a minority component of course, with no power to reverse Tory ambitions.
When the allotted 30 minutes of the Leader’s Report was close to being used up and no one from Labour had managed to get a word in edgeways, Councillor Borella asked for an extension as permitted by Constitution Rule 22.1 subsection l. His request was denied. Instead the Leader was asked to sum up.
Councillor Newman pointed out that Rule 25.1 did not allow discussion to go over 30 minutes. The Mayor told him to “kindly sit down”. She was breaking the Rules and according to her she was entitled to do so.
Councillor Newman said he had a right to be heard immediately (Rule 30.5). Councillor Francis said Rule 32.2 (if I heard him correctly) was being broken too.
The Mayor decided to take advice from the man who doesn’t appear to be a solicitor. His advice could not be heard but the Mayor decided to press on anyway. Councillor Francis came up with another Rule number that was being trampled on. The Mayor told him to sit down too and ruled that the summing up could fall outside the 30 minute discussion.
Councillors Newman and Francis both mentioned rule 25.1 again which clearly states that the debate and the Leader’s contribution to it must not exceed 30 minutes. The Mayor was in blatant breach of the Constitution. The Mayor said she was going to speak over them because they were both “appallingly rude” and irony is not her strong point. Councillor Sharon Massey interjected “here, here”.
It was “my ruling and I will repeat it as often as you want” said the Mayor who was quite clearly in the wrong.
To dig her out of her hole Council Leader Teresa O’Neill proposed that Councillors Newman and Francis should be banned from speaking and the Tories voted 100% to kill democracy rather than accept that the Mayor hadn’t a clue about what was written in the Constitution. Failed headmistress Sybil Camsey had seconded it.
Councillor Danny Hackett uttered the two words "Madam Mayor" for which she pronounced him “rude” too.
The meeting moved on to the next item. The Mayor continued in the same belligerent manner.
It should be noted that most Conservative Members said absolutely nothing during this unseemly episode. Only those named above. But the whips are obviously very effective.