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wouldn’t call Councillor Steven Hall’s Resources Scrutiny meeting boring, not
all of it anyway, but it can certainly be rather dry. At ‘Places’ you get to
hear where in Bexley the Council plans to improve or wreck something next. (Harrow Manorway
is to close for three days imminently. Cutting off Thamesmead from Abbey Wood should be fun.)
At ‘People’ you might hear the police give the low down on burglaries or underage terrorists riding on buses or medics introducing out of hours doctors, but at ‘Resources’ it tends to be unrelenting figures which sometimes drone on for ever.
It’s not usually Steven Hall’s fault and last night he several times asked Councillors to get straight to the point with their questions but that didn’t stop one of them telling us how he had taken tea with his sister who wasn’t very interested in politics - just when I was hoping the meeting would be ending soon.
As you can see below, the number of people who may wish to speak steadily increases as has the number of senior staff in post since Gill Steward took over the reins.
I gave it two and a half hours before I crept out but don’t worry I won’t be inflicting very much of it on you, just a few statistics that sparked at least a fleeting interest.
Bexley pools some resources with Havering and Newham Councils (they call it OneSource) to try to save money and Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) had noticed that some of the OneSource figures in the Agenda didn’t seem to add up. Finance Director Alison Griffin said (if I may paraphrase) it was all down to various dates at the start of the scheme not lining up precisely. Nothing much gets past June.
The Agenda confirmed what every resident knows, that Bexley Council is pinning its hopes on increasing income from fines. “if referrals [to the Enforcement Service] increase in 2017/18 as expected ”. Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) asked if that was all due to installing and enforcing more and more yellow box junctions. It was. Nothing much gets past Daniel either.
Newham Council had partly withdrawn from OneSource by taking Council Tax and Benefits back in house. Councillor Maxine Fothergill (Conservative, Colyers) asked if that decision would have a financial impact on Bexley. Havering stands to lose, or to be pedantically accurate, not save, up to £600,000 but Bexley had not yet placed all its eggs in that basket so it was said the impact would be practically zero. (But presumably Bexley can’t make a saving either.)
It was calculated that OneSource delivered £284,000 of savings to Bexley last year.
Slightly more interesting was Mr. Dave Easton’s report on Electoral Services. Dave is suddenly busier right now than he expected to be thanks to Theresa May.
Voter registrations and elections are a very complex business which, as far as I can see, Dave runs fantastically well, much better than many other parts of London. Not a single complaint was registered by a Bexley elector last year. (The EU referendum.)
The borough manages to get 92·42% of residents registered to vote against a London average of 84% and Mr. Easton and his team send up to ten reminders to unresponsive residents before wiping them off the register; an act which very often prompts a belated response.
There are nevertheless some blackspots. Thamesmead East is divided into six areas four of which hover around the 70% response rate. Lesnes Abbey ward north of the railway line is just as bad. The reasons are very often due to rented houses being home to half a dozen or more men who move on to somewhere else every few months, they are not easy to pin down. Councillor Francis said he knew of a block of 52 residences where not a single occupant was registered.
Bexley has done well, or at least got off lightly, with Business Rates. The London average increase is 24% but Bexley gets away with only 6%. Only Hillingdon is lower.
Taking into account the various reliefs available, 34·43% (1,854) of businesses in Bexley will not pay any business rates at all.
The biggest losers appear to be in Erith where the industrial parks will suffer increases this year over last of between 500% and 700%. The wind turbine is going up from £500 a year to more than £2,600. The livery stables and riding schools around Vicarage Lane, Bexley, get a hammering too.
UKIP was not represented again. Enquiries reveal it is due to a combination of family holidays and family emergencies and with only three UKIP Councillors, substitutes are not always an option. Perhaps we should elect more UKIP Councillors although some might argue that their problem would be solved if none were elected. Anything would be better than Lib Dems!