Thanks to the Table Snatcher’s barriers one doesn’t often get to speak to Councillors at meetings these days - it’s her idea for enhancing democracy in the borough - but James Hunt the Chairman of the People Overview and Scrutiny meeting somehow manages to make members of the public (and official guests) feel welcome at his meetings. Not quite sure how he does it but he is not afraid of making eye contact and smiling - even in my direction!
The first significant Agenda item was about children in need and Ross Downing (Conservative, Cray Meadows) noted that there had been a big increase in the numbers this year.
The Director of Children’s Services Jacky Tiotto said she was watching the number carefully and they are all “new children, so it is real”. She “speculated” that one of the reasons is “that there are more families with less money”.
The relevant Cabinet Member, Philip Read, said with, obvious care over his choice of words, that there was “a thought that increased demand might also be due in part to the increase in diversification of the demographic population in Bexley. It is a possibility we are looking at”.
The responses gave the unfortunate impression that no one knew what was really going on.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) continued with her favourite theme, housing. “How many in temporary accommodation are out of the borough and how many children are commuting back to Bexley schools?” she asked. The answer was that 60% of temporary accommodated families lived outside the borough including about 580 children out of a total around 1,300. The number of ‘school commuters’ was unknown.
There were audibility issues because the public have no clear view of the speakers and the foregoing may not be the whole answer, fortunately the Borough Police Commander, Stuart Bell, at twice the distance, was as clear as his name implies.
Mr. Bell holds his position on a temporary basis following the departure of Jeff Boothe and he said he that situation was likely to continue until the end of this year. There will be a restructuring within the next twelve months “which is likely to see a reduced number of Borough Commanders with greater geographical responsibility. A decision will probably be made in June or July”.
“Over the past twelve months there has been a slight rise in overall crime rates, about 5·8% which is 600 more crimes.” There are about 13,000 reported crimes in Bexley every year.
Residential burglary continues to reduce but violent crime is increasing some of which is down to changes to the recording method. Domestic violence is up by about 11%.
The Northumberland Heath incident last September continues to be studied. It began with a “pre-arranged” fight In Bexleyheath in which social media played a part and the combatants were moved on and ended up in Northumberland Heath “by chance”. Eleven were arrested and “action has been taken against four”.
Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) lamented the apparent disappearance of the Safer Neighbourhood Team in his boroughs, he had not seen them for months. The same decline has been seen in Lesnes Abbey ward too. especially in the field of communications.
Councillor Downing related how things worked at a local level when he was himself a copper. The Commander said he had in fact “increased the number of dedicated ward officers on the borough and by the end of this year each ward will have two dedicated constables and one PCSO”. I could have sworn that there was a time when a bigger team with sergeants was promised. Will we lose more officers when ward numbers are reduced from 21 to 17 next year?
Commander Bell said that the local policing methods outlined by Councillor Downing were exactly what he was aiming for.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) related how she had witnessed two PCSOs in Bexleyheath Broadway apprehend two young boys who had been riding their bikes in the pedestrianised area. “They were in floods of tears because their bikes were about to be confiscated for 48 hours” and “the Broadway is now a much safer place to walk down so congratulations to everyone involved in that scheme”.
I find it interesting that a failed headmistress should rejoice at the thought of two ten year olds reduced to floods of tears by police officers. Brought up in the country as I was I don’t think I spoke to a police officer until I was nearly 50 years old when I opened my door to one who without a word immediately punched me in the face. I’ve rarely had a good word to say about any of them since. What are we going to do when the police have given every youngster a reason to hate them?
In response to a question from Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) which was inaudible due to her back being to the public, the Borough Commander accepted that there is “a fine line” and “that he did not want to alienate young people”.
Councillor Sybil Camsey went on to ask about the number of known gang members in Bexley, up from 5 to 17. Apparently they have been placed here as part of a protection scheme and if they are still active it is not in this borough. The number is still “exceptionally low compared to other London boroughs”.
Councillor Esther Amaning (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) asked about punishments which the Commander was not able to answer fully (it’s not his responsibility) but it did reveal the fact that only 20% of crimes reported in Bexley are solved.
Councillor Sharom Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) piped up to say she disagreed with Councillor Alan Downing. She “couldn’t praise Danson Park SNT enough”.
Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, St. Michael’s) wanted to “echo” Councillor Massey and was concerned by inconsiderate cycling and motorcycling in Welling. The Commander thanked her for bringing it to his attention and was “really keen” to deal with it.
Councillor Langstead reported that North End Road was used as a motor cycle racetrack.
Once again there was no one from UKIP present. Holidays and family commitments again.