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At its best Bexley Council can come across as quite a good one and that was how
things were at Tuesday’s Places Overview and Scrutiny Committee. It must help
that Cabinet Members Peter Craske and Philip Read are not members so there are
no nasty egotistical tirades directed at the opposition or half truths. I quite recently
asked a Councillor if he/she considered my criticism of that pair to be fair and
whether I was right to portray Council Leader Teresa O’Neill as a controlling
and vindictive individual. The emphatic reply was not one to persuade me to change course.
Not all Councillors are like that. On Tuesday I found myself in brief conversation with all the Labour Councillors present (Amaning, Ferreira, Hackett and Newman), ditto UKIP (Lynn Smith) and Conservatives, June Slaughter, Alex Sawyer and Gareth Bacon who was more friendly than I have any right to expect. I spoke to two Council officers too.
See how much nicer Bexley Council could be if we can get rid of the bad eggs?
The main subject of the meeting was fire safety and to that end two Bexley Fire Officers were in attendance. As already noted, Chairman Melvin Seymour, presumably under instructions from above, would not allow any questions that could in any way be associated with the Grenfell Tower tragedy which made the discussions less useful than they might have been.
The intention today is to cover Agenda items that were not fire related, however it is probably worth repeating that the message from Bexley Council and all the experts at its disposal was adamant that none of Bexley’s residential blocks are clad in materials like those in Kensington or considered to be any sort of risk. There is a building in Sidcup that requires closer examination but it is a hotel, not social housing.
After the Peabody contingent had departed Vice-Chairman Cheryl Bacon asked for an explanation for the £253,000 overspend on the Community Safety, Environment and Leisure budget mentioned on Page 14 of the Agenda and the figure of £0·25 million quoted on Page 18. It looked like nit picking to me. (Most of it is due to the LED lighting programme.)
Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) said he had noticed a reduction in charges at a car park he uses. Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer confirmed that charges at station car parks had gone down because reduced use had led to spare capacity and the prices were altered to become more competitive.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked about the rental income obtained from letting out sections of the Thames Road recycling depot. He was told that the target was £75,000 a year and the current revenue level was about 90% of that.
A considerable amount of time was spent discussing the skill levels of the local population. Bexley has the 4th best employment rate in London. 56% of the population have jobs rated in ‘Upper Middle’ and ‘High’ skill levels but a Council Officer warned about the impact of automation. Bexley has many warehouse and transport jobs and the effects of automation were likely to be very significant.
Councillor Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling), until recently Chairman of the Transport Users’ Sub-Committee, was keen to mention the revision to the 96 bus route which she successfully pushed TfL towards at most of her Transport meetings. It will now serve Darent Valley Hospital.
She was less happy about the London Mayor’s cuts to various road and transport related schemes. The total is in the region of £3·3 million and follows a central government grant reduction. What will it mean for Bexley she asked Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer.
Alex Sawyer said Bexley already gets the sixth lowest allocation in London but has suffered the fifth largest reduction. The money had been used for school crossings and it won’t be there any more. “We face the risk there will be no manned school crossings from 2018/19. That is the cliff we are looking at.”
Councillor Sawyer went on to criticise the London Mayor’s transport policies. He did not want to see Bexley residents “screwed” by Mayor Sadiq Khan’s transport plans. “We deserve better transport links in this borough and [later] a car is almost essential in Bexley.”
Councillor and GLA Member Gareth Bacon is no more an enthusiast for the Mayor than I am. He said the threat to school crossing patrols might be attributed to “£650 million thrown out of the window on a partial fares freeze, an underestimation of the cost of the bus hopper and hiring hundreds of unnecessary staff to help with a strike that he himself caused. Just under a billion pounds”.
Councillor Joe Ferreira contrasted Sadiq Khan’s waste of a billion with the Prime Minister investing a similar amount in Northern Ireland. I wasn’t convinced it was a valid comparison.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) asked how many residents engaged with the Council at the Harrow Manorway presentation in Abbey Wood’s Sainsbury’s. It just managed to trip into three figures. He also commented on the fact that the Department for Communities and Local Government had ordered an enquiry into the Compulsory Purchase of property in South Thamesmead. Would it delay the project? The Assistant Chief Executive thought not.
For the past year or more Bexley Council has been pouring scorn on the Labour Group’s assertion that Bexley has a severe fly tipping problem. It may be at variance with what readers see all around them but Bexley has no fly tipping problem. It must be true because Cabinet Member Peter Craske repeatedly says so.
However it is suddenly all change.
The recorded figures have become so bad (“a marked increase”) over the past year that the Places Committee has decided to set up a Sub-Group to tackle the problem.
The senior Council Officer (a Deputy Director no less, on 90k. a year) who asserted at the last Places meeting that the fly tipping statistics were improving did not even blush.