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Councillor Philip Read’s lying may have been the highlight of last week’s Cabinet meeting
but it wasn’t the end of it.
Councillor John Fuller, Cabinet Member for Education, was next to speak and he is by comparison boringly professional. He’s absolutely useless when it comes to lying, exaggeration or slagging off the opposition parties. Why Council Leader O’Neill tolerates his quiet efficiency I have no idea.
He told us that he is ready for a baby boom which is about to hit secondary schools. Classrooms that had been closed have been reopened and 85% of pupils have been given their first choice of school.
Special Educational Needs (SEN) pupils are a priority and there are more each year, “more than any other local borough” and a new school “will expand on what we already have”. Using abbreviations and jargon which only an educationalist would understand, Councillor Fuller said he was selling Bexley’s schools expertise to other boroughs.
Informative and concise; could Cabinet Member for Adult Services Brad Smith compete?
Not really, he read from a long script and even he seemed to be bored by it so let’s move on to Regeneration and Cabinet Member Linda Bailey.
She said that she thought “the medium term financial strategy looks a lot better than I envisaged a few years ago” and it was due “to our prudent management”.
Referring to the consultation on growth and “the many roadshows” she said “it has cross party support and will bring many benefits” but she “was saddened about a community group that had now gone out into the community with pretty nasty stuff and frightening residents. I know of a person I heard of at the weekend who is absolutely petrified and was told the house would be taken from them in a couple of months time. This has got to be stamped on because it is just ridiculous. I know Chinese whispers but we really have got to do something about that. The growth will be happening over many years, not straight away and it won’t happen without the proper infrastructure, transport, health provision, consultation and the proper planning procedure”.
“The New Homes Bonus [provides for] the possibility the government will be withholding payments to Councils if they are not planning effectively with planning applications for delivering growth. If this comes into being we will have to be very careful the way forward we go on this.” (That appears to be the government holding a pistol the the Planning Committee’s head.)
Councillor Bailey wanted to be sure that planning applications were of high quality so that there was no reason to reject them.
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill thanked Councillor Bailey for “bringing to attention the scaremongering that is happening in Slade Green” and offered her “proven track record” as reassurance that she’d deliver “the right results because the alternative is more scary”.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) asked Councillor Craske for more details of “his pre-election wish list” and Councillor Fuller about the £796,000 overspend on SEN transport and complained that schools had no idea of what their future funding might be. There was more, his questions took five and a half minutes to pose and the Council Leader decided to answer the school’s questions herself. “Councillor Fuller is on top of all of those issues.” Everyone had forgotten the question to Councillor Craske, not a word was said about it by anyone.
Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour, North End) welcomed the partial restoration of previous service cuts but said that residents on their doorsteps believed that the brown bin tax was “blackmail” because with gardens to maintain and maybe no car to go to the dump, they had no option but to stump up the money.
Councillors Craske and Don Massey giggled their contempt and Massey dismissed the residents’ views as “rubbish”. Councillor Deadman briefly complained about the late provision of a growth road show in Slade Green.
Once again Teresa O’Neill chose to answer the questions herself. “The take up for garden waste is the best in London and people had voted with their feet” which was no answer at all. The Leader said that “additional roadshows were always expected”. Does that sound likely?
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) said she was pleased that SEN children were no longer being “taken outside the borough at high cost” and providing for them locally was “one of the best things we ever did”. She is “delighted” and there will be a new SEN secondary school. She thought “we should be commended for what we have done with SEN”. There’s nothing quite like blowing your own trumpet.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford for the time being) said “the opposition should be saying what a wonderful job we are doing in keeping control of the finances instead of nit-picking” and he “was concerned somewhat about the fake information circulating in Slade Green but like it or not we have got to get growth. People who come up with ridiculous things do our residents a great disservice”.
Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) had noticed the failure to answer questions directed at Councillor Craske. He wanted to know how the wish list would be funded. The Leader jumped in again, it was “funded by last year’s underspend”. (Yeah, so you keep saying.)
Whilst praising the various initiatives to make the borough better Councillor Francis also wanted to speak of “the realities”. SEN children “are being told there is no school for you because you have SEN and that is causing real real problems. My child is one of those children who have been told there is no place for you. They are being told to stay in nursery a year.”
“What we have seen locally and nationally, what we have seen over the past seven years, is failing and what we have seen tonight is a number of budget cuts being reversed, not permanently, by an underspend. It’s amazing because four working days ago the Cabinet Member for Finance when asked what was going to happen to that underspend said he had no plans for it but somehow in four days he has magicked up Councillor Craske’s plans. We have allowed the house to get into disrepair but we are going to have a last minute clean up ten months before the Council elections. Can you imagine a Labour Council admitting we have still got to find £5·1 million for the budget and then announcing a list of expenditure? I have no problem with that but if we had done that you can imagine the accusations of financial mismanagement. Your policies have failed the people of this borough.”
The Leader, mistress of the non-answer, said ”if that was the case we wouldn’t be writing back budget lines, it’s a result of the work we have put in that has put us into this place.”
Cabinet Member Massey at his most condescending said that “Councillor Francis, I know you are not financially illiterate so I put that down to politicking and getting election fever”. He said he “joined the Council from finance in 2006 and felt there was a lot of things the public sector could learn, OK? Bexley Council’s finances were in a mess, no doubt about it and we had to restore. You do it by transformation. You can make your glib comments about cutting but it is not about that.”
Excusing his comments four days earlier he said he planned to put the underspend into the transformational reserve and he would. It was the transformational reserve that Councillor Craske was going to spend, not the underspend itself.
Wafting across from the UKIP benches came the unmistakable words, “Smart arse” and as Councillor Massey droned on in similar vein (“our accounting is excellent”) one could not but wholeheartedly agree.
Councillor Leaf said that “Labour would fail residents and fail to adapt”. He said that nationally and locally the Conservatives had delivered “seven years of success”. What the opposition say “has no substance and no credibility”. The Leader was very pleased with her little protégé and said “Well done Councillor Leaf”.
Councillor Massey moved adoption of the financial plans, Councillor Craske seconded and up went every greasy palm.