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I’ve never quite seen the point of public question time at Bexley Council
meetings - why wait three months instead of sending an email?
Rarely is there a straight answer and there is the risk of being treated to personal insults by Councillor Peter Craske, be denied the opportunity by a filibuster from Leader Teresa O’Neill or Councillor Philip Read might refuse to answer a question asked by someone who isn’t a member of the right political party.
Maybe that is why there were no public questions at last week’s Council meeting.
Questions are supposed to be listed in the order of their receipt so Councillors keen to ask a question don’t hang about and the last Question Time was three months ago. Strange then that the first question was about the Grenfell Tower fire (14th June) but it gave the Council Leader the opportunity to read out a prepared statement which she wouldn’t want to be wasted through being timed out as most questions are. Only four out of 47 were answered at Wednesday’s meeting.
The Leader did not say much that had not been heard by those who attended the Scrutiny meetings a week earlier but these are the main points of the Leader’s ten minute speech.
Fire fighters from Barnehurst attended but there was so much congestion in the area they had to park a mile away and walk with their kit on their backs which they took as far as the eleventh floor.
Once the fire was extinguished “the silent emergency services, the local councils came in behind. I don’t think any Council would be able to cope on their own which is why the London Resilience Team comes in.”
Fire procedures are such that the Team “did not kick in straight away, that is something the borough leaders are looking at. We would expect them to come in straight away”.
Bexley was one of the first boroughs to offer assistance. Every London borough was involved.
Bexley Council has set up a Fire Safety Task Force which includes the Fire Service and the three local housing associations. None of their 36 towers are clad with materials similar to those at Grenfell Tower.
Schools, care homes and tall private property is being similarly checked. The Task Force is giving attention to roads where parking might hinder emergency vehicles.
The next question was from Councillor Val Clark on her favourite subject, School Crossing Patrols. “Would the Cabinet Member agree that Bexley is lucky to have them?” (I think she already had a good idea of what the answer would be.)
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said they were “fantastic” and he “wholeheartedly endorsed what Councillor Clark said”.
Councillor Clark said she believed the Mayor of London had reduced the funding. “Will this negative act jeopardise the safety of children in any way?” Councillor Sawyer said he would do everything possible to ensure that Crossing Patrols continue. “It is number on in my inbox.” (When Cabinet Member Peter Craske was in charge of roads, he proposed getting rid of School Crossing Patrols.)
Councillor Sawyer thought it was “astonishing that a scheme can just be cut without anyone at City Hall contacting this borough. It suggests that the Mayor simply doesn’t particular care about Outer London.”
Labour Councillor John Husband, very much aware that the pre-election restoration of the old street cleaning schedule is funded from last year’s underspend - or from reserves if you prefer the “smart arse’s” explanation - asked Councillor Craske if the schedule would be cut in 2018/19. Cabinet Member Craske gave the one word answer, “No”.
“Did Councillor Craske now admit that the previous cuts “had gone too far”? Councillor Craske managed only to waffle about how clever he was to have found the money to improve things using the underspend.
Councillor Louie French somehow managed to slip in an extra question. When was the new street cleaning machine going to be available? Councillor Craske referred to the bureaucracy that delays the ordering of such a machine but is is being manufactured “right now”.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) asked how the proposed cut to the schools budget would affect Special Needs provision.
Cabinet Member John Fuller referred to Councillor Borello’s (sic) similar question at the Scrutiny meeting and made a totally unnecessary joke about him being unknown outside North End.
I thought he was above that sort of thing but obviously no Cabinet Member is immune from it. After the laughter at Councillor Borella’s expense had died down Councillor Fuller said that the government had allocated an extra £1·3 billion to Bexley’s schools. There would be “a minimum of 3% for schools with additional needs over the next two years.” He has “no concerns about SEN”.
Councillor Langstead pointed out that the £1·3 billion is not new money, it comes from shuffling other budgets.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Brampton) asked Cabinet Member Fuller if “this Council remains committed to quality SEN provision”. What an idiotic question; the Cabinet member for Education is hardly going to say No is he? Brampton ward electors must be so proud to have elected such an intellectual.
And that was the end of questions until 8th November.
Councillor Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen and Lamorbey) was not happy to see her question (which was fifth on the list) being tossed aside. She wanted to know if Bexley Council and its housing providers were on top of the subletting problem. Probably not.