The budget setting Council meeting did not fall on a very convenient day for me. The Chairman of the Abbey Wood Tradersְ’ Association wanted me to go to his meeting with Greenwich Councillor Danny Thorpe about the Abbey Wood regeneration and today I have commitments north of the river which means that an in depth report on what happened in Bexley last night is going to have to wait a day or two. However there is time for a quick summary. Obviously the 3·99% Council Tax rise was approved and equally obviously Labour’s alternative suggestion was ignored. In fact ridiculed.
Some of my other predictions were wide of the mark. Mayor Pallen threw very few of her toys out of her pram, Councillor Peter Craske did not take his Twitter storm into the Chamber and Councillor Philip Read did not insult the opposition even once. His stooge David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) was left to do that aided and abetted by Councillor John Davey (Conservative, La La Land).
The Council Leader Teresa O’Neill made some good points about the poor treatment meted out by Government to Bexley compared to neighbouring boroughs but how accurate the figures were is hard to say. She made the same speech last year but the figures were very different. Massively different, by a factor of more than three!
We already knew what the Conservative’s budget proposals were. They squeezed spending so hard last year that they saved more money than they expected and they are going to spend it on nice things over the coming two years. After that it will be all gone.
They are portraying the extra money they stole from us last year as a populist gift to the borough over the forthcoming election period. No one should be fooled by it.
The opposition spelled out some of the figures. It has already been agreed that spending on Adult Social Care will be slashed in the coming year by £3,378,000, a figure that rises to nearly £8m. by 2020/21.
Street cleaning suffers a similar fate. £348,000 cut from the budget in 2017/18 and even more in every following year. What Councillor Craske has been bragging about is a reduction in those cuts - due to last year’s underspend - which he presents as increased expenditure. He’s the consummate expert in his trade isn’t he? The perfect spin doctor.
The Labour group made similar points about the staffing budget too which included the loss of live CCTV monitoring. They also pointed out that the welcome abolition of funeral charges for minors was a Greenwich Council initiative and as the Eltham Crematorium is under joint Bexley/Greenwich control, Bexley had little option but to follow suit.
The Labour opposition wanted the money saved last year to be directed towards Adults’ Social Care and not trees and a “Street Scrubber” as the Tories called their fancy new machine.
“Do what is right and not what might be popular” was the Labour message but nobody took any notice of Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) who voiced it.
Street Scrubber? Now why does that make me wish I had not taken the above picture?
That’s it for today, the Blackwall Tunnel calls. Wish me luck.