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My prediction that Mayor Pallen would throw hissy fits again at Wednesday’s
budget setting meeting proved to be wide of the mark but the one about the
Tories web publishing the names of Councillors who voted against
massive cuts sweetened by a tree or two and a Street Scrubber was fulfilled
within hours. Such shameful Tory dishonesty will not be boosted by a link from BiB.
Both Labour and UKIP Councillors made a point of saying that they were in favour of the restoration of the street cleaning and tree planting budget to something like their former levels but not at the expense of the elderly being left to rot in their homes instead of being put into care when necessary.
The Conservatives are all in favour of the elderly being left at home longer than they should be - it’s how they underspent the budget last year - if there is any chance that the trickery will see them home and dry in next year’s election. Aren’t the boundary changes which they welcomed and the Jeremy Corbyn effect enough for them?
Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey) protested at the iniquity of Councillors having to vote against the Street Scrubber if their priority was protecting the vulnerable and took the logical course of abstention for which she was roundly condemned by the stony hearted double crossers opposite.
The Full Council meeting was the fifth consecutive meeting to be preceded by an announcement that the microphones were not working properly. Coupled with the fact that Councillors are made to stand and are therefore well away from the microphones designed for close speaking and with the public seating placed behind them, it makes following the arguments difficult. Maybe that is the idea but the whispered complaints in the public gallery don’t help either. The Desk Thief has ensured that it is not easy to get away from them.
The Leader’s address began with a comparison between now and 2006 when Labour lost control of the borough, leaving, she said, a £10 million black hole. In four years Labour increased Band D Council Tax by £213 and in the following ten it went up only £157.
She then complained that the government dished out far less money per head than they did to other Councils and some figures were reeled out. Bexley’s Band D tax last year “was approximately £1,470 with a government settlement of £21·9 million. If it had been the same as Greenwichs £53·1 million, Bexley’s Band D tax would be just over £1,000. If it was the same as Southwark’s £73·5 million, Council tax would be only £735.”
These are very frustrating figures but not quite as extreme as the Leader has led us to believe in the past. Last year I recorded her saying that if Bexley was in receipt of Greenwich’s grant it would be paying residents not taxing them. I think we can now safely assume that that was a lie. Bexley Council’s claims frequently are.
Cabinet Member for Finance Don Massey said he was proud of the budget, it was “introducing new money and restoring new money” and was not eating into reserves. “It was because he had been prudent in the past and taken difficult decisions.”
“It is easy to criticise and say this or that should have been done earlier but when you go back and check you find the suggestions were never made. The residents of Bexley know that they can trust us.”
“When savings are made they are declared and put back into the central pot.”
The budget supports our corporate plan and supporting residents in the borough to lead fulfilled and independent lives. I will be listening intently to fellow Members in the ensuing debate to see how their contributions support these aims”. Independent lives as has been explained at Scrutiny meetings means not providing care services promptly.
The Opposition Leader Alan Deadman asked for his counter proposals to be distributed.
They drew attention to the massive expenditure cuts already agreed for Adult Social Care (three and a half million this year rising to £7·9 million a year in three years time) and around half a million less every year on street cleaning.
I had expected the amendment to say that these savage cuts should be mitigated to some extent by not spending money on trees and a Street Scrubber which Bexley had got along without up until now, however it didn’t actually do so. An unfortunate omission.
Councillor Deadman made it absolutely clear that he was not against a cleaner and greener Bexley, it was after all the Tories who sold parks, not his party.
Naturally the Tories totally ignored his backing for “green and clean”. The money allocated to those activities was insignificant compared to the overall cuts into green and clean but the Conservatives launched their prearranged plan to make it appear otherwise relying on voter apathy, fiction and misleading Press Releases to see their lie go unchallenged.
Councillor Teresa O’Neill was asked if she wished to comment on the Labour party amendment but declined on the grounds it was more a statement than an amendment, and to be fair it could have been more clearly written.
Councillor Don Massey was not so reticent and promptly dismissed the amendment as “La La Land”. Those who might agree with the Leader that the amendment was merely a statement may be confused by Lord Rochester’s comment because it was a ‘statement’ comprised of facts drawn from previous budgetary announcements.
If it was La La Land everything Massey has said, backed and voted for in recent months must be wrong too.
He dismissed the Labour amendment with the Conservatives favourite word of the moment. It was “grandstanding” and “it was lazy and very poor”.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) always champions the poor living in inadequate housing with “mould and cockroach infestation and relying on food banks while the Cabinet Member can spend on tree planting and cleaning car parks”. Many similar examples were cited.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Anywhere Mad Enough To Have Him) unfortunately relapsed into full on Village Idiot mode which for me was a matter of genuine regret. I thought he had been cured of it.
He had spent 15 minutes listening to three Labour speakers (the other one was Councillor Mabel Ogundayo) emphasising that they were in favour of a greener cleaner Bexley but rated care of the elderly a higher priority. The VI said he “was interested to see that the Labour Group have admitted that they are against a cleaner greener Bexley”. Thick as two planks or what?
“All Bexley services are improving” he said to a cry of rubbish from the public gallery. Delusional. He said that residents’ priority “is more grass cutting and they are the happiest in London”. Are they smoking it?
He was “delighted that the Council was looking at new ways to increase income”. That will not only be the 25% increase is fees for care services but yellow box junctions too presumably.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) struggled with his broken microphone and continued the criticism of Bexley Council’s strange priorities, “trees over people” and “millions of pounds of cuts” imposed on them.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said it was easy to get carried away by the budget Smoke and Mirrors and it most certainly is. Some probing is required before it falls apart which is what the Cabinet spivs are counting on. As Joe rightly pointed out, street cleaning will be cut again in 2018/19. The same most definitely goes for Social Care. Councillor Esther Amaning (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) made similar points and additionally drew attention to the 8% cut to the schools budget. Services to disabled children are especially poor and personal files have been going astray.
Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Marys) spoke in favour of savage cuts while claiming that Bexley “is a great borough”. Compared to the twaddle spoken by some of his colleagues he was measured and moderate in tone and put a just about tolerable gloss on the underlying deception. Not that the Labour Members were fooled by it. There were polite protests as he drew to a conclusion.
Councillor Danny Hackett was less restrained. He said the Conservatives were split by in fighting and he felt sorry for them having to slavishly defend “a cheap confidence trick. It is small minded politicking and an election year fire sale”. They have “destroyed” a whole host of services which he listed. He sat down to enthusiastic public applause.
David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) spoke next. Do you really want to hear the usual spiteful diatribe? No I thought not. He earned a rebuke for it from the Mayor.
Councillor Lynn Smith as already noted, protested that the all or nothing vote does not allow Councillors full expression but she was against cleaning car parks while the elderly were allowed to suffer. More public applause.
Councillor Melvin Seymour (Northumberland Heath) said he was a Conservative and was “committed to representing all people and all their concerns”. It is about “what people out there think” and presumably trees will convince them “to vote for us again”. He also said that the Council “must make money” and put forward the garden waste scheme as a good example of milking residents.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) made one of his best and most impassioned speeches. He said the detailed cuts figures would not be known if the Labour Group had not asked questions at Scrutiny meetings. The Conservative Group hardly asks a single question. “Nobody in the Chamber had queried the figures” he had supplied, “they are signed off in the budget book”. The massive cuts are real.
“It is a budget where people pay more but get less. It is a Smoke and Mirrors budget. A deliberate attempt to convince residents that there had been spending increases where there had been reductions”.
“Councilor Davey had said that the budget would make our borough cleaner, how can it when there is a reduction of £105,000 this year and £340,000 next? The Cabinet Member’s paper was designed to mislead and he produced it before publication of the budget figures and before scrutiny which is its downfall. The questions asked both inside and outside meetings showed it was not worth the paper it was written on. Labour Group work had exposed it as Smoke and Mirrors and Conservative Members had blindly accepted it in the hope it would fund their re-election.”
“The irony is that they cut street cleaning last year to roll over and spend this year. It disappears in the year after”. (That’s not really irony is it, much closer to a fraud?)
Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) said the budget “was an achievement due to the competence of this Council”.
The Leader was asked to wrap things up. She said that the Labour amendment was just a “wish list and a cop out” and called for its rejection.
The vote on the Labour Amendment divided along party lines, as usual Labour stood no chance. UKIP backed all the horses, one For, one Against and one Abstention.
An hour and a half into the meeting the debate on the recommended budget had yet to begin.