nearly ninety minutes that exposed Bexley Council’s duplicitous budget proposals Mayor Eileen Pallen woke up and moved Councillors
on from Labour’s Amendment to the the main event, the debate on the Cabinet’s Motion to hide their spending reductions beneath a thin veneer of
a few trees and a Street Scrubber that should ensure a few more job losses.
Labour’s amendment had been given short shrift and there was little new to be said, just new and more inventive ways of saying it.
Councillor John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) was first to give it a shot. John, a former financial journalist, said that “all this Smoke and Mirrors could not hide the fact that our residents pay the price of the Conservative government’s economic illiteracy, right wing ideology, incompetence and obfuscation”. He provided numerous examples of each.
Residents are “being asked to pay 4% more this year for services which are cut to the bone and it is not even enough to plug the holes in this budget. You are looking to axe a further £9 million of services. What a shambles”.
Councillor Steven Hall (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) was almost inaudible due to a combination of mumbling, banging doors and another faulty microphone. Nothing he said was clearly intelligible until he moved on to criticising the Labour proposal that Bexley Council should adopt the London Living Wage.
As Labour dropped that idea after learning the cost at the last Cabinet meeting and made no mention of it in their Budget Amendment, and quite obviously it did not form part of the Conservative proposals, one must wonder what Councillor Hall was banging on about and why.
The Chairman Mayor must have gone back to sleep. She did nothing to steer the show away from irrelevancy.
Councillor Hall droned on about it for more than two minutes.
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Erith) said “the budget does not do what it claims to do, it is all spin and no substance. We need to put people first. I will vote no to support elderly and lonely residents. I will vote no to support at risk children, disabled children and respite for their carers”.
“Conservatives are deluding themselves by repeating repeating repeating their altered reality. Their political headlines are not supported by the details. The budget prioritises trees over people. It is my priority and that of my colleagues to put people first.”
Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) defended tree planting. Residents had asked for it.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) said the Tory claim that they were investing in the community was false. The community is people and the figures clearly showed that they are suffering deep cuts. It was “an Alice in Wonderland budget which does nothing at all to help people in our community. There are massive increases in respite care charges. There are 20,000 carers providing care for free and they sometimes need a break. The budget puts even more stress on carers”.
Councillor Endy Ezenwata (Labour, Thamesmead East) cast doubt on whether Bexley Council was Listening to you, Working for you and “residents now pay more for less”. He was all for more trees but his “conscience would not allow support for a budget which targets the vulnerable, abused children and adults” What is happening to them, examples given, “breaks my heart”.
Councillor Maxine Fothergill (Conservative, Colyers) made a rare high profile contribution to the debate. She referred to the several years of Council Tax freeze “which has helped our residents. The marginal increases this year and last will make a contribution to the cost of Adult Social Care” - but not as big as it could be if Councillor Craske had not decided to run amok with trees and a Street Scrubber.
Probably not enough support from Maxine to win back favour after reporting her Leader’s favourite young man to the police for repeated thefts. No one in Bexley Council with respect for the law is likely to advance their career by offering support for it.
Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) chose to join the fray. She was “delighted by the Council’s good financial management” and commended the use of Community Groups. For example the one set up by Councillor Rob Leitch to rescue Sidcup’s Walled Garden from Council neglect.
She was “really pleased that an extra £90,000 and been found for park maintenance”. Maybe she forgot that money for park maintenance is coming from the sale of Old Farm Park.
“It is complete nonsense for the Labour Group to allege that we neglect people in this borough. We spend 55% of our budget on adults and children’s services” and she objected to Councillor Ezenwata’s reference to the Listening slogan which was her invention. “The Conservative Council is listening to residents”. (Residents who are not usually in possession of the full facts.)
The last word went to Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere). He again provided the figures for the cut in the grounds maintenance budget which Councillor Slaughter had welcomed. “£180,000 (if I heard him correctly, his microphone let him down) had been taken out and £90,000 put back in” and he correctly reminded Councillor Slaughter that it was only a few months since she too had complained that Bexley Council was no longer either Listening to or Working for its residents.
Needless to say his words cut no ice with the governing party. Teresa O’Neill said - no, lied - that anyone who voted against the budget was voting against more trees and extra street cleaning.
The vote was exactly as it was for Labour’s Amendment, the pedantic will say the reverse. Strict party lines with UKIP as split locally as they appear to be nationally.
We are not finished yet, there is another 50 minutes of argument to go. Some of it more than a little silly courtesy of Cabinet Member Lord Rochester at his idiotic best.