When I first started to attend Council meeting eight years ago a group of
five residents would always endeavour to ask a public question. Bexley Council
hated scrutiny even more then than they do now and pulled every possible stunt to
try to avoid them.
Questions would be rejected for not being about policy or because one submitted in good time was not read by the Committee Officer until after the deadline.
Useful Idiots were asked to plant questions designed to provoke Cabinet Member bragging about some claimed achievement or other. A particularly awkward question would ensure a filibuster on the preceding one.
Another madcap plan was to publish the addresses of questioners on the Council’s website in the hope of discouraging them. It did but only from residents who for one reason or another needed to keep a low profile, like those who had escaped from an abusive partner and had found a safe house. They were not the only residents partly disenfranchised and eventually the Information Commissioner had something to say about it.
After Cabinet Member Philip Read refused to answer a question on the grounds that he didn’t like the source of the question, the group stopped their flow of regular questions and few are asked now.
However at last Wednesday evening’s Full Council meeting three Useful Idiots were put on parade.
They were Richard Diment, Adam Wildman and Howard Jackson. None of them are ordinary residents, they are three stooges chosen to stand in the Sidcup, Blendon & Penhill, and Barnehurst ward elections. For the Conservative Party obviously.
If you have a vote in one of those wards please remember that you could be voting for someone prepared to indulge in dirty tricks even before being elected. Haven’t we already got quite enough people like that on the Conservative benches?
Their questions asked Teresa O’Neill to list her achievements, for Don Massey to say how good the Borough’s financial position is and for Peter Craske to claim that Cory Environment’s Belvedere Beach is much more useful than the old Splash Park.
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill was only too pleased to list her achievements and said it was “an excellent question”. Well of course she’d say that, she encouraged the question. Modestly the biggest achievement of all was omitted. Councillor Fothergill is no longer able to email me with references to the Fat Controller.
The list began with the £42 million new Civic Offices which is “much loved” and included references to new housing on the old Hill View (Sidcup) and Howbury (Slade Green) sites. The Clinical Commissioning Group is now housed within the Civic Offices thereby, if the whistleblowers can be believed, facilitating the showering of money on the most favoured doctors’ practices.
The second favourite achievement was the reduction in the number of Councillors from 63 to 45. It was apparently a wholly Conservative achievement and similar proposals from Labour and UKIP were dismissed as “absurd”.
Number three was the long term Growth Strategy which relies almost entirely on the as yet mythical Crossrail extension to Ebbsfleet. She said that Abbey Wood station was “the best new station along the track”. She should get out more.
Dipping further down the list she came to The Prevention Strategy. This is trying to be proactive within the hugely expensive Children’s and Adults’ Services departments and trying to head off problems before they arise.
The introduction of the Bexleyheath and Sidcup Business Improvement Districts came in at number five. The Leader did not say whether small shopkeepers enjoy paying the extra tax or not. “Trees along the Broadway are exciting”. Trees in parks would be even better.
Scraping the barrel for more the Leader came up with “the new street scrubber”, the Ocado warehouse in Erith and the Post Office opening within Crayford Library.
Having run out of Council achievements some were stolen from the National Health Service. There is a new cancer centre in Queen Mary’s Hospital, and one from Transport for London. The 96 bus has been diverted to Darenth Valley Hospital.
Gaining a second wind the Leader gave an airing to the apparent success of the Garden Waste Bin Tax scheme and her placards and protests was what had saved the police station from closure. The LED lighting was another success story and so was Hall Place being brought back under Council control.
Taking away the obstacles to faster broadband which had been placed in front of BT had allowed residents to benefit - a mere four years later than they might otherwise have done.
Was there any risk to future achievements asked the tame lap dog from Sidcup. Yes said the Leader, it was voting Labour next month.
The Leader had managed to take up all but two minutes of the allotted time so Mr. Wildman was short changed.
Cabinet Member Massey said he was optimistic for the future and the Council agrees with him. What better reassurance could one have?
In the remaining 30 seconds Mr. Wildman made a reference to Liam Byrne’s notorious note. What sort of note would Don Massey leave for his successor?
A stupid question was given the flippant answer it so richly deserved.
If Mr. Wildman becomes Councillor Wildman one might be forgiven for believing that the standard of debate in Bexley’s Council Chamber will fall even further.
For time reasons Cabinet Member Craske was denied his opportunity to take credit for the Belvedere Beach.