You will all know by now that Bexley’s Council Tax will be going up by just a little over 4% once Sadiq Khan has taken his cut but perhaps what various Councillors had to say about the rate rise may still be of interest.
Council Leader O’Neill said there had been an underspend in the past year of £2·2 million and £263 will be spent next year. Compared with 2010 that is a “reduction of costs of £110 million. They were not actually cuts, they were innovative and creative transformations of service.”
Cabinet Member Don Massey was pleased to have underspent again and to have “kept Council Tax as low as possible for as long as possible. That’s how we keep our reputation for being sensible with money”.
“Our financial position is reasonably sound, in fact it is much better than many other local authorities particularly in London.” (4 minutes and 42 seconds.)
Cabinet Member Philip Read felt obliged to once again run down the list of achievements since he took over the Children’s Services role. After scoring an “Inadequate” score only five years ago “children’s services are now the envy of many local authorities.” Youth Services have been improved too and are another example of “preventative work. The Youth Offending Team is now at the front line of preventing young children falling into criminality. It will be given more resources.” (5 minutes and 30 seconds.)
Cabinet Member Linda Bailey took a similar approach. She said her achievements included the Ocado warehouse due to open next May, the Business Awards ceremony now in its sixth year, the “massive” Thamesmead housing zone, Erith and the Carnegie Building, Erith Park and the Arthur Street regeneration. Beside that is the Erith Quarry housing development which Bexley residents are snapping up. Sidcup’s “dying High Street is now thriving”. The Thames Innovation Centre is at last in profit. Blackfen has been improved “and a lot of successful projects”. (4 minutes 32 seconds.)
Cabinet Member Brad Smith galloped through a carefully prepared script while several members of the public stifled yawns. His theme as always was to say the way forward is to spend less through doing things more efficiently, frequently interspersed (three of them) with jibes aimed at the Labour opposition. (7 minutes and 16 seconds but seemed much longer.)
Cabinet Member Craske said that Crayford library lent 21% more items since the premises were shared with the Post Office. There was less money available now compared to 2010 but some things are better. The old Local Implementation Plan was so complicated “that no one could understand it, the system was idiotic and even Transport for London couldn’t understand it. We had to have schemes we didn’t want in order to get projects we did want”.
He “despaired at other Councils which rushed into cutting this and cutting that while Bexley found other ways of doing things. We have been the number one borough for recycling for 13 years and only Ealing has joined Bexley in the 50% club”.
“Libraries are another good example, other Councils rushed in and closed libraries while Bexley has refurbished three in three months. Central library has been transformed.” Inevitably Councillor Craske took credit for the Cory sponsored Belvedere Beach. He was “proud of this budget”. (7 minutes and 17 seconds.)
Cabinet Member John Fuller said that schools are now coming back to the Council for assistance especially with Special Educational Needs. (2 minutes.)
Cabinet Member Sawyer also indulged in a history lesson harking back to 2006. “We have brought real change to this borough”. New roundabouts, new bridges and “getting traffic from A to B as quickly as possible remains the key aim” he said with a perfectly straight face.
The false claim that the LED lighting “brings brighter streets” was repeated for the umpteenth time. The lower electricity costs made it “a win win situation”.
The accident prone Welling corridor scheme was also given a favourable mention and he “looked forward to more prosecutions” of errant motorists. The need for an extended Elizabeth Line was plugged once again. The new Abbey Wood station represents “a new era for the commuters of Bexley” but he is “very concerned about the loss of the loop service”.
Cabinet Member Sawyer was also “proud of this budget” and residents “are proud of this borough”. (7 minutes exactly.)
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford for now) said the budget was “brilliant” and more than once that he too was “proud. We have lots of residents who cannot afford their Council Tax.”
For Labour, Councillor Daniel Francis said that some aspects of “what has been heard tonight is a fantasy world. A world where £110 million pounds of cuts don’t involve a single cut, it is all efficiencies. People don’t go out and speak to people because they will tell you that a 25% cut in their grants is having a real effect and what we have heard tonight is not the reality I hear on the doorstep”.
“We are going into an election where members opposite have run out of steam and run out of vision on how we take this borough forward. They will knock on doors saying here is the 4% Council Tax increase, here are all the cuts you continue to have, some of which were reversed at the last moment, but others continued at full throttle saying they are here to protect the most vulnerable members of society; absolute nonsense. Council Tax reduction scheme? They have punished those people the most and that is after twelve years of this Council. The people going into this election will have a choice, a choice between those who will support the most vulnerable or a choice of people who have run out of steam and who will continue to sell those people down the river.
Having heard that the Conservative Cabinet rapidly voted their 3·99% budget through. Will it be enough to lift the borough from its 24th most expensive in London tax position?