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Ever since Private Eye felt it necessary to make my age a feature of their
story about Councillor Maxine Fothergill I have been questioned about it but
whether I look 74 or not is immaterial, yesterday I definitely felt like
it and seriously considered dodging last night’s People
Overview and Scrutiny meeting and watching the webcast instead. The only
attraction of attending in person was the promise of hearing the police report
from the new Commander and seeing him in the flesh. That decision saw me
sitting in solitary splendour in the public gallery for 90 minutes.
I needn’t have bothered, neither the outgoing Borough Commander Stuart Bell or new appointee Simon Dobinson showed up.
That is not at at all surprising, the Borough Commander will now have three Councils to satisfy and probably a lot of similar commitments which will make similar inroads into his time. If nothing else there are going to be three times as many emergencies that cause him to absent himself at very short notice.
In their absence Deputy Director for Communities Toni Ainge reported very briefly (two minutes) on the current situation which has seen Bexley’s policing combined with Greenwich and Lewisham on a preparatory basis before going full steam ahead in September 2018.
Ms. Ainge said that burglaries had increased “fairly dramatically” in Bexley over the past year “and it is a trend across London”. The year on year figure was up by 21% which is now very nearly six per day and makes up 9% of all crime in Bexley. Fortunately the most recent month’s figures showed a decline.
The first comment came from Councillor Sharon Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) who said her residents were “very concerned” about the changes and in particular about the number of police officers who might be withdrawn. When combined with Greenwich and Lewisham Bexley might become “the Cinderella”. She was looking forward to “smarter working” and her Safer Neighbourhood Team had told her that one aspect of that was to do away with notebooks and use tablets “to avoid returning to the office and typing it all up”.
“Where have they been for the past 20 years?” Councillor Massey asked. “Shocking!”
Former police officer Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) has developed the knack of asking the sort of questions you or I might ask. Like me he was disappointed that no police officer was present, he had questions he would have liked to put to them. He was not too bothered about the larger police areas, “we used to do this years ago, it can work but we had more police officers at that time.”
“What will happen to ward officers? We have been told so many times that they will stay in the ward but clearly it doesn’t work.”
“What happens to the Youth Offending Team etcetera? Are they all merging? I can’t get answers. I am very concerned that I can’t find out. We will not get answers unless we get someone here in a blue uniform and even then we won’t get the right answers.”
“I have eight to ten such questions and I am sure it is not just me, a lot of residents would like to ask those questions. When will we get answers, how are we going to find those answers?”
Chairman Councillor James Hunt repeated the excuses for the absence of the two police Commanders and not unnaturally Ms. Ainge did not make a suitable substitute.
Cabinet Member Craske said he had similar questions “but the new Borough Commander needs time. It is not ideal”.
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) asked if we knew yet “where the Central Hub would be”. Unfortunately Councillor Craske could only confirm that we don’t.