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A glance at the Agenda for last night’s Resources Scrutiny meeting suggested
that the only point in attending rather than watching the webcast was the
outside chance of seeing the Vice-Chairman delivering value for her £750 a meeting
payment. Unsurprisingly she was not there. Councillor Fothergill has missed three of the four meetings held in
the past municipal year. Money under false pretences?
The first Agenda item was a presentation by Bexley Voluntary Service Council. It provides non-medical support to General Practitioners via a large number of voluntary organisations, charities etc. Age UK, MIND, the Alzheimer’s Society to name just a few.
It is jointly funded by the Clinical Commissioning Group (£150,000 p.a.) and Bexley Council (£58,000).
In common with every other care related service the BVCS is facing increased demand. Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said that he believed those pressures will lead to some of the supporting charities withdrawing their services. “They are struggling.”
Cabinet Member Don Massey dismissed Councillor Francis’ comments, he “was missing the point” but Councillor Francis said that he had been to see “a dozen over the last few months and there are groups out there saying we will have to cancel our contract because we are making a loss on them”.
Two years ago Bexley Council pooled the administration of several vital services with Havering and Newham Councils in the expectation that economies of scale would save £741,000 a year. The joint operation goes under the name oneSource.
Not everything has gone according to plan especially the quality of service offered to Bexley residents.
A survey comparing before and after showed that the overall customer satisfaction levels in Bexley was 55% compared to 81% in Newham and 89% in Havering.
This masked some very poor individual results with none falling less than 20% over the year, several over 30% and one down from 86% satisfaction to only 33%. Only John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) thought to ask why.
He was told that it would take time for service levels to settle down and that Bexley “being a minor player” was disadvantaged. “The river, if I am honest, doesn’t help” according to Cabinet Member Don Massey. “There is a problem of isolation.”
After carefully criticising some of the staff at oneSource, Councillor Massey said that Sean Harriss the former £188,000 p.a. Chief Executive of Lambeth Council will take over at oneSource next Tuesday, Web sources suggest he was keen to get away from “the political viper’s nest” which is Lambeth Council.
Bexley Council is continuing to closely monitor the financial problems reported by Capita and make tentative contingency plans but does not appear to believe there is a serious risk of the company failing.
Business Rates were briefly discussed and examples of some of the bigger increases were provided. Day Nurseries did particularly badly with several suffering increases of around 90%. The lowest was 20% and the average 51%.
Doctors’ surgeries didn’t do much better overall with most being close to the average increase of 45%.
The Council has discretion to relieve the worst of the increases and it has distributed 88% of the £483,000 available.
Bexley Council is late to fully participate in the new arrangements for Universal Credit and will not do so until 24th October 2018. The experience of London boroughs already in the scheme has been “a significant reduction in rent collection levels and a marked increase in the use of foodbanks”.
Rent collection problems will not affect Bexley Council as it has no social housing.
Bexleyheath Job Centre is currently dealing with 1,507 claimants not all of whom live in the borough. It was felt that the new system would react more quickly to the changing circumstances of claimants than the old which would reduce the amount clawed back following over-payment.
Just when everyone thought the meeting was over Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) realised he had been uncharacteristically quiet and decided to make amends. What would his question be?
Err, there wasn’t one. Councillor Leaf merely wanted to express his confidence that the staff concerned would do their job well. It took him two minutes and 25 seconds with barely a pause for breath. When a pause eventually came Chairman Steven Hall quickly took the cue to draw the meeting to a close. Unfortunately he had forgotten Agenda Item 10. Fortunately no one wanted to talk about it.