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Bonkers Blog November 2018

Index: 2009201020112012201320142015201620172018

13 November - Didn’t they do well? (But not for Bexley)

CampbellWhen BiB was new and I was a lot younger I was several times asked why I didn’t try to become a Councillor. Leaving aside the fact that I couldn’t support either Labour or Tory - just where has the Conservative Party gone? - my reaction was always the same. The job would be far too much like hard work to do properly which is probably why so few Councillors do.

So why do they do it? I only know of one in Bexley who absolutely definitely became a Councillor to make things better. There may be more but I haven’t seen the evidence.

So why do they do it? For many it is the networking opportunities being a Councillor represents, the furthering of self interests and business deals.

Take two recent senior Cabinet Members for example, both being Deputy Leader and Directors of Finance.

Colin Campbell was Deputy Leader of Bexley Council until 2014 and retains several business links in Bexley. His claims to fame include…


• Accountant skilled in both UK and US law.
• Technology expert. (‘Process Design’ and ‘Whole Systems Enterprise’.)
• Chair of IT User Group and “accomplished speaker”.
• Advisor to the Inland Revenue on their Self-Assessment program.
• Director at EY (Ernst & Young) until 2007.
• Director of several other companies.
• Chairman at two major Hospitals and accountable to the Secretary of State.
• Responsible for review to the Secretary of State into PFI contracts.


You don’t need the ten grand Councillor Allowance with that degree of career success do you? As suggested, such people become Councillors for what they can get out of it, not for what they can offer.

Colin Campbell is not alone, Don Massey, another former Bexley Cabinet Member for Finance has a similar CV.


• An Honours Degree is Econometrics.
• Branch manager at NatWest bank.
• Corporate Account Executive in the City of London.
• Senior Group Audit Inspector.
• Senior Manager at Gresham Trust Private Equity.
• Treasury Operations Administration Manager.
• Finance Director for Domiciliary Care Company.
• Operations Manager for the Centre for Public Scrutiny.


MasseyApart from being in charge of Bexley Council finances, Colin Campbell and Don Massey have one other job in common. Both are Governors at Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance in Sidcup.

There is another link between the College and the Council.

In 2012 Bexley Council sold its old Lamorbey Swimming Baths to Rose Bruford who said at the time that they would turn it into student accommodation. The Council said “by purchasing the former baths site the College has confirmed that it sees its long term future in Sidcup” which has to be good.

The price paid at auction was a bargain £750,000 but nearly seven years later the baths remain a derelict eyesore. What is going on? Where is the student accommodation? Not in the old swimming baths, that is for sure.

On the Acorn Estates commercial website the baths are up for sale again but not for £750k. This time the asking price is £1,900,000. A nice little earner for Rose Bruford and well done the management and governors for their financial acumen.

But whose side were Campbell and Massey on? Just as was the case when selling the Civic Centre site in Broadway, Bexley Council did not think it was appropriate to include any sort of Overage Clause into the sale contract.

Rose Bruford has made a good honest profit but all that experience at Ernst & Young, NatWest and the Gresham Trust has failed to safeguard and protect Bexley taxpayers’ from a potential windfall.

 

12 November - Everything is absolutely fantastic

O'NeillTeresa O’Neill’s Leader’s report to Full Council is not something I would happily miss although if one has taken the trouble to read the Agenda copy first it would be unusual to learn something new.

It is delivered briefly, thereby avoiding any risk of boredom, although usually the only thing that could be considered remotely exciting is the constant use of the ‘F’ word.

Everything about Bexley is Fantastic and counting their use with the aid of my little five bar gate sketch to see if any records are set is the highlight of the evening.

Seven Fantastics in fewer than eight minutes was indeed a new record.

There was a reference to the Peer Review, the one that castigated Bexley Council’s Scrutiny arrangements for being ineffective and a total waste of money. Unlike the untruthful deceptions put out on Twitter by Bexley Conservatives, the Leader acknowledged that things were not all good and she had already introduced some changes to address the problem.

The Leader had continued to put pressure on the Crossrail Extension Project known as C2E. London City Airport has come on board her bandwagon. She is keen to put another couple of minutes on the Elizabeth line journey times into town by having an extra station at the airport.

Bexley Council is going to adopt the London Councils’ approved Anti-Semitism definitions.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) asked the first question. He queried why schools were asking parents to help fund their budgets. (It’s nothing new; my school demanded half a crown per term to fund exercise books during the 1950s.)

The Leader seemed to think that “we are working with all schools” answered the question. The Peer Review seems to have got it right on Scrutiny.

Councillor Francis also asked how many tall buildings (ten storeys or more) are planned for Bexley bearing in mind that the administration had said it wouldn’t be approving any?

Deputy Leader Louie French answered the buildings question. He said it “would not be appropriate to comment too much” before the planning application goes in for Arthur Street in December.

Councillor Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) asked about the rebranding of the Thames Innovations Centre to The Engine House and asked the Leader to comment on its success - another polish the ego question - after it “made a profit of £70,000 this year”. Not much of a return after the Council gave (and loaned) the TIC a million in 2012.

The Leader said “they have done a fantastic job”.

Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) said a lot of people are still unhappy with Sidcup’s library being moved but Cabinet Member Craske preferred to concentrate on the reconstruction of the building for use as a cinema as has since been confirmed by the appointment of architects.

BishopCouncil Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) was “disappointed to see that for Black History Month we didn’t do much more than we did last year. We should take every opportunity to celebrate our diversity. Can the Leader commit to doing more and better?”.

The Leader did not agree that the Council had fallen short and Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer provided a long list of events that had been staged and referred to the quality of those events “and that is what should be judged, not numbers”.

Councillor Eileen Pallen asked the Leader “if she would join with her in thanking staff and volunteers who made the annual Children’s Summer Reading Challenge in the libraries happen?” The Leader said she was “happy” to oblige.

The Mayor then announced that the 30 allotted minutes had expired and apart from a few formalities, that was the end of the meeting, all done and dusted by 21:15.

 

9 November - SEN Transport questions. A little explanation

Yesterday’s Council meeting report left the question of Bexley’s educational Travel Assistance Policy unanswered. Cabinet Member for Education John Fuller provided some figures which he must have thought answered parents’ criticism but meant very little to me and it was clear that Labour Councillors were not impressed, allegedly calling his answer “rubbish”.

Not for the first time Bonkers had to hold back on what might otherwise have been reported because Councillors who know a subject inside out assume everyone else does and talk in a sort of shorthand. Councillor Perfect’s question referring to the Travel Assistance Policy did not prefix it with the initials SEN and at no time during the discussion did anyone use those initials so I was left wondering if she was talking about the new SEN Travel Policy or another that I had somehow missed.

48 hours later it has become clear that it was indeed the SEN Travel Policy that was being discussed. I thought it might not be because the Conservatives assured everyone at previous meetings that their new policy would affect no one until September 2019. Like so much of what Bexley Conservatives say, that would appear to be a lie.

During the meeting there was a reference to the police being called to a travel related disturbance at one school which was not reported here because it was unclear how it fitted in with what Councillor Fuller was saying.

Fortunately Labour Councillor Wendy Perfect has attempted to provide an explanation. She particularly takes issue with parents being blamed for the fiasco and whatever you think of the new Policy it probably isn’t a good idea to do that, and all for a relatively tiny saving that will only rise to the giddy height of £18,000 in a year’s time.
Press Release

Click image to see the whole of the Press Release. (PDF)"

 

8 November (Part 2) - Amazon, what a Prime waste of time. Two orders. Eight days waiting in!

So here’s a bit of a personal rant. I first used Amazon on 15th September 2004, five years to the day before Bexley-is-Bonkers was born. I ordered a copy of the book ‘Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard’ by the journalist Michael Gillard and paid £13·29. Me believing that all police officers are potential crooks is not a new phenomenon.

Amazon greet me every time I log on to my account with the message that I have been a customer since 2010 however it is not the silly things that they get wrong that are annoying it is that their delivery system which is, well, total crap is the only way to describe it.

You wait in all day and if you are lucky the door bell rings after 9 p.m. and you feel sorry for the Romanian who has been out all day earning a pittance and spending most of it on petrol.

But it gets worse than that, how’s this for two week’s worth of absolute incompetence?

LostI made a £27.99 order on Thursday 25th October and with the benefit of Prime delivery (£7·99 a month) they advised a Sunday 28th delivery. I waited around all day and at 10 p.m. an email said it could not be delivered.

Enquiries revealed that the parcel had come from Weybridge to Dartford early on Sunday morning but by late afternoon the delivery driver had simply lost it.

I ordered a replacement the same day and eventually I might get a refund on the lost item. This time Amazon said I would get a delivery on Tuesday. No date, just Tuesday.


LostOn Tuesday 30th October I received a dispatch email which made a Tuesday delivery look somewhat optimistic. Further enquiries revealed that the replacement was coming from Marseille in France and I was left to assume that the promised Tuesday delivery date was actually the following Tuesday 6th November. It actually came on Friday 2nd November. That’s three days waiting in so far.

Yesterday I made another order. Only £6·99 with Prime delivery scheduled for tomorrow, 9th November which was fine as I’m not going anywhere tomorrow.

However early this morning Amazon said it was going to come today but at 18:00 they said it wasn’t. It could come any day now up until next Monday - but not today.

So that will in theory at least be eight days waiting in for just two orders.

Delayed Delayed
I doubt there will be any more Amazon orders unless the item will go through my letter box, not that you can rely on that. A month ago I was sent something that could have squeezed into a fag packet and the box was 18 x 12 inches. I opened it in front of my postman and he was amazed too.

 

8 November (Part 1) - Several questions but fewer answers

A quick glance at the Agenda for last night’s Full Council meeting suggested that it was going to be dull and the webcast might be an option. The pre-arranged questions were lame and there was nothing new to be found elsewhere in the Agenda. Until Mayor Brian Bishop takes lessons from some of his predecessors and learns how to make a monkey of himself in his role as Chairman of Bexley’s Council meetings, the risk that they will be less than interesting will persist.
Council

But reporting webcasts is a cop out so along I went where I found forty or more people sitting in the public gallery.

It transpired that all but three of them were Bexley Social Services staff there to hear Cabinet Member Philip Read repeat his adulation for all concerned with the delivery of an excellent OFSTED cared-for children report.

Clearly they have performed a minor miracle in bringing the service to such a point after it plumbed the depths under Councillor Read’s predecessor in 2012 and no one should belittle it, but BiB readers have heard it all before and there is no need to repeat it all here.

The one minor difference from earlier times is that Councillor Read did not falsely accuse opposition Members of lacking in praise for his team’s achievement. For the record Labour Councillors Wendy Perfect (Northumberland Heath) and Mabel Ogundayo (Thamesmead East) once more stood and repeated their congratulatory message.

Applause“Particular mention has to go to the Cabinet Member whose purpose and resolve to sort this service and ensure our most vulnerable children are well looked after and get the necessary support they deserve. Thank you Councillor Read.” (Wendy Perfect.)

“We are where we are because of the amazing dedicated hard working staff that we have in this Council. I take this opportunity to thank Ms. Tiotto for her dedication, it has been really really great to see. I back Councillor Read’s Motion.” (Mabel Ogundayo.)

Rather magnanimous coming from two Councillors who Read had gone out of his way to slag off only a few meetings ago.

As the staff members filed out the whole Council stood to applaud their achievement.

(Philip Read’s version of events.)

Questions were every bit as dull as I had anticipated, the first three were directed at Cabinet Member for Education John Fuller and two of them in essence asking him how things were going in the world of examination results and education standards. We learned that things were “good” and that Bexley schools achieve around the national average ratings in pretty much everything and maybe a little better here and there especially when measured against the London average.

Councillor Perfect’s questions were a little more contentious. She wanted to know if Councillor Fuller “regretted signing over most of our secondary schools to academies”.

Councillor Fuller reminded Councillor Perfect that it was “Labour that started it all off” and more than 200 schools went over to academy status under Messrs. Brown and Balls. “We had nothing to do with it as a Council, if they want to go, they go. They took the money offered and we could do nothing to stop them. We don’t encourage them but there is nothing we can do about it.”

Well even I knew that and unlike Councillor Perfect I do not pretend to be a spokesman on education.

Another Perfect question was would John Fuller apologise for the “stress and anxiety caused in the implementation of the Travel Assistance Policy this year”.

Cabinet Member Fuller responded robustly. He said the policy was not new, it had been in “for many years and there was no change in the policy”.

There were however more “enforcements”. Applicants were given “between six and eight weeks to apply” and the majority left it to the very last week and complained they had lost the forms. 111 people who were found to be not eligible under the policy appealed and twelve were upheld. 99 people who had once been given assistance no longer receive it because of their own changed circumstances.

Councillor Perfect was “staggered that you do not feel any need to apologise. Can you tell me how many cases there were in which the authority acted illegally?”.

There were “none” and Councillor Fuller reeled off a load of statistics which anyone not privy to the full facts must assume prove his case.

However Labour Members mouthed “rubbish” so who knows the truth?

Jackson FrenchThe question I was looking forward to was Councillor Jackson’s (Conservative, Barnehurst) who asked the Cabinet Member for Growth what his assessment of the impact of the delay of the opening of the Elizabeth Line would be.

I hoped to hear how the borough, especially those in the North were suffering, instead I heard almost wholly political comments from Deputy Leader French.

He said he was "disappointed by the delay and local people would rightly question whether the Labour Mayor knew about the delays and why he is not managing the project correctly. Local residents and businesses will have to wait for the benefits of faster services to central London.” (Tell us something new!)

“I am concerned about the financial implications for TfL and the black hole the Labour Mayor has overseen during his time in office with the loss of passenger revenue during the delay estimated at £20 million.”

“The scheme’s budget has increased by almost £600 million and the government has had to provide a £350 million bail out to the Mayor. Bexley cannot afford the Mayor’s poor leadership where sound bites, PR and grandstanding continue to be his focus rather than doing his job and keeping London moving and keeping London safe.”

Councillor French cannot be faulted on facts but I had hoped that those of us interested in Crossrail might learn something new but inevitably he was not going to pass up an opportunity to criticise Mayor Khan. He presents such an easy target.

What is the impact on Bexley? Maybe an opportunity for the Council to claim it got its new road system in place before the first passenger carrying train rolls towards Plumstead.

To be continued…

 

6 November - It’s later than you think

A question one often hears in Abbey Wood and Thamesmead is just how much longer will everyone be inconvenienced by the road works in Harrow Manorway.

Network Rail moved in in August 2013 and things have not been the same since. Constant disruption but at least Network Rail opened the new station on time even if it wasn’t quite finished.

Bexley Council’s contribution to the Crossrail project has been to rebuild Harrow Manorway from the Eastern Way roundabout to the foot of Knee Hill and to regenerate Gayton and Felixstowe Roads which are adjacent to the station. In terms of timetabling their planning has been a total disaster. The scheduled flyover start date was 6th March 2017 and pedestrian and road travel in the area has been a mess ever since.

People have been asking on Social Media when the job will finish or supposed to be finished and a number of helpful people have referred to Bexley Council’s yourabbeywood website which almost two years ago listed the following completion dates.

It says that work would start on rebuilding Felixstowe Road in January 2018 and Gayton Road would receive attention a month later.

The flyover would be ready six months before Crossrail services were anticipated to begin in December 2018 and Felixstowe and Gayton Roads would be finished at the same time; June 2018.

DatesNaturally those who asked the questions were not pleased with the answers provided but things are worse than that.

A long forgotten brochure circulated in November 2016 gives rather different dates.

Work on Felixstowe was supposed to start in November 2017 and Gayton Road in the following January.

Another brochure issued by Bexley Council in March 2017 said that Harrow Manorway from Sainsbury’s towards Thamesmead would be completed this Autumn.

Everyone who experiences the daily traffic chaos in the area will know that it seems likely that the flyover won’t be finished until next month and Harrow Manorway itself looks like being at least six months longer.

Except that subterranean utility services have been marked out with coloured paint no work has been done in Felixstowe and Gayton Roads which means that work is running a year late.

There are of course some excuses available to Bexley Council. Network Rail occasionally obstructed the flyover immediately outside the station and Thames Water is said to be dilatory with the rerouting of their pipes north of Yarnton Way. However it is hard to imagine what the excuse might be for shutting the flyover for six nights to resurface it and then digging it up again. If the bridge joints are suspect why weren’t they more thoroughly checked earlier?

On the positive side the road blocks look very nice as they always do before being attacked by bus wheels.

Since March 2017 nearly 700 photos of the work have been published on Bonkers, so many that the loading delays have become significant. From today they are divided into groups of approximately one hundred. The downside is that it is not quite as easy to see them all in chronological sequence and existing links to them will all go to the oldest photos which may not be ideal.

The Photo features Index may be the best place from which to take a look.

Note: I always try to make ‘feature’ file names the date on which the projects would be completed. For Harrow Manorway I originally chose 26th August 2018 allowing what I thought to be a reasonable delay factor. The file names have been changed to 21st December for the flyover and 28th June next year for Harrow Manorway. Ever the optimist eh?

 

5 November - They take us for mugs

TweetBexley Conservatives are renowned for lying on Twitter apparently convinced that everyone has short memories and unable to research things for themselves, now they are getting brazen about it.

On 1st November they were bragging that an Independent report, written by Council people from outside Bexley, had said they have strong political leadership, tremendous ambition and a clear strategic direction as if that is by definition a good thing.

You could say much the same of Adolf Hitler.

It was not a particularly new report, it was written in March 2018, but Bexley Conservatives, in their wisdom decided to publish it only last month and give it a bit of publicity as late as last Thursday.

I think they must have been hoping that residents would believe them and not follow the link or at the very least not wade through to the twelfth page of the report because it had this to say about Bexley Council…

Report
Not something to be proud of surely?

Tens of thousands of hours wasted to achieve nothing and unacceptable behaviour at Scrutiny meetings. I’ve seen it myself; one Chairman was inclined to tell opposition Members to shut up and go away.

The report says that urgent action is required and given that the verdict was available to Teresa O’Neill in March maybe some suitable steps have already been taken. Two Scrutiny Chairman were replaced in May although what Councillor James hunt did to deserve his sacking I have no idea; his meetings were always good humoured and civilised but maybe that sort of thing would not go down to well with Bexley’s very own dictator.

Note: This subject was first mentioned here on 11th October 2018 but it seems that Bexley Tories are right about just one thing. Bexley residents really do have short memories; I was asked why I had not given the Tweet and the report’s criticism of Bexley Council any coverage.

 

3 November - Singh, Steward, Sold and Sense

2 West Heath Road, Abbey Wood
2_west_heathResidents of West Heath Road are watching developments at No. 2 very carefully, and so they should if their researches are correct for they believe it has been bought by Kulvinder Singh.

It is Mr. Singh who encroached on Lesnes Abbey Woods with his massive concrete slab. Unlike 238 Woolwich Road, the West Heath Road address has a planning application. 18/02505/FUL.

Mr. Singh likes to buy old pubs and he appears to have added the Drayman to his list, but as yet there is no planning application despite neighbours reporting lorry loads of materials being delivered recently.

Abbey Wood (Wilton Road) is due to lose the Abbey Arms quite soon but fortunately Mr. Singh has not got is hands on it.

Councillors have been informed of Mr. Singh’s alleged activities in West Heath Road so that they can be carefully monotored.

Mr. Singh’s business interests.


Gill Steward
Gill Steward left her position as Chief Executive of Bexley Council “due to a change in her personal circumstances”. A couple of weeks later she was doing much the same job for Kingston Council and coming under fire for allegedly exaggerating her qualifications. It suggests that the changed personal circumstances were just a lie which will come as a surprise to no one.

More interesting is a comment from within Bexley Council, it says the last straw that got her the sack was spending £20,000 on new microphones in the Council Chamber. Those of us with elderly ears think it may have been the only good thing that Gill Steward ever did in Bexley.

It has been further suggested that Bexley is not a borough that would-be Chief Executives are queuing up to be working in. Whether this is because Council Leader Teresa O’Neill OBE makes an Obnoxious Bossy Employer or because this blog wrecks any reputation they may have had I have no idea.

Good news for long time Bexley Director Paul Moore!

The Quarry
This development has not been given much coverage on Bonkers, it’s more Maggot Sandwich territory and a month ago Hugh Neal reported that none had been made available to buy just yet. This was slightly in conflict with what L&Q were saying at the time, That was “the first phase is all sold”, and the Land Registry tends to confirm it.

Eight flats on Loampit Road were sold and another eight on Strata Road, all for £104,259 and all on 24th October last year which was a Tuesday, not a weekend site open day. The speculation is that they share a common purchaser and the price suggests a 50% part buy part rent scheme. Who would do that? Bexley Council, Russian Oligarchs? Whoever it was it doesn’t look like 16 regular buyers of the type The Quarry was meant to attract to Erith.

Asda, Bexleyheath Broadway
Asda is not a shop I ever use, a disabled friend once asked me to help him shop there and said it was his preferred destination because their car parking was easy and convenient, which it was but that has been the full extent of my knowledge of Asda Bexleyheath.

However I walked around it last weekend to see if there were any electric car chargers there and found the car park packed, no way would I consider it to be a viable parking destination for myself. For the record I found four electric car chargers, every one of them blocked by cars that relied totally on their petrol tanks. It’s can only be a big waste of money to install chargers that cannot be used.

My experience of a packed car park was reflected in a reader's email. He said that Asda has covered its parking ticket machine and switched over to three hours free parking and in doing so exposed the pent up demand for parking in Bexleyheath. Asda’s management exhibit good sense while Bexley Council adopts policies which harm town centre trade.

The same reader recently described how another shopping centre was saved by the policies of a more intelligent council.

 

1 November - Public Notices - Read by nobody?

The Public Notices published in yesterday’s News Shopper reveal that Bexley Council is extending its attack upon motorists. There will be slightly fewer parking spaces available - or times further restricted - around Abbey Wood and Bexleyheath stations and a few other places. This of course is not news, most Councils attack motorists as a matter of policy. What might be news is that I actually went to the trouble of entering my registration details into the News Shopper’s website and navigated to Page 53.

A year or two ago reading the News Shopper would be the first thing I would do after getting out of bed on a Wednesday morning and later that day grab the paper copy which would come tumbling through the letter box week after week.

Then the Shopper went badly down hill publishing little but froth and Council press releases. Bit by bit I gave up looking and the paper copy would sometimes hit the recycling unread. Then, around a year ago, the paper copy stopped coming. Occasionally I would look at the paper’s website but the moment my pointer accidentally strayed from the main content and the page was replaced by an advert I gave up. No second chances from me.

A couple of weeks ago I asked where my paper copy had gone and was told that it had gone the same way as everyone else’s. No one gets a copy delivered any more. You get yourself into town to a pick up point or you go without.

Most people go without.

So what is the point of Public Notices? Bexley Council pays a princely sum to have them published each week because the law compels them to do so. There have been several cases in Council where, usually it is Deputy Director Toni Ainge, someone claims that the consultative processes were entirely satisfactory because the required notices had appeared in the back end of the Shopper.

It’s not satisfactory but the law is behind the times and there is no easy answer.

In recent months, with funding from the BBC, the News Shopper has become very much better and with Tom Bull as their Democracy Reporter it is rapidly heading back to Linda Piper standards.

There are five news reports in this week’s issue which are directly related to Bexley Council meetings, things that should appear on Bonkers and four of them have but not always as comprehensively. Keep it up Tom so that I don’t have to.

 

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