Bexley Council deployed a new weapon against members of the public attending
meetings at last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting; they confined them behind the Gill
Steward line in a narrow six foot strip. With the seats to my left occupied by
Council employees there to hear themselves lauded over the excellent OFSTED
report it was not possible to move around to grab the occasional photograph. I
did so only once by exiting via the east side door and reappearing through the west.
The meeting itself was for the most part repetitive in nature with both the OFSTED report and the exemption from Council Tax for under 25s given another airing.
Cabinet Member for Children, Philip Read, varied his OFSTED speech already delivered to two Committees by going beyond extolling the virtues of his staff and boasting that he was “the only elected individual to whom they spoke”.
Councillor Read should and could have gone out in a blaze of reflected glory but instead decided to revert to type by criticising the Labour party opposition. He acknowledged that Councillors Ogundayo (Thamesmead East) and Perfect (Northumberland Heath) had congratulated him “and it is right that they should have done so but neither had thought fit to congratulate this administration on putting in place the policies and people that achieved this result”.
They had “rebuked” the Cabinet in 2014 for “a lack of adequate improvement in the service, you would think that they would now be congratulating us but instead there has been a deafening silence on that front. It must have caused them turmoil trying to find a way to turn Outstanding into something less impressive. It is indicative of the double standards that permeates their party”.
Just what is Philip Read on?
On 3rd October Bonkers placed on record that Philip Read’s Labour shadow had heaped fulsome praise on the OFSTED achievement “just in case Cabinet Member Philip Read tries to claim she didn’t join in at some future date”. Councillor Perfect is on the record saying the achievement was “fantastic”.
One doesn’t have to be a genius to forecast that Philip Read will always try to spin the truth. Only six days and it all comes true.
Little Sir Echo otherwise known as Cabinet Member David Leaf (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) made similar anti-Labour comments.
Moving on, the Cabinet then approved their own suggestion that under 25 year olds who had been in Council care would not have to pay Council Tax from April next year and that they were no longer pursuing arrears from 2018.
Everyone agreed that this was a thoroughly good idea, children often get financial help from parents and in this case Bexley Council is the Corporate parent. It is not only a good idea, but it will win lots of Brownie Points for next to no money. Estimates are under £40,000 a year.
Next on the Agenda was something entirely new. Something called the Corporate Peer Challenge which gets people in from other local authorities to look at what Bexley does. In this case five people had come from as far afield as Oldham to enjoy the delights of Bexley.
The Conservatives were obviously keen to cherry pick the best bits of the report and boast about them wherever they could.
Maybe it is just me but I found part of it to be hilarious.
The Leader is widely held in very high regard, having been in the role for nearly 10 years. There is strengthening corporate leadership, headed by a Chief Executive who commenced in post just under two years ago and who is held in very high regard both internally and externally.
As soon as the great and the good returned to their homes the Chief Executive was shown the door covered by the Bexley Council cloak of secrecy!
Dig deeper into the Peer Review and more cracks begin to show. I am not alone in suggesting that Scrutiny in Bexley has been a sham, public questions are not welcome, neither are Councillors’ who on occasion have had to take the FOI route to obtain any sort of answer.
Several Cabinet Members found things in the report with which to polish their egos but in truth it was far from universally good.
The independent examiners said
• They could not find any evidence of any different outcome secured through any Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
• Tens of thousands of hours of officers’ time is taken up annually (by Scrutiny) to achieve nothing.
• Officers throughout the organisation are apprehensive about interacting with Overview and Scrutiny.
•Those asking questions are dealt with in an unacceptable manner. Rudely, aggressively, discourteously or disrespectfully.
• Perceptions are negative and it has very serious implications for the authority and is damaging to its reputation.
Labour Councillor Stefano Borella (Slade Green & Northend) commented on how other nearby boroughs run their Overview and Scrutiny Committees and it would appear from the statistics he quoted that Bexley does indeed do its level best to inhibit legitimate Scrutiny. Councillor Leaf disagreed with him stating for no obvious reason that the electorate too had disagreed last May. The Labour comments are “misplaced”. Deputy Leader Louie French condemned them as “all smoke and mirrors”.
Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford) objected to the conclusions of the Peer Review but maybe that is because his Committee has been one of the better managed ones.
Labour Leader Daniel Francis (Belvedere), choosing his words carefully, reminded the Cabinet that Members were called “disgraceful names” and Members’ legitimate questions were refused.
So there you have it. An independent Peer Review has concluded that Bexley’s Cabinet is rude, aggressive and disrespectful just as you have read here over the years. To be fair things seem to have improved this year, the smaller Scrutiny Committees do appear to be better behaved but maybe its a deception based on the new seating arrangements preventing members of the public getting a decent view of proceedings.