of the public realising the futility of asking questions at Council meetings,
Councillors were given the whole of the 30 minutes allocated and eight of them
were able to squeeze in their questions last Wednesday.
Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) asked how the Cabinet Member was going to deal with the £3·2 million hole in the education budget.
She was told it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in other boroughs. The cuts elsewhere had resulted in some parents taking schools to court because of poor spending decisions. His priority was educating children locally and keeping expenditure as low as possible. The new software for SEN transport is helping to reduce costs.
Council Esther Amaning (Labour, Thamesmead East) asked a question about SEN assessments and was told that they were being performed on time. Appeals against decisions were more than five times lower than in the next best nearby borough. Some are ten times worse.
Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford) asked Cabinet Member Peter Craske how many people had signed up for picking up a piece of plastic waste once a week. The answer was 2,600. He then multiplied the number by 50 to get to the yearly total, 130,000 pieces. By some convoluted logic Craske managed to twist the question back to criticism of the Labour Group. “As we all know, they are the fly tippers’ friend.”
Councillor Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) came up with the best question of the past year or so. She thanked people for giving their time to be school governors. Would the Cabinet Education join her in thanking them? “Yes”, he would. Now there’s a surprise.
Councillor Stefano Borella asked the Cabinet Member for Growth about train services and in particular would they be better operated by TfL.
Regular long suffering commuter Louie French said his answer would depend on TfL’s business plan and whether Bexley would have any say in what it was. Following my recent Overground journey from Stratford to Richmond which was standing room only all the way to Kew Gardens, I think I know which I prefer.
Councillor Bacon (Conservative, Longlands) made a political point. Given “the mess that Sadiq Khan has made of TfL’s finances” did the Cabinet Member think the Mayor could afford to make improvements? Councillor French said that he had “already maxed out his borrowing limit of £12·6 billion” and related the tales of woe which are Crossrail, the deteriorating bus services and the strikes which he promised to halt. A minute long political speech quoting Margaret Thatcher followed accompanied by table thumping and applause from the Conservative benches.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked how many people had been referred to the Council through the StreetLink housing support services. Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said the answer was six. He went on to restate his abhorrence of the housing situation that has been allowed to develop in the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy. Councillor Howard Jackson (Conservative, Barnehurst) said it was “a scourge”.
Councillor Richard Diment’s (Conservative, Sidcup) question may have come from the same book as Linda Bailey’s. The Mayor bravely tried to give it a miss but was pulled up and apologised for attempting to go directly to Councillor Pallen’s question. The profound question asked if Alex Sawyer agreed that Bexley’s volunteer workers made it a strong community.
And sure enough he did - but not without referring back to the previous Full Council meeting which had seen Cabinet Member Leaf ranting about Labour Councillor Dave Putson (Belvedere). His claim was that Councillor Putson didn’t like volunteers. Councillor Mable Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) said that some volunteer groups were “at breaking point due to picking up the slack of jobs the Council had traditionally done”. Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said he was “sceptical” about the opposition spokesman’s position but accepted that many groups were at breaking point.
A question from the same mould came from Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Bexleyheath). She asked the Cabinet Member to pay tribute to the volunteers and charities providing support to older people. “I certainly do” he dutifully replied.
So what did we learn from 30 minutes of questioning apart from 2,600 times 50 being 130,000?
That Councillor French shares my opinion of Mayor Sadiq Khan; that’s about it.