In my distinctly right leaning opinion there is only one reason for voting Conservative, to keep taxes low.
In that regard Bexley Council has not done very well in the 13 years they have been in power. In 2006 the outgoing Labour administration left them in 24th worst position in London’s Council Tax table. By last year they had somehow contrived to drop Bexley to 25th worst. Even worse is that they lie at every election by claiming that Bexley is a low tax borough.
It’s true that the government has not been especially generous with its grants but which government has been in charge for most of those 13 years? In just a couple of years time all of that will be irrelevant because there will be no grants. It will be interesting to hear Councillor Leaf’s anti-Labour spin when Bexley’s poor performance, compared to similar boroughs, continues.
Last night Bexley Council was called upon to make the following choice. A critical issue was recycling which dependent on whether Councillor Craske pushed his recycling arrangements to the next level or not might save either £1·29 million or £450,000.
As reported yesterday evening Councillor Craske fluffed his decision as a result of which Bexley Council has lost its opportunity to climb out of the worst quartile in London for thieving from your wallet.
Every Cabinet Member was required to justify their recommendation and every one of them seamlessly switched tack following the unexpected recycling decision. Slippery customers all.
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill kicked off the proceedings by saying “the decisions made earlier on will have an impact on this particular item”. A reference to Councillor Craske being over-ruled by his Luddite colleagues.
Finance Director Paul Thorogood did not say a lot but he had written a lot. His report took up 262 pages of the Agenda.
“I would stress that the decision to move to the 1-2-2 [recycling] option does provide a material reduction in savings efficiencies and transformation opportunities” or to put it another way Bexley Council’s cowardice is going to cost you money.
“I recommend to Council an increase in Council Tax to the maximum permitted which will provide an extra approximately one million pounds to the Council.”
Councillor Leaf then launched nine and a half minutes of nothingness while his Councillor colleagues passed the time in various ways. Councillor Reader became almost comatose staring at the far wall and never moving a muscle throughout the diatribe. Councillor Hall stuck his nose into his laptop and Councillor Dourmoush aimlessly flicked the pages of the Agenda. Councillors O’Hare and Jackson whispered to each other while Councillors Camsey and Clark appeared to be chewing sweets or maybe adjusting their dentures. The two Bishops were beyond my line of sight and Councilor Bailey is saved by my inability to read my own scribble.
Did David Leaf’s speech follow a familiar pattern? Unfortunately it did.
At one point he summed up his entire philosophy of speechifying; “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and members will hear it from me in the future too.”
On suggestions for the budget “I wish to pay tribute to the Conservative Group for their emails and phone calls but we have had silence from the Labour opposition”.
“As Conservatives we never take decisions to increase taxes lightly [but] it would be prudent and sensible to propose a 2% increase Council Tax for Adult Social Care and increase the general council Tax Rate by 2·99%.” The maximum permissable.
He justified Conservative Bexley’s larger than necessary increase by saying that Labour controlled Greenwich, Lewisham, Hackney, Islington, Southwark had all done the same. He will be wearing a red rosette next.
“Our Council Tax bills are lower today than they were in 2006.” He justified that ridiculous statement by adjusting prices for general inflation but he cannot get away from the absolute fact that Council Tax rises in Bexley have been greater overall than elsewhere. The Council Tax tables do not lie.
He further justified Bexley’s steep increases by saying Income Tax was lower and wages were higher. The words of a true Socialist. We will give with one hand and take with the other.
Cabinet Member Brad Smith (Adults’ Services) went into his early intervention saves money routine which he trots out whenever he finds the excuse. He is no doubt right but I would like to know how it is that Bexley Council charges more for domiciliary care services than I pay a private company in Newham for attending to my aunt’s needs. And believe me their care is first rate.
Taking a Leaf out of his colleague’s book Councillor Smith took time out to criticise Labour Councillor Wendy Perfect. She had posted a budget figure on Twitter which was said to be “scare mongering”. The figure extracted from the budget proposals was “Fake News” because it represented “a massive increase.”
Councillor Phillip Read (Children’s Services) speaking of his department’s achievements spoke of its “success” and “high quality”.
He bragged about the Conservative’s election triumph last May and put it forward as an excuse to go against his own Conservative principles and raise taxes. “Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are a continuing and significant cost to Bexley’s taxpayers.”
His criticism of the Labour opposition was quite mild by recent standards. They are “ill-informed”.
Councillor Fuller (Education) proudly stated that his SEN transport rearrangements had “taken a bit of a battering” but produced a saving of £200,000 in the last three months alone.
Councillor Craske’s main theme was criticising Labour Members for not putting forward an alternative budget which his party’s massive majority would allow him to thrash. Then in a cake and eat it moment said there was no point in them proposing any alternative because his ideas were so good. New playgrounds (£175k.), improved drainage (£800k.), anti-incursion measures around parks (£80k.), new footpaths in Danson and Lesnes Abbey parks (£70k.), new Thamesmead library £1·35m.), improving Central Library (£200k.)
“Two million pounds a year for the next three years on highways maintenance after the Mayor of London cut all funding and increased Council Tax by nearly 9%.”
He asked where are the people who object to his 3% tax increase when Labour put theirs up by 40%, implying that was in just one year which it was not. He said that people voted for necessary increases when they voted Tory nine months ago. Fine words apart from the 3% not being necessary and all his fault.
Looking at the opposition he said “they are all talk”.
Councillor Sawyer’s theme was housing. “We have allocated five million to purchasing an additional 17 properties on top of the 205 properties we have purchased so far.”
Deputy Leader French was commendably brief. He didn’t like raising taxes but there was no alternative, conveniently forgetting the decision not to save the best part of a million pounds on recycling.
Councillor Daniel Francis the Labour Leader reminded the Cabinet that in 2016 and 2017 they agreed to cut the Adults’ Services budget by £11,500,000 but “it was never achievable. We are having to put not all of it but some of it back but Members opposite were adamant that it was”.
“This year alone we have taken £12 million out of reserves. The transformation reserve has reduced from £8·4m. to £3·9m. in twelve months and we have seen budget savings agreed, including £355,000 which never existed in the first place.”
“We are setting a deficit schools budget of £3·2 million because this government will not support our most vulnerable children. It is a disgrace.”
Taking money from reserves each year, as Bexley has done, “is not sustainable and local government is absolutely at breaking point”.
He thought the budget would have to be changed within a few months and described the current one as “fudging”.
Councillor Leader Teresa ONeill had no real response to that and fell back on things being worse in 2006. Cabinet Member Brad Smith that the money spent on Adult Care had increased “in every single year”.
Councillor Ahmet Dourmoush said a few words which were entirely reasonable but Councillor Leaf could not resist the temptation to have the final say.
He said that Daniel Francis’s response to the budget proposals was “a diatribe” and ‘bluster’. He asked if Labour supported the investment being made following which he fell back on quoting figures from Labour’s 2006 budget when large sums were taken from reserves. A total of £5·7 million over four years.
“Did Councillor Putson (Labour, Belvedere) want to return to the days of Loony Left Councils? There is no place in society for that sort of politics today.”
The Council Leader tried to calm him down but to no avail. He carried on shouting about “bluster, smear, exaggeration, no policies, no alternatives, no suggestions. Vote Conservative.”
There was much banging of table tops but you will pay 4·99% extra for what can only be Conservative failures. No one else has been in charge since 2010. Oh, sorry there’s been that ne’er do well Khan for a couple of years but under the rules you couldn’t possibly pay more than what Bexley is demanding.
Note: Last night I attempted to send a few Tweets from within the Council Chamber. I had not used a mobile phone for Tweets before but last week my service provider upped my meagre data allowance ten fold for no increase in price.
Whether I should so it again is uncertain. Listening, reading and Tweeting at the same time may be beyond my abilities; somehow or other I confused myself to the extent that I Tweeted that the Council Tax is to go up by 3·99% when very obviously it is 1% higher than that.
My only excuse is that I don’t always listen intently to every word at the meeting and rely on reviewing the audio recording later. Sometimes photography takes over. If I am to engage in live Tweeting again that relaxed approach will not be good enough. Apologies to those who thought Bexley Council was looking after their money better than it is.