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News and Comment February 2020

Index: 2020

27 February (Part 1) - Council Tax. It’s up by 3·99%. Did anyone believe otherwise?

Once again I didn’t manage to be at a Council meeting in person but maybe the excuse is a better one than usual. A family funeral. I was driven to it by a cousin and she was in no hurry to get away.

The meeting had been called to rubber stamp a maximum possible Council Tax rise of 1·99% plus a 2% Adults’ Services Precept. Bexley has no chance of rising above it’s rather shameful 8th most expensive borough in London.

Finance Director Paul Thorogood began the formal proceedings with his report.

Most of it was a reference back to earlier reports so there were no surprises. A previous assumption had led to an imbalance of just over £2 million for the coming year which had to be addressed. “The 2021/2022 budget is currently forecast to have a significant deficit.”

Cabinet Member David Leaf (Resources), said the budget proposals had been in the public domain since last November; “residents and partners had engaged constructively”.

He went on to tell an amusing story about a Labour supporter he had met on a doorstep who liked everything that Bexley Council had done. Libraries, bins, potholes etc. and he hoped he had won her around to rethinking her local vote.

He thought a 4% Council Tax was entirely reasonable. Despite speaking for eight minutes there is nothing else of any note worth bringing to your attention.

ReadCabinet Member Philip Read was next to speak reeling off a list of claimed successes. “Better services at lower cost.” He again referred to the high cost of looking after “unaccompanied asylum seeking children with the cost falling on Bexley’s Council Tax paying residents”.

He said that his department (Children’s Services) had been “a significant element in this administration’s success and dealing with the reduction in funding”.

Cabinet Member for Adults’ Services Brad Smith said his budget for the past year was just over £57 million but he ended up spending nearer £58 million. The demand was hard to predict and the provision of suitable housing had slipped. The next three years commits £10 million into that housing project which will reduce out of borough support.

Cabinet Member Peter Craske (Places) referred to the “huge logistical exercise of delivering 160,000 new wheelie bins” and distribution is now complete. The only reference to next year’s budget was that the scheme should save £500,000 a year. Early indications were that the recycling rate will go up by 10% or more.

He laid the ground for future criticism of the opposition party by saying he could not believe that anyone would ever vote against the Conservatives’ budget proposals.

Cabinet Member John Fuller (Education) proudly mentioned the not inconsiderable achievement of providing two new schools. Cleeve Park later this year and another in Hawke Road which is the site of the old SEN school off Halt Robin Road, Belvedere.

The meeting ended with Cabinet Member Leaf criticising the Labour opposition for not coming forward with any proposals or suggestions over the past four months. A source of frustration he said while making the almost inevitable “back of a fag packet” comment. It took him only two minutes.

The written Agenda reveals that all the Council’s fees and charges, with the exception of selected car parking fees, are going up again.

 

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