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News and Comment November 2020

Index: 2019202020212022

19 November (Part 2) - And then he said and the other one casually admitted…

After the Finance Director had had his say and Cabinet Member Leaf had finished his well rehearsed 17 minute speech ordinary mortals were allowed to comment. The first to find the unmute button was Councillor Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) who referred to the second consultation on closing Children’s Centres and asked if the first one had been sufficiently robust as it didn’t outline the proposed model.

Instead of asking for the question to be answered the Leader called upon the Labour Leader to ask his. He said he had a long list.

• What was the total number of staff numbers likely to be lost and how many of them would be redundancies?
• What is it as a percentage of current staff numbers?
• How will the Council find the money for the redundancy payments?
• How much do we expect them to cost?
• Would this have happened without Covid?
• Will we have to cut the capital programme to fund the redundancies?

There was no immediate answer to those questions either, instead Councillor Ferreira (Labour, Erith) referred to “£1·8 million of financial pressures not resolved in 2020/21” recorded in the Agenda. “What is it?”.

And why have “earmarked reserves fallen from £48·5 million, to £31 million and to £16 million in successive years?” “Why also have they fallen almost in half in the past year?"

And still answer there was none. Instead Councillor Borella (Labour Slade Green & North End) was invited to comment. He asked if the reduced expenditure on the Freedom Pass was Covid related. No immediate answer so Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour Thamesmead East) was given a chance to participate. “Would the pressure on temporary accommodation extend into 2021/22 and is it built into the budget?”

The Finance Director having been given enough thinking time said that 150 FTE reductions were imminent with another 154·2 by the end of 2021/22. Approximately 50% of the first batch are currently vacant. “304 is approximately 20% of the Council’s current 1,560 workforce.”

“The first £9·5 million of redundancy payments will be from capital receipts [the sale of the Erith warehouse] and if we need to we will use £3 million of reserves.” HR are still working out the likely total cost.

The Government request for a Capitalisation Order is for up to £15 million. It will be funded by a review of the Capital Programme. [Cuts.]

There was no answer to Councillor Francis’ fifth question [Covid] but the answer would seem to be Yes. It’ll be the housing situation that done it! Bexley would be twinned with Croydon, Covid or not.

Councillor Ferreira’s £1·8 million is a mixture of the penalty for withdrawing from oneSource and the costs of disposing of the Erith Distribution Centre. If the Government doesn’t allow the 2% Council Tax Social Services precept this year the reserves will take another hit. His question about falling reserves fell into the Finance Director’s Black Hole.

The Freedom Pass charges are on a three year rolling average and Covid travel restrictions will have made a saving about £50,000 next year.

“The temporary accommodation pressure is £2·7 million this year and the growth next year is estimated at £3·2 which incudes the £2·7 million.”

Having casually slipped in a number of astounding admissions the Finance Director handed over to the boss of Children’s Services. Councillor Perfect’s question was "was the consultation robust” and the Artful Dodger’s answer was “it achieved what it was intended to achieve, that is to generate responses and some were forthright and robustly presented”. I don’t think that answered the question.

At that point Conservative Councillors began to ask questions but that will be something for another day. Will they be as probing as Daniel Francis’s? No way is the likely answer.


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