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News and Comment August 2021

Index: 2019202020212022

9 August - Bexley Council at its finest

In the few minutes spare before before catching a train to Kennington I thought I would check if Hugh Neal had published his Sunday blog early; and he had.

I was confronted with this nonsense from Bexley Council.
Maggot Sandwich

Click image to link to the Maggot Sandwich.

A Council through its own poor management skills at some point in the distant past has reaped its reward with a month long bin strike and residents who resist the temptation to dump their rubbish on the steps of the Civic Offices are fined £150 as Bexley attempts to live up to the News Shopper’s timeless 2009 assertion that it is made up of a coterie of dishonest, vindictive and criminal people; to which one might add brainless.

May I suggest that Hugh’s reader dump his rubbish here (see below) in future because my experience is that even after supplying clear photos and video of a flytipper in action nothing will be done about it.

Photographed today.

Bexley Council is getting a pounding on Social Media; the emptying of bins is the only element of politics that many residents care about and the ignorance of some of them is astounding.

People are looking for refunds of Council Tax and garden waste fees. Nice idea but it would probably cost £25 to administer handing back a fiver. Bin emptying is not a significant expense compared to Adults’ and Children’s Care and temporary accommodation.

Others are calling for the refuse service to be taken back in house as advocated by Labour Councillors in 2019. Sounds OK perhaps but there are reasons why it isn’t. Should a restaurant owner take over a windmill to ensure a steady supply of flour or a small farm to make sure no supplier ever jeopardises his supply of milk and eggs?

Unite has given the Labour Party more than £20 million in the past three years or so (†) which may or may not buy influence but some things are best done - and cheaper - by a specialist. Just make sure you find a good one and write a tight contract.

TextThe Social Media experts are critical of a Council that allegedly sits on its backside doing nothing and here perhaps Councillors are their own worst enemy. When I make enquiries of a few friendly contacts the responses do nothing to change that view. (See brief note alongside.)

SM users, not Councillors, harp on about low pay rates and back pay but those issues have been resolved (†).

Another popular subject is staff (truck drivers?) being randomly tested for alcohol and drugs. It may not be a legal requirement but it is not a procedure unique to Serco (†). It is routine for train drivers but maybe a pay rate up to three times that of a rubbish truck driver smooths the way.

Sat at the Oval yesterday to watch a cricket match delayed for five hours by ten minutes of rain just before it was due to start - how does the sport expect to attract new patrons with stupidity of that magnitude? - there was plenty of time to scour the cesspit known as Facebook.

There were one or two apparently sensible posts which suggested that both the Council Leader and the responsible Cabinet Member had been instrumental in drawing the strikers and Serco to the Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). ACAS has existed in its present form since 1974 although similar agencies had existed since the late 1890s. I remember it coming to the fore in the seventies because I was at the sharp end of industrial relations from 1969 until 1984. By 1975 I was entrusted to deal with the unions at national level with some degree of success.

In 1980 or maybe 1981 ACAS officials came to see me to ask if I would do lectures and make speeches to managers working for other companies. I declined on the basis that delivering lectures was not my scene at all, but there was another reason. I couldn’t admit to the successful formula.

I had promised the union officials that if they ever caught me out lying or otherwise leading them up the garden path I would resign my position and gradually won their trust. Far too many managers were liars intent only on cutting the number of jobs. Fair enough but it had to be done honestly. If I scratched my nose at a meeting the unions knew someone was bending the truth or worse.

My information is that both Council Leader Teresa O’Neill and Cabinet Member Peter Craske have been personally involved in negotiations (†); present but probably not taking a lead role. Their reputation in the realm of truth telling might be an impediment to trust.

But don’t run away with the idea that the Unite union officials will be blameless innocents. Union officials were far from being that in the late seventies until the time I moved to pastures new in 1984. Their main motivation was not higher pay and better working conditions, it was beer, intravenous Jameson’s (whisky), to seek their own re-election to well paid positions, humiliation of management and if possible bring down governments. Many were absolute bastards and working with the reasonable ones while resisting the outrageous demands of the others was a stressful tightrope job. If that is still the case no Bexley Cabinet Member is likely to be up to the job. Union officials always made monkeys of managers who didn’t know working practices inside out.

I crossed a good number of picket lines in my time but the gentlemen’s agreement was always to stand them down and return to work once ACAS became involved. The Unite union in Bexley has seen no need to do that (†). Humiliating managers and bringing down governments (Councils) is still a priority presumably.

Bexley Council is virtually powerless to intervene. It is Serco’s strike and Bexley cannot break it in the way the Facebook warriors might wish. Legally they are stuck especially as the twelve year old contract was drawn up by inadequates with no experience of the rough and tumble of real business. All of them having long since legged it from Bexley.

One suggestion is that the contract is so poor that it doesn’t even stipulate the need to deal with missed bins (†). There is of course an informal procedure in place but what if the contract doesn’t even cover compensation for no service at all? Bexley’s ability to write sensible contracts has always been suspect. Who remembers the sale of the Civic Offices site to Tesco and the inability to cash in when it was sold on not once but twice?

Bexley Council’s leadership may not be smelling of roses right now but they are hamstrung by their predecessors. It is possible that Teresa O’Neill was Deputy Leader when the original Serco contract was drawn up but the Leader was a strong willed postman if I remember correctly.

My conclusion is that Bexley Councillors are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances; why wouldn’t they with an election nine months away? They are hamstrung by their predecessors and a union that may be hell-bent on mayhem. Thurrock, then Bexley now Croydon and soon Lambeth in their sights. Maybe I am a cynic who is too much drawn to experiences from 40 years ago, who knows?

Bexley’s Leadership will admit to nothing, it is counter-productive but it has always been their modus operandii and not sensible. But if they changed their spots, such is their reputation, would anyone believe them? @bexleynews has a lot to answer for. However in this case maybe we should believe the anonymous propaganda channel.

You will have noticed a few † symbols littering this essay. No one in a position of power will actually tell me anything useful but I put the marked assumptions/statements to a certain someone and asked for a denial. I didn’t get one. Confirmation more like.

Usually poor Danny Hackett gets the blame for leaks but I repeat, I have heard nothing from my young friend for two whole months.

Meanwhile I think we should cut Bexley Council a bit of slack. They are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Judge them on the new recycling contract. Top brass discarded from Croydon, Newham, Lambeth, Barnet, Sussex and Cornwall do not inspire confidence but we must live in hope that they have learned from twelve year old mistakes.

How many business brains which have survived in a cut-throat business world have we got on Bexley Council? Discounting those who ended up in a certain smelly creek it might be three. Politics in the UK, certainly local politics, is the preserve of amateurs, mainly incompetent egotistical amateurs and we pay a heavy price. Unfortunately there is no alternative right now to accepting that there is little the amateurs can do to get the bins emptied again. What is legal has been done and reasonable requests have largely fallen on uncooperative ears the owners of which are fighting a different sort of election from which ordinary residents are excluded.


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