can be pretty sure of three things with Peabody Housing Association; some
attractive design, interminable delays and sky high prices.
There were delays to Thamesmead developments when Peabody took over Gallions because they did not think the designs were up to scratch; they may have had a point. There were delays when Peabody merged with Family Mosaic in July 2017 and now they are in talks to merge with Catalyst. (†) More delays?
It is more than four years since a Peabody architect told me that they were aiming to put in a planning application for 500 Abbey Road in November 2017 and it was eventually submitted in July 2019.
Bexley’s planning site still says "Awaiting decision" but I attended the meeting where approval was given in February 2020.
In the following 17 months there has been absolutely zero progress at the derelict site of the former Harrow Inn.
† If instead of using the direct link you search for ‘Peabody Catalyst’ on Google it appears to bypass the registration process.
If delay is Peabody’s Achille’s Heel maybe design is their forté. Southmere is coming along rather nicely. I’m not too keen on the bland buff coloured brick but just look at how it used to be.
Comment from two friends who have taken a closer interest than I have is that the accommodation is too small and far too expensive.
Bexley’s new library.
Public Cabinet having dealt with
finances in 2020/21 and
the first couple of
months of this financial year moved on to the future.
The Leader said that the Council didn’t know what the consequences of the pandemic would be but “the aspiration is to Build Back Better” a turn of phrase which probably confirms that she has no more idea than anyone else. The Capitalisation Order will only be used if absolutely necessary.
The Finance Director said that in 2022/23 a budget gap of £1·4 million was currently assumed but likely to hit £1·9 million due to reduced fees and charges income.
One proposal for bridging the gap is to assume that staff pay awards can be reduced from 3% to 2%, but not for managers presumably. Additionally BexleyCo should produce its first dividend from building on Old Farm Park. There would have to be a cut back on capital projects. Adult Social Care, Children’s Social Care, Temporary Accommodation. Leisure Services, Waste Services, Parking Services and the Council Tax Reduction Scheme would all be looked at with the aim of cutting costs and raising income. Details should be made public in November.
The Council continues to lobby Government for a fairer grant settlement.
Cabinet Member Leaf added that the £1·9 million next year would rise to £8·2 in 2023/24 and £16·2 two years later.
As is often the case all the questions came from Labour. Their Leader, Councillor Stefano Borella wanted to know about the £500,000 of efficiency savings projected for next year. Where would they come from given that the proposals are accompanied by the statement that they would not impact on service levels or members of the public? The savings have not yet been stated but “magically” they are already known to have no detrimental effect. “It is all a little bit strange.”
The Finance Director said the proposals were still being worked on.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) remarked on the fact that there is no reference to the new waste contact in the future financial plans. “When will the costs be announced?”
He was told that the waste contract is not mentioned in the Medium Term Strategy because it was written before the new waste contract was signed. The costs will be included in the next MTFS update. Cabinet Member Leaf interjected an unnecessary political jibe about the current bin strike. Apparently Labour Members are “cheering” their union paymasters”.
After an hour and 20 minutes Finances are done - until next time.
After two reports covering the finance aspects of the recent Cabinet meeting
we are still only 30 minutes into a close to two hour meeting and there is more finance to come.
The question was, after the last difficult year, how is 2021 doing? The Leader said that it must be monitored very closely because if the Government funding stops so must the spending.
Finance Director Paul Thorogood said the future and its forecasting was “highly uncertain”. Government funding is only confirmed for the first quarter, £5 million plus £800,000 in reimbursement for lost fees. It was £33 million for the whole of last year. Income streams are all well down from pre-Covid levels.
Cabinet Member David Leaf was similarly pessimistic. Uncertainty, a potential £2 million overspend, Covid related variances, the risks associated with Council Tax and Business rate collection which Councillor Borella had highlighted.
Following the same pattern as before, Cabinet Member Cafer Munur was compelled to give the same message in a different fashion. He too picked up on Councillor Borella’s fears over Council Tax etc. “We should all be concerned and there is a long long way to go.” He hoped that more Government money would allow greater business support.
Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) believed that the charges for Adult Social Care did not reflect costs and were unfair and that the Council agreed with that assessment. When were they going to be adjusted? She also asked why the Department for Education was nosing around local schools because the schools grant had proved insufficient when the reason for it was obvious. The rapid growth of new education and health plans. The Leader agreed that there were more education and health care plans and there is a question mark over the level and there is a lot of work going on looking at ways of keeping expenditure down. The DfE is working their way around a lot of local authorities.
There had been a complaint about Adult Social Care charging policy and the Council accepted that it was potentially unfair. The review was delayed by Covid and the Local Government Ombudsman subsequently upheld the complaint. The Council wants to correct charging policy but as yet it is not corrected.
Labour Leader Stefano Borella made several points and was very critical of the way the recent Budget Scrutiny Committee was run. The webcast failed so it is difficult to comment on the detail but the grapevine indicates that Stefano is not alone in his view. He was assured that the Capitalisation Order is only “headroom” and not likely to be used but an overspend of £2 million was still likely this year despite £5·2 million of contingency funding being put aside.
The cost base and demand for services are all increasing and opportunities for increasing income are being examined. There is no good news.
Cabinet Member Leaf defended the Budget Scrutiny meeting processes because Councillors were free to question him and officers outside it. Councillor Borella reminded him that the meeting was supposed to be a public forum. The Leader was not unsympathetic to that view.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) asks housing questions one of which this time was “isn’t it about time we looked at having our own housing stock?” The Leader said that would be “a retrograde step”.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said he understood that the parking contractor was looking at parcel collection lockers in car parks which might bring in £13,000 per annum. However some have been installed prematurely without planning permission. Did the subsequent investigation impose a cost on the planning department? No one knew.
Forty eight more minutes to go.
The Evening Standard newspaper
that Bexley Council had the least number of upheld Local Government Ombudsman complaints recorded against it
and Bromley was only one complaint away from being worst. The Standard didn’t
say for which year but it couldn’t have been 2019 because that year
of all LGO complaints came from Bexley.
There is no bromley-is-bonkers but residents there can subscribe to a monthly newsletter; I usually get to see it. They are still livid about the imposition of a cycle Lane on Crofton Lane which frequently causes gridlock because no one can pass if a bus stops, or in one case an invalid carriage user decides that the road is a better option than the cycle path. Bromley Council consulted residents but only 26 of them and not the police or ambulance service.
An FOI revealed that the Council secured fund on the basis that Crofton Lane was in London’s top 5% for the potential to get drivers on their bikes. Further enquiries revealed that the actual number was 21,000 drivers. In other words it was forecast that every single car and van driver would throw their ignition key away and get in the saddle.
Presumably it is safe to assume that every Conservative Council is stuffed full of liars taking their lead from Downing Street.
don’t know much about Councillor Cafer Munur. There has never been any
significant conversation between us but he did once acknowledge my presence while
the company of Councillors Clark, Craske and Pallen who dished out the
customary cold shoulder treatment. From that I concluded he couldn’t be all bad
but maybe he had yet to be indoctrinated in the ways of Bexley Council.
Certainly he has been in the ascendancy since then and been an OK Chairman of several meetings. Favoured by the Leader perhaps which may be why he is now a Cabinet Member and thereby called upon to speak in favour of the finances last Monday.
Councillor Munur “wanted to bring colleagues’ attention to Page 26 of the Agenda” and the £60 million Business grants and £33 million of other grants which were “a lifeline to Bexley residents. The Council did an amazing job. People are most happy and grateful for that and there has been nothing but positivity.”
Cabinet Member Craske went on in similar vein. “We can be very proud of what we have done over the last year or so.” He mentioned the parking relaxations for carers (put to shame by Newham Council) and the 3,000 hot meals delivered each day to the vulnerable. Covid has had “a massive impact on our finances but we have still been able to do some solid work for residents. In Croydon they went bankrupt as has Slough”. The mandatory attack on the Labour opposition was based on their pessimism over Library services which proved to be only partially correct.
The Labour Leader Stefano Borella remarked on the “rosy picture painted of the last year. It wasn’t. There was the Capitalisation Directive and the reserve position has declined over each of the last four years. It is not a rosy picture at all.”
Councillor Borella’s experience in the hospitality industry caused him to suggest that the recovery of Council Tax and Business Rates income might be slower than the Council is forecasting. He reminded Councillors that the Council’s precarious financial position was due to the housing overspend and not Covid. There were Capital sell offs “to satisfy the auditor” who warned of the impending problems before Covid struck.
The Finance Director, referring to the Capital programme, accepted that “most of the movement at the end of the year wasn’t Covid related”.
Among Councillor Daniel Francis’s several questions was that the ‘Workary’ in Welling Library has not been paying rent and has that changed (not yet) and was there a rebate from the contractor who had fallen short on grass cutting. There was.
Note: Published late due indisposition!
The Cabinet Meeting began as it always does, with the Director of Finance
presenting his report; this time on the 2020/21 outcome.
It was “a challenge caused by the pandemic [that is not what the auditor said before Covid was a factor] but we didn’t use the capitalisation order and the General Fund reserve was increased. Helped by a near £60 million increase in unpaid bills presumably.
“Enhanced financial controls which targetted reducing in year expenditure and increasing income levels. We were forecasting increased expenditure and loss of income as a result of the pandemic and we assumed it would be met by grants and recovery funds. This continued and materialised as expected.”
£61 million of Government grants were passed on to local businesses.
“We also forecast an overspend of £1·5 million which was not Covid related but due to the enhanced controls we were able to achieve a break even position.” This was achieved by reducing spending on agency staff in Children’s Services and clawing back overpaid housing benefit.
Capital spending was reduced by £5·2 million and it was mainly schools, replacing vehicles, delaying the imposition of bus lanes (no subsidy from TfL) and deferring building maintenance which bore the brunt.
Council Tax and Business Rate receipts were both down. 1·23% and 7·75% respectively.
“The Council continues to face considerable financial risk.”
Cabinet Member David Leaf did the usual follow up speech complete with the mandatory political spin. Excuses first; “the impact of Covid on service delivery were unpredictable and unprecedented” but the Council successfully delivered a large number of new Covid related requirements. He said that the General Fund Reserve had been boosted to £13·255 million and that is two and a half times the level inherited from Labour in 2006. 9% of expenditure against Labour’s 2%.
There followed a long list of recent “reckless and irresponsible” Labour policies which he indicated would have bankrupted the borough.
“it would be tempting to take aim at the naysayers who acted like vultures hoping and perhaps praying for a financial calamity to befall this local authority, it would be tempting to to highlight the misleading information pumped out by the likes of the BBC and The Guardian and Labour Members opposite and it would be tempting to call upon them to apologise for frightening and scaremongering our residents time after time but frankly it would be a waste of time as they never learn, they never see the error of their ways and they will never stop looking for any excuse and any opportunity to spin themselves into a dizzying mess of smears. But while they talk down our borough and besmirch Bexley we will continue to show the fortitude and resolve necessary to deliver key front line services, get our borough through this pandemic and To Build Back Better.”
Just over six minutes; around 30 seconds given over to information omitted by the Finance Director, just over two minutes to repeat what he said and the remaining three the usual “dizzying mess of smears” aimed at Labour.
Ten days ago a Google search for Bexley Council’s 2020/21 Accounts drew a blank but by yesterday that had changed.
In a move calculated to make things difficult our Council has presented their accounts as
15 web pages instead of a searchable PDF and to
further frustrate examination decided to hide the interesting bits behind 42 ‘Notes’ each of which opens another page. However assured by one of Bexley’s
disgruntled employees that everything was there somewhere, I persevered.
Maybe the source is an ex-employee given that 30 people have been made compulsorily redundant (Note 32.3). On the other hand 24 of them were very low paid staff which probably excludes the money men.
Generally speaking the top brass all helped themselves to a tidy sum. The Chief Executive got a leg up from £187,546 to £213,031. The Director of Finance jumped from £151,320 to £164,868. Every one of the Directors did pretty well for themselves.
At last night’s Cabinet meeting the Director of Finance said he had managed to avoid using the requested £15 million loan facility. (£9m. granted.) Maybe that is because Bexley Council is not paying its bills. Nearly £100 million in the pending tray, it was less than £40 million a year earlier. A much cheaper option than paying local tradesmen and drawing on that Government loan facility.
BexleyCo continues to be a drain on Bexley’s finances. Liabilities of £6.281 million, almost exactly a million more than the year before.
Covid isn’t helping of course. Precepts, Levies, Fees and Charges are all well down, by 50% and more. (Note 8.) Bexley Council has gone out of its way to support the Government’s ambition to scare people rigid so it is not surprising that car parking income has fallen off a cliff.
Maybe Bexley is closer to bankruptcy than it accepts. Not paying bills cannot go on for ever.
Bexley Council’s website front page carries news of
their consultation on
extending Crossrail down to Ebbsfleet. If Bexley Council had been as keen on
Crossrail fifteen years ago there may have been no need to fight a
rear-guard action now. The initial lack of enthusiasm for a
railway line that stops in the borough of Greenwich almost lost it for the South East entirely.
Fortunately the Labour MP who represented parts of Erith, Belvedere, Thamesmead
and parts of Plumstead kept the Abbey Wood branch alive with
her Parliamentary speeches.
Belatedly extending the line to Ebbsfleet is fraught with difficulty one of which is only a yard or two beyond the existing buffer stops; it is called the Harrow Manorway flyover and there is no room for two tracks to head off towards Dartford without a rebuild.
The remaining options are analysed in depth on the Murky Depths website and there is no point in duplicating the excellent report to be found there.
All that I can add is that when I was taking daily looks at Crossrail developments, being invited on site a few times and becoming familar with their senior engineering staff their reaction to the idea of extending the line to Ebbsfleet would be one of disbelief and when pressed suggest maybe in 35 years or 2050 at best.
For the record, Crossrail trains can be easily modified to third rail operation so the pantograph could be dropped and trains trundle off to Belvedere and beyond. An unwanted short delay and Crossrail trains would be left to jostle with Southeastern and the inevitable main line delays. That is not what anyone expects of part of the London Underground service.
We would no doubt lose some of the existing Southeastern services too which may not please travellers to the West; Plumstead etc.
The Leader’s report to Council last week was a whopping 20 pages but
it must be given and questioned within the space of 30 minutes. At its best it
can be full of interesting stuff.
Councillor O’Neill began with the bin strike and she, like many of us, wanted to thank those who had carried on working. “Serco employ 235 people on our contract and only 14, that is 17% of the workforce, are on strike.” No wonder Bexley’s finances are in a mess with arithmetic like that.
For the doubters who cast aspersions on my hearing!
“The strike extension is frustrating for residents and I am sure they are going to be really annoyed when
they hear that Labour Councillors actually approve of that frustration and think it should continue.”
The Covid response in Bexley had been “fantastic” and she saw it as “our way of getting things back to normal”. Clearly she no longer listens to what Bozo Johnson has to say who has a very peculiar idea of what normal means. Bexley staff have been “fantastic” throughout the Covid crisis too. The return to work will be staggered.
There is to be a new consultation on the Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet rail extension.
Councillor Pallen (Conservative, Bexleyheath) had actually read the report and referred to Page 62 but it was only to draw the Leader’s attention to and heap praise on her own Council for opening the Bike Park in Martens Grove. I suspect the Leader was already proud of it or it would not have appeared in the report. Some Councillors are incapable of asking incisive questions so they go for self-congratulation instead. It is apparently “an incredible facility attracting 375 visitors a day”. Sounds good but I think I will give it a miss.
Councillor Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) can usually be relied upon to be incisive. He asked if the Leader was happy with the performance of the Adoption Services now that they had been merged with Kent’s. Cabinet Member Read referred to a new measurement system and comparisons are not yet possible because of data collection timescales. There have however been improvements to procedures which show benefits. “Early indications suggest continued strong performance.”
Councillor Bacon (Conservative, Sidcup) was anxious to ensure that the Leader knew about what the Sidcup Business Improvement District had been doing. Funding floral displays, managing the website and social media, Christmas lights, courses for business owners and organising various festivals.
Labour Leader Stefano Borella, in reference to the bin strike, said his party would always fight for better terms and conditions, the clue being in the Party’s name. “Serco’s race to the bottom was a disgrace as was Bexley Council which cut £2·9 million from the contract in 2009. I am proud to support the strikers” and he disputed the 14% figure.”
Stefano referred to the Budget Scrutiny meeting which suffered a webcast failure. It was “a bizarre meeting”. It claimed that cuts had resulted in “no impact on service outcomes or residents.” Cabinet Members had answered questions beyond their own portfolio and the “performance indicators were a joke”. Why did they sack the old Chairman? A decision both bizarre and a joke.
This sounds suspiciously like one of the finance officers who constantly express their fears for the future of the borough to me via anonymous messages.
Grass cutting had been craftily cut unannounced from ten to eight cuts a year.
Councillor Borella asked for proof that any of the budget statements were true.
As was easy to predict the Leader saw Councillor Borella’s defence of the bin strikers as confirmation of what she had said earlier about Labour approving of frustration. “Labour stands for non-collection of rubbish. A clear message.” It was a rather spectacular own goal which is sure to be used by @bexleynews quite soon.
The ‘joke’ performance indicators were due to Covid and the grass being longer than usual was blamed on the summer rain.
As is to be expected there was no justification of the ‘bizarre’ budget statements.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Independent, Thamesmead) who is perhaps envious of Councillor Craske’s reputation for mischievous comment, asked if there was a link between the £23 million given by the Unite Union to Labour and “their stance tonight”. He also asked his ‘hero’ how digitally disadvantaged residents were being kept informed of the strike extension.
Councillor Craske said that Unite should ask for their money back after “Labour Councillors had walked through the picket line earlier” - which of course they hadn’t. A protest is not a picket line.
Please Danny, Craske is a truth twister proud to masquerade as an idiot; he is not a decent role model for anyone, least of all someone with a reputation for integrity.
The retirement of Monitoring Officer Alabi was announced and with that the meeting closed.
Councillor Munur moved a Motion at last week’s Council meeting which simply said “This Council recognises,
values and supports the outstanding contribution volunteers and charities make to our Borough.”
Motions are allocated 30 minutes for debate and Cafer Munur together with seconder Councillor Pallen managed to use up just short of nine of them with greatly expanded versions of the words above. I suspected they were preaching to the converted so the need for debate would be minimal and the loss of time unimportant.
However the Labour Group led by Councillor Borella put forward an amendment which is not at all helpful to web viewers as a written copy is not available. (†)
Suffice to say it attempted to expand on Councillor Munur’s good intention. Its downfall was that it referred to the budget cuts which severely impacted the Council’s own care and cleaning services in particular. Councillor Taylor (Labour, Erith) seconded with an explanatory speech. By the time she had finished 18 minutes had gone by.
No Conservative commented and as was all too predictable they all voted down Labour’s desire to expand the Council’s gratitude to a wider group of workers.
Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere), whilst regretting the Conservative’s lack of enthusiasm for spreading their generosity more widely, spoke up for Councillor Munur’s original Motion.
Councillor Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) spoke in favour of the motion as did Councillor Gower (Conservative, Bexleyheath) with a three minute pre-prepared speech. As Councillor Francis had already said that Labour would be voting in favour it was arguably a waste of time to continue with the lengthy persuasion, but maybe she felt it would be a shame to waste her hard work. After 33 minutes of mutual back slapping the vote of approval was unanimous. The Councillors are going to spend their annual allowance increase on giving volunteers a good time - as suggested by Councillor Hackett (Independent, Thamesmead East) four months ago.
Four Motions were left for another time.
† With thanks to Sidcup resident Mr. Shvorob
The rejected Labour amendment.
Mr. Shvorob asked two questions, he asked Cabinet Member Craske why, of
three pedestrian crossings shortlisted for installation nearly a year ago, the most needed one
in close proximity to
a school in Erith Road, was still waiting.
Councillor Craske responded in a way I have heard from him before. “I’m afraid I do not really understand the question.” He went on to say that all three have been “implemented”. Six and more years ago Cabinet Member Craske enjoyed the same reputation as Boris Johnson does in the eyes of Dawn Butler and there was plenty of evidence for it but presumably he is right this time. I will have to go and take a look.
Note: It transpires that the question was based on a Freedom of Information request to Bexley Council that confirmed in April this year that Erith Road continued to lack the crossing announced in September 2020. However it was unexpectedly installed in May. An honest politician would have mentioned that fact within his answer and not chosen instead to attempt humiliation of a resident. Unfortunately Bexley’s Cabinet is not entirely made up of honest politicians and Councillor Craske in particular has a track record of trying to make residents look silly. (One of several examples.)
Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) also had a question for the Cabinet Member for Places. How will the new recycling contract improve the lot of staff? Councillor Craske said that all the staff will receive a significant pay rise when they transfer to CountryStyle Recycling because they will get the London Living Wage. Councillor Francis also asked about the injustices meted out to staff by Serco, the refusal to hand over the back pay etc. Councillor Craske said that was nothing to do with him.
Immediately following that there was some sort of commotion that was not clearly picked up by the microphones, something about picket lines, which was the cue for Councillor Craske to turn political asking Labour members if they supported the strike or supported public service. The answer, if any, was not audible. (†)
Councillor Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) asked the Cabinet Member if he knew that Labour members “had cheered the fact that waste and recycling vehicles had been prevented from leaving the depot.” Councillor Craske against inaudible comment from a Labour member said he had seen a statement from a Labour Councillor apparently cheering the fact that vehicles “couldn’t get out”. “Imagine being frail and unable to get to the dump and finding out that Labour love the fact that rubbish couldn’t be collected”.
There was more indecipherable Labour shouting and for the second time the Mayor reprimanded Councillor Wendy Perfect. Councillor Craske said that his party was on the side of residents but the Labour Group was not.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) asked about housing. She said that the Housing Allocation Policy referred to ‘suitable housing’ 26 times and wondered if the Cabinet Member could define the term.
Newly appointed Cabinet Member Sue Gower said the term embraced space and location; but at that point her list ended. Suitability must be in tune with the needs and requirements of the homeless person, she added, and provided examples.
Councillor Taylor said that in practice the homeless were being placed in accommodation which is verminous, without locks on doors, toilets not fixed to the floor and miles away from their children’s school. “Are they suitable housing?” The Cabinet member said it was “very difficult to respond” but there was a review of standards with housing providers going on.
Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) was looking for lower cost suitable housing. Cabinet Member Gower mentioned a number of changes that would lead to “a far cheaper market rent”.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Sidcup) reverted the questioning to the new waste contract but the answer revealed nothing that was not in the official announcement.
Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) quoted from Section 45 of the 1990 Environment Protection Act which states that rubbish collection is a Council responsibility and asked why Bexley is saying the strike is nothing to do with them. Craske waffled and said again that Labour “opposed the delivery of this vital service”. It sounded just like an @bexleynews Tweet (unjustifiably blame Labour and run away) except that as I understand it one of my local Councillors has taken that view. Labour generally has not.
The first silly question of the night came from Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford). Would Cabinet Member Craske congratulate Greenwich Council on following Bexley’s lead on LED street lamps? Peter Craske thought it was “great”. Bexley spent £3·8 on 19,000 lamps and Greenwich is spending £11·5 million on the same number of lights. At every opportunity Bexley’s expenditure was called an investment but Greenwich was accused of spending far too much.
Labour Leader Borella harked back to the bad old days when Bexley Council actually turned some lights off at night. (I once took a holiday in rural Wales where the village cafe closed for lunch!) Councillor Craske easily turned that comment back on Stefano. The policy had been recognised as a mistake and rapidly reversed.
Councillor Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) asked if Housing Associations “ring fence” accommodation for care leavers. Cabinet Member Gower said she recognised its importance and was “actively seeking” that outcome.
Councillor Jackson (Conservative, Barnehurst) asked a question about care leavers’ housing to which he knew the answer, even I knew the answer. It did however allow the Cabinet Member to immediately and quickly read out a long list of things which the Council was doing. Asking questions with prearranged answers has long been Councillor Jackson’s main contribution to [staged] democracy in Bexley. Obviously a technique that pays off; hence him replacing the more independently minded Councillor Dourmoush as a Scrutiny Chairman.
And there endeth the 30 minutes allocated to questions.
Bin strike FAQ. (Some recycling collections in my road are now more than a week behind schedule.)
† Further enquiries reveal that there was a bin protest outside the Civic Offices and Councillor Craske insisted on calling it a picket line and that Labour Members had crossed it. They attempted to correct the political mischief making to which he is addicted; hence the commotion.
Presumably Councillor Craske’s ignorance extends to not knowing that pickets form lines outside their place of work to deter strike breakers and Bexley Council is not the binmen’s employer. If it really was a picket designed to hamper recycling services Craske could have called the police because secondary pickets were made illegal nearly forty years ago under Britain’s last conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Apologies to the few readers who still expect to see something new here every day.
The silence has nothing to do with Johnson’s Freedom Day Fraud on the 19th, just coincidence, but two
whole days out with friends, a day trip to Norwich and two cricket matches, or
should I say pop concerts given how much so called music is aimed at a beer
sodden audience these days. I am beginning to question my membership of the club.
So I missed Wednesday’s Council meeting. Did I do the right thing?
The Agenda highlight for me was Mr. Shvorob’s question which followed on from the blog of 1st July. That blog acknowledged that some borough facilities had improved using other people’s money - which is a good thing - but went on to list about 20 which had got considerably worse as repeated by the question poser.
The Council Leader referred to the improvement in Social Care Services which is fair enough but she omitted to say just how poor they used to be under certain Cabinet Members for both Children and Adult Care who were in post until 2014. There can be little doubt that those things have improved dramatically.
Some of the things put forward as improvements the blog had already acknowledged as such, so pedantically not pertinent to the question but one that was is Adoption Services. They are said to be much better than they were and there is no reason to believe that is not correct.
It seems to me that Our Dear Leader failed to come up with any Bread and Butter services, those that affect everyone’s lives, which have improved. The Care Services used as examples of improvements may well be be close to excellent in recent years but they are too niche for most residents who might conclude that Bexley Council has not improved the quality of day to day life in the borough.
I do not wish to detract from what the Leader said with my “negative narrative” so below you can hear her counter argument for yourself. Let me be among the first to acknowledge that Councils generally and Bexley in particular have been dealt a very bad hand by central government and Councillor Teresa O’Neill has not attempted to deny the negative impact on most if not all of us. To her credit she did not dispute my “Downward Spiral” report. It is nothing to be proud of but is largely a consequence of Government policy. Bexley may be spiralling downwards but in my opinion is far from being the worst place in London to live, but maybe almost the most expensive.
you thought the Covid rules changed daily by a moronic Government were not silly enough already then take a trip to Abbey Wood.
Enter its railway station and masks are mandatory. Descend the steps and get on
a train and if it is not too full, take it off again.
The reason is that the trains calling at Abbey Wood are operated either by Thameslink or Southeastern both of which follow Government guidance but the station is managed by Transport for London chaired by Knife King Khan.
I have not often used Abbey Wood station during the morning peak hours but even then there were few people around and the Council car park next door still peaks at about ten cars a day.
you Google ‘Newham Council Draft Accounts 2020/21’ you get, guess what, an immediate link to Newham’s latest Accounts.
If you substitute Bexley for Newham the best you can get from Google is last year’s accounts; the set that was
severely criticised by the Auditor
pre-Covid in February 2020.
With no Draft available for Bexley and the Scrutiny meeting hidden from the public by the unresolved technical disaster comparisons on how the two boroughs may have fared after one lost its Finance Director and the other recruited him are not yet possible. Shame; but Newham helpfully refers to Bexley.
They remind readers that Bexley was in the OneSource partnership from April 2016 until July 2020 when Bexley opted out and then reveal something far more interesting.
At the end of the 2019/20 financial year Newham owed Bexley £274,000 and since then have not paid back a single penny.
What sort of Finance Director allows that to happen in a year when Bexley was forced to take its begging bowl to Government?
With nothing revealed at Scrutiny meetings it must remain a mystery. Was its Chairman ever told? We know that Council Officers have a track record of withholding vital information.
Page 74 of Newham Council’s Draft 2020-2021 Accounts.
Pure speculation but maybe Bexley owes OneSource even more for leaving a year ago but it could have been worse for Bexley, Newham owes Havering one and a half million!
The webcast of this week’s Budget Scrutiny meeting remains
nothing but the odd word here and there and a Councillor phoned to
confirm that he was unable to listen either. We will presumably never know if new Chairman
Howard Jackson recently plucked from obscurity managed to rise to the challenge
of being as good at the job as his financially aware predecessor Andy Dourmoush.
I suspect that webcasting is highly automated and bad recordings can find their way on line without anyone knowing about it if the operatives have been lulled into a false sense of security by past successes. I am hoping that things will be perfect next Wednesday because for only the second time Bexley-is-Bonkers will get a mention in the Council Chamber.
The first time was when the Deputy Leader fresh from lying on BBC TV said he “didn’t read that crap”. This time things should be far more civilised.
On 1st July a whole load of Council achievements were listed here none of which were as far as I could see benefiting residents and I genuinely couldn’t think of anything positive to say.
Using Twitter I asked readers if they could come up with something for balance but none did. I have since wondered if the cob statue in Erith would qualify but after that I still draw a blank. It is possible that the cob doesn’t meet my criterion of being funded by Bexley Council and not by a benefactor.
Maybe we are about to find out because Sidcup resident Dimitri Shvorob has asked the Leader to answer the question no Bonkers’ reader could. I am really looking forward to the list which will be published here. Three improvements in ten years. Has Bexley Council been that ‘good’?
I have never thought my GP surgery is particularly good, the doctors themselves have mainly been
OK but the admin. side is a bit of a disaster. It was officially noted as such
by the Clinical Commissioning Group in 2015
and I wasn’t best pleased that in March this year they urgently arranged two scans for me and it took a couple of months to persuade them to give me the result.
There was an extensive GP Patient Survey earlier this year and for South East London my practice came out worst in two categories out of three. For ‘Best Overall Performance’ the worst performers were Welling Medical Practice, Bexley Group Practice (mine) and the Crescent Surgery in Orpington.
For ease of getting through on the phone Welling Medical Practice was rated second worst in SE London with Sidcup’s Station Road surgery running them a close third worst.
For ‘Ease of Making an Appointment’ the Welling Surgery was again worst in South East London with Bexley Group Practice saved from being next worst by a practice in Greenwich.
The News Shopper covered the same story.
there be any remaining doubt that under Crime Minister Boris Johnson the whole
country has descended towards, if not into, what in my youth was called Banana Republic status? Prince
Charles being instructed to make a dishonest Police Officer a Dame Commander
must be absolute confirmation that the nation is lost.
Not content with lining the pockets of Conservative Party donors and wilfully falsifying and hiding embarrassing Covid statistics, a woman who heads up an Institutionally Corrupt Police force is given yet another honour.
If Dick had merely been in charge of a corrupt force and did her best to put things right it may have been understandable but she didn’t. Over the past eight years she was instrumental in the attempt to derail the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel as the following excerpts from their report make clear.
In 2013 as Assistant Commander she tried to do a secretive deal with the Panel Chairman in order to hide documents. As a result of that perversion the Panel Chairman was replaced.
She was still at it in late 2014 and continued in her attempt to deprive the Panel of vital documents until March this year.
Jean Charles de Menezes, Westminter Bridge, Sarah Everard and PC Wayne Couzens, maybe even Wembley 11th July. Just how incompetent - and of course, in the Panel’s eyes, corrupt - does anyone have to be to get their just rewards?
I met a policeman yesterday who was adamant that there was no corruption because Dick was not accepting brown envelopes. While attitudes like his prevail there can be no hope of the Metropolitan Police improving and as if to prove it Dick has still not provided Alastair Morgan with any indication that she accepts her role in delaying the Panel’s investigation by seven years at a cost of well over £12 million. (The eight years cost £16 million.)
Excerpts from the 1,250 page Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report.
The reporting of Bexley Council meetings is not going well. The Resources and
Growth Scrutiny meeting revealed nothing of interest, the Transport Users’
meeting fell off the webcast list and last night the Budget Scrutiny meeting was
a technical disaster. The live stream was mainly frozen and the audio consisted
of a single word every five to ten seconds. The recording currently on the
Council's website is exactly the same.
Presumably we can assume that no Councillor listened live and made a suitable report and no one checked what was put in the archive today. Earlier recordings in the archives have no problem so it is definitely a Bexley Council failure.
It has been an interesting few days for anonymous messages. According to an anonymous 18 year old
I am “a crazy old person” and “gammon” whatever that may be. “You don’t care about the disadvantaged”.
Not really worth a reply, although anyone who can work out where my political allegiances lie is either extremely clever or extremely stupid.
Rather more useful from an occasional contributor was the link to the Healthy Streets Scorecard which is a website supported by a number of Green activists with whom I do not have a strong affinity. Nevertheless they provide a lot of interesting statistics (†) about transport related things across London.
In its summary page Bexley is specially noted as being ‘bad’ in three out of their five chosen categories. Hillingdon comes out worse overall with Bexley one of five near identically rated boroughs with the ‘almost as bad’ score.
Whether worst or bad are deserved epithets will probably depend on your preferred mode of transport. Personally I am rather pleased with Bexley’s low score. If I was a resident of one of the East and North East London boroughs which I have to visit too often there would be an Estate Agent’s board in my front garden.
According to the Green campaigners, Bexley is one of three London boroughs to have only 4% of its roads noted as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Really? Where are they? Hackney has 55%! Where would you rather live?
The Scorecard claims that Bexley has 9·7% of its roads limited to 20 m.p.h. 4th lowest but twice as much as the lowest (Barnet.)
The generally unpopular Controlled Parking Zones cover 16% of Bexley’s roads, again twice as much as the ‘best’ (Bromley) but way below the near 100% favoured by nine boroughs.
3·1% of Bexley’s roads have protected cycle lanes against the London average of 4·1%. In common with Sutton it has no Traffic-free School Streets.
Bexley scores lowest in London for sustainable transport, public, walking, cycling, but nevertheless achieves the London average for walking five times a week. Cycling is not popular.
In line with the average walking rate, pedestrian accidents are average and following the same trend, cycling’s unpopularity results in a relatively low accident rate.
As has been said here before, car ownership in Bexley is high. An average of 1·07 vehicles per household despite 24% of households not having one at all.
Sometimes I think it is a good thing that Bexley Council ran out of money; they will be less inclined to take the country back to the dark ages which will be the inevitable result of crippling transport facilities.
This “crazy old person” can remember the coal being delivered on a horse drawn wagon, the roads being repaired by a real steam roller, the occasional man riding a penny farthing and being taken for a walk through the Blackwall tunnel as a Sunday treat. There was little else to do on a Sunday. I doubt any teenager, abusive or otherwise, would be happy to return to such days but I have a suspicion that the Green lobby would.
† The statistics are drawn from various Green campaigning websites which may or may not be official in any way.
Well that was disappointing, I failed to notice that the Transport Users’
Sub-Committee meeting was no longer
on the webcast
list and when I did it was far too late to put in a personal appearance. To
be honest I have no idea what the procedure would be and I doubt I would have
been welcomed as I have been nursing an awful cold for a week. Just sneezing and
a constantly running nose that does not respond to hay fever pills. (Today it is much better.)
As a result I missed the TfL presentation on their Ultra Low Emission Zone which Mayor Khan is to introduce on 25th October at a reported cost of £130 million. I therefore have no idea how TfL justifies its introduction. Worse is that with local newspapers a thing of the past no one will know what was said in the Council Chamber and one begins to wonder why a small handful of Councillors bother to meet at all.
It is a long time since I walked across central London but I recall that Oxford Street stank of diesel fumes from buses. I understand that is largely resolved with the introduction of cleaner diesel engines, hybrids and electric buses; however there is no denying that air pollution can be a problem as the pink sky over London occasionally testifies.
Khan thinks he can do something about it. That is spend about £15 per capita of population on solving a problem that is rapidly disappearing anyway. What does that come to? £40 to £50 a household in order to penalise the less well off who cannot afford to run petrol cars built since 2006. (Diesel since 2015 approximately.)
Is Khan spending your £130 million wisely? So far this year, until the end of June, 900,973 new cars have been registered in the UK and the total number of vehicles on the road is declining. (Covid again.) The average age of cars still in use is just over eight years and more than six million are still in use aged 15 years and more.
The total number of cars in use in the whole country approaches 39 million but only 2·5 million are registered to London addresses. That’s almost exactly 6·5% of the total.
It may be a big if but if that 6·5% is applied to purchases (900,000 in UK in six months) one might assume that around 120,000 new cars are registered to London addresses each year and rather more are sold or pensioned off.
Assuming car ownership in London is proportionate to the country as a whole there will be about 400,000 old (more than 15 years) cars in London and they are being replaced at the rate of 120,000 a year.
All the above figures come from Government websites. There are a few unknowns such as the proportion of diesel to petrol powered cars and whether new vehicles result in another being scrapped or resold in London but with the total number reducing there are sure indications that pollution levels are on course to reduce dramatically over the next few years. So why is Khan willing to spend £130 million on taxing the poor for a very short term advantage?
My guess is his scheme has little to do with pollution, he will likely change the ULEZ to a congestion charge at the earliest opportunity, the same as he considered on the GLA boundary. It is the only thing that can justify such a colossal waste of money and the plans to rid the existing Congestion Zone of all exceptions in 2025 has already been announced. It is not difficult to see what Khan is aiming to do.
If Bexley Council had bothered to webcast their meeting we would know if any Councillor followed up this line of enquiry. Like most of Khan’s ideas this one seems to be little more than virtue signalling, unless of course he is simply lying.
I only know three people whose cars are not ULEZ compliant. One never needs to go into central or north London, so no Blackwall tunnel, and therefore plans to keep on polluting. Another runs a banger, not because he can’t afford to replace it but because he likes it. His hand has now been forced, and finally a lady who lives on one side of the North Circular with an elderly mother on the other. She runs a 20 year old VW Beetle. It is going to be swapped for a 40 year old MGB GT. Pollutes like hell but exempt from ULEZ. Well done Khan.
Morgan appeared before the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee chaired
by Shaun Bailey this morning. In it he revealed something that the family has known for a
very long time but may have felt unable to say before the DMIP report became
public - and then the Panel didn’t mention it!
Within a year of the Panel being convened the then Chairman left “for personal reasons”. This was not entirely correct. He left because it came to light that he had been colluding with the Metropolitan Police to conceal documents and evidence from the Panel that should have been revealed to them.
The Police Officer with whom he had attempted to pervert the work of the Panel was Cressida Dick.
The hour long video may be seen at https://webcasts.london.gov.uk/Assembly/Event/Index/bf14a0d8-75ee-4f5e-8151-97f4635088a0 and starts at 2 hours 26 minutes approximately.
Alternatively an audio only version is available below.
Commissioner Dick will be given the right of reply at a future meeting; possibly 27th July.
Cumbrian press is reporting that their County Council has recruited Bexley cast
off Gill Steward to replace their Chief Executive next month. The current
salary is £152,670 a year. In Bexley Steward was paid £173,957 a year for being useless.
There is no record of her achieving anything during her two years here if one excludes the story of her fixing a splash problem in the lady’s loo and the fact that she removed press reporting facilities from the Council Chamber.
It is pretty much definite that she caused a long standing loyal employee to resign only to be welcomed back when Steward found the exit door only two years after finding her way in from Cornwall via West Sussex. She disappeared with £94,000 of taxpayers’ money stuffed into her swag bag. (News Shopper report.)
A £94,000 reward for being second rate.
The Leader of Cumbria Council, Labour Councillor Stewart Young has said “Ms. Steward brings with her the perfect range of skills, experience and leadership that we need now and for the future”. Bexley residents will wish him and his residents the best of luck.
If LinkedIn is to be believed Steward has been out of work since she left Bexley but reports elsewhere suggest membership of an economic think tank.
It is to be hoped that she does not continue to live in London as she did while employed as Director of Communities in Cornwall. The residents there believed that the expenditure on travel claims to London was excessive.
Meanwhile Bexley has been losing staff more valuable than a Chief Executive; at least three more from Finance and others outsourced to Capita. Not just down the road to Erith but dumped in Chippenham. How much will that cost in relocation costs or is that something else that’s been chopped? A certain Finance Director is being blamed for “the despair” and “the happiness”. Among those who remain and those who have managed to get away respectively.
Conservatives are once again doing what they do best, deceiving residents. Today they are
implying that Labour Councillors were against a thank you gesture for those who
delivered the Covid vaccines to the borough.
That is of course entirely untrue. Lying has become a way of life in Conservative Britain.
On 21st April 2021 Bexley Council voted down a Labour Motion amendment that extended a proposal of thanks to the scientists who developed the vaccine and “all parties” and asked for NHS staff to be rewarded with a pay rise above 1%.
In my opinion, Labour Motions too often extend beyond the Council’s remit and there was obviously no way that Bexley Council was going to vote against their master’s edict as would have been required in this case. Where is the realism?
The Tories predictably were against extending thanks beyond Bexley and probably it was the correct decision but any suggestion that Labour Councillors were against a thank you gesture is simply wrong. They wanted more than any Council could provide which isn’t “nasty” as the nasty anonymous individuals behind @bexleynews who specialise in deception have stated. Clearly it is them who represent everything that is nasty.
There’s only going to be four webcast Council meetings in July but it is pleasing to see
that the Transport Users’ meeting will be one of them. That is an improvement on
pre-Covid days when Transport was not webcast.
Webcasting of meetings is one of the few Council related things that is an improved service over the past half dozen years - a somewhat niche positive in an ocean of negatives.
Prompted by a reader’s comment I have been thinking of what has got better under Conservative rule and what has not. The conclusion can only be that their record is abysmal.
If one excludes things paid for by someone else like Lesnes Abbey (Heritage Lottery Fund), the Splashpark (Cory Environmental) and town centre wi-fi (does anyone use it?) very little has been achieved.
Library Services are poorer, museums are mothballed (instead of being sent to Bromley) and Hall Place is a mismanaged mess.
Grass maintenance which was down to nine cuts a year in 2016 was found to be totally inadequate and raised to ten. It used to be twelve.
Not one road scheme has resulted in improved traffic flow. Gravel Hill/Watling Street, Trinity Place and Harrow Manorway are the products of a troubled or possibly vindictive mind. Harrow Manorway is the route to the Crossrail station at Abbey Wood but has seen its capacity halved and somehow manages to have 20, 30 and 40 m.p.h. sections and finally 50 at the Eastern Avenue roundabout all within the space of 200 metres.
Parking charges have rocketed in price (30% this year alone) and free periods have gone. Ten years ago Car Parks were free after 6 p.m. and on Sundays but on 6th June 2011 all that went.
Despite the announcement made then there are exceptions which remain free after six including the Bexleyheath Cinema Car Park for contractual reasons. A couple are free on Sundays too but the almost universal borough wide Monday to Saturday 8 till 6 rule has long gone.
Five years ago a resident could buy an annual season ticket in my nearest car park for £684 and now it is £1,734. The resident rate has been restricted to those who work in the borough too. London commuters have been successfully stuffed!
Pest Control Services were always the most expensive in London but that problem was fixed by abandoning the service completely.
The Council planned to sell off 27 parks and open spaces and whilst some were reprieved Old Farm Park, Wilde Road and West Street residents have all suffered at the hands of BexleyCo which has yet to put a penny back into Bexley’s coffers.
The Danson Park Festival is no more. So too is the William Morris Fountain on Broadway.
Active monitoring of the CCTV system has been abandoned.
Refuse services are now less frequent than ten years ago and more costly. Garden waste removal has gone from free to £27 (discounted rate) to £50 (discounted rate) in only five years. In a further degradation of service the useful Guide to Services has gone from this in 2020 to the almost useless in 2021. Bexley Council no longer provides a collection timetable.
For individual residents the availability of recycling centres has been halved because someone at Bexley Council was staring into space when statistics were timetabled at school. (The odd/even number plate farce.)
Council Tax has gone up by 25% in five years and in eleven years of Conservative Government Bexley has still not managed to negotiate fairness into the grant allocation. Everywhere one looks there is failure.
School crossing patrols are reduced from 38 to eleven and Headteachers are having to do their job.
Bexley Council claims that reducing to only 45 Councillors instead of 63 is an improvement. No it isn’t; the per capita workload has massively increased which cannot have improved the service offered to residents.
Bexley’s Conservative Council has done absolutely nothing to improve the quality of life in the borough has it? Quite the reverse.
Communities Scrutiny Committee met under its new Chairman Councillor Richard
Diment on Tuesday who has worked himself towards the top of Teresa O’Neill’s tree
in a remarkably short time, but not entirely without merit. There have been
times when his support for her has edged towards the embarrassing ‘teacher’s pet’ variety but there
can be little doubt that he is thoughtful and probably brighter than most.
Did he live up to expectations? (Err I think so.)
A big part of the Communities meeting is the presence, on-line on this occasion, of the Police and their report and follow up questions (along with those of associated agencies) took up 80 minutes of time. A/Chief Superintendent Andrew Ricketts spoke first.
He was unsure about what might happen to crime levels following the Covid induced reductions but his priority has been and will continue to be violent crime. And that was the Police report completed!
The St. Giles’ Trust reported next and once again there was doubt about what might happen once the Covid restrictions are fully lifted and various options are under consideration. Just five minutes into the meeting (post opening formalities) the meeting was thrown open to Councillors’ questions.
Councillor Nick O’Hare (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) wasn’t very happy about the provided crime statistics being out of date.
He was told that figures generally remain low but Violence Against the Person increased in 2020 when freedoms were temporarily restored but reached a low point in February 2021 but is now “much higher”.
Nobody mentioned drugs which appears to be a steadily increasing problem.
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East), referring to the Agenda, asked many questions among which was “we concentrate on young people but the wider perpetrators of crime is older white men while there were significantly high levels of black stop and search in this borough” and “what is being done to combat that?”
There was no immediate answer so the questions were repeated. “People should not feel that it is black and young people who are the problem” she said. The Chairman was sympathetic to that view. The nearest there was to an answer was “there is work to do”. A variant on ‘there are lessons to be learned’.
Vice-Chairman Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Crook Log) has always taken an interest in County Lines gangs and it continued on Tuesday. After seeing some closed down “is there any evidence they still exist in Bexley?” She was told that they certainly do although less so than in neighbouring BCU boroughs.
Councillor Camsey was not very happy about searching young children for weapons including the use of knife arches. Knife arches are not used in Bexley schools but wands are, albeit rarely, in certain circumstances.
Councillor French (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) was concerned about the likely reduction in police patrols along the Falconwood Eltham corridor due to the closure of police ‘touch down bases’ and the imminent closure of Eltham Police Station. Greenwich Council has been unhelpful in providing a new police hub and he mentioned the possibility of one being provided within Bexley, maybe in Welling library.
He was told that “all estate changes were signed off some while ago, in 2017 and replacements [such as those proposed by Councillor French] can only be at nil cost.”
Councillor Lisa Moore (Conservative, Longlands) referred to the Crime Survey where 13·5% of females rated their safety at 1 on a scale of 1-10. (For males it was 16%.) How does that compare with previous years? Another question that defeated the experts.
Councillor Brian Bishop (Conservative, Barnehurst) asked a similar question and whether external ‘Safer Streets’ funding might improve things; [like restoring the borough’s CCTV system perhaps]. Bexley is “looking to bid to MOPAC” for the Safer Streets funds. Only three boroughs can be successful and at best will be in the region of £200,000.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) commented on the fact that only one in six sexual assaults are reported (how does anyone know?). Why, was her question and how can the reporting rate be improved? No answers were immediately forthcoming but the Chairman noticed. A certain amount of waffle centring on ‘trust and confidence and justice’ ensued. A typical chicken and egg scenario which once again “needs further work”.
The Agenda item concluded with Councillor French pushing his wish to see Bexley take the initiative in providing Police touch down hubs at no cost and not the “not our problem guv approach” adopted by Greenwich Council.