Public Cabinet continued with a brief look at the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy
and the Leader said the future is still uncertain due to inflation, material and
skill shortages but the expectation is a balanced budget for 2022/23. The
Government settlement is another uncertainty, it not being due until Christmas time.
The Finance Director said he expected the settlement to be announced on 15th December. It is already known that there will be £1·6 billion of additional Government investment in Councils and it is likely to include £200 million for supporting families and £38 million for cyber-security.
It has been assumed that Bexley Council will fully adopt all the Council Tax increases permitted in the recent budget.
Growth of £5·984 million will be required next year on top of £8·118 million already identified. The extra relates to parking, leisure, Place contracts and Social Services. Whether such shortfalls will have to be met in future years or are short term after-effects of Covid is not yet known.
Cabinet Member David Leaf said he did not anticipate any changes to the level of Council services provided next year. Councillor Leaf emphasised that everything is reviewed regularly to ensure that there are no budget surprises. Presumably his predecessor in 2014 failed to do that.
2014 election promise.
In practice, close to being the highest Council Tax in London and services slashed.
Cabinet Member for Growth Cafer Munur spoke in glowing terms of the investments being made in Bexley. “Bellway, Erith Quarry,
Park East, Peabody, Sidcup Library and BexleyCo.”
Labour Leader Borella reminded the meeting of the £11 million overspend on temporary accommodation which sent last year’s budget wildly off course. Park East he said represented a big reduction in available social housing and that which was promised in other areas has not been built yet. Stefano was not as sure as the Cabinet Member that £750,000 Old Farm Park homes were a success. Far from affordable.
The Public Health Grant has fallen from £12·1 million to £9·9 in five years. A £10 per head reduction. What on earth has the Leader of the Council been doing?”
Stefano warned that further increases to parking charges may be “a step too far and be a tipping point.”
The Council Leader said she had “pulled back on the temporary accommodation overspend”. Bexley residents had moved into all three parts of Old Farm Park, outright purchase, shared ownership and social housing.
On the Public Health Grant Tower Hamlets was given six times a much as Bexley and it was a Government decision. The future of parking in the borough was currently the subject of an in-depth study.
Cabinet Member David Leaf referred back to a meeting held a week earlier where Councillor Borella was said not to have asked about affordable housing. Councillor Leaf thought it relevant to add that Stefano was not dressed in his best suit. He further alleged that Councillor Borella is only interested in affordable housing when meetings are webcast and he has twice opposed investment in affordable homes.
Councillor Borella said he still believed in building Council houses despite “the Leader calling it a retrograde step” and repeated his statement that the social housing planned for Park East had not been built. “I think that is disgraceful.”
Council Leader O’Neill denied she had said that building Council housing was a retrograde step. “You won’t get me on that one.”
“Councillor Borella I need to correct you, I did not say building Council housing was a retrograde step.”
But what did everyone hear the Leader say in July?
“Having our own housing stock is a retrograde step.”
Oh dear! Is there really any practical difference between “building” and “having” housing stock? The discussion was hastily drawn to a close.
Note: In the first audio clip Councillor Borella added a few more comments after his initial statement of his belief in Council housing before the Council Leader responded. These few words have been cut to minimise web storage space but the Council webcast will confirm they are inconsequential.