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News and Comment July 2012

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5 July (Part 2) - Upping their game

Councillor Alan DowningSince the council’s AGM in May new faces have been seen chairing some of the Scrutiny Committees. Councillor Philip Read did a surprisingly good job at the Finance Committee meeting and last night it was councillor Alex Sawyer who was new to the hot seat at the Crime and Disorder Committee. It used to be the case that you could turn up at practically any Bexley council meeting and be confident of witnessing an omnishambles. Not any more. If you hanker after the old days the only meeting I would recommend is one chaired by councillor Alan Downing, with luck you will not only see a shambles you might be privileged to see him lose his temper. Not pretty.

By comparison Alex Sawyer is a total bore. He turns up the best dressed man around the table, welcomes members of the public, does not insult them with the routine warning about recording - he knows those present play by the rules - goes out of his way to ensure the microphones are all used, doesn’t stamp on councillors for asking one question too many, and when the meeting is over wishes everyone, public included, a cheery "Goodnight gentlemen". I don’t really want to use the word ‘professional’ to describe the running of a Bexley council meeting but I fear I am going to have to.

Councillor Val ClarkHowever to make everyone feel at home we still have councillor Val Clark. Apart from myself, ‘the public’ consisted only of three Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) members and Mick Barnbrook continued his charm offensive against the stuck up madam. She once again wafted by silently with her nose in the air refusing to acknowledge his greeting. I have no idea what he sees in her, surely the pick of Bexley’s female bunch is Maxine?

But councillor Maxine Fothergill’s presence last night was not my reason for ruining another evening, it was Borough Police Commander Victor Olisa. I’d heard some favourable reports but what is he like in the flesh?

He said he would address the meeting for ten minutes but failed miserably. He finished in just over six. He revealed that he expected a three year posting to Bexley and his priority was “safety in public places” and “to protect their property”. He didn‘t want anybody “hurt or killed” and specifically mentioned the elderly and the young. All the ‘acting’ police posts have gone and everyone, or maybe almost everyone, is now doing their own basic job. As a result the Commander currently has no deputy. He moved on to questions.

CS Victor OlisaChief Superintendent Olisa is very different to his predecessor. CS Stringer would answer quickly and one suspected a rehearsed response out of the Met’s Book of Standard Answers. Olisa struck me as more thoughtful and more ready to give his own honest opinion. Whilst Stringer would be on his politically correct best behaviour, the new man repeatedly referred to his men as “cops”. It would be hard not to like him.

The councillors present were Kerry Allon, Brian Bishop, Val Clark, Graham D’Amiral, Maxine Fothergill, Steven Hall, Philip Read, Michael Slaughter, John Wilkinson, Brenda Langstead and Harry Persaud. Councillor Peter Craske, aged 42, who has always put in a guest appearance at the Crime meeting in the past was absent, as was his replacement, Gareth Bacon. The loss of Craske’s expertise in matters criminal did not prove to be a problem. The only councillor who did not ask a question was Allon but the others elicited the following information.

Olisa believed it will be challenging to maintain the recent good burglary figures and in an unstated reference to earlier suggestions that Bexley’s burglary figures might not have been all what they seemed to be, said “the figures will be obtained in an ethical way”.

The Commissioner’s plan to allocate Tasers in London will result in two of Bexley’s vehicles being so equipped - but possibly not until after the Inner Boroughs get theirs.

Economic pressures mean that retiring officers are not being replaced and if a PCSO opts to train as a ‘proper policeman’ that is likely to cause a vacancy too. SNT (Safer Neighbourhood Teams) could reduce to as few as two officers per ward and recruitment won’t restart until “after the Olympics”. I’m not sure I should be repeating this but a rerun of last year’s riots would cause the police to “struggle” but they will, given the experience gained, be “better prepared”.

The Commander was surprised to hear the opinion that people are reluctant to report crimes and rejected Val Clark’s suggestion that test purchases at licensed premises have been reduced. He gave some figures that squashed that view fairly effectively. A suggestion that burglars are on a repeating cycle of offending and imprisonment was met with some impressive statistics for arrests and the comment that someone in Thamesmead will not be “filling his boots” for a little while.

In a later session Councillor Read reported on Domestic Violence. He was at pains to point out he was taking a gender neutral view but revealed that most male victims were in gay relationships. An interesting slant on a situation that most of us would be able to guess. That the more aggressive sex is the male one.

Mick Barnbrook and Elwyn BryantAlthough the meeting dragged on a little longer with a report from David Bryce-Smith, Deputy Director (Development, Housing & Community Safety), Chief Superintendent Olisa left before he delivered it. With my nose in my notebook, I failed to notice until the floor boards groaned as they always do when people move about the chamber. Glancing up I noted that BCMG members Mick Barnbrook and Elwyn Bryant followed him out. The look on councillors faces made a perfect picture, at least I thought it did until I saw a better one when Mick didn’t come back for about 20 minutes, Elwyn rather earlier.

From what I could gather later the Commander was happy to listen to a brief history of Bexley council’s criminal activities going all the way back to a previous Commander enjoying meals at council expense, crooked expense claims and the consequent refusal to lay criminal charges. It was all news to him, but not now.


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