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News and Comment October 2012

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12 October (Part 1) - The Alex & Steven Show

Alex SawyerIgnore the equine acronym, the Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Committee meeting is an altogether different beast to Public Realm. For a start there is no jobsworth Kevin Fox and the chairman doesn’t sweep in with snout in the air. Instead you have a chairman who will engage in small talk with members of the public (I hope his wife got back safely from Birmingham), and who ensures the use of microphones. You also get councillors who will talk about local matters - like how noisy is that damned turbine going to be. There was another difference too, the fact packed Public Realm agenda came across as dull stuff and the less immediately attractive Crime agenda was made to sound quite interesting - some of the time anyway. Councillor Steven Hall kept everything alive with a stream of questions, he must have gone well into double figures with them.

Because Police Borough Commander Victor Olisa was delayed by other commitments, chairman Alex Sawyer asked Deputy Director Mike Frizoni to give his report on metal theft first. It is fortunately much reduced, only ten drain gullies lost in the past year, the organised thefts of a couple of years ago when 336 went missing may now be a thing of the past. Lamp post connection panels had suffered too and the missing ones were replaced with plastic.

Councillor Mike Slaughter wondered if it was possible to swap all metal gullies and lamp post covers with plastic and finance it from the metal scrap value but a scrapped gully he was told was worth only a fiver but the 336 cost £121,000 to replace. “These people cost you money!” I thought for a moment the comment was directed at councillors’ million pound a year allowances, but apparently it was about another sort of drain altogether.

Councillor Philip Read, ever ready to pillory people, guilty or otherwise, wanted the names of metal thieves exhibited on the council’s street bill boards. Mr. Frizoni said he would consider it. Councillor Val Clark said that the security markings on gullies might not be much use if they were taken well outside the borough. Frizoni agreed, “if they are shipped out in a container there is a limit to what we can do”. I hope Bonkers doesn’t attract criminals for readers and I’ve given them ideas. Oh dear it does. Remember councillor Melvin Seymour’s in-laws? They admitted to being criminals and are (were?) readers.

Victor OlisaAt that point the Borough Police Commander walked in and all talk of thieving was brought to a halt. Victor Olisa told us that burglary was down, Bexley is now second best in the Met. area but he is not a man to dwell only on the good news. He said that as part of a campaign for increased efficiency, the Bexley force is compared with similar forces nationally. Although Bexley did quite well in Met. terms, it is bottom of the list on every single one of the national comparison criteria.

80% of costs goes on staff he said and so that is where the efficiency axe was going to fall. Chief Inspector Tony Gowen has been transferred to Tower Hamlets. What Tower Hamlets has done to deserve both him and former Commander Stringer was not explained.

CI Gowen was lucky not to be named as culpable in the ongoing official complaint about Bexley police not at first being willing to investigate Bexley council’s obscene blog. He alone apologised for some of their wrongdoings and I went soft on him. Not that Gowen’s going will save much money, the CI has been replaced by a new Superintendent, Peter Ayling. The savings are going to come from abandoning the Borough Commander structure, replaced by Basic Command Units which will cross borough boundaries. We are likely to see a Bromley/Bexley BCU and shared police services. Nothing much will change at street level according to C.S. Olisa. Councillor Katie Perrior expressed the hope that the share would be with Bromley and not Greenwich with which Bexley does not have much in common.

It would be nice to be able to report that Bexley council has similar ideas but although the government recommended that boroughs with full time leaders don’t need a Chief Executive, Teresa O’Neill begs to differ and prefers to spend a quarter of a million on a chief executive exclusive to the borough. One with a bare diary who refuses to answer letters.

Another thing Olisa plans to do, and quite right too in my opinion, is get rid of the fixed ward structure for Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT). It doesn’t make sense to aim for the same number of officers in each when different wards have different needs. In future Olisa will allow the minimum officer numbers in each team to be two rather than six when circumstances warrant it. Officers will be distributed according to need rather than target numbers and travel by public transport. Breaks will be taken in cafes etc. rather than taking a trip back to a police canteen. More money saved and more on street presence.

Councillor Brian Bishop asked if there was any special training given to officers visiting schools. Olisa said the Schools Team was disbanded quite a while ago but he was going to restore it. Councillor Hall asked if it might be possible for the police to actually turn up at advertised street meetings and if the scheduled officers were unavailable to send HQ staff. Maybe the police have taken their lead from Bexley council.

Ian ClementCouncillor Katie Perrior welcomed “a massive reduction in youth offending” but was concerned about a middle-class drugs problem. Perhaps she should see less of her media friends, but she thought that it was something Bexley police had been overlooking. The previous Commander Stringer was alleged to have said that Bexley didn’t have a drugs problem because, I assume, he had never lingered near Abbey Wood station. Victor Olisa made it clear he took a different view. He was executing an average of seven drugs warrants a week. Victor Olisa is not Dave Stringer and be thankful for that.

Mike Frizoni revealed that “Probationary Service projects allocated to the council amount to 4,700 man hours per year, which in monetary terms is worth approximately £60,000”. Or to out it in plain language all that weeding, pruning, litter picking and painting performed as Community Service saved 60 grand. That’s £12.56 an hour. Maybe the girls who were working in a councillor family business for £3.68 should get some gardening gloves and offer their services.

Steven HallCouncillor Steven Hall summarised the findings of his sub-Committee on Youth Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB). Only 18% of ASB is committed by under 18s. There was a better than 20% reduction in convicted youth offenders last year compared to the previous one. Only three ASBOs were issued this year (nine last) and no one from Bexley was convicted over last year’s London riots. All of which supports my own view that the only thing older people have to complain about Bexley youth is that they are unbelievably noisy and force everyone else into the gutter when they pass by. Especially grammar school pupils.

Following that report there were no questions from councillors but Mick Barnbrook of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) asked the chairman if he would agree to use the discretion bestowed on him by council rules and let him make a comment. He got an instant and unthinking refusal. Bexley calls itself the ‘Listening council’, just six out of 220,000 residents are bothered to take any interest in their meetings but the council will listen to none of them.

Mr. Barnbrook has 31 years police experience behind him, quite a lot of it in Bexleyheath and in his prime volunteered his services as sports and athletics mentor to local youths including Stephen Lawrence and his younger brother Stuart right up to the time of the infamous murder. The councillors found nothing to say about Steven Hall’s efforts to keep young people on the straight and narrow and their immediate reaction is an unwillingness to listen to a resident with something worthwhile to pass on.

Mick was told it was necessary to give notice if he wished to speak at a meeting. How is it possible to do that when no one knew what councillor Hall planned to say? The meeting was wrapped up soon afterwards when an open-minded Steven Hall singled out Mr. Barnbrook and gave him 20 minutes of his time. Unlike Cheryl Bacon, when Alex Sawyer says a meeting is over he means it.

Councillor Sawyer is one of the very few councillors in Bexley who comes across as both intelligent and friendly but is presumably trained to give an instant “No” to any BCMG member and as everyone knows, no politician will ever admit to a mistake. Unlike the pen jabbing mayor Alan Downing, Alex can say “No” politely without causing offence or deliberately belittling a resident, so Bexley council is spared another round of complaints.


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