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News and Comment September 2012

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28 September (Part 2) - General Purposes. Two for the price of one

Geraldene Lucia-HennisThe meeting started very promptly as it transpired that the Chair of this meeting councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis had been double booked and she was keen to get off to her other commitment of the evening at the Adults’ Services Scrutiny Committee. Given the general scarcity of meetings in a normal week it beggars belief that these sorts of clashes can ever occur. A quick check of the September 2012 calendar of meetings shows eleven free days out of the 20 available - what sort of incompetence is required to double book a meeting? I guess we should remember that this is Bexley council we are talking about so it should come as no real surprise.

The first item was the signing off of the 2011/12 accounts. Much more to come about these at a later date. An initial skim reading has highlighted plenty of material to demonstrate unequivocally the disingenuousness of many statements by councillors and council officers. The moral here being that any fool can mislead or misdirect but the truth will out - and you will look far worse when your false words come back to haunt you.

A mere 185 pages to consider packed with tables, assumptions, estimations, notes, explanations, audit recommendations and good governance points. How long do you think our diligent councillors dedicated to this matter? Less than five minutes was deemed appropriate and that included a presentation from a council officer as well. They must all be accounting experts, or perhaps it was all too much bother to drill into the detail and frankly it does not make great reading for Bexley council. So, perhaps the less notice taken by those with a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that all is well here in Bexley the better. Without a murmur they were duly nodded through - councillor scrutiny of the laxest kind.

Nigel BettsThe revised appeal arrangements for employee relations brought up a rare spat amongst the Conservatives. Councillor Nigel Betts was concerned about the costs to the council here but his Conservative deputy leader indicated that this was a dubious point. Councillor Colin Campbell – a caring, sharing Tory (Ha! Ha!) it would appear – claimed he wanted fairness and was not at all bothered about cost. And yes this is indeed the man who has Cabinet responsibility for Finance. Some of the accounts detail to come will show his laissez-faire approach to money management in more detail. I, on the other hand, was more inclined to believe his other point about bringing the procedure into line with other London councils as being probably the prime motivation here.

It turned out that this matter would probably affect less than one case per year so the fact that this item took up more than twice the minor issue of accounts encompassing over £350 million worth of assets and around £450 million of cash speaks volumes to this casual observer. The Conservative spat intensified as councillor Betts pointed out that councillor Campbell’s claim that none of these appeals were overturned by Members was incorrect as he himself had served on a committee that had done precisely that. At this point the Conservative Chair clearly felt that such a public show of disunity could not be allowed to continue and she wrapped the matter up by supporting her superior. I am sure she will be rewarded accordingly unlike the troublemaker Betts.

The final agenda item was a brief review of the council’s staff absence management procedures. They are aiming for six days of sickness or fewer per employee per year. The table supplied indicated that this target has been consistently missed every year since 2009 so what was being done to address this shortcoming? Unfortunately this question was not posed so I cannot give you the answer. This review was all about minor tweaks to the existing procedures – that we know do not seem to work at all. Supposedly it will streamline the HR processes. How this deals with the absence itself was not made clear and reminded me of the idea encapsulated by Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Ten minutes or so thus wasted on this topic.

The meeting was duly concluded at 19:55 with the chair swiftly going upstairs. Given the token nature of the whole meeting perhaps she need not have bothered with it at all.

Report by Nick Dowling


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