It has been another year of great achievements in Bexley with new investments in services making Bexley even better (investments and improvements opposed by Labour!). We have also completed the delivery of our entire 2014 election manifesto.
Here’s the first part of review of 2017.
In line with the 2014 election campaign, the Cabinet unveiled their £340million budget proposals for 2017/18, the centrepiece of which was a substantial increase in funding for key Council services to make Bexley cleaner and greener.
These plans included the creation of a new street tree planting programme of £30,000, which would then double in size from 2018/19 onwards, as well as the purchase of a new street cleaning machine, which for the first time would mean Bexley’s town centres receiving a “deep clean” for the first time ever. Increases in funding for Community Safety, grass cutting and food inspections were also set out.
The Cabinet also confirmed that several previously agreed spending reductions, including ones relating to street cleaning and open spaces, were being permanently scrapped.
Conservative Councillors cheered on the announcements, while Labour Councillors sat in silence, and were challenged to say whether they would vote for these spending increases at the March Budget Council meeting.
The Conservative budget proposals were then subject to discussions by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees. The meetings give Councillors time to feed back on the Cabinet’s proposals and put forward ideas of their own for consideration. Again, Labour Councillors were challenged to say whether they would be supporting the budget increases or voting against them, and again, no answers came. Nor did they put forward any alternative ideas to the Conservative proposals. At the end of the month the final Budget plans were presented, including increasing the proposed budget for new street trees by £10,000 and waiving the fee for digging a grave for all under 18 year olds.
The first meeting of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Sub group met. The Sub Group’s focus would be on improving identifying children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities and assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.
Budget Council was held on 1st March, and Councillors debated the Cabinet’s proposals before the final vote – held by roll call which means every Councillor has to state whether they vote for or against the Budget. After a month of silence, Labour Councillors’ again failed to put forward their own budget proposals, instead simply asking the Cabinet to spend the next two weeks working up a new budget from scratch!
In the key 2015 budget vote Labour Councillors had moaned they found the process of coming up with budget ideas “very difficult….” And in the 2014 local election campaign Labour stated that the Conservative strategy would lead to “municipal bankruptcy”!
When the vote was held, all Conservative Councillors supported the budget proposals, all Labour Councillors voted against, while the three UKIP Councillors – on a rare appearance at a Council meeting – managed to vote for, against and abstain!
At the end of March, Parliament confirmed that the number of Councillors in Bexley would be reduced from 2018 by 30%. This delivered in full the 2014 Bexley Conservatives election manifesto, which had included a pledge to cut the number of Councillors.
The process itself was undertaken by the independent Local Government Boundary Commission, to take party politics out of it, and anyone was able to submit proposals, or comment on what was then put forward.
The first meeting of the Open Spaces Engagement Group was held, with a remit to look at ways the Council could work better with voluntary groups who look after certain parks or open spaces and encourage more to come forward. As part of the 17/18 budget, £40,000 was allocated to helping groups become established.