Cllr David Leaf, Cabinet Member for Resources
London Borough of Bexley.
The famous saying about how a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has even got it is boots on has never been truer than over the last couple of weeks. And is even more true in this era of social media being able to spread fake news in seconds.
Apparently the London Borough of Bexley has been given £9 million in a bailout from the Government because the budget is not balanced, and the Council is bankrupt and has no reserves….
This is news to us.
Our budget is balanced, and was publicly presented three months ago at the Cabinet meeting in December. We’ve nearly completed the 2022/23 budget. The Council is not bankrupt and it has over £30million in reserves.
While the facts don’t suit some narratives, facts are the only thing that matters; as President Reagan put it:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the states of facts and evidence.”
In recognition of the way COVID-19 has really hit Council finances, the Government has given us permission to borrow some of the money we already have in the capital budget to fund day to day revenue costs that have been incurred because of Covid, if we need to use them.
Some extra financial flexibility and head room to address the financial pressures caused by an unprecedented global pandemic.
Nothing more, nothing less.
The other option would be to make dramatic cuts to Council services to cover those Covid costs instead.
We cannot support cutting vital services like adult social care or protecting vulnerable children from harm in order to cover the costs of a once in a lifetime pandemic which has imposed huge costs on the Council, and indeed all Councils.
Quite how being able to use some of the capital budget we already have to fund day to day services to cover the costs of Covid if we need it becomes described as a £9m bailout from the Government is not really clear.
As the Government has made clear, the London Borough of Bexley has been given this permission solely because of the pressures Covid has had on our Borough.
It is surprising the ease at which some seek to mislead and frighten residents of our Borough.
The Leader of the Labour Group stood on the steps of the Civic Offices and told BBC London that the Council had a £14million budget gap and would be closing libraries. Not true, and easily proven to be untrue.
One Labour Councillor has falsely claimed that we were going to charge people £8 to visit Hall place, knowing full well that they were referring only to the longstanding admission fee to visit the historic house.
One anonymous website – which does not give information about who writes it, where it is written from, how it is funded, or even provide any contact details – made such a false statement, claiming Bexley had received a £9m bailout from the Government, when, as was clear in the official statements this was untrue and the situation is as set out above.
It is surprising that a small number of people share such made up claims on social media when in the same amount of time it took them to do that, they could have checked the facts themselves and seen what a capitalisation order means.
And Bexley is one of many Councils being given permission to do this too, in recognition that local councils across the country and political spectrum have had to deal with an unprecedented pandemic and unprecedented costs.
It’s also funny how many of those who have been doomongering and misleading people about the Council’s finances have a track record themselves of financial incompetence – in the case of the Labour Party in Bexley, they left the Council in 2006 with just £5.6 million in the general fund reserve (barely 2% of net expenditure) after increasing council tax 40% in just four years!
Since then have made numerous spending promises, including keeping millions of pounds of bureaucracy, which would have exhausted the Council’s reserves many times over and caused huge council tax rises.
And of course, those who chose to mislead and criticise never offer any credible plans or ways to invest in services and balance the books.
While we deal with the reality our residents and business live in, they are obsessed with increasingly desperate and pathetic attempts to score political points.
One senior Labour politician went as far as claiming that this was a “good crisis” for their Party, as they seek to exploit for political gain the suffering and misery caused by Covid-19.
Covid has impacted us all in all sorts of ways. For our Council, we incurred massive costs and lost incomes overnight.
From scratch, we set up a system to deliver hot meals every day to over 3,000 vulnerable people; procured from scratch 690,000 items of PPE, introduced in one weekend a 7 day a week helpline for people in need of help to call to get help, which was operating 12 hours a day – set up at a time when Council staff were also all moving to homeworking and major work was needed to do that.
Conservative Councillors joined the teams of volunteers delivering the food or collecting medicines for those who could not get out.
We are incredibly proud of the way our Council responded to this sudden once in a lifetime event, and the Government has been clear that they would provide all the help local councils needed, and the permission granted to Bexley to use money it already has in its capital budget to cover some of those day-to-day costs caused by Covid.
We know those who always criticise the Council and have an anti-Conservative agenda are frustrated their constant predictions that services are going to end and the Council is going to be declared bankrupt are never true, so have to resort to even further nonsense.
But residents can see for themselves that the Council is continuing to deliver high quality services which continue to be rated as among the best in the country, even at a time when we are going through the biggest crisis in our lifetimes.