A push by Bexley Council’s Labour members to establish a new committee monitoring the borough’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has been rejected.

Councillors signed in remotely from their homes for the May 20 meeting, with the naming of new Mayor James Hunt for the upcoming year the headline item.

However the meeting also saw councillors vote on the structure and size of committees, allocations of seats to political groups, and the appointment of members.

The Labour group subsequently moved an amendment through Cllr Sally Hinkley to establish a Covid-19 recovery strategy overview and scrutiny committee to monitor the authority’s response to the pandemic.

The committee would have the same membership as the budget overview and scrutiny committee with its first meeting to be held on June 3, Cllr Hinkley proposed.

She was backed by Labour colleague Stef Borella, who appealed for the controlling party to consider the move, firing a shot at neighbouring Bromley Council in the process.

“I’m sure, Mr Mayor, we wouldn’t like to become like Bromley who appear to have become some one-member dictatorship where it all goes through the leader of the council,” Cllr Borello said.

The comment referred to Bromley Council, where members of the urgency committee voted in March to temporarily increase decision-making powers held by committee chairs and leader Colin Smith until the end of the municipal year earlier this month.

The changes momentarily increased responsibilities held by senior councillors at the authority, enabling them to decide what items would or wouldn’t be heard in committee meetings.

Cllr Smith declined to respond to Cllr Borello’s comments when contacted following the meeting, but did point out the comment was incorrect.

“I think we do need all members not just the cabinet and the leader to make a constructive role in going forward when we are recovering as there are going to be some major challenges going forward…I think this is a sensible amendment,” Cllr Borello continued at the Bexley meeting.

The proposal was dismissed by council leader Teresa O’Neill before being voted down.

“Scrutiny chairman are only being elected tonight, it’s therefore down to them to have that discussion after this evening’s meeting,” she told the meeting.

“It’s not for discussion at this evening’s meeting so I would suggest it’s down to them to have the discussion.”

In what was their first full-meeting to be conducted remotely, councillors adapted quickly to their new online forum.

Cllr Borello also called a point of order in the meeting, when he pointed out the Conservative’s Philip Read had been tweeting during the meeting – something forbidden in the member’s code of conduct.

Cllr Read subsequently apologised, with the Mayor saying that would be the end of the matter.

Labour also pushed another amendment angling for councillors to leave cameras on for the entire duration of remote meetings.

Opposition leader Dan Francis said  “this practice would eliminate potential legal challenges” as it would prove members were present for entire meetings.

However, the move was voted down, with leader O’Neill saying it’d be covered with protocol and there was no need for the amendment.


Following the meeting, council leader Teresa O'Neill said overview and scrutiny chairmen had decided they’d each have a Covid-related item on their upcoming individual OSC committee meetings.

According to Cllr O'Neill, "as well as being in line with the constitution, (this action) goes much further than that requested by the Labour Group".