To Woolwich Town Hall last night for the pantomime of a full Greenwich Council meeting. I had some words from Camden New Journal editor Richard Osley in my mind as my bus rolled down the hill into Woolwich – posting after the equivalent meeting at Camden Council, he pointed out the amount of hackneyed, point-scoring old crap that goes on in these events.
Nobody said: ‘This is a terrible time. Let’s work together. Why don’t we do this…’
I took a tally of needless verbal blustering over national policies, and made it 5-4 to Labour (the Lib Dems aren’t represented on Greenwich’s wooden benches) in petty jibes against the Conservatives, thanks to one mention of the “Big Society” that sounded like it deserved a downward volley of spittle beforehand, and an almost theatrical mention of “childrens’ services!” in a debate about trying to save a few quid in dealing with planning matters, before waffling on about the international financial crisis and how it wasn’t… you get my drift. I was moved to ask somebody afterwards if the councillor concerned – West Greenwich’s David Grant – had ever trodden the boards before.
Such bluster would have been forgiveable, were it not for the impression that all the councillors spent more time debating issues surrounding their own jobs than they did anything else. A rent rise for the council’s thousands of tenants of £5.16/week (a direct result of government policy aiming to bring council housing into line with social landlords) with the possibility of extra service charges, went through with few questions asked. The role of planning committees, and whether councillors should have to pass judgement on films which haven’t got BBFC certificates, seemed to take up more time.
Anyhow, so what burning questions were asked in the council chamber? Well, how about a strike on the Tube that hasn’t actually been planned by anyone?
A burning question, of course, in a borough with only one Tube station. Take a bow, Conservative councillor Neil Dickinson, whose ward is about five miles from that Tube station…
Maybe he’ll ask about the tooth fairy next time.
But what of this question, from fellow Tory Eileen Glover?
Actually, this could be read in several ways. Firstly, it could just be a dig at the council’s leader (“l’état, c’est moi“?). Secondly, it could be a criticism of the way in which the council’s Labour group cowers before its leadership. Thirdly… is there a sly humour in deputy leader Peter Brooks‘ reply? I reckon all three answers are right.
With council leader Chris Roberts absent, Cllr Glover resolved to ask the same question at next month’s meeting. Be sure to tune in again in four weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it.
But when the cat is away, the mice can’t always play. Where was the council leader when there was important business to be discussed? It was only a full meeting of his council, after all. We weren’t told.
So it was all down to his affable deputy. Asked by Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher about the threat to the Woolwich Crossrail station, Cllr Brooks initially didn’t have much of a clue what he was on about. Nobody had thought to brief him beforehand on a story which could completely derail plans to regenerate Woolwich, easily the council’s most important project over the next decade.
He knew of the meetings, but not a lot besides, he admitted. “If Chris was here, he’d be able to give you chapter and verse,” Cllr Brooks sighed. Wherever the Dear Leader was, hopefully he was concerned with something equally as important as the fate of his borough’s most deprived town centre.
After the meeting, the petty jibes continued online. Well, only a tiny handful of Greenwich councillors have public Twitter accounts, but Nigel Fletcher spoilt his good work asking about Crossrail with this little attack…
Yup, a reference to Cllr Grant’s outburst earlier. I bet he’s quaking at the thought of ordinary people in the street pointing at him and shouting “DEFICIT DENIER!”
Maybe Nigel Fletcher was aiming this at his chums in the wider Conservative party, showing off… but it doesn’t matter. David Grant’s a backbench councillor, not an economist. This is just playground talk, not worthy of someone who’s paid out of our council tax to represent our concerns in that chamber.
Still, he’s on the other side! And not on Twitter to respond! BOO! HISS!
The meeting felt out of time with the real issue hovering over the borough – cuts. Where were the trade unionists? Just a handful of Unite members were outside lobbying councillors. It’s all very well Greenwich Save Our Services telling the News Shopper it’s going to hold a march, but why no awkward questions?
Without pressure from the public gallery, the councillors were able to indulge in their usual game-playing. Which doesn’t bode well for next month’s meeting, when the real issues of cuts will have to be decided.
Things I discovered from last night’s council meeting (mainly, to be fair, from other questions posed by Conservatives – Labour councillors aren’t allowed to scrutinise their betters in public)
– Council rents are going up by an average of £5.16/week, with service charges likely to be introduced at a later date.
– Culture and Olympics spokesman John Fahy is confident Boris bikes will come to the borough “in due course” after meeting a Transport for London executive last week.
– He was unable to give an update on Charlton Lido, where the redevelopment scheme has collapsed due to lack of funding, for reasons of “commercial confidentiality”, but seemed confident things were on the move. (Separately, I’ve heard funding is being sought to bring it up to the standard of London Fields Lido.)
– There’s still no news on the broken Heart of East Greenwich development, with the government-backed Homes and Communities Agency still looking for a new developer for the old hospital site.
– The O2 has the highest level of alcohol related crime in the borough, ahead of Woolwich town centre. Despite this, a new licensing policy will still allow new venues to be opened there, instead of declaring it a “saturation zone” where new licences are more difficult to get (like Greenwich, Woolwich, and Eltham town centres, Trafalgar Road and Plumstead High Street).
Tune in again next month for more fun and games… as £27m of cuts are ratified.