Can People Before Profit prosper in Greenwich borough?
Tonight, Greenwich Council’s cabinet will vote to hive off its library service to Greenwich Leisure Limited. If you’ve no Valentine’s Day date, you could always pop along to watch proceedings (7pm, Woolwich Town Hall). Don’t go expecting heated debate or considered arguments, though – this is a decision that Greenwich resolved to come to long ago.
The Unite union, which represents library staff who face being transfered to GLL, is furious, accusing the council of a “sham consultation” and will be lobbying councillors from 6pm. (See its lengthy response to the council’s proposals here.)
Indeed, whether or not the decision is a wise one is not for this blog to determine. What can be said, though, is that once again a big decision is being forced through without much in the way of input from the public or, indeed, other councillors. Not, of course, that the Tories would object or that any Labour members would even mutter a murmur of dissent in public. Apparently there were some public meetings about this – well, I didn’t see anything, but one kind correspondent did get in touch at the weekend…
Around 25 people attended a “public information” meeting about the proposed transfer of Greenwich Libraries to Greenwich Leisure Ltd last night at West Greenwich Library. Surprising there were so many as it was barely advertised – a line or 2 in “Greenwich Time” (sorry “Royal Greenwich Time”) this week and a notice in the library a few days earlier. Apparently as there will be “no material change” in the library service, no public consultation is required. Apart from 2 “Friends” meetings, other library users have had no information. The audience were generally angry and suspicious at the lack of consultation.
It’s fair to say we have a problem in Greenwich. Sorry, “Royal Greenwich”. The council can force through more or less what it likes with only the slightest veneer of any scrutiny. Even if the Tories were to refer the decision through a formal scrutiny process, it’d get rejected by a Labour-dominated panel anyway. All the Tories can do is slightly embarrass the leadership in meetings that are barely reported outside. They don’t say prayers at Woolwich Town Hall – but we all know they’re on their knees to the Labour leadership, anyway.
Any opposition or scrutiny, therefore, has to come from outside the council. But even that’s faltered.
Councillors merrily shut down meetings to go and toast themselves, ignoring demonstrators and pressing local issues. Local newspapers ignore council meetings, while even pain-in-the-arse bloggers can’t spend all week sat in the town hall without earning a crust.
Last year’s council cuts passed without a murmur of protest, while trade union demos tend to appear motivated more by self-interest (which, of course is their job, to represent members) than by a desire to see the borough’s people served well.
Which is why I’m finding the establishment of Greenwich People Before Profit an interesting development. PBP’s long had a fairly high profile in Lewisham borough politics, including standing candidates in elections.
It even runs a cafe, Come The Revolution, at the Deptford end of New Cross Road.
Now it’s moving east, with a meeting tomorrow at Rose’s pub on Hare Street, Woolwich (7.30pm). It is “dedicated to combatting the privatisation of public services through actively involving people in opposing the Con-Dem coalition’s policies and the Labour lackeys in the council chamber who implement them in Greenwich”. Ouch.
In 2010, when I was involved in the Green Party, I did a bit of delivering around the Telegraph Hill/ Nunhead boundary and was struck by the number of PBP posters in windows. It’s fair to say the other parties aren’t particularly fond of them, and there was a bit of a squabble between them and the Greens for the lefty-we-don’t-really-like-Labour vote.
Indeed, PBP’s best known as a thorn in the side of established parties, and particularly Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock. Last year I went to a Ken Livingstone campaign event in Deptford, and watched a PBP representative take great pleasure in asking wannabe London mayor Ken questions that would compliment him but condemn Lewisham mayor Steve, who was sat right in front of me. The mostly-Labour audience shuffled uncomfortably in their seats as housing sales and library closures were criticised from the floor.
PBP’s also involved in direct action – yesterday squatting five Lewisham Council houses in Deptford and Lee Green that were due to be sold at auction – and offering to do them up themselves, using local labour to provide homes for local people.
Lewisham’s long had a tradition of more diverse politics than Greenwich, and spikier protests – although that doesn’t always go down too well, as the activist who took over a public meeting at Blackheath Bluecoat school last autumn found.
But the boroughs are largely similar in nature (Greenwich is a tad more suburban) and while Lewisham has an all-powerful elected mayor in Steve Bullock, I don’t think anyone would dispute that Chris Roberts holds at least as much power as his neighbour.
Can PBP make an impact in Greenwich, where others have failed? It’ll be interesting to watch. If they get their way, though, local politics could become a bit more interesting. Whether or not you agree with them, something that whips up a bit of debate might not be such a bad thing.