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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Greenwich Council muzzles its own councillors’ probe

with 4 comments

Greenwich Council has withdrawn a public survey on transport issues being carried out by its own councillors, breaking its own code of conduct.

A scrutiny panel of councillors – which is supposed to act independently of leader Chris Roberts or council officers – published a survey last month to find out what the public thought of Transport for London and Southeastern services ahead of a meeting with the two organisations.

However, the survey was not promoted in either Greenwich Time, the council’s weekly newspaper, or on the authority’s website. Despite this, it was promoted by some local groups, on Twitter by committee chair Hayley Fletcher, and on this site, where it was clicked-through to 89 times.

But the survey was quietly dropped earlier this month, without explanation or, this website understands, consulting the scrutiny panel’s members.

In a written response to a question at Tuesday night’s Greenwich Council meeting, cabinet member Denise Hyland branded it as containing “weaknesses and errors”, and said it would be reissued. However, time is tight ahead of the meeting, due on 1 November. It’s not known what’ll happen to the responses already received.

However, this breaks the council’s own code of conduct, its constitution, which states scrutiny panels are free to conduct their own “research, community and other consultation in the analysis of policy issues and possible options”.

Even if the council’s leaders and officers had the power to overrule those who are supposed to be scrutinising their work, apart from the omission of a couple of Docklands Light Railway stations, it’s hard to know quite what “weaknesses and errors” were in the surveys.

In the past, council scrutiny panels – dominated and led by the council’s heavily-whipped Labour group – have been tame and unwilling to criticise cabinet members or council officers. Proof of this can be found in the scrutiny panels’ annual report, praises the “council’s progress in modernising services”.

In many places, it reads like a child’s homework project.

Under past committee chair Gary Parker – paid an extra £9,800 for his work – the sustainable communities and transport panel had found, according to the report, that “due to the salt, fat and saturated fat content of most fast food, it should ideally only be consumed occasionally” and that “scrutiny of the Council’s policy on trees showed that protecting and maintaining the borough’s 80,000 trees was a complex matter”.

However, new chair Hayley Fletcher, who regularly comments on this site, had wanted to open up the panel’s work to the wider public – something which seems to have been a step too far for the council’s leadership.

Written by Darryl

27 September, 2012 at 10:14 am

4 Responses

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  1. Surprisingly, I have got a bit of sympathy with the Council on this one. When I went to complete it, I thought it was remarkably superficial and poorly designed. A decent idea but its execution was flawed.

    ned

    27 September, 2012 at 11:14 am

  2. They weren’t the questions I would have asked, but at least they were asking questions, and would have gained some responses – this was more of a straw poll.

    If councillors aren’t allowed to ask questions, even the wrong ones – why are they there?

    Darryl

    27 September, 2012 at 11:21 am

  3. I thought it was poorly designed and superficial too, but that didn’t stop me from answering the questions. I can’t think that the council will have been able to come to any useful conclusions from the results but it might have given them some general indications I suppose,

    alanpalme

    27 September, 2012 at 7:38 pm

  4. Hello,

    As you can probably tell from the above, the transport survey was removed
    before its closing date. I was not aware that this happened until Tuesday
    and I believe there has been some issue with communication between
    departments. We will discuss the issue to ensure that we put appropriate
    measures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’m not going to claim
    that it was the greatest survey in the world, time didn’t allow for that.

    However, it wasn’t a survey which would result in Council expenditure or decision where flaws in the survey , such as missing a station, would affect the statistical value of the piece. We simply wanted your views on transport so we could question TfL. That being said, we will ensure the surveys are improved in future.

    I won’t get into the who, what, when debate, but ultimately as the Chair of the Panel I take responsibility for the work of that Panel and I wish to
    apologise to anyone who wanted, and expected to be able to, complete the survey in the final few days before it closed. To those that filled the survey in, thank you. Responses will not lost and they will form a part of
    the questions we put to TfL and Southeastern.

    I think it unlikely we will have time to run an additional survey before the 1st November meeting but if anyone has comments about transport in the Borough or specific questions they wish to put to TfL or Southeastern please
    contact me on hayley.fletcher@greenwich.gov.uk and I will do my best to
    ensure they are incorporated into our line of questioning. I would also hope that as many people as possible will come along to the meeting itself.

    The survey was an attempt to engage as much opinion from across the Borough
    as possible to ensure that our questioning to TfL was robust and that residents could get written answers so they had something in writing to quote back to TfL if they didn’t stick to their claims. I hope to hold other surveys next year on a variety of issues the Panel covers and I hope that
    people will continue to contribute.

    Hayley

    27 September, 2012 at 8:24 pm


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