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Greenwich Council has withdrawn a public survey on transport issues being carried out by its own councillors, breaking its own code of conduct.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