Greenwich Council’s zero hours cowardice on Channel 4 News
“It sounds like the council leader is trying to run away.”
If you didn’t see Channel 4 News last night, it’s well worth looking at, and not just for some fine camera work on Maze Hill. You know how the Labour Party doesn’t like zero-hours contracts?
Indeed, Greenwich West Labour councillor Matt Pennycook – who wants to be the next MP for Greenwich and Woolwich – doesn’t like them. He even wrote something for the New Statesman about them.
Then there’s Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy, who wants to run the council and is on its cabinet.
Such a shame, then, that the council whose ruling party they represent offers on its own website… zero hours contracts.
And guess who Greenwich Council itself employed on a zero hours contract last year? Erm, only one Thomas Turrell, who’s now standing for the Tories in Blackheath Westcombe ward in next year’s elections.
All of which hypocrisy – and a well-placed Conservative press release – meant Channel 4 News cameras headed south-east with political editor Michael Crick in tow. Crick has a unique, in-your-face brand of reporting which any politician should be aware of – so how did Greenwich’s Labour council leader deal with the issue? Erm… he hid.
“Despite several requests, the Labour politician who runs Greenwich, Chris Roberts, refused to talk to us,” Crick told viewers, before cutting to his conversation with the council press office.
“No, I’m not saying you’re trying to run away, but it sounds like the council leader is trying to run away.”
Greenwich Council’s leader, running away? Not a surprise to veteran town hall-watchers.
Eventually, two minions delivered a written statement. This being Michael Crick, it was delivered on camera, and then the minions were seen on camera legging it. This is clearly a PR nightmare for the council – but why did nobody speak on camera? This has happened before – in 2011, Chris Roberts ran away from what should have been a straightforward talk with the BBC’s Mark Easton about central government cuts. It appears nobody can do crisis PR – despite the £25,000 pay rise Roberts’ spin doctor Katrina Delaney got last year.
But what was in that statement? Who does Greenwich Council blame for Greenwich Council putting people on zero hours contracts?
If you free-frame the video, you’ll see it blames… the Tories! “We would support the Mayor of London if he directed the [Olympics] Legacy Board to cease offering zero hours contracts in the first place.”
And as for Thomas Turrell’s work for Greenwich Council, working on Olympics parking? “His contract of work was with Manpower. They have assured us that his was not a zero hours contract.” Such a long way from the days when Labour councils looked after their own staff themselves, claiming the moral high ground rather than just talking about it.
It’s worth pointing out that zero hours contracts aren’t all works of evil. They work for freelancers working from home on multiple jobs, for example. But when governments want to shove people into them to get them off the dole, that’s when they’re wrong – and as union leader Onay Kasab points out to Crick, there are council contractors who are paying zero hours contracts for what should be proper part or full time jobs. Just like where Greenwich Council-owned contractors still don’t pay their staff living wages.
But you know next week, there’ll be a new Greenwich Time through your letterbox, and everything will be fine and lovely, and there’ll be no mention of running away from TV reporters or anyone else that’s ever been critical of the council.
Maybe this is all okay with Greenwich’s Labour councillors and candidates, who have also so far remained silent over its refusal to speak to the mayor’s cycing commissioner, which could cost millions of pounds on extra funding in measures to keep the borough’s roads safe.
Will they also stay quiet on their council’s zero hours wages? Voters want people who can fix things that are wrong – and they’re in short supply in the rotten borough of Greenwich.