His former colleagues may have been tramping the streets in search of votes in today’s poll, but Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts decided to end his 14 years in charge in lavish style on Tuesday – with a cruise along the Thames on a royal barge.
Roberts and chums set off from St Katherine Docks on The Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana, which was the lead vessel in 2012’s diamond jubilee pageant.
The Gloriana’s Facebook page describes the event as “The Royal Borough of Greenwich Row”, and was crewed by rowers from the Curlew and Globe rowing clubs, both based in Greenwich.
“Crews from Globe RC & Curlew RC rowed QRB from St. Katherine Docks through central London with Cllr Roberts and his guests on board celebrating his 14 years as Leader of the Greenwich Council – a splendid evening on the River Thames,” the Facebook page reads.
It’s not known who paid for the send-off (the council didn’t) although the barge was built as a tribute to the monarch by Roberts’ friend, Conservative peer Lord Sterling, the former chair of Royal Museums Greenwich. Sterling played a major role in obtaining royal borough status for Greenwich, which took effect in 2012.
While Roberts found time to mess around on the river, he didn’t find time last week to attend his last public commitment as council leader – to explain why he stepped down as director of the council-run company Meridian Home Start, days before quitting as a councillor. He went onto appointing his own successors to Meridian Home Start, including cabinet member Steve Offord.
Labour councillors objected to plans which would have converted the company to an industrial and provident society – similar to Greenwich Leisure Limited – complaining the council would no longer be able to scrutinise its activities, and that it would have effectively provided Roberts or one of his associates with a job for life.
It was even mooted that MHS, originally designed to provide intermediate-level housing, could take on the council’s entire housing stock, and even take the tender for the council’s Cleansweep street cleaning service.
Conservative councillors Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher “called in” the decision to appoint the new directors, but Roberts failed to show, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to answer questions – or not answer them, as Fletcher tweeted:
So the Dear Leader has been rowed off into the sunset – and the polling stations have just opened for today’s council election. Will the new council be any more open than Roberts’ administration? Your vote will help decide – use it wisely.
Thursday 7.40pm update: A new picture has emerged on Twitter which (just about) shows Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the barge (see left), and Roberts’ deputy Peter Brooks (centre), parachuted into the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat after his sudden decision to resign. Brooks is competing against John Fahy in the contest to be deputy leader in the new administration.