Archive for the ‘greenwich council’ Category
Lewisham Council is asking Greenwich Council to start paying towards the annual Blackheath fireworks display again, after revealing fundraising for this year’s event fell nearly £30,000 short of covering its costs.
Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding for what was a jointly-run display in 2010, with council deputy leader Peter Brooks claiming it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to fund the event, which takes place right on the border between the two boroughs.
But Lewisham has continued to hold the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people and boosts trade to local businesses in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham.
Lewisham has continued to set aside £36,000 each year for the display, which this year cost £108,673, and has relied on public donations and private sponsorship to make up the rest.
But a cut in private sponsorship money this year has meant the shortfall has widened from £7,919 to £29,656 this year, according to an answer from Lewisham’s culture and community services cabinet member Chris Best given at a council meeting last Wednesday.
Responding to Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, she said in a written reply: “Officers continually look for different ways to attract funding for the event. We will continue to request financial and other support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich.”
At the time Greenwich Council’s Peter Brooks was claiming the borough was too hard-up to pay for Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich was paying £30,000 each year on a private party to inaugurate the borough’s ceremonial mayor.
While that cost has come down to £10,000 – thanks to the Royal Naval College no longer charging – this summer the council contributed £20,000 to fireworks displays to support Sail Royal Greenwich, a private company working out of the council’s Mitre Passage offices in North Greenwich.
In 2011, it effectively bailed out Greenwich and Docklands Festival with a £100,000 payout, and spent £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.
And while supporters of leader Chris Roberts point to Lewisham’s controversial decision to cut library funding in response to a government funding squeeze, Greenwich has been cutting under-fives’ play centres, outsourcing youth and library services and trying to cut funding from Charlton’s Maryon Wilson animal park.
Relations between the two Labour groups have got worse recently, with Lewisham councillors looking on in alarm at the bullying accusations levelled at Greenwich leader Chris Roberts, with the bad smell drifting across the border.
Greenwich councillors complained to their Lewisham counterparts after Bonavia referred to the accusations in his unsuccessful campaign to be the parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, demanding he be disciplined for disloyalty. They were flatly turned down.
Lewisham council also reaffirmed its reservations about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel – which is backed by Greenwich – at the same meeting.
Deputy mayor Alan Smith said: “The proposed Silvertown Tunnel relies on the same southern approaches as the existing Blackwall Tunnel. These routes, including the A2 area and the South Circular, already suffer from daily congestion. As the only primary alternative to the Dartford crossings, these routes come under extreme pressure when the M25 is not operating smoothly. The council therefore has reservations about the impact of an additional 6,000 vehicles per hour on these routes.”
Other London boroughs, including Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge, have also voiced opposition or reservations about mayor Boris Johnson’s plan. In the affected area, only Greenwich and Tory Bexley are wholly for it.
It’s the biggest political battle Greenwich or Woolwich has seen for a generation, and it ends tomorrow. The winner will get the keys to a safe seat in Parliament and the chance to develop a career which could peak in one of the nation’s highest offices. The others are already working out their excuses.
But only 700 or so people will get a say, while the other 66,000 haven’t even been told the identities of the six candidates battling it out. Those local Labour members have had their doors knocked upon, their phones rung and their emails clogged by candidates in a way that those of normal civilians who live in a rock-solid safe seat can only wonder at. Welcome to the contest to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary constituency.
The six shortlisted candidates who want to succeed Nick Raynsford were decided nearly three weeks ago, but no public announcement was ever made. Labour Party modernisers use this as an example to talk about primaries involving the public – but this is a world away from all that.
The shortlist is current borough mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, former councillor Annie Keys, charity professional Kathy Peach, Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook and public relations director David Prescott.
Pennycook remains the man to beat, with a well-funded and carefully-orchestrated campaign, with Duvall supporters still hopeful their candidate can mount a late surge to success. Peach and Keys appear to be leading the outsiders and can’t be written off yet. Neither can David Prescott, with heavyweight backing.
It’s been a bitter campaign, too. It’s pitted Greenwich versus Woolwich and the young and ambitious against the party old guard. Most of the barbs seem to be flying towards Pennycook, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The allegations of bullying in Greenwich Council’s leadership haven’t helped either. While council leader Chris Roberts is largely disliked within the wider Greenwich & Woolwich party, broaching the subject of his behaviour acknowledges there’s a problem. Particularly when the council your party runs refuses to investigate him, even though everyone else can smell the problem. Because ignoring it looks even worse.
Critics both outside and inside the party charge Pennycook with hypocrisy – and some claim he’s done a deal with Roberts, which he’s denied, although Roberts is believed to be backing him (some say to get a potential council leadership rival out of the race, with Roberts reconsidering his pledge to stand down). But any member of a group of Labour councillors which has failed to deal with bullying in its ranks will hit trouble on the subject.
Even a councillor outside Greenwich got into bother. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (pictured right), who didn’t make the shortlist but knows the toxic politics of Greenwich Labour well enough, tweeted that the “old-style culture in Greenwich must change”.
For his honesty, he found Greenwich councillors demanding he be disciplined by the Lewisham party for his comments. Lewisham Labour councillors, who worry about the stench coming from across this side of the border, quite rightly, told their embarrassing neighbours where to stick it.
Indeed, in this race, being a Greenwich councillor has been, unusally, a disadvantage. While Pennycook’s proud of his efforts to turn Greenwich into a living wage borough, the council’s PR department has been silent on the matter – allowing the local Tories to pitch to the left of Labour on the issue.
Kathy Peach, who’s run a lively and thought-provoking campaign, managed to get two birds with one stone when emailing local members about an event last week. First, she made a dig at an event Pennycook held with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, then nailed the council’s lack of interest in the borough’s high streets.
Cosy chit-chats with Guardian contributors are pleasant enough, but won’t change anything in the real world.
For a glimpse of reality, head out from Woolwich Grand Theatre, look around General Gordon Square, and walk down Powis Street: once diverse community spaces that I remember from my childhood, but now lined with betting shops. Indeed Woolwich is home to 9 betting shops in total – nearly a third of the constituency’s 30 betting shops – all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Payday lenders, fast food takeaways and betting shops have proliferated all over our constituency. How did a council that won ‘council of the year’ for its regeneration efforts fail to stem this slow demise of our high streets – the social and commercial lifeblood of our constituency?
How, indeed. For the record, Polly Toynbee has told this website she is not endorsing any candidate in the selection.
But relentless campaigning – and funding from the Unite and GMB unions – has helped Matt. This week, rivals have been crying foul that he’s offering to buy breakfast for party members on Saturday morning, ahead of the final hustings and vote.
In a public election, “treating” – buying food, drink or entertainment to influence voters – is frowned upon, and can be illegal. But there isn’t the same provision in Labour’s rulebook, so members can dine out on Pennycook’s campaign on Saturday morning.
Supporters of rival candidates are seething – but there’s little they can do. As a current councillor yet still a relatively face, Pennycook can pitch himself as both an insurgent and a member of the establishment. Critics sneer that he’s an “empty suit” – but in an area when the party has struggled to adapt to 21st century communications, his promise of change has won people over.
He’ll be a loss to the council, where he could have proved himself as a leader and shaken up an ageing, out-of-touch authority. Perhaps if Nick Raynsford had held on for another term, this might have happened. But when you’ve the chance to appear on a bigger stage, why would you turn it down?
Len Duvall is pitching himself as the “unity” candidate, and his backers point to a track record of getting things done, including standing up to Roberts and the council he once led. This should have been his to lose. It could still be – he’s best placed to stop the Pennycook juggernaut.
He’s very much the favourite of the anti-Roberts councillors and activists in Greenwich – who remember a better-run council under his control – and is particularly strong in the Woolwich area.
But Duvall does represent the party’s old guard – this campaign should have been his to lose – indeed, his campaign is being run by Quentin Marsh, who ran Greenwich Council 25 years ago. In 2010, former councillor Marsh posed as an ordinary voter on a Labour leaflet imploring electors to back the party’s candidates in Charlton in Charlton. This isn’t forward to a shiny new future.
All this said though, Duvall’s well liked and much respected, can still definitely mount a late surge. Don’t write him off yet. As his supporters say, at least the old guard knew how to get things done.
Annie Keys and Kathy Peach will be pinning their hopes on squeezing through on second choices. Both mounted community-focused campaigns, with Keys coming out against the Silvertown Tunnel and Peach declaring herself sceptical. (Duvall is believed to be for the crossing, while Pennycook has not stated a view either way.)
Charlton-based Keys is popular in both the Greenwich and Woolwich parts of the constituency, while Peach has played up her Woolwich roots. There are many who wish this had been an all-woman selection to force a clean break from the area’s political past of bickering blokes not achieving very much – for generally, when Labour members get a choice of both genders, they tend to go for the man.
They’ll be competing for the votes of those who wish for a Stella Creasy or Heidi Alexander-style MP. Both have worked to emulate those community-rooted values. Neither can be written off just yet – those second choices could see either of them go well, particularly Keys, who has a strong network of local contacts. (Declaration of interest: I’m a trustee of a charity Annie set up to run an under-fives’ club in Charlton.)
David Prescott has homed in on problems with property developers in the area – the kind of issue you won’t read in Greenwich Time, and a brave one to raise when your own Labour council is in bed with those same developers. He’s also been talking up renationalising the railways – more radical than his dad, former deputy prime minister John – managed in office. He’s got heavyweight national Labour backing – notably shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and likely London mayoral hopeful Lord Adonis – and union backing too. Will this be enough to see him through?
Finally, the most perplexing candidate is Angela Cornforth – a Roberts ally said to be in the race solely to draw votes away from Keys and Peach. Earlier this year she stood for an area committee on the Co-op, claiming that “Greenwich councillors are taking the first steps to prepare for co-operative council status“ – which brought hollow laughter from those connected with the council that I’ve asked.
Most recently, Cornforth has been the subject of controversy for twice intervening in council meetings on matters that would embarrass Chris Roberts – even writing to the News Shopper to defend herself. Indeed, Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda newspaper even misled the public about her inauguration, pretending it was at Woolwich Town Hall and not at a lavish ceremony at the old Royal Naval College. She’s as much chance of being the next MP as I have of scoring the winner at The Valley on Saturday.
So those are the candidates, and if you live in the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency, one of the six above is almost certain to be your next MP after 2015. There have been concerns raised about the amount of union money sloshing around the campaign – the days when a bright young upstart could reach the top through grit and hard work alone have gone. Such is modern politics.
Will this bad feeling be forgotten after Saturday’s selection? The winning candidate will need a lot of support in the months ahead if he or she is to take a leading role cleaning up the practices and reputation of the Labour party in Greenwich.
But with victory in the bag, will the winner really want to? We shall wait and see.
Greenwich Council has refused to investigate a possible conflict of interest revealed by leader Chris Roberts’ threatening voicemail, where he demands that his administration takes the decision on whether or not the Run to the Beat half-marathon goes ahead.
Roberts is the chair of Greenwich Starting Blocks, a charity founded in 2007 to distribute funds to young sporting hopefuls in the borough.
Each year, GSB receives an allocation of free places from Run to the Beat, which began in 2008 and has continued despite vehement objections from local councillors along its route because of the disruption it causes with its circular course.
This year’s race was branded “shockingly organised” by participants after runners had to pass through a narrow gate at Woolwich Barracks and end the race on an uphill stretch at Greenwich Park.
Roberts is the public face of Greenwich Starting Blocks, whose 2009 report to the Charity Commission said it benefited from “considerable sums” from runners taking part in Run to the Beat. The charity features regularly in the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, usually with a quote from Roberts.
In September, this website revealed the existence of a threatening voicemail from Roberts left on cabinet member John Fahy’s mobile phone where he insisted that the decision on 2014′s race be made by his administration before May’s election. Roberts has previously indicated he would stand down as leader in May.
The story was picked up by the News Shopper, which published the voicemail on its website.
“Let me be clear to you, if you do not want to take decisions in the remainder of this administration, I expect you to resign from the cabinet.
“No decisions are going to be postponed in this administration. Absolutely none.
“If you want to paralyse this administration and be part of it, it won’t happen, so I expect you to either resign from the cabinet or to get on and do the job.
“I’ve got to carry on doing my job and therefore no decisions will be postponed.
Absolutely none will be postponed. Get that through your thick skull, John. It will not happen.
“And I’m not having you playing these games. I will remove your portfolio, you will have no portfolio, and you can be doing nothing.
“But we are not deferring decisions. Get that through your fucking thick skull, John.”
A standards board investigation into the voicemail is yet to report back.
Greenwich Council’s constitution tells councillors they must not make decisions on matters which could benefit “any organisation, school governing body or outside committee or trust which you are appointed to by the Royal Borough” – which suggests Roberts has a clear conflict of interest when it comes to Run to the Beat.
But when asked to investigate, even if just to clear up the matter, Greenwich Council has declined.
Chief executive Mary Ney says there is “no evidence” to support a complaint that Roberts directs whether or not Run to the Beat happens – despite the existence of the voicemail in which Roberts insists a decision on the event will take place under his administration.
In fact, the existence of the voicemail is not even acknowledged in Ney’s response, which she said was guided by the opinions of the “monitoring officer” (head of legal Russell Power).
Ney also says Roberts was not on the licensing committee which gave the race the go-ahead, road closures were decided by a council officer, as Roberts has declared his chairmanship of GSB, deputy leader Peter Brooks is “the lead member for Run to the Beat” – even though it has been environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara that has answered public and councillors’ questions on it in the past.
Whatever you think of Run to the Beat – and the event has its fans – the lack of transparency over the decisions to ignore councillors’ complaints has aroused public suspicion over Greenwich Council’s motives in approving the race.
By refusing to investigate Chris Roberts’ insistence that his administration takes a decision on next year’s race, Mary Ney has just made the smell over Greenwich Council and Run to the Beat a whole lot worse.
The campaign is on to save the Woolwich Grand Theatre, which faces demolition after being open for less than two years. But it’s not the only arts venue in the area with a shadow on the horizon, with concerns being raised over the long-term future of Greenwich Theatre too.
While the news about Woolwich Grand Theatre has come as a shock to many, the site has been earmarked for redevelopment by the council for some time. The freeholder, Thirty Eight Wellington Street Ltd, is in administration.
The original Woolwich Grand Theatre opened in 1900, but later became a cinema before being demolished in 1939. The current building opened in 1955 as the Regal Cinema, later becoming the ABC Woolwich before closing in 1982. It was used on and off as a nightclub until 2008.
Woolwich Grand Theatre founder Adrian Green gained planning permission to use it as an arts venue in 2011, opening the doors at the beginning of 2012.
While the building still requires a lot of work on it (£630,000-worth, according to the developer) the main auditorium has been used for concerts and films, while a smaller space upstairs has been used for plays and other events.
Local politicians have been keen to associate themselves with the theatre – it’s being used a lot for events in the campaign to be the Labour candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich – but Greenwich Council’s backing has only been lukewarm.
In July this year, a report for housing cabinet member Steve Offord showed the Grand Theatre site as having “development potential”.
This appeared to be bit of a smack in the face for Green. Six months earlier, he’d posed in a hard hat alongside council leader Chris Roberts to promote the council’s support for the Silvertown Tunnel, presumably try to get the council on board with his plans for the theatre.
In terms of planning, the council includes the Woolwich Grand Theatre as part of the Bathway Quarter. This was the old administrative heart of Woolwich, which now lies neglected. It includes the listed Old Town Hall, the former Island Site of Thames Polytechnic/ Greenwich University and the old swimming baths/ student union.
The council’s Woolwich Masterplan states: “This area has a rich character which should be preserved though sensitive residential-led refurbishment with active uses at ground floor to create a distinct urban quarter. This area has the potential to be a high quality, high-specification, loft-style place with bars, galleries and artists’ studios together with other uses such as a jazz club and creative industries such as architects’ studios.”
Now Upminster-based developer Secure Sleep wants to knock the Woolwich Grand down and build flats there instead – with no sign of any arts usage for the site whatsoever. You can see the full planning application on the Greenwich Council website.
Architect Nigel Ostime told The Stage: “The theatre doesn’t appear to be a commercially viable proposition. As such, when you’ve got a big building that has a lot of maintenance needs, it requires money breathed into it to make it work properly. Sadly, there isn’t the money to do that.
“We are proposing to demolish the building to create homes for people. There is a great need for housing in London, and this would help to fill that gap.”
No money around, eh? We’ll come back to that point later. A petition’s been launched to save the Woolwich Grand Theatre – and a decision is expected in February.
The threat to the Woolwich Grand Theatre is imminent and real. But a few miles west, there are more long-term worries about Greenwich Theatre.
Last week, Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed plans to create a “performing arts hub” at the council-owned Greenwich Borough Hall on Royal Hill, which is currently home to Greenwich Dance Agency. However, details of the proposal have been kept secret, which the council says is due to their financial implications, while the decision has been rushed through to meet a deadline to apply for Heritage Lottery Fund money.
“As well as providing a significantly improved facility, the proposed investment will reduce maintenance costs overall helping to secure the long-term sustainability of performing arts in the borough,” the cabinet paper says – which would suggest that other venues may be closed.
“At the same time, it has not been possible to bring the proposals to Cabinet before now due to the on-going discussions with the arts organisations who will be affected and therefore it has not been possible on this occasion to provide the 28 days’ notice required for a key decision,” it adds.
Several sources say Greenwich’s long-term strategy is to move Greenwich Theatre into the Borough Hall. I’ve also been told this idea has been deferred until after 2014′s council election after objections from local councillors, although I’ve not been able to confirm this.
Indeed, tampering with Greenwich Theatre could well be electoral suicide in west Greenwich. The area’s already lost one theatre recently, after the owners of the Greenwich Playhouse theatre illegally turned the venue into a hostel, then exploited a planning loophole which left councillors taking the flak when it belatedly came before a committee this summer. (A plan for it to reopen in the Creekside development in Deptford has so far not materialised.) And plans to demolish the Trident Hall, which was also used for plays, and replace it with a hotel have also reappeared recently.
But more importantly, it’s likely that such a plan would be unworkable, considering the Borough Hall is more like a school hall than a theatre. Indeed, it would be much more suitable as a music venue than one for staging plays.
Unlike the Woolwich Grand, the council is directly involved in the fate of Greenwich Theatre. The old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich bought the then-derelict Hippodrome Picture Palace site in 1962, planning to redevelop it.
But a local campaign resulted in its successor, the current council, leasing it to the Greenwich Theatre, which opened after rebuilding works in 1969.
Now the Crooms Hill site is believed to be in need of repairs – hence the proposal to turn the clock back 50 years and sell it, rather than fix it.
While the idea appears to have been kicked into the long grass for now, theatre fans in Greenwich should be staying vigilant about the venue’s future. There’s already talk of having Greenwich Theatre declared an asset of community value, which would put a six-month brake on any proposal to sell it. That said, it would need Greenwich Council to agree to ACV status – which would call the council’s bluff somewhat.
But the arts hub proposal reveals there is funding available for arts projects – even during this time of cuts. So with the right management, it’s clear Woolwich Grand Theatre could be saved, if the money can be raised to buy the freehold from a firm in administration, and if Greenwich Council has the political will to give campaigners time by declaring the building an asset of community value.
Furthermore, it’s worth questioning the point in having any arts hub if there’s no arts policy in place. In recent years Greenwich has pulled back from funding venues such as Blackheath Halls and Conservatoire, and has instead put cash into recurring events under the Royal Greenwich Festivals banner. The trouble with this strategy, though, is that it doesn’t leave much of a legacy once the festival’s over.
And rushing through a decision to make an arts hub in west Greenwich doesn’t really make much sense when you’re supposed to be creating a quarter of bars and “jazz clubs” over in Woolwich. Doing it all in secret doesn’t look good either – but then that’s the way Chris Roberts’ increasingly chaotic administration does things.
Perhaps the Woolwich Grand’s woes will provide a chance to step back, rethink, and come up with something clearer. I wouldn’t bank on it, though…
12.10pm update: Coincidentally, Royal Museums Greenwich is opening up a performance space in the Cutty Sark in the new year.
Greenwich Council has finally come clean and admitted its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, is signed off by leader Chris Roberts… “to ensure political neutrality and to protect the borough’s reputation”.
Last week, this website revealed how the council’s press office intervened to change the tone of a promotion for the council’s employment agency, despite Roberts denying that any council staff conducted editorial work on the newspaper.
Now council chief executive Mary Ney has admitted she and Roberts scrutinise each edition before it goes to press. The weekly is regularly criticised for its promotion of the council leadership, as well as muscling out commercial competitors.
Following Friday’s story, the council’s opposition leader Spencer Drury emailed Ney asking for clarification of whether council staff did actually conduct editorial work on the paper.
She replied: “It is inconceivable that the council would not sign off each edition of a council publication. This is done by officers including myself and Legal officers as needed, as well as by the Leader. This is to ensure compliance with the code of publicity, to ensure political neutrality and to protect the borough’s reputation.”
Ney also describes the council’s head of media, Stuart Godfrey, as “a client side manager” for GT. The paper is nominally staffed by freelances, although is Greenwich is facing an employment tribunal following the dismissal of chief reporter Peter Cordwell earlier this year.
While it’s been well known within the council for years that Roberts has the final say over Greenwich Time, this is the first time it’s been admitted.
Two months ago, ex-GT designer Graham Tuckwell told the News Shopper that Roberts would not allow stories in the paper “without his absolute say so”.
“Peter [Cordwell] and his team found it increasingly impossible to run any stories without the vetting of the communications team with orders from Roberts,” Tuckwell told the paper.
“Our job now was to deliver the council’s key messages and nothing else.
“Comments from ordinary councillors who were doing great work in their own wards were non-existent and of course there was never a word allowed from the opposition.”
Of course, it goes without saying that the bullying accusations against Chris Roberts, who has referred himself to the council’s standards committee over the notorious “get it through your fucking thick skull” voicemail, have not been mentioned in Greenwich Time.
Ney’s admission now throws a fresh light on the finances of Greenwich Time, because Greenwich has never before owned up to the role of council staff in producing the paper.
So let’s have a proper go at nailing these figures…
According to an answer given at a council meeting in July, Greenwich Time took £403,938 in ad revenue from inside the council, and £254,272 from external advertisers in 2012/13.
In a written response, Chris Roberts claimed: “In 2012/13 had the adverts been placed externally and on the basis of normal page rates, it would have cost an estimated £2.7m. Therefore, in 2012/13, the Council saved over £2.3m in advertising costs as a result of placing adverts in Greenwich Time (GT) compared to the costs it would have incurred by advertising in the two other local newspapers.”
Really? Roberts’ figures look like fantasy, to say the least. Would Greenwich really be placing that many ads in the Mercury or the News Shopper? Particularly as this website understands each council department has to place a certain amount of advertising in GT, presumably to keep the paper’s finances looking decent.
Last week’s GT contained 4 council ads, 3 job ads and various public notices. The public notices have to be advertised somewhere, but if GT didn’t exist, would the job ads have been placed in any other paper? And what about the other council ads?
Would the council really place an ad for its own website in the Mercury or News Shopper? Of course not. But it does in GT to keep the books looking good.
Furthermore, some “external” advertisers are council partners. The only place you’d find ads for the Run to the Beat race, for example, was in Greenwich Time – it was policy not to advertise anywhere else. These ads would, presumably, go elsewhere if GT didn’t exist.
As for the outgoings, a scour through the council’s books shows Greenwich is currently paying Trinity Mirror roughly £4,000 to print each issue, and Greatbach Ltd (Letterbox Distribution) £7,633 for delivery – at 51 issues per year, that’s £593,283 per year.
As for editorial staff? Those editorial and sales freelances cost £206,880.90 last financial year, according to the same written answer from July.
|Income from internal ads||+£403,938|
|Income from external ads||+£254,272|
|Costs of printing||-£204,000|
|2012/13 cost of distribution||-£371,928|
|Freelance editorial and sales staff costs||-£206,881|
|COST OF GREENWICH TIME||- £124,799|
These figures don’t include the time Greenwich Council staff spend on the paper. So let’s have some educated guesses, shall we?
Let’s assume the council pays its head of media £60,000 in total, and he spends a third of his time dealing with Greenwich Time. That’s another £20,000. Five staff work underneath him – let’s say they’re on £40k each in total, and they deal with Greenwich Time for 10% of their time at a conservative estimate. That’s another £20,000.
Now let’s do it with Chris Roberts and the senior officers who will also have input into Greenwich Time. Unlike the guesses above, we have the real figures – Chris Roberts (£62,668), Mary Ney (£190,000), head of legal Russell Power (£116,000) and director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney (£125,000). These sums won’t include employers’ national insurance or pension payments. If they spend 5% of their working time dealing with Greenwich Time, that works out at roughly £25,000.
So, if we assume an extra £65,000-worth of time from the council payroll is going into GT, that pushes the loss to nearly £190,000. And if you consider how much the paper is propped up by payments for in-house ads which wouldn’t exist if GT didn’t exist – and what we don’t know is exactly what is charged to each department – then that sum leaps.
Of course, what’s not taken into account is the cost of publishing public notices elsewhere. Yet it surely wouldn’t be beyond the council to come to a deal where a publisher accepts a lower rate on public notices in exchange for the council’s Letterbox distribution deal, which sees GT go through doors the Mercury and the News Shopper gave up on long ago.
All councils need to be able to tell people about services. But we now know we’re paying at least £200,000 each year so Roberts and his allies can promote themselves in Greenwich Time, to the exclusion of all other voices (including his own Labour backbenchers, never mind the opposition Tories). And none of this takes into account whether people even read or take notice of Greenwich Time any more – or whether it’s become a weekly reminder of a council that’s badly lost touch with the people it’s meant to serve.
By admitting Chris Roberts has the final say-so over Greenwich Time, the council’s chief executive has inadvertently done what too many of Roberts’ colleagues are scared of doing – she’s blown the whistle.
Legislation going through Parliament now is likely to see Greenwich Time outlawed in the future. Now the game’s up, will anyone put Greenwich Time out of its misery before it causes the council – and, potentially, the wider Labour Party – any more embarrassment?
An ad for street wardens in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper removed references to shoplifting and rough sleeping in Woolwich for fear they would prove embarrassing, it has emerged.
The promotion for the council’s in-house recruitment agency also cut a reference to a recruit’s six children because the council’s chief executive was apparently “nervous” about mentioning large families, according to an email seen by this website.
The email, sent by a member of the council’s full-time staff, also disproves a claim by council leader Chris Roberts that no Greenwich employees “undertake editorial work” on Greenwich Time.
It was sent on 31 May by council head of press Stuart Godfrey to a manager at Greenwich Local Labour and Business (GLLaB), the council’s employment operation, copying in a Greenwich Time writer, a GT ad sales executive and another member of the council’s press team.
Titled “Are you trying to get me laid off”, Godfrey writes “we’ll need to redact the content or you and I will both be handed our P45s”.
The advertorial, which was due to run in the 4 June edition, featured short interviews with a woman and a man who had gained jobs as street wardens via GLLaB. The email outlines two issues with the copy which he says would cause problems.
Godfrey says that in the woman’s story, “it says she deals with rough sleepers, street drinkers and shop lifters. All positive messages about our area which will cause us problems at sign off I’m sure”.
The “sign off” process, this website has been told, is conducted by Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney.
He then rewrites the copy to remove these references.
So I’m suggesting that we redact the following paras from:
“Out on patrol, I speak to rough sleepers about their welfare and advise street drinkers on their conduct in a public place. I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour.
“Today I liaised with the Police and CCTV team about the identification of shoplifters. After lunch, I helped a member of the public with directions and spoke to a group of young people about what is being shown on the Big Screen in General Gordon Square. I also advise them about a youth centre service available to them.”
“Out on patrol I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour. I help members of the public with directions and inform them about events and entertainment taking place in the town centre. I also advise young people about youth centre service available to them.”
He also says: “The ad mentions that [name deleted] is a father of six – and as we know Mary is nervous about promoting the number of children each of the recruits has so we’ll need to cut the number of kids he has.”
In the end, the advertisement did not appear, although a page plan was produced featuring the original version.
Evidence of how the council’s head of press gets involved in Greenwich Time’s content comes despite Chris Roberts claiming all editorial work is done by freelancers.
Asked at a council meeting in July “how many council staff have working on Greenwich Time, either in editorial or sales, as part of their duties,” Roberts replied in a written answer: “There are no council staff who undertake either editorial or sales work on Greenwich Time.”
The question of Greenwich Time’s staffing has come under the spotlight recently, after chief reporter Peter Cordwell was sacked for writing a letter to local newspapers about the Lewisham Hospital campaign and zero hours contracts, both sensitive subjects at Woolwich Town Hall. He is now taking the issue to an industrial tribunal.
Later, editor Hilary Bryan and assistant editor Rod Kitson were thrown out of the council’s headquarters after refusing to attend a meeting with Godfrey and council director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney. Bryan is back working at GT, while Kitson is no longer there.
The weekly has limped on since that debacle, last week featuring a front cover claiming “council listens to traders” over its decision to order a review of the controversial “pavement tax” on retailers’ displays. A stilted write-up inside the paper merely referred to “concerns raised by businesses” and does not refer to a petition they got up, nor did it refer to their demonstration outside last month’s council meeting.
None of this is to mock the work of Stuart Godfrey or his colleagues in the council communications department, who are professionals doing the work they are directed to do – which, despite Chris Roberts’ denials, includes working on Greenwich Time, designed to manage the reputation of the council rather than inform residents.
Greenwich Time is just one of two weekly council papers in the country, but its days are likely to be numbered. A bill which would ban the likes of GT is currently going through the committee stage of the House of Commons, and could become law next year.
Greenwich Council was asked for a comment on this story, but has not responded.
PS. This week’s edition, incidentally, shows the fear of mentioning large families may have faded somewhat – a front page story featuring someone else with a job through GLLaB proudly boasts that he’s a dad-of-five.
So, if you saw the ad in Greenwich Council’s propaganda weekly announcing Ikea’s plans to build a new superstore, or if you got a letter through your door, you’d have expected to have learned something new from Saturday’s exhibition at Greenwich’s Forum.
But Ikea was remarkably short of detail on its plan to build a new store on the soon-to-be vacated Sainsbury’s site off Peartree Way. When Sainsbury’s mounted a similar exhibition two years ago to announce its intentions to move to Charlton, a lot more questions had been answered.
Instead, all we got was….
…a map which merely confirms that Ikea wants to knock down Sainsbury’s and Comet and plonk a new store on the same space.
…give us our store or these people in a stock photo won’t have jobs!
And that was about it. One thing which struck me was how confident Ikea’s reps were – “well, it’s either us or another store,” one told me, while I overheard one man in a yellow shirt explain to a colleague he’d be in charge of the project “once we get planning permission”. Indeed, since these displays will be on show in East Greenwich Library for the next fortnight, it’s effectively a free ad from Greenwich Council.
So, what was said about the elephant in the room, traffic? Not a lot. When asked, Ikea’s reps conceded there’d be an increase to traffic, and acknowledged the current access from the Woolwich Road flyover was a problem. But their only idea to fix things was merely to encourage car drivers to use the A102 exit at Blackwall Lane instead.
Much was made of the proposed store sitting on six bus routes and being a short walk from others (Ikea seems to have included night bus N1 in its figures), but a Billy bookcase doesn’t go well on a bus.
When I explained to an Ikea rep that I was a non-driver, he seemed somewhat surprised I hadn’t taken advantage of its costly delivery service. Like every other non-driver I know, the last time I used Ikea to buy something bulky, I sponged a lift to Croydon.
And as for “several off-street cycle routes serving the site” – really?! Where? – it’s worth pointing out that the Neasden Ikea has a whole three cycle racks. (Thanks to tweeter @Helzbels for the shot.)
Ikea’s confidence that many people will use public transport seems somewhat misplaced. In fact, one of its displays betrayed that.
“At present, people living and working in the Royal Borough of Greenwich… travel to our stores in Croydon, Lakeside or Tottenham.” The latter store is actually practically impossible to get to by public transport from this part of London. In fact, Ikea’s Neasden store is only 40 minutes up the Jubilee Line from North Greenwich, but public transport doesn’t seem to be Ikea’s strength.
Back in 2004, Ikea put in a planning application to Bromley Council for a store at the old Klinger factory site in Sidcup, together with a separate application to Bexley Council for an approach road. It was later withdrawn.
While the Sidcup site had much poorer public transport access, many of the observations from this Greater London Authority planning report from 2004 ring true of Ikea’s Greenwich plans – especially this one:
“It is not within or near a town centre and is an out of centre location chosen specifically for its proximity to the A20 with its ease of access by private motor vehicle from south east London and Kent. Indeed, the Medway towns of Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham, and Gravesend are all large conurbations within 30 minutes drive from this store along a motorway.”
Switch dual carriageways and add another 15 minutes, and you’ve got Ikea’s Greenwich plan – a magnet for Kent car drivers, and a pain for everyone in Greenwich itself. If it’s serious about winning over residents, Ikea needs to actually start thinking about its plans, rather than assuming people will be wowed by talk of solar panels and bus routes.