Posts Tagged ‘chris roberts’
Greenwich Council’s planning board ignored well over an hour of public criticism last night to back outline plans by furniture giant Ikea to build a store in east Greenwich.
The seven-strong board split on party lines to endorse the proposal, with the council’s Labour leader Chris Roberts among the five members backing the scheme – despite Labour councillors and candidates joining opponents to speak out. The two Conservatives opposed the scheme.
The decision is just an outline approval – Ikea will have to return to the council at a later date with detailed plans before construction can go ahead on the site currently occupied by the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is relocating to Charlton.
Greenwich planning officers said Ikea was considering subsidising delivery for those who use public transport to get to the store, although neither they nor Ikea representatives were clear about what this would mean.
Members of the public spoke for an hour and quarter on the scheme, with nobody supporting it. Opponents included Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant.
“So many people have got in touch with me – there’s so much wrong with this, I can’t go into detail,” Peninsula councillor Mills said.
“When I was elected 14 years ago, it seemed as if Greenwich had taken on board sustainability. It seems like we’re running away from that now.”
Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant also recalled approving the original Sainsbury’s scheme as “a rookie councillor”, branding traffic predictions “nonsense”. He suggested Ikea be invited to select a more suitable site.
Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook acknowleged the promised 400 jobs – “the people who will benefit are not in this room” – but added he was “extremely concerned” about traffic and pollution.
“Too much rests on underlying assumptions which may not be realised,” he told the planning board.
One resident of Greenwich Millennium Village told the board: “Common sense tells me this will be a nightmare for the area if it goes ahead. We’re not an out-of-town shopping centre, we’re a thriving community.”
Other residents questioned why Ikea was unwilling to compromise its business model, with one pointing out that the store operates a car-free model in Hong Kong.
Charlton Society chair (and Labour council candidate) David Gardner questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only has 28%.
Another local resident, Martin Stanforth, said the Croydon Ikea could not cope with the traffic, adding: “Our streets are not designed for massive amounts of traffic.
“You cannot approve this store until you’ve been to Ikea Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. What’s your legacy going to be?”
But councillors on the board were unmoved – indeed, regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland asked planning officers from the start of the meeting how the council could enforce conditions if the application was approved.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts said he was aiming to reverse the legacy of 1980s car-centric development – but backed the scheme regardless.
Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner backed the scheme, emphasising the importance of working with local people and adding: “I assume they’re taking on board air quality.”
Both Conservative councillors on the board opposed the scheme. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty called the traffic predictions “laughable”.
Veteran colleague Dermot Poston (Eltham North) called the existing Sainsbury’s store “revolutionary” and “beautiful” – which led to him being accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts in a meeting which is supposed to be non-partisan.
Poston also questioned the lack of environmental impact assessment, and accused the council of arrogance for ignoring the 20th Century Society’s application to have the Sainsbury’s building listed.
But in the end, the board appeared determined to back the scheme – no matter how shaky the case, or how much Chris Roberts’ own Labour councillors and candidates opposed it.
For tweets from last night’s planning board, take a look at this Storify page.
Votes for: Steve Offord (Lab, Abbey Wood/ housing cabinet member), Clive Mardner (Lab, Abbey Wood), Denise Hyland (Lab, Abbey Wood/ regeneration cabinet member), Chris Roberts (Lab, Glyndon/ council leader), Ray Walker (Lab, Eltham West/ chief whip).
Votes against: Geoff Brighty (Con, Blackheath Westcombe), Dermot Poston (Con, Eltham North)
Some people have strange hobbies. They might collect odd things, or have peculiar enthusiasms. Me, I go to Greenwich Council meetings. I often even ask questions, because it’s the only way I’ll find things out.
Actually, it’s not that strange. We all should take an interest in how we’re governed. We can watch, and be depressed by, Prime Minister’s Questions each week. But in the borough of Greenwich, there’s no such facility for us to do the same for our own local council. Yes, we can trot along to Woolwich Town Hall to take in a showcase full council meeting, study scrutiny panels, or watch planning decisions being made. But for most people, real life gets in the way.
I’ve sneakily recorded bits of meetings in the past, and they’ve seemed popular, even though to be frank, the quality’s crap. Woolwich Town Hall is due to undergo a £1.5m refurbishment soon, which will – in part – attempt to fix some of the notoriously bad acoustics in the committee rooms.
But even then, there’s no promise to start webcasting meetings, as Camden does. Here’s cabinet member Denise Hyland last month: “The proposal for the refurbishment of the Town Hall does include the delivery of improved meeting facilities for the public, and [we] will investigate the use of such technologies. However the decision regarding broadcasting committee meetings has yet to be considered by the Council.”
Last October’s council meeting was a particularly dramatic one, as the row over Greenwich Council’s pavement tax came to a head, and allegations over the leadership style of Chris Roberts were raised. But how to get hold of a decent recording?
The answer, as ever, came in the Freedom of Information Act. Greenwich Council records each meeting so minutes can be taken. Could I get hold of one of these recordings?
So, on 10 November, I emailed the council. On 12 February, three months later, I finally got the response I wanted – the council was going to send me a CD. I got it last week – it contains a 3-hour MP3 of the full meeting, from start to finish. The quality is crisp and clear, except for contributions from independent councillor Eileen Glover, whose microphone was switched off the whole way through. One of her (silent) contributions has been cut out, as well as one of the two short adjournments – otherwise, this is the whole thing.
Now the council’s found a way to convert its recordings to MP3, there’s no reason why it can’t do this for future meetings – such as this week’s one.
But in the meantime, here’s the council meeting of 30 October 2013, broken up into chunks. You can read all you like about what goes on at the council, and get a gutful of mine and other people’s opinions, but this will give you an insight into just how the Labour council leadership defends and promotes its policies, and how the Conservative opposition group holds them to account.
The recording may be nearly four months old, but the issues are still current – particularly the pavement tax, a belated consultation into which has recently opened. Indeed, I’d recommend listening to part 6, and comparing it with the way the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time (that week’s cover pictured on the right) covered it.
COUNCIL – WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013, 7.00PM (See full agenda and minutes)
Silent parts in the recording are where Councillor Eileen Glover’s microphone was not switched on.
PART 1. Apologies for absence, minutes, mayor’s announcements, declarations of interest, petitions.
This includes mayor Angela Cornforth mentioning that a request had been made to film the meeting “by a commercial operator”. This was for the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, on bullying allegations against Chris Roberts, aired in December and made by Juniper TV. It also includes Peninsula councillor Mary Mills handing in the 2,500-strong pavement tax petition.
PART 2. Public questions. (See written answers to questions.)
Here, questions can be asked by members of the public if they’re submitted at least a week in advance. If you turn up, you get to ask a supplementary – and these are what you hear here. Includes questions on the pavement tax, Run To The Beat and the Silvertown Tunnel.
PART 3. Questions from members. (See written responses.)
A similar format to the public questions, except from councillors. These are almost always from opposition councillors. Includes questions on council computer system issues, publishing recordings of council meetings, Silvertown Tunnel, severe weather preparations, car parking income, war memorials, Well Hall Pleasaunce, Andrew Gilligan, Blackheath fireworks and zero hours contracts.
PART 4. Oral questions to members of the cabinet.
More questions from councillors. Includes the pavement tax (including Chris Roberts’ admission of “informal” cabinet meetings), storm damage, World War I huts in a school in Eltham, and Denise Hyland declaring: “A group that calls itself ‘No to Silvertown‘ is hardly independent, is it?”
PART 5. Petition responses.
A member of the public speaks on speeding traffic on Westcombe Hill, Blackheath. Includes debate on Charlton Lido parking and speeding traffic on Sparrows Lane in New Eltham.
PART 6. Motion on the ‘street trading policy’ (pavement tax). (motion text)
Conservative and Labour councillors debate the controversial tax on shops placing items on the pavement outside their premises, and the way it was introduced. Worth a listen, and also worth seeing how council weekly Greenwich Time covered the debate.
PART 7. Labour motion on “management of public services by the Mayor of London and the Coalition Government”. (see motion text)
Chris Roberts lays into the Tories. Spencer Drury says “it reflects some brass neck”, and issues a sarcastic amendment about Roberts’ “interpersonal skills”.
PART 8. Revised code of conduct, Treasury management report, council functions on scrap metal dealers, “changes to the executive functions scheme of delegation”.
The dry drudgery of regular council business. But it picks up at the end, as opponents claim constant tinkering with the way the council works makes it harder to track just what the council is doing. Includes Eileen Glover having a pop at her former Conservative colleagues (well, it would if her mic was switched on).
PART 9. Labour motion on smoking and tobacco control.
Charlton councillor Janet Gillman speaks.
PART 10. Conservative motion on culture of politics in Greenwich. (see full item)
This motion followed comments made about the way Greenwich Council is run made by Greenwich West councillor (and now parliamentary candidate) Matt Pennycook and Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, which themselves followed allegations of bullying in the Labour group. Notably, Pennycook does not speak in the debate. It proposes changes to the council’s scrutiny functions.
PART 11. Conservative motion calling for secret ballots for council leader.
Another motion designed to smoke out allegations of bullying in Greenwich’s Labour group. Mayor Angela Cornforth withdrew the motion “for further consideration”. It has not yet re-emerged.
So, there were are. Audio of a Greenwich Council meeting has been published. And nobody’s been hurt by it. I’ve also asked for recordings of the past two meetings, which I can only assume Greenwich is sitting on, now it knows how to convert these to MP3 – it’s made a habit of being late with responding to Freedom of Information requests, particularly those which cause it difficulty.
But when they come, if people find this recording useful, I’ll be happy to publish them here.
This Guardian website comment piece caught my eye…
“The public think Westminster is dominated by a London-centric, elite class but they are also not oblivious to the fact that a municipal mafia frequently dominates their town halls. These are often run by an elite which even backbench councillors can’t penetrate never mind the public.
“I know of councils that still refuse to allow their full council meetings to be filmed. Senior councillors who avoid social media like the plague and cabinet members who actively avoid or aren’t capable of interacting with the media. Open and accessible politics it isn’t. (more)
You’d think it was written about Greenwich, wouldn’t you? Interestingly, the piece was written by Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale and a member of the local government select committee. And he must have known that his own party has a fair few councils like that.
Do pieces like this suggest Labour’s getting set to reform councils like Greenwich? Danczuk is only a backbench MP, so it’s hard to say. But it’s good to know that at least some MPs are aware of what’s going on and are prepared to speak up.
Funnily enough, I’m told a former business partner of Danczuk, one Oswin Baker, was the chair of the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party who helped Chris Roberts to power way back in 2000. It’s funny how things turn out.
Speaking of the council leader, he’s barely been seen since the year began. He’s not been seen at a council meeting, nor has he been fulfilling his Labour party duties. Roberts is known for “going missing” from time to time, but this spell of absence has raised eyebrows.
In particular, he didn’t show for a scrutiny panel meeting last week, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to stand in for him. Since very little goes ahead at Greenwich Council without his say-so, rumour mills have gone into overdrive. He’s even not been seen in the past two editions of Greenwich Time (last appearance shown above).
There’s a new GT out today, a planning board tonight, and a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, so he may well reappear. But with elections due soon, Roberts’ own future undecided and potential successors quietly jockeying for position, these are strange times at Woolwich Town Hall. Well, stranger than usual, anyway…
(Real life’s got in the way of this website lately, but if you’re looking for some decent local reading, I can recommend From The Murky Depths on more iffy-looking Peninsula developments (which go to planning tonight), and new site Blackheath Revolt on the Blackheath Society.)
Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy has broken ranks on his council’s refusal to help fund the annual Blackheath fireworks display by declaring it should fund the event.
Since 2010, Lewisham Council has been left alone to raise funds for the annual event, which straddles the boundary of the two boroughs, after Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding.
The issue has strained relationships between the two neighbouring administrations, despite them both being run by the Labour Party.
Fahy has published a post on his blog in which he declares:
Blackheath Fireworks is one of the largest community events in London. It attracts large numbers of residents from Greenwich and elsewhere. Local restaurants and businesses benefit from the number attending. It has a major impact on reducing the number of home firework parties and reduces any potential safety issues in the home. Families can enjoy the event in a safe environment.
“Clearly Local Government has many pressures on limited resources but supporting community events is extremely important. We spend significant resources on our Festivals and rightly so. Getting together with a neighbouring Borough builds positive relationships and I fully support Greenwich making a contribution to secure the long term future of the event.”
Fahy, who’s Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for health and older people, also links to a poll where he seeks to “test the views of the wider community” on the issue.
In October 2010, council deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to cough up the £37,000 needed to co-fund the event.
“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”
At the same time, Greenwich was spending £30,000 a year on private parties to inaugurate its ceremonial mayors. Thamesmead Moorings councillor Brooks also told the same council meeting that “it’s very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – despite the fact there’s a direct bus, route 380.
Since then, Greenwich spent £20,000 last year on fireworks to promote the Sail Royal Greenwich event, and a further £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.
Despite Greenwich’s refusal, Lewisham has continued to raise funds for the event, even though it’s also had its budget slashed by the coalition, by seeking sponsorship from firms and donations from locals – indeed, it was Greenwich resident Douglas Parrant who started 2013′s display after buying tickets in a Lewisham Council-run raffle.
But after last year’s event, Lewisham councillors were told fundraising had fallen £30,000 short – and the council would be approaching Greenwich to help it fund 2014′s display.
Greenwich’s refusal to help out is especially embarrassing for the council’s Labour colleagues in Lewisham, who have pledged to protect the display in past election campaigns.
Of course, there’s some context to this surrounding the poisonous atmosphere in Greenwich Labour.
It’s worth pointing out that Fahy appeared to have slightly different views on the issue in October 2011….
…although it’s well-known within Greenwich Council circles that cabinet members don’t write their own responses – indeed, they often come from council leader Chris Roberts.
When Fahy stood against Roberts for the leadership of the council in 2012, he lost his role as cabinet member for leisure and literally found himself airbrushed out of Greenwich’s weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time:
And, as everybody knows now, Fahy was also subjected to this threatening voicemail from Roberts last autumn:
I expect Fahy might have his phone switched off for a few days. To read what he has to say and vote on whether you think Greenwich Council should fund Blackheath fireworks, head on over to his website.
There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.
But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.
Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.
What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.
But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.
Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.
The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.
Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.
Duchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.
“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”
Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.
Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”
It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.
So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.
Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?
If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.
Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:
“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”
It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.
Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.
But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.
Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.
If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.
Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.
It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.
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.
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?