Posts Tagged ‘chris roberts’
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?
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.