Tagged: run to the beat

Run to the Beat: Greenwich Council still hasn’t been paid

Run to the Beat / Chris Roberts

Organisers of the controversial Run to the Beat half-marathon still haven’t paid Greenwich Council the £10,000 they promised it for hosting the race, it’s emerged.

The council asked for a contribution “towards its sports legacy work” after agreeing that the borough would host the race for a sixth year, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act.

It was the first time Greenwich had asked for money from IMG Worldwide, and the sum is due to rise to £20,000 if next year’s race gets the go-ahead.

But two months after September’s event ended in acrimony after runners complained about bottlenecks and poor organisation, the council is yet to receive a penny of that money, according to the FOI answer.

The event has long been mired in trouble, with residents complaining of poor information and upheavals; with IMG insisting on running the race on a circular route via Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich.

More recently, Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney has refused to investigate allegations of a conflict of interest surrounding leader Chris Roberts and the race. Roberts is chair of a charity, Greenwich Starting Blocks, which is given free places by IMG. The recent threatening voicemail featured Roberts insisting his administration decides whether 2014’s race takes place, rather than the one installed after May’s election, after which he has said he will stand down.

The links between Greenwich Starting Blocks and Run to the Beat have also been confirmed by the council. Over 1,000 places have been donated to the council charity since the first race in 2008.

But only a handful have actually been filled. In the race’s first year, 250 places were offered, and 144 were taken up. This figure slumped to 26 in 2009. In 2011, the number of free places was cut to 100 – but none of them were taken up.

Greenwich Time, August 11 2013Numbers rose off the back of last year’s Olympics, but this year, another 100 Run To The Beat places were donated by IMG, and Greenwich Council promoted them in its weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time (right). But again, none were taken up.

Places donated Places taken up
2008 250 144
2009 250 26
2010 250 55
2011 100 0
2012 100 78
2013 100 0

Documents revealed during the licensing process showed that IMG was planning to double its donation to Greenwich Council to £20,000 next year - even though it’s far from certain that the event will go ahead.

Indeed, even at £20,000, it’s possible to argue Greenwich lets Run To The Beat have the borough’s streets cheaply – Royal Parks gets at least £10,000 for allowing it use of Greenwich Park alone.

And there’s no real destination for the cash other than “sports legacy work”.

But then again it’s paid nothing at all so far. “We need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough?,” cabinet member Maureen O’Mara said of the race last year. So far, that seems to be an unpaid bill, a heap of aggravation, and more questions about the council leader. How long will local councillors put up with it for?

11.55pm update: At tonight’s council meeting, Chris Roberts denied any knowledge of donations from RTTB to Greenwich Starting Blocks when questioned by opposition leader Spencer Drury. Deputy leader Peter Brooks said no decision had been made about 2014’s race, and “ward councillors might have something to say”. Poor quality audio below:

Run to the Beat: Greenwich Council won’t probe leader’s interest

Run to the Beat / 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.

Caught on tape: Greenwich Council leader bullying cabinet member

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts verbally abused one of his cabinet members by voicemail and threatened to strip the councillor of their job in a row over the Run To The Beat half-marathon – yet the council’s Labour group is yet to take action against him, this website understands.

Roberts left the four-letter verbal barrage on the voicemail of the cabinet member after the councillor raised concerns over this year’s race, which the council leadership pushed through without promised consultation with local residents.

The cabinet member suggested in an email to Labour councillors that any decision over the 2014 Run to the Beat event would be left to whoever was in power after May’s elections – after which Roberts has said he would stand down as leader.

Greenwich Council leader and bully Chris RobertsBut Roberts responded by leaving a message on the senior councillor’s voicemail threatening the removal of their portfolio, adding that the representative should “get it through your fucking thick skull”.

The voicemail has been widely shared both within the local Labour party, and outside of it. But over two weeks after first being made aware of the voicemail, Greenwich Council’s Labour group chief whip Ray Walker – an ally of Roberts – has so far declined to investigate the incident.

Verbal abuse of a fellow councillor is against both Greenwich Council’s rules, plus Labour Party regulations.

But the voicemail’s existence being widespread knowledge – this website has had this confirmed by multiple sources – the cabinet member concerned is reluctant to take the matter to the London regional Labour party, for fear news would leak and cause embarrassment to the wider party.

While this website is not naming the councillor involved, it is surely in the public interest – and the Labour Party’s wider interest – that Chris Roberts’ bullying of his fellow councillors is discussed openly.

Roberts is notorious for threatening councillors who step out of line. Earlier this year, Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant declined to stand again over the “culture of bullying” and “sinister threats” within Greenwich Council’s Labour group.

But the existence of the voicemail is, for the first time, tangible proof of how Roberts bullies and abuses Labour councillors – who have no effective way of blowing the whistle on such behaviour. Roberts is widely believed to be reconsidering his earlier plans to stand down as council leader next year.

The voicemail furore comes as Roberts seeks to crack down on any form of dissent from his councillors ahead of May 2014’s election. Multiple sources have told this website that Labour councillors have been treated to a tirade against the evils of social media, while a clampdown is planned on Labour councillors emailing officers to investigate issues without first going through cabinet members.

What’s not widely understood is why Chris Roberts, who steered the council through last year’s Olympics, is so anxious over the relatively trivial matter of the staging of a half-marathon, run by international events conglomerate IMG.

The fear of doing damage to the wider Labour Party permeates the council’s Labour group – many of whom have spent their lives in the party, and socialise within the party and related groups such as the Co-operative party. This situation has enabled the leader to get away with his harsh treatment of those who question him.

Publishing details of this voicemail will almost certainly have consequences. But to stay quiet about this bullying is to be complicit in it, especially when details of this voicemail are so widely known. Some will see this an example of anti-Labour bias – yet it is in the public interest that the dominant party in Greenwich borough treats its public representatives fairly.

Perhaps now others will speak out and take action – and those higher up in the Labour Party will get it into their “thick skulls” that they have a problem in Greenwich which needs fixing.

1.50pm update: It’s been suggested to me that concerned readers may like to contact the Labour Party directly to ask what it is doing about bullying in Greenwich Council’s Labour group.

Run to the Beat organisers sorry after course cock-up

Woolwich Barracks photo from Terri Willis

If they’d listened to local people, who’ve consistently said that Run to the Beat’s circular course is a bad idea, then perhaps they wouldn’t be apologising.

But the controversial half-marathon’s organisers have been left red-faced this evening after runners found themselves stuck at bottlenecks on the 13.1-mile route, caused by their insistence on holding running a circular route through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich.

Runners used Twitter to complain about a hold-up at Woolwich Barracks, where the course wasn’t wide enough for runners to get through, and also showed them stuck at gates in Greenwich Park.

The delays meant many runners were either delayed, missing out on their target times, or were sent on a short cut, leaving them fearing their times were invalid.

Organisers have apologised, promising “a detailed review”.

One runner, Gavin, described his experience on his blog:

At mile 4, however, the part of the route which goes in and out of the Woolwich Barracks there was a bottleneck of about 10 minutes. This is because unlike previous years when you had the runners all running through the courtyard, you decided to have 20,000 runners run in AND OUT of a gate which was no bigger than 8 foot wide.

Mile 4 for me, and for many is ‘The Wall’, the part of run where you are struggling, but you power through. So having to stop immediately and stand still for 10 minutes often causes cramps. It can be avoided by continuing to move, however there was very limited space due to the sheer volume of runners. Many people climbed over the barriers and ran down the road, I refrained from doing this for fear of missing a ‘chip timer’ mat, which I figured would be in the courtyard. It wasn’t. By the time I got back to the gate to exit the courtyard, the marshals had in fact stopped runners entering and sending them straight down the road. At this point, the 2h30m marker was well in front of me.

Other complaints included the runners being given coconut water instead of sports drinks – the race was sponsored by a brand of coconut water – while there were grumbles about the last mile being uphill through Greenwich Park, particularly unhelpful for participants in wheelchairs (“It was so steep that their front wheels kept popping up,” one observer said).

As for locals, one Greenwich Millennium Village resident complained to this blog about organisers setting up portable buildings outside her home at 4.45am, while Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills said the number of complaints she’d received was up this year. “I’ve had more complaints this year, and nastier ones,” she tweeted.

On the plus side, roads did seem to reopen earlier than planned, although it took a while for bus services to return to their normal routes.

A little sample of tweets:

https://twitter.com/Robster231/status/376683570859081730

https://twitter.com/Mog_king0/statuses/376707811377709056

The route was confirmed at fairly short notice this year, after an earlier version saw it cut off Sunday footballers in Charlton’s parks. But despite assurances from Greenwich Council cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, and claims made by the council to the Department of Transport, there has been no meaningful consultation with local residents.

Despite objections, organiser IMG still plans to return next year, doubling its contribution to Greenwich Council from £10,000 this year to £20,000.

I also understand Greenwich Council gets some more money out of the race thanks to an agreement to advertise race arrangements in its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time – denying other newspapers revenue from those ads.

While many residents have lost patience with Run to the Beat years ago and would rather it went away, others do enjoy it – and it enjoyed ideal weather this morning. Perhaps now organisers and Greenwich Council will start to listen. IMG needs to make a meaningful donation to the community – perhaps by sponsoring a facility such as Maryon Wilson animal park – instead of the cash disappearing into the council’s coffers.

And it needs to create a route that’d be a proper Greenwich borough half-marathon – perhaps from Eltham to Greenwich – ending the charade of the circular route which causes grief to runners and locals alike.

Will any of this happen? I wouldn’t hold your breath…

If you’re a local with issues surrounding today’s race, let your local councillor know – and it’s also worth copying in Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the email (firstname.surname@royalgreenwich.gov.uk).

Run to the Beat 2013: The public consultation which wasn’t

Run to the Beat final route, July 2013

On Sunday, up to 19,000 runners will pound through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich on the Run to the Beat half-marathon. The forecast is set for mild weather, and you never know, it may actually be a success. Indeed, you’re probably reading this after the event and will know how it went.

Many of those thousands of runners will be exerting themselves for good causes. This is not a charity event, so others will have paid £55 to prove something to themselves that some of us won’t even manage half of. But unwittingly, those up-to 19,000 customers of Run to the Beat have been caught up in an extraordinary battle between, on one side, Greenwich Council and organisers IMG, and on the other, local residents and councillors in the area affected.

So keen has Greenwich Council been to rubber-stamp the event in the face of continuing objections from locals and councillors – many of whom who represent the Labour Party which supposedly runs the council – that this website understands even senior council officials are unhappy about publicity for the race published in the council’s own newspaper.

East Greenwich Library bus stopIt’s worth remembering this row doesn’t happen with the London Marathon, which is twice as big, and causes the same inconvenience. With our streets on show to the world, people swallow a day of hassle out of neighbourhood pride. The same arguments won’t ever apply to a low-profile race which is imposed both on residents, and their elected representatives.

The imposition point is important, because alternative routes have been suggested, and have been ignored. Instead, thousands of local residents are cut off by IMG and Greenwich Council’s insistence on a small circular route, presumably to save IMG money, but which is also unsatisfactory for runners. This year’s diversion via the riverside path at Angerstein Wharf looks set to be particularly grim.

In many ways, the battle over Run to the Beat has become less about people being unable to take a bus to hospital, or even being stopped from crossing over a main road, and more about Greenwich Council’s failures to listen or learn from criticism – something which is finally catching up with both its leadership, and those who have been cowed by it.

Remember the assurances from environment councillor Maureen O’Mara last year? They’re worth repeating again.

“If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.

“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.

“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”

Did they? Did they heck. 853 reader Steve Smythe wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin about the road closures caused by Run to the Beat – for legally, the council needs to go through the Government for roads which have already been closed for an event in the same year – and was given this reply from civil servant Amanda John, sent to her by Greenwich Council.

DfT letter

However, this website has established that formal residents’ groups – usually spoken to in lieu of a proper consultation – weren’t asked for their views. The Greenwich Society tells me it wasn’t spoken to, nor was the Blackheath Society, and it’s understood the Charlton Society wasn’t consulted either. The Westcombe Society was spoken to because it complained; while the Charlton Central Residents Association spoke to organisers in November 2012, again because it complained.

Only groups who complained, it appears, were consulted, which would explain the appearance of sports groups on the list, since early plans for this year’s events proposed cutting off the football pitches in Charlton’s parks. What’s clear is that even after five years, there’s still been no serious, proactive attempt by either IMG or Greenwich Council to gauge residents’ views on the event.

Did the council lie to the government? Was the council itself fed duff info? I’ve certainly heard accusations that council officers were told to make sure Run To The Beat was licensed, at whatever cost – obviously this can’t be substantiated, but suspicions like this will fester in an atmosphere when residents and elected representatives are ignored.

Run to the Beat ad, Greenwich TimeWhat’s for sure is that there’s been no great public rethink about what Run To The Beat does for the locality.

While it’s true councillors met organisers in November 2012, a promised follow-up meeting never happened – instead, they were invited to a meeting on Thursday night at short notice. Some councillors, I am told, “have never been so angry”.

Indeed, it’s actually possible that councillors’ treatment has led to them being angrier about the event than their constituents, who at least can choose to stay in bed while the race is on.

But most astonishingly, I understand even Greenwich Council officers are unhappy with the way IMG has promoted the arrangements for the race. Indeed, even the council website acknowledges “some local residents may not yet have received printed leaflets from the organisers”.

Ads have been taken out in its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, but I’m told director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney is unhappy with
the lack of information on them, and they way they seem to be about promoting the RTTB brand – they merely refer people to the Run to the Beat website. Why Delaney herself hasn’t been more proactive in distributing information, or ensuring IMG’s ad was correct, heaven alone knows. But since her job is in reputation management, and promoting the “Royal Greenwich” brand, it’s certainly a case of the biter being bit.

And while there is a residents’ helpline – 020 8233 5900 (open 7.30am-2.30pm) – it has only been publicised online. It doesn’t appear on the numerous yellow signs dotted around the area. The event still doesn’t appear on Transport for London’s journey planner (despite a tucked-away website page), so while roads are meant to be reopening earlier, it’s anyone’s guess when bus services will resume.

And all this, for a measly £10,000 to the council, with the promise of double next year.

It may well be that the sustained criticism of this year’s Run To The Beat will lead to a better event. But it shouldn’t be this way. After all, this should be fun, like the London Marathon is. A true Greenwich borough half-marathon would be great. Involve Eltham and other areas that don’t have the brilliant experience of the marathon, and break the circular route which cuts so many off.

Perhaps we should look to the London Marathon Playing Fields in Kidbrooke as an example. Why doesn’t Run To The Beat sponsor a community facility on its route? How about getting it to cough up for the Maryon Wilson Animal Park in Charlton, which is having trouble raising funds? Supporting the community rather than the council would be a way forward for an event with serious PR problems.

But instead, Run To The Beat has become emblematic of just how Greenwich Council under Chris Roberts has become arrogant, overbearing and more interested in big business than its residents. And until things change at the town hall, the race will always be a problem rather than a party.

For details about the Run To The Beat route and maps, click here and scroll down to ‘residents’. A residents’ helpline will be open until 2.30pm on 020 8233 5900, staffed by IMG and a council officer. If you have any issues, let your local councillor know – and it’s also worth copying in Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the email (firstname.surname@royalgreenwich.gov.uk).

Double your money: Run To The Beat’s £20,000 council sweetener

Run to the Beat sign in Wyndcliff Road, Charlton, 26 August 2013

Organisers of the controversial Run To The Beat race are already planning to give Greenwich Council £20,000 to host next year’s event – even though this year’s half-marathon still hasn’t been given licences by the authority.

Objections from residents, who face being shut in by the race’s circular route via Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich on 8 September, mean that this year’s race has to face a licensing hearing for its sound stages this Wednesday at Woolwich Town Hall.

Those objections have meant that what Greenwich Council actually gets out of holding the half-marathon has been revealed – but those expecting a huge sum of money will be disappointed. In fact, local people get very little out of the event, which is run for profit by events conglomerate IMG.

In an email exchange between Charlton resident Anne Waite, objecting to the race, and IMG’s Clayton Payne, it emerges that the firm only gives the council £10,000 for holding the event – but is planning to double it from 2014, even though there’s been no public agreement for the event to continue beyond this year.

Mr Payne writes:

“It is our utmost wish that the local community engages in the event and it serves to support the local community… We are aware that at times the event poses disruption to the local area and to that effect we have doubled our resident and business communications for 2013.

“As a boost to the successful partnership between Greenwich Council and IMG (Organisers), IMG will give £10,000 to the Greenwich Council Sports legacy [sic] this year, and £20,000 from next year.”

Clayton Payne’s statement appears to contradict claims made by Greenwich Council’s environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara last year, which indicated that the council didn’t have a long-term relationship with the organisers.

Greenwich West councillor O’Mara told a council meeting in October 2012:

“If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.

“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.

“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”

Yet no such consultation has taken place, despite O’Mara conceding that Run To The Beat “seems to create more trouble than the [London] Marathon” – possibly because the marathon causes inconvenience, it’s a not-for-profit event that’s known around the world and which draws huge crowds to pubs, restaurants and local shops. The same can’t be said for RTTB.

So how has Greenwich Council entered into what appears to be a long-term relationship with Run To The Beat’s organisers? This is a particularly baffling question as members of the local Labour Party, which is supposed to control the council, demanded a full consultation should take place before the race was repeated.

Will Maureen O’Mara, often spirited in council meetings, have the bottle to face those local party members to explain why their views don’t matter?

All this said, there has been an improvement in communications from RTTB, with reports of two information leaflets about the race (853 Towers, in the cut-off zone, has had one leaflet, copies of which can be downloaded from here), and there is a promise that roads will be re-opened earlier, largely down to a few local councillors defying O’Mara and kicking off about the issue. One leaflet even, for the first time, featured a map of local bus services, which will still be hugely disrupted.

Mind you, in his letter to runners, RTTB managing director James Robinson’s London geography suggests he may not even be aware what side of the Thames his race is on…

Run To The Beat competitors' leaflet

The Run To The Beat licence hearing is at 5.30pm on Wednesday at Woolwich Town Hall, and is open to the public. If you can’t make it, you can ask your local councillor to speak for you (I understand in Peninsula ward, Mary Mills is happy to speak for residents, and in Charlton, Gary Parker will do the same) – just get in touch with your councillor via the council website and see what they plan to do.

Your chance to object to Run to the Beat 2013

Old Dover Road, 28 July 2013
What do you mean, you missed the licence application for this year’s Run To The Beat? The notices are up in such prominent places! If you think the half-marathon, due to take place on 8 September, will be a pain in the backside, then at least you can object to its various plans to host sound stages at points on the route. If you feel strongly enough, don’t think someone else will do it for you. Here’s a guide on how to do it.

Here’s the full Greenwich Time ad with the list of locations. How on earth Run to the Beat reckons it’ll fit in a sound stage on the narrow Thames Path, heaven alone knows…

Run To The Beat ad, Greenwich Time, 29 July 2013

Note that the deadline for submissions to licensing@greenwich.gov.uk is 26 August, less than a fortnight before the event, and presumably ahead of a licensing meeting scheduled for 4 September, just three days beforehand. Once again, it’s been left incredibly late – something which could put the event in peril if an appeal is launched, although it’s likely licensing officers will work to find compromises. Those unhappy about the route should contact Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, whose permission the council needs to shut roads which have already been closed by the London Marathon.

Run to the Beat final route, July 2013

Here’s Greenwich cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, speaking last year:

“If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.

“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.

“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”

It’s also worth remembering that the Greenwich & Woolwich branch of the Labour party passed a resolution that Run to the Beat should only happen after “a full public consultation“.

If you don’t think Greenwich Council and IMG have lived up to either of these declarations, now’s your chance to do something.