The News Shopper did something unexpected last week. It published a story bemoaning the secrecy which surrounds Greenwich Council. All very good stuff. Of course, they’re entirely correct – huge decisions are being taken by senior councillors with very few checks and balances in place.
What they’re not saying, though, is how the ailing local press is exacerbating this. The News Shopper bleated on about Greenwich being “the most undemocratic local authority in the country”, but couldn’t be bothered to send a reporter up from distant Petts Wood to last month’s council meeting. missing a curious incident involving leader Chris Roberts. The Shopper might be complaining now, but it’ll surely soon be back to cutting and pasting 14-paragraph-long quotes from the Dear Leader himself before long. It’s cheaper than doing any proper reporting.
The News Shopper isn’t the only place where good reporters are being shafted by idiot owners. Last month, all editorial and production staff at the Mercury and South London Press were offered voluntary redundancy, sparking fresh fears for the Mercury’s future. It takes a special kind of fool to try to slim down London media outlets in the capital’s most newsworthy year for decades, but that’s the Mercury’s octogenarian proprietor Ray Tindle for you. The poor old Mercury probably doesn’t have long left, leaving us to be hectored at from the suburbs by the News Shopper, and patronised by Greenwich Time.
The brazenness of Greenwich’s – sorry, Royal Greenwich’s (cough) – media strategy can be seen on the front of last week’s Greenwich Time, with a sinister-looking shot of the Dear Leader, MPs Nick Raynsford and Clive Efford, council chief executive Mary Ney and Greenwich borough commander Richard Wood overseeing a parade of the King’s Troop. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Actually, Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher was also up there – but got cropped out of shot. Funny, that.
In short, forget the local press in scrutinising what goes on around here. It’s dying from greed, short-sightedness, and stupidity. What about local blogs? Well, yes, but some of us have to be elsewhere and earn a crust, you know. That said, I’m proud that while I’ve now got a bit less time to spend with the blogs, the page views and comments, both here and at the Charlton Champion, seem to be holding up fine. Thank you for your continued interest.
But there’s something we can all do to hold the council to account. We can all, if we live in the borough, ask a question at council meetings. You don’t even have to turn up, but if you do, you get to ask a supplementary question if you want, and get handed a microphone by the council’s ever-patient committee manager. Strangely, the page explaining what to do seems to have disappeared from the new council website, but here’s the info from the old one:
Members of the public can ask questions at Full Council meetings.
You can also send your question in writing by post or email to:
The Committee Section,
Chief Executive’s Department,
Woolwich SE18 6PW.
Notice of questions should be with the Committee Section by no later than 12 noon, five working days before the Council meeting.
The notice must contain your name and address.
You can ask up to a maximum of two questions, with each question consisting of no more than one part. All questions must relate to issues in which the Council has powers or duties.
The Chief Executive will identify the appropriate Cabinet Member to respond to each question.
The Mayor may disallow any questions that he or she feels to be improper. If your request is refused, we will send you a letter explaining why.
The next council meeting is on Wednesday 29 February – so if you’ve got a question, submit it by noon this Wednesday. The best and most searching questions at council meetings come from the public – and I’d like to think that this site’s readership could make a few councillors sweat. If you do, I’d love to know what you’re asking about – and I’ll keep an eye out for your questions, and the answers you get, at the town hall next week.
If you want to see a good example of local people turning up the heat on councillors and others, take a look at the West Greenwich CARA website (particularly their scathing account of a council meeting). But you could ask about big issues, like how much is being spent on the royal borough fandango? What does the council think about Boris’s proposed Silvertown tunnel? Why is Floyd Road in Charlton always a mess? When will work start on the Heart of East Greenwich? It’s your right to know, and their responsibility to tell you.
After all, if you don’t ask difficult questions of the council – who else is going to do it?