Greenwich councillors spent £20,000 on toasting new mayor

Mick Hayes and Norman Adams, a councillor since 1978

Party guys: Outgoing mayor Mick Hayes and incumbent Norman Adams, a councillor since 1978

Greenwich Council spent nearly £20,000 on an invite-only function celebrating the inauguration of its new mayor at the Old Royal Naval College last month.

The event came less than three weeks before Labour councillors met to discuss the prospect of future government budget squeezes, which are likely to see services cut further over the next five years.

Councillors and guests attended the event, on 19 May, which marked long-serving councillor Norman Adams replacing Mick Hayes as the borough’s first citizen. Representatives from Berkeley Homes and Ikea were also invited, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The cost of the event, which came to £19,300, excluding VAT, has shot up following the decision of the Greenwich Foundation, which runs the old naval college, to charge the council for the first time in some years. Last year’s event cost £13,385.

Greenwich negotiated free venue hire with the foundation, as well as began using cheaper PA systems, after this website revealed that 2010’s ceremony had cost nearly £30,000.

Last month’s ceremony was the 10th the council has held at the Old Royal Naval College, bringing the total bill over the years for council taxpayers to £220,000, according to responses to various Freedom of Information Act requests.

Most boroughs do not hold these lavish bashes. The same night Greenwich councillors and their guests were living it up at in the Painted Hall, Camden inaugurated its new mayor at a simple event at its town hall.

Indeed, Adams formally became mayor at the council’s annual general meeting the previous week – with a ceremony similar to this one at Waltham Forest – meaning there was no need for the Naval College event at all.

Southwark uses Southwark Cathedral for its mayor-making, but declares it an official council meeting, meaning the public can come and watch. It also combines the inauguration with a civic awards ceremony.

In Greenwich, the public are shut out, despite paying a £9,000 bill for food and drink (red wine was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Moncaro 2012; white wine was Galassia Garganega/Pinot Grigio 2013).

Greenwich Time, 26 May 2015

This year’s event got front-page billing in Greenwich Time, without mention of the cost

Instead, while community representatives are invited, the event has traditionally been used for networking.

The invite list includes representatives from Ikea – whose plans for a store in east Greenwich have caused uproar – and property developers Berkeley Homes and Durkan. It is not known which of the 350 invitees actually attended.

Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon was also invited, as was the firm behind the Greenwich cruise liner terminal – two major planning schemes which have also angered local people. Indeed, just a few hundred yards from the ceremony, the East Greenwich Residents Association was discussing the effects of these schemes at its regular public meeting – without their Peninsula ward councillors present.

Despite blowing large sums of money on celebrating themselves at a time of cutbacks, Greenwich councillors have been largely oblivious to criticism of the Naval College bash, although some do deliberately stay away.

Indeed, in 2013, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time lied about its location, claiming for two successive weeks that it was held at Woolwich Town Hall.

The borough’s Tories have generally gone along with the ceremony, while occasionally pushing for it to be made more open to the public.

Labour councillors met at this weekend to discuss the effects of another five years of cuts under the new government. Can they really justify blowing another £20,000 on a private party?

The answer will lie with this year’s deputy mayor Olu Babatola, who will take the main job next year. Already a mould-breaker as the borough’s first African mayor, he could set an equally-welcome precedent by scrapping next year’s ceremony. Will he do it? It’s over to you, Olu.

6.35pm update: Invite lists from this and past years: 2015, 2014, 2013 , 2012 , 2011.

18 comments

  1. The Hebridean

    If there’s a way to waste money you can trust Greenwich Council to find it. Creaking public services, all sorts of things that make a difference to ordinary people cut? No worries. so long as the Croneyhood has a party, networks with the important people and the community picks up the tab. Same mentality as the Tall Ships bash which never never never was meant for ordinary people round here but for the corporates. So more snouts in the trough. But at the end of the day the people of Greenwich vote them in and keep them in, so perhaps we get what we deserve. And this is not envy from me. I have always thought that when you dine with pigs, you get dirty, the pig eats more and the pig is the only one to enjoy it.

  2. Barbara

    I usually read your articles with interest and share your views about many of the councils priorities, the use of Greenwich Time and it’s lack of transparency as a council. You have made some valid points within this article however, I find it mostly to be inflammatory, quite one-sided/biased in it’s view and lacking perspective. Greenwich has been made a royal borough – of course it is going to hold some sort of ceremony to recognise the selection of a new mayor and to introduce him to local representatives, key businesses/investors* in the area, religious leaders, school heads etc etc. Who was actually on the guest list and how representative of the borough were they?

    *whether you welcome the nature of the investment is another matter but why wouldn’t you invite some of the largest employers/prospective employers in the borough?

    With respect, of course it is an “invite-only function”. It would pretty expensive if it were a public event?
    How many guests were invited for the £20k bill? If you take a chunky hire charge [£7800 undiscounted] for the Painted Room, and add 350 attendees that you quote above it starts to look like reasonable value @ £35 per head. If it were 50 people, then not so much.

    Also, 250 attendees is the most that Woolwich Town Hall can take so local venues that can take those sort of numbers must be fairly limited

    “bringing the total bill over the years for council taxpayers to £220,000” Over how many years? 2 or 20? Without context it’s just an inflammatory statement.

    Other royal boroughs with mayoral positions also hold annual celebrations though I can’t find a budget listed on their website.
    http://www.tunbridgewells.gov.uk/council/councillors-and-meetings/how-the-council-works/the-mayor

  3. Darryl Chamberlain

    Hello Barbara. I’ll take your factual questions point by point. I’ll leave others to decide whether a £35/head freebie is good value.

    “Greenwich has been made a royal borough – of course it is going to hold some sort of ceremony to recognise the selection of a new mayor and to introduce him to local representatives, key businesses/investors* in the area, religious leaders, school heads etc etc. Who was actually on the guest list and how representative of the borough were they?”

    – The Painted Hall ceremonies began in 2006. Greenwich was made a royal borough in 2012. The three other royal boroughs in England (Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, and Windsor & Maidenhead) confine their mayor-making to normal council meetings. Royal borough status does not make Greenwich superior in any way to any other borough. There’s a link to the invite list in the story.

    With respect, of course it is an “invite-only function”. It would pretty expensive if it were a public event?
    As the post says, Southwark holds a similar ceremony at Southwark Cathedral, but declares it a formal council meeting, which makes it a public event.

    ““bringing the total bill over the years for council taxpayers to £220,000″ Over how many years? 2 or 20? Without context it’s just an inflammatory statement.”

    To quote in full: “Last month’s ceremony was the 10th the council has held at the Old Royal Naval College, bringing the total bill over the years for council taxpayers to £220,000.”

    Other royal boroughs with mayoral positions also hold annual celebrations though I can’t find a budget listed on their website.
    http://www.tunbridgewells.gov.uk/council/councillors-and-meetings/how-the-council-works/the-mayor

    Tunbridge Wells is not a royal borough and in any case, it also confines its mayor-making to a normal council meeting, as your link confirms.

  4. Barbara

    I believe that Royal Tunbridge Wells very much considers itself to be a royal borough but that’s not the point of my response, and the site does make it very clear that the Mayor hosts a number of events for invited guests [after inauguration, at their church and an annual civic dance and ball]
    https://sites.google.com/site/britishmonarchyfamilyhistory/britain-s-royal-boroughs

    Thank you for pointing out that I had missed the link to the list of invitees. It was edifying to discover that there were 6 representatives of “big business” out of the total number of invited guests. I am sure a civic reception could be done more cheaply than £35 per head but as a resident and taxpayer I don’t feel it was particularly poor value given the location; particularly now that I have reviewed the list of invitees and the groups, residents and public services that they represent and I suspect that they may have viewed their attendance as a useful opportunity to lobby the likes of Ikea on behalf of local interest groups.

  5. spencerdrury

    Just for the record Darryl, I never went along with the ceremony and refused to go after the first year it switched as it became clear it was a propaganda exercise. I complained about it regularly, but decided as I was no longer Leader this year, I would see if it had got any better. I fear it hasn’t and I can’t see any reason to have it in a venue you have to pay for when it could be done more cheaply in our lovely old Town Hall in Woolwich. I doubt I’ll be going again.

  6. Trevor Allman

    In my time as a Greenwich Borough Councillor (1986-1990), the Mayor’s “knees-up” consisted of drinks and a buffet in the Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall.
    It sufficed then, why not now?

  7. Ken Welsby

    The whole point of the ceremony is to say thank you to people who have made a contribution to the life of the borough. In business, we often do that by buying a lunch or a drink, but the council can’t do that, so it invites such folk to the Mayoral ceremony. The Painted Hall is the obvious choice of venue – but maybe RBG should use the event as an opportunity to promote the Town Hall, although as commentators have pointed out, it has a smaller capacity. Perhaps the solution is to hold two events – one at the Town Hall and the other, maybe less formal, at somewhere such as the Heritage Centre / Old Academy buildings.

  8. Mary

    I on the whole don’t see the harm in it – although when I was on the Council I gave up going after a bit – mostly because it usually clashed with a community meeting somewhere and I always thought you should give priority to going to events where residents had something to say.
    I am aware though – unlike Trevor – that in the past there was some very lavish spending indeed, while using Woolwich Town Hall too. I think one particular Mayor (not sure when – 1970s?? ) had cakes all individually iced with their initials. There always used to be a bar at Council meetings too – and sandwiches, fruit, coffee and so on. Now there is nothing to sustain councillors through 3-4-5 hour meetings, sometimes not even water is available.
    I think it is also important to have an event in Greenwich as distinct from using Woolwich Town Hall for everything – and that applies also to Council Meeting, particularly Planning Meetings as used to happen, but others as well. The bit of Greenwich Town Hall that wasn’t sold off when the Council’s merged in the 1960s is still owned by the Council and is the biggest hall in the Borough – so why not use that for a change.

  9. Ken Welsby

    Do you never say thank you to those who help you? Have you never bought anyone a drink, or offered someone even a sweetie? Given a Christmas card to the milkman or whoever? The guest list is not full of fat cats – most of them are hardworking people who still believe in the community – as you claim to do. The event is a public acknowledgement that the future of the borough does not depend on the wisdom or otherwise of those in the council chamber, it depends on the goodwill and hard work of a lot of ordinary people. Why don’t you join in the salute for their efforts?

  10. Pingback: Metroknobbers No. 25 | onionbagblog

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