Tagged: maureen o’mara

Webcasting could be good for Greenwich Council – if councillors actually made use of it

Maureen O'Mara

Got a minute? Watch this video. It won’t take long.

The individual you can see spluttering “a minivan?!” like a south London Lady Bracknell is Greenwich Council cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. The person questioning her, off camera, is Matt Hartley, leader of Greenwich’s Tories.

This exchange, about why council meeting webcasts aren’t very well promoted, was probably the highlight of last month’s council meeting.

You might even have read about it in the Sutton-based News Shopper. Alright, you probably didn’t. So here it is.

News Shopper website

Transparency, eh? What a waste of bleedin’ time! All this stuff’s for geeks and berks! But it’s not. And O’Mara, Hartley, and the Sutton Shopper are all letting us down here.

Greenwich Council started streaming full council meetings last year. It’s a very good idea – people should be able to see what their councillors are up to. It’s a really simple system – works a treat on mobile phones too, so you can watch wherever you may be. It costs the council £9,400 per year, plus £1,040 for every 30 hours of broadcast. Most council meetings are about two and a half hours long. (See question 7.)

Alright, you’re not going to watch it live. And in practice, these meetings are hard to follow unless you’ve a) an agenda paper (available a week beforehand); b) a list of questions from councillors and the public (available 10-15 minutes beforehand in the town hall, not sure if this is available to online viewers). Like any sporting event, you can’t beat being there.

Maureen O'Mara

But the recordings stay online, so you can watch back later. And that’s where the value is. The bits that are worth watching are questions from the public and questions from (usually Tory) councillors; most of these are submitted in advance, although the latter also has a section for new questions that can be asked on the night. Public deputations and petitions are also worth a look.

The rest of it’s often peacock-strutting nonsense, unfortunately. Even hardened Town Hall watchers usually head to the pub once the members’ questions are through. But the first hour or so of a council meeting usually contains something interesting.

It’s important that people can see how councillors act to the public and to their peers. Most people have better things to do than watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Mayor’s Question Time live. But they’ll often see clips on the news later.

And just like the Commons and City Hall showpieces, Full Council isn’t usually very impressive either. Too many cabinet members come across as sanctimonious or just plain rude, one or two come across as out of their depth. Others manage to answer questions simply and honestly and without blaming the Tories for everything.

But even the good ones aren’t utilising webcasting properly. Individual councillors’ contributions can be highlighted – here is deputy council leader Danny Thorpe being rude to Matt Hartley – and even embedded, like this:

(Unfortunately, I can’t embed council content due to me having a cheapo site set-up. That’s something I’d like to fix one day. Instead, Lady Bracknell will have to do.)

There’s nothing stopping our councillors from posting links to their own contributions in the days after meetings, just as MPs can link to their speeches in the Commons. People are more likely to watch these clips via social media than to sit through the tedium of watching the thing live.

Here’s Matt Hartley presenting the Tories’ alternative budget (and complaining about council leader Denise Hyland’s absence) and cabinet member Chris Kirby tearing it to shreds.

Nobody’s making use of these clips, and it’s a big miss. The local press isn’t – not the Mercury, and not the News Shopper, which is grumbling that nobody’s watching in the first place. To be fair on the papers, maybe they don’t know it’s available. (Even if they’re writing about it.) But what excuse do the councillors have?

Maureen O'Mara

Maybe the councillors are all a bit embarrassed by their performances. In some cases, they bloody well should be. This stuff is never going to attract huge numbers. But if you aren’t using it yourself to its fullest extent, you can’t complain when nobody watches. Perhaps they just want this to just go away, so nobody writes blog posts peppered with screen grabs of councillors pulling funny faces.

But a few more viewers might lead to a real breakthrough – getting the committee rooms sorted so they can be filmed too. Big planning meetings would certainly attract an audience. Cabinet meetings are where the real decisions take place. And while scrutiny’s often dull, it should be available on the record. Actually, sometimes scrutiny does attract big numbers.

A week after Maureen O’Mara implied nobody was interested in watching council meetings, there was a packed health scrutiny panel meeting looking into the controversial handing of local musculoskeletal physiotherapy services to private provider Circle Health.

By all accounts, the scrutiny panel did themselves proud. But there’s no recording of this that’s publicly available so we can see for ourselves. And that’s a real shame. I think the scrutiny panel would probably appreciate a recording, too, so they can look back over points that may have been missed.

Sure, some embarrassing performances may find their way onto a server (indeed, they already have done). But that should be a cue for councillors to raise their game, not lash out at those who want to see more transparency.

Council website

There was another council meeting this week, but the system was broken. So we’ll never see what this was about.

Or this.

Cuts to school budgets are a massive issue, and people should have been able to see their local politicians’ responses to them, and engage with them.

The next normal council meeting won’t be until June – hopefully the cameras will have been fixed by then. But hopefully Greenwich councillors – both Labour and Conservative – will look again at webcasting. Who knows, with an election due next year, they might find their constituents like what they see.

You can see past council meetings at https://royalgreenwich.public-i.tv/core/portal/home.

Will Greenwich Council’s new boss be the same as the old boss?

So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.


In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.

More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.

Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.

He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.

“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”


That was then, this is now.

Greenwich Time, 17 June 2014

The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.

It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.

The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.

Stephen Brain on Twitter

But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan

London Plan response, 24 April 2014

Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:

“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.

I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”

That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.

“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”

Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…

Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.

Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…

It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.

But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?

Danny ThorpeCuriously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.

Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.

Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.

There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.

Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.

Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.

Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.

Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?

PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.

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.

Greenwich Council’s pavement tax ‘could be illegal’

Greenwich town centre, 17 August 2013

Those plants could cost…

New Greenwich Council charges for small businesses which use pavements outside their premises could be illegal, opposition politicians are warning.

But while the council is defending the policy, the cabinet member in charge of it has ducked out of defending it herself – leaving it to the council’s legal executive instead.

Conservative leader Spencer Drury wrote to environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara last week to outline his concerns about the forecourt trading licence charges, which start at £7 per square metre of pavement used outside businesses, per week. (See the letter here.)

Greenwich Council budget proposal, January 2013

The scheme is buried in budget documents which were presented to the council’s cabinet in January. Drury says the wording of the documents mean that the cabinet only agreed to the policy being introduced via a report which would include the fee structure.

But no such report has ever been presented to the council – meaning backbench and opposition councillors have been unable to specifically object to it, or call it in for scrutiny.

“This leaves the whole policy open to judicial review, and I would expect any legal challenge or complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman to succeed,” he wrote.

“This is not democratic and you need to go back to the drawing board, refunding all the fees collected under this illegal system.”

But O’Mara, usually a combative figure in council meetings, did not respond to the letter – instead, leaving it to the council’s head of legal services, Russell Power, who responded that the decision to introduce charges was actually one for officers, not councillors. (See his response here.)

Whoever is right – and the charges do operate in other boroughs – the whole affair shines another light on the secretive way the council is run. The introduction of the pavement tax is very similar to the way Greenwich Council tried to cut funding for the Maryon Wilson animal park in Charlton two years ago – snuck in via a line in the budget.

Maureen O’Mara’s decision not to respond to Spencer Drury’s letter is notable, though – it’s normally considered a breach of protocol to leave non-political council officers to write what are political letters.

At July’s council meeting, O’Mara claimed some traders supported the scheme because it gave them certainty about whether they could place items on the street.

When a front page story about the issue in the Mercury was mentioned, she responded: “I must admit I don’t read the Mercury, so I have no idea what’s on its front page.”

However, away from her bully pulpit in the town hall, she has evidently become rather shy about justifying the scheme, which will affect many traders in her Greenwich West ward, and the way it has been introduced. (A petition has been set up against the scheme.)

Greenwich Council’s forecourt licences start from £7 per square metre per week, with a £35 application fee. Lewisham’s start from £5.50 with a £30 fee, with similar charges in Bromley. Bexley charges up to £75 per month, but exempts smaller businesses.

9.40am update: A street trading policy has been quietly snuck onto the council website, but with no opportunities for councillors to discuss or debate it. Load the PDF into a web browser, and you’ll see it appears to have been adapted from Ealing Council.

Greenwich Council admits Run To The Beat ‘errors’

The first Run The Beat in 2008. The route’s changed since – don’t know about the outfits.

The Greenwich councillor in charge of overseeing last Sunday’s Run To The Beat half-marathon has admitted “errors” were made in the way the event, which closed off great swathes of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich, had been handled.

Environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara told a full meeting of Greenwich Council that “things could have been done a lot better this year in terms of speaking to residents”.

The event, a commercial enterprise held by sports management firm IMG and sponsored by Nike, took place for the fifth time last weekend, but the only notice residents had was a densely-worded list of road closures, with a map appearing separately in the council’s weekly newspaper.

Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty told the council that the race had been given the nickname “the siege of Westcombe” due to the lengthy road closures, effectively sealing off that part of Blackheath as well as other areas.

Referring to the answer given to an earlier public question on the race, Cllr Brighty said there had been no proper public consultation and any plans to review the race with IMG would just see the issue “kicked into the long grass”.

In response, Cllr O’Mara – whose full-time cabinet post includes overseeing Run To The Beat – said: “I now know more about Run To The Beat than I ever wanted to know about Run To The Beat.”

“But errors were made this year. It’s about speaking to residents about what roads will be closed, and giving them much more notice.

“This forthcoming session with IMG is not about kicking stuff into the long grass. 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.”

She added only two complaints were made about the licensing applications for sound stages – although no consultation is needed for road closures if they get Government backing, which RTTB did.

“Run To The Beat seems to create more trouble than the [London] Marathon, so there are questions to be asked about how much earlier members and officers can engage with organisers.”

You can hear all of the exchange between Geoff Brighty and Maureen O’Mara here, although the quality isn’t great:

It’s all welcome – the serious question is what the area gets out of RTTB, and it’s debatable whether there’s any real benefit other than to IMG and Nike – but Maureen O’Mara’s concession that things had gone wrong came out in a torturous manner. The public question Geoff Brighty picked up on actually came from me, inspired by the responses I’d had from the posts on this blog. Curiously, O’Mara’s written response to me was very different – basically, bland council officer-speak which didn’t really answer the question.

When you ask a question at a council meeting, you get to ask a verbal supplementary question, so I thought I’d point out this out as well as the grumbles from her Labour colleagues too.

Nobody put me up to it – it just perplexed me that they’d been ignored, and hadn’t made much of a secret about their bad feeling about the event.

Funny how she changed her mind and admitted all kinds of errors within about 15 minutes of that exchange.

And that it took an intervention from a Conservative, not one of her Labour colleagues, for her to admit all kinds of things had gone wrong. It’d have been easier if she’d been more frank earlier on. Or maybe even listened to the party colleagues she falsely accused of putting someone up to ask questions on her behalf.

This stuff isn’t hard, is it?

But hey, as she told a planning meeting in the summer: “This is Greenwich, and we do not do this in Greenwich.”

Invasion of the weeds: Greenwich councillor says sorry

A senior Greenwich councillor has apologised for the weeds springing up across the area, blaming failings by the firm contracted to apply weedkiller across the borough’s pavements.

Environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara said the council was having to bring a new contractor in to finish the job after foot-high plants started to appear in some parts of the borough.

“I apologise to the residents of the borough – the political buck stops with me,” she told last night’s Greenwich Council meeting.

“We didn’t get it right this year, and when you don’t get it right, you should say so, and get it sorted out, which is what we’re doing.”

In a written answer to Conservative councillor Matt Clare, she said a company had been engaged in March to apply a treatment called Dual to the borough’s streets.

But while the treatment is known to be effective, 853 understands the unnamed company – which was selected because it offered the cheapest tender – only applied it to existing weeds – but not as a preventative measure on other parts of the pavement, leading to the green growths springing up across local streets. (The photos here were taken in Harraden Road, Kidbrooke, on Thursday afternoon.)

“The unsatisfactory quality of the treatment was primarily due to the way in which the weed killing chemicals were being applied by the contractor, rather than the product itself,” Cllr O’Mara said, adding that a new contractor was at work and should complete the job within two weeks.

“Our own teams will also continue to undertake additional weed control works on some sites, and will gradually remove dead weeds as part of the street cleansing operation.”

It’s the second time in just over two years Cllr O’Mara has had to apologise for weed-strewn streets – in July 2009 she said sorry after the council struggled with adapting to new regulations on weedkillers.

Invited by Conservative councillors to pose for a photograph for Greenwich Time with the weeds in their Eltham wards, and to repeat the apology in the council weekly, joked: “I don’t want to stand with inanimate objects.

“If I get a look at these weeds, I’ll pull them out myself.”

Cllr O’Mara added: “I am sure my apology will be noted in the local press.”

However, neither the Mercury nor the News Shopper were present at last night’s meeting.

Hear Conservative leader Spencer Drury discuss the issue with Maureen O’Mara:

Also at last night’s meeting:

Hear council leader Chris Roberts discuss the council leader and chief executive getting VIP passes for the Olympic Games with Conservative Adam Thomas:

Chris Roberts also defended Greenwich Time under questioning from Conservative Matt Clare:

Flytipping in Charlton

Funny, the morning after I posted about the state of Floyd Road, there’s a whole load of crap dumped on my doorstep… this was Priolo Road, Charlton, at midday today.

The council truck came within about two minutes of me calling them – now that’s service! – well, someone had already reported it. I suspect the dumpers planned to use nearby Wellington Gardens, a flytipping blackspot, but since that’s been taken over by Thames Water for its marathon session of roadworks, Priolo Road probably offered a more convenient spot.

This is, unfortunately, what you get when you don’t clean the streets properly – or, to quote the famous US example by James Q Wilson and George L Kenning, fix a broken window:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

And this is exactly what has happened to Charlton over the past few years. The people responsible for this, you might like to know, are council cabinet member for neighbourhood services Maureen O’Mara – whose clean-up of weeds in nearby Highcombe led to them being strewn all over the road – and director of neighbourhood services Jim Wintour. And, of course, you and me, because we’re also responsible for keeping an eye on what goes on in our front yard. However, when the council fails to back us up, the whole system falls apart. I’ll give them some credit for there have been some small improvements in this area in recent weeks – a weekly sweep seems to have reappeared after whole months passed without the street seeing a broom, but even that’s not good enough, with the debris left behind from weekly bin collections left lying around for days.

I appreciate it’s tough for local councils. Across the water, Waltham Forest Council is lambasted for offering cash rewards to people who report litterers and fly-tippers by the Daily Mail, which decides to take the side of vandals because it gives them a chance to have a pop at a local council. Fly-tippers and the like should face the strongest possible punishments – at the very least, the vehicles they use should be confiscated. But in a country led by the opinions of the Daily Mail, the vandal is king, and the person who has the job of cleaning up is the loser.

So, in a climate where a right-wing media backs vandals and a Labour council can’t be arsed to pull its finger out, what can you do? From my experience, here’s some advice on the way to get things done.

1) Don’t e-mail the council – you’ll be left waiting days. This is where it all went wrong for me in the first place. Greenwich Council routes all its e-mails through a “contact centre”, which merely sends the e-mail to another inbox where it is likely to be left ignored. Unlike neighbouring Lewisham, communication via internet is not its strong point. Using web service FixMyStreet.com records the complaint in public, but council staff don’t seem to have internet access so can’t see photos uploaded there. If you e-mail the council, you’re wasting your time. (Take a look at the Love Lewisham blog to see how our neighbours are light years ahead of Greenwich – putting power into the hands of people.)

2) Call the council instead – 020 8921 4661. It’s a pain if you’re at work far outside the area, like I used to be, but the only real way to get a response is to call direct. The call centre staff, on the whole, are pretty good. They are, however, only a call centre so can’t answer queries, but can put you through elsewhere or, better still, give you a name.

3) Try to get the name of a council officer. If you can get someone’s name, you’re likely to be going places with your query. Drop them a friendly e-mail – firstname.surname@greenwich.gov.uk – and explain you’ve been having problems. Chances are, they probably haven’t been made aware of what’s been going on. One senior officer even told me he’d divert through my street on his way home to make sure it’d been cleaned.

4) Contact your local councillors. I give Greenwich councillors a lot of stick here, particularly Labour ones, because I don’t understand how they can stand under the banner of a local party that’s failing the borough so badly. But politicians are here today, gone tomorrow types, and they may well be hanging on and waiting for some more enlightened leadership under the same banner – some of those councillors were around when left-wing firebrands were running the place and getting ratecapped, and some may plan to be around when it isn’t sucking up to developers, publishing embarrassing propaganda rags and not clearing rubbish. In short – they may hate the system as much as you. And they can help. Drop all three a friendly line and see what responses you get. They may not be your political allies, but they can get things gone. Give them a chance.

5) Go public. All of the above fail? Start a blog. Didn’t you hear hyperlocal blogs are the new in-thing? Write to local papers (I know the Mercury and News Shopper aren’t brilliant, but they’ll appreciate the story ideas). Contact rival political parties if your leanings turn in those directions. If you can cause some embarrassment, some aggravation for someone down the line, you’ll eventually get the job done.

6) Go back to square one.
You’ll have to do this from time to time. But it can be worth it, even if it’s arse-grindingly dull, and you end up feeling like the community pedant.

7) Use your vote in the next council election. Remember – you have the ultimate sanction over what gets done, and you’re due to get it on 6 May 2010. If all five options above don’t work, and you stay at home that day… don’t complain about a crappy council again.

Got any other tips? I figured I should try a more constructive angle on this issue, so it’ll be good to hear other people’s experiences.