So we know Greenwich Council is happy to spend money on a mayoral booze-up instead of contributing its rightful sum to a fireworks party which attracts 100,000 people to the area. We also know that its councillors, both Labour and Conservative, failed to question these priorities when they had the chance last month.
But sooner or later, every penny the council spends will have to come under close scrutiny. Like the pennies spent on creating this iPhone app, whose birth was announced quietly in the back of propaganda weekly Greenwich Time in July. I couldn’t find “Destination Greenwich” in the iTunes Store and forgot about it.
A couple of months later, I found it by accident when searching for the Greenwich Podcast, and downloaded it to take a peek. It’s simply listed as “Greenwich”, under the misleading category “sports”.
It’s a bit underwhelming, to say the least. It seems to be a mini-brochure promoting the borough’s charms in the run-up to the Olympics, with disparate elements of a tourist guide added in top. The font looks a bit cheap and nasty to me, but I’m no designer. However, I am a sub-editor, and I know the text could have done with a second read-through, for there’s some stupid mistakes and clunky phrasing in there.
The tourist guide features a rather nice voiceover – it’s easily the highlight of the application – but the spread of “treasures” around the borough is insultingly thin.
Beyond Greenwich itself (and a clipper ship which is partly in storage in Chatham) the only other place in the spotlight is the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich Common. No mention of other attractions, like Eltham Palace, the Thames Barrier, Charlton House or the Firepower museum – possibly because none of these have anything to with the Olympics. But then again, nor does the Cutty Sark.
There’s also a video extolling the borough’s virtues – see if you can spot the featured institution which isn’t in the borough – and a what’s on listing which isn’t exactly packed. Unless you like salsa classes.
So who the hell is this aimed at? I’m guessing this is offered abroad to potential investors who know nothing about the area. But why would they be interested in salsa classes? It’s too Olympics-heavy to appeal to tourists (at the moment), and why was it promoted to borough residents when none of what’s in it will exactly surprise people?
Of course, Greenwich Time managed to produce one supposedly-satisfied “customer” in this missive published on 12 October, published in the traditional bottom-right corner of the letters page where curiously pro-council messages regularly appear.
So how much did it cost? I put a Freedom of Information Act request in, and found out after an extended wait. In total, the council spent £5,700 on this. But how many copies have been downloaded? I’ll be amazed if it’s more than a couple of hundred. But there’s no news on that. “Information about downloads is not held by the Council,” I was told.
“We have contacted the developers to see if they can find out about download figures. If they hold this data, and are prepared to release it to us, then I will disclose this to you as a follow-on email.”
The company behind the app is Belarus-based CactusSoft – so much for backing the local digital economy – which may explain some of the strained English used in the guide. It’s very rare for developers to reveal the download figures for their apps, and it’s worrying that Greenwich can’t even get hold of the figures itself – even though public money has been spent on this app. How are we meant to judge if this is £5,700 well sent?
I can’t help thinking the council’s been sold a pup here. It seems to have been commissioned with no clear purpose. If the iPhone app had been an impressive and slick piece of salesmanship, it wouldn’t be such a worry. But it’s a bit of a mess, and I wonder if the only impressive and slick salesmanship was that used in persuading the council to part with five grand. Especially when local iPhone apps are already commercially available.
It’s the same as with the the Olympic PR contracts that have resulted in no bookings for already-iconic Greenwich venues – is the cash the council set aside for Olympic projects really being spent wisely, or are staff and councillors being sold things which will end up having little benefit?
One good thing, though – this blog entry might just double the number of downloads for this mysterious iPhone app…