To Greenwich via Belarus – a £5,700 iPhone app

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.


“Two new hotels and an international cruise liner terminal”? Is that the one at Enderby’s Wharf that hasn’t even applied for planning permission yet? Nothing like a done deal in Greenwich, is 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…

14 comments

  1. As contemptible as our esteemed council is, surely it can’t be denied that this is a good idea (albeit a clumsy initial effort).

    Let this develop, with more options and ideas being added, and we have a Greenwich version of Time Out.

    The council bod administering this needs a kick up the backside to sort out the atrocious spelling and grammar though.

  2. Darryl

    Good spot on the iPhone app. It’s the first I have heard of it, I will look into it at the next Council meeting.

    Can I just raise one point with you, that is you said that:
    “We also know that its councillors, both Labour and Conservative, failed to question these priorities when they had the chance last month.”

    I would just like to point out that I did raise this point; both as a written question and then a verbal follow up. Whilst I didn’t specifically mention the Mayor making ceremony, I did mention Greenwich Time, The non-campaign for the Clippers and added that there were plenty of other examples, The Mayor making ceremony could be one of those. As Conservatives we have made the point for a number of years now that the Mayor making ceremony could be held in the Town Hall, at a much lower cost than hiring the Painted Hall.

    I was surprised that Labour (Cllr P Brookes) said that they were only given two days notice this year. Although the fireworks are annual and the cost to each council is roughly the same so in my view they should have been prepared for it.

    I attended the Fireworks and it was busier this year which can only be a good thing for the local economy.

  3. ”see if you can spot the featured institution which isn’t in the borough”

    I guessed this one before I watched the video and only had to wait 15 seconds before the Greenwich cultural assimilation effect took (and then another shot plus caption at around 1:51.)

  4. btw “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 developers do have this data – its in itunesconnect when they login – and its pretty comprehensive – i can do a screengrab of our app details if its any use

    (data is also availble from a free itunes app but you obviously have to login with your app dev details)

    its obviously been contracted out but someone in the council is responsible for giving them the text – ps an update to correct bugs etc is quick – on average about a 5/6 day turnaround

  5. You can just imagine the committe decision… “we need an iPhone app”… “why”…. “we need an iPhone app”..”what do we want it to do?”…”we need an iPhone app”.. Etc etc got about an hour with the Olympic word sprinkled for justification. A classic case of band wagon jumping with no purpose, no direction and no idea.

  6. It’s a real pity that with the New Ravensbourne College being opened that they couldn’t have developed this app as a joint effort. Surely it would have come in way under the £5700 price tag and it would have been a great ‘Welcome to Greenwich’ opportunity for the College as well.
    Still, why use local people to do local jobs when you can waste money and get someone else to do it in a half arsed way?
    I’m sure Lewisham would have been pleased with a £5000 donation towards the fireworks!!!

  7. Totally agree that this idea is good in principle but poorly executed. I think it’s a legitimate thing for the Council to take the lead on, but totally agree that this should have been given to Ravensbourne as a project. The chance to do the official Greenwich Olympic app would have been a great project and resulted in something a lot more inspiring. I’d have thought that private sponsorship could have provided a bursary to cover the development costs, not least thanks to the free exposure they would have been guaranteed in the Council newspaper. Probably could have asked one of the Olympic sponsors to pay for it.

    In terms of the number of downloads it’s had, I guess you could argue that it’s too early to judge its popularity – the 6 months before the games will be the critical time.

    But that product would not persuade me to set foot in Greenwich.

  8. Sorry for the delays in responding…

    Cllr Alex – this blog’s followed the Blackheath fireworks saga since it began, including your input into the council meeting. But I’m still flabbergasted that the mayor-making ceremony, which I know is a sore point with many, was not brought up.

    Ade – thanks for the offer of help on this. Hopefully the council will be able to get it out of them and make this info publicly available.

    Dazza/Nick – I never thought this could be a Ravensbourne project (I’ve heard a rumour of something like East London Lines though), but I think you’re both spot on.

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