The cost of cutting short a Greenwich Council meeting? £1,459

I’ve had a mixed reaction to my story here a couple of weeks back about Greenwich councillors cutting short their first full meeting in three months to drink wine at a ceremony to honour one of their own. On 26 October, a full council meeting was chopped back to an hour, with no questions asked of the council leader, so former Conservative leader Peter King could be awarded the freedom of the borough to mark his 32 years on the council.

This was in full sight of Blackheath Bluecoat pupils – whose school faces closure – and other campaigners, who had gathered to raise issues that had built up in the three months since the councillors had last met, a period which saw the worst civil disturbances in the borough’s history as well as further concerns about job cuts among council staff. Not a single elected representative, neither Labour nor Conservative, tabled a verbal question of the council’s leadership, as the mayor worked to keep the meeting short, with the exception of a couple of queries about finance and polling stations.

Councillors were greeted by demonstrators as they entered the meeting, and once again as they left for what was, to all intents and purposes, a private bash in the new Woolwich Centre across the road.

Everyone I’ve spoken to outside the council finds this whole tale outrageous. A few inside the council are embarrassed – although I wouldn’t expect a public apology soon.

A couple of councillors have raised complaints. Culture cabinet member John Fahy said my post was “totally mischievous and distorted” – well, I only reported what happened. That said, I’m glad he responded.

The other morning, there was a little discussion with Greenwich West Labour councillor Matt Pennycook on Twitter. Again, good to talk to him about all this.

http://twitter.com/#!/mtpennycook/status/133507552657936385

I responded that shutting down debate to head over the road to drink wine was indefensible.

http://twitter.com/#!/mtpennycook/status/133510094372610048

Which is actually true – but the formal consultation only started this week. Even if a councillor stood up to make a show of concern about events, to raise a question about the consultation, it would have been better than nothing, especially with a load of schoolkids watching.

But anyway, I asked, weren’t there other things happening that should have been discussed?

http://twitter.com/#!/mtpennycook/status/133511116348325889

I can think of many people who devote their lives to their communities, but they don’t have parties held in their honour at the expense of democratic debate. Could the council have not held their bash on another night, to allow for a free and open debate about the issues that affect a quarter of a million people? However, by the time I asked the question, the good Cllr Pennycook was evidently occupied with something more pressing, for he didn’t respond.

One question remains – how much did this revelry cost? I’ve got the answer£1,459 for the catering. No word on staffing costs.

So, if there were 120 guests (councillors and their guests, council officers, plus Mr King’s family and friends) what’s that, £12 each spent on them? And this was on an evening when the councillors should have been representing us in a public meeting.

Anyway, this shouldn’t be about what I think, this should be about what you think. So here’s a poll. If any 853 readers who live in the borough of Greenwich have been in touch with their councillors and asked if they went, and if they can justify this outlay, I’d be interested to know what their response was.

Friday update: A full list of councillors who went is on the council’s website.

11 comments

  1. These are the same Blackheath Bluecoats pupils who drove Greenwich Council’s director of education and her team from a public meeting last month with shouts of “get out”, are they?

  2. From what I understand it was not the pupils who instigated the departure of the director of education from that meeting.

  3. “After a rush of comments on the original Blackheath Bluecoats closure story, I thought I’d pop up to tonight’s public meeting to see what was happening. I expected lots of fury, but I didn’t expect to see Greenwich Council’s director of education walk out to cries of “get out!” from students. Because that’s what happened…”

    – Darryl reporting here on 853 on 17 October, 2011

  4. What do you expect? This is more of the same.

    We have Danny Thorpe, councillor for Shooters Hill, who was elected for four years, but spent one year of that in Australia!

    This person is still a councillor for Shooters Hill. He didn’t bother to tell the electorate at the last council elections about his history as a councillor.

  5. For anybody who hasn’t seen it – This weeks StarLetter in Newsshopper –

    I was totally disgusted with the response of Councillors towards the Blackheath & Bluecoats action group. I was sat in the gallery ready to ask my questions regarding the GSPlus Cuts and the truely appalling plans to transfer the Welfare Rights Service to this For Profit Organsation.

    When the children, parents & Teachers started to come in to the gallery, the children were very impressed with the setting, I overheard one to say “Its just like parliament”. They were very excited and expectant that they would at least have some effect on the councillors sat below, that some sort of debate would be had about the proposals. This did not happen.

    All this enthusiasm for democracy and hopes that their voices would be heard, was totally dismissed by the Mayor Jim Gilman, who when their very gallant spokesperson, someone who obviously was not used to getting up and speaking in public, an ordinary parent with no other political axe grind, who must have spent hours preparing her statement sat down, she and they were dismissed with a curt “noted”.

    Councillor Gilman & friends should be deeply ashamed of the example they gave they gave to those young people.

    When people receive this sort of response, this lesson in so called democracy, is it any wonder some feel that the only option is to take to the streets.
    Trish Browne

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