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