Greenwich Council funds Peninsula Festival after denying it


Something this website has missed over the past couple of months is the upturn in fortunes for the Peninsula Festival – after being comprehensively refused licences in September, plans for concerts on a patch of land between the Pilot pub and the A102 were approved last December, proposals for a campsite have also been backed at the second attempt, while a licensing application for the beach at Delta Wharf comes up before councillors next week. (One interesting change to the beach plan is that that it becomes for invited guests only during the Olympics.)

All of this was due to be at no cost to local taxpayers. Indeed, those promises came right here on this site. In March 2011, I made a reference in a comment to Greenwich Council’s leisure cabinet member John Fahy being the man “in charge of funding the Peninsula Festival”. After all, the publicity for the event was emblazoned with council logos, something which was criticised at the original licensing hearing.

He quickly shot back: “Darryl being naughty again. Greenwich Council is not funding the Peninsula Festival. This is a private sector initiative which is warmly welcomed.”

Indeed, he reaffirmed this later for good measure: “I repeat,there is no funding from the Council to the Peninsula Festival.”

About six weeks later, I interviewed Peninsula Festival founder Frank Dekker, in a piece published in May. He told me: “The council have been very clear from the start – ‘we haven’t got money for this kind of thing’. We have accepted that, and said if you haven’t got money, help us in whichever way you can.”

Fast forward seven months, and things have changed somewhat. On Tuesday, a council scrutiny committee will examine the council’s decision to lavish funds on various cultural events during this Olympic year.

Among the events getting cash? The Peninsula Festival, to the tune of £50,000.

Who made that decision to fund the Peninsula Festival? None other than John “there is no funding from the Council to the Peninsula Festival” Fahy.

Was this the plan all along? Or has something new come up? One thing’s definite, though. When a senior Greenwich councillor calls you “naughty”, you know you’re on the right track.

31 comments

  1. Very interesting update. According to an FOI request I submitted a few weeks ago the Council is planning to commission the company to provide access to the facilities for local people this summer. Yet it would seem from your blog that this commission was undertaken a while ago and the Scrutiny Committee is now examining that decision. I sent the FOI in as I got wind from someone connected to Peninsula Festival that they had already been paid some money last year. Me thinks Greenwich Council is fibbing once again, I wonder when the invoice was dated? The FOI response is shown below.

    Also if the commission is to provide access for local people why is the beach going to be invited guests only? Greenwich cronies only the sign should read, whilst local residents look on from the other side of the chain-link fence.

    FOI response from Alan Soskin, Corporate Information Manager

    1. Oranje Camping is a separate company and the Council has not given any financial support in the form of a grant or loan to this organisation.

    2. Orange Connections trade as Peninsula Festivals. The Council has not given any financial support in the form of a grant or a loan to this organisation. The Council is planning to commission the company to provide access for local people to their festival/live site facilities and access for the Council to the Business Village during the Olympic Games in summer 2012 to the value of £50,000. This is as part of the Council’s commissioning of festivals and entertainment during this period from a number of organisations.

  2. So, if I get this right —

    the payment of a total of 50,000 pounds from Greenwich Council to Peninsular Festivals is for the right of Greenwich ratepayers and their families to attend the festival. It is not a grant or loan, but a payment for access.

    The FoI reply is interesting in that it says “we are planning ….. to a total of 50,000 pounds.” This use of English leaves the option open that some money has already been paid, but not the entire sum.

    We’re playing with words here. The Festival is not recieving ‘funding’ it is being ‘commissioned’. Some of the ‘commission’ may have been already.

    Can we have this in plain English please?

    Also, does the 50,000 quid provide people access to the banks of the River Thames courtesy of a Dutchman? The last time the Dutch did this they buggered up Chatham and prompted Pepys to head off to Deptford!

    http://www.pepysdiary.com/archive/1667/06/10/

  3. “Tony Blair and Stanley Johnson like their Gewürztraminer – in a tent!”

    – This photo brought to you by the Netherlands’ Vineyards and Vintners Association

  4. Still absolutely no engagement from the Orange fellows with local residents, either on the peninsula or on the Isle of Dogs opposite the beach. Other than information on this blog, and information I received only becuase I had objected to the planning obligation, all I have seen is the one page planning application.

    I would expect that all residents within the festival excessive noise zone be given free access as – there’s no realistic prospect of getting to sleep at a sensible time so we might as well enjoy the shows… that is assuming Mr Dekker is more successful in organising a good show than he is with community relations.

  5. As Darryl said, (this from the licence application) “In the period during the Olympic Games (28th July – 12th August) the site to be restricted access to private functions by invitation only.”

    What are Greenwich council taxpayers paying 50,000 quid for??

    Where does the ‘community element’ come into something which is by invitation only??

  6. My comment wasn’t meant as a moan at the council, rather to the organisers. It really wouldn’t hurt to do a leaflet drop around GMV setting out the plans in a clear and honest way to everyone without requiring engagement with the licensing process. Other than a small closure of the Thames path the cable car construction isn’t bothering anyone bit they took the trouble to advertise and hold an open day setting out the timetable and disruptions etc.

  7. I don’t get it. They don’t have the cash to fund the annual fireworks that are enjoyed by all the locals but they have 50k to throw at a bunch of Dutch campers?

    It’s behavior like this that makes people wonder if there is any funny business going on behind the scenes….

  8. Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. there was no intention , on my part to mislead. The position in March was correct so my comments were correct. The fact that 853 has picked up on this issue demonstrates the fact that all of the funding decisions are open to scrutiny and rightly so. My role in signing off financial support follows collective discussions and agreement.

    All of the funding for The Greenwich Festivals was determined three years ago. Grants to those organisations involved in promoting this exciting programme are within the financial envelope was agreed then. We are delighted that the Council contribution beinga small element of the overall spend helps to create a quality programme enjoyed by all who attend.

    Promoting the Borough as a a cultural destination maximises benefits for the local business community in a major way. We complete with other major Festivals,Brighton being the closest example. If you quantify the financial contribution made by the promoters of events the Council contribution is minimal. I remain convinced that residents will have a great Summer. I must learn to keep my big mouth shut,particularly when comments come back to haunt you.

  9. The words of Cllr Fahy:

    “All of the funding for The Greenwich Festivals was determined three years ago” and “The position in March was correct so my comments were correct”

    If funding was agreed three years ago, how can your comment that “There is no funding from the council to the Peninsula Festival” in March 2011 be correct?

    It might be me being thick but which is it? Because as far as I can see, it can’t be both.

  10. See you all at the licensing hearing then?? and remember that to be allowed to speak and ask questions you need to have sent a submission in – and if you want me to speak you have to say so in the letter. See you there!

  11. Congratulations Councillor Fahy! You’ve managed to incorporate every rhetorical feint, blind, dodge, duck, ruse and subterfuge from the Ambitious Local Politician’s Handbook – in one comment post! Truly magisterial!

    For the historical record – and as source material for the younger generation of Ambitious Local Politicians everywhere – let’s look at those power plays, one by one:

    “Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics.”

    – Justify your actions by A Great Man’s famous quote. If Harold Wilson found that the sands of politics shifted under his feet every week, how can you possibly be expected to stick to your stated position for SEVEN WHOLE MONTHS?!

    “there was no intention , on my part to mislead. The position in March was correct so my comments were correct.”

    – The ‘correct meme’: repeat it often and people might believe you were correct. For example, “Technically, I was correct, as I said the Council had not funded this project – even if I accidentally left out the word “yet”. I’ll have to correct you again if you think I was not correct.”

    “The fact that 853 has picked up on this issue demonstrates the fact that all of the funding decisions are open to scrutiny and rightly so.”

    – Emphasise the positive: in this case, the “transparency” of the Council’s fiscal accounting rules. Imply that you are responsible for those rules.

    “My role in signing off financial support follows collective discussions and agreement.”

    – Blame others from the present. Ensure that you are not held personally responsible. Best to blame named colleagues, but if that’s not feasible, blame ‘the collective’ more generally.

    “All of the funding for The Greenwich Festivals was determined three years ago. Grants to those organisations involved in promoting this exciting programme are within the financial envelope was agreed then.”

    – Blame others from the past. This is an excellent means of distracting interested observers, who will have to dig around to find the old authorisations, fail, get bored and – if you’re lucky! – shut up and go away.

    “We are delighted that the Council contribution beinga small element of the overall spend helps to create a quality programme enjoyed by all who attend.”

    – Emphasise the positive – again – while downplaying the actual costs to Council tax payers. For example, “This is going to be great for YOU – and it’s going to cost you ALMOST nothing!”

    “Promoting the Borough as a a cultural destination maximises benefits for the local business community in a major way.”

    – Stress the benefits to local business. This always pleases ‘the middling sorts’ and makes you appear both business friendly and financially savvy. Particularly important in times of economic stress.

    “We complete with other major Festivals,Brighton being the closest example.”

    – Scare people with the competition. Best to invent a rapacious ‘Other’ who threatens livelihoods, values, etc. This stratagem has worked wonders for the United States and bankers in recent years. It is therefore likely to work well in, for example, debates over local Council funding for social events.

    “If you quantify the financial contribution made by the promoters of events the Council contribution is minimal.”

    – Refer to all private companies enaged in business with the Council as “promoters” and their financial investment as a “contribution”. This will trick some people into believing that this is a charity event. Again, stress how little the Council is actually paying said private company.

    “I remain convinced that residents will have a great Summer.”

    – Repeat positive statements frequently. If winter, and particularly if cold, refer to warmer times.

    “I must learn to keep my big mouth shut,particularly when comments come back to haunt you.”

    – Suggest that your previously stated policy or position – which has since been reversed – was in fact just a slip of the tongue. This humanises you.

    – Finally, be sure to retain the aloof and ever-so-slightly-aggrieved tone throughout, while obliquely infantilising your interlocutor. Calling them “naughty” often works well.

  12. Councillor Fahy is streets ahead of other Cabinet members in his willingness to talk to residents.. I hope he continues to keep his perfectly-formed mouth open, and one day possibly emulate Geoffrey Howe as well as Harold Wilson.

    How much of the Greenwich Festivals money is being spent in Eltham (or Thamesmead, or Plumstead)?

  13. I’m glad Cllr. Fahy has responded to this story – as he says, the funding decision is open to scrutiny, and as an opposition Greenwich Conservatives will be exercising that right of scrutiny next Tuesday, having “called in” the decision for consideration by the Overview and Scrutiny sub-committee. Cllr Fahy has been generous in briefing me on this issue over the last year, but there are questions that need asking in a public forum, and I’m glad we will now have that opportunity.

  14. Wow. It’s an interesting story and it’s great to see local people like Darryl holding our representatives to account. It’s also great to see local Councillors responding directly and it’s quite unusual. Which makes it a shame that answers like the one given by Franklin above – however well-intentioned and full of genuine moral outrage – make it all the easier for reps, who unlike Councillor Fahy have never engaged with blogs such as this, to write bloggers and their readers off as internet crazies.

    This isn’t Watergate. It would be interesting to know why and how the council (which is a group of people with different opinions I assume, not just John Fahy) were persuaded to change their ideas on funding for this project. If we keep the debate civil the maybe there is a chance we can find out.

  15. Thanks Paul. Calls for civility are always welcome, although I’m not sure it’s necessary or justified in this instance. (Also, I appreciate being called an “internet crazy” – makes me feel like a real rebel.)

    If you explore some of London’s other ‘hyper-local’ blogs, I think you’ll find that it’s really not that unusual for local councillors to engage in debate. That said, I wholeheartedly agree that it’s great that Cllrs Mills, Fahy, Webbewood and others are willing to engage in the debates and discussions across several of Greenwich’s excellent blogs.

    My objection to Cllr Fahy’s comment above is based on (1) his denial of responsibility for the change in policy on funding this event while (2) simultaneously claiming credit for the event’s success, all while (3) not actually answering Darryl’s perfectly valid questions or addressing the other commenters’ objections.

    With regard to the tone: in my view the reports and subsequent debates that take place on our local blogs now represent the only real way for the borough’s electorate to hold the Council to account, given the local Labour Party machine’s dominance of the borough and the emasculation of the local press. I therefore think that it is perfectly legitimate to interrogate, criticise and even ridicule local councillors’ comments in these fora – particularly when they are full of bluster and self-congratulation.

  16. It’s a fair response Franklin (yours I mean). I think the tone in your original post was misjuded. However, given that when I responded to it I thought there was only one councillor speaking on this post and it now turns out there are three (Councillor Fletcher posted while I was still thinking whether ‘internet crazies’ was a bit strong and I didn’t know Paul Webbewood was also a councillor) it seems they are made of sterner stuff then I give them credit for and they are able and willing to take what you – and others – choose to throw at them.

    As I said, there are questions to answer here for sure, although we obviously disagree on how self-serving or otherwise Cllr Fahy’s comments were. Hopefully he will come back soon and tell you to stick it up your kazoo, in the nicest possible terms of course.

  17. I’d prefer it if Cllr Fahy actually answered the questions, but hey! A man’s gotta dream.

    PS. Four councillors: ‘Mary’ can only be Mary Mills from Peninsula ward, Greenwich’s hardest working, most responsive and honest, and thus most-loved councillor.

  18. Many thanks for all of the comments made today. For the record the Festival funding is within my portfolio and I accept full responsibility for the decisions taken. There is a collective view which forms policy and the funding is signed off by me.

    The three year funding budget represents the total sum and funding is granted on the basis of applications received. The basis of funding is dependent on the quality of the programme on offer. The Peninsula Festival forms a key element of the Greenwich Festivals and a nominal grant was made on that basis. There will be an integrated community engagement programme bringing maximum benefit to all residents.

    Of course we are accountable to the community and I am very happy to engage with residents who have concerns or want to make a comment or suggestion on the Festival programme or any other issue. I am only a phone call away for those who want to arrange a discussion.

  19. Thank you for coming on here, Cllr Fahy – it does set an example for others to follow, even if there are a few slips between cup and lip!

    I think the one thing that baffles people like me is the idea of £50k being “a nominal sum” – especially when we’re seeing valued services and events cut that are costing less. I think we’ve all expected the council to spend a lot on Olympics-related things this year – but the switch from non-funding to “oh, we’ll have some community engagement for £50,000” strikes an odd note when so much else is being cut.

  20. The funding is a one off ring fenced funding pot which will not exist after this year. Funding to other Cultural Projects are more than that provided for Peninsula Festivals. It does seem complicated but happy to sit down and discuss it.

  21. I would also like to thank Cllr Fahy, and the other councillors, for taking the time and making the effort to read and reply to the comments on this blog. I don’t think that we yet have a meeting of minds on this particular topic, but it’s a good sign about the health of local democracy that we, the electorate, can engage our councillors in lively public debate issues of local concern.

  22. The Licensing application fee for all of this would have been around £25k mark – but the Council… ahem, sorry, the Royal Borough would have only been permitted to keep (most of) this had the application(s) been successful.

    I wonder then, if the decision to fund the festivals was, in part, designed to quash any accusations of conflict of interest? E.g. “You’re only granting this so you get paid!”.

    Incidentally I think investment into these events is, generally, a good thing. Though I can’t help but feel a tinge of sympathy for the residents of the Millennium Village, and those across the water in Tower Hamlets. I do hope those Noise Management Plans are effective!

  23. Still intrigued to know what the community elements are that cost £50k. Looking at the website now it appears that it is Mark Wright hosting a Westlife tribute band and a big TV. Not a sparkling legacy by anyone’s standards

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