Greenwich Council gets set for the next mayor’s booze-up

It’s that time of year. News has emerged from Woolwich Town Hall that, once again, Greenwich Council is planning to celebrate the inauguration of another new mayor with another lavish bash at the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall. The event’s scheduled for 22 May.

Like most boroughs, Greenwich’s mayor is elected by councillors to be a figurehead for the borough and to chair full council meeting. Current mayor Jim Gillman – a Labour party stalwart in his mid-70s – indicated he was opposed to having a ceremony in his honour last year, after this website revealed the £30,000 cost of 2010’s event. But he eventually backtracked and went along with 2011’s ceremony, which cost £12,362 after the Old Royal Naval College’s management was persuaded to let the council have the painted hall for nothing. (That’s a little more than the £10,000 cabinet member John Fahy claimed it cost.)

While he and his wife, fellow councillor and twice ex-mayor Janet, exert huge influence in the Greenwich and Eltham Labour parties, Gillman’s spell as mayor has largely seen him act as a stooge for council leader Chris Roberts. Indeed, the couple’s backing has bolstered Roberts’ position. Council meetings were often held up while the mayor struggled to follow proceedings, with chief executive Mary Ney having to intervene to help him find his place at his final meeting last month.

This year will see current deputy David Grant become mayor. Once one of the small “awkward squad” of councillors who disagreed with the Dear Leader’s style of running the council, the Greenwich West councillor’s rebelliousness has faded since he was handed the chains and badges.

(Indeed, David Grant’s most recent contribution to life in Greenwich was to help block a licensing application for a champagne bar in Greenwich town centre. Punters at Black Vanilla will have to make do with non-alcoholic ice cream instead.)

But how much will his mayor-making cost? As yet, we don’t know – this website understands that the Old Royal Naval College only allowed Greenwich Council free use of the painted hall in 2011 on condition that it paid full whack in 2012. So it could be back up to £30,000 again – but we don’t know that for certain.

What we do know is that Greenwich has already been splashing cash on private booze-ups this year. Taken together, the three royal borough celebration events in February cost a total of £136,162, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act. Of this, £35,000 was recouped by obtaining private sponsorship (it is believed New Wine Church had a role in the Woolwich fireworks).

But £16,100 of this was spent on private functions at the celebrations in Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham, with catering accounting for £7,498 of the cost. Greenwich has not yet answered a question about who was invited to these events.

We do, though, know who was invited to last year’s mayor-making. This website has obtained the invite list for 2011’s mayor-making. It contains over 430 people, including every Greenwich councillor, senior council officers, MPs, police and church figures and a number of people from high-profile businesses in the borough.

The list of those invited last to get a free dinner at Greenwich taxpayers’ expense includes…

Now, for a start, let me make it clear that there is absolutely no allegation of impropriety here. For a start, we don’t know how many of these people actually went – a fair number of councillors have boycotted the event, for example. And of course, a fair number of Greenwich Labour friends, hangers-on and others are to be expected. But this does show who matters in Greenwich Council’s world. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve found those “key stakeholders” they keep going on about.

The first, striking thing is the large numbers of faith groups represented here. If you want to get in with the council, get God. There’s no room for atheists or humanists here, but the borough deans get a bigger say instead, and a free dinner. When you’re boozing away thousands of pounds of other people’s money, it helps to call on great guardians of morality as Dr Tayo to ease your conscience.

It also shows how close the council is to several organisations and individuals who should be scrutinising its actions. Should the council be buying dinner for the person who audits its finances by law? Should those who are meant to checking all is above board at the town hall be taking drinks off those they should be keeping an eye on?

And finally, there’s a group of companies and organisations who will have applied to the council for planning permission, or licences, over recent years. Or they might be organisations bidding for contracts or funding. Four invites for Berkeley Homes proves the developer’s close relationship with a council which is depending on Kidbrooke Village to be a success. But if, say, you’d recently applied for an alcohol licence for a venue in Greenwich and were turned down, you’d be hacked off to find rival bar owners being wined and dined at the council’s expense, wouldn’t you?

It’s worth remembering that these are businesses already operating in Greenwich. This isn’t cash going on wooing a multinational to set up in the borough and create new jobs – these are outfits already based in the borough, and often ones the council does business with.

That said, conspiracy theories will only ever get you so far – last summer Inc Group was fined £11,500 for safety breaches, and owner Frank Dowling’s relations with the council are said to be glacial. But when you’ve a council with a track record for ignoring the concerns of its residents, viewed in a certain light this kind of event looks very shifty indeed.

When set against the fact that the council is still having to make millions of pounds worth of cutbacks, yet chooses to spend cash on slapping itself and its mates on the back, it just looks immoral. This website will be keeping a close eye on 2012’s event – and those who enjoy themselves at our expense.

15 comments

  1. My daughter works in a nursery in Greenwich borough and was told the mayor was coming to visit recently. She briefed her 2 year olds and when the mayor arrived she had them all sitting on a mat ready to cheer and welcome him. Apparently their nursery wasn’t considered a good enough photo opportunity for Mr Gillman because not only did an ex-mayor arrive to fulfill the engagement, but he totally ignored the nursery children and my daughter. He spent the brief time he was there instructing a photographer which (more photogenic) children from the infants’ school he wanted to be photographed with. The nursery children were left confused and my daughter was fuming. Unfortunately she isn’t allowed to complain about it herself as the nursery is run by Greenwich Council.

  2. The invitees in the “past councillor” section are mainly people who put in a lot of years in the Chamber and there’s no obvious political bias. I don’t know what’s so special about Kuhali Mukherjee (one term councillor for Peninsula Ward 2002-06).

  3. Thanks, Darryl. It’s staggering that vital services are being cut at the moment, our chief executive is one of the highest paid in the land and yet the Council feels free to spend lavishly on an event like this. Perhaps Councillors have yet to realise what MPs were forced to learn a year or two back – the public will only put up with them spending our money on themselves up to a certain limit which is well below one that gives them a lifestyle beyond the reach of most council tax taxpayers. Can you publish a list of councillors who have the scruples not to attend so that we can applaud them?

  4. There will of course be those in Greenwich Labour Party who say ‘Oh come on, lay off good old Jim Gillman. He’s a party stalwart and at that age not fit for criticising as he can’t answer back.’

    In which case, why don’t those who can answer back, Greenwich Labour Party and its officers for one, do so? Where’s the rebuttal? Where’s the media strategy? The council have one corporately and yet the so-called people’s party seem to go all coy and huffy when their raison d’etre or approach is called into question.

    It’s 2012, a lot of the council leadership and Labour Group members won’t be around for much longer, age alone dictates that, and many have been in post for over a decade now. Where’s Labour’s vision for the future, its talent/succession management? If what stands between the people of Greenwich and “divisive Tory rule” in the borough, then where’s Labour’s strategy for keeping in power, given the above makes that less likely to happen as wards fall away under its decline? Lots of questions, but no answers on offer.

    Or perhaps the people of Greenwich can just be content to wait for the next abortive challenge at the Labour Group AGM as the only game in town for a Roberts-free leadership team.

  5. Amy – maybe you should ask your own councillors if they’ve ever been. We could build up a little database.

    Guy Barnett Formula (wonder how many people will get the name?) – if Jim Gillman can’t answer back, I wonder why he’s still a councillor in a marginal seat? Hmmm.

  6. The mention of the New Wine Church is interesting. They seem to have quite a lot of cash, and increasingly influence, and I’ve heard about the homophobia emanating from there and other ‘churches’.

    One clear example of disturbing beliefs is in the website of the church over the road where they describe muslims as satan worshippers and seem to believe in witchcraft and the occult.

  7. I am probably an old-fashioned wet blanket, but in my humble opinion £30,000, £12,000, or even £7,000 is too much for a one-day/one evening celebration of this sort. How can they justify spending that much? And if the venue is the main cost, then why don’t they use council premises – there must be somewhere they could use?

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