Got a burning question to ask Greenwich Council about the Olympics? With just days to go until the biggest events to hit Greenwich and Woolwich since the war (and with probably only a smidgeon less disruption), what will “Royal” Greenwich’s councillors be discussing when they hold their last pre-Games meeting on Tuesday? What questions will they be putting on our behalf?
None. For south-east London’s democratic champions have decided to shift their meeting forward by a day, and ban the public from asking questions of leader Chris Roberts or his cabinet. So the Olympics parking problems, the state of Greenwich Park and other worries certainly won’t be discussed.
In May, the council agreed to hold its final meeting on 25 July. But at some point last month, they changed their minds, and shifted the meeting to a day before.
The reason for the change? The launch of Sail Royal Greenwich, which will see a flotilla of tall ships sail up and down the Thames during the Olympics. While it’ll be an amazing sight, I understand all councillors are due to get an invite to what’s billed on its website as “the most stunning corporate entertaining opportunity London has seen for many years”.
So, instead of discussing how best the borough will run while the spotlight of the world is on it, the council’s leadership will be messing about on the river.
But if we allow them Wednesday’s fun and games, what about Tuesday’s meeting? Well, an agreement between Roberts and Conservative leader Spencer Drury means the Tories, the only other party represented on the council, will ask no questions, and there will also be no questions from the public. With a lack of press scrutiny of the council, public questions are often the only way to get information out of Woolwich Town Hall.
I’m told the council has got around this by cancelling Wednesday’s meeting and declaring Tuesday’s a “special” one. The official reason for shutting public questions out is that council officers are “too busy with the Olympics” to draft answers for cabinet members, who are presumably incapable of doing it themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those accept a free drink on a ship.
The compromise agreed by Spencer Drury was that the council would hold a “proper” meeting at the end of September – in recent years, the council leadership has granted itself a three-month summer break between meetings – so all those urgent questions about the Olympics can wait until a fortnight after the Paralympics are over instead.
You might have scoffed when I went on about Greenwich councillors ignoring Blackheath Bluecoat pupils at a meeting last year to go off and drink wine. But this is just another incident which gives the impression that they’re not really comfortable with the public they’re meant to be representing.
There’s 51 councillors on Greenwich Council, all trousering a £10,000 allowance, half of whom take home more in “special responsibility” extras. As the Olympics approach, it’s worth asking your local councillors what they did to represent your worries about the event – and keeping the answer in mind when the next set of elections come around.
3pm update: Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher insists his party did not agree to the blocking of public questions. Separately, I’ve also been told the Sail Royal Greenwich launch the council cancelled its original meeting for only runs from 5-7pm – so what was wrong with the rest of the evening?