Greenwich Council has refused to investigate a possible conflict of interest revealed by leader Chris Roberts’ threatening voicemail, where he demands that his administration takes the decision on whether or not the Run to the Beat half-marathon goes ahead.
Roberts is the chair of Greenwich Starting Blocks, a charity founded in 2007 to distribute funds to young sporting hopefuls in the borough.
Each year, GSB receives an allocation of free places from Run to the Beat, which began in 2008 and has continued despite vehement objections from local councillors along its route because of the disruption it causes with its circular course.
This year’s race was branded “shockingly organised” by participants after runners had to pass through a narrow gate at Woolwich Barracks and end the race on an uphill stretch at Greenwich Park.
Roberts is the public face of Greenwich Starting Blocks, whose 2009 report to the Charity Commission said it benefited from “considerable sums” from runners taking part in Run to the Beat. The charity features regularly in the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, usually with a quote from Roberts.
In September, this website revealed the existence of a threatening voicemail from Roberts left on cabinet member John Fahy’s mobile phone where he insisted that the decision on 2014’s race be made by his administration before May’s election. Roberts has previously indicated he would stand down as leader in May.
The story was picked up by the News Shopper, which published the voicemail on its website.
“Let me be clear to you, if you do not want to take decisions in the remainder of this administration, I expect you to resign from the cabinet.
“No decisions are going to be postponed in this administration. Absolutely none.
“If you want to paralyse this administration and be part of it, it won’t happen, so I expect you to either resign from the cabinet or to get on and do the job.
“I’ve got to carry on doing my job and therefore no decisions will be postponed.
Absolutely none will be postponed. Get that through your thick skull, John. It will not happen.
“And I’m not having you playing these games. I will remove your portfolio, you will have no portfolio, and you can be doing nothing.
“But we are not deferring decisions. Get that through your fucking thick skull, John.”
A standards board investigation into the voicemail is yet to report back.
Greenwich Council’s constitution tells councillors they must not make decisions on matters which could benefit “any organisation, school governing body or outside committee or trust which you are appointed to by the Royal Borough” – which suggests Roberts has a clear conflict of interest when it comes to Run to the Beat.
But when asked to investigate, even if just to clear up the matter, Greenwich Council has declined.
Chief executive Mary Ney says there is “no evidence” to support a complaint that Roberts directs whether or not Run to the Beat happens – despite the existence of the voicemail in which Roberts insists a decision on the event will take place under his administration.
In fact, the existence of the voicemail is not even acknowledged in Ney’s response, which she said was guided by the opinions of the “monitoring officer” (head of legal Russell Power).
Ney also says Roberts was not on the licensing committee which gave the race the go-ahead, road closures were decided by a council officer, as Roberts has declared his chairmanship of GSB, deputy leader Peter Brooks is “the lead member for Run to the Beat” – even though it has been environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara that has answered public and councillors’ questions on it in the past.
Whatever you think of Run to the Beat – and the event has its fans – the lack of transparency over the decisions to ignore councillors’ complaints has aroused public suspicion over Greenwich Council’s motives in approving the race.
By refusing to investigate Chris Roberts’ insistence that his administration takes a decision on next year’s race, Mary Ney has just made the smell over Greenwich Council and Run to the Beat a whole lot worse.