Battle for Greenwich Time set to cost £120,000, council admits

Greenwich Council is fighting to keep its weekly newspaper
Greenwich Council is fighting to keep its weekly newspaper

Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland has admitted its legal fight to save its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time is set to cost £120,000.

Hyland accused the government of wanting to “censor democracy” by trying to force the closure of GT, one of only two weekly council papers in the country.

The admission came during Wednesday’s council meeting, when new Conservative leader Matt Hartley pressed her on the costs in a written question.

Hyland revealed the council has spent £30,000 on the action so far – including £22,320 on outside legal advice, with total costs expected to reach £120,000.

The answer also indicates that the council, which claims publishing GT weekly saves it money, is planning to claim that a government ban on publishing its own paper would be against its freedom of expression, as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Greenwich is seeking a judicial review of the decision by former communities secretary Eric Pickles to direct it to close GT, following a new law prohibiting councils from publishing newspapers or magazines more than four times a year.

As well as undercutting ad rates in existing local newspapers, Greenwich Time has been accused of bias and misleading information. The only other council to publish a weekly newspaper, Tower Hamlets, recently saw its elected mayor ejected over charges of corruption.

Hyland told the council chamber: “I’m just amazed, actually, that the Conservative group over there are so against the democracy of Greenwich Time to be untrue, that you will actually support the Department of Communities and Local Government in censoring information going out to residents.

“It is beyond belief, frankly.”

She added that the council would be studying the results of its recent tender for advertising, a possible replacement for GT.

Speaking slowly, she said: “We will make our decisions strategically, and be advised by coun-sel – a QC – and we will take each stage as it comes. We have been assured by our QC that we have a strong case and we expect to win.”

The legal process is set to take some months yet, meaning residents will still get GT for the time being. At the last council meeting in March, Hyland mocked those who signed a petition against the newspaper, accusing them of being Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. “I didn’t know they had so many members,” she said.

Also at Wednesday’s council meeting… a motion protesting about the 53 bus being cut short at Lambeth North turned into a political squabble.

Greenwich Time, 26 May 2015
Greenwich Time talks up the mayor’s party

Hyland also defended the £20,000 private mayor-making event held for new mayor Norman Adams, saying any attempt to open it up to the public would increase costs.

In a written answer to Matt Hartley, she called it “a good opportunity for key players and residents to meet”, adding that “a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the spectrum of Greenwich life were represented at the event”.

“I would be happy to explore ways that the event could be opened up but, should we wish to retain the current community involvement, it could further increase costs.”

When asked by fellow Tory Matt Clare if representatives from political parties not represented on the council were invited, she replied: “The Mayor’s inauguration is not a political event. It is a civic reception with an invited audience of guests from across the spectrum of Greenwich life. including: Faith Leaders, businesses, community representatives, Civic Award winners, voluntary groups, Borough tenant
representatives, MPs, stakeholders, representatives of the Armed Forces, all members of the Council as well as a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the borough.

“All members of the Council are the elected representatives of local people – the public have made their choice of who they want to represent them.”

Could the London Cycle Hire scheme finally reach the Dome?
Could the London Cycle Hire scheme finally reach the Dome?

Regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe said he would welcome an extension of the London Cycle Hire scheme to Greenwich town centre, following Boris Johnson’s backing for the proposal last week.

But told Conservative councillor Matt Clare the council would not pay the £2 million other boroughs – such as Tower Hamlets and Hammersmith & Fulham – have paid to see the bikes, now formally known as Santander Cycles, extended to their areas. When the scheme was first implemented in 2010, boroughs did not have to pay.

Thorpe said it would be “a fantastic opportunity”, adding he had discussed the idea at a scrutiny meeting last year, joking: “I know you call them Santander bikes because they’ve gone red, just like City Hall will next year.”

He added: “We’re open for business, we’re always happy to chat to Andrew Gilligan, the cycling commissioner, but Greenwich will not go above and beyond in terms of paying for what other boroughs have had for free.”

13 comments

  1. Yes, Council should find alternative format or means of communication to public. Learn how other councils are doing the same job job on low cost.
    Legal bill just to fight to keep is 120k again that is public money.
    They should stop fighting and stop printing this Paper and save public money…

  2. Why can’t the council not make use of their website to provide information?
    The paper is almost immediately thrown away by most households which is appalling from a ecological standpoint.

  3. If you’re looking to put your “Greenwich Time” to a useful purpose, most veterinary surgeries and wildlife rescue centres are always in need of newspaper to line their animal pens.
    I know my local vets at 105 Humber Road, SE3, often make appeals for newspaper via their Facebook page, and that is where the two copies of “Greenwich Time” that get delivered at this address end up.
    Take your copies there rather than put them in the recycling bin.

  4. Like the excesses of the Mayor making event, it’s the council that gets the party and the council tax payers that get the hangover and the bill. Until they are made to learn who they represent this kind of thing will rumble on and on.

  5. These bourgeois opportunist politicians know exactly who they represent – themselves.

  6. Sadly I think you are right Trevor, but surely we should push and push these people as we pick up their tab? Was I alone in resenting all the “Olympic related” jollies that Mary Ney picked up, not only to Bei Jing but also to Rio? I know the regime has changed in Greenwich but it needs to change a lot more and it will only do this if the electorate keeps asking awkward questions to ensure accountability. If only because these people want to stay in their positions.

  7. All very true. But RBG may think it a battle worth fighting and maybe it is. With everything that is coming out of Downing Street right now this government is set on finishing what Mrs Thatcher started. Kill the unions and kill local government and centralise – all in the name of localism of course. The consequences of much of this don’t bear thinking about

  8. I’d believe you, Maggy, if this council had showed the slightest resistance to Tory cuts. Lewisham Council took the government to court to save the NHS. Greenwich is going to court to save a vanity newspaper.

  9. Maggy May:
    I totally agree with your points that this regime is aiming to finish off the groundwork the Thatcher regime put in place to subjugate the Working Class and remove what few privileges we had. The formal announcement of more anti-trade union legislation today, to add to the most repressive anti-trade union legislation of any European country already, is proof of that.
    But as Darryl has rightly pointed out, the Labour Group on Greenwich Council has shown little stomach for a fight with the Conservatives, and this is reflected in “Greenwich Time”.
    When I was Councillor on Greenwich Council (1986-1990), “Greenwich Time” was used as a tool to inform the public of the implications of what the Conservatives were aiming to do, and to try and engage the community to fight back. Thus it had some value. The most useful purpose I’ve found for “Royal Greenwich Time” (its re-branding speaks volumes), as I’ve said before, is to be used for lining the animal pens at my local vets.

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