Andrew Gilligan

Greenwich Council, Britney and £1750 an hour: nice work if you can get it

April 15, 2010 by  

DURING THE election period, the usual weekly picture of Chris Roberts, Greenwich Council's wise and beneficient leader, has temporarily disappeared from Greenwich Time. But at least he has something else to keep him happy.

Today, I can reveal that Mr Roberts has become possibly the highest-paid council leader in Britain, collecting the attractive sum of £1,750 an hour from the public purse for his services.

Mr Roberts is an executive member of London Councils, the umbrella body for the 32 London boroughs. He doesn't like London Councils much - he's pulling Greenwich out of it to save a few quid in affiliation fees. But he is happy to take the £10,499 a year paid to executive members for turning up to its meetings - except, alas, that he doesn't turn up much of the time.

In the four years since the last elections, Mr Roberts has attended only 18 out of 32 meetings. In the most recent financial year, he has attended three out of five, making a total payment for each meeting he's been to of £3,500. The meetings last about two hours, so the hourly rate is something equivalent to a City lawyer's.

Nor is Mr Roberts the only person at the council to enjoy unusual rewards for his services. Tucked away on the council website, I found a fascinating report about council officers' use during 2009 of the authority's sponsored hospitality suite at the O2. Greenwich taxpayers pay £100,000 a year for this private box, with its ringside seat at many of the arena's top events.

"Officers," says the report, "host the suite for most events to ensure that all guests understand how the suite operates... officers have been recruited from across the council to form a pool of volunteer hosts."

According to the report, the shows seen for free by Greenwich Council officers in their private hospitality suite included Metallica, Simply Red, Lionel Ritchie, AC/DC, Russell Brand, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Kings of Leon, Boyzone, Madonna, James Taylor, and Pearl Jam.

They particularly liked Britney - council officers went to see her ten times. Beyonce, another favourite, scored four and Kings of Leon three. There were also numerous performances of Walking with Dinosaurs and Ben Hur Live.

Tickets for these events, if the taxpayer was not providing, would cost up to £110 each. "Feedback from guests continues to be overwhelmingly positive," the report adds. You don't say!

In theory, the money for the officers is recouped by selling tickets to Greenwich Card holders - but the report shows that for the latest quarter given, June-September 2009, there's a substantial shortfall.

I mention all this because in the upcoming election, the case against Greenwich Council is simple. It's that they are obsessed with flashy irrelevancies at the expense of anything important.

The borough's schools have long been second-rate. Only this week, the council's social services department took an absolute hammering from a High Court judge. Lord Justice Wall, the new head of the Family Division, described Greenwich social workers as "shocking," "arrogant" and "very poor."

But instead of tackling these problems, or anything else that really matters, the council is transfixed by a series of sideshows: the Olympics, Royal Borough status, and endless attempts to fuss and meddle with things, such as the foot tunnels, that are pretty much all right as they are.

The Olympic horseriding will not educate a single child, fund a single social worker or create a single permanent job. It will almost certainly cost jobs, crippling the area's tourist economy for a whole summer, and damaging the park for much longer, if not permanently.

I have genuinely tried to understand what the councillors see in these things, what they imagine is in it for Greenwich. With some reluctance, I've been forced to conclude that it's the junkets. The Royal Borough thing has already been "celebrated" with a slap-up banquet in the Painted Hall. The Olympics have generated lovely air-miles in trips to Beijing. Endless quantities of private luncheons, celebrity hob-nobbing and reserved grandstand seats await the lucky champions of Royal Olympic Greenwich.

When you see the extraordinary way in which the councillors, and some of their staff, treat themselves, it's not so hard to understand why the dull slog of sorting out the schools seems a bit boring by comparison.


9 Responses to “Greenwich Council, Britney and £1750 an hour: nice work if you can get it”

  1. Darren on April 15th, 2010 10:16 am

    Chris Roberts was also the Greenwich Rep on the London City Airport consultitive committee. As a member he was a voice for Greenwich , especially as the airports crash zone extends into Greenwich. The Number of years he was on that committee? 4. The number of times he went to meetings? 0.

  2. Patrick on April 15th, 2010 11:13 am

    Dear Gilligan,
    Great report as ever, thank you. Just amazed no one picked up on the Dome boxes before plus all the tickets they hand out willy nilly if they have any problems at on of our Council housing estates.
    It is such a shame that no political party is really contesting this safe Labour seat of Greenwich.

  3. Paul Webbewood on April 15th, 2010 5:24 pm


    It’s wrong to say that no-one is contesting Labour in Greenwich. In different wards Liberal Democrats (my party), Conservatives and Greens are getting blisters on our feet trying to end the 39-years of Labour rule here.

    Another waste of money is the annual Mayoral inauguration in the Painted Hall. The main purpose of this shindig is to allow Chris Roberts to make a grandiloquent, unchallenged speech to the invited audience.

    A simpler event in the Town Hall with only the incoming and outgoing Mayors speaking would save £30,000 a time.

  4. Will on April 16th, 2010 4:37 pm

    This really is champagne socialism at its worst. But what disappoints me more than the council leaders’ misuse of public funds and trust is the total lack of control and oversight. Does the law really allow council leaders to run their councils without any serious checks and balances as if they were dictators of independent communist states?

  5. J J on April 16th, 2010 7:32 pm

    Of course Councillor Roberts wants the Olympic Games in Greenwich Park.

    It will generate endless opportunities to be photographed with someone famous.

    With a bit of luck, he might even get his picture taken with the Queen and you can’t get more famous than that!

  6. DOlivier on April 16th, 2010 11:48 pm

    I’m usually suspicious of sensational headlines, and those suspicions were confirmed reading through this. The council may well be exploiting their private box (if they ever needed it), but how many years have they had it? And you compare that against one quarter of takings? Only one? What’s the amount of the shortfall? Incomplete analysis.

    Where are you getting £1750 an hour? I calculate £1,166 an hour (18 meetings, 36 hours, £10,500 a year, so £42k over 4 years). The larger point is that you’re ignoring the work done to prepare for meetings and the follow up work afterwards. How much is done? No idea. You say he’s the highest paid council leader, but where’s the support? I’d like to take your word for it, but given the problems I have with your report, I can’t.

    The Social Services point, yep, I’ll run with that. Olympic equestrianism – you may be right, you may be wrong, but what it will do is boost the local economy in the short term (and the local tax revenues). Will we pay a high price for it? Too soon to tell.

    OK, I’m in no way defending the Council itself, they should be held accountable. But tarring all the councillors as susceptible to indulging in junkets, as you’re implying in the last paragraph, gives short shrift to councillors like Mary Mills in the Peninsula Ward, who’s doing a pretty good job in chasing down the little items such as local residence issues, traffic problems, litter, etc – in short the dull slog that many journalists seem to ignore lately.

  7. Russell on April 19th, 2010 9:27 am

    Does anyone fancy either:
    (i) forming a vast human pyramid on Trafalgar Road as the horses arrive en masse

    (ii) joining a ‘custard pie’ club to ruin people’s photo opportunities (as per JJ’s comment above)?

  8. Andrew Gilligan on April 19th, 2010 11:48 pm

    Dolivier – I greatly enjoyed your argument that a mere £1,166 an hour is an acceptable rate of pay for a council leader! But the figure of £1,750 was derived from the last year’s meetings attended by Mr Roberts (the stipend of £10,499 was slightly less in some earlier years).

    As for the claim that the Olympics will boost the local economy and tax revenues in the short term – it simply isn’t true. Even if the Olympics weren’t going to close one of Greenwich’s principal tourist attractions for much of the peak tourist season, no Olympics has ever delivered a short-term boost to its host city’s economy. Tourists and businesses stay away en masse and the civic coffers are emptied to pay for worthless white elephant stadia.

    I do feel sorry for Mary Mills, though, a good councillor let down by the ridiculous antics of her colleagues.

  9. DOlivier on April 20th, 2010 11:28 pm

    I’m not sure why you enjoyed it, since I never stated nor implied that I was defending the Council Leader’s pay. I’m objecting to the accuracy and the context of the article.

    Accuracy – your numbers didn’t add up. I can believe your clarification that the salary increased slightly year on year…but that should have been stated in the original post. If you put the elements of your calculation in the article, you better make sure they stack up.

    Context – since I don’t really think your headline number is meaningful anyway, I’m looking for comparisons. You still haven’t provided a source for your “highest salary” claim, and the best I can find is the link below (see June 20, 2008)

    Mind you , this is 2008, so the numbers have gone up since then. The £30k difference alone between him and the next councillor is eyebrow-raising. Is his £10k addition included in this salary? How does it compare to other council leaders? How much higher is it? Is he actually doing the same amount of work as the others? I don’t know. The context here is lacking.

    Now the next link below is something I can believe:

    Straightforward and devastating.

    As for your Olympics claim, “No Olympics has ever delivered a short-term boost to its host city’s economy,” I don’t buy it. No Olympics? None at all? I’ll bet the results are mixed from the 48 times the Olympics (Winter and Summer) were held. Of course, there is no guarantee that Greenwich will gain such a boost.