Council may be forced to pay almost £30,000 for O2 box it can’t use

March 9, 2012 by  

River Thames at Greenwich
Money for nothing: Council locked out of O2 box it rents for three months

GREENWICH Council will have no access to a hospitality box it rents in the O2 this summer - despite paying almost £10,000 a month for it.

The Royal Borough leases the suite from O2-operator AEG and tries to recoup the costs through ticket sales, but with no public events for three months because of the Olympics, the council is left footing the bill for a facility it can't use.

The council won't even have access to its box during London 2012 itself, which is classed as a private hire of the venue and will see it temporarily renamed as the North Greenwich Arena.

Their five year lease agreement with AEG requires access to 100 public events a year.

A report presented to the council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee last night noted:

"The Royal Borough may be required to meet suite lease payment for the period 10 June to 25 September 2012 without being able to generate income from ticket sales. This would represent a pressure of approximately £29k to the Council in 2012/13"

Chairman of the committee, Councillor Mick Hayes, told colleagues:

"It's a bit rich that we're expected to pay for the lease and will not have any access."

The council first started renting the box in 2007, and after a one year pilot scheme it entered into a five year lease. Tickets to events are sold to Greenwich Card holders while some are given away to local charities, volunteers and schools. Others are raffled to raise funds for charities.

A review of the performance of the box over the past nine months showed that there was a £5,000 shortfall.

Council Assistant Chief Executive, Katrina Delaney, told councillors that the council is reducing the costs associated with the suite by no longer providing guests with a welcome drink and by no longer requiring a council staff member to be present to "host" guests in the box.

According to the review by council officers, local charities who benefitted from free tickets to events include Greenwich Toy Library, Demelza, the Metro Centre, HER Centre and Greenwich MIND.

Tickets were also provided to volunteers and members of sports clubs, and tickets to see Placido Domingo were given to "4 people whose wedding [sic] was disrupted by [a] fire alarm."

Greenwich Conservatives fail to stop Time

August 31, 2011 by  

Greenwich Council's weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, will continue after moves by local Conservatives to have its future reconsidered were rejected.

The Tories used their powers to 'call-in' the council's decision to carry on publishing the newspaper but the three-member Overview & Scrutiny Call-In Sub-Committee voted last night not to refer the decision back to cabinet.

The decision to press on with Greenwich Time comes despite doubt being cast on the council’s claim that it saves up to £2 million each year by printing the paper each week.

Conservative opposition leader Spencer Drury told the committee meeting at the town hall in Woolwich that neighbouring Bexley only spent £15,000 annually on placing public notices in a local newspaper.

He was challenging a decision by the council’s cabinet to continue publishing GT weekly, defying a government code designed to restrict local authority publications.

It was also revealed at the meeting that a community publisher is threatening to bring a case against the council for alleged damage to its business.

Greenwich Council has long said that it saves money by using Greenwich Time to publish the notices - which detail planning applications and other formal matters - instead of paying a local newspaper to run them.

A report presented to the council cabinet in July said the council was saving £2.3 million a year by publishing the notices in Greenwich Time - but Cllr Drury said Bexley’s deal with the News Shopper proved the council’s cabinet had “given little consideration to doing anything different”.

“If Greenwich could get a similar deal with News Shopper and let us assume the Mercury, the same could be done for £30,000 for two years. This seems very different to the one to two million pounds randomly inserted in the report,” he said.

But council chief executive Mary Ney said the council’s estimates had been checked, and a comparison with Bexley was invalid because that borough issued far fewer public notices.

“Our volume of council advertising is quite considerable, and doesn’t bear any relation to Bexley, which hasn’t got a regeneration agenda, and doesn’t produce the same volume of housing applications, or licensing applications because of the different entertainment and tourism offers of the boroughs,” she said. “They’re at a very different level of activity.”

Council leader Chris Roberts was on leave and did not attend the meeting, and nor did any members of the cabinet who took the decision, despite being invited, leaving council officers to explain the authority’s position.

The publisher and editor of of Eltham-based community magazine SE Nine said they would be making a detailed complaint to the district auditor about Greenwich Time, “seeking financial redress for the damage to our business” since the code was introduced on 31 March.

In a statement handed to the panel, Mark Wall and John Webb accused the council of unfairly competing against their monthly, and of having an “in-house bunker mentality sponsored by the existence of Greenwich Time”.

Assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney, whose communications portfolio includes GT, admitted to there being “one or two issues” with SE Nine but said she was satisfied GT’s sales team had not set out to poach the monthly’s advertisers.

Ms Delaney said when the council had discussed working with existing newspaper operators, they freely admitted to not delivering to parts of the borough that did not fit in with their desired target audience.

“One of them told me that essentially, they were looking for people who don’t live in the inner cities and who were Land of Leather buyers,” she said.

“The Mercury sold ads for GT for six or seven months, but pulled out of the deal because it was too labour-intensive to chase advertising in Greenwich,” she said, claiming newspaper groups were less interested in the kinds of small businesses who promote themselves in GT.

“The News Shopper in Bexley carries the same car ads as in Greenwich,” she added.

“I’m not convinced the ads in Greenwich Time would appear anywhere else.”

Locally-based journalist and 853 blogger Darryl Chamberlain also addressed the meeting, claiming that recent coverage in Greenwich Time of the aftermath of Woolwich’s riot was not “objective and even-handed”, as demanded by the government in its code.

He cited an opinion column from leader Chris Roberts criticising media coverage of the riots. “If he wants to rant about the media, he could always start a blog,” he said, adding that it appeared checks and balances designed to ensure Greenwich Time was unbiased were failing.

But Ms Delaney said readers knew what to expect from a council publication.

“The paper covers the council’s view,” she continued.

“If you get a Marks & Spencer card, you’ll get Marks & Spencer’s magazine and it’ll cover Marks & Spencer’s view. The same with the gas board or BT or whoever. I think people understand it represents the views of the organisation.

“Greenwich Time represents the views that come from the decision makers at Greenwich Council.”

The three-member panel split on party lines over the issue, with Conservative Eileen Glover (Eltham South) backing the call for the cabinet to reconsider the decision.

“When other people question our decisions, there should be evidence that we’ve gone out and based the decisions we do make on firm evidence,” she said.

“We should contact other councils who have changed their distribution - ask them how they’re doing, and if they’ve got a better idea that’s more cost-effective, then we should be doing that.”

But Allan MacCarthy (Labour, Charlton) said the cabinet “must be at liberty to do what it considers to be appropriate”, and said there was no evidence that GT had affected the local advertising market.

Chairman Mick Hayes (Labour, Eltham West) said that it seemed to him that most people had already made their minds up about GT and “I’m not sure any evidence would sway people one way or the other”.

He said GT should be judged on its “effectiveness”, and no other paper could reach the number of households it did.

“Is it effective in doing what we as a local council should be doing, and telling people what’s going on in planning, licensing, and lettings? My understanding is that it has been proven to be effective. Have other means been proven to be effective? I’m not so sure they have.”

The panel decided by two votes to one to let the cabinet’s decision stand.

Updated

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said "The Council's Overview and Scrutiny Panel voted to note the decision of the Cabinet taken on 19 July 2011, with regard to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity and take no further action.

"Greenwich Council will continue to publish GT on a weekly basis in order to keep residents informed about local services, to advertise statutory notices such as planning applications and to promote social housing available through our Choise Based Lettings scheme."

Platform: Council wrong to evict tenants involved in riots

August 18, 2011 by  

Tom Gann and Andrea Marie explain why they think the council is wrong to seek to evict tenants involved in last week's disturbances...

As Labour activists in Greenwich, we are ashamed that our Labour council has said that it will seek the eviction of council tenants involved in last week’s disturbances.

Currently, Greenwich has the power to evict council tenants who commit offences within the neighbourhood or locality of their house. The reason for this power is to remedy a situation where a tenant’s repeated pattern of antisocial behaviour makes their neighbours’ lives miserable, for example, where there has been an “ongoing campaign of harassment” against neighbours. Greenwich, alongside other councils, proposes to widen substantially the notion of “locality” underpinning this power to evict tenants involved in the disturbances. Where offences committed in the rioting differ from those that have usually resulted in eviction is that they are not linked strongly to the home, nor are they likely to be repeated, continuing to make neighbour’s lives miserable. Consequently, eviction is merely an extra punishment to those in this particular type of accommodation.

Unlike the millionaire’s daughter accused of looting shops in Charlton after travelling up from Orpington, Greenwich residents who live in council housing will be punished twice. Given, as the council’s own Equality Impact Assessment for its Housing Strategy makes clear, Black and Minority Ethnic residents are more likely to live in council accommodation, evictions also risk discriminating on the grounds of race.

Evictions will also target family members who live in the same house who have not committed a crime and are likely to be women and children. These families will be caused considerable disruption to their family life while being rehoused. Children living in temporary accommodation are some of the most deprived, missing out on schooling, on play, and opportunities to develop.

If, like Wandsworth Council, the council deems the family to then have made themselves deliberately homeless and sees no responsibility to rehouse them, the council will not only be undermining their right to a family life but also making destitution a punishment. Both of these things should never be used as a punishment for people, whether innocent or guilty of a crime.

A Labour council advocating this “double punishment” of council tenants and their families can only be made sense of within a wider context. The coalition government’s social housing white paper undermines the principles sustaining council housing and was initially, at least, enthusiastically welcomed by Greenwich Council. Councillor Offord, the cabinet member for housing, “welcome[d] the opportunities set out in the White Paper” and stated we “welcome...the capability to vary rents and lengths of tenure independently...we do not think that landlords should be required to offer a lifetime tenancy.”

The ideology behind this and the proposed evictions is one that characterises council housing as an emergency and charitable measure for people who have failed and need help to get back on their feet, at which point tenants are expected to progress to renting in the private sector or buying their own house. Without security of tenure living in a council house ceases to be treated as being worthy of respect. The right to a home ceases to be unconditional and becomes conditional in a way that would be experienced by any owner-occupier as profoundly oppressive.

Suggesting, at least for council tenants, that the right to decent housing is not unconditional is an attack on the rights of all council tenants, including the law-abiding. We are embarrassed to see our, Labour, council alongside Tory Wandsworth, and against Ed Miliband, who has warned against “kneejerk” responses like evictions, at the forefront of this tawdry and destructive populism.

It seems that there will be campaigns including direct action against evictions. We hope we will not have to take action against decisions taken by councillors who we usually respect.

Tom and Andrea are Labour activists in Greenwich. They blog on politics at http://labourpartisan.blogspot.com/

Councillors back Greenwich budget cuts

March 3, 2011 by  

Greenwich Councillors unanimously supported plans to cut spending by £48.6 million last night.

Council leader, Chris Roberts, presented the council budget to colleagues at the full council meeting at Woolwich Town Hall. He told councillors that it was "a robust budget" but issued the stark warning that there was a "ticking Tory timebomb" underneath it.

The proposed budget would protect the frontline, he said, but acknowledged increased charges for parking and allotments would cause concern for residents.

"It is a budget that will come under increasing strain as Tory policies bite hard. When the poor shift out of central London because they can no longer afford their housing costs, they will land in boroughs like Greenwich in need of affordable housing, schools and social care.", said Cllr Roberts.

The speech by the Council Leader drew applause from his Labour colleagues, including the Deputy Mayor, and was labelled "the finest I've heard in this chamber" by Cllr Don Austen.

Over £7.5 million will be cut through "management de-layering" and over £3 million has been found in back office savings. A pay freeze for employees will save almost £1.5 million and £2million has been cut from grants to the voluntary sector.

The council will "endeavour to keep open" all of its Sure Start centres and protect leisure centres. The council has stated there will be no cuts to the library service - although this claim has raised eyebrows in Kidbrooke.

Responding to the Budget on behalf of the Conservative Group, Cllr Spencer Drury praised the "tough decisions taken by the cabinet" and said they "deserve our support in this chamber". Any disagreements they did have would be "quibbling around the edges" of what was a "substantial package of cuts."

The council is anticipating that £63 million worth of savings will be required by 2015 as part of their Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) with most of that front-loaded into the next two years.

The meeting was notable for the lack of protests that have been witnessed at other council meetings in London and elsewhere. A small group of trade union demonstrators congregated at the entrance to the town hall but their protest remained out in Wellington Street and there was no sign of it in the chamber itself.

Council tax in Greenwich frozen

January 31, 2011 by  

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There will be no rise in council tax after a freeze was agreed by councillors for the year 2011 - 2012 at a full meeting of the Council last Wednesday at Woolwich Town Hall.

Band D homes will continue to have an annual council tax of £1,290.73.

At the same meeting, councillors agreed an average rent increase of £5.16 per week for council tenants.

It was also revealed that the council is to consult its tenants on implementing a new service charge to help close a gap in the housing budget.

Council officers report that a £2.00 weekly service charge would meet the shortfall but a range of figures will be included in the consultation - the results of which are expected to be introduced from October 2011.

Changes agreed to Planning committee system

January 27, 2011 by  

More objections will be required for future planning applications before they are referred to council planning committees following a decision taken at last night's full council meeting.

Currently a planning application that receives two or more objections will be referred to the local Planning Board by council officers, but this threshold is being increased to eight.

The cost saving measure is estimated to cut the number of applications considered by committees from 179 to 75 in a year and result in a saving of £27,000 in 2011/2012.

Council officers say that at least ten London borough have a higher threshold than that which is being introduced in Greenwich, or they leave referral at the discretion of officers and members.

Conservative councillors voted against the plans, with Cllr Alex Wilson suggesting the plans wait til the Government's Localism Bill has been published - expected to make many changes to local planning rules - and Cllr Geoff Brighty questioning whether applications could be dealt with in a timely manner if the number of meetings were being reduced.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Peter Brooks, backed the plan and said that the proposals could be reviewed at the council's AGM in May.

Anger grows at allotment price hike

January 19, 2011 by  

Allotments

Green fingered allotment holders from around Greenwich are planning to fight against the council's plans to increase their fees.

A £21m package of cuts and savings recently unveiled by Greenwich Council includes a steep price hike for gardeners and growers at the borough's 18 allotments - 2 of which are in SE10.

Allotments are measured in size using a system called "rods". Prices currently vary between £3.50 and £8.50 per rod but the new costs will be £20 per rod in 2011/12 and £25 per by 2013/14. Allotment holders from outside of the borough will pay double.

One allotment owner told Greenwich.co.uk that the net result of the changes is that his allotment will rise from £67 per year to £200.

A spokesperson for the allotment holders commented “Allotments foster a sense of community among diverse nationalities and income groups. They should not be priced to appeal only to the rich. They help keep older people healthier and happier - thus probably saving money on the Council's social services budget. The Council is sending out the wrong message”.

Representatives from the allotment holders are planning to be a thorn in the council's side over the proposals, and will be attending a meeting at the town hall on Thursday night (20th) to raise their concerns.

There's a long waiting list for allotments and the council no longer accepts applications from non-residents because of the strong demand.

Cost of parking set to rise in 2011

December 22, 2010 by  

Greenwich residents face a 150% increase in the cost of car parking permits next year and visitors to the town centre could pay almost twice as much to park.

The large increases in the cost of car parking are part of a package of cost saving and revenue raising measures put together by council officers in response to budget cuts imposed by the Government.

The proposals would see the cost of a yearly resident car parking permit rise from £27.70 to £70 - a rise of over 152%. A further rise would come into effect in 2013 taking the cost to £84 per year.

Business parking permits face a 358% increase, leaping from £24.00 to £110 and then rising again to £132 in 2013.

Town centre parking is set to rise by 92% with the price per hour at Burney Street, Greenwich Park Row and Cutty Sark Gardens car parks going from £1.30 an hour to £2.50, and then rising again to £2.70 per hour by 2013.

The cost of parking in metered pays in road adjacent to Greenwich Park, such as Maze Hill, Park Row and Park Vista, will also rise to £2.50 and then again to £2.90 per hour in 2014.

The cost of parking in the park itself increased this year to bring it into line with local authority charging but a spokesperson for Royal Parks has told Greenwich.co.uk that "Royal Parks currently has no plans to increase parking charges in Greenwich Park."

New charging areas would be established in East Greenwich and Westcombe, as well as elsewhere in the borough, although council officers say that "detailed consultation will be required" and that a review would take place after six months.

The new charges are expected to come into force on April 1st, 2011. Taken as a whole, the council believes that the changes will bring in almost £2million in additional revenue a year by 2013 which would be used to "contribute additional revenue towards the cost of the parking service and enforcement operations and other transport related activities."

Government announces council budget cuts

December 14, 2010 by  

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Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, has announced details of cuts to council budgets.

Greenwich Council is in line for a cut of 7.72% in its "revenue spending power" in 2011-2012 and by 4.4% the year after.

Revenue spending power is determined by adding  the formula grants and specific grants  from central government to income from Council Tax. From 2011-2012, councils will also be allocated money from NHS budgets to spend on local social care.

Formula grants come from a central allocation which is the same for all local authorities delivering the same services and specific grants are ring-fenced for certain priorities and projects.

Eric Pickles told the House of Commons yesterday that he had "sought achieve a fair and sustainable settlement for local government" but that "every part of the public sector needs to do its bit to help to reduce the highest deficit in the UK's peacetime history and the rapidly rising national debt that this Government have inherited."

He added that he had "set aside £650 million so every council can freeze council tax next year without hitting local services."

Caroline Flint, Labour's Shadow Local Government Secretary, said "these cuts will hit front-line services and cause massive job losses in the public and private sectors. For all Ministers' traipsing around the TV studios pretending that savings of this magnitude can be made by efficiency drives and sharing back-room functions alone, the reality is very different-and everybody knows it."

Whilst the headline figures have been announced by the Government, Greenwich.co.uk understands that council officers are still examining the details of specific grant allocations to full understand their impact.

The first details of cuts being put forward by Greenwich Council emerged last week in a report considered by the Budget and Scrutiny committee. The package of measures - covered in greater detail by Darryl at 853 - includes job losses, such as lift attendants in the foot tunnels, cuts to grants to local voluntary groups and raising more revenue through parking costs.

Greenwich Council Meeting: 27th October 2010

October 28, 2010 by  

Councillors met at Woolwich Town Hall last night for the first full council meeting since the summer recess.

Royal Hill school building

The Victorian school building in Royal Hill which has latterly been used as an annexe for Charlton Special School could be returned to use as a primary school, it was revealed.

In a written response to a question from Cllr Spencer Drury (Conservative, Eltham North), the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Jackie Smith (Labour, Thamesmead Moorings), stated that the council "is considering plans for the reopening of the school to meet the growing demand for primary school places in west Greenwich".

The John Roan School

Councillor Alex Wilson (Conservative, Blackheath Westcombe) asked for an update on the re-building of The John Roan School. A written reply from Councillor Jackie Smith revealed that a design team was in place, the process to appoint a building contractor was "well advanced" and work was expected to start in approximately 12 months.

Sleeping Arrangements

Former Liberal Democrat Paul Webbewood used the opportunity of Public Questions to ask council leader, Councillor Chris Roberts, if he had ever slept at Woolwich Town Hall. "No", replied Cllr Roberts.

Blackheath Fireworks

Cllr Alex Wilson (Conservative, Blackheath Westcombe) said that the decision not to contribute to this year's Blackheath Fireworks felt like being "a dinner guest who has walked away at the last minute without helping to pay his share of the bill", and asked for the cut to be justified by the Council.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Peter Brooks (Labour, Thamesmead Moorings) said there were "65 million reasons" to justify the decision, alluding to the £65 million the council expects to have to cut. Cllr Brooks said that the share of the costs for Greenwich Council was £37,000 which equated to "a job a bit".  He said he was "given about two days in the middle of the recess to come up with this decision" and it wasn't a decision taken "lightheartedly".

Read more on the issue of Blackheath Fireworks at 853

Disposal of land in Commerell Street

The council resolved to try and sell two houses it owns in Commerell Street. The council has estimated that selling the land will raise £550,000 which it intends to spend on its new Housing Delivery Vehicle, financing decant costs in Kidbrooke and Woolwich and other urgent capital works on council-owned homes. The council will need to gain permission from the Secretary of State for Local Government before proceeding with the disposal.

Nouvelles Racines Free School

A Conservative motion welcoming the attempt to set up a new free school teaching the International Baccalaureate was debated by councillors.

Cllr Dermot Poston (Conservative, Eltham North) praised the "vision" of parents and teachers behind the school who he said had a "passion" for educating children "in depth".

Cllr Adam Thomas (Conservative, Eltham South) said that the parents and teachers  proposing the free school wanted to "make a difference to the education of children in this borough".

Cabinet member in charge of schools, Cllr Jackie Smith said it was "wholly unfair to debate in this chamber one particular proposal that is still being assessed by the Department of Education".

She said that the council was "corncerned about free schools" which she said had "too many unknowns". She pointed that the borough already a diverse range of schools which within the local authority "family".

She said she didn't wish to debate the merits of the IB but didn't think funding should be taken away from other children in the borough to "set up a bit of elitism".

Cllr David Grant (Labour, Greenwich West) accused Greenwich Conservatives of "jumping on Mr Gove's decidedly rickety bandwagon" and said their motion was "trivial and foolish".

Cllr Alex Grant (Labour, Blackheath Westcombe) - himself a former student of the International Baccalaurate - said it was a good course but not a "magic bullet".  He also commented that there was "nothing to prevent any state school in Greenwich from starting to do the International Baccalaurate". He said that as a "through school" catering for all ages, he thought it would be "overwhelming" for young children to be sharing a playground and school building with 17 and 18 year olds.

Cllr Nigel Fletcher (Conservative, Eltham North)  said that there was a "mindset" within the Labour group that they could  allow experimentation and parent involvement with schools "but only up to a point" because "at the end of the day, the council knows best".

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