Greenwich Council confirms £25m of cuts planned

After hearing lots about other south London councils’ plans for cuts, I was wondering when Greenwich would make its move. Turns out it already has – there’s plans to shave £25 million off the council’s budget in the next four years.

The figure is in a document handed out at the last full council meeting at the end of June – clearly, the place to go when you want to keep something secret, since neither the News Shopper nor the Mercury regularly attend these things. Those who were there tell me it was dominated by a childish spat between the Labour leadership and Conservative opposition about the coalition government. (The Tories beg to differ.) As ever, this was a sideshow which distracted from the real story.

This is the real story….

Greenwich Council majority party manifesto, June 2010

And that’s about it. Can you really save £25m on efficiencies alone? If you can, then you must be running a seriously unsteady ship. Worryingly, it looks like plans to build a new council centre in Greenwich – the “third service centre” (after Eltham and Woolwich) – have been kicked into the long grass. The Greenwich Council website still trills on about it opening in 2012 – but now it has moved to “later on”, whatever that means.

The Heart of East Greenwich scheme, on which the “service centre” depended, stalled in April after developer First Base was booted off the project by the former government – the old hospital land has been a derelict wasteland for four years now (the hospital closed nine years ago) and it has to be a fair bet that it’ll now stay that way for a few years yet. It puts the council into a pickle, for without the HoEG scheme, the council can’t flog the Arches Leisure Centre and/or East Greenwich Library and raise more funds.

So what was this document outlining these cuts? Apparently, it was the Greenwich Labour manifesto for the 2010 elections. But did you ever read anything about planned cuts before the election? In November, a leaked report outlined what cuts could be made, but the council refused to comment in public. And the manifesto on the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party website mentions nothing about these plans.

The opposition Conservatives are enraged at what they see as duplicity – understandable, given the bitterness of the election battle in marginal Eltham, where Labour accused the Tories of planning swingeing cuts. “Labour say one thing in private and quite another in public, however, I have never seen this made so clear in one document,” says opposition leader Spencer Drury. But with so little scrutiny of council affairs from the outside – after all, why do the boring stuff when there’s birds, blondes and boobs to concentrate on? – then Greenwich Labour can quite happily get away with this kind of caper.

One big cut has already been quietly announced – voluntary groups will see funding slashed by half next year. So much for the big society.

How much involvement people in Greenwich will have in deciding what happens next is up for question. The three other south London Labour councils have already spoken in public about their plans – it’s only Greenwich which is keeping quiet. Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham are thinking of merging some council services – cautiously welcomed by union leaders. Would Greenwich join such a scheme? Perhaps more pertinently, would the other councils want to work with Greenwich?

Lambeth’s “co-operative council” wheeze has already attracted vast column inches, while Southwark leader Peter John was brave enough to address a public meeting last night. Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock flagged up his council’s cuts early on – but then dropped a clanger by calling protesters “fucking idiots”.

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts will no doubt want to avoid “dropping a Bullock” – but at some point, he’s going to have to show his hand and outline, in public, just where he thinks cuts should come. Greenwich Labour went through an election hiding their plans for cuts – but they can’t go on like this forever.

6 comments

  1. No doubt even less litter will be cleared up now.

    As well as the ever-present millions of cigarette ends throughout the borough, some parts have literally become a tip.

    One spot worthy of mention is the land around Maze Hill station and Vanbrugh Hill bridge, now home to discarded mattresses, old toilets, other decorating detritus as well as countless drinks cans, fast-food containers, plastic containers…..

  2. Can I just pick up on whst Steve says about litter on Vanburgh Hill – Steve – if its the other side of the railway fence, its down to the railway to clear it. I think only railway staff are allowed on the embankment. They are constantly being asked to deal with.

  3. Well, in that case, they are required by law (specifically the Environmental Protection Act 1990) to clean all heavily littered land lying within 100m of the platform edges, within 5 days of it being brought to their attention.

    Clearly they haven’t!

    I’ll get onto Greenwich council and City Hall and see if either of them can be bothered to levy fines.

  4. Sent to Greenwich Council:

    The build-up of litter around Maze Hill station is getting ridiculous. Countless drinks cans, plastic pots and buckets, carpets, newspapers, old road signs, traffic cones and now soiled mattresses and discarded
    toilet bowls have been dumped on the railway land between the station platform and Vanbrugh Hill bridge. Many of us have complained to SE trains and Network Rail for it to be cleaned but all they do is refer us
    to the other. I have even offered to clean it personally to no response.

    Under the EPA 1990 Act, they should clear it within 5 days of being notified. It hasn’t been for years. Therefore, you are allowed to levy fines on the responsible company.

    Please, in the name of all that is holy, is there any chance you can kick them up the backside to get this growing rat-infested landfill cleared?

    Kindest Regards

  5. Why has greenwich Council spent a ridiculously enormous amount of money renovating kitchens ( including some designer ones by a posh firm in Blackheath ) and replacing windows (many of which perfectly safe ) in council properties?

    I wrote about this to the council and was practically dismissed, by email, as if I were a stupid annoying idiot.

    The country is broke but the Moguls do as they please. As for us, tax payers and everything else payers, well, we don’t have a voice, obviously.

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