Greenwich Council’s deputy leader Peter Brooks came out fighting when quizzed about Blackheath fireworks last night – claiming he was only given two days by Lewisham Council to make a decision on funding the event, and that the £37,000 saved by cutting cash from the display would save “a job and a bit”.
Cllr Brooks was criticised by Conservative councillor Alex Wilson, whose Blackheath Westcombe ward shares the display with Lewisham borough, for not informing local representatives of the council’s decision to pull out.
Lewisham organises the event, and had given Greenwich two days during August to agree to back the display, Cllr Brooks said.
“I was given two days in a recess to come up with a decision,” he told a full council meeting at Woolwich Town Hall. He apologised for not informing councillors, adding: “I did speak to some of the Labour group, but I couldn’t get through to everybody – even with mobile phones, many people would be away.”
“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” he continued, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”
Cllr Wilson said Greenwich’s attitude to the fireworks, which take place on the borough boundary, “feels like a diner who walks away from a restaurant without paying for a meal”.
Above is the written element to Cllr Brooks’ reply. Unfortunately, Alex Wilson didn’t ask why, despite the “current financial climate”, the council felt the need to spend £30,000 on its lavish private do for the mayor in May – which equates to a job. It also does seem odd that Peter Brooks is complaining about only having two days to decide about an event that’s taken place annually for about the past 20 years, for which he roughly knew what the bill would be.
I’d love to know what Lewisham’s version of events is – even from that written response, it doesn’t look like relations are happy between the two boroughs. This doesn’t bode well as we enter a period when councils may have to start sharing services to save them from even worse cutbacks. It’s sad that one of SE London’s best-known events could well be a victim of what seems to be as much of a falling-out between two Labour councils, who you’d expect to be sticking together, as a need to save funds.
To donate to Lewisham’s Blackheath fireworks fund, visit www.lewisham.gov.uk/fireworks.
More on the Blackheath fireworks story.