Thought Greenwich Council was too skint for fireworks?

Three years ago, Greenwich Council decided to pull out of funding the annual fireworks display on Blackheath, pleading poverty. The £37,000 cost was, according to deputy leader Peter Brooks, equivalent to one mayoral piss-up at the Naval College full-time job.

“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”

So Lewisham Council was left in the lurch – but has continued to shoulder the entire cost of funding the phenomenally-popular event.

Fast forward to 2013, and Greenwich Council can suddenly afford not just one set of fireworks, but five…

(Video from

Pyrotechnics lit up the skies over Greenwich last night and Wednesday night, and will again tonight (at 9.15pm); and there’s be more fireworks over Woolwich tomorrow and Sunday nights (both 9.45pm).

All very nice (and very loud), although I’ve not heard of huge crowds surging to Greenwich to see them, despite council tweets suggesting people “arrive early”.

Heaven knows how many jobs those whizz-bangs were worth. But why? Well, it’s all part of Greenwich Council’s bid to host the 2016 Tall Ships Race, which involved a nice trip to Latvia for the Dear Leader and chums last year, roughly at the same time neighbouring Lewisham was concentrating on the threat to the local NHS.

But the fireworks also represent a substantial piece of tax-funded help for a private company, Sail Royal Greenwich, which is based in the council’s supposed “digital hub” at Mitre Passage, by the Dome. Not only is it getting accommodation from the council, but it’s also getting pyrotechnics funded to help its commercial offer – of trips up and down the Thames in tall ships – look that bit better.

Nice work if you can get it, and all that. All this generosity is aimed at securing the tall ships for 2016, and a hoped-for boost in tourism during that year. And a no-doubt impressive-looking set of photos for Greenwich Time, if they actually manage to get next week’s issue out.

Is this a wise idea or not? Only the borough’s taxpayers can decide. But the moral of Greenwich Council’s new-found love for fireworks seems to be: whenever a Greenwich councillor says there’s no money left for something, take it with a very big pinch of salt.

To donate to 2013’s Blackheath fireworks, due to take place on Saturday 2 November, visit

9.45am update: See also The Greenwich Phantom: “I only hope the kickbacks are worth it.” Ouch.


  1. Darryl you do a great job shining the light into a few of the dark corners at the council. There’s probably even more to find. Greenwich council seem star struck by business the bigger the better and who knows why Kimjong Roberts makes his decision the way he does. .As you say if Greenwich wants it the money is there, with council tax payers and what they want coming a poor second. .

  2. I know there are absolutely bigger things in the world to worry about right now but I am absolutely hopping mad about some fireworks and a change to the name of my local swimming pool.

    What really does mark this as the supreme example of the Council just not giving a toss about what anyone thinks about it is that it’s fireworks at issue. If the council had frittered away £37,000 in almost any other way they would at least have some sort of position to argue from. The Phantom is right to say that the refusal to fund the Bonfire Night fireworks makes all Greenwich residents look bad.

  3. The council could just have judged that they get more bang for our buck (pun intended) from paying for these particular fireworks. Indeed it looks quite rational to not pay for the Blackheath fireworks since the council probably judged that Lewisham would continue to pay so Greenwich gets to free ride. Quite why local government should become involved with funding any fireworks displays is beyond me though.

  4. I’m going to follow Richard’s example by cancelling my broadband and using my neighbours’ wifi instead. I’m sure they won’t mind…

  5. Local councils should do good things for their residents, it’s not all about the daily grind.

    This latest hypocrisy from Greenwich just makes them look like complete fools.

    I think I might pop along tonight to see these fireworks as some kind of recompense for Blackheath…

  6. @Darryl. I imagine your neighbour’s wifi will be password protected? Lewisham cannot ban all Greenwich residents from the fireworks so its easy for the council to free ride. I am not advocating this model of behaviour but we must deal with the World as it is not how we wish it to be. You can imagine the meeting “Shall we ding the firework cash?” “Nah it will make us look bad – oh hang on what odds you think Lewisham will pull their funding? 15% actually I like them odds and 99.99% of people who attend will have no idea how this stuff is funded”

  7. Darryl I so enjoy reading your blog, it’s the only continuous expose available to counteract the Greenwich Time propaganda. How can we make sure it competes on readership with a freely distrib to all residences propaganda machine like GT? I came across the blog by chance, but pure chance is not going to get the message across to enough residents. Any idea’s anyone?

  8. Darryl,

    A small point, but Lewisham Council hasn’t paid entirely the full costs for the Blackheath November fireworks – there has always been a Blackheath resident who has made a very sizeable contribution as well, for a number of years.

    That said main issue still remains – Greenwich Council’s record has been shameful and they have let down residents on either side of the borough border in a massive way.


  9. Derek – thank you, you’re very kind. Effectively, you can only spread this sort of thing by word of mouth, or by telling existing local papers you want to see more reporting/investigations and fewer stories about foxes.

    Stewart’s idea about Greenwich Time has been discussed offline with some others before – but effectively, time and money (in that order) are what’s needed.

    Mark – I had no idea, that’s fascinating.

  10. If my wife wants pork chops she won’t be fobbed off with sausages whatever the butcher wants to sell. She who pays the piper calls the tune. But not with councils. Foot tunnels, fire works, foot races, what you put on the foot path the council chooses not the people. Funny that, as in business you would lose all your customers that way and your line manager would call in the medics to test your sanity if you ignored your paying customers. Why do councils lose sight that they work for you and me who foot the bills and go bananas over the vanity projects to the exclusion of all else?

  11. Evening Darryl – Usually your reporting on council matters is very well researched, but I think you’ve got things wrong on this one.

    Greenwich Council are very very poor and don’t have any money for fireworks or anything else. I know this to be true because a few years ago they threatened (and still intend to in the long run) withdraw funding from a very popular animal park near my own location here in unfashionable Charlton. There must be some mistake, because surely they wouldn’t threaten to shut an animal park for financial reasons if, in fact, they had money to burn?
    Confused of Charlton

  12. Everyone has had a say. No one seems to think the council acts well. Has anything changed? Well, no. What this (and many another issue needs) is NUMBERS. Lots of people writing from the same song sheet to convince these people that things have to change (or perhaps you lose your seat and allowances). Darryl seems the man in the know. Could he not arrange some kind of public meeting to get the dissidents together?

  13. Gerlad — “… convince these people that things have to change” … “some kind of meeting … ?” We could try elections. Oh, silly me — Greenwich voters keep choosing this cabal.

    (The fireworks terrify our cats. Once a year is fine, but three nights in one week?)

  14. By the way, Darryl, the Lewisham link for donations warns at the last step that information will be unencrypted in transit. So maybe we should go to the fireworks with tenners in pockets. (And I just realized that it was probably four nights in that week.)

  15. Too old and frail sorry to say to be much of a fire brand or organiser. The torch has to go to someone younger with the spirit and strength for it. Suzanne has a point about elections. Its been Labour all the way since Rosie Barnes. But there are about ten thousand plus good reasons every year why councillors want to hold on (plus their pension from the job).Put enough pressure on them to think they might lose their seat and you might see a change in their ways. Just a thought.

  16. Under an FOI request, Greenwich Council have told me:

    “The Royal Borough invested a net of £20,000 towards the overall costs of the fireworks, to provide a 13-minute display for the community event held in Woolwich on Saturday 31 August and to contribute toward a 10-minute display on the other four evenings.”

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