An ad for street wardens in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper removed references to shoplifting and rough sleeping in Woolwich for fear they would prove embarrassing, it has emerged.
The promotion for the council’s in-house recruitment agency also cut a reference to a recruit’s six children because the council’s chief executive was apparently “nervous” about mentioning large families, according to an email seen by this website.
The email, sent by a member of the council’s full-time staff, also disproves a claim by council leader Chris Roberts that no Greenwich employees “undertake editorial work” on Greenwich Time.
It was sent on 31 May by council head of press Stuart Godfrey to a manager at Greenwich Local Labour and Business (GLLaB), the council’s employment operation, copying in a Greenwich Time writer, a GT ad sales executive and another member of the council’s press team.
Titled “Are you trying to get me laid off”, Godfrey writes “we’ll need to redact the content or you and I will both be handed our P45s”.
The advertorial, which was due to run in the 4 June edition, featured short interviews with a woman and a man who had gained jobs as street wardens via GLLaB. The email outlines two issues with the copy which he says would cause problems.
Godfrey says that in the woman’s story, “it says she deals with rough sleepers, street drinkers and shop lifters. All positive messages about our area which will cause us problems at sign off I’m sure”.
The “sign off” process, this website has been told, is conducted by Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney.
He then rewrites the copy to remove these references.
So I’m suggesting that we redact the following paras from:
“Out on patrol, I speak to rough sleepers about their welfare and advise street drinkers on their conduct in a public place. I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour.
“Today I liaised with the Police and CCTV team about the identification of shoplifters. After lunch, I helped a member of the public with directions and spoke to a group of young people about what is being shown on the Big Screen in General Gordon Square. I also advise them about a youth centre service available to them.”
“Out on patrol I monitor Woolwich town centre and issue fines to anyone I see dropping litter. I also speak to traders about how they dispose of their rubbish. It is my job to keep an eye out for any anti-social behaviour. I help members of the public with directions and inform them about events and entertainment taking place in the town centre. I also advise young people about youth centre service available to them.”
He also says: “The ad mentions that [name deleted] is a father of six – and as we know Mary is nervous about promoting the number of children each of the recruits has so we’ll need to cut the number of kids he has.”
In the end, the advertisement did not appear, although a page plan was produced featuring the original version.
Evidence of how the council’s head of press gets involved in Greenwich Time’s content comes despite Chris Roberts claiming all editorial work is done by freelancers.
Asked at a council meeting in July “how many council staff have working on Greenwich Time, either in editorial or sales, as part of their duties,” Roberts replied in a written answer: “There are no council staff who undertake either editorial or sales work on Greenwich Time.”
The question of Greenwich Time’s staffing has come under the spotlight recently, after chief reporter Peter Cordwell was sacked for writing a letter to local newspapers about the Lewisham Hospital campaign and zero hours contracts, both sensitive subjects at Woolwich Town Hall. He is now taking the issue to an industrial tribunal.
Later, editor Hilary Bryan and assistant editor Rod Kitson were thrown out of the council’s headquarters after refusing to attend a meeting with Godfrey and council director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney. Bryan is back working at GT, while Kitson is no longer there.
The weekly has limped on since that debacle, last week featuring a front cover claiming “council listens to traders” over its decision to order a review of the controversial “pavement tax” on retailers’ displays. A stilted write-up inside the paper merely referred to “concerns raised by businesses” and does not refer to a petition they got up, nor did it refer to their demonstration outside last month’s council meeting.
None of this is to mock the work of Stuart Godfrey or his colleagues in the council communications department, who are professionals doing the work they are directed to do – which, despite Chris Roberts’ denials, includes working on Greenwich Time, designed to manage the reputation of the council rather than inform residents.
Greenwich Time is just one of two weekly council papers in the country, but its days are likely to be numbered. A bill which would ban the likes of GT is currently going through the committee stage of the House of Commons, and could become law next year.
Greenwich Council was asked for a comment on this story, but has not responded.
PS. This week’s edition, incidentally, shows the fear of mentioning large families may have faded somewhat – a front page story featuring someone else with a job through GLLaB proudly boasts that he’s a dad-of-five.