March 2015: The document in question is now in the public domain.
A document drawn up by a Greenwich councillor to deal with bullying at the authority is being withheld from the public – because it was sent as an attachment to an email.
Two Labour councillors – Alex Grant and Hayley Fletcher – are standing down after citing the party’s bullying culture, while last weekend the BBC aired accusations that council leader Chris Roberts threw a set of keys at a council cleaner who woke him up while he was asleep in his office.
Roberts has also been accused of bullying after leaving a threatening voicemail for cabinet colleague John Fahy – which the News Shopper reported last week has resulted in just a warning from the Greenwich Labour group. The standards committee of the council itself will consider the voicemail this Friday.
But now Greenwich is refusing to release a document drawn up by a councillor this summer proposing ways of dealing with bullying.
The council has acknowledged that a document was submitted by the unnamed councillor in May this year. But in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from this website to release the document, the council says it does not have to release it because it was sent as an attachment to an email, as opposed to being in the body of the mail.
“The document was not produced by the Council and is not held on its systems, other than as an attachment to an email which the Council was copied into,” its response says.
“It is considered that the Council is not holding the document for its own purposes and therefore does not hold it within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”
Greenwich Council could still have to release the document if told to by the Information Commissioner’s Office. But this is a lengthy process, so it’s possibly the council is merely playing for time, in the hope that the bullying furore will go away.
In any event, the next stage is unclear because the council has already breached the Freedom of Information Act by taking 49 working days to come up with a response, rather than 20 working days prescribed by law.
But this throws the spotlight on how the council itself, led by chief executive Mary Ney, appears to be striving to protect Roberts from criticism. Ney has refused to investigate allegations of a conflict of interest which arise from Roberts’ abusive voicemail, which concerned his desire to be in charge of the council when the decision to host next year’s Run to the Beat race is made. A charity which Roberts chairs gets free places from race organisers each year.
The Greenwich Labour group’s decision to let Roberts off with a warning means the matter is now in the hands of the London Labour Party, while locally, a witch hunt is launched for whoever leaked the email.
But chief whip Ray Walker’s decision to speak to the News Shopper ahead of telling councillors, while criticising those who speak to the media, has raised eyebrows.
Indeed, his comments – “I’m not so certain this isn’t people just trying to jump on a bandwagon. If you talk to most councillors, there’s no bullying culture” – raise the question of whether the Eltham West councillor actually approached this with an open mind, or is even interested in hearing in any other allegations.
But dealing with a culture of intimidation which appears to be happening in plain sight is now for the London Labour Party. Will it have the courage to do something about the festering sores in Greenwich? Let-down party members and voters will have to wait and see.