A Greenwich councillor was told that two wedding parties were expected to pay the costs of security and cleaning for a Labour Party event in Woolwich Town Hall, documents passed to 853 reveal.
The council’s ruling Labour group, which holds 41 of the 51 seats on the council, held a conference at the borough’s headquarters last November, with MP Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary and its head of campaigns, as its special guest.
But while council officials charged the Labour group for hire of the three committee rooms in the town hall, they appear to have thrown in the Victoria Hall – the centrepiece of the historic town hall – for free, while Labour also avoided a bill for use of the council chamber.
Labour also were also not charged for security and cleaning because two wedding parties had already made bookings, Conservative councillor Spencer Drury was told in an email from a council officer.
It was only after Drury made inquiries about the booking that the Labour group was charged for the security and cleaning costs at its event, and a council training event that was moved to the Woolwich Centre, across the road, to accommodate the Labour event.
But Labour has still managed to escape hire fees for the council chamber, while the Victoria Hall does not feature on a list of rooms available for hire.
Greenwich Council has denied that weddings covered the costs of the Labour event, has not explained how the Victoria Hall came to be used and says it was unaware that the town hall chamber was used.
‘Security would been needed by weddings’
Conservative councillors started making enquiries on the day of the conference – 24 November – after council leader Danny Thorpe posted tweets to social media about the event, showing attendees in the Victoria Hall and council chamber.
Tory leader Matt Hartley was told by one senior council officer that “no taxpayers’ money was used for this event”, according to emails seen by 853.
But when his colleague Spencer Drury pressed the matter further, he was told by a council officer by email that “the Labour Party was charged £150 for the booking of the Town Hall on Saturday 24th November. The extra charges for security and cleaning were not charged on the 24th as there were already two weddings booked for that day for which these services would be required anyway.”
But a list of hire charges for the town hall does not show the Victoria Hall as available for hire – while the council chamber costs an extra £85 + VAT (£102).
Council officers stonewalled Drury’s inquiries, referring him back to the invoice for £180, then stating that the Labour party was, in fact, charged cleaning and security costs on a different invoice.
Eventually, after Drury obtained both invoices – which were not generated until January and February – and was told that “there was an error in the original invoice hence a new invoice needed to be raised, which resulted in the delayed invoice and later date”.
The Labour group office did not settle its first bill until 22 February, nearly three months after the event, after a reminder email was sent by the council’s departmental debtors team. The second bill has also been paid.
In a statement issued to 853, Pippa Hack, the council’s director for regeneration, enterprise and skills said: “The room hire costs were charged on a separate invoice to the security costs. The original invoice for security costs was incorrectly processed as an internal charge. When this error was identified the Council took steps to raise a new invoice charging the security costs for both the Town Hall and the Gallery to the Greenwich Labour Group. This error was not identified as a result of the opposition member enquiry and we can confirm that all invoices have been paid and at no time did any weddings cover any costs.
“All rooms were block booked for the Greenwich Labour Group Conference and at the time of raising the invoices only rooms 4,5,6 and Victoria Hall were known to have been used. We will check whether the Council Chamber was indeed used for the event and if this is the case a flat rate charge of £85 will be charged to the Greenwich Labour Group to cover the cost of using this facility. In summary, the charges to date total £530.27 including VAT.”
Drury told 853: “About a month after the Labour Party’s Town Hall conference, when I initially enquired about how much that had been charged, I was informed that the total cost was £180.
“Officers were clear that extra costs had been borne by two weddings which were held on the same day. I followed this up and by the start of March the story had changed with the Labour Party now being charged for the security/cleaning costs that the newly wedded couples had previously paid for, in an invoice which was raised on 27 February.
“In addition the Labour Party was not charged at all for the use of the central Victoria Hall or the council chamber. So it appears to me that without my enquiries the Labour Party would only have been charged £180 – substantially less than the sum now being quoted.
“I am astonished at how late the Labour Party actually paid its bills – the £180 was not paid until 22nd February some three months after the event was held and substantially after the 14 day period which the council normally allows to settle debts.
“I am saddened by this whole episode, as once again it reveals that the Greenwich Labour Party thinks that it operates by a completely different set of rules to everyone else in the borough. Greenwich Labour Party booked the town hall for a political event, were billed substantially less than they should have been and then paid that reduced bill much later than is expected of everyone else who deals with the council. I think it is a straightforward abuse of power and the officers of the council must make sure that it is never allowed to happen again.”
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– join well over 100 monthly patrons at www.patreon.com/853.
– switch power supplier! Low-cost renewable Bulb energy will pay you and this site £50 each if you switch
– buy the author a coffee at ko-fi.com.
– make a one-off contribution at paypal.me/853london