For a few months now I’ve been reporting just how coy Greenwich Council are when it comes to telling the public how they’re spending public money. I was using the example of £3.5 million they are given by TfL each year but it applies much more widely, and I also wrote about how most other boroughs are far more transparent.
Not only that, but those other boroughs engage far more closely with locals throughout the year so they’re informed and have a say in spending. This means that Lewisham Council, for example, already have a decent idea of where they will spend millions from TfL in 2017. Greenwich Council do things very differently, so have little idea what locals want and seem to have little real idea once the financial year begins. It appears they scramble around and then waste much money. This has happened for over a decade and many chances of improvement go begging.
After being continually told by Plumstead councillor Matthew Morrow that he wouldn’t answer questions publicly (that’s right – in 2016 he wont engage questions on Twitter, Facebook or utilise a website or blog) and that everyone had to individually email him to find out what happens in the local area, I made a silly comment to the effect of imagine if everyone had to email the BBC to find out the news instead of them just reporting it. A baffling way to engage with the public at large.
Of course emails have a role to play with individual cases, but wider issues such as spending large amounts of public cash are of extensive public interest and should be reported widely.
Even if he didn’t know he could’ve simply said he would chase up and put it online as soon as possible. But no.
He did say one baffling thing which I was told – that the £150,000 for Plumstead High Street would go on 20 mph schemes. This despite it being separately listed to the 20mph schemes:
It doesn’t inspire much confidence, and helps explain the poor state of Plumstead. And the other two Plumstead councillors (Angela Cornforth and Rajinder James) aren’t much better by numerous accounts.
After refusing to utilise the many tools to disseminate information to the public, many emails did go to Matt Morrow. I know as more and more people contacted me through email, Twitter private messaging and Facebook. And guess what? No answers appear to have come back on where this money is going or giving any preliminary plans. It’s been nearly four weeks.
So once again it appears the council havn’t a clue on what the £150,000 for Plumstead High Street, like other pots of money, will actually cover. Bodes well. The council and councillors would know of plans if they engaged and consulted year round like in other boroughs with monthly meetings in each ward. One person on Twitter asked Morrow about a consultation and feedback area on the Council website. Morrow seemed to like the idea. You can guess what has happened after that. Nothing.
This is clearly riling more and more people, as others are now contacting me and showing communications with other councillors in other areas, or lack of it. Some of it is shocking. Inept. Often three weeks, four weeks, five weeks and more with never a reply. When chased up one said they did receive info but have deleted it, so can you go and chase it up elsewhere. There’s often little sense that councillors are pushing things forward to Departments and Officers to help residents.
The issue has been posted on Plumstead People, a Facebook group with 8000 members and it received a good deal of comments and views, as have blog posts on the subject. Councillors can no longer hide on these issues. More and more people know money is coming in but not being well spent.
No one expects them to have all the answers. Just to relay information they may have and push for it if it’s unavailable. And as it’s 2016 use all the methods out there to communicate it.
But on the flipside I have to say there are of course some good Councillors who are responsive and push things forward. I know of a fair few who get praise from a number of people awho have told me about it. Council leader Denise Hyland, for example, has received praise from some for acting quickly on issues. Maybe she could have a word with some of those representing Plumstead and Woolwich.
As it is, next year, like many other years, could see chances to improve local areas with TfL millions again be missed. Sure, we’ll see some good stuff out of it, but also a lot if ineffective schemes like a lot of signs here and there. But many public spaces will again miss out and continue to be avoided by many because of flawed structures within Greenwich council and ineffective and elusive Councillors, who are supposed to represent residents, but all too often aren’t doing so.
Below is a timeline of posts on the subject of £3.5 million from TfL to Greenwich Council:
Oct 6th – The first post in this saga looking at money Greenwich Council will receive next year. It highlights how Lewisham Council already have an extensive list in place due to year-round planning and consultation. Note, not a final list, but some ideas and focus for the public to see. And how Lewisham focus on improving public spaces and the public realm at shopping areas, transport interchanges etc. For example:
- Grove Park. £160k to improve public realm on:
“Baring Road, including the train station, bus interchange, local shopping parade and the Baring Hall Hotel. The current layout is highly dominated by vehicular traffic, and the existing footways and forecourts are marred by unsightly high containment kerbs and railings.”
Oct 28th – A few weeks on and asking why no information of Greenwich’s intentions are public as other councils such as Islington have also declared some of theirs, which include things such as estate and public realm improvements.
Nov 3rd – Announcement by Greenwich of £3.5 million from TfL and release of report though with hardly any details of what spending actually covers like in previous years. No mention of estates, or stations, or public realm improvements and shopping areas.
Nov 16th – Highlighted widespread poor conditions of council managed estates and local retail areas such as at Woolwich Common, and wondered why these aren’t covered again when other authorities do so.
Nov 23rd – Looking at councillors apparent confusion on this project, the previous years failings and how once again the Highways Scrutiny Panel don’t seem to be looking closely into it and pushing departments for answers.