Friday, August 11, 2006

Councillor "gagged" over Casino Bid report

What exactly is it about the PriceWaterhouse Cooper report into the Casino that Greenwich Council wish to hide? As many will know, Cllr Fletcher (Conservative spokesman for Culture and Community), memebrs of the public and the national press, submitted Freedom of Information requests for public disclosure of the report. As we reported earlier in the week, the Council had recently made the claim that the information in the report they paid for was the intellectual property of PwC. Since then they have continued to resist calls to publish it.

Cllr Fletcher, as he mentioned in the Comments section on this site, contacted the Council to find out what was going. It is Cllr Fletcher's view that the public has a right to see this report which he himself has seen on a confidentail basis. However, in a letter from the Council he's been told,

"the report was prepared by PwC on the contractual basis that the information in it should not be made publicly available... They confirmed that they would reconsider granting consent to disclosure, once the bidding process had concluded... PwC have since restated their objection to disclosure of the report."

We have to say we think this argument is utterly bizarre. If Greenwich Council commissioned and paid for the report then the intellectual property is surely with the Council not PwC? Especially as the document relates to a matter of public significance and public policy. What's more worrying is that a councillor has now been allowed to see but has been, in his word, "effectively gagged" from discussing it's content which he beleives ought to be in the public domain.

We would though like to draw our reader's attention to what we said earlier in the week about publication happening after the formal Casino decision is made by the Government, and the Council's response that effectively confirms our cynicism.

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Blogger Indigo said...

This is completely unacceptable. Come on, Chris Roberts, how has it been made worth your while to be remembered and cursed forever as the Leader who deliberately misled the people of Greenwich and let in the Trojan Horse that turned Greenwich into a howling wilderness? There is published research that shows how a mega-casino brings - not regeneration but enormous costs to the community, viz to cost the community 1.9 times more than the community benefits, and all the little shops and restaurants close. PWC must have included this data in their report - it is inconceivable that PWC would be unaware of this. What makes you think you could do this and get away with it, Chris Roberts?

8:42 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

Prof Stephen Crow, Chair of the Casino Advisory Panel, today announced that the Panel will be holding an examination in public (EiP) into the proposal of Greenwich Council to be permitted to licence a regional casino. The EiP will be held in London on Wednesday 30 August 2006.

At the EiP the panel will hear more from Greenwich Council and other invited participants on the merits of the proposal for a regional casino in the area. ... The EiP will take the form of a round table discussion by the Council and participants invited by the Panel. In inviting participants the Panel will see that as full a range of views as possible is represented. ... Members of the public and organisations who would like to be EiP participants should write to the Panel Secretariat no later than 4.00pm on Thursday 10 August 2006 setting out a brief summary (in no more than 1500 words) of the case that they would wish to make during the discussion. The Panel will then assess those applications and issue invitations. The Panel's decision on the list of participants will be final. There will also be space available in the EiP venue on a first come first served basis for members of the public generally who wish to observe the proceedings." ... A venue in London for the EiP will be announced on the Casino Advisory Panel website as soon as details have been confirmed.

So that's why the PWC report isn't being made public. It might embarrass Greenwich Council. As far as I know, the only "invited participants" are those who support Greenwich's application to have the mega-casino located here, notwithstanding that it will bring no regeneration at all - rather the contrary.

3:03 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

Excerpt from my e-mail to the Casino Advisory Panel Secretariat.

Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2006 15:43:15 +0100
Subject: Casino Advisory Panel: Examination in Public/Greenwich

Ms Kate Rounce
Casino Advisory Panel Secretariat
2-4 Cockspur Street

Dear Ms Rounce

I have lived in Greenwich since 1979 and have been for more than 10 years a member of the local chamber of commerce.

May I draw the attention of your Panel to the research published in the USA that found that opening a casino eventually costs a community at least 1.9 times more than its benefits, and that lost productivity from sick days off for gambling and extended lunch hours is another cost borne by the local economy: casinos are known, for example, to draw revenues from other businesses and to discourage the location of new business. ("Business profitability versus social profitability: evaluating industries with externalities, the case of casinos", Earl L Grinols and David B Mustard, in Managerial and Decision Economics, vol 22 issue 103, July 2001.)
"This paper provides the most comprehensive framework for addressing the theoretical cost-benefit issues of casinos by grounding cost-benefit analysis on household utility. It also discusses the current state of knowledge about the estimates of both the positive and negative externalities generated by casinos. Lastly, it corrects many prevalent errors in the debate over the economics of casino gambling."

Greenwich Council commissioned a social impact study from PriceWaterhouseCoopers but, despite a number of Freedom of Information requests for public disclosure of the report, has refused and is also preventing councillors from discussing the contents of the report, even when those councillors believe that the information should be in the public domain. See the entries for 11 July 2006, and 8 and 11 August 2006 on this blog

(I have no connection with the Greenwich Watch blog.)

It is absolutely inconceivable that PWC is unaware of the US research, so one is left to draw the conclusion that Greenwich Council are deliberately suppressing information about what the real economic and social cost of the mega-casino would be to Greenwich. There is very little money in circulation in Greenwich, as it is. For decades, Government "pump-priming" and "seed" money has been poured into Greenwich for one or other job-creation initiative; and practically every time the central funding money runs out the jobs disappear because the local economy is not strong enough to sustain them. The business sector in Greenwich comprises almost entirely SMEs already operating under enormous stresses (eg huge rent rise hikes from big landlords). We desperately need people to spend IN GREENWICH SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS money earned in skilled, not unskilled, jobs. That is not happening enough as it is and, as the US research shows, the situation will actually be made incomparably worse by opening a mega-casino on the Greenwich Peninsula.

What I am trying to say, simply put, is: this mega-casino is being touted as an engine of regeneration whereas its effect will be the complete opposite. I don't know why Greenwich Council is not being more responsible to its residents but I understand from the broadsheet press that, were the mega-casino to be sited in Greenwich, the Council would receive huge bonuses from the casino operators. I don't believe that that will make up to Greenwich residents for the loss of Greenwich character and diversity. I have raised my concern with at least once Councillor, and no one on the Council has so far addressed the point about the US research findings - no one at all.

It was only by chance this afternoon that I learned, from the Government News Network web site, that members of the public and organisations who would like to be EiP participants should write to the Panel Secretariat no later than 4.00pm on Thursday 10 August 2006. I have not seen this information publicised anywhere here in Greenwich - please could you let me know what the Casino Advisory Panel expected Greenwich Council to do as an absolute minimum to inform residents likely to be affected by the decision of the Panel.

Yours sincerely
{my name and contact details}

3:53 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

*drums fingers*

11:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writing as a Greenwich resident, what the best way to oppose the casino?

11:06 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

anonymous (10:06) - the best way is the one that Greenwich Council appears to have tried to conceal from the public: viz, to make your views heard at the Examination in Public on 30 August 2006. Could I suggest writing to Ms Kate Rounce at the Casino Advisory Panel Secretariat (for address, see comment at 2:53, above), even though the deadline has passed. With a copy to Nick Raynsford MP.

Preface your letter by saying that you are a Greenwich resident. However, could I draw your attention to the fact that the Casino Advisory Panel are not going to entertain views on the morality or otherwise of gambling. So, even if you have strong views on that, you should omit them because they will just blur the focus of your letter/e-mail. Hope this helps.

11:10 am  
Blogger Inspector Sands said...

The deadline for that appears to have passed - it's not something that's had much publicity (funny, that):

Members of the public and organisations who would like to be EiP participants should write to the Panel Secretariat no later than 4.00pm on Thursday 10 August 2006 setting out a brief summary (in no more than 1500 words) of the case that they would wish to make during the discussion.

Bit of a members'-only club, it would appear.

5:42 pm  
Blogger CharltonParker said...

I don't really know about the freedom of information act, but I was checking out who is meant to be governing this and keeping people in check! and I found this

The information commissioners office! Maybe whoever has already requested information from Greenwich council contact them to see if they are compliant with the Act? ;)

11:43 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

The Council's "short statement" to the Casino Advisory Panel, dated 10 August 2006, states that

only part of the scheme will be developed without the casino – there would be no exhibition space, no theatre, no hotels, and a smaller range of outlets. The full scheme is dependent on the inclusion of the casino as an integral and complementary leisure activity ...

But, but, but - there was a hotel in the original plan (and no casino and no theatre).

Without the full development, the site would be predominantly housing

Huh? The original proposals included:

10,000 homes, including thousands of affordable homes;

340,000m2 of new office space;

33,000m2 of new shops and retail a new school with additional community education facilities;

significant public realm and areas of open space;

a new 26,000 maximum capacity entertainment and sports Arena inside the Dome;

a further 62,000m2 of entertainment and leisure space around the Arena inside the Dome, which will include bars and restaurants;

a new hotel to complement the Arena and other leisure uses in the Dome.
Greenwich Peninsula News Winter 2002-2003

You can discover that for yourself in many places on the web (but not on the Council web site which is still offline).

Furthermore, the National Audit Office report HC 178 (Session 2004-2005) January 2005 states that

If Anschutz start but do not complete the Arena, Meridian Delta Limited and English Partnerships have step in rights and, if these rights are not exercised there are rights of termination of the Lease of the Arena and all of Anschutz’s other rights in the Peninsula. The contract requires Anschutz Entertainment Group to provide a performance bond or equivalent assurance guaranteeing completion of the Arena, which can be called on if the work is not completed. This assurance is to be in place prior to the work starting, which in turn is required within twelve
months of the Unconditional Date ie by 17th June 2005. At the time of writing the terms of the assurance are still being negotiated. When agreed it will afford additional protection to the guarantee from the Anschutz Corporation which already exists, and to the contractual and commercial pressures that will be on Anschutz because of other terms in the Legal Agreement.

Don't tell me that the Council never got the terms of assurance signed.

6:06 pm  
Blogger Indigo said...

Is anyone else able to access the Council's half-a-million-pound web site? I have been trying for two days and still can't and would now like to narrow down the possible causes; such as my IP number being blocked. Which would be undemocratic.

Council Tax paying resident that I am, I would like to access the planning application area of the Council's web site to check that documents about what the Council agreed to when it gave planning permission to develop the Dome/O2 have not been removed.

Has Frances Dolan been to Texas in the past year?

11:03 am  
Blogger Indigo said...

Perhaps the other contenders for the mega-casino - Sheffield, Blackpool, etc - would like to have a closer look at Greenwich Council Planning Board documents from 2003 (no longer available on the Council web site but some of which are now helpfully hosted by Moody Blue). May I draw the other councils' attention to the fact that Greenwich Council has a contract with Meridian Delta Limited (MDL) to build a whole list of stuff - including a new hotel - a contract signed about three years ago. Yet the Council is now telling the Casino Advisory Panel that the hotel and everything else (apart from housing) is dependent upon getting the mega-casino. Is MDL in breach of contract - I think we should be told.

9:44 pm  

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