Sunday, February 25, 2007

Council Tax set to rise by 3.5%

This week is budget week at the Council. What that actually means for us proles living in Greenwichgrad is that this week is the week the Council tells us by how much it will be increasing Council Tax. We hope people weren't expecting a decrease, that sort of thing only happens in West London.

We've learnt that the rise this year will be 3.5%. Technically it's actually 3% but the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has decided he wants to take more out of the money the Council's raise. That means it becomes 3.5% when the Mayor's precept is factored in.

We might not mind a rise in Council Tax were it not that we knew they fail to collect around £5m of the tax each year, and are shockingly ranked 332 out of the 354 councils in England in terms of collection arrears. We expect the Council leader, Chris Roberts, will try to spin the increase as being lower than some other randomly chosen councils.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Value for Money: Council gets 2 out 4

According to the league tables published today the Council scores only 2 out of 4 for value for money. No surprise to us here of course. It also only managed 2 out of 4 for the environment. We'll be honest though, we think the league tables are a joke anyway.

There are four possible categories for Councils to fall in. Improving strongly; Improving well; Improving adequately; and Not improving adequately. Readers will note that even the worst of these categories is still considered to be "improving". Everyone gets prizes!

The Council is yet to make a comment about its performance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How can you choose between "vital" and "unacceptable"?

Consulation. Now there's a word we all hear about a lot, but how people get inioted to the things we've no idea. In fact, we've just heard there's a consultation going on right now about which hospitals in South East London need to be closed or seriously cut.

"Closed or cut?!" we hear you say, but yes it's true. Apparently, as a result of the massive bills racked up by the doctors and nurses trying to hit the latest Government target, we're in big trouble in South East London. Hence a consultation eupemistically called the "Big Ask" which, along with the double-edged title, contains all those cunning ploys we’ve come to expect.

1: The distorted justification for why they are doing what they are doing – in this case we liked the paragraph,
"The truth is we are currently spending more than we can afford.... If we carry on spending money in the same way, this debt is projected to accumulate to over £300 million in just THREE years. If we allowed that to happen it would force us to take drastic measures – such as stopping services at short notice and without proper planning. That would be unfair for many people."
Of course it’s the Government’s own policies that have created the bloody mess – where was the planning then!

2: The set of questions which ask you to choose between things that you can’t choose between as they are either all vital or cutting them is unacceptable. Our favourite example was,
Thinking about services overall – when services are redesigned which three factors among those listed below do you think are important?

Location of service
Availability of service (time of day)
Be seen quickly
Quality of care
Value for the taxpayer
So given that these all seem pretty damn vital to us, if we don’t tick value for money, do we carry on with the same deficits? Or if we don’t tick quality of care are we saying we want a rubbish service? Who wants to be seen not putting a tick in safety?

Such disingenuity in questions makes us wonder why they waste everyone’s time with these ridiculous and meaningless consultation forms. We might as well wave good bye to services at the Queen Elizabeth now and just have done with it!

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Monday, February 19, 2007

An amusing typo?

In keeping with our new found fame as local satirists (see the front page of the Mercury from a few weeks ago) we thought we'd bring some amusement to Monday morning with a picture.

This is the sign at the new look, and very swanky, tip in Thamesmead. The typo was spotted and snapped although it's quite handy that it still "sort of" makes sense.

We think perhaps they meant to say "refuse and recycling" rather than "reuse and recycling" which is bit like saying the same thing twice.

Now, should we ring in sick and help keep the statistics looking bad?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It's only £400,000 after all!

We’ve just noticed another £400,000 that's gone down the drain in Greenwich. On Tuesday the Cabinet Committee (three Labour Councillors in case you wondered), agreed to write off £400,000 as a result of the fact the Penalty Charge notices issued to drivers were not laid out correctly.

Basically, every parking ticket up to 2nd August 2006 was non-compliant, or as we like to say "illegal". Wonder if we can get some of our money back for old tickets we paid? If anyone did have a ticket in say July 2006 and they paid it, we strongly urge them to demand the money back.

Anyway, don’t worry about how they can afford it, apparently its all going to be met out of "reserves". Yes, not only do they fail to collect Council Tax and rent to the tune of millions but they also have £400K spare floating around. No wait a minute, that's our money really not theirs.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Downing Street petition against Greenwich Congestion Zone

We've just had it brought to our attention that a new petition has appeared on the Downing Street website. In the week that has seen a petition gain over a million signatures on road pricing there is now a petition against the Greenwich Congestion Zone, the propsoals for which we exclusively revealed last week. The petition has been started by someone called Jay Walsh,
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Stop the proposed Greenwich Congestion Charge from going ahead. London already has a 'congestion' zone that has NOT stopped people from driving into Central London. It is clearly just a money-making excercise that has no affect. We do not want anymore 'stealth taxes'. There are better ways to control the traffic and congestion in Greenwich. Charging people to drive in the area is not one of them!
As part of our public service duty we thought we'd let people know about it. If you feel strongly enough then you can sign it here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some more joining the dots....?

Apparently, there is a licensing committee meeting tonight at which the Council is expected to nod through proposals from AEG for the O2 parking requirements.

People may not be aware, but the entire Pennisula is pretty much a no-parking zone, and the O2 parking spaces will be strictly "first come first served".

What does this mean in practice? Perhaps a tacit "diversion to Westcombe Park"* policy for overspill from the O2? Good be a quite money spinner couldn't it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Is Eltham Police Station about to close?

Last week, the Council announced that Shooters Hill Police Station had finally received planning permission to be converted into flats - after sitting empty for over half a decade. Since then rumours have been circulating that another Police station in the Borough may be set to close.

One of our readers has informed us that there are plans for a "Police Shop" in Eltham High Street which will be the base for the "Safer Neighbourhood Teams" for the Eltham area. If this is true, then by implication, Eltham Police Station, which is not open 24 hours a day anyway, would be virtually empty and would simply have a large car park at the back.

That would mean the only police stations, with custody suites and the means to process criminals at any time of the day or night would be Plumstead (which is mired in controversy and worrying allegations) and Greenwich. Eltham would, effectively be on it's own.

On the plus side though, if it's true, it's great news for burglars, who are enjoying a renaissance in some parts of Eltham where their activity has increased by as much 10%.

Who said a "north south divide" was a national thing?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Community Safety Panels - are they real?

According to the Council website there are four "Community Safety Panels" in the Borough, Woolwich, Eltham, Thamesmead and Greenwich. These panels each have a named councillor as a chair and give all of us the chance to
  • meet their local Safer Neighbourhood Team
  • say where they think the anti-social behaviour hotspots are in the area
  • find out about the recently agreed Crime and Disorder Strategy for Greenwich
  • visit the stalls and exhibitions of organisations involved with crime and safety matters, such as the Police, the Fire Brigade and the Council’s Cleansweep service
  • raise individual crime and safety queries
Where and when are these panels you may wonder? Well the same page say that if you want to "find out when and where the next meeting will be, take a look at the Meeting Schedule".

We had a look, and there is no mention of Community Safety Panels in either the "latest meeting schedule" or the "annual programme of meetings 2006 to 2007". Could this be another case of the Council thinking that saying something is happening is the same as doing it?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Up close and personal?

Did you know it's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender History Month this month? We didn't until we saw the press release. Apparently, Greenwich Community College will be hosting an LGBT History Month interactive display.


Anyone want to rent some floor space?

Even though the presence of AEG from the Council meeting agenda was removed at the last minute, they were actually there on the night (see picture) to give a lesson in spin presentation after losing out on the supercasino to Manchester.

As expected, they stuck to their line that if there was no casino then there would not be hotels and that the area could kiss £350 million quid goodbye. Questions were allowed at the end, which saw Cllr Thorpe get himself flustered (he never goes bright red honestly!) about rumours that the public saw the Dome as a white elephant - actually Danny, we see it as a big white tent.

There was then a rather amusing moment where the Glorious Leader, Chris Roberts, tried to pin the failure of the Greenwich's bid for the supercasino on Tory Cllr Nigel Fletcher. All very bizarre as we thought he'd be blaming us.

The highlight of AEG's presentation though was when they suggested if anyone present knew anyone who might want to rent the now unused casino floor space, if they did they should give AEG a call!
Picture taken from "Casino Bid Wrecker", Nigel Fletcher

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: The Greenwich Congestion Charge Zone

If you're lucky enough to be invited to take part in the "consultation" process into Greenwich's congestion charging don't expect to be asked for your opinion on congestion charging in principle. That matter already appears to be settled.

Instead you will only be asked to comment on which of two proposals you think would be more suitable. We can now exclusively reveal what those options are, and we have a feeling some people might be a little shocked by at least one of them.

Plan A - Essentially, if you're planning on buying a house in Westcombe Park, don't.

Click for large version
Plan B - As with Plan A, Westcombe Park gets hit, as well as Shooters Hill road, and, unbelievably, the entire Tunnel Approach from Sun in the Sands. That means if you want to cross the river, in either direction, you are going to have to pay for it.

Anyone who's seen the Tunnel Approach in the morning on both sides will know that such a scheme would make an absolute fortune every day. Considering Blackwall is the only viable river crossing in the Borough (the Woolwich Ferry is a nightmare) it's outrageous that there should even be a proposal to charge for it. The nearest other options are Dartford (miles away),Rotherhithe (single lane), or even worse Tower Bridge (inside the main Congestion Zone).

We almost forgot, the charge for this proposal will be charged every time you enter the zone. So businesses should probably work out their delivery routes in an imaginative way.

Click for large version
We politely ask that if any local newspapers use this story do the decent thing and credit us.

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Olympic Borough's actively support sport, right?

One of the more lively events in the 3½ hour spectator sport that is Greenwich Council's Politburo democracy, is the ability of the public to talk about petition items. January's council meeting was a master course in this, with a number of petitioners taking up the chance to talk.

One group - which was desperately trying to get their local sports field brought back into a working condition - ended up holding up copies of Greenwich Time, which had the headline "It's good to be listened to!" whilst simultaneously shouting "liar!" when Cllr Fahy was speaking (it brought such a smile to our face).

However, even with public there, the administration seemed to be far more keen to move a primary school onto the site. Who cares about the views of local residents when you have brass necked arrogance on your side?

Tory Councillor, Andy Jennings, who was supporting the petition, asked why, if we're an Olympic Borough, we have amongst the worst sporting participation rates in the country, which is no doubt linked to the lack of interest the Council shows in maintaining sports grounds.

We wonder this too. Could it be that the council wants to sell the old primary school site off and make a fast buck?

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Friday, February 02, 2007

What do you actually do?

We did promise some more detail, so here it is, sorry it's so short, but we lead such busy lives these days! Readers know all about questions and the "answers" and Wednesday was no different.

We think the best question of the evening was from Tory Cllr Graeme Coombes, who asked Cllr Sidhu, Cabinet member for Greener Greenwich, what exactly it is that he does, and what departments fell under his control in Greener Greenwich.

Cllr Sidhu responded with a two page response (which we won't bore you with) which Cllr Coombes kindly pointed out didn't actually answer the question about what departments fell within his remit.

When Cllr Sidhu rose to answer the supplementary he delivered a verbal ramble which essentially said "I don't actually have any responsibility over anyone or anything". He sounded a bit like the Deputy Prime Minister in more ways than one.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

More cut-offs than TK Max

Last night we went to the Council meeting, normally we don't as we work for a living; there were a few fun stories to report. Which we shall do in more detail over the next few days, but just to wet your appetite, here are some of the highlights;
  • Cllr Sidhu trying to explain what he does for his cabinet job
  • Public petitioners holding up Greenwich Time and asking Labour to follow their headline and "Listen" to them
  • AEG explaining that it is now unlikely that there will ever be a casino and therefore other developments at the Dome may not happen (look at what you could've won!)
  • Over an hour spent talking about Cllr Webbewood (the Lib Dems have never had so much coverage in the council chamber before)
  • The meeting then reached its cut-off point after three and half hours, preventing the Tories from having their whine about lack of childcare facilities in the Borough.
  • When cut-off kicked in, which sadly didn't end with the fuss of last November, the opposition groups seemed rightly annoyed, the lot in power just wanted to go home.
  • The Council tax base was unable to be talked about, waved through without a word. Will they bother to collect the Council Tax though?
In depth reports to follow soon. Complete with sarcastic wit!