Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Council U-Turn on School Crossing Patrol cuts?

Has the Council performed a U-turn on it's proposals to cut the number of school crossings in the Borough. The other week we asked whether the Council was lying or stating a change in policy after it said there would be no reduction in the number of lollipop ladies in the Borough, and now, in a new response, the Council appears to clarify that position further.

In the original budget cut proposals the intention was to cut back school crossing patrols by 15% to 49. However, in response to a question from one half of the Lib Dem dynamic duo, the Cabinet member for Environment and Community Safety, Cll O'Mara said,
"There are 60 School Crossing Patrol sites across the borough. 12 sites are currently vacant, of which 4 are awaiting patrols to be posted to the sites following recruitment in August 2006. A further recruitment exercise is to be carried out in New Year and it is hoped that the eight vacancies can be recruited then".
At first glance that appears to be a total about-turn on the original "efficiency savings", however, there does appear to be a little bit of spin here.

According to O'Mara's answer, 4 of the 12 vacancies have already been filled and are "awaiting patrols to be posted". However, apparently these were recruited in August, some four months ago. Why such a long wait? Is there four month intensive training for lollipop ladies? Further more, if the other vacancies are to be recruited in the New Year, then on the four month rule basis, we must assume that it will not be until at least May before they are in place.

Call us cynical if you will, but we think that this is one of those answers that the Council hopes no one follows up in four months time. We shall of course post a reminder when the time comes.

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Tutankhamun exhibition jeopardy

Thank to one of our readers for bringing this to our attention. It was reported in the Times last week that the Cairo museum which is allowing Tutankhamun's mask to be displayed in the new Dome has said that it will not let it happen if the Dome has a Casino inside. Given that most believe the Casino decision has already been made it doesn't bode well for King Tut at the Dome.

Why would you buy at Tripcock Point?

Over the past year we've posted more than once about proposals to expand London City Airport, and the inevitable impact that will have on the Council flagship housing developments in Thamesmead. One of the more obvious points we've never mentioned about this development (and the one on the Peninsula as well) is the potential flooding risk.

The Peninsula development does at least have the advantage of being the right side of the Thames barrier, however the Thamesmead development is in the naturally floodplain of the Thames (as is the whole of the Gateway development). This factor is rarely mentioned when the Council proudly boasted about the wonderful homes that will be built there.

We just thought therefore we would put the development into perspective by posting an image from today's Daily Telegraph about what is very likely to happen in the next fifty years. It's doubtful anyone living there will be able to get insurance. From what we can tell the flood mitigation is not high on the development agenda. It's all about "vision" you see.

If you click the image you will get the large version (courtesy of the Telegraph website. The lesson to learn from the academic report is simple. Building thousands of homes in Thamesmead is probably a little bit silly.

Friday, December 22, 2006

There is no spoon Neo

"There is no Textback service in the borough" - Deputy Leader, Cllr Angela Cornforth

Really? What's this all about then? Did everyone in Greenwich just take the blue pill and stay in the Matrix?

Audit Commission slates Greenwich

Yesterday, the Audit Commission put out a press release about Greenwich Council and it is, to say the very least, not particularly glowing. The general summary is that the Council is good at knowing what the problems are, and does have a wide range of available services. The problem is that it just doesn't deliver on those solutions. Specifically it identified the following weaknesses.
  • the quality of repairs in relet homes is poor;
  • there is poor value for money achieved in the repairs carried out in empty homes;
  • new tenants are given little time to consider offers and move into their new homes;
  • the quality of customer care in respect of the reletting process is variable;
  • service standards are not challenging; and
  • weaknesses with the computer and technology systems get in the way of the delivery and development of an effective allocations service.
None of the above comes as a surprise to us, in fact, its a vindication of many of the things that we've been posting about over the past number of months. You can read the full Audit Commission press release here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Do you or don't you write off debt?

Like so many ordinary people we often find ourselves shouting at the television or even at the sky at the sheer absurdity of Government, be it national or local. In some circumstances that can happen simply because we think whoever it we wish to rant about is being stupid, but occasionally it happens because they contradict themselves within seconds and somehow manage to ignore the fact that they did it.

Such an incident occur ed today when we heard about one of the written responses from the Council at last night's full meeting. In response to a question regarding how much Council tenant debt the Council wrote off between May and December this year, Councillor Peter Kotz, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal, said,
"The Council does not write off debt from current tenants except in cases of bankruptcy.... Between May and December 06 the Council has written off £446,378 of former tenants arrears.... These debts are only written after exhaustive enquiries have been made, both directly and through debt collection agencies."
Is it just us, or does the last sentence contradict the first?

Speak up. We can't hear you at the back!

Word reaches us that the Council's decision to compulsory purchase the Vicarage in Plumstead and the Prince Alebrt pub have now been waved through. Readers may remember that the other week the Council found itself a little embarassed as it was accused of "maladministration" by the Archdiocese of Southwark for failing to consult them about this politically motivated decision.

On Tuesday evening the meeting was held again to issue the order. According to our sources, the PA system in the meeting room wasn't working. This meant that the people at the back were unaware at what point they were supposed to speak up to protest and thus it was done and dusted before anyone really knew what was going. Accident or stitch-up?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Politics first, child protection second?

Amongst the questions and responses from the last Council meeting (we won't call them answers because they would require.... well answers). there was a question about the failure of IT and the Document Management system.

Tory councillor, Alex Wilson stated that it was his understanding that "the child protection department was also affected" by the failure. He went on to ask "how many child protection cases were delayed or otherwise impacted by this problem?" In the response from the Deputy Leader, Cllr Cornforth, this question was totally ignored. There was not even an attempt to answer it.

Given the implications in the question we would've thought the Council would at least make the point of denying that there was an impact to child protection cases. Could it be that, like the Sunday People reported, child protection cases were significantly impacted? Could it be that the question was ignored to avoid further political embarassment to the Council?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Community text back service a failure?

Back in the summer, at the Council's "Great Get Togethers", the Council introduced a "Community Text Back Service". The service enables Greenwich residents to get text messages to their mobile phone about events and Council news. It is by no means a free service though, and registration will mean you are charged for every text you receive.

Sadly, the Council has not provided details of what percentage cut they may or may not take from these delivered messages, but presumably if lots of people register it could be a money spinner. However, since it was launched, and in response to a question by Cllr Wilson, the Council has said that a grand total of 20 people have signed up for the service.

We also notice from the question documents that Cllr Wilson asked how much the service had cost to set up. This question went unanswered, actually, it was ignored. Could it be that it was ignored because the set-up cost when compared with the 20 users would be politically inconvenient? Does this also explain why the Council has all of sudden started promoting the service on the front page of the website?

Monday, December 11, 2006

A change in policy or a lie?

According the budget cuts efficiency savings that the Council has put forward, there will be a reduction in school crossing patrols in the Borough from 58 to 49, which, in percentage terms, represents a 15% cut.

However, in response to a question from the Conservative Group leader Cllr Drury, the Cabinet member for Environment and Community Safety, Clr Maureeen O'Mara stated that there will be "no changes to the existing provision of school crossing patrols."

So what does this mean exactly? Well, either Cllr O'Mara has announced a change in policy, or she's lying. Readers may remember Cllr O'Mara, as she was the Cabinet member who failed to declare a financial interest in a planning application and still kept her job.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cutting through some truancy spin

As some may be aware, Greenwich has the worst primary school truancy in London. However, London is actually the the worst performing area in England, which, consequentially puts Greenwich at the bottom in England. Yes, we have the worst primary school truancy rate in England.

You may wonder what the Council says about this. Well, apparently, it's all because Greenwich is "particularly rigorous" in measuring attendance. Just to repeat that, the Council's line to the BBC is that we are only bottom because we're really good at measuring attendance. The implication of course that the authorities who have high attendance rates are actually bad at measuring attendance.

Frankly, Greenwich Council needs to wake up and smell the coffee. The reason other authorities do better than it, is because their schools are good. It's not because Greenwich just pays particular attention to registration every morning. We have to say we're astounded that the Council would put out such stupid argument to justify its own incompetence in failing primary school children.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Council enters into the Christmas Spirit!

Miracles do indeed happen gentle reader for we are the bringers of glad tidings as we enter the month of December. The miracle has happened and Greenwich has managed to reduce the total amount of back rent owed to it – down from £14,725,050 in September to £14,597,110 in October.

Be of great joy O reader, but obviously don’t look to closely at how it happened! Yes fractionally more rent was collected (up from 96.1% to 96.7%) but surely that wouldn’t lead to less back rent would it? So how do they do it? Well if you enjoy reading the arcane details of the Council, try the Cabinet Committee agenda for Tuesday 12th December. This committee is so Labour no other party is even allowed to be a deputy on it. Tucked away under item A7 is Write-off irrecoverable former tenant arrears. No numbers of course – but we bet it isn’t tuppence.

So there we have the spirit of Christmas alive and well in Greenwich – don’t pay your rent and we’ll write it off for you. You keep the cash, Labour get to lower their debt figures on paper and the Council tax payer gets a warm glow of satisfaction from helping all those other people.

Ho Ho Ho...!

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Do as I say, not as I do?

Well we've always said we're here as an extra layer media to the local press, and just to prove we don't have any grudges against them we'd thought we'd take the opportunity to priase them on their front page this week.

Under the headline of "Gobsmacked" they have run a story detailing the envrionmental hazard and eyesore that is in the garden of the Council leader, Chris Roberts' registered residence. Unbelievably, the man who preaches to us all to be greener and not dump rubbish has done nothing about the fly-tipping on his doorstep.

In fairness to him it's not his ward so, if we understand the rules correctly, he technically has to go to his local Councillor to have the situation sorted out. This of course assumes that he has made the "one stop shop" phonecall to Cleansweep first. Cleansweep are, according to the A-Z Guide of Council Services we received recently, your first port of call for such problems, and are just brilliant.. honest!

Update: We've managed to get a high resolution version of the picture from the front page. Just so you can see the mess in all it's glory. Click the image for the BIG version.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Council leader makes spurious Council Tax claim

According to the Council Leader, Chris Roberts, Greenwich Council's "collection of Council Tax has proved consistently efficient". Yes... that's rights.... being ranked 332 out of the 354 Councils in England in relation to the amount of arrears that are not collected is apparently "consisently efficient".

It's fair to say that Council Tax collection is "consistent". Consistently bad. Whilst Chris Roberts may think that reptititon of the lie will make it true, the figures clearly speak for themselves. The Council fails to collect more and more Council Tax every year. It is also amongst the worst Councils in the country at collecting Council Tax.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Greenwich Watch would like to make a prediction

Way back in July, people may remember our review of the party political websites of Greenwich. At the time we commented that the local Labour Party one's looked horrible. When we said that what we meant was that they looked like websites pre-1999, with horrible blocky scrolling text.

The day we posted that story the websites went offline and have been so ever since. Now, we're not saying that they went offline because off us directing traffic to them and pointing out their visual awfulness, but it's a handy ego-boosting coincidence none the less.

We would like to make a prediction though. We have reason to believe that their about to re-launch a new website which will bring them crashing into the 21st century with a bag.

Whilst we're on web matter, we're removing the link to the "Coldharbour and New Eltham Noticeboard" blog, it's not been updated since July 22nd so we're making the assumption that it's dead. If the good Councillor's update then they need to email us.