853 exclusive: Greenwich Council is going ahead with plans to hold a “mayor-making” ceremony at the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall against the wishes of its incoming mayor, and despite cutting £48m from its budget for this year.

Last year’s event at the prestigious Greenwich venue cost £30,000 to stage, angering residents protesting against cuts to council services. Most other councils hold the ceremony at their town halls instead of hiring outside venues.

Funding for youth and children’s services has been targeted, while a host of voluntary groups have lost their funding altogether and staff warned of possible redundancy. Greenwich has stopped funding the Blackheath fireworks display, while allotment and parking charges have rocketed.

Children at a Charlton primary school cited the cost of the mayor-making party in posters they made to try to save the animal centre in Maryon Wilson Park, which faces losing £34,000 in funding.

Even incoming mayor Jim Gillman has objected to the ceremony taking place, with his wife Janet – a Charlton councillor – telling a local residents’ meeting that the ceremony “has a touch of ‘let them eat cake’ in these times.” London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball praised Cllr Gillman for objecting to the event, using Twitter to say he was “leading by example”.

But despite Cllr Gillman’s objections, invitations have been sent out by current mayor Barbara Barwick for a ceremony on 25 May. Council leader Chris Roberts – who is due to give a speech at the event – is believed to have made the decision alone to go ahead with the ceremony.

“Looking around Greenwich there is much to be proud of. The physical regeneration of our community continues apace, while there are many developments in our economic, social and community life,” the invite reads.

Conservative opposition leader Spencer Drury said the ceremony is “purely an opportunity for the Labour leadership to sell its view of what is happening in Greenwich”.

“I view the whole ceremony as an expensive vanity project and it should be returned to the Town Hall where it would be cheaper to run and in my opinion, would represent the life of the borough just as well as the Painted Hall.”

Last year, council deputy leader Peter Brooks referred to the council’s overall budget cut when he said there were “65 million reasons” not to spend £37,000 on the Blackheath fireworks ceremony it jointly held with Lewisham Council. He said there was “strict control over all expenditure”, and the cost was “equivalent to a job and a bit”.

Greenwich Council has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story.

3:45PM UPDATE: Still no response from Greenwich Council. But former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood has said: “While the amount of money involved is fairly small in the overall scale of things, it amazes me that the council is persisting with this luxury, invitation-only event when so much else is being cut. It really is a case of the Labour council acting in the interests of the few and not the many.”

Mr Webbewood asked a question at the last Greenwich Council meeting about the possibility of a ceremony, to which deputy leader Peter Brooks replied:

“The inauguration of the mayor is an important event in the civic life of the borough, enabling the council and its new mayor to meet the increasing number of key stakeholders in our community.

Many of these are critical to the social cohesion and economic success of Greenwich, including leaders of all our faith communities, volunteers and local associations as well as businesses investing millions of pounds in our borough to create jobs and economic prosperity.

The council is very mindful of the need to secure value for money and will always endeavour to do this. However this is the only occasion in the calendar year when all stakeholders are brought together – for the very reasons of cost that Mr Webbewood articulates.

That this is done on the occasion which marks the inauguration of the First Citizen of Greenwich – a determinedly non-political event – seems the most prudent occasion on which to do it.”

An increasing number of key stakeholders, eh? Can’t move for them. Conservative deputy leader Nigel Fletcher, who also comments below, has said his group “proposed a small Town Hall Inauguration, then a public celebration, sponsored to be cost-neutral”. More reaction as it comes in.

6:35PM UPDATE: Still no response from Greenwich Council. However, Tim Anderson, chair of the Friends of Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks, said:

“It is very hard to understand why the council should opt to go ahead with an expensive mayoral ceremony when other council services such as the Maryon Wilson Animal Park in Charlton face closure in April 2012.

The Animal Park is greatly appreciated by thousands of people, especially children and families. The campaign petition to save the Animal Care Centre in Maryon Wilson Park, has reached over 4,500 signatures and is likely to reach 10,000 signatures by the end of this year.

Prioritising expenditure on its own ceremonies that could be made available for front line and community services must send out the wrong message to people who are facing losing their jobs or to organisations who face Council cuts.”

WEDNESDAY 11:45AM UPDATE: Still no response from Greenwich Council. But Paul Callanan, of anti-cuts group Greenwich Save Our Services, condemned the council’s plans.

“It’s absolutely disgraceful that while working class people face the biggest attacks on jobs and services seen in generations and are being told to tighten our belts, the council chooses to spend our money on a party. This shows just how far out of touch with reality this council is.”

WEDNESDAY 6:15PM UPDATE: Still no response from Greenwich Council. But the Green Party’s Arthur Hayles, who stood as a parliamentary candidate in Eltham last year, said:

“Even if there were no programme of cuts to Greenwich Council services, the use of an expensive venue for a council ceremony should be avoided in favour of using every penny for the welfare of the people of Greenwich.”

21 replies on “Greenwich Council plans lavish mayor’s party – despite £48m cuts”

  1. The incoming Mayor should refuse to attend the ceremony if he feels so strongly on the issue. It would somewhat scupper the event if he wasn’t there, wouldn’t it.

    A small scale event at Woolwich Town Hall is more suitable given the circumstances.

  2. As Spencer Drury says, Greenwich Conservatives have for several years opposed this spending. In the current year it is particularly difficult to justify.

    There is another issue, too. Until a few years ago, the Council AGM (electing the Mayor) was held at the same event, giving opposition Councillors the chance to speak. Councillor Roberts decided he didn’t like the invited guests hearing anything but his party propaganda, so the AGM was switched to the Town Hall, a week before the Painted Hall bash. So not only has the “Inauguration” been stripped of its constitutional function, it is also now a one-party show, with only Labour voices heard.

  3. This is a disgusting waste of Council Tax payers’ money. Here’s an idea for a new “guy” for a bonfire on Blackheath next 5 November: Chris “I’ve got mine, stuff you” Roberts as Marie Antoinette.

  4. It’s a disgrace. Any Councillor with any conscience should lobby the Leader to abandon the event and boycott it if it goes ahead.

  5. I would have thought that the 300 to 400 council staff who have lost their jobs in the last six months would have an issue with this lavish event. The message is very clear, we don’t value the workforce but we do value our champagne and free dinner. It’s like they are living in another world.

  6. Horrible. I wrote to three people about Maryon Wilson park funds being reduced to plead that this was re considered. Janet Gillman wrote back with an ambiguous reply. ‘no, but yes, but no’ Alan MacCarthy and Nick Raynsford ignored. how can any council think that precious funds are well spent on a ceremony for goodness sake?!

  7. Seriously, before the end of April, Labour councillors should lock Chris Roberts in the loo and not let him out until he revokes this decision. To spend more than the national average annual wage on one evening’s junket for a dozen people and their pals is obscene. Even more so at this time.

  8. As a recent former Greenwich Borough Councillor, I have just received an invitation from the Mayor’s Office to attend the Civic “Mayor-making” ceremony – along with a guest.

    I have returned my invitation to this event saying that I will not be attending.

    The reason I have written on the return slip states as follows:

    “Given that Greenwich ‘Is facing unprecedented financial pressure’ (Quoted by the Council themselves) I do not see how it is justified to hold this event. It is reported by various sources that the event will cost the Council around £30,000 to hold. This amount could be better spent elsewhere. Therefore, I will not be attending”.

    Brian J. Woodcraft, former Councillor and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Greenwich Council (until 10th May 2010).

  9. Ironic that the sum involved is so comparable to that which Greenwich Council couldn’t afford to contribute for it’s share of the November fireworks which tens of thousands enjoyed or to that needed to safeguard the Animal Centre in Maryon Park for all to enjoy. Front feet in the trough comes to mind.

  10. Indigo,

    That is astonishing data.

    How can London, one of the richest regions in Europe and with a GVA 75% above the UK average, have such high child poverty?

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