One of the more curious aspects of Greenwich Council’s response to the horrific events in Woolwich two weeks ago was leader Chris Roberts’ determination that the council’s business would carry on as normal, despite the scene of tragedy just yards from the council’s headquarters.
So, as the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler revealed last week, Roberts went on a cabinet awayday on the day the Prime Minister visited, leaving Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford to represent local people.
And the night before, just hours after Lee Rigby’s murder in Artillery Place, the council opted to hold its usual mayoral inauguration ceremony at the Old Royal Naval College – again, under the claim of “business as usual”.
But Greenwich’s mayor-making knees-up is nowhere near normal business. Most councils just inaugurate their mayors with a brief ceremony in the town hall. Indeed, Greenwich’s official event actually takes place at the town hall the week before – the ONRC event is just for show.
Even where there’s a bit of star glamour – such as in Camden, where new mayor Jonathan Simpson has enlisted singer Marcella Puppini to be his mayoress – these events tend to stay in town halls and are open to the public and press.
This isn’t good enough for Greenwich, which in the past has blown £30,000 holding an invite-only event, where favoured business execs, councillors and “community leaders” can schmooze and do whatever else you do when you’re having a drink at the taxpayers’ expense. Indeed, here’s 2011’s menu.
Following criticism during the initial phase of the cuts – and talk of one mayor refusing to have the ceremony – the cost was whittled down to about £12,500 by last year – partly due to the Naval College being persuaded to let the council have the venue for nothing. 2013’s costs aren’t yet available.
But it still leaves a sour taste with many councillors, so what should be a non-partisan event gets boycotted by a number of rebel Labour members as well as most Tories. You can see why it’s a touchy subject.
So touchy, in fact, that Greenwich Time hasn’t even mentioned it, in contrast to the front page splashes it’s earned in the past.
Yes, you can make out the Old Royal Naval College colonnade behind new mayor Angela Cornforth, but twice in three weeks, the council’s propaganda weekly has referred to Ms Cornforth’s ceremony in profile pieces as being “at Woolwich Town Hall”.
And as for what was said and done at what the event’s supporters claim is a highlight of the council year, there’s not a peep in Greenwich Time.
One misleading reference could be written off as a mistake. But twice? In a publication which is checked by the leader of the council before it goes to press? Perhaps there’ll be a correction in next week’s issue. I wouldn’t waste your breath waiting, though.