Woolwich Town Hall

March 2015: The document in question is now in the public domain.

A document drawn up by a Greenwich councillor to deal with bullying at the authority is being withheld from the public – because it was sent as an attachment to an email.

Two Labour councillors – Alex Grant and Hayley Fletcher – are standing down after citing the party’s bullying culture, while last weekend the BBC aired accusations that council leader Chris Roberts threw a set of keys at a council cleaner who woke him up while he was asleep in his office.

Roberts has also been accused of bullying after leaving a threatening voicemail for cabinet colleague John Fahy – which the News Shopper reported last week has resulted in just a warning from the Greenwich Labour group. The standards committee of the council itself will consider the voicemail this Friday.

But now Greenwich is refusing to release a document drawn up by a councillor this summer proposing ways of dealing with bullying.

The council has acknowledged that a document was submitted by the unnamed councillor in May this year. But in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from this website to release the document, the council says it does not have to release it because it was sent as an attachment to an email, as opposed to being in the body of the mail.

Ray Walker, Chris Roberts and Mary Ney
Decision makers: Labour chief whip Ray Walker, Chris Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney

“The document was not produced by the Council and is not held on its systems, other than as an attachment to an email which the Council was copied into,” its response says.

“It is considered that the Council is not holding the document for its own purposes and therefore does not hold it within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”

Greenwich Council could still have to release the document if told to by the Information Commissioner’s Office. But this is a lengthy process, so it’s possibly the council is merely playing for time, in the hope that the bullying furore will go away.

In any event, the next stage is unclear because the council has already breached the Freedom of Information Act by taking 49 working days to come up with a response, rather than 20 working days prescribed by law.

But this throws the spotlight on how the council itself, led by chief executive Mary Ney, appears to be striving to protect Roberts from criticism. Ney has refused to investigate allegations of a conflict of interest which arise from Roberts’ abusive voicemail, which concerned his desire to be in charge of the council when the decision to host next year’s Run to the Beat race is made. A charity which Roberts chairs gets free places from race organisers each year.

The Greenwich Labour group’s decision to let Roberts off with a warning means the matter is now in the hands of the London Labour Party, while locally, a witch hunt is launched for whoever leaked the email.

But chief whip Ray Walker’s decision to speak to the News Shopper ahead of telling councillors, while criticising those who speak to the media, has raised eyebrows.

Indeed, his comments – “I’m not so certain this isn’t people just trying to jump on a bandwagon. If you talk to most councillors, there’s no bullying culture” – raise the question of whether the Eltham West councillor actually approached this with an open mind, or is even interested in hearing in any other allegations.

But dealing with a culture of intimidation which appears to be happening in plain sight is now for the London Labour Party. Will it have the courage to do something about the festering sores in Greenwich? Let-down party members and voters will have to wait and see.

9 replies on “Greenwich councillor’s bullying document kept secret”

  1. Of course the blog can always appeal to the Information Commission to get sight of this document. And can certainly complain about the council’s strategy of going beyond deadlines. Councils like Greenwich do not like the spotlight on them from other bodies. Give it a try.

  2. The council came up with a similar FOI excuse for not sending me the ‘STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL’ email deputy council leader Peter Brooks sent to 38 Labour Group members in August, which contained two outrageous lies re my employment status at Greenwich Time. A few weeks ago I received a hard copy of the email in the post and no doubt Cllr Walker is more concerned about the sender than the lies in the email. I then emailed Cllr Brooks, describing him as a disgrace to socialist principles, and at the same time wrote a measured piece for Press Gazette (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/newspeak-quotes-written-pr-team-faces-airbrushed-history-what-it-was-edit-townhall-pravda). Have I received a reply from Cllr Brooks? Answers on a postcard…

  3. From my limited experience of FOI, I’d say that the Council’s response is utter pigswill. They admit they’re holding the document – the format is irrelevant, be it email, attachment or paper copy. I’d have said that made it FOIable. I don’t see how they can argue it’s outside the scope of the act. There may be an exemption within the Act for ‘draft’ documents of this kind, but it’s noticeable that they haven’t cited one.

  4. It’s just another clearance off the line. Their goalkeeper must be exhausted. Tons of shots to come, one from Bobby Charlton!

  5. Devious, secretive and dishonest. Fundamentally in breach of the FOI Act in spirit and in letter.

    In contrast, when I sent a FOI request to the DofTransport last year, they included, as part of their response, emails and attachments that were sent by Greenwich Council to them (the DofTransport).

  6. A friend once compared the inner workings of this council to the Stasi. On this showing who could argue?

  7. The council withhold loads of FOI requests that they don’t want to give out. I have been a resident here for 8 years, and I assure you, the entire administration is corrupt. 5 years I have had a complaint in with the CEO, and its still to be answered. She has passed it from one executive director to another. Sack the lot!

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