Wooden bollard
A typical Greenwich Council bollard by night: now it has a new defender

The humble and much-maligned Greenwich Council bollard now has a new friend – the authority’s deputy leader David Gardner has become the cabinet member for public realm.

Formerly the cabinet member for children’s services, Gardner’s new role is the biggest change in Danny Thorpe’s first cabinet reshuffle as council leader.

With the poor state of much of Greenwich borough’s public realm coming under increasing scrutiny, it is unclear whether the job switch is a demotion for the independently-minded Gardner or a backhanded admission that the borough looks a mess.

Gardner’s appointment as children’s services last year was seen as a hospital pass by many in the council’s Labour group because of the controversy over school academisation. However, he was largely judged to have been a success in a politically tricky job, where the left wing of the party is implacably opposed to academies while the council’s leadership has traditionally been less bothered by the issue.

The council has been relentlessly pilloried on From The Murky Depths for its lack of spending on its public spaces outside town centres compared with other boroughs, with its fondness for wooden bollards a particular subject of mockery.

With budgets set low, it is unclear what power Gardner – who won his role as deputy leader in an election of Labour councillors last year – will have to fix matters.

The public realm portfolio has been peeled away from Denise Scott-McDonald’s job description, although she retains her role in charge of air quality and transport, which has the word “sustainability” in the title. It is unclear whether Scott-McDonald or Gardner will take charge of the plans to revamp Greenwich town centre to remove its one-way system.

Children’s services has now been passed to cabinet “enforcer” Jackie Smith, whose role is now entitled “children’s services and community safety”. Smith’s old title was “community safety and integrated enforcement”, and she had spent much of the past year fielding questions about the borough’s poor parking enforcement – with signs that it was beginning to improve. It is unclear whether she will continue to take charge of this or whether this passes to Scott-McDonald.

Confusion over councillors’ roles has long been a hallmark of Greenwich council meetings, and this reshuffle looks set to continue that.

Other cabinet roles remain largely the same. The roles will be ratified at the council’s annual general meeting tonight.

Both Thorpe and Gardner will face an internal re-election among their Labour councillor colleagues next May.

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