Council’s police spending in Woolwich reveals a bigger problem

As part of my Bank Holiday reading, I glanced at the decision by the Leader of Greenwich Council to spend £120,000 on extra police around three Woolwich estates that are going to be demolished.

Nothing unusual here and normally I would simply write it up as Greenwich Council once again focusing on Woolwich to the detriment of the rest of the Borough (particularly Eltham).  But it bothers me more than normal because at the moment Eltham North ward is the only one in the whole of the Borough which does not have its own Police Safer Neighbourhood Team Sargent.  Apparently we have to share with Shooters Hill ward (which runs all the way down to Plumstead Common) as it makes the shifts work better, although I can’t imagine the people living near the Slade (shops on Plumstead Common) and those by Eltham’s McDonalds think their local police are going to walk that distance each day.  So from my point of view, surely we could spend some of this money ensuring Eltham North has its own police Sargent?

However, there is something more here than more evidence of the Council’s unhealthy focus on Woolwich, something which caught my eye and I think is revealing  about the way the Council is running at present.  The decision is to allocate £120,000 from April 2015 to March 2017.  Just to repeat, from just over a year ago to next year – the Council seems to be paying for a service that has already been provided.  From the way the report reads, it seems that the Council agreed to pay for the service from April 2014 to April 2015, but didn’t agree for the extra police to continue.  However, the police did continue and the Council is now agreeing to pay for them in retrospect.  This suggests to me that someone dropped the ball in terms of getting this money signed off and given the way the Council is running currently I suspect it was the current Labour administration.

I’ve heard the Leader of the Council talking about a ‘loss of corporate memory’ as a result of so many experienced Officers being laid off and I am starting to hear complaints from parks, community organisations and residents that the Council is not fulfilling its basic functions or failing to respond when issues are reported.  Personally I suspect this is because the current Council administration decided to abandon Chris Robert’s commitment to avoid ‘salami slicing’ the management and have created a situation where many departments simply don’t know what is going on – leaders and middle managers have left and not enough effort has been put into succession planning to ensure that the Council is running properly.

In this particular case, I fear that the substantial extra costs the Council incurred when they mismanaged the demolition of the Ferrier Estate/Kidbrooke Village could be repeated on this ‘Woolwich Three Estates’ scheme as so many of the Officers who experienced those mistakes have left the Council leaving us trusting that the developers will do the right thing.  In my opinion, this decision suggests a growing level of incompetence at Greenwich Council as a result of the way they have chosen to make cuts.

Of course this all sounds very technical, but it has a real human impact as was shown in this video from a resident of the Morris Walk Estate last year:

However, just as a final point, I think it also reveals the sleight of hand which Greenwich Council often deploys when allocating funds to different projects.  In this case the extra police (past and future) are being paid for out of the Housing Capital Programme which I think is supposed to look after physical investment in the housing stock for Greenwich.   In the report, the Council claims that the developer for the regeneration scheme (Lovells) will reimburse them, but what confidence can we have that the Council will remember to claim the money back?