Council admits £120,000 gamble on Greenwich Time legal challenge

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Labour-run Greenwich council has been forced to admit publicly that it expects to spend £120,000 of taxpayers’ money on its legal challenge to rescue its controversial Greenwich Time propaganda newspaper – and that more than £30,000 has been spent already.

In response to questioning by opposition Conservative councillors at Wednesday's council meeting (24th June), Labour council leader Councillor Denise Hyland admitted the council's "expected costs of bringing and defending the judicial review" against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government's direction to end the weekly paper were £120,000.

Legal fees incurred up to 2nd June this year totalled £22,320 with council officers spending 85.8 hours on the latest twist in the long-running row, costing the taxpayer an additional £7,893 - a total of £30,213 so far. It remains unclear whether the council’s £120,000 estimate of the total cost includes staff time after this date, meaning the final bill to the taxpayer could be far higher. This is in addition to the continued cost to the council taxpayer of running Greenwich Time each week – estimated to amount to almost £400,000 a year.

Challenged over the council’s actions by Leader of the Opposition Councillor Matt Hartley at the Town Hall, Councillor Hyland provoked guffaws by lashing out at the paper’s critics she claimed wanted to “censor democracy”. Greenwich Time came under renewed criticism in the week following May’s General Election, when the paper appeared to celebrate the election of three Labour MPs with a front page declaring “Labour hold” in red and the Party’s logos clearly visible inside the paper.

Cllr Matt Hartley, Leader of the Conservative Group on the council, said: "I am deeply concerned over rumours that Labour councillors have decided to try save Greenwich Time 'at all costs'. The council’s legal challenge is an outrageous misuse of taxpayers’ money – especially at a time of significant financial pressures elsewhere – and should be abandoned immediately.

“It is time for this charade to end. The only reason Greenwich Time exists is to help the Labour Party, week in and week out, win whatever set of elections are coming up next – and the hardworking council taxpayers of our borough should not be expected to fund the Labour Party’s political campaigning.”