Reporting Back – Free tickets to the O2 and young mums don’t listen to Council shock!

Last night saw the first Overview and Scrutiny meeting since the Council elections. In theory this committee is the main body for scrutiny in the Council, but frequently its agenda is so dry that nothing of any great importance is revealed.    Currently it has three Conservative members – the only committee to have more than two – because three opposition members are required to undertake the call-in process which requires a review of a certain policy undertaken by the Cabinet. Of course, call-in is mainly a gesture because the Labour majority on this panel always back the Labour Cabinet even when they are clearly in the wrong.    There were two main items on the agenda apart from some internal organisation which were:-  
  • Greenwich Council’s box at the O2 – At a cost of £105,000 each year, the Council hires a box at the O2 and sells/gives away tickets to various groups. The sales of tickets normally cover the cost of the hire, so officers are always at pains to stress it has not cost tax payers a penny. About a third of the tickets are given away and what is interesting is who receives them – in the last year a range of Council tenants’ representatives, Shooters Hill Tennis Club, Charlton Triangle Homes Tenants and Residents Association, the Friends of Shrewsbury Park and Eaglesfield Park Neighbourhood Watch (to name but a few) got free tickets. I fully support the tickets given to charities like Help for Heroes or Demelza, but why do the Met Police have to pay for their tickets but the Army do not – surely both do a valuable job for the nation and should receive tickets for free. Still as the report noted “Feedback from guests continues to be overwhelmingly positive” – what a surprise, free tickets are widely welcomed! Still if you had made me sit through the X Factor, I guess my feedback would have been different!
 
  • The second key item was a review of the Local Area Agreement (LAA) targets, which cover a huge range of areas that the Council and other public bodies in the area are responsible for. Of the 35 targets agreed with national government, 5 are going to be missed, 8 could be missed and 19 should be achieved (with 3 after 2 years still not having any data for them at all). As you would expect comment focused on the poor ones, with the failure to change the Under 18 conception rate being a focus for Labour Councillors. The debate on this point varied from informed (the fact that conception meant that abortions were included in the figure, so births may have reduced) to the wonderful comment that Councillors had discussed this a lot so why weren’t the figures changing – which seemed to assume that because we discussed it  teenage mums would react. I have past form on this issue, which I won’t dwell on, but four years ago, I was in a minority of one in a debate on a motion about teenage pregnancy advice services which some Councillors were congratulating and I argued simply doling out contraceptives in school would not change the overall rate of conception in the long run – unfortunately I fear I was right (although privately officers told me this at the time). For me the key area was the fact we were going to miss household waste recycling targets – something I thought Greenwich did fairly well. However, apparently the minimum standard which the recycling firm will accept has now changed, meaning that more of our waste is rejected (despite it being sorted in the same way as the past). I did suggest residents must be informed if standards were to change, as they had simply started rejecting rubbish in Eltham North a few months ago which had produced a huge number of red tags, many complaints and much confusion among residents. I am also concerned about how our deal with the recycling firm must be structured if they can simply change the standard and we have to accept this – who from the Council is checking what is going on?
  Without wishing to inflict the full agenda on you, the last point which interested me was National Indicator 36 – Protection against terrorist attack – which apparently we are on target to reach. Obviously there is no way of measuring this, but I thought you’d feel safer knowing the Council has agreed to “reduce the overall vulnerability of two sites of its priority sites (sic)” – no idea what that means, but thought you’d feel better now.   Author: Cllr Spencer Drury