Monday, 7 January 2013

Blog bashed as "receptacle for leaks"!

Greg Smith
Wow. I've upset the Council. I've just come across (not being a regular reader of what the great man says) this speech by sweary Greg Smith, Deputy Leader of H&F Council, back in October last year. He was thundering at the Labour opposition for what he called their lack of a policy on the merger of services between this borough with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.

In his preamble Mr Smith raged thus:
"Madam Mayor, as the Leader has already set out, what has been achieved through Tri (and indeed bi-) borough in such a short space of time is remarkable. 
And as I was looking through the impressive savings figures, it struck me that there is no clear line on Tri-Borough from the Opposition. 
Are they for it – or against it? With taxpayers or against taxpayers? 
Hopeful of an answer, I consulted that colossus of local political commentary and analysis: no not the bravely anonymous and recently silent HFConwatch blog; nor that receptacle for leaks run by Chris Underwood; but that flow of self-consciousness published by the Leader of the Opposition – The Cowan Report".
Apparently this blog is a "receptacle for leaks". And he's right, of course. 

His speech, he'll be delighted to know, provides me with the opportunity to highlight what some of those rather embarrassing leaks have been - from secret Cabinet papers marked "not for publication" revealing the severe financial risks they are taking over Shepherd's Bush Market, to a letter which revealed Boris had been telling lies about the same scheme, to an embarrassing climb down over access to public information by the Council Chief Executive over West Kensington, to yet more secret documents which lay behind their determination to try to resurrect the King Street redevelopment scheme in the teeth of local residents opposition

But what I find most interesting about Cllr Smith's venom is that he seems to regard these leaks as inherently a bad thing. Are they? When I leaked these cabinet papers it forced our Council onto the back foot and to defend it's secret maneuverings in public, bringing much needed scrutiny to what they were up to. 

And in response to an investigation led by excellent fellow blogger MayorWatch which I applied to H&F they were forced to admit that they'd be shelling out £2 million for Boris' Bikes, just in time for the Mayoral election. That doesn't mean that the expenditure is either wrong or right - people have views both ways - but it does mean people have the chance to debate it. 

So why the red mist?

Greg Smith does red mist
A clue lies with the fact that this is of course the Council which acted to muzzle it's own planning committee, the infamous "scrutiny" body that rubber stamps their most controversial decisions, and now does so without even releasing documents to elected Councillors that - in it's view and nobody else's - are too "sensitive"

And clues to why people may not trust everything our Council says may be found, for example, in their track record over the "super sewer". Having spent loads of your cash on a public campaign warning of the imminent destruction of Furnival Gardens by evil Thames Water, which I naively believed and called on you to support, we found that actually they knew this wasn't true in the first place. Oh ... and we later found out that the Council wanted to concrete over Furnival Gardens themselves with their King Street property development. Funny, that. 

Or perhaps the West Kensington Estate development, over which our Council first sought to block access to public information, before being forced to back down and now find themselves being investigated over after a complaint to the police. Not to mention a High Court action

From time to time I get sent things that I don't end up publishing frankly because I either can't stand them up or I don't fancy getting sued but dear old Greg, perhaps in in his quieter moments, must concede that shining a light into dark corners isn't always such a bad thing.

Cllr Smith has actually led some of the better projects of our Council, particularly in his steadfast support for the police and against anti social behaviour. His colleague Nick Botterill, Leader of Council, has pushed through improvements to the Green which, after the long wait, now look really quite impressive. And other Conservatives such as Harry Phibbs have quietly been on the front foot sorting out problems around the Bush that have made our area a better place to live. They deserve a great deal of credit for all of that and more - personally I have never understood why they seem hell bent on undermining all that with this tendency  toward secrecy and bullying. It really isn't necessary.

So, what about the "receptacle"? Following my appeal for new writers I was really delighted that a number of you responded, and about five of us will be meeting at the Bush Theatre this week to work out how to take it forward. I plan on writing the occasional article and the others are keen to follow different aspects of Bush life too. What would be great would be to get coverage across the range - community affairs, sport, arts, music and so on. So if any more of you want to get on board do just email 

UPDATE - One reader sees a dark future ahead of me, for having provoked the Wrath of Smith:


Oh my word - another reader suggests I may have to "do a Depardieu" and seek emergency help from Vladimir Putin:

No comments:

Post a Comment