How much?

Council leader Keith Moffitt and Giles Coren

Coren goes shopping with council leader Keith Moffitt

GILES Coren was so chuffed with the amount of money Camden Council paid him to launch the Love Camden brochure – a sort of council guide to local businesses to give them a plug during the recession – he tweeted his delight through Twitter. Perhaps in an effort to retain some form of street cred from what was essentially a dry corporate gig by his standards, he tempered the boast by reminding everyone of all the money he has shovelled into the Town Hall through parking fine over the years.

A reminder of how Camden Council often used to get a terse, irritated mention in his columns for The Times, the bit about parking fines was, I guess, a kind of justification for accepting the  financial rewards for the cheesy photo shoot he had agreed to. Look at the pictures, they are cheesy.

Coren’s exact words on Twitter that afternoon: ‘Off to film a promo for Camden Council in Kentish Town. Quite well paid – should just cover the parking fines I’ve paid them over the years.

The council nor Coren would tell my colleagues how much ‘quite well paid’ actually meant when the CNJ covered the launch of the brochure last month, a bit of a flop of an event by all accounts. The need for celebrities at all and a party at the Wellcome Institute was never really explained either.

Nobody wants to be down on any attempt to make life easier for Camden’s struggling businesses but Love Camden has hardly been raved about. The brochure missed out many parts of the borough which could have done with the a little boost in the unsteady climate just as much the parts that did make the cut. Kentish Town: In. Queen’s Crescent: Out. Marchmont Street: In. Highgate Village: Out. 

There were also confusing messages from the politicians promoting it about whether it was meant for the residents who had them shoved through their door (in which case they probably knew where their local butchers were) or for tourists (in which case why were they delivered to every home in Camden at cost to the council of about 50p a copy?).

Worst still, You Tube videos made by the council for the same Love Camden campaign have hardly been watched, it’s difficult to see how they justify the time and resources spent making them. And banners hanging from lampposts in places like Kentish Town are ridiculed locally. People I’ve spoken to say they feel patronised.

So, fair play to Penny Abraham, the long serving Labour councillor, who on Monday night will ask just how much all of this has cut into the council’s ‘Recession Fund’, money it put aside to help businesses during the downturn. A scan of the agenda shows she has put down a question to the full council meeting asking how much the Love Your High Street campaign has cost and specifically: How much did Giles Coren cost for the launch?

It’s a valid question about the use of public money – but don’t hold your breath. Experience tells us that come Monday night an answer will have been drafted telling us that the information cannot be disclosed. Expect a lame reason, something along these lines… releasing the amount of money paid to Mr Coren would affect the council’s ability to negotiate with celebrities in the future. Or some other deflective nonsense. A truly open council with nothing to hide would just give Penny a straight answer.

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