Monday, June 30, 2014

#Redbridge – At Your Service

Over the last few years there have been changes to the way Redbridge Council operates brought about by legislative changes made by government. In 2010 the council adopted the “Strong Leader” Model and in 2013 there were further changes to the governance arrangements with the introduction of Service Committees at the expense of most but not all scrutiny committees.

At the time I didn’t pay much attention to these changes because we still had Area Committees. For all their faults these were effectively a one-stop-shop for residents wishing to raise issues or ask questions. It didn’t matter whether the Area Committee had the jurisdiction or authority to deal with the issues raised because they were, if you like, the “front office” who took the issue on and lead it through the machinations of internal local authority bureaucracy.

And then they were gone. We have been promised some form of replacement but we don’t know what form it will take or how effective it will be. So, I have been looking at a contingency plan on how we the community can engage with our councillors in the interim. And it has proved to be a little difficult.

The first problem was finding out what exactly is in each cabinet member’s portfolio. Previously these arrangements would have been found in the Full Council agenda papers and minutes but now the Cabinet and their portfolios are decided directly by the “Strong” Leader and the detail is hidden away in the Constitution part 2 section 5.6 which can be found here on Redbridge-i. There really ought to be a link to each individual portfolio on the main Cabinet page so that we can all see precisely who is responsible for what. Come to think of it a reverse look up list would not go amiss, so that newbies can see, for example, that Libraries fall within the Health & Wellbeing heading. If you compare the previous to the current set of portfolios you will notice that the words Culture, Leisure, Transportation and Crime have all disappeared and Highways was not mentioned in either.

Now we come to Service Committees. These are intended, I think, to support the cabinet members in making decisions, by giving each issue a wider airing amongst other councillors (who would otherwise have nothing much to do) where constructive debate can take place and modifications can be suggested or new ideas can be explored and proposed. The final decision still rests with the Cabinet member or Cabinet itself although in theory this can be overturned by Full Council – unlikely since the party of Cabinet hold a majority.

There are four of these committees and since the cabinet portfolios have changed so have these. There really ought to be another column on the main Cabinet page showing which service committee deals with which cabinet portfolio with a link to that service committee’s Terms of Reference and meeting schedule.

Cabinet MemberPortfolioService Committee
Jas AthwalLeaderPolicy & Resorces
Wes StreetingDeputy Leader & Health Wellbeing  Health, Wellbeing, Care & Older People
Dev Sharma       Adult Care & Older PeopleHealth, Wellbeing, Care & Older People
Elaine NormanChildren & Young PeopleChildren & Young People
Ross HatfullCommunity Safety & EnforcementNeighbourhoods & Communities
Baldesh NijjarEnvironmentNeighbourhoods & Communities
Neil ZammettFinance & ResourcesPolicy & Resorces
Muhammed Javed HousingNeighbourhoods & Communities
Helen CoombPlanning & RegenerationNeighbourhoods & Communities

Judging by the past, most issues raised by residents would fall within the remit of just one of these; the aptly named Neighbourhoods and Communities Service Committee, which meets next on Wednesday 16th July 2014 in Committee room 1 at the Town Hall. Although this committee is supposed to have 11 members, this page shows that 61 of them are “expected” to attend, so it could be a bit cramped if the regulars from all seven Area Committees all turn up as well. See you there.

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