Thursday, July 10, 2014

New “Community Forums” on Hold -
Decisions delegated to Chief Officers


The agenda papers for next week’s Full Council are now available on Redbridge-i and as expected there are items to abolish Area Committees and Regional Planning Committees.

Below is an extract/translation (without the council speak) from the report on Area Committees.
3. Proposals
3.1 Area Committee functions can be split into three main categories:
• Local Representation and Consultation
• Delegated Decision-Making in respect of local issues
• Funding of local Schemes
Local Representation and Consultation
3.2 Proposals are being developed to establish the most appropriate means to achieve effective consultation, public participation in decision making and local accountability in the future, and will be the subject of a separate report to Cabinet in October 2014.
Delegated Decision-making
3.3 The executive functions currently delegated to Area Committees are to be transferred with immediate effect to relevant Chief Officers, in consultation with Ward Members and the relevant Cabinet Member. These functions cover local highways schemes, parks and leisure issues, transport matters and environmental matters.
Funding Schemes
3.4 The allocation of unspent budgets and ongoing financial commitments of Area Committees will be the subject of a report to an unspecified meeting of Cabinet.
3.5. Decisions on funding for all schemes will be with Chief Officers, see item 3.3 above.
3.6. Decisions on the 15% of Community Infrastructure receipts formerly dealt with by Area Committees will be transferred to Cabinet with immediate effect. The Neighbourhood and Communities Service Committee will have an advisory role.
Well, I must say I am thoroughly disappointed. This was a pre-election commitment by Redbridge Labour and I would have thought that they had at least some idea of how they wish to engage with the community on local decision making once Area Committees are abolished. But it seems the proposals are still being “developed” and we won’t get to know for another 3 months or so. It also seems very odd to separate the engagement from the actual decision making which is now delegated to unelected Chief Officers "in consultation" with Ward members (councillors).

The problem we have is how do we get to know what decisions are being considered in our local area and when/if we find out, how do we get to influence those decisions or engage in the decision making process?

While I have to admit that officers already have delegated decision making powers these have tended to be on non-controversial matters. For example, my request for central white lines and “slow” markings on the bends of Chalgrove Crescent and Wensleydale Avenue was done this way via then Fullwell ward Councillor Moth. However, most traffic, highways and parking issues do tend to split local communities and very often there are representations and petitions both for and against such proposals as, for example, the Clayhall Avenue U-Turn issue. There has even been a petition against the planting of kerb side trees.

The decision making functions of Regional Planning Committees are also being transferred to officers, so one wonders what, if anything, we are paying an allowance of £10,138 p.a. to our local (non-Cabinet) councillors to actually do?

4 comments:

  1. I told you so!

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  2. A Supplementary Report on this item was tabled at the Council Meeting.

    Followers (including me) would be interested in your balanced, non Council-speak analysis.

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  3. I guess the new administration don't want to engage in any possible debate and that's why they have handed the 'process' over to officers?

    As you quite rightly point out, this was one of the pledges made during the election, however it was assumed (quite wrongly as we now know), that someone out of the 35 elected Labour Cllrs would have an their OWN ideas of how such forums would engage with the public.

    I am so pleased that you translated the Council speak into plain English, heaven knows what it was like before- and does that bode well for actually engaging at all levels with the public? And no, Area Committees were not perfect, but they were there for the public to have the opportunity to raise concerns and the diligent resident could always collar a Ward Cllr face to face after the meeting.....

    As for Regional Planning Committees being abolished, this is something that officers have wanted for years - whilst the large planning applications were always decided by the main committee, it's the smaller, sometimes often intrusive developments that need the most care - from local elected Cllrs!

    Oh, and whilst the Regional Planning Committees have been abolished, what now happens to the enforcement cases that use to have to 'signed off' by the Chair and Vice Chair of Regional Planning Committees? For those readers who thought planning officers use to 'pander' to those who pushed the rules, who is going to over-see that now - or is that something else that is now delegated?

    As for the allowances being cut, was that not also one of the pledges on Labour's literature? When is that to come before Overview or Council - or has that too been delegated?

    Vanessa Cole

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