Friday, May 02, 2014

Area Committees?
– or Co-operative Councils?

I trust you have all seen the write up of our local election hustings in the Ilford Recorder both on-line and in print. Many thanks to Chris Carter (Editor) for being our independent Chair for the evening and to Beth Wyatt (Reporter) for the write-up. As you will have seen, the subject of the future for Area Committees was a controversial subject that has now been taken a stage further in the comments section in the on-line Recorder report.

The “alternative” is a subject that was covered some time back at one of our coffee mornings when we had Bob Littlewood as our guest speaker and very interesting it was too. We like to have a broad range of political views. Co-operative councils are, apparently, an alternative way to involve residents in decision making and shaping the delivery of services to the community.

Here’s Wes Streeting (without the naughty bits)
[Area Committees] cost over £700k a year and engage a tiny, tiny minority of the population. When residents arrive, they're greeted with a massive stack of papers and limited opportunities for participation.
Groups like Barkingside 21 and park users' groups show that you do not need the heavy weight of council bureaucracy to involve local people in debating and influencing local policies.
A Labour Council will sign up to the 'Co-operative Councils Network', which is all about giving residents greater involvement in shaping public services. There are great examples of this approach in Labour-led Lambeth and Labour-led Oldham and many more besides. We'll be establishing a commission to look at this and working closely with voluntary, private and residents' groups as we develop policies.
[Snip] Labour introduced public participation in Council meetings. We also introduced Area Committees, but we know when they've had their day.
There is a reply from Hazel Weinberg, (click and scroll) who raised the subject at our hustings. Her point, if I understand it correctly, is that whether the Co-operative councils approach is more effective at engaging with the community or not, it is unlikely to come for free and could possibly end up more resource hungry than Area Committees; while Labour has already earmarked the £700k ‘saving’ for other priorities.

Putting aside the cost and election banter this is an important issue about how our council could better (best) engage with the community it serves.



  1. NeighbourhoodWatcher11:21 am, May 03, 2014

    Can we do without Area Meetings? Probably yes but always be careful, when proposing to do away with something, about what you are proposing to replace it with. The big issue is where the decision making is done which is very different from who gets consulted.

    Area Meetings are scheduled every 3 months or so with some Areas having fewer meetings than others. Some Ward Councillors have regular "surgeries" but not all. All Councillors are contactable by phone and e-mail. The Public attending Area Meetings often wait months for an Area Meeting to raise an issue when they should have contacted Councillors but the fact that issues are recorded in Area minutes is useful for keeping issues on the boil. Area Committees are responsible for allocating a proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funds but the rules are hazy and Committees still have discretionary funds - so something would need to be done about those.

    Big issues that appear on AC Agendas and invite public comment could be dealt with by the sort of public meeting that B21 seems good at organising. It would also help if The Public were allowed 5 minutes instead of two to speak at Cabinet Meetings (where most decisions are made).


  2. I know very little about how local councils are run. On the whole Councillors seem to do a fairly good job and it’s certainly not an occupation for which I would volunteer. I am generally in favour of Area Committee meetings. They tend to shine a light into the murky world of Council politics and it’s surprising what members of the general public can learn from them. However, two points arise from this discussion.

    First, how is it possible that three or four ACM’s a year can possibly cost the Council seven hundred thousand pounds? Where does the money go?

    Point two is, having attended many AC3 meetings over the years, I never cease to be surprised by the apparent incapability of those councillors attending to overcome the power of ‘The Cabinet’. Whenever something remotely controversial comes up or an especially bright suggestion is presented by a member of the public, one or other area council member present will always profess his or her inability to act on it because the dreaded ‘Cabinet’ reigns supreme. What are these people elected for? Why are those councillors who are not in the holy circle so impotent?

    NeighbourhoodWatcher says ‘most decisions are made’ in Cabinet and that is certainly true based on the assertions of AC3 members. Would ‘Co-operative Councils’, whatever they are, do any better than Area Committees in getting valid suggestions acted upon without falling foul of the Cosa Cabinet?

    On an abrupt change of subject: fellow vexillologists (well look it up then!) will be delighted to learn that there are now no less than four Union Jacks flying at Fairlop Waters – and they’re ALL the right way up.
    Didn’t we do well?

    1. Alfred,
      There are 7 Area Committees so at £700k that's £100k each. As I understand it this sum includes their budget of about £60k each which they can spend on things like Speed Guns, street trees, traffic calming etc.
      There is no mention of how these things might be funded under the alternative proposals

  3. What I would like to know is how is the Cabinet selected, because the same person seems to change their roles and responsibilities, which means, one hopes, that they have to work very hard at their new subject.
    But, I have heard quite a few time that the Cabinet member relies entirely on the information given by their 'officers' or qualified members of the Council Staff. I have vivid memories of that! (I did enjoy the experience though and we still have the allotments!)

  4. Unless I am mistaken the Cabinet is selected by the Leader. That of course leads to those who will support the Leader getting a job. It becomes difficult therefore when infighting or other mischief takes place and people drop off the radar either willingly or otherwise. It becomes even more of a bun fight when there is no overall control and deals are done which ends up with a Deputy Leader from the smallest party having a key role in Council. In terms of ACM's they really don't deliver a great deal other than giving all Councillors a platform. Other than minor local decisions they don't do a lot and money could be better used. They can be entertaining depending on what Councillors are present but that is it. There is the need to consider other more effective means of public concern being actioned. ACM's have had their day mind you so have a lot of Councillors who attend them. The not standing list was not long enough for me personally. Time for a change in many regards.