Whose chair is it anyway?

16 May

One of the more important elections at this week’s Labour group AGM is for the position of chair. Labour group is the one meeting where backbench councillors can challenge the executive. The chair has huge influence in controlling the debate.

The incumbent, Clive Furness (Canning Town North), is also the Mayoral Advisor for Adults & Health – a ‘full-time’ position for which he is paid £33,735 a year on top of his £10,974 basic allowance. The post is entirely in the gift of the mayor. 

In his election statement Cllr Furness portrays himself as a modest and genial fellow, who is so keen for everyone to have their say that sometimes other items have to be left until a later meeting (not that this is in any way ever abused to ensure awkward questions don’t get asked. Oh no).

This is my second stretch in the role as Chair and I believe that I chair Group meetings effectively and courteously. Rarely are members denied a chance to speak  and then it is solely to move on the business of Group to ensure that an agenda is  completed. My fault, if it is such, is to allow discussion to continue too long meaning  that occasionally matters are deferred to a future meeting.

In terms of the specific skills that I believe I bring, I would suggest that I am  inclusive in my chairing style, I run the meetings in a business-like manner but also  with humour and an allowance for members who might struggle to get across their  points.

In terms of the unseen work I believe that I have demonstrated an ability to  marshal people together with different personalities and priorities in order to  ensure that Group Officers act in a cohesive manner. 

… In terms of my priorities in the role as Chair it will be to ensure that there is  opportunity for full debate amongst members and ensure that members are  reminded that they are part of a Group and Party that makes decisions and acts  collectively. 

Of course Furness doesn’t mention that he was subject to a motion of no confidence two years ago, when he ruled a motion to enforce equal representation for women among group officers and mayoral advisors out of order.

He is being challenged by John Gray (West Ham). Cllr Gray was Labour group secretary from 2010 – 15 and is, along with John Whitworth and Rokhsana Fiaz, one of the few councillors openly questioning the use of LOBO loans.

I believe we need to change the way we do things in Labour Group. We have to understand that we have an Executive model which gives the Mayor great power and influence. One of the roles of the Group Chair is to help hold the Executive to account and to champion the role and contribution of all Group Members.

We need sufficient checks and balances. We need to have a chair that is independent of the Executive and not dependent on the Mayor for his or her livelihood. This is not meant as a slight on past Chairs but there is a clear conflict of interest. The Chair must be seen as independent on the Executive and should not hold any advisor position. Things need to be done properly but they also need to be seen to be done properly.

The main challenge facing the Council is Tory Government Austerity cuts. While we need to challenge and oppose these cuts we also need to encourage argument and debate on how to do this. Group members must feel listened to and their views respected. We need an independent Chair to unite us in the difficult times ahead.

So the question before councillors is whether they want group meetings chaired by someone who is a member of the mayor’s executive team, or someone who is independent of it.

The answer, sadly, is that most of them don’t care enough to think about the consequences. They will simply do what they are told.

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6 Responses to “Whose chair is it anyway?”

  1. Khan kham May 16, 2016 at 15:29 #

    Has Cllr Furness missed out , women are not allowed to speak, he loves to bully fellow cllrs, and the only business discussed is his own.

  2. terry ball May 16, 2016 at 17:35 #

    has any women put their name forward or are they frightened to ,laguda is a mate of furness and also has broken the rules and was suspended from labour group in the past by voting for scrutiny chair vaughn and was cabinet member so not allowed ,mind she came back as chair of council that i find a bit odd ,not a shining example to the rest .i suppose its down to who is on the ruling clique .

  3. sid vicous May 16, 2016 at 17:57 #

    Also as Cllr Furness in pay of the Mayor, as dances at his beck and call, like the fairground monkey, the more you feed it the more it dances.

  4. Kim Jong un May 16, 2016 at 20:46 #

    Only if Cllr Furness ran Canning Town South ward with the same enthusiasm, may be he would have more than the 72 members he currently has, so he would’nt have conduct ward AGM’s with only six members. But who are we to judge, we dont recieve £43,000 from Kin Joong Wales Mayor Newham (dictaor) who say money is the root of all evil. this post was smuggled out of the north korea sorry newham.

    • peter May 17, 2016 at 15:23 #

      sorry mate you forgot to mention the phone call to all yes people to make sure the paymasters policy are adheared to thats why there was a AGM of just six people. l complained about the AGM and not being told was told to take it up with region.

      • uddin May 18, 2016 at 08:11 #

        l have been member for 20 years and promised that l could become a councillor for the ward only if l voted the way Cllr furness wanted me to, still waiting

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