Tag Archives: democracy

Open democracy

19 Jul

Copyright: Image by jsawkins on Flickr. Some rights reserved

On July 15th Newham council voted to amend its constitution to allow the public to film and record proceedings at future meetings. The decision was inspired by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for local government, basically telling councils that if they didn’t let this happen he’d change the law to force them.

The Newham Recorder invited our mayor and Lutfur Rahman, his Tower Hamlets counterpart, to ‘debate’ the matter. Mike Law has blogged about this and I’d recommend reading his post and the comments on it, as well as the Recorder piece.

What follows is the comment I added to Mike’s blog, which points at what I think is Sir Robin’s staggering hypocrisy on this issue:

Sir Robin, with Eric Pickles’ gun pressed to his head, says

what does it do to build public trust in politics more widely when a clique seeks to shut the public out from decisions made on their behalf?… In the 21st century it is not enough for democracy to simply happen. It has to be seen to happen.

Despite appearances, the age of satire is not yet dead.

As Birdman [one of the commenters on Mike’s blog] correctly observes,

decisions are largely taken in Labour Group meetings, after the Labour Councillors have been told which way to vote, and no genuine debate is ever seen or heard by the public attending meetings… what is there to film?

Monday’s council meeting, at which this “historic decision” was taken, lasted just 14 minutes. And that included a set-piece speech by councillor Ellie Robinson on ‘Newham’s Wonderful Women’.

May’s annual general meeting took a massive 39 minutes; February’s was 31 minutes. The ‘extraordinary’ meeting in January occupied councillors for a mere 10 minutes. I could go on, but you get the drift.

If Sir Robin were truly serious about open and transparent decision-making Labour group meetings would be the ones that took 10 minutes and the real debates would happen in council, where the public could see and hear them.

We all know that won’t happen though.

A Parish Council for Forest Gate?

20 Feb


In 2007, the Government passed legislation which permitted the creation of community councils in London, with the aim of enhancing community governance in urban areas. These new community councils would have similar powers to the parish councils that exist elsewhere across the country.

Central government – both this one and its Labour predecessor – wants to encourage localism, a greater devolution of power and decision making to the lowest possible level. A Government white paper last year set out support for new parish councils and made it clear they wanted to see more councils established to take greater control over local services

Already local residents in Queen’s Park and London Fields have started campaigns to set up their own councils to change their community for the better.

Would it make sense for us to have our own council in Forest Gate?

It wouldn’t mean leaving Newham, just having some powers transferred into the hands of local people and an ability to spend money on the projects we consider priorities. For example, the new council would have to be consulted on any planning applications, such as the one submitted by Obsidian for the re-development of our town centre. The lack of effective planning enforcement is something that has long blighted Forest Gate Town Centre. Other possible powers which could have a positive impact on how we as residents could improve Forest Gate include managing community and leisure centres, establishing a ‘village hall’, street cleansing and community safety. It may even be possible to take over the local parking provision to ensure that it better reflects the needs and desires of the local population. 

The new council would be funded by a precept – an additional amount of money collected alongside the council tax. It might also receive a grant from Newham to enable it fund services it took over from them.

In order to establish a new parish council here Newham, as the ‘Principal Local Authority’, would have to first undertake a ‘community governance review’. They could decide to do this themselves, or we can petition them to do so. If 10% of the electors in the affected area signed the petition Newham would be legally obliged to carry out a review within 12 months. 

Together the existing wards of Forest Gate North and Forest Gate South are home to about 20,000 people, but the area covered by the council need not exactly match those boundaries. However, that makes a sensible starting point for thinking about this.

I think there are exciting possibilities here for local people to re-engage in the governance of our community, but what do you think? Is this an idea worth pursuing? Why not head over to Woodgrange Web and join the debate – http://bit.ly/yKo35I