Tag Archives: Fabians

Talking to the Fabians about committees

23 Nov

On Saturday Newham Fabians held an online meeting to talk about local democracy and participation. I was invited to talk about the committee model and why I think it’s the best option for Newham.

This is what I said…

Since 2002 Newham has been run by a directly elected executive mayor – for the first 16 years that was Sir Robin Wales; the current mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has served for 2 ½ years.

The referendum in May will be the first time in close to 20 years that residents have the chance to debate and determine how our borough is run. The choice will be between the current arrangements and a modern committee system.

Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for a committee system, is delighted that there will be a clear choice between a council run by a Mayor and a small executive they appoint and a more participatory, inclusive and open system in which every councillor can play a role. We’re looking forward to campaigning for the committee system in the referendum and having the chance to make the arguments about how Newham council should make decisions and agree policy.

So, what is the committee model?

This is the flatter, less hierarchical and more collaborative alternative to having the executive – or strong leader – arrangements we have now.

Under this model, full Council holds all the decision-making powers. It is full Council’s decision whether to exercise those powers directly or to delegate them to committees or to officers. Council can decide for itself how to organise the committees and adapt them over time to meet changing needs.

While there is no set model of committees, historically they have been based on major functional areas, such as housing, finance, education and resources; along with regulatory committees such as planning and licensing; governance committees such as audit and standards; and statutory scrutiny committees, such as health.

The London Borough of Sutton, for example, has four main committees that are responsible for the Council’s principal functions. These are:

  • Strategy and Resources Committee
  • Environment and Neighbourhood Committee
  • Housing, Economy and Business Committee
  • People Committee

Full Council appoints a leader, but without executive powers and, of course, they can be replaced by full Council – not an option that exists under our current arrangements.

The council leader provides political and strategic leadership, proposing new policy, strategy, budget and service standards, as well as acting as spokesperson for the authority.

They represent the Council in the community and in discussions with regional, national and international organisations.

Although this is not an issue in our present one-party state, all committees and sub-committees must be politically balanced, where possible.

Research shows that in councils that moved back to a committee system, the role of full council has been enhanced, with more councillors involved in decision-making. Which is a key reason for moving away from a mayor or leader-and-cabinet system.

Why do we believe this the best option for Newham?

Good governance is about more than structures and processes. Political and organisational cultures, attitudes and behaviours are what make systems successful.

We have seen that the concentration of power and patronage in the hands a single individual, and their hand-picked ‘executive team’, has led to groupthink, poor decision-making and a toxic political culture. Although Rokhsana Fiaz has handed back many of her powers to cabinet there is nothing to prevent a future mayor reclaiming them for themselves.

In a modern Committee system, all 66 councillors will have the power to represent their areas and do the job voters believe they are electing them to do.

Decisions will be made by committees of councillors (from all parties, should an opposition ever manage to get itself elected) working together. All of our councillors will have a voice to represent the communities they serve – not just the mayor and their chosen few.

Power and resources for decision-making in local communities can also be built into a committee system. This means more decisions can be taken closer to the people affected.

We believe that the committee system is:

OPEN – there is more opportunity for citizens, experts and communities to have their say and influence decisions

REPRESENTATIVE – all council members have input into decisions, not just the Mayor and Cabinet

CO-OPERATIVE – councillors have to work together to make decisions

ACCOUNTABLE – every councillor takes a role in making policy and seeing decisions enacted

And a properly designed committee system will be just as swift for decision-making as the mayor-and-cabinet system.

The socialist case for committees

Socialists know that supporting open, democratic and accountable government is crucial. Our party was established to open up government to working people who had gone unrepresented — so that democracy might be used to improve the lives of the many, not just the few.

I hope the referendum debate can be a starting point for a wider discussion on how to renew our democracy in Newham. As Fabians and socialists, we have questions to answer.

How do we create a political culture based on cooperation and solidarity? How do we rebuild trust in our politics and in our public institutions? How do we build support for and fund high quality, universal public services? How do we become carbon neutral within the next decade, to avert climate catastrophe?

The scale of the task confronting us means that the public needs to be at the heart of deciding how to proceed.

I will finish by quoting Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam and a supporter for the campaign for a committee system in her city: “Labour councils should be innovative, pioneering new democratic processes with greater citizen participation and deliberation. And we need to start now. The people are ready for change, and we should listen.”

Newham Fabian Society is the local branch of the Fabian Society, a left-leaning think tank dedicated to new public policy and political ideas that is affiliated to the Labour Party. If you’re interested in finding out more, email the secretary.

Policies for a Labour London

16 Oct

Lyn Borwn delivers the keynote address

Keynote speech by Lyn Brown MP at Newham Fabians’ conference, Policies for a Labour London, on Saturday 12 October 2019

I’d like to thank Anita and Newham Fabians for the invitation and everyone for coming to this event today. I’m so grateful to have an opportunity to take part in this discussion about how our Labour policies can help Londoners and our communities thrive.

As most of you will I hope know I work in the Shadow Treasury team with the fabulous John McDonnell. What I do is social justice and equality.

In London, we see the consequences of inequality and injustice every day. Newham has the worst homelessness in thecountry and shocking numbers of vulnerable people having to sleep rough.

The most vulnerable have been denied a home by the housing crisis. Denied the other support they deserve because of cuts to all of our services and ended up on our street where all their problems can only be exacerbated.

They shouldn’t have to rely on charity to get their lives back. We know only well-funded, totally focused Government action can do that. The kind of action that saw rough sleeping reduced by two-thirds under the last Labour Government[1].

Newham has the highest level of homelessness[2], and appallingly we have the second highest child poverty rate in the country as well. Half our Newham children lived in poverty last year[3]. Half. London as a whole has the highest child poverty rate of any region[4].

And we know what that means – debts and stress over bills that can’t be paid, and rocketing numbers of children homeless in dire temporary accommodation.

Because the rent simply isn’t affordable, social housing is almost non-existent after decades of unreplaced sell-offs, and after Tory cuts, housing benefit simply doesn’t fill the gap.

Dreams are stifled, enormous promise in our community goes unrecognised and unfulfilled, gaping inequalities of class, race, gender, and disability widen.

Worst of all, it means children destitute, going hungry. Last year, you might remember, the headteacher of a primary school in Maryland, just round the corner, she discovered a mum sleeping with her children, in the back alley, behind some bins.

Just a few months later at a visit to a local school, I stupidly remarked to a little girl whose plate was piled high with food ‘that’s a lot of food for such a small person’. She beamed at me and said ‘yes I know, it’s not my turn to eat tonight’.

It’s an utter disgrace that this ever happens in the fifth richest country in the world. But it was quite clear from that conversation that not being able to eat wasn’t a rare event for that little girl, and probably wasn’t a rare event for her friends either.

Because she said it to me, so easily to me, so casually. It had become her normal, and I suspect her friends’ normal as well.

As Labour members, we know poverty and inequality are linked. London doesn’t just have the highest poverty rates, we have the highest inequality as well. 50% of London’s wealth is owned by the richest 10%. The poorest half of us own just 5% of the wealth.[5]

We see this every day. The extraordinary luxury and privilege of a few in the City, sitting cheek by jowl with the deprivation and social exclusion of many in the East End.

In the last year I’ve visited the sparkling new offices of the Financial Conduct Authority. I’ve been awed by some of the developments still going ahead in the Olympic Park, despite Brexit.

And I walk through the Stratford Centre so close by, where rough sleeping, gang exploitation, sexual violence and destitution are a daily reality. Where another young life was ended by violence on Thursday [10th October 2019].

I’ve visited our schools and colleges and been inspired again and again by the resilience and brilliance of our children, and I’ve held parents in my arms after their children have been violently taken from them.

I’ve heard the stories of so many families in my surgery –homeless, mistreated, denied the resources they need to live and the respect they deserve.

These social injustices aren’t equally distributed. Obviously in terms of class, and in terms of race as well. The in-work poverty rate for black British people is 27.5%, more than double that of the rest of the population. And black university graduates face an enormous pay gap because of discrimination and disadvantage: 23.1% less in earnings than their white fellow graduates.[6]

Racial wealth gaps are even wider. For every pound a white British family has in wealth on average, a Pakistani family has around 50p, a Black Caribbean family has around 20p, and Black African and Bangladeshi families both have around 10p.[7]

These social injustices are our challenge. We need to end them, and that’s what we’ll be fighting for in the coming election.

We desperately need to be rid of this Tory Government and keep City Hall Labour – we need Labour in Westminster, in our Councils and in every Combined Authority.

That way we can join up our work against social injustice and make it all the more powerful.

Not just the investment that Sadiq has put into youth services and community policing, but a nationwide youth service commitment and proper police funding across the country.

Because I want those bastards who run county lines and exploit our children caught, charged, and the key thrown away.

We can’t forget that the biggest impact of austerity is a failure to invest in our children and our future. It’s had very unequal, unfair impacts, and I’m afraid we won’t see the full damage for many years to come.

Towards the end of the last Labour Government, we were spending almost 6% of our GDP on publicly funded education and training. By last year, that had fallen to just over 4%—a cut of more than a quarter.

Given the challenges we face, we clearly need far more investment in skills and knowledge, to transform our economy with a green industrial revolution and make it more prosperous but also fairer.

Instead, as we know, during Tory rule school funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms.

The consequences are glaringly obvious.

More than 1,000 schools nationally have had to rely on crowdfunding for basics such as pencils and textbooks.

At least 26 schools are closing their classrooms because they don’t have the money to keep teaching.

The proportion of pupils in supersized classes with more than 31 pupils to a single teacher is at its highest level for 36 years.

The number of pupils doing a GCSE in music has fallen by almost a quarter since 2010, just as industry is asking us for more creativity and collaboration in education, because those skills are needed.

Our further education providers have been cut even more: sixth forms by 21% and FE colleges by 8%.

The Social Mobility Commission found that 41% of FE providers had reduced their careers guidance and 48% their mental health support. I don’t think people get why that’s so important – for class equality, careers guidance is fundamental.

In its report, it also cited evidence that 51% of colleges had stopped teaching modern language courses. So much for a global Britain post-Brexit!

Some 38% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in science, technology, engineering and maths —the courses our economy needs to sustain our green industrial revolution. It’s jaw-dropping that schools and colleges have been forced into that.

We have a recruitment crisis in nursing after the Government scrapped bursaries, and frankly, because of Brexit.

We have a productivity crisis because the Government hasn’t invested in skills. People lucky enough to have a career are struggling to progress at work.

Adult education – so important now that people have to change careers —nobody goes into a job at 18 and stays till in it until they’re 67. But no: funding has been cut in adult education almost in half since 2009-10.  Apprenticeship spending has fallen by 44%.

The Open University, which has given a second chance to millions of people, is on its knees because of the Government’s tuition fees regime. Older and part-time learners are simply scared off by the level of debt they’re expected to take on if they want to improve their education or change their course in life.

That’s the situation across the board — cuts, cuts, cuts, and not investment.

What about early years? SureStart has been cut by two thirds since 2010. And 1,000 centres have closed. We know about the amazing benefits of Sure Start.

Just on one measure: Children are almost 20% less likely to be hospitalised by the age of 11 if their family has access to a Sure Start centre – that’s massive – and the most disadvantaged children benefit most.

The impact on the NHS alone of fewer children being hospitalised, is enough by itself to pay for 6% of Sure Start’s costs, and that’s just one impact among many.

The story is the same with youth centres, cut by 40% on average across the country and by as much as 91% in some places.

When investment in youth services is taken away, young people are far more likely to have their lives blighted and their potential wasted by becoming victims of exploitation.

Here in Newham, we know that only too well. Youth centres and youth workers provide young people with spaces away from the county lines groomers on our streets.

Places where young people know they can find an adult to talk to – somebody who can listen to their problems, offer them real resilience against the troubles on our streets and point them towards opportunity.

What is so essential is not the bat and ball and the table tennis in the youth club, but the adult standing on the other side of that table an adult they can trust who can give them different ways of dealing with the so-called ‘elder’ on the street, who grooms that child by offering them chicken to be a lookout for while he sells his drugs.

Good youth work stops children being groomed, stops children’s potential being wasted. We know it’s often the brightest most articulate children they pick on.

And we know those older teenagers seem to offer an alternative economic model.

I can see why that might be appealing, because those teenagers are watching their parents go to work for all the hours God sends and still unable to afford basics let alone luxuries.

The lower quartile rent on a two bed flat in Newham is dearer than the lower quartile earnings for Newham residents. Your whole pay packet in the lower quartile doesn’t cover the lower quartile of rent.

Our children know this is the reality for their parents – low wages, high rents. They live with the stress of poverty and their parents struggling to pay bills day in and day out. They are looking for alternatives.

But a good youth worker can help our young people understand the very dark places that the offer of food and friendship and that alternative economic model can lead to.

If we’d invested earlier, how many of the lives that’ve been blighted by county lines exploitation could have been saved?

We know investment in social infrastructure benefits not only the economy but our society in so many ways for decades into the future.

We don’t just need billions of pounds more investment in social infrastructure, but also to change the way Government works, at every level, so the investment we put in is focused on tackling social injustices, and is there for the long term.

It’s about making sure there are good Labour people in Downing Street AND in City Hall. It’s about giving Boroughs, Cities and towns the space to step up their work against social injustice by restoring and targeting central government funding. But it’s also about joining up our work – national, regional and local. That’s something I’m working on in John’s team.

We’re going to replace the Social Mobility Commission with a Social Justice Commission to investigate the fairness of our society across every policy area, and every kind of injustice: class, race, gender, disability, sexuality.

It has to be about creating fair opportunities for all. We don’t want a grammar school society where some get on and are lauded and applauded. But they have often got on because of luck – being in the right place at the right time. Tokenistic social mobility policies just aren’t enough.

We’ll match our new Commission with co-ordination on social justice across a Labour Government. We’ll have a Minister for Social Justice in our Treasury to drive forward our agenda. And we’ll ensure it’s matched with the levels of investment our communities need.

Cutting poverty and increasing life chances will be core goals. We’ll assess every policy to make sure it plays a part in cutting child poverty and creating a fairer society. We’ll look at new ways of tackling class discrimination and all other forms of inequality.

I believe the first step should be bringing the Socioeconomic Duty from the Equality Act into force. That would mean that every different part of Government – not just Whitehall Departments but councils, health authorities, schools, and the police. All of them will have a duty to consider the impact of their strategic decisions on working class people, and try to reduce socioeconomic inequality.

I’m also looking at the idea of class audits for large companies as well as the gender and race audits we’re already committed to. And we’re considering building protection against class discrimination into the Equality Act as well.

And finally, when it comes to social justice, we won’t mark our own homework; our policies and our statistics will be trustworthy because they’ll be checked from the outside. Part of this is the Social Justice Commission, but another bit could be the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Tories have used the OBR to turn their budgets into carnivals of cuts. Every time there’s a Budget, the size of the public debt is all the media and unfortunately a lot of the public have talked about. Not the consequences of austerity plans for public services, for our community, for poverty and inequality.

But wouldn’t it be amazing if budgets weren’t just about the numbers – how much spending, how much growth, how much debt. But about how much poverty is being reduced, and how much fairer our society is becoming. 

If we made those changes we might find we don’t just have a better policy. We might have a better conversation where it’s easier to win over the people who matter as well: our voters, those people who are going to be determining our marginal seats.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they wanted to talk to us about progress on poverty, rather than repeating the kinds of lines that have come out of Tory Governments to shamelessly justify their fiscally failed and socially unjust austerity.

So, comrades, let’s been clear. Our economy does not work for the many in London. I often have to remind colleagues and activists from other places about the huge poverty and social problems we see here every day.

Because London and the South-East are always seen to be receiving more than our fair share from the public purse. And it’s true, we do get a lot of infrastructure investment.

There is regional inequality, and there is also enormous inequality and poverty within our big cities. Labour has to tackle both these problems, and we absolutely can if we work together across the country, and across every level of Government, for the many not the few. Solidarity. 

Footnotes & references:
[1] https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/239453/everybody_in_how_to_end_homelessness_in_great_britain_short_edition_2018.pdf
[2] https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/news/newham-has-the-highest-number-of-homeless-people-in-england-1-5791719
[3] http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/poverty-in-your-area-2019/
[4] https://cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-london-facts
[5] https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/data/wealth-distribution/
[6] https://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/we-must-turn-tide-inequality-all-our-children
[7] https://www.friendsprovidentfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Runnymede-report.pdf

Fabians a-go-go

25 Jan

Amna Abdul addresses the Newham Fabians AGM

The recently re-formed and reinvigorated local branch of the Fabian Society held its AGM last night at Durning Hall.

It was, by Newham standards, a warm and comradely affair. Perhaps that was due to the presence of national Fabian officers supervising proceedings. Or perhaps it was down to the absence of Team Robin. 

During discussion of the annual report it was disclosed that there had been a very large influx of new members just prior to the AGM – as many as 150 people had signed up in the past month or so – coincidentally around the same time as the Labour party announced the mayoral trigger ballot would be re-run. Those applications are being processed by the national Fabian Society and they decided to impose a freeze date to prevent these recent joiners from voting or standing for election. In any event, Newham Fabians won’t be participating in the re-run trigger.

The officers who have run the local society so successfully this year were all re-elected unopposed. They will be joined by new treasurer David Gilles. He replaces Lester Hudson, who declined to either re-stand or provide any report of his activities over the past year. Judging by the mood of the meeting, he won’t be missed.

The new executive in full: 

  • Chair: Anita Pollack 
  • Vice Chair: Rokhsana Fiaz 
  • Secretary: Rohit DasGupta 
  • Assistant Secretary: James Beckles 
  • Treasurer: David Gilles
  • Women’s Officer: Moniba Khan
  • Events & Fundraising Officer: Jeanette Dye

 

 

 

 

Fabian update

1 Feb

The following statement has been issued by the national Fabian Society regarding the recent mayoral trigger ballot (my emphasis added):

Since early December the national Fabian Society has received a number of complaints from members regarding the process followed by Newham Fabian Society in the re-selection of the Labour Party candidate for mayor of Newham. The society has concluded that the process followed did not comply with the national society’s bye-laws governing local Fabian societies. All but one of the people involved in the decision are no longer in office, following an AGM held on 11th January.

Upon receiving the complaints, the national society contacted the (former) officers of Newham Fabians and they responded helpfully to our inquiry, providing information and justification for their actions. They told us that the nomination had been made by the society’s officers and by its delegate to East Ham Constituency Labour Party, using the same procedure used in 2013. They also said that their interpretation of the society’s bye-laws was that no process for a mayoral re-selection ‘trigger ballot’ was specified. 

A committee of the national society’s executive met on 24th January to consider the complaints. It accepted the statement from the officers that they acted in good faith. Nevertheless, the committee determined that the national society’s bye-laws require a vote of members in the re-selection of a mayoral candidate and therefore concluded that the Newham Fabians nomination had breached the society’s rules. 

The national Fabian Society has instructed the new officers of Newham Fabians to write to their members to inform them of these conclusions and offer apologies on behalf of Newham Fabian Society. It will also provide support and supervision to the new officers in their future administration of the society. 

The Labour Party has been informed of the outcome of the society’s review. Any further inquiries about the Newham trigger ballot should be directed to the party.

So the rules were broken in order to deliver a vital extra vote to Sir Robin.

The officers in question were councillors Tahmina Rahman and Unmesh Desai. But who is (or was?) the Fabian’s delegate to East Ham CLP? And, given Newham Fabians hadn’t met for four years prior to last month’s re-launch AGM, who nominated them?

Xmas cancelled – again

6 Dec

The relaunch of the long-dormant Newham Fabian Society has been postponed.

Dear Friends,

Due to venue and logistical reasons, we are having to postpone our Fabian Xmas Social. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Best wishes,

Tahmina

Perhaps the venue was too small to hold the very large number of people who want to ask Cllr Tahmina Rahman how come she signed a letter saying the Fabians were voting in favour of Sir Robin in the trigger ballot when the local society hasn’t met for years.

Or perhaps the guest speaker feared his talk on “Political development and future of Newham” would be met with howls of cynical laughter.

What is it with the mayor and Christmas socials? It’s all eerily familiar.