Writing up what I think for Lewisham’s Democracy Review is proving harder than I thought, the source material i.e. Lewisham’s Constitution [www] is very long(483 pages), it’s .pdf, can’t easily be indexed or highlighted, so item No. 1. is to increase the transparency of the rules so citizens can understand how decisions are made.

This is a very Un-British way of doing things and all our instincts are wrong. Every decision is reserved for the Mayor who must present a number of plans to full council. the decisions are then taken in the context of the agreed plans which only require ⅓ voting in favour. The Mayor delegates all their executive functions to the Cabinet as a collective but also to the council’s principal paid officers. The backbench Councillor’s Scrutiny Committees can only delay these decisions. There, apart from criminal sanction, is no way to recall the Mayor. The Mayor does not hold office due to their ability to command a majority, they do not need to get many decisions agreed by Council. This is not just a first-amongst-equals “Leader” with a different mandate, it’s an alien form of government, lifted from the US & France and designed to reduce the accountability of the decisions from people and their political parties.

My first proposal would be that the Council agree to ask the people of Lewisham to abolish the Mayor and return to a collective committee led Council. It might seem to be less democratic but a committee led council has to maintain its mandate throughout it’s term of office, a Mayor led council supported by a just ⅓ of the Councillors can ignore civic society and wait for the next election.

The other ideas I need to develop,  and we’ll see how much detail I can research, would cover Recall, maybe requiring a more than 50% vote of the Council, Term Limits, something about an Ombudsman & Compliance Committee and independence, having the Cabinet appointed by the Council, the move to a Green Paper/White Paper process for decision making, improved citizen communication, the web site is shite, smaller wards and some thing on the need to use the powers in the Localism Act to get the changes in law that some of these things would require.

Lewisham’s Democracy, it could be better
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6 thoughts on “Lewisham’s Democracy, it could be better

  • 15th January 2019 at 11:24 am

    Recall votes on the Council should be quasi-judicial, to provide some protection against silly games but also to negate whipping.

  • 15th January 2019 at 9:04 pm

    The key to improving what we have would seem to be the “Schedule of Delegation”, there are multiple stakeholders, the Mayor, the Cabinet, its members, the Scrutiny committees, the Standards Committee, full council and the Executive Directors.

    I should try and read the standards committee terms of reference and look at how their decisions are taken and monitored.

    The ED’s do not just advise, they decide, it’s not, as it is with central government, where civil servants advise, & minister’s decide.

    If we don’t have committees, then who are the ED’s to be accountable to; the obvious answer is to the Cabinet members responsible for that area of policy and service but then we have to ask questions about the amount of effort required. The ED’s are mostly full time and have six figure salaries and have staff; putting one part time volunteer up against them will not work, (Actually, this asymmetry of effort & expertise is another reason why the Mayoral system should be abandoned.)

    The thresholds of delegation to staff may need to be reduced.

    So we need to re-empower the council committees, I think we repurpose the Scrutiny select committees and give them the power to direct the EDs and the Cabinet members; this may require changes in the legal framework and require action under the Localism Act.

  • 15th January 2019 at 9:58 pm

    On number of councillors, many consider them to be a cost and seek to reduce their number but I disagree. Wards have about 15.5 thousand residents, and elect three councillors. There are 53 councillors plus the mayor which makes the 1/3rd needed to pass the plans & budget 18, the Cabinet, which have additional allowances, paid by the Council and are appointed by the Mayor can be between 2 & 7; this is just under half the vote needed, to sustain the Mayor’s programme, if one was to half the council size , then the Cabinet alone would be the 1/3rd needed and in Lewisham, Labour have increased the Cabinet by appointing part-time Cabinet members. This just doesn’t work.

    For more on politicians/voter and how the UK is under served, see https://is.gd/nK46vR How strong is the case for having fewer MPs? by Lewis Baston and Stuart Wilks-Heeg.

    I am of the view that the Council should stay the same size but we should have one Councillor/ward and thus smaller wards. Not only do we need them to represent people, we need to have an effective real scrutiny and engage in the committees.

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  • 6th March 2019 at 5:51 pm

    I put a copy of the Constitution on this page and repaired a broken link to the Council Page

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