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Labour leader Jas Athwal: Keeping area committee meetings will bankrupt the borough

07:13 04 June 2014

Archant

Area committees face the axe as the new Labour administration claims keeping them could bankrupt the borough, according to the party leader.

Residents have reacted angrily to the proposal to scrap the seven committee meetings to cut costs. One contacted the Recorder demanding answers on Labour’s plan for a replacement and Labour local election candidate Mark Santos, now a councillor, sparked uproar at a Barkingside 21 hustings meeting after insisting the meetings would be scrapped, if Labour gained control of the council.

Cllr Jas Athwal insisted he and his cabinet were looking for cheaper alternatives, because the current system cost the borough between £850,000 and £1 million.

Cllr Athwal said: “Area committees were set up more than 14 years ago - they are not value for money.

“We are spending the best part of a million pounds and that cannot continue.

“One of the things we are committed to is local democracy, so we are looking at alternatives.”

Cllr Athwal claims 24 people on average attend the meetings every six weeks in each area.

“For an area that is not democratic,” he added. “I cannot allow £850,000 to be spent on 24 people otherwise the borough will be bankrupt.”

Cllr Athwal feels a viable option is gauging residents’ opinions on issues from the borough’s online services.

“We have got online facilities now,” he added. “More and more services are going online. We want to open up the whole process.”

The Tories have branded Labour’s claims as “ludicrous”.

Cllr Paul Canal, the new leader of the borough’s Conservative party, added: “This is doubtless the first in a series [of] not thought through knee-jerk policies and bodes ill for the future.

“The vast majority of the money spent by area committees is actually spent on giving residents services they want.”

Cllr Canal also added: “I know Cllr Athwal is fairly inexperienced but I am still surprised at this early sign of panic.”

The Tory leader went on label the proposal to abandon area committees as “old fashioned Socialism”.

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