Area committees: Vital for local democracy or failed way to engage with residents?

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Are area committees an outdated and failed way to engage the public or a vital part of local democracy?

The argument was at the core of a heated debate at a Redbridge Council meeting on Thursday over funding proposals but forward by the Labour group.

Citing low attendance figures, the party proposed abolishing them along with regional planning committees to fund other schemes in the annual budget.

Cllr Dev Sharma (Lab, Newbury) said: “The average attendance at an area committee is 24 and it’s the same people every time.”

He added: “They have failed to engage the public as they were intended to.”

Agreeing, Cllr Ross Hatfull (Lab, Valentines) said abolishing them would “cut something the public don’t use to fund something that people are crying out for”.

The group calculated an annual £750,000 saving from the move but some argued that continuing administration costs had not been taken into account.

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Redbridge Council’s seven area committees bring together councillors from three wards to make decisions on local issues.

Members of the public can attend to request funding and have their say.

Cllr Richard Hoskins (Lib Dem, Church End) argued that cutting them without a consultation or alternative would be “a disaster for local government”.

He also pointed to the crowd of just 15 in the public gallery for the meeting.

Cllr Ruth Clark (Con, Aldborough) said that attendees often represented residents’ associations and community groups, taking news back to hundreds of people.

Many Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors said decisions should stay with councillors who knew areas best.

The Labour amendment was voted out and the committees will remain.