‘Draconian’ local government changes could reduce public power, say opposition councillors

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Proposals that would radically change the structure of Redbridge Council have been branded “miserable” and “draconian” by members of the opposition.

The governance review, instigated by the borough’s Labour administration, would reduce the number of questions the public could ask at meetings.

The plans would also reduce the power of backbenchers, disband service committees and stop members and the public questioning councillors about topics not on the meeting agenda.

The 49 proposed changes, which will be discussed at tonight’s strategy and resources service committee, have been widely condemned by opposition councillors.

Redbridge’s Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Ian Bond, told the Recorder he “exploded” upon reading the proposals for the first time.

He said: “The Labour group has got an easier time than probably any other administration in the history of the London borough of Redbridge, and it seems like their solution to the serious issues isn’t to deal with them head-on, but make it more difficult for the public or the opposition to object.

“It’s really the most miserable set of proposals I’ve seen put forward in my entire time as a councillor.”

Most Read

Cllr Bond believes some of the more “draconian” changes, such as the removal of supplementary questions at meetings, are aimed at reducing the effectiveness of activist residents.

“Oakfield is behind a lot of these changes,” he said, citing the campaign against an 800-home building plan on the Barkingside playing fields.

“It seems as though Labour councillors have got sick of having to answer for themselves and are just trying to make their own lives easier.”

Leader of the opposition Cllr Paul Canal said the proposals “squeezed more life out of local democracy and accountability”.

“It started with the abolition of area committees, to take away power from our residents. Now they are restricting what questions they can ask,” he explained.

Professor Colin Copus, director of the local governance research unit at De Montfort University, said it would be “a shame” if these proposals were passed.

“For some who regularly show up to these meetings, they know they’re not going to change anything, but it’s the only way they have to keep the battle going, and that’s very important,” he said.

“It’s always a shame when those opportunities are lost.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The proposed new committee structure will be more efficient and streamlined which will result in saving both time and money during challenging financial times.”

She said councillors from all parties had been consulted, and that “the time allocated for public questions will not be reduced”.

She added: “The recommendation to disestablish the service committees, if agreed, would bring the council’s governance structure more into line with other local authorities across the country.

“Importantly, the recommendations in the report also include a strengthening of the role of scrutiny, with the creation of three new scrutiny committees.”

If the changes are passed tonight they could be approved at next week’s full council meeting, and will have only been in the public domain for under three weeks.

Both Cllr Canal and Cllr Bond have asked council leader Cllr Jas Athwal to delay the proposals to March’s council meeting, to allow more time for detailed scrutiny.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter