‘Going against local democracy’: Redbridge Council’s decision to review Local Forums condemned

Council Leader Cllr Jas Athwal, Cllr Paul Canal, Redbridge Council chief executive Andy Donald and

Council Leader Cllr Jas Athwal, Cllr Paul Canal, Redbridge Council chief executive Andy Donald and Cllr Dev Sharma attended the Karamsar centre local forum in November last year. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar - Credit: Archant

Redbridge residents face being “cut off and disenfranchised” if the council decides to quietly do away with monthly Local Forums during a behind-closed-doors review.

The Recorder can reveal that the council is currently “examining the future” of the Local Forums along with their “full range of engagement and consultation activity”.

Introduced in 2014 by the then newly-elected Labour administration – replacing Area Committees – the Local Forums are supposed to be regular public meetings where residents can ask councillors and senior officers questions once a month in venues across the borough.

But none have taken place since March this year.

Describing the proposed changes, a council spokeswoman said: “These are likely to include improvements in our online engagement software, the creation of a community of engagement professionals across the council and new ways to collaborate with communities such as crowdfunding and hackathons.

She added: “This should result in residents having a stronger voice in the way that decisions are made.

“We are examining the future of Local Forums as part of this process and will bring forward plans for development in the autumn.”

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Reacting to the news, Conservative group leader Cllr Linda Huggett disapproved of how the review is being carried out.

“It’s a decision being taken behind closed doors without any resident and councillor consultation - which goes against the openness of local democracy,” she said.

“One of their manifesto pledges was of course that they were going to bring back Local Forums.”

Cllr Huggett was also concerned about moving forums online.

She said: “My uptake on it is that a Local Forum isn’t an online community site but is a site where people can meet face-to-face and talk about their problems.

“People can’t always travel to the Town Hall.

“Some people, especially the elderly haven’t got Internet access.

“The only way they can voice their opinions is through contacting their councillor or holding a local forum.”

Alan Howe, chairman of community group Barkingside21, has been a regular Local Forum attendee.

Reacting to the proposed changes, he said: “It makes us feel cut off and disenfranchised.

“It creates the impression that the council is in an ivory tower and untouchable.

“There needs to be that access.”