Redbridge referendum? Campaign launched to change how council makes key decisions

Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council. Picture: Redbridge Council

Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council. Picture: Redbridge Council - Credit: Archant

A petition to hold a referendum on whether Redbridge Council should be run in a different way is set to launch next year in what has been described as the “biggest campaign of 2020”.

The council said it has been "made aware" that a petition is due to be started seeking a referendum on whether the council should be run in a different way, by one or more committees made up of elected councillors.

The council is currently run under a "strong leader" cabinet model, which means the council leader and cabinet members make all key decisions, and the petition proposes to convert the council to a committee system.

In a committee system, decisions are made by a number of committees covering the council's different functions and are made up of councillors from all political parties.

All decisions would be made by committees rather than individuals.

Under the Localism Act 2011, a petition with the signatures of five per cent of voters in an area - 10,087 in Redbridge - can demand a referendum on changing the governance system in the council.

The campaign to start the petition has come from Cheryll Gardiner, a Hainault resident.

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"People may not be aware that currently most decisions are made by the leader of Redbridge Council or one of the other eight cabinet members - all of whom are members of the Labour party," Cheryll said.

"In February, following in the footsteps of Sheffield who have been a leading force in this reform, I will be starting a petition called It's our Redbridge.

"My plan is to collect 10,500 signatures with the objective of having a referendum which, if passed by the majority of Redbridge residents, would start the journey to transfer power from the leader of the council to the committees, giving councillors a meaningful say in decision making.

"The Redbridge Conservatives have pledged their support, and we are hopeful that the Liberal Democrat and Green parties will follow suit - and even many Labour councillors."

Fairlop councillor Howard Berlin emphasised that the campaign is non-political.

"The idea has come from the Hainault community who are sick and tired of being trodden on by the council," he said.

"We want to change the way Redbridge is run as a borough.

"I am very confident that we can make the changes and it will be a good thing for local democracy.

"Councillors want to be involved in decision making. Some councillors do not sit on any committees.

"It would be more work, but we were elected to represent the residents."

Redbridge Conservatives leader, Councillor Linda Huggett, added: "The way Redbridge Council operates needs changing because the power lies mainly with the leader of the council and in the interest of better local democracy, we need the committees to have more say in how Redbridge is governed."

But leader of Redbridge Council, Jas Athwal, said spending £200,000 on a referendum to "simply rearrange the deck chairs" is not a good use of the council's resources.

"With so many pressing issues like budget pressures, knife crime, burglary, lack of school places, homelessness and rough sleeping, spending in excess of £200,000 on a referendum to look at the governance model is not a good use of the council's resources at this time," Cllr Athwal said.

"Spending £200,000 in essence to simply rearrange the deck chairs is not wise when money is in such short supply.

"In any case, a thorough two-year root and branch review of the governance model was conducted by Conservative administration in 2014 which concluded overwhelmingly that the best model is the current hybrid model we have in place.

"It's disappointing that the Conservative group when in power decided to keep this model and now in opposition want to change it to the very model they rejected.

"Whatever system we use, it does not change the fact that the ruling administration will always make the the decisions - that is why we have elections and that is why we call it democracy.

"Any petition that is forthcoming will be looked into as per the rules when it is received, but in the meantime I am determined not be distracted from the task at hand, and urge others to do the same."

If the petition is received with the required number of signatures, a referendum would need to be held at the next election or within six months of verification of the petition.

A similar petition to change the way Sheffield City Council is run has gathered more than 26,000 signatures, which means the council must now hold a referendum to ask the people how they what the local authority to be run.