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Step forward for potential referendum on how Redbridge Council is governed

PUBLISHED: 15:00 08 January 2020

Residents could take part in a referendum on how Redbridge Council is governed if enough people sign a petition, which launches in February. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Archive/PA Images

Residents could take part in a referendum on how Redbridge Council is governed if enough people sign a petition, which launches in February. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

A resident-led campaign for a referendum on how Redbridge Council makes key decisions will launch next month.

The council is currently run under a "strong leader" model, which means the council leader and cabinet members make key decisions.

A non-political petition, put forward by Hainault resident Cheryll Gardiner, proposes decisions be made by committees made up of councillors from all political parties.

Ms Gardiner said: "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."

But leader of Redbridge Council, Councillor Jas Athwal, said: "Whatever system we use, it does not change the fact that the ruling administration will always make the decisions - that is why we have elections and that is why we call it democracy."

Yesterday, Tuesday, January 7, the general purposes committee agreed that, if the petition for a referendum reaches the required number of signatures, officers should prepare a draft committee structure for consideration.

Speaking at the meeting, Ms Gardiner said: "The whole thing comes down to the will of the people.

"People are very unhappy with the way they think the council is being run.

"All we need is 10,500 signatures to start the process for the people of Redbridge to be able to vote for a modern committee system of governance. Keep watching for details on how to sign this petition."

Speaking after the meeting, Redbridge Conservatives leader Councillor Linda Huggett said she will be supporting the residents.

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"If that is what the residents want and feel should happen then we will totally support them," she said.

Fairlop councillor Howard Berlin said councillors want to be involved in more decision making.

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

South Woodford councillor Michael Duffell added: "A lot of people feel neglected and we need to do something about it."

He said the petition was gaining traction in his ward, where people feel their voices aren't being heard.

But Cllr 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," he said.

"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.

"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 want the local authority to be run.

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