Reforming local government: (1) an agenda from Newham

In a recent post on his blog about the downsides of one-party administrations in local government, John Gray, councillor for West Ham ward in Newham, writes as follows:

‘Finally, I think just as important as electoral reform, local government needs structural and legislative reform. Such as making the role of scrutiny committees much more robust and truly independent of the Executive; beefing up Standard Boards; time limits on Council leaders; stopping backbench Councillors being refused information by Chief officers for no substantiated reasons; being open and transparent and stop restricting information to the public or press unless absolutely necessary; making officers’ hospitality register a public document; better guidance from national political organisations on the role of elected members as being champions of their constituents and holding the Executive to account. Last but not least, we should reintroduce powers to surcharge individual Councillors who act without due care or legal authority with public money’.


This seems to me to be excellent good sense, and exactly the kind of agenda we need in Waltham Forest.

At present, there are certainly rumblings of discontent here about how business is conducted. Labour backbenchers frequently complain to me that they don’t know what is going on, because decision-making is so centralised. One or two have come within a hair’s breadth of saying so in public. The Tory opposition believes itself to be marginalised, and is fearful of losing even what limited constitutional rights it currently enjoys. Everyone in the Town Hall saw the recent scrutiny committee investigating Worknet being shut down because council officers evaded appearing before it. I could write a book about my experiences of trying to obtain information about how LBWF spends large sums of public money. Local journalists no doubt could do the same. And so on.

Perhaps it is time to turn these rumblings into something more effective, and create a non-partisan alliance to pursue Cllr. Gray’s suggestions?


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