Changes recommended in £24,000 report place too much power in Mayor and Labour’s hands, warn Hackney’s opposition
PUBLISHED: 12:39 03 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:59 03 October 2013
hanges to the way Hackney Council is governed have been branded undemocratic and risk placing even more power into the hands of elected Mayor Jules Pipe and the Labour group – opposition parties have warned.
From now on there will be five meetings of the full council a year instead of eight, and the overview and scrutiny board (OSB) will be disbanded.
Chairman of the OSB, a post currently held by Tory Cllr Simche Steinberger, is currently able to “call-in” decisions made by the cabinet – which consists of the mayor, deputy mayor and eight other Labour councillors.
He also reviews the council’s budget before it is formally submitted for agreement by the cabinet.
The recommendations were made in a £24,000 report by independent company, Shared Intelligence, commissioned by council chief executive Tim Shields.
The plans have now been approved by the council which Labour members dominate with 51 out of 57 councillors.
Cllr Ian Sharer, leader of the Lib Dem group, said he had “never read a more stupid report in his life”.
“What’s appalling is the opposition in Hackney have been cut out of every avenue to scrutinise anything, we might as well not turn up for meetings in the future,” he said. “It’s a monumental change, and they’ve [Labour] just said it’s a wonderful report and that’s it.”
He added: “The opposition is very small in Hackney, but scrutiny and opposition is a vital part of democracy, if you don’t have it, you have a tyrant.
“The mayor will instead be questioned twice a year by the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the scrutiny commissions that he has, in effect appointed and whose careers lie within his patronage. He should have little to fear.”
But deputy mayor Cllr Sophie Linden said the changes should bring more democracy by providing more opportunity for engagement and debate, and for people to hold decision-makers more accountable.
“The opposition parties have all had the opportunity to sit down with the people doing the review of the governance structures, so the idea it was sort of sprung on them at council just doesn’t stack up,” she said.
“While the number of council meetings has gone down, the openness of cabinet has been improved and deputations can be brought to cabinet, plus we have 19 ward forums up and operating and successful.”
In 2014 when the recommendations are implemented, debate will happen at the start of the scrutiny process, instead of once scrutiny reports have been completed as at present.
“I’ve been a councillor since 2006 and we have never looked at the governance structure of the council,” added Ms Linden.
“After a while you do have to check and look at whether you have the right structure and the right methods of engaging and making sure decision-making is accountable, that’s why the review was put in place.”
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