Council's Local Democracy review branded “undemocratic” by Lewisham Liberal Democrats


  • Chair and Working Group formed solely of Labour politicians
  • Lib Dems call for outside “Challenge Panel” to represent all political views in Lewisham. 
  • Call for public vote on scrapping Lewisham Mayoral system in 2020. 

Lewisham Liberal Democrats have branded Lewisham Council's Democracy Review as “undemocratic” and accused the Review of not doing enough to proactively engage with other political parties.

 

The Democracy Review was set up by Mayor Damien Egan to “make our Council even more democratic, open and transparent.” However, the Chair and all the members of the Working Group come from just the Labour party and the Review has only attended Labour party meetings rather than ask to meet with other parties.1

  

Lewisham has also been criticised for centralising power in the Mayor, rather than giving responsibility to more councillors and investing in better scrutiny.2 

 

As a result, Lewisham Lib Dems have now written to Cllr Bonavia, Chair of the Democracy Review, and are calling on Lewisham Council to:

  • Set up a Challenge Panel as part of the Review, formed of members across political parties in Lewisham, as well as other local groups which can provide real independent input
  • Have a public vote on scrapping the Mayoral system, which could take place at the same time as the London Mayor and Assembly elections in 2020
  • Boost the transparency and effectiveness of scrutiny in the meantime

Lewisham Lib Dems Spokesperson Lucy Salek said: "Labour councillors have a vested interest in avoiding anything that threatens Lewisham’s status as a one-party state. It's frankly undemocratic to only involve just one political party in the Democracy Review.

 

“Over 79,000 votes were cast for other parties at the last council election. The 40% of Lewisham voters who voted for other parties are not being represented. It should be a basic rule that decisions about how a democracy operates should be cross-party not one-party.

 

"Without greater transparency and stronger scrutiny, the Mayor and Cabinet will make worse decisions for which all of us in Lewisham, whoever we voted for, will suffer."

 

 


 

Notes to editors

  1. See https://consultation.lewisham.gov.uk/corporate-policy-and-governance/local-democracy-review/ . Information on meetings attended by Democracy Review working group in answer to Freedom of Information request
  2. See https://www.lewishamlibdems.org.uk/scrap_the_mayor
  3. See letter below from Lewisham Lib Dems to Chair of the Democracy Review

 


Text of letter to Chair of Democracy Review:

Cllr Kevin Bonavia

Chair of Local Democracy Review

London Borough of Lewisham

 

Dear Cllr Bonavia

 

Local Democracy Review

 

Lewisham Liberal Democrats were pleased to see the council commit to carry out a Local Democracy Review. However, as the review has progressed it is anything but democratic in its approach.

 

A review chaired by a Labour councillor, with a working group entirely made up of Labour councillors, and consulting largely through meetings chaired by Labour councillors simply reinforces cynicism about the conception of democracy that the Labour group holds. That any recommendations for change are just a matter for Lewisham Labour councillors only to decide on, simply reinforces that point.


I understand that Lewisham Labour resents being called a one-party state. If that is the case, it should not act like a one-party state.

 

With that in mind, I am writing to ask you and the council to commit to:

 

·       Creating a Challenge Panel formed of members from other political parties in Lewisham and other local groups, to provide independent input to the Review. Labour councillors have a vested interest in avoiding recommendations that might undermine Lewisham as a one-party state. It’s vital that the Democracy Review increases democracy, not undermines it

 

·       Having a public vote on scrapping the Mayor and Cabinet model. This could take place at the same time as the London Mayor and London Assembly elections, and return Lewisham to a system where decisions are more transparent and inclusive.

 

·       Boost the transparency and effectiveness of scrutiny in the meantime, with much greater community involvement in the work of scrutiny committees, greater transparency about referrals back to the Mayor and Cabinet and greater use of citizen juries and other ways to engage with communities in Lewisham directly.

 

We would also like to see a review of the councillors’ code of conduct to include how they deal with casework and engage with ward assemblies. Too many people tell us that their councillors just forward on casework without comment to council staff, prioritise Labour party work and issues over the wider community and do not listen to others in the way they engage with ward assemblies.

 

Without greater transparency and stronger scrutiny, the Mayor and Cabinet will make worse decisions for which all of us in Lewisham, whoever we voted for, will suffer.

 

I hope that you will agree to our recommendations and to meet with us to discuss how to ensure the Democracy Review increases democracy rather than reinforcing Lewisham’s status as a one-party state.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Peter George

Chair of Lewisham Liberal Democrats


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