Welcome to the third of our monthly looks at what’s happening at Lewisham council. There were no public questions at the full council meeting in April but we’ve still been busy scrutinising the council with Freedom of Information requests and reading the papers for meetings. So here’s our three things you need to know for this month...
Still no sign of leadership (or a new chief executive)
It’s already been almost two years since then Lewisham Chief Executive Barry Quirk took up the job of running Kensington and Chelsea after the Grenfell fire in June 2017. Ian Thomas was recruited to replace him as Lewisham CEO at the beginning of last year but left in autumn 2018 after Mayor Damien Egan was reported to have decided he didn’t fit with his own ideas.
The Deptford Dame Blog has been looking at what Ian tried to do in his brief time. Now Lewisham is back to drifting along under a temporary chief executive and not facing up to some of the big challenges of running the council.
And Damien Egan seems in little hurry to find a replacement. A paper discussed at full council at the beginning of April says that it’s likely we won’t have a chief executive in post until January 2020, two and half years since Barry Quirk went to Kensington.
This matters for at least two reasons. One is the cost – we reckon Lewisham has spent over £150,000 for recruitment and Ian Thomas’ notice period.
Secondly, it allows Lewisham to just drift along and not be on the detail to make sure the council delivers for our community. Capital budgets aren’t spent, over a million has gone on security on a company that “doesn’t fit with Lewisham’s values” and day to day services are run down.
Decisions on democracy are too important for just one party to take
Lewisham’s Democracy Review has published its final report this month.
We’ve raised concerns that having a Labour chair of the review, Labour councillors on the working gropup and consulting mainly via meetings chaired by Labour councillors isn’t the best way to carry out a review on democracy.
Now we’ve also learnt that the two main outside experts brought in to provide a bit of independent challenge (we hoped) also have Labour backgrounds – one was a councillor on Newham borough (also a one-party state where lack of effective scrutiny allowed serious fraud to go undetected) and the other worked for frontbench Labour MPs.
The actual report written by officers has some good things in it but Labour councillors have no vision for what Lewisham might actually be aiming for, virtually none of the 57 recommendations are SMART and although it talks about culture change, there are no mechanisms for achieving that kind of change (though the Labour chair and Labour councillors have decided that their working group will keep meeting).
We’ve also challenged the council to do better on freedom of information. Lewisham is second from bottom for London boroughs on responding to freedom of information – a poor record from a council that claims to be open and transparent https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/17569935.lewisham-council-hypocritical-over-freedom-of-information-responses/.
We’ve been writing, e-mail and tweeting Cllr Bonavia since February to ask to meet with him but he still hasn’t agreed to meet – another sign of the arrogance at the top of Lewisham Labour.
May 2nd by-elections – let’s elect councillors who will challenge Lewisham Labour’s complacency
At the moment, the Lewisham Labour cabinet can get away with poor performance. With by-elections in Whitefoot and Evelyn wards, we can elect councillors to provide real scrutiny inside the council. We have two great candidates in Bunmi Wajero in Evelyn and Max Brockbank in Whitefoot.
The Labour candidate in Evelyn seems keener to pretend he’s fighting facists in the Spanish Civil War rather than make sure Lewisham Council is delivering the services we need from it in 2019 Lewisham.
Next month we are back to ordinary full council meetings – do let us know if there are questions would like us to ask, or submit your own at https://lewisham.gov.uk/mayorandcouncil/influence/councilmeetings