MOTION FOR DEBATE
- (i) “This Council has recognised the need for radical change. This is to be welcomed, and it is hoped that this will create the opportunity for more inclusion and consultation with minority parties so that decisions made reflect the diversity and needs of the borough.”
Mover: Cllr Linda Wade
Seconder: Cllr Andrew Lomas
Accompanying speeches supporting the motion:
We must recognise that with the outcome of the General Election, and in the aftermath of Grenfell Tower, that as a Council we need to take stock, and ask ourselves whether we are fit for purpose, and delivering the services, to a standard that our residents require?
The Council’s image has been one of best value for money, chasing the lowest Council Tax, being prudent and careful with money, with the Majority Party congratulating itself that RBKC has one of the largest Cash Reserves in the country.
At the same time the Council has sold off leases on borough freehold properties to private companies rather than develop the properties for borough benefit as with Thamesbrook and North Kensington Library. Is this not like Selling off the Family Silver?
For many residents, the Planning Department is felt to be pro-developer rather than resident, and there is a lack of rigour, transparency, accountability and enforcement when it comes to developers and the impact on the quality of the lives of our residents of as a consequent of development.
The scandal being that Planning Gain has not delivered the additional social rented housing that we require, regardless of the Council policy, and with developers routinely getting around the provision with payments in lieu of nearly £50m over the last 5 years. The Council should make it a priority to build a range of genuinely affordable homes and not leave it to developers to fulfil.
The 77-acre Earl’s Court development is a prime example of a failure to deliver additional social rented homes as well as the failure to replace the lost Exhibition Centre.
The requirement from Central Government for austerity, has contributed to cuts, but the self-imposed underspend by the Council and cut-backs on services across the Council poses the question, whether we have undermined the efficacy across many of our departments?
As the Tri-borough arrangement collapses, have we been too reliant on other boroughs in their commissioning of our services, do we apply sufficient scrutiny to these contracts to establish whether they meet our needs, as a borough?
This raises the question, as to whether the structure of our Adult and Children Social Services to be able to cope on the dislocation of Hammersmith and Fulham from the Tri-borough arrangements, and still serve the long-term needs of Grenfell Tower Survivors, in addition to our existing users?
Why was the original Emergency Planning Team disbanded and incorporated into Community Safety? It cannot be realistic to expect a series of well-meaning community groups to be able to handle a situation as complex as Grenfell Tower, a situation which even a National response found daunting. It is sincerely hoped that there will be a review of that decision and a report be generated.
And so, I would ask the new leader to consider and incorporate into any review the following:
That the Grenfell Emergency requires an area based committee made of wards affected by the disaster, headed local ward councillors. The committee’s role will be to oversee the coordination of the Council response locally, be resourced appropriately, with officers reporting directly to this committee.
Is it not time that we had a cross-party committee system reflecting the diversity of the borough? A committee system would promote transparency of decision making and an accountability through voting.
And is it not time that nominations to key committees should be based on interest and ability rather than a party-political nomination?
Our reputation, as an authority, has been disgraced, we did not deliver, we have been found wanting. Given the new leader’s wish for radical change, it is expected that she will fulfil on her aspiration and there will be an overall review of how we function, and operate as a Council, so that we can learn from our mistakes and look to a future which meets the needs of our diverse community and put residents back at the centre of our policies and services.
MM, this motion calls for a more inclusive X-party way of working in this council
I hope it has the support of members from across the spectrum
The amendment appears to me to be a good faith attempt to put flesh on the bones of our motion
However, before I get going and set out our position on the amendment, a couple of housekeeping points:
(1) First, I’d be grateful if either of Cllrs Littler or Baktiar were able to clarify what is meant by:
“…re-introducing a committee based system of scrutiny…”
Specifically, it’s my understanding that the old committee system had no scrutiny role: the committees collectively exercised an executive role which was replaced by individual cabinet members under the Local Government Act 2000 reforms. I’d therefore like to know if the word “scrutiny” is included in error and if not what system the amendment favours “re-introducing”.
(2) In the same vein, if we look at Roman 3, which states inter alia that power needs to be defused – I presume that is meant to say diffused – diffused away from the town hall, whether what they are talking about is requesting a community governance review within the meaning of Local Government and Public Involvement and Health Act 2007, or whether it is something different.
If it is a review within the scope of 2007 Act, whether the amendment accepts the need for associated devolution of spending powers with the result that there may be less money available in the North. If it is a review outside the scope of the 2007 Act, what framework the amendment proposes to adopt to identify “community action groups/consultancy boards of sufficient authority”.
MM, I am not asking those questions to nit-pick: it’s important to understand the basis upon which this amendment is brought before we can consider supporting it.
For my part, we would support an independent review into different ways of organising the Council but such a review should not limit it to a fixed end-point such as adopting the committee system. Whilst instinctively we would favour a form of committee based decision making, if we are going to have a review we should approach such an exercise with an open mind.
There are different models that we could adopt:
(1) A leader-cabinet system with individual cabinet member decision-making, which is what we have now.
(2) A leader-cabinet system with collective cabinet decision-making has collective decision-making at cabinet, with a leader who chooses to act accordingly [LB Sutton, pre-2012].
(3) A mayor, with various different approaches to cabinet autonomy; different mayors take different approaches to the appointment of their cabinets, and the amount of powers those cabinets have.
(4) A traditional committee system [eg, Nottinghamshire CC] with a relatively large number of service committees which will often align fairly closely with council departments and a coordinating policy and resources committee. This approach will usually require frequent meetings to deal with cross-cutting issues and, hence, careful planning by officers [this, I think is what the amendment is calling for].
(5) A streamlined committee system [eg, Brighton and Hove] with two or three service committees, and one or more overview and scrutiny committees. [this also could be what the amendment is calling for].
(6) A hybrid system [eg, Kent CC] whereby a cabinet ratifies decisions made by a number of cabinet committees. This requires a political assurance by the leadership that such ratification will happen.
There are, therefore, a range constitutional options that this council could adopt.
But before we get there, we should think about design principles behind any constitutional change.
4 key areas:
(1) The member/officer relationship.
There should be a commitment to involve all members in the policy development and decision making process, through scrutiny, area committees, partnership boards and cabinet decision-making as appropriate.
Need to avoid the perception of an officer-led process where only cabinet members have a stake in decision-making and non-executives are relegated to the position of passive spectators.
(2) Forward planning/work programming occurs.
There should be greater clarity and consistency in the way that officers approach policy development and decision-making, with plans being kept to and important, strategic decisions identified. Better forward planning would also assist scrutiny: too often on scrutiny committees we’re faced with imminent key decisions and little relevant background.
(3) The way that information about decisions (including background papers) is published and used.
There needs to be more of a proactive effort to publish background papers as they are produced, and attempts to respond positively when the assumptions in those background papers are challenged by others. We need to avoid an an opaque system where attempts are not made to justify decisions and engagement is tightly controlled through consultation processes that are wholly divorced from the formal decision-making cycle. [Local plan]
(4) The way that the council involves the public in major decisions.
We need a commitment on major policy changes to engage those most affected by those changes to avoid the perception that without a tight grip by the executive, the public will derail necessary decisions.
The greatest decision that the public should be involved in is how this council should be constituted.
That is why I have submitted a petition under the Local Authorities (Referendums) (Petitions) Regulations 2011, the prayer of which reads:
“We, the undersigned, being local government electors for the area of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to whom this petition is addressed, seek a referendum on whether the council should be run in a different way by one or more committees made up of elected councillors.”
If 5% of RBKC electors – a number Mr Redpath has verified as being 4710 – sign the petition, there will be a referendum
If the residents of this borough vote for change, then that vote will be binding
MM, it is right that we address ourselves to how we improve the culture of cooperation here in the Council. That is what our motion is about.
It is right that we provide members with the resources to perform their role effectively. I think that it what the amendment is about.
But the electors should have the say on institutional arrangements we adopt. People feel cut out of decision making: let’s give them a chance to have a say.
MM, I therefore commend this motion to the chamber and – subject to answers to my 2 questions – am happy to support the amendment.