21 January 2012

Democracy in Southwark: If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk

Turning up to meetings is just one part of a councillor’s job, but it’s an important part.  Scrutiny, Community Council and other meetings are a crucial opportunity to stand up for residents’ interests and hold the council to account.  It’s something that you know will take up lots of your time, but you’re fully aware of that before you make the decision to stand for election.  Thisthis and this show just a few examples of times when Vikki, Renata and I have been able to secure improvements for the Peckham Rye area by going along to these meetings.  I’m not saying they’re always riveting, but I am saying it’s important to turn up as often as possible.  
Since the last election residents of Southwark have been able to monitor the attendance of their councillors via the Southwark Council website.  Now, I wouldn’t have mentioned this if Southwark’s Lib Dem Councillors hadn’t been going around in recent months, telling anyone that would listen, just how concerned they were about democratic accountability at Southwark Council.   For example, Anood Al-Samerai, the current leader of Southwark Lib Dems, has been crying crocodile tears over the proposed merger of some community council areas (prompted by cuts made by her own government).  Councillor Michael Bukola  said at a recent council meeting that he was deeply worried about oversight of Housing policy in the borough (even though he's missed the last two Housing Scrutiny meetings and didn't bother to send a sub). I think if you’re going to make such a great play of this issue, then it would be fair to expect Southwark Lib Dem Councillors to have a good attendance record.  But as a group they don’t.  In fact some of them are very far from having a good attendance record indeed. 
For example Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rotherhithe, Columba Blango, has only attended 53% of his meetings since the last election. (Southwark News reported on this today, see above) In 2011 Cllr Blango’s attendance has been even lower, 44%. He has attended just 8 of the 20 community council meetings since the 2010 election and just 2 of the last 10 in 2011.  Former Southwark Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Stanton  has only attended 68% since the election (the third worst on the council). All these figures are correct up to 10th Jan 2012 – the last date they were updated on the council website

But perhaps the most shocking statistic of all is that all 8 of the bottom 8 Southwark councillors in terms of their % attendance at meetings have one thing in common: they are all Liberal Democrats.
On average Labour Councillors have attended  87% of the meetings they were expected to go along to, whilst Lib Dems have attended just 81%.  This is even more surprising when you consider that all Cabinet members are Labour Councillors.  Cabinet members have far more meeting clashes that other councillors because of their portfolio responsibilities.  Even with 9 Cabinet members in our Group Southwark Labour Councillors attend significantly more of their meetings.  

Everyone acknowledges that there will be legitimate circumstances, such as illness, maternity leave or family reasons which mean Councillors can’t make it to meetings, somtimes even over a long period.  I’ve got no problem with that and neither have residents of the borough.  But the statistics don’t lie – Southwark Lib Dems clearly have a problem in their group with turning up to these important meetings.  Some of them seem to have decided that they don’t have to bother. 

So next time you hear one of our yellow friends bemoaning their lack of opportunity to hold the council to account, ask them if they turned up to their last community council meeting.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. Rotherhithe Community Council residents were shocked to hear Columba Blango admit that LibDems were not bothering to attend any Democracy Commission meetings. Local councillors get paid quite a lot of money these days. They should work for it!