Last week I gave evidence to Southwark's Democracy Commission about how we might improve Council Assembly in future and make it more accessible to the public. Too often our current meetings feel fairly bizarre affairs, with lots of political posturing and not much light thrown on some of the big local issues which affect us in Southwark. With some confidential information being unwisely thrown out during the course of debate by the opposition, our recent discussion of the Elephant and Castle regeneration must have seemed odd, to say the least!
Some of the questions which I posed to the Commission were (a) whether we always had to hold our meetings at Southwark Town Hall on Wednesday evenings? (b) Whether members' questions serve any valuable purpose at the present time? (c) How we make it easier for deputations and members of the public to attend and participate in our meetings? (d) Can meetings be webcast and is there the possibility for interactive questioning and participation?
We also discussed the possibility of returning some decision-making powers to Council Assembly. In opposition we were critical of the last Administration's decision to keep our borough's Housing Strategy as a Cabinet decision. It seems to me that responsibility for our housing policy should better lie with all members of the council. There may be other instances where this could be done.
The Lib Dems have a fairly long shopping-list of areas where they claim we can improve local democracy. Some of their points have a Year Zero feeling to them; it is almost as if they had not been in power for the past 8 years! It is worth remembering that the reason why Labour established the Democracy Commission was because the previous administration did everything they could to make Council Assembly a pointless meeting which they almost treated with disdain. I am confident that everyting that we do as a new administration will reverse that course.