Elections: London mayor and Assembly member, East Ham cllr and referendum

A dog at the polling station during a UK election. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Voters have the chance to elect a councillor for East Ham ward to replace Julianne Marriott who stepped down last year. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Voters making their voices heard

Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee system, writes: 

Mayor Fiaz used her column (Recorder) to argue for keeping the directly-elected mayor in Thursday’s referendum in Newham.

But the referendum is about more than the question of whether voters or councillors should elect the council leader – it is about a radical rethink of how the council works.

With the committee structure, the vast executive power currently held by the mayor would be shared between all 60 councillors, changing the system to bring decision-making closer to voters and communities.

Under the committee system, every councillor gets a voice in agreeing council policy. Communities and campaign groups can be actively involved in decision making.

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Councillors are answerable to their voters for the council’s actions, making local politics more transparent and more fair.

The mayor talks about the right to vote the council leader in and out of office.
But those of us who remember the 16-year tenure of Sir Robin Wales disagree; it is not so easy to change leadership under the directly-elected mayoral system.

In the committee structure, by contrast, the council leader must be re-elected every year, and councillors become genuinely accountable to their voters.

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For that reason we are calling for a vote for change on May 6. The referendum is binding for ten years, so it is vital that Newham voters make their voices heard.

Committee model

Cllr John Whitworth, West Ham ward, writes:

If the committee model is chosen in the Newham governance referendum there will be major changes in decision making, as a mayor will no longer have local “presidential” powers above those of councillors.

The council will take responsibility for local government and empower its committees to make decisions for each of the different services, with every councillor having a seat on a committee which will work closely with local residents.

The committees will fit with the existing directorates responsible for housing, health, etc, so the council will still have the same structure and deliver the same services - but what is done will be decided collectively and not by a single person.

At the same time, the council will have a constitution to ensure its stability and enable it to deal promptly with any emergencies.

If the directly-elected mayor model is chosen, another referendum won’t be possible for at least 10 years.

Voters will be able to elect a mayor every four years but will have to trust the judgement of this single individual, as they can’t be changed between elections.

The committee model is designed for councils to be flexible and make changes when needed. These decisions will be made by councillors who are closer than a mayor to their local residents.

Let’s hope that Newham voters come out on Thursday to choose a system which will give them more say in the running of the borough.

Feeling betrayed

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz.

When seeking election as the Labour candidate for mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz inferred the existing mayoral model of governance was both corrupt and corrupting - Credit: Ken Mears

Clive Furness, Fisher Street, Canning Town, writes:

She elaborated on this in the Huffington Post, where she stated that she wanted a referendum on the leader and cabinet model of governance.

To observers of the Newham Labour Group, it appeared that her enthusiasm for the referendum seemed to subside somewhat as she got used to the idea of being in post. It was only as a result of some fairly rigorous campaigning amongst the members of the Labour Group that the issue was forced back onto the agenda.

However, on this occasion, Ms Fiaz seemed to transfer her support from the leader and cabinet model of governance to the leader and committee model of governance and it was this model that was adopted as the option in the referendum.

This was despite a very substantial body of her former supporters urging for a leader and cabinet model as the alternative, largely because it was seen as more efficient.
It then came as something of a surprise to learn, in a recent issue of the Recorder, that her view has become that the mayor works in the “best interests of all the residents”.

It appears that she is now advocating the new status quo. If so, she has supported every option available and finally settled upon the option which leaves her in post and coincidentally, in receipt of a salary in the region of £82,000 a year.

Speaking to former supporters of Ms Fiaz it is evident that they feel betrayed by what is seen as a volte-face now that she is in office.

Ring-fenced cash

Hannah Sell, Katherine Road, writes: 

A footnote to the Recorder’s “meet the candidates” article on the East Ham Central ward by-election claimed it would be illegal for the Trade Unionist and
Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to use all but a small quantity of Newham Council’s massive reserves to fight austerity. It simply isn’t true that councils cannot use ring-fenced reserves.

In fact, Newham Council’s provisional budget for 2021-22 states that “reserves will have to be used to cover the forecast overspend in 2020/21” as a result of the Covid pandemic, and that “the general reserve fund of £13.2 million can be used to this purpose” but “it may be preferable to utilise other earmarked reserves, with consideration of what expenditure plans would be affected”.

In doing so, they will be joining over a quarter of councils that are facing an overspend, with 81 per cent of them planning to use reserves to cover the gap.
Newham Council’s budget says it has “£170million of earmarked reserves” and £559million “total usable reserves” as of 31 March 2020.

Labour intends to increase that to £190million by March 2021 via cuts to our already poverty-stricken borough.

I’m sure readers of the Recorder would prefer that they spent more of the reserves to prevent charges and cuts to services, while fighting to demand more money from the Tory government.

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