Petitioners collect almost 7,500 signatures in bid to force referendum on directly elected mayor
PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 August 2020
© David Copeman Photography 2010
A petition aimed at forcing a public vote on how the borough is governed has gained almost 7,500 signatures.
The campaign group, Newham People’s Petition, want to see a vote on Newham’s governance this year.
The threshold of signatures needed to do so is just over 11,000. Campaigners report having collected nearly 7,500.
Campaigner, Dhanniya Sugathan, said: “Already over 7,000 have signed with only 4,000 more needed so that we may once more have a transparent, accountable and democratic structure of governance in Newham.”
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “My position on the issue of the future governance of Newham remains fully committed to holding a ballot on Newham’s future governance.”
The campaigners argue the directly elected mayor means there is a concentration of executive power in the hands of one person.
They say although it can seem “attractive” to have a single individual with overall responsibility, it is not possible for one politician to oversee all aspects of a busy London council.
They claim power ends up in the hands of unelected officials with councillors playing a reduced role.
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A Newham Council spokesperson said: “Mayor Fiaz stood on an election platform that included a pledge to hold a referendum on the mayoral model of governance.”
She added that Mayor Fiaz has established a collective and collegiate system of governance with executive decision-making powers delegated to cabinet chiefs.
The campaigners’ petitioning began last October after councillors voted unanimously in favour of changing the date of a promised ballot on Newham’s governance from the same day as the London mayoral election due on May 7, 2020.
A Democracy Commission report published in July recommended keeping the directly elected mayor model, but urged “strong checks and balances” to make sure he or she remains accountable.
Its authors suggested a two term limit for the mayor.
The council spokesperson said careful consideration of the commission’s recommendations by the mayor, cabinet and all councillors is being undertaken to find a clear alternative to how the council is run from May 2022.
“This is the required legal basis of the referendum question that will be put to the people of Newham for them to vote on in 2021,” she added.
Mayor Fiaz said: “A detailed response to the Democracy Commission’s recommendations will be brought forward to a full council meeting in the autumn, following discussions with residents.
“It’s important they shape the future of democracy in Newham, working in collaboration with elected representatives, so that residents can shape their neighbourhoods and the future of Newham instead of groups with vested interests that marginalise residents’ voice[s].”
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