Monday, 28 February 2011

The Council closes its ears

I blogged last week about the demonstration at Lambeth Town Hall to protest against Labour’s draconian budget. One point I forgot to mention, which is perhaps most important of all, is the way the Council used the protest as an excuse for barring all deputations.

This was completely unreasonable and undemocratic.

Some forty community groups had given prior notice that they wished to make formal deputations to the council to defend threatened services or jobs. The names and addresses of the members of these deputations had been registered by Council officials and they were scheduled to speak at the start of the Council debate. The idea that ordinary electors have a right to put their case to the Council before decisions are made is one of the fundamental principles of local democracy.

However, the Council chose to close their ears. First they vacated the Council Chamber and held their meeting in another room. For half an hour, delegations waited in the Council Antechamber, expecting to be summoned in at any minute to present their case. But eventually a Lambeth officer came out to inform them that the Council had voted to sit in closed session and not to receive them.

This is scandalous. On the most controversial issue for many years, the council opted to do its business without any input or oversight from the public who they claim to represent. This means that major changes to the way things work in this area have been made without either seeking or listening to the views of any of the users or employees of the threatened services.

For example, Lambeth will lose its hard-working park wardens, despite 3000 petitions against the measure and opposition from a local MP. The delegation from the Lambeth Parks and Green Spaces Forum, like the others, was not invited to share their views.

The Council will blame the protestors for making it unsafe to receive the delegations, but this is utterly disingenuous – the delegations weren’t just angry people off the street, they were citizens who had given their personal details and officially registered in order to present their case in standard democratic fashion. They had a right to be heard and the Council had an obligation to respect that right.

One of the thwarted delegates summed up the Council’s actions aptly in their entry to the members’ attendance book: ‘Today, democracy died’.

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