26 January 2012
Only in these extraordinary times (where no council service is safe from cuts) could a Democracy Commission result in the culling of three community councils.
It has been decided that the borough’s eight community councils are to be cut down to five.
If the commission launched by the new Labour administration had found that the previous Lib Dem flagship community council scheme was a failure then their decision would be justifiable.
Instead the report says they are a “valued way of engaging with local people and bringing [the council’s] services closer to the people [the council] serve[s].”
It is not surprising that the justification used to merge three of the community council is a financial one – saving £344,000 from a total annual cost of £1 million.
But what are the costs? And why did the Liberal Democrats, who obviously want to keep their flagship scheme going, not fight for it at the Democracy Commission, instead of just walking out in protest?
It is believed that the costs are made up in hiring space, equipment, refreshments and probably most costly of all paying council officers to attend. Money has been slashed - £81,000 - from ‘general savings’ including marketing and publicity and sound systems.
Surely the Liberal Democrats should have provided alternative ways of making cuts to the costs? They might well have been able to save all eight community councils – by walking out they just played into the hands of those who wanted to cut it. Would it be too cynical for us to suggest the Lib Dems can make more political capital by having three community councils cut, than if they saved them?
Whatever the politics, here at the News our reporters have seen firsthand how useful they are in getting an increasingly disengaged public involved in making local decisions.
Not every meeting is well attended, but when issues matter you will see local people out in force. On Tuesday night in Dulwich around 270 people spent their evening (missing Emmerdale and Eastenders) at the community council to fight against Controlled Parking Zones around East Dulwich Station - they won.
The whole point of the community councils was to reflect the natural boundaries that exist in the hearts and minds of local people and ensure that they can make a different to areas they live in.
People all across London are provincial in their outlook – no one says they come from Southwark - they are from Peckham or Walworth or Bermondsey. Getting rid of the community councils will do a great deal of damage to democracy, if only widening the gulf between politicians and council officers and ordinary men and women on the street.
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