Liberal Democrats have been calling on Labour to introduce proper neighbourhood
decisions for many years. The proposed changes to create ward forums are welcomed, but
the opposition has expressed concerns about the process which has not involved any local
residents at all in the new plans.
Since they took power in Southwark in 2010, the Labour group have reduced the power of
Community Councils to shape and improve their local areas, leading to the view that the
whole system of Community Councils was not working and needed drastic reform. Under
Liberal Democrat pressure, the Labour administration agreed to allow more ward-level
rather than multi-ward level decision making, which will bring decisions closer to the public.
The Liberal Democrat group also scored another victory by ensuring that the amount of
money paid out to councillors would not rise as a result of these changes. Over recent years,
Labour councillors have claimed more and more in allowances due to them increasing the
number of positions that come with a payment, as well as the ‘Golden Goodbyes’ that are
given to Labour Cabinet Members when they leave the post.
However, Liberal Democrats have voiced their concerns about other aspects of the changes.
The reforms are supposed to be about encouraging public engagement, but they have never
been subjected to any public consultation or engagement, and will essentially be imposed
on the public. The Labour Administration initially sought to ensure that the ‘Empowering
Community Programme’ would not voice any criticism of the Southwark Council
Administration and would only pass decisions that were in agreement with the Borough
Council. Southwark Liberal Democrats criticised this controlling move as unacceptable, given
that the whole point of having a more localised tier of community governance is that it
enables things to be done differently from the Borough-wide council. While Labour’s initial
position has softened, it remains to be seen how much their controlling instincts will emerge
once the changes are implemented.
Southwark will be divided into five areas, each of which will have their own ‘Empowering
Community Programme’ and a ‘Community Champion’ to lead it. The middle and south of
the Borough will have a Labour Councillor as their Community Champion, while the North
West will have a Liberal Democrat Community Champion. The North East part of the
borough currently have six Liberal Democrat and six Labour councillors. The Liberal
Democrats argue that basic fairness would conclude that the position alternates between
the two parties, though Labour are so far intent on overriding that principle.
Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, the leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrat Council group said:
‘Labour severely weakened Community Councils, to the point that they simply weren’t fit
for purpose. These reforms are therefore an improvement and Southwark Liberal
Democrats worked constructively with Labour to make them better. We also ensured it
doesn’t end up as a way to give more money to councillors, as has been the case in recent
years with more paid posts created and Golden Goodbyes handed out to departing Labour
‘It’s not a great sign that Labour introduced new plans designed to increase public
engagement while refusing to carry out any form of engagement or consultation with the
public. It indicates that Labour want to keep to their centralising and dissent-crushing
instincts. That said, it can be a genuine opportunity to enable better and more local
decision-making and we’re determined to get involved and make the best of it’
20th of May, 2019