Published: January 20, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
WARD consultancy groups – hailed by Islington Council as providing greater access to power and democracy for residents – are meeting rarely if at all, according to critics.
The 16 groups, known as “Ward Partnerships”, were meant to replace the four regular Area Committees which until last year met six times annually and provided cash grants and official documented minutes.
However, Green Party London Assembly candidate Caroline Russell claims that the St Mary’s ward group, in the west of the borough, has never actually met and many more of the partnerships have only got together once or twice since they were established.
Ward Partnerships must be consulted by council departments on a range of issues that affect local residents, from planning, traffic, parking and road maintenance, to crime, anti-social behaviour and environmental improvements.
A senior council officer has been assigned to each partnership to support councillors in addressing local issues.
The old Area Committees’ meetings were open to the public, and widely advertised with published agendas. But the new partnerships don’t have to meet at all if they do not wish to, and if they do hold an event are able to invite who they like.
Ms Russell said: “Area Committees were not only often well attended but very useful in terms of making the council democratic and accountable.
“Now they have been replaced by these ward partnerships – but I’ve discovered from the council’s own website that nine of these groups have no meetings planned and five haven’t met since September. St Mary’s hasn’t met at all.”
Defending the new scheme, the council’s executive member for regeneration, Labour councillor Paul Convery, argued that the previous Area Committees were not a serious form of democratic accountability.
“It was often more councillors than public who attended,” he said.
He added: “We are devolving decision-taking about ward matters to ward councillors and we have asked each Ward Partnership to have at least one big-scale public meeting a year. In Caledonian, for example, we are currently averaging about three per year and they attract a good turnout 80 to 100 people typically.
“What the Greens are really grumpy about is that their small coterie of affluent, articulate activists with time on their hands no longer have meetings to attend where they can push their line in front of councillors.”