How Labour improves on public participation and scrutiny in decision-making in Croydon

By - Monday 18th August, 2014

Sean Creighton takes us through some important procedures to foster participation in local democracy

Getting closer to Croydon. Photo by Alvin Shivmangal, used with permission

As more opportunities are provided for the public to take-part in Croydon Council’s decision making process, especially in local planning processes, it’s worth taking a moment to look in detail at the council’s structures and how its processes work.

Labour’s package of important constitutional changes to the way the council operates includes a commitment to implement the ‘Ambitious for Croydon‘ Labour Manifesto which has been written into the responsibilities of cabinet members. Individuals and organisations involved in making representations and lobbying need to be aware of these changes to engage effectively with the council’s decision-making processes.

The Croydon cabinet* is made up of councillors with specific portfolios and representatives of the opposition. All councillors are allowed to attend and to speak. Non-council members can be invited to give presentations or comment on business. The cabinet (and full council meetings) are now web-cast.

The Scrutiny and Oversight Committee and Sub-committees: the scrutiny process has been toughened up and there will be a greater role for public contributions. The sub-committees are: Children & Young People, Health, Social Care & Housing, and Environment, Highways, Planning Policy, Conservation and Climate Change.

The Planning Committee and Sub-committee applications can be referred to the committee by the chair, ward councillors, the GLA member and local MPs, and by residents’ associations and conservation area advisory panels. Applications can also go to committee if at least twelve representations about them have been received from individuals. Petitions can also be reported to this committee.

Speaking rights on applications are given in the following order: objectors, the applicant or agent, MP, Greater London Authority member, ward councillor. Each person is given three minutes to speak. The first items to be dealt with are always planning applications which involve public speaking rights.

The General Purpose and Audit Committee reviews council members’ allowances and appointments to outside bodies. Its membership will include two non-voting independent members. It also has an Urgency Sub-committee.

The Mayoralty and Honorary Freedom Selection Sub-committee deals with the selection of mayor, honorary aldermen and women, freedom of the borough and the hororary recorder.

The Pensions Committee will always include two pensioner non-voting co-opted members.

The Appointments Committee considers appointments to senior posts.

Joint specialist committees are the Bandon Hill Cemetery Joint Committee, Croydon/Lewisham Street Lighting Joint Committee, South London Partnership (Joint Waste Committee), and the London Councils Committee.

Public question time will be increased and a more holistic approach is being considered

More time is to be devoted to public question time. Consideration is being given to whether to bring in a theme for council meetings, to enable discussion of topics such as housing in a holistic way.

The cabinet portfolios document sets out specific detailed responsibilities for each member and it’s helpful to have an overview of its structure. The leader, for example, is responsible for performance management of the Chief Executive and facilitating “effective working relationships with Trade Unions representing Council employees”.

The Cabinet Member for Homes and Regeneration’s responsibilities include the regeneration of local areas, and reviewing the Croydon Plan, the Community Infrastructure Levy and the CCURV vehicle with John Laing, along with the Cabinet members for Economic Development and Finance & Treasury.

The responsibilities of the Cabinet Member for Children, Families & Learning include schools, special education needs, youth provision and offending, local authority “responsibilities for school improvement, including the development of co-operative options” and the establishment of coding clubs in schools.

The cabinet member for Culture, Leisure and Sport’s portfolio includes tourism strategy, the use of civic buildings and bereavement services. What appears to be missing is detailed heritage responsibilities.

The cabinet member for Economic Development will chair the Local Strategic Partnership group representing the council on the Coast to Capital committees, borough wi-fi, co-operative solutions, London Living Wage, and the Hammerson and Westfield scheme. Croydon Council has committed itself to supporting the living wage policy initiative and the cabinet member for Finance and Treasury also has a role in this.

A key requirement is the pursuit of equality and a sustainable environment

The Cabinet Member for People and Communities is responsible for Adult Services and public health matters.

The Cabinet Member for Safety and Justice has a much more comprehensive and wide ranging role than the title suggests. In addition to policing, combating crime and disorder, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation (FGM), the member has responsibility for “oversight of development initiatives, policies and strategies to tackle poverty in the borough, addressing issues arising from changes to welfare benefits and council tax; food and fuel poverty; people having no recourse to public funds.” In addition he is responsible for licensing and regulation, environmental health, consumer protection, community development, voluntary sector and communities, council communication strategy and delivery of customer services. The remit specifically gives this member responsibility for promoting the Credit Union.

The member for Transport and Environment has responsibilities for highways, road maintenance, parking services, street lighting replacement programme, flooding and droughts, traffic management, street services, transport policies and strategy.

Finally, a key requirement for all is ‘”the promotion and pursuit of principles espoused by the Council in respect of equalities and  a sustainable environment in its role as an employer service provider and the exercise of community leadership”.

Full details can be seen here and full details of the changes to scrutiny are downloadable here.

*Cabinet posts:

  • Leader : Tony Newman
  • Deputy Leader (Statutory) : Homes and Regeneration: Alison Butler
  • Deputy Leader and Clean Green Croydon: Stuart Collins
  • Children Families and Learning: Alisa Flemming
  • Culture Leisure and Sport: Timothy Godfrey
  • Economic Development: Toni Letts
  • Finance and Treasury: Simon Hall
  • People and Communities: Louisa Woodley
  • Safety and Justice: Mark Watson
  • Transport and Environment: Kathy Bee
  • Although not a cabinet member, the Chair of Scrutiny is Sean Fitzsimons.
Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly, and Love Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee. He is Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School and Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, and of British black, , social action and labour movement history. He co-ordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint - History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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