I’ve been reading the various reports of the new Area Committees set-up at Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council in a state of incredulity. I always knew David Ellesmere’s Labour Group were archetypal unreconstructed Socialists from the Michael Foot era but I did not believe they would be so blatant about it.
The new Area Committees have been set-up by Labour to replace the Area Fora. The speed at which this happened was interesting: in eight months the Area Fora have been dismantled and replaced with the authoritarian Area Committee meetings where councillors, surrounded by officers, stare down at the public from their position of power at Grafton House. It’s as if the officers, normally reticent to any change unless it benefits them, were keen to remove the inconvenience of the voters having a say on decision-making as much as Labour were.
The Area Fora had their faults: the same people always turned up, meetings got hijacked by nimbys etc – but at least they were democratic. The new structure firmly closes the door on democracy. Kevin Algar over at A Riverside View excellently compares the Area Committees with the way the USSR was structured. The biggest affront to democracy is Labour have replaced an informal gathering of residents at public meetings with their councillors with formal, stifling Committee style meetings in the unwelcoming environment of Grafton House. When I was the Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny, my Committee was a public meeting where anyone could sit in the gallery to observe our deliberations. Very rarely did any member of the public turn up, and I wondered why this was until I noticed there were no lights on at reception and the front-door to Grafton House was locked: just two little reasons for the public not being present! Has this changed? At least my Committee started at 6pm and not the worker unfriendly time of 5.30pm, which is when the Area Committees started with the intention to ram as many Area Committees into one evening as possible.
Unsurprisingly, the North West and North East Area Committees on Wednesday evening only had one member of the public in attendance: one Sally Wainman. The South West Area Committee last night only had one non-politico member of the public present in the gallery. Kevin Algar was there as a resident but also as one of Ipswich’s political bloggers. Glen Chisholm, the Labour candidate in Stoke Park at the local elections this May, also attended but forgot the public hadn’t actually elected him yet and proceeded to try and sit with the councillors (socialists just think they are born to rule Ipswich don’t they?).
Reports from the front-line suggest that Labour councillors are already buckling under their monumental mistake by agreeing to set-up an ADDITIONAL meeting in North West Ipswich to make it easier for residents to have their say – isn’t this called an Area Forum? And the Area Committees for North East and South West Ipswich will be trying to have their next Committee meeting out in the “community” with the location yet to be arranged.
The cost in setting up Area Committees has been taken out of the Locality budgets each councillor was due to have to spend on community projects, as decided by the former Conservative-led Council but then abruptly stopped by Labour when they took back power in May last year. So instead of spending money on worthwhile projects Labour have wasted it on another layer of bureaucracy (officer time, report preparation, allowances for Chairman etc.) and now they will be spending MORE of your money setting up an another meeting in North West Ipswich with expensive officers undoubtedly needing to attend. Additionally, officer time and money will need to be allocated to arrange Committee meeting venues in North East and South West Ipswich. Labour are either bad or mad when it comes to money or possibly both.
I note Cllr Peter Gardiner was elected Chairman of the South West Area Committee last night and as Kevin Algar points out Cllr Gardiner does not even live in South West Ipswich but resides in St John’s ward on the other side of town. As a side note, at another committee meeting a few years ago, when I was a councillor, the lack of money for a particular project was being discussed and Cllr Gardiner quipped: “If we run out of the money, we normally just go to the public”. As in we’ll increase your council tax. This is the true face of Labour in Ipswich: money wasting, anti-investment and wholly undemocratic.