West Ham councillor John Whitworth on why residents should vote for the committee model in the upcoming governance referendum:
May 6th is the date, not only for the election of the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly Member, but also for the important Newham Governance Referendum. This comes 20 years after this borough voted to have one of the country’s first Directly-Elected Mayors in a referendum which was perhaps not widely nor fully understood. Newham was one of only 11 authorities which voted to adopt the Mayor model and there are currently just 15, with many more referendums proposing a Mayor being lost than won. Since 2002, the voters of Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay have opted to abandon the Mayor model they had previously adopted, two for the Leader and Cabinet and one for the Committee model.
Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, remained in office until he was defeated by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz in the selection for the Labour Party’s Mayoral candidate in 2018. Of those who believed this model would work better with Cllr Fiaz in the post, many also felt that the DEM model was in any case flawed. She expressed the view that this model had not worked well for Newham and pledged, if elected, to hold a referendum on its future by May 2021.
How the full powers of the Mayor are used depends greatly on the incumbent’s character but, according to the Local Government Act 2000, the Mayor – elected separately from the councillors and therefore of higher status – appoints and dismisses Cabinet members. Stemming from this authority, the Mayor is able to ensure the Cabinet’s assent and exercise considerable influence over the councillors belonging to the dominant party.
In contrast, under the Committee model the Council delegates decision-making powers to committees corresponding to Council directorates, such as Adults & Health and Inclusive Economy & Housing. Full Council elects the chairs of these committees and the Council Leader, and has direct responsibility for the overall policy framework and the budget.
The campaign group, Newham Voting for Change, believes that the Committee system is more democratic, equal and inclusive than the DEM system because all councillors participate in making policy. Working in committees encourages co-operation rather than division, talent is nurtured and expertise developed more productively, and all councillors are more accessible and accountable for the Council’s actions.
Residents will hopefully participate in the referendum in large numbers to play a role in shaping Newham’s future.
The article originally appeared in Newham Voices, a new independent community newspaper distributed around the borough.