In our latest councillor’s column, Southgate Green member Daniel Anderson laments the decline of council scrutiny functions
This is my third term as a councillor for Southgate Green ward, albeit with a twelve-year gap between my first and second term. I quipped on my return in 2014 that it was my “Sean Connery moment” (referencing the late actor’s return to play James Bond for Never Say Never Again in 1983).
However, this term has been anything but business as usual. Re-elected in 2018 as a Labour councillor, last summer I joined my two colleagues, Dinah Barry and Derek Levy, as part of a new breakaway group called Community First. Another ex-Labour councillor, Dino Lemonides, joined soon after.
Our reasons for doing so are well documented, so I won’t repeat them, other than to say that we remain committed to the Labour manifesto we were elected on but feel that we are better able to live up to those values outside of, rather than within, the Labour group on Enfield Council.
Nevertheless, we are independently minded, and don’t work on the basis of a party whip, so we therefore feel free to disagree with one another when necessary but do so respectfully and believe that genuine open dialogue is the key to finding the best way forward – something that wasn’t previously possible as Labour councillors.
We are particularly concerned over the watering down of the council’s scrutiny function. Scrutiny should be about evaluating the work of the executive, influencing and shaping policy, suggesting alternative ways forward, but most of all holding the council’s leadership team to account.
A great example of this was the work of the ‘Meridian Water Workstream’, which had identified major weaknesses in the council’s £6.5billion regeneration scheme, questioning its capacity to deliver genuinely affordable homes that will benefit Enfield’s residents, rather than overseas buyers.
Alas, the new scrutiny arrangements introduced last summer are a pale shadow of what we had before. Constitutional changes brought in by the administration have seen the abolition of workstreams, replaced by committees that meet just four times a year, with the executive having undue influence on the respective memberships of each.
Agendas are now top-heavy with officer presentations rather than framed first and foremost around the concerns of councillors. We have seen our roles reduced to being little more than paper shufflers with the executive seemingly paying lip service to us, if that. To be frank, it’s scrutiny in name only, and is bad for decision-making and worrying for democracy.
It’s fortunate, then, that we still have a free press!
You can find out more about Community First and subscribe to our periodic newsletter at our website communityfirstgroup.org.uk.
Cllr Anderson (Community First) represents Southgate Green alongside Claire Stewart (Labour) and Anne Brown (Labour). Ward surgeries are being held online only. To get in touch:
Call 07812 673 070
Email [email protected]