Sunday 18 February 2024

Damien Egan - Mayor Of Lewisham 2018-2024: A Point Of View

My Congratulations

My congratulations to Damien Egan on his victory in the Kingswood by-election.  I think that he will much prefer the role of a backbench MP to that of a directly elected Mayor.  I think that his personality and skill set suit him much better to the role of civic Mayor and a people’s advocate, as opposed to the job of a directly elected Mayor which involves the exercise of executive power.  My friend, Councillor Paul Bell, once reminded me of the words of Tony Blair, ‘when you decide, you divide’.  For someone like Damien, who wants to be popular, the seat of power is an uncomfortable place to be.  Now that his tenure as Executive Mayor of Lewisham is at an end and he has moved on to the next stage of his political career, the time seems right to look at what he did whilst in office.  I am uniquely placed to do this.  I was a Councillor when he was first elected to Lewisham Council in 2010.  I was one of his Cabinet colleagues between 2010-2018 when we served under Mayor Sir Steve Bullock.  I was a candidate, along with him, in the selection contest to succeed Bullock and become the Labour Mayoral candidate in Lewisham for the 2018 Mayoral election.  I was a member of the Council for the whole of his first term as Mayor.  I was the Chair of Overview & Scrutiny during the last year of that term, 2021-22, and a Labour Group Officer for that year.

Part Time Cabinet Members

His Mayoralty got off to an interesting start.  After his election, he announced that he was going to introduce part-time, or job share, Cabinet members.  It was argued that this was because he wanted to demonstrate the Council’s commitment to flexible working.  I think that many of the Labour Group cognoscenti were of the view that this decision, which increased the size of the Cabinet from 9 under Bullock, to 11, 7 to be full time and 4 to be 50% job shares, was based on the fact that he had made more promises to Councillors to ensure their support in the Mayoral selection race, than it turned out that he had jobs to give once in office.  The view that the creation of these part-time Cabinet posts were a post-election idea rather than a plan that preceded the election was given some credence when the Head of Law seemed to surprise Mayor & Cabinet alike when she ruled on what a job share Cabinet post would mean in practice.  Instead of part-time Cabinet members going on to the equivalent of a 50% contract and being paid monthly pro rata, she ruled that 50% meant being paid for 6 months then having 6 months without pay.  However, part-time Cabinet members would have to work for the whole year.  That is, the 2 part-time Cabinet members would have to continue to go to meetings, present papers and answer questions etc., even during the 6 month period when they were not being paid.

Not A Mayor Like Steve Bullock

Having won an election to be Lewisham’s directly elected Mayor and, therefore, empowered to exercise that power in his own right, one of Damien’s first acts as Executive Mayor was to give that power away to his Cabinet.  The Mayor would no longer ‘decide in Cabinet’, rather, the Mayor & Cabinet would ‘decide together’.  Henceforth, when Cabinet met, you would not have, as under Bullock, the Mayor saying on his own account, ‘I decide this’.  Instead, a vote would be taken at Mayor & Cabinet to determine a decision.  From then on Lewisham no longer had an Executive Mayor as previously understood.  Rather, the Mayor was now the Chair on the Executive Committee of the Council and was one vote among many.  There was some disappointment and surprise amongst Councillors when the first time that we became aware of these proposed changes was when they appeared on the agenda for the forthcoming Full Council meeting.  At the Group meeting following the publication of this agenda, my recollection is that the strongest argument for this proposed change was that it would be embarrassing to withdraw it now that it was in the public domain.

Damien’s creation of part-time Cabinet Members and his giving away of his power to the Cabinet were noteworthy in 2 ways.  Firstly, they came with no warning.  He had not flagged his intention to take these actions in his pitch to become Labour’s Mayoral candidate during the selection campaign in 2017.  Nor were they outlined in his manifesto for the actual Mayoral election in 2018.  Secondly, they provided clues as to the kind of Mayor he really wanted to be.  6 years on, I think it is fair to say that many of the Lewisham Labour Party hierarchy, Councillors, activists and office holders, have been able to observe Mayor Egan and contrast his time in office with that of his 4 term predecessor, Steve Bullock.  They, myself included, have been forced to conclude that unlike Bullock, Damien wanted to be a kind of old-style civic Mayor as opposed to a decision making Executive Mayor, albeit on the directly elected Mayor’s salary.  In fairness to his Cabinet members to whom he gave much of his power, they, despite their added responsibilities, had to labour on, on the same pay as under Mayor Bullock.

A Constitutional Confusion

The decision to appoint part-time Cabinet Members was shown to create a further Constitutional complication once the decision by the Mayor to share his power with the Cabinet began to be interrogated and its implications understood.  It was explained to us that, in the private briefing that would take place before the meeting in public of the Mayor & Cabinet, all 11 Cabinet members and the Mayor, including the 2 part-timers who were not being paid at that time, would vote on the business to be determined formally at the Mayor & Cabinet meeting that followed.  However, at that Mayor & Cabinet meeting, these 2 unpaid part time Cabinet Members were not allowed to vote.  It seemed to come as some surprise to people when it was pointed out that under these arrangements it was possible for the vote at the formal Mayor & Cabinet meeting to yield a different result to the vote that had taken place at the prior briefing meeting.

A Part-Time Cabinet Member For Finance

Once the job share Cabinet proposal was agreed and implemented, Damien was free to pick his first Cabinet.  Some eyebrows were raised when he decided that he wanted a full-time Cabinet member for ‘Democracy, Refugees & Accountability’ and for ‘Safer Communities’, yet the Cabinet member for Finance, who had to lead on the Budget, was to be a part-time post.  This was at a time, 2018, when the Council still had major cuts to make and the damaging effects of Tory-imposed Austerity on the Council had been a major plank of Damien’s Mayoral manifesto.  The impression of lopsided priorities that Damien’s first stab at picking a Cabinet presented was corrected shortly afterwards when he had a mini reshuffle and the Cabinet Member for Finance was made a full-time post.

The Departure Of Ian Thomas

The matters above can be dismissed as teething problems as a new Mayor goes up a steep learning curve and merely of interest to those who lack understanding, goodwill and perspective.  But they pale into insignificance when compared to Damien’s decision to dispense with the services of the newly appointed Chief Executive, Ian Thomas, after only 7 months in post.  I will just say the following about this.  Damien had been selected as the Labour candidate to run for Mayor of Lewisham in 2018, following Bullock’s decision to stand down, when he sat on the panel that appointed Thomas in 2017.  Shortly after Thomas left, he was awarded a CBE for services to Local Government in recognition of the work he had done prior to coming to Lewisham as Strategic Director of Children & Young People’s Services at Rotherham Borough Council.  He was then appointed Chief Executive of Kingston upon Thames Council, where he served until he was appointed Town Clerk of the Corporation of the City of London in February 2023.  Following the exit of Thomas, who is black, from Lewisham, Damien let it be widely known within the Labour Group that he wanted a black Labour candidate to stand in every ward in the borough.  Further, he let it be known that when he stood down as Mayor after serving 2 terms as he had pledged to do, he wanted to be succeeded by a black woman Mayor.  It is worth noting that what has precipitated Damien’s resignation as Mayor of Lewisham was his success in the contest to choose the Labour candidate for the new Parliamentary constituency of Bristol North East.  His strongest opponent for the seat was the sitting Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.  The editor of The Voice was strongly critical of the local Labour Party for failing to select Rees, a black man.

Exit Of Senior Officers

Thomas was not an isolated case.  Following his departure, an interim Chief Executive was appointed.  She had served as interim prior to Thomas taking up the post.  Kim Wright, formally the Group Director of Neighbourhoods & Housing at Hackney Council, was appointed the new Chief Executive in late 2019.  She stayed for about 2 years before moving to become Chief Executive of Brent Council.  This led to the appointment of another, new, interim who was recently appointed as the replacement Chief Executive.  This means that, in 6 years as Mayor, Damien has had 3 Chief Executives and 3 interims, albeit that 2 were the same person and the last one was appointed Chief Executive.  During his time as Mayor, all the Executive Management Committee that he inherited left, as did the Deputy Chief Executive and the long serving Head of Planning.  A new Head of Law, Director of Resources (Finance) and Director of Public Realm all came and went, the latter staying for less than 2 years.

A Democracy Review

In 2018, Lewisham had a Governance structure that made it an outlier as far as the rest of London was concerned.  Our structure which included 6 Scrutiny Committees and 4 Planning Committees, meant that our Councillors had to spend far more time at the Town Hall in meetings than their counterparts in other boroughs.   For example, while Lewisham had 37 councillors serving on its 4 Planning Committees, the London Borough of Waltham Forest found itself able to function with one committee made up of just 5 Councillors.  There was a feeling amongst some that we were ‘over committeed’. Councillors were complaining that they just did not have enough time to fulfil their contractual attendance requirements and engage with residents and community groups in their wards.  The situation was exacerbated when Damien increased the Cabinet from 9 to 11.  This reduced the number of ‘Scrutiny’ Councillors eligible to sit on Scrutiny Committees which meant that some now had to sit on 2 committees rather than just one as was previously the case.  Damien set up the Democracy Review to address this issue.  Having sat for 3 years, it failed to come up with proposals for meaningful change that commanded broad-based support.  Instead, it reduced the number of members of scrutiny committees from 8 to 5.  This had the unintended result that it became much more difficult to get a quorum to enable scrutiny committees to sit.  Officers and Chairs or committees now had to spend hours before a meeting contacting members to try and get enough people to attend a meeting.  For the year that I was Chair of Overview & Scrutiny, I was constantly being prevailed upon turn up to scrutiny committees to ensure a quorum.  Two years on and I don’t think that much has changed.

It is worth pointing out that all these Committees have to be serviced by officers at public expense.  Reducing the membership doesn’t reduce this cost very much if at all.  In addition, 11 Cabinet members cost more to support than 9.  After 14 years of Tory Austerity that has seen cuts to all Council services, including things like street cleaning, the Governance function of the Council appears to have emerged largely unscathed.


Damien was elected on a manifesto that promised to insource many Council services that had previously been outsourced to private sector providers.  I believe that there was success with cleaners, Town Hall concierge staff and possibly some Adult Social Care workers.  But the Council gave up on its plan to bring the School Meals contract in-house and away from Chartwells.  Likewise, it had to agree to allow Glendales to keep its contract to manage Lewisham’s Parks and Green Spaces.  There just was not the in-house capacity to take on these responsibilities and the investment required to build it was prohibitive.  Rather than bring in-house the contract to manage the borough’s leisure centres, the Council had to agree to let the contract to a different outside provider at considerable increased cost.

School Academisation

Under Steve Bullock, we had a pragmatic approach to the Academisation of our schools.  We expressed our view that we would rather the Leathersellers not proceed with their plans to form their 3 schools that they ran in Lewisham into a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).  In the end, they decided not to proceed.  We found an academy partner to run a primary school that was experiencing governance problems.  We found a new Academy partner to help one of our Academy schools which needed to improve.  Having decided to intervene in Sedgehill school because we judged it to be failing, and having hit a number of bumps in the road on that journey, including receipt of an Academy order from the Regional Schools’ Commissioner, we found an Academy chain willing to take on the challenge of running the school.  It has improved its performance since then.

Damien came into office in 2018 with an oppositionist position towards Academies.  When the Leathersellers announced their new plans to proceed to convert to a MAT, there were some strong public statements criticising and expressing opposition to the decision.  Likewise, when the Regional Schools’ commissioner issued an Academy Order on Conisborough College, a Lewisham secondary school, following another critical Ofsted report.  These petered out as the administration realised that they had little if any agency in these matters and that it would have to bow to the inevitable.

The Information Commissioner

In his Mayoral Manifesto in 2018, Damien committed to making governance in Lewisham more open and transparent.  The following is taken directly from the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office:

‘The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to the London Borough of Lewisham Council for failing to respond to hundreds of overdue requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.

The Council revealed the true extent of its poor performance on information access requests to the ICO, which was much worse than statistics it recently published online.

At the end of 2022, the Council had a total number of 338 overdue requests for information, 221 of which were over 12 months old. The oldest unanswered request was submitted over two years ago on 3 December 2020.

While the Council was focusing on new requests to improve its compliance with the statutory time limit of 20 working days for a response, this was at the expense of tackling its backlog of older requests. Following enquiries by the ICO, it became clear that the Council had no concrete plans to address this issue.

The enforcement notice requires the Council to respond to all outstanding requests over 20 working days old, no later than six months from the date of the notice. It is also required to devise and publish an action plan to mitigate any future delays to FOI requests, within 35 days from the date of the notice.

“By failing to respond to these requests, Lewisham Council is keeping hundreds of people in the dark about information they have a right to ask for. People need to have confidence in the decisions being made by their local authority and this Council’s failure to comply with the law erodes trust in democracy and open government’’        

Warren Seddon, Director of FOI (Freedom of Information) and Transparency at the ICO’

The Lee Green LTN

In the aftermath of the COVID lockdown, Damien introduced what was described at the time as the largest Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in London, in Lee Green, one of the wealthiest parts of one of the wealthiest wards in Lewisham, according to the Council’s deprivation data.  The opposition to this was loud and the complaints resounded for months, including from many Councillors.  The part of the LTN that was in Blackheath had to be removed almost immediately, such was the outcry, including from neighbouring Greenwich Council who complained that they had not been consulted prior to its introduction.  The reason given for the rapid volte face was that the road closure was preventing deliveries getting to a care home that was in the middle of a building project.

It is generally accepted that the installation of the LTN was unsatisfactory.  Signage was often poor or non-existent.  Penalty notices took weeks or longer to arrive.  This meant that many people were not aware that, by taking their previous regular routes, especially to Lewisham Hopistal for treatment, appointments and visits, they were now committing an offence.  The first they were aware of this was when dozens of notices of fines dropped onto their doormats.  This caused a blizzard of complaints to be made to Councillors from previously law-abiding residents who, in some cases, had received, literally, thousands of pounds worth of fines.  Councillors were told to bring these cases to the Mayor so that they could be quietly dealt with.

Such was the outcry, that the LTN had to be scaled back for a trial period.  During this time a consultation was held to get people’s views about the new, modified scheme.  I was Chair of the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee at the time.  I wrote to Damien pointing out his manifesto commitment to make the Council more open and transparent and asking him, in consequence of this, to publish the results of the consultation as soon as possible and inviting him to a meeting of the Committee to answer questions on the matter.  Weeks went by without a reply, despite me chasing this a number of times.  When the reply finally arrived, it was less informative than I had hoped.  Damien told me that other commitments meant that he was unable to accept the Committee’s invitation to attend and answer members’ questions.  It is moot to ask if his schedule would ever have allowed him to attend the Committee to enable members to scrutinise him on the subject.

7 days in advance of the meeting of the Mayor & Cabinet that would decide whether or not to make the temporarily reduced Lee Green LTN permanent, the results of the consultation were published.  This showed that a clear majority of respondents did not support the pared-down, trial scheme.  Mayor & Cabinet voted to retain the scheme.  It promised that the scheme would be monitored to see what effect it was having on traffic within it and on the boundary roads around it.  This monitoring report would be published so people could see the results.  When this report was recently presented at a Full Council meeting, the Council had to admit that it did not have the baseline data to assess the impact that either the original scheme or the now permanent scaled-back scheme had had on traffic either within the LTN or outside it.


Sir Steve Bullock started his fourth and final term as Mayor in 2014, having pledged to build 500 new Council homes by 2018.  Bullock appointed Damien to be his Cabinet Member for Housing straight after his election victory and charged him with delivering on this manifesto commitment.  During his campaign to be selected as Labour’s candidate in Lewisham’s Mayoral election in 2018, following Bullock’s decision to stand down, Damien’s campaign team adopted a wide and all-encompassing definition of ‘delivered’ so as to claim that he had fulfilled Bullock’s pledge. His team has continued to pursue this approach during his six years as Mayor when it comes to making claims about homes ‘delivered’.  In short, whereas most people would think that a home that was claimed to have been delivered was a home that had actually been built, the Council seemed to believe that delivered meant built, anything that could be said to be anywhere near the planning process and everything in between.  This approach has been well critiqued by the X, formally known as Twitter, account @LewishamWatch.  It was also the subject of a recent Public Question to Full Council where the Council had to admit to using a wider definition of ‘delivered’ than meaning actually built.

The Council’s attempts to actually build homes have not been without difficulties.  @LewishamWatch posted on X that the Council’s Auditors, Grant Thornton, had raised concerns in its Audit Report about,

‘the collapse of the ‘higher risk’ housing project for Home Park and Edward Street.’  

These were 2 schemes to build a total of 65 new affordable homes.  This followed the collapse into administration of the Council’s appointed contractor, Caledonian Modular Ltd.  The contract was for £27m.  The Council has started cost recovery work.  It is assumed that regardless of this, this episode will cause the Council to incur a substantial financial loss.  @LewishamWatch, in my experience a very reliable and accurate reporter of Lewisham Council’s travails, believes that:

‘The Council is unlikely to recover the costs of the £27m scheme.’

Lewisham Homes

Damien recently decided that he wanted to bring Lewisham Homes in-house.  Lewisham Homes was an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO), effectively the Council’s wholly owned subsidiary, with responsibility for managing its housing stock.  That is, it ran Council housing in Lewisham.  It reported to the Council and Councillors sat on its Management Board.  The reason for bringing it in-house was to improve its performance.  The justification for doing this ran to just over half a page of A4 which was contained in the report that went to Mayor & Cabinet that recommended the change.  No improvement plan was produced so no-one knew what the Council proposed to do to improve the performance of the service.  It was claimed that the change would save £300,000 in efficiencies.  In fact, the Council reported soon after it announced the change, that it would in fact cost the Council over £6m.  Subsequent to the in-house transfer, Lewisham entered itself into the Affordable Housing Awards where it won an award for being Contractor of the year for the quality of its Repairs Service.  About a month later it referred itself to the Regulator of Social Housing because of the poor quality of its housing stock and concerns it had about the adequacy of its repairs service and its fire safety measures.  This again has been well critiqued online by @LewishamWatch.


Whilst all around us and across London, Labour Councils build new homes and regenerate their communities, Lewisham seems to suffer from an exceptionalism that prevents much needed redevelopment taking place.  Damien was one of the Cabinet Members who supported the abandoning of the Millwall Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) in 2017.  I will not rehash the arguments about this here.  In brief, the Council proposed to use a CPO to take back ownership of the land it owned, not including the stadium, and had leased to Millwall Football Club in order that the land around the stadium could be redeveloped by a property developer, Renewal, who owned a lot of the surrounding land.  The proposed sports village, New Bermondsey, would contain over 3,000 new homes.  The Council believed that the developer and the Football Club were cooperating on this scheme.  The decision by the Club to withdraw support led to a chain of events that brought the project to an acrimonious end and an enquiry, followed by a report, led by the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson.

Following Damien’s election as Mayor in 2018, he announced that he was taking personal charge of the dispute between Renewal and Millwall with a view to securing an agreement between the parties that would see a new scheme brought forward on the New Bermondsey site.  Consequently, when Damien gave the Cabinet Regeneration brief to Councillor Paul Bell, it contained all Regeneration in the borough save New Bermondsey.  Damien embarked on an intense programme of shuttle diplomacy between Renewal and the Club.  Such was the sensitivity of these negotiations that an omertà was imposed on all Councillors.  No Councillor was permitted to speak publicly about the issue under threat of disciplinary action.  This included the Councillors in whose ward the proposed development sat.

Six years on, no work has started on the site.  Renewal are still required to come back to the Council for another planning consent before it can begin work on the land it owns, that is, not the site that Millwall leases from the Council.  Millwall have not submitted a planning application to redevelop this land.  It appears that they are not in any meaningful discussions with the Council to do so any time soon.  After six years of negotiations, as far as I am aware, the Council has not been able to agree terms with the Club so that the lease it has on the Council land it occupies can be renewed.  I believe that the omertà is still in place.

But the Millwall/New Bermondsey scheme is not an isolated case of development not taking place.  What follows is a list of Lewisham schemes that appear to have run into the sand:

Convoys Wharf

Lewisham Precinct

Catford Town Centre/Milford Towers

Catford Island Site

New Cross Sainsburys Site

Leegate Centre

Achilles Street New Cross

Whilst Millwall/New Bermondsey is not an isolated case, it poses a very visible question that crystalises the problem.  If you travel down Ilderton Road you can look to the West and there you see cranes and development a plenty.  This is Southwark.  But look to the East and you see nothing happening on the Millwall/New Bermondsey site.  This is Lewisham.  Why?


What I have written is not balanced.  I feel that the space for celebrating the achievements of Damien’s 6 years as Lewisham’s Mayor is well populated.  I have written this piece in an attempt to prompt discussion about Lewisham and the challenges it faces and as an invitation to Councillors who were on the Council from 2018 to date to explain what scrutiny was taking place during this period.  It has to be remembered that Overview & Scrutiny is a statutory responsibility of all Councillors who are not members of the Executive, that is, the Cabinet.  They have a legal duty to carry out this function formally, in public and in the public interest.  They are paid public money to do this.  They are not paid these allowances to discuss difficult issues confidentially in private in the Labour Group, where to divulge what has been discussed risks disciplinary action from the Party.  Neither are they paid by the public to attend Labour Party ward and constituency meetings, nor to go canvassing or campaigning.  They are paid to hold the Mayor & Cabinet publicly to account for the decisions they have made and their consequences.  If the residents were well informed, if all the information was in the public domain, would they judge that this job has been done well?

I congratulate Damien once again on his victory in Kingswood.  He has considerable talents.  He is photogenic and charismatic which enables him to win support and bring people together.  He can learn a script and deliver it well.  To some, this may sound like damning with faint praise.  I do not mean for it to be taken so.  In today’s world, be it in politics, or business or even things like sport and the arts, these skills are important.  My business partner has them.  My team constantly remind me of the importance of optics, as they gently direct me away from cameras and microphones.  So, I genuinely wish Damien well as a new MP, and I express the hope that he will find a niche that makes the most of his talents both for himself and the people he serves.  I also hope that, if Labour win the next General Election, there will be enough Labour MPs who understand the cost of exercising executive political power and are willing to pay the price required, in unpopularity and self-sacrifice, to wield it in the public interest to maximum effect.  The next Labour Government will not be the success we hope it will without them.

Monday 15 January 2024

Compassion Competence Confidence - Why I Am Backing Amanda De Ryk To Be The Next Mayor Of Lewisham

‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’.  So goes the old Jewish proverb.  Having been selected to be the Labour candidate in the newly-created Bristol North East constituency, Lewisham’s Mayor, Damien Egan was beginning to gear up to fight this newly created seat at the next General Election.  This wasn’t going to be until May at the earliest and probably not until October.  Then, out of the blue, Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood, one of the old Bristol seats that is disappearing, resigns.  The Labour High Command select Mayor Egan as the Party’s candidate for the resulting by-election in around a month’s time.  This necessitates Damien’s resignation as Mayor of Lewisham which, in turn, requires a by-election to be held to replace him.  So, all of a sudden, what was thought to be a gentle jog towards a transition to a new Mayoralty for Lewisham, has been turned into a full-on sprint to an unexpectedly early finish line around a month from now.  And to be ready to run in that race, the Labour Party, along with other political parties, will have to select its candidate. 

The sound of the gun going off to signal the start of a race months earlier than many had expected caused me to reflect upon my own kamikaze run to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor back in 2017.  I came last by some considerable margin behind the front runners.  One of my lasting memories of that campaign was to have my manifesto described as like ‘War and Peace’ on social media (apologies to Tolstoy fans everywhere).  The other was when my business partner came back from a meeting with Tom Watson, then Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and told me that someone had described my campaign as ‘rather uninspiring’.  Politics can be a brutal business.

Thinking about that contest, which seems like a lifetime ago now, I went back and had a look at my hustings speech.  One of the things I said stands out for me:

The selection process is the means by which we choose our candidate to run a billion pound organisation and be its public face. You're not being asked to select some kind of super community campaigner or civic mayor. It's a real job. For a real leader. 

This is truer now that it was then, following an additional 6 years of Tory Austerity.

I think that people still do not appreciate this fact.  The job of a directly elected Mayor is not what most people seem to imagine.  When they think of a Mayor, they tend to think of someone, perhaps of advancing years, who, following a lifetime of service on the Council, exercises ceremonial role within the borough and an ambassadorial role outside it.  When performing this function, they imagine the Mayor as always resplendent in their robes and chain of office.

The role of a directly-elected Mayor is very different.  Which is why, incidentally, they are paid far more than the civic Mayors which most other boroughs have, currently £80,759 in Lewisham.  Directly-elected Mayors have to exercise executive political power.  In short, they have to run a multi-billion pound business in the public interest.  This is not just about repairing roads, emptying the bins and managing parks.  It’s about running huge service areas like social services for both adults and children, services that it is no exaggeration to say are a matter of life and death for some people.

I think that the role of a directly elected, or executive, Mayor has best been described by my friend, long-time colleague and Lewisham Labour Legend, Cllr John Muldoon:

Being an executive Mayor demands a skillset unlike any other role. Someone who can and will lead, not someone who says they lead. Our local leader. Someone with vision. Someone with integrity. Someone respected by and who respects all our communities. Someone with the competence to steer Lewisham over the coming years, years of great austerity for Lewisham Council. Someone with the agility to deliver great change for Lewisham, whilst never forgetting our duty to the weak, the vulnerable, the poor. Someone ready to seize the opportunities the next Labour Government will bring, whenever that may be.

When deciding who to vote for in the forthcoming election to select Labour’s candidate for the up-and-coming Lewisham Mayoral by-election, Labour Party members should have this is mind.  I believe that members should approach this decision as they would the decision of what school to send their child.  In whom do you have the most confidence to deliver the best outcome for you, your loved ones and your community.  Ultimately, you have to make a hard-headed decision about trust and competence.

This is why, as a former Cabinet Member for Resources, I am backing Amanda De Ryk to be our next Labour Mayor of Lewisham.  As well as having the empathy and compassion to be a great civic leader and champion of the people, she has the operational competence to run the Council to deliver for the residents of our borough.  I believe that she has the qualities that will inspire our people to have confidence, both in their Mayor, and in the Council she leads.

Compassion. Competence. Confidence

Thursday 19 May 2022

Scrutiny: A Point Of View

I was elected to the Council in 1998.  In 2002, the Executive & Scrutiny system was introduced under the terms laid down by the Local Government Act 2000.  At this time, Lewisham also adopted the directly elected Mayoral system.  So, from this date Lewisham has been governed by a Mayor & Cabinet system.  That is, we have had an Executive comprising a directly elected Mayor supported by a Cabinet of between 7 and 11 elected Councillors, with the majority of members forming the Scrutiny body of the Council.  During the past 20 years I have spent 8 years as a Cabinet member and 12 on the Scrutiny side.  For 3 of these 12 years, I was the Chair of a Scrutiny Committee and for 1 year, this last year, I was Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Chair of the Business Panel.

In my experience, Scrutiny is something that Councillors, especially new ones, find challenging to understand and consequently, this is a role that they find difficult to adequately fulfil. I hope that this summary along with wider induction sessions will assist members in this regard.  In this introduction, I hope to lay out a few guiding principles that I feel drive effective scrutiny.  I hope that my principles will have some general application.

Before I lay out my guidance, I would want to encourage all Scrutiny members to read the Council’s Executive/Scrutiny protocol.  This is something that the Full Council agreed be appended to the constitution as guidance to help both Executive & Scrutiny members to better understand the two different roles and how they should interact.

Cooperation not Competition

In Lewisham, the Mayor, by virtue of being directly elected, has a mandate to implement their policies.  The Mayor is supported to accomplish this by the Cabinet and their Group colleagues who ran on the Mayor’s manifesto at the election.  Therefore, the Mayor has a legitimate expectation that Scrutiny members, when approaching their role of scrutinising the Executive and holding it to account, will be fundamentally driven by a desire to cooperate with it to deliver the Corporate Strategy priorities.  The job of Scrutiny, therefore, is principally to help not hinder.

Respectful Challenge not Committed Opposition

Just because we need to cooperate with the Executive to achieve common aims rather than compete with them for power and status, this does not mean that we should shy away from robust challenge.  If policy is not working, if policy implementation has been poor, if policy is not addressing a particular need or issue, then we need to say so clearly and in public.  However, this must always be done with courtesy and respect.

To borrow a phrase, it can be argued that Scrutiny is an ‘exorbitant privilege’.  Scrutiny Councillors can be remorselessly critical on principle about everything the Executive does and seeks to do.  This can become a mindset.  But we must remember that we are in a privileged position.  Arguably, we mark other people’s homework without having to submit any of our own.  We must remember that in order to gain credibility and therefore to be effective, we need to wield our influence with care and in such a way as to earn respect.

To Compliment not To Undermine

The role of Scrutiny is to come alongside the Executive to compliment its role and, therefore, the work of the Council and to build public confidence, not to undermine it.  Organisations work better when they have a culture that encourages people to own up to mistakes and identify problems and failings at an early stage.  To do this, people need to be confident that they will not be blamed and will not be punished for being honest.  It is only in these circumstances that an organisation can reap the benefits of corporate learning.  Organisations that successfully build this culture can then move on to build a culture of continuous improvement.  Scrutiny has a crucial role to play here as its function is to inhabit this space and to identify weaknesses and strategies for improvement.  The way it performs this function will very much set the tone for how the Council deals with these issues.  Scrutiny should lead the way in creating a ‘safe space’ culture for staff so that they can report problems and deal with difficult and potentially damaging issues with confidence.

Leading not merely Shadowing

The Business Panel is charged with scrutinising all decisions made by the Mayor & Cabinet, although there is flexibility as to how it chooses to discharge this responsibility.  However, there is no prescription as to how the rest of Scrutiny has to fulfil its function.  That is, there is no requirement for Scrutiny to restrict its work to merely shadowing the work of the Mayor & Cabinet and ‘man to man marking’ the Mayor and individual Cabinet Members.  The Full Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the individual Scrutiny Committees and the new Task & Finish Groups are free to set their own agendas and to look at what they want to look at, led by their Chairs, providing that it is relevant to the work of the Council.  Thus, Scrutiny has great leeway and, therefore, opportunity to pursue the interests and priorities of members in such ways as to add value to the work of the Council and assist in the delivery of the Mayor’s priorities and the Council’s Corporate Strategy.  My advice would be not to squander the opportunities that Scrutiny affords by becoming fixated on the work of the Mayor & Cabinet.  And to try to be guided by a desire to compliment their work when deciding on your work programmes.

Evidence Based nor Opinion Driven

The work of Scrutiny is very much about reviewing policy to assess its effectiveness and developing policy to improve the lives of residents.  People often come on to the Council with strong political and ideological views.  However, the most important thing that Councillors must bring to this process is an open mind.  Scrutiny Councillors should see themselves as impartial members of a residents’ jury, charged with the objective and dispassionate examination of the evidence and under an obligation to come to a balanced and rational judgment which is in the public interest.  They should not behave like lobbyists who come to a matter with a predetermined opinion of what the outcome should be.  Put all opinions to one side and let the evidence be your guide.

The Officers are Your Friends

The Officers’ role is to support members, not to thwart them.  Do not see them as enemies or subscribe to conspiracy theories about them.  In my experience, they all want to help members to achieve their aims and objectives.  Take them into your confidence.  Treat them with respect.  I have found that Officers are hardworking, professional, experienced and knew a lot more about things than I did.  Based on my experience, you will benefit from listening very carefully to their advice.

Parity of Esteem

This is a phrase that we hear from time to time.  It refers to the aspiration that there should be parity of esteem between the two sections of the Council’s governance.  It means that the Council, in the way it functions, should demonstrate that it holds both branches of the Membership body, Mayor & Cabinet, or the Executive, and Overview & Scrutiny, in equal regard.  This is a challenging aspiration.  However, I believe that nevertheless it is right and proper.  There are a number of ways in which the goal of parity of esteem can be pursued.  One is for Scrutiny members to demand it as a right.  Another is for Overview & Scrutiny to aim to conduct itself in such a way that it earns the respect of the Executive, Council Officers and our residents.  I prefer the latter.  Indeed, one of my aims as Chair of Overview & Scrutiny this last year was to work in such a way as to so raise the esteem in which the Scrutiny function was widely held, such that the Executive felt that it needed to raise its game in order to maintain parity. I think that this is a healthy way of mutually raising standards.

‘Salus Populi Suprema Lex’

This is the motto of Lewisham Council which roughly translates as ‘the welfare of the people is the highest law’.  I have always taken this to mean ‘put the people first’.  This should be your guiding principle in all you do.  It is important to remember that relatively very few residents know who you are, even if you have been on the Council for many years.  You were elected not for your abilities and experience.  You were elected because of the party banner under which you fought the election.  Your election should not be viewed, therefore, as a personal endorsement.  Your elected office should be worn lightly.  Remember that in carrying out your duties on the Council as a Scrutiny member you have to represent all residents, whether they voted for you or not.  Turnout and geographical mobility being what it is, they probably did not.  It is important to be a voice for all the people.


I hope these principles will be of use to you, especially new Councillors, as you seek to carry out your duties as a Scrutiny member of Lewisham Council.  The holding of public office is a great privilege, a sacred trust, but also a heavy burden.  Every resident relies on the Council for something.  Some rely on it very much indeed to provide them with a decent quality of life.  For some, this really is a matter of life and death.  So I wish you all every success as you work for our residents to make Lewisham the best place to live, work and learn.



Friday 22 April 2022

My Time As A Member Of Lewisham Council Is All But At An End. A Few Thoughts.

I failed to be selected in the new Deptford ward, which was set up following the recent review carried out by the Boundary Commission.  This means that my 24 year stint as a Member of Lewisham Council will come to an end on election day, May 5th.  If I were to have the opportunity to make a valedictory speech and chose to take advantage of it, it would have probably gone something like this, after stripping out the usual niceties that are obligatory on such occasions:

Having failed to be selected by the Labour Party to contest next month’s Local Council elections in Lewisham, my political career will therefore shortly be coming to an end.  Over the past month or so I have thought about my 24 years on the Council and the manner of my departure.  I would like to offer a few of these reflections now.

I feel some gratitude to the Labour Party Members of Deptford ward.  By choosing not to select me to be one of their candidates they have given me a gift.  They have removed the burden of public office from my shoulders.  I have not had to decide to lay it down.  My conscience is clear.  Perhaps you have to have been a Councillor for some time to fully appreciate and have sympathy for what I say.  During my time on the Council, the role of Councillor has become far more demanding and the process of selection far more competitive.  It is difficult to excel and be seen to do so in this environment when you see the holding of public office as something of a sacrifice, especially when you are up against people who view it as a cherished ambition, if not something akin to drawing first prize in the lottery of life.

‘Salus Populi Suprema Lex’

This is the motto of Lewisham Council which roughly translates as ‘the welfare of the people is the highest law’.  I have always taken this to mean ‘put the people first’.  I have tried in my time on the Council to make this my guiding principle.  To me, everything else was of secondary importance.

Some people over the years and especially in the last few weeks, have privately said to me that I have the reputation of always speaking the truth as I saw it and doing it with unremitting frankness.  I am not entirely sure if they feel this is something to be praised or pitied.  To the extent that this is true, how can I explain myself?  Do I suffer from some kind of illness?  Perhaps.  Do I come from a long line, on both sides of my family, of working class, contrary, perverse, Mavericks who could not ever encounter any authority without wanting to kick against it? Absolutely.

The Bible says that the truth will set us free.  Lying, deceit, double dealing and trying to be all things to all people, by contrast, poisons the heart, binds the spirit and troubles the mind.

So, if I told the truth as I saw it or told a truth that I thought needed to be said and if I did it at times and in circumstances when wiser and better people would have had more sense, and if I did it with scant regard to the personal consequences, then I did it because I wanted to be free.

My father, sadly now dead for some years, was a Christian leader all his adult life.  As I get older, I realise that he has been my guiding star.  He used to have his own benediction which he would often perform at the end of church services.  He would raise up both his arms as he stood in front of the congregation and he would simply say with a big smile on his face, ‘We wish you all every blessing’.  What I understood him to mean by that was that ‘We’, the church, wish to one another and to our friends and family, to our neighbours and our communities and to the whole world, every good thing that life has to offer. Peace, joy, wealth (but not too much!), health and good fellowship.  But above all, love.  Love in your life that is pressed down and running over.  So much love that you can’t hold on to it all, so it flows out of you and enriches the lives of others and makes the world a better place.

I am not a preacher.  I went into politics as I didn’t feel that I was a patch on my father.  But as I get ready to take my leave from this particular stage as the curtain falls, I wish to say to the Mayor, to the Cabinet, to fellow scrutiny Councillors, to Officers of the Council, to all residents of our borough, to friend and foe alike, ‘I wish you all every blessing’. 

Sunday 20 March 2022

My Speech To The Deptford Ward Selection Meeting 3 March 2022

Everyone has their own story.

This is mine.

My mother was the illegitimate child, and I use that word deliberately because that is how it was described in the 1930s, of a itinerant Irish labourer who she never knew, and a waitress from Deptford.

She grew up on the Crossfields estate, experiencing the stigma that sadly came with single parenthood at the time.

My father was the product of a one-night stand which led to a shotgun wedding and a marriage that was characterised by domestic violence, alcohol abuse and neglect and ended in acrimonious divorce and bleak poverty.

When my parents first got married, they lived in a prefab in Berthon street.

I lived there for the first 3 years of my life.

It was so cold that ice used to form on the inside of the windows.

I ended up getting pneumonia and almost dying.

The local doctor told them that if they didn’t move straightaway, I would die.

So they moved to a small terraced house in Crofton Park.

My Dad was employed in poorly paid, white collar, non-unionised work well into his late 30s.

When I was married with a family of my own, he told me how money was so tight and the stress of this so great, that he would often feel very tearful.

The other part of my story is about having parents who met in the Church at the top end of Frankham Street by the High Street.

The were leaders in that church all their adult lives.

They devoted their lives to trying to help others.

I still meet people in Deptford who remember them and express their thanks for the help they gave.

For all this, my memory of growing up is of being in a loving family,

Where the values of work, honesty and respect for others were imbued through the power of example.

Try to do your best.

Be kind.

Do well for yourself.

Then you will be able to provide for your family

And be better able to help others.

I have been very blessed in my life.

A happy family.

A successful business.

A life of public service including 24 years on the Council.

I owe a lot my parents

But I also owe a lot to the NHS, a good state education, and state support for economic development.

I know the importance of good social housing.

Of secure, unionised work.

My life has shaped my politics.

For many people deprivation, disadvantage and poverty are life’s starting point.

But this doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

Our job is to make sure that it’s not.

If you select me to represent you on the Council, this will continue to be my mission.

Working together to build a better future for everyone.

Monday 14 March 2022

My Speech To The Deptford Ward Selection Meeting 22 February 2022

My family believed that Deptford’s decline began when the borough lost its civic identity when it was taken over by Lewisham in the amalgamation of 1963.

20 years ago, at the time of the last boundary changes, I argued that one of the new wards should be called Deptford so that its historic importance could be recognised.

So, I am delighted to have this opportunity to be selected to represent Deptford ward, the place where I was born.

I am not seeking selection anywhere else.

Let me start by saying that I didn’t support Jeremy Corbyn.

But I believe that his leadership of the party achieved 3 things.

Firstly, it put an end to the Parliamentary Party’s acquiescence to the Tory Austerity narrative.

Secondly, under John McDonnell the Party moved to embrace a more left of centre economic policy.

Lastly, Corbyn inspired a generation of young people to get politically active.

The challenge now is to keep these people engaged.

We need them to build a party that inspires public confidence so we can win the next General Election.

Then we can pursue the polices that we all care so much about.

Councillors must lead this endeavour.

One way they must do this is to run Labour Councils in a way that demonstrates that Labour can be trusted in government.

I have a track record of building an inclusive business that provides good secure jobs, a safe and supportive work place and promotes diversity.

At Hales gallery our 2 newest artists are trans gender people.

I will continue to champion diversity at the Council, in our community and in the wider world.

My priorities for Deptford are:

Social housing.

Good schools.

Sustainable economic development.

Clean streets.

I will continue to work with colleagues to make sure that Deptford is a place that people can be proud of.

My ambition is to make Deptford and the borough of Lewisham the best place to live, work and learn.

I want people to know that we are on their side.

I want people to know that whatever hopes and aspirations they have for themselves and their families, we share them and are committed to helping them achieve them.

Labour.  On Your Side.

I am ready to play my part in this great mission.

To lead, encourage, help and support.

If you put your trust in me, I won’t let you down.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

A Personal Statement To The Members Of Deptford Ward Labour Party

I currently represent New Cross ward in Lewisham.  This is disappearing due to recent changes determined by the Boundary Commission.  Brenda Dacres, my co councillor for 8 years and I are seeking selection in the new Deptford ward. The process for selecting Labour candidates for Deptford begins today.  My heart felt best wishes go to my friend Brenda who has been a tremendous support to me over the years and has recently taken up the role of Deputy Mayor.  I also wish Samantha Latouche especially well.  Sam is our other co councillor in New Cross and is seeking selection in the new, New Cross Gate ward.  Although only being elected at a recent by election so has already made a big impact both locally and at the Town Hall.  My best wishes go to all other candidates seeking selection in Lewisham. 


My mum was always very proud to tell me that I was at least the fourth generation of my family to ‘come out of Deptford’, as she used to put it.  She also took great delight in telling people that the first job I ever wanted to do was to be a dustman.  This is because when we lived in a prefab in Berthon street, the dustmen used to wave to me as I swung on the gate when they drove down the street on their way to their depot on Creekside.  Some people are nostalgic about prefabs but living in one nearly killed me as ours was so cold in the winter that I contracted bronchial pneumonia and had to be rushed to hospital.  This led my parents to nearly bankrupt themselves by buying a small house in Crofton Park with the help of a mortgage from the Council.  Those were the days.

Things have moved on a bit since then for me.  I went to Stillness Road primary school, then Brockley County on Hilly Fields in the building now occupied by Prendergast school.  Then an economics degree from Cambridge, a year working for a mission organisation in Senegal, a couple of years working in banking in the City, then leaving to set up a business in Deptford High Street when I realised that that life and career wasn’t for me.  I formed a business partnership with a friend from our church and founded Revival Café and Hales Gallery in 1992, with the help of a government grant.  We wanted to do something positive to regenerate the High Street and provide a facility that would bring something good into the community.  Sadly, for us we had to relocate the business to Shoreditch in 2004 because despite out best efforts and commitment, we couldn’t make the gallery work commercially.  Some forces are bigger than you and you have to ride them or you risk being swept away.

As well as there being a Hales Gallery in Shoreditch there is also one in New York and has been for 6 years.  We have worked with artists from poorer backgrounds, BAME artists and artists from the LGBTQ+ community for many years.  The two artists that we have recently agreed to work with are transgender people. 

I have been fortunate in my life due in large part to the support of my family, the existence of the NHS, the opportunity of a state education and the chance to take advantage of Government support for business.  This together with a vision for what was possible, an optimism about the chances to making things happen and a willingness to work to achieve shared goals has helped me to succeed and to be able to help others


Having an interesting back story and a credible record of activism and campaigning are insufficient preparation for running a billion pound organisation for the benefit of the public.  If you are privileged enough to be elected to the Council, the first thing you do is not hand your manifesto to the Officers and give them instructions on what you want them to do.  The first thing that you will be required to do is to sign a declaration that you will act, at all times and in all circumstances, in the best interests of the Council.  In other words, you are taking on an obligation to run an organisation that has a myriad of responsibilities and commitments that it is legally bound to meet.   You are not a free agent. 

Moreover, giving the impression that anyone can be a politician belittles the office.  Being a politician is a profession like any other.  To be effective you need experience and training.  When I first was elected to Lewisham Council in 1998 it was a very new and bewildering experience. I said very little during the four years of my first term.  Instead, I watched, listened and learnt the ropes.  I was fortunate enough to serve my apprenticeship under some extremely gifted, dedicated and experienced Councillors who took time to train me.  Local people rely on the Council to be well run and to deliver the services they rely on.  Thus, every Council needs a balance of Councillors.  They need a mixture of the new and the experienced.

I have been on the Council for almost 24 years.  In that time I have been:

The Chair of the Pensions Investment Committee

The Chair of the Governance Select Committee

The Chair of the Public Account Select Committee

The Chair of the Audit Panel

The Chair of the Elections Committee

The Labour Group Secretary

The Cabinet Member for Resources

The Cabinet Member for Children & Young People

I am currently the Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and the Labour Group Treasurer.

This experience places me in a unique position as far as ensuring that the Council serves our people well.  It also means that I can provide invaluable support to both the new and the relatively inexperienced elected members of the Council.  Working hard to help others achieve their potential as servants of the public who elect them is a wonderful privilege.


Having set up my business in Deptford I was involved in several initiatives to try and improve the community.  I was a member of the Deptford High Street Association and then became a Board Member of Deptford City Challenge.  I concentrated on improving support for business and improving the fabric of the High Street.  I helped set up the Deptford Business Development Association which then expanded to become the Lewisham Business Association.  I came to the notice of the local Labour Party and I was approached to stand in the 1998 local elections.

1998 to 2010 was a tremendous time to be on the Council.  We had a Labour Government in Westminster and it provided money to invest.  Basic things like roads and pavements that had crumbled after 18 years of Tory rule that had starved Labour Councils of resources, were repaired and renewed.  Parks were refurbished, schools improved or rebuilt entirely.  New libraries and leisure centres were built.  Innovative approaches were pursued to improve our social housing stock.

2010 saw the end of the Labour government and ushered in the age of Austerity that continues to this day.  In 2014 I was Cabinet Member for Children & Young People.  At that time relations between the Council and the Heads of our secondary schools were at a very low ebb.  The Council was frustrated with the Heads because Lewisham had the lowest performing secondary schools in London.  The Heads were frustrated because they felt that they were being unfairly blamed and insufficiently supported.  I saw it as my primary role to rebuild trust.  I instigated an independent review of our schools that brought the Council and schools together.  It led to the establishment of the Lewisham Learning Partnership that created a platform for delivering sustained school improvement.

Although I have emphasised the need for experience to be a really effective Councillor, there are things which I managed to do as a backbencher which shows that there are always opportunities for Councillors to use such life experience and relationships that they have to make a difference.  One example is when one of my friends who is from Catford got in touch with me when he became the Admissions Tutor for a Cambridge College, in the early 2000s.  He wanted to try a get more pupils from comprehensive schools into Cambridge. Through a meeting I was able to arrange at the Council he made contact with Lewisham College.  They had a very able black female student who had come to the UK as a child.  She was encouraged to apply to his college.  When the tutors were meeting to award places they came to discuss the last available place.  The choice was between this student from Lewisham College and a pupil from Eton.  They chose the student from Lewisham College who, I understand, went on to do very well.  I also took a motion through Council with Cllr Stephen Penfold from Brockley which committed the Council to look at introducing a community skip scheme to try and address the epidemic of fly tipping that we have across the borough.


After 24 years on the Council my commitment to improve the lives and life chances of the people of Lewisham is stronger than it ever was.  Indeed, my recent election as Chair of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has energised me as it demonstrated that my colleagues have trust and confidence in me.  We must all come together to work for our common goals and purpose.  We owe it to our residents to give them a message of hope and optimism about the future.  Together we can make Lewisham the best place to live, work and learn.  We must show every resident that whatever their aspirations, whatever their needs, whatever challenges they face, Labour is on their side.  This is why I am seeking your support to continue my work as a Labour councillor, this time for Deptford ward, my birthplace.

We can make a difference. We can make a change.

My very best wishes to you all. 

Paul Maslin

Further reading

If people do not know my biography, then they can read my pitch for the Mayoralty on my somewhat dormant blog:

If people are genuinely interested in my views and politics, you can find out a lot by looking through the other posts, most of which I wrote when I was in the Cabinet.