The second point of my 3 point plan to respond to the financial challenge facing the Council is to call for a review of its governance arrangements. The Council's constitution is broadly the same as it was when the Mayoralty was first introduced in Lewisham in 2002. Since 2010, the Authority's net revenue budget, basically the money it spends on pretty much everything outside of schools, housing and the capital programme, has fallen from £368m a year to less than £240m a year. We have lost half our staff. Yet we continue with the same old governing structures.
We need to modernise the way the Council works. At this time, given the financial pressure that the Council is under, we cannot continue to have the vast majority of our 54 councillors spending so much of their time in committee meetings, funded at public expense, in the Town Hall night after night. When Lewisham adopted the Mayoral system, councillors were promised that this would mean that they would have more time to spend in their communities, listening to residents and sharing in their activities. In fact the opposite has happened. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Other Councils have already done so. Which is why Lewisham is looking increasingly like the odd one out, becoming a stand-out case of over-governance. Where many authorities have moved to having just one committee exercising oversight and scrutiny of the decisions of another single executive committee, in Lewisham's case the Mayor & Cabinet, Lewisham thinks that it needs seven to be able to do the job properly. Whilst some argue that we need more scrutiny now than ever, I am clear that the current arrangements are not affordable and need to be changed.
The Mayor currently has a Cabinet of 9 councillors to support him. If I become Mayor, my intention would be to govern with a Cabinet of 2 initially. I will review the situation 6 months into my administration with a view to possibly increasing it to 4. I will make this intention clear to the governance review.
If selected as the Labour Mayoral candidate, I will seek the cooperation of the current Mayor to commission this review. I will ask that it would report in sufficient time to allow me to incorporate its recommendations into my 2018 manifesto. Then, if elected, I will have a clear mandate to implement these reforms at the earliest opportunity.
The Council can not be run for and at the convenience of elected members. If we wish to ask our residents to accept change in the way they get their services from the Council, or in the way the Council engages with them, then it is only right that councillors lead by example and implement change that affects them, first. It may be disruptive and uncomfortable. It may come at a personal financial cost. But we must consider what is in the best interests of the public and demonstrate some selfless leadership.
I'll put forward my third point in another post.