Lambeth council staff have been ‘on the road‘ in the past few weeks, spreading the gospel of the co-operative council. In each part of the borough, they set up stalls to provide information on the proposal and get residents’ views. But the effort to hear our views has so far seemed rather patronising – we had to put colourful plastic balls into differently labelled buckets and even stick pretty stickers underneath our favoured proposals, for goodness sake…
Colourful balls, plastic bins and labels that read, 'I'd like to be actively involved' and 'I am already actively involved'
Here’s hoping the public meeting on Wednesday will be a little more detailed and a little more demanding. See the event invitation on facebook or just read it here below:
“The co-operative council commission will be holding a public meeting as part of its evidence-gathering exercise. It will give residents the opportunity to give their views about our proposal to create a co-operative council and ask questions directly to commissioners.
Please email email@example.com if you are interested in attending.”
I wonder who will attend this meeting. Will it be the usual suspects who take part in lots of community events already, or will people who wouldn’t normally take part be encouraged to go? Are you going? This phase is a real test of the co-operative council idea, as locals and the community groups have to feel part of it from the very beginning. It’s potentially a very exciting project, and it would be sad to see it go to waste.
…is in fact made up of Cllr Steve Reed (Lambeth Council Leader), Cllr Paul McGlone and Cllr Jackie Meldrum (Deputy Leader of the Council). All Labour. All already advocates of the Lambeth co-operative council model. They met as the ‘Citizens’ Commission’ to consider the proposals last week. Not exactly your average ‘citizen’. This is what Lambeth Council posted on the Co-op Council Facebook page on Friday in response to a question about who sits on the Commission:
“Thanks for your query. To confirm, the commission members who met on Wednesday were Councillor Steve Reed, Councillor Paul McGlone and Councillor Jackie Meldrum. Future commission sessions will be attended by these three councillors and a range of other local and national stakeholders. We’ll update this facebook page, we will be tweeting and Councillor Reed will be updating his blog with more details of who will be attending as future commission sessions take place.”
Lord knows who ‘local and national stakeholders’ are – residents? businesses? more council members? Will local residents be able to apply to take part in the next meeting? Can we see the minutes of the last meeting? … This is not a very promising start to the new ‘open’, co-operative council, is it?
The front page of the White Paper, published yesterday
Lambeth Council finally published its draft White Paper on the co-operative council yesterday. You can download it here, read @Jason_Cobb‘s fine analysis here and contribute to the Lambeth wiki page here. There are still some questions to be cleared up, namely who on earth is on the Citizens’ Commission? Will it, as I first thought, include citizens or is it just a commission of council advisors who talk to citizens through so-called ‘community engagement’ events? Has it been chosen already? The announcement is somewhat confusing: “A Citizens’ Commission is being set up” – so a work in progress then? Oh no, it’s “meeting for the first time today”. What was the selection process? And what will its role actually be, since the White Paper seems to somewhat pre-empt the findings of any commission? The paper even comes up with the questions it thinks the Commission should consider.
Lambeth have embraced social media this time around, but although a wiki, twitter hashtag (#lambethcoop) and a Facebook group are all very well, only a small proportion of Lambeth residents are likely to log onto to Twitter, wiki or even Facebook in order to add their views to the mix. The ‘community engagement’ (what a terrible phrase) events will remain vital.
Whatever it may be, the Commission Report is due for October, in time for the launch of the Co-Operative Council in April 2011.
Now the election’s over and the dust is settling, we can get into the swing of things. So look out next week for the publication of Lambeth’s proposals for a co-operative council on Wednesday 26 May. Apparently it will challenge Cameron’s ‘Big Society’…Steve Reed’s description of how they differ isn’t very enlightening though:
“Our model differs from the Tories’ Big Society because while they want to roll back state, we want to change the role of the state, creating a new settlement between the citizen and public services with more power and control handed to local people. Our model empowers people to get on and make the changes they want to see in their local area, building better services and a stronger civic society at the same time.”
Am I being stupid in not being able to recognise the clear differences yet? This is how ‘The Guardian’ explains the Con-Lib ‘Big Society:
“The new Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition today unveiled a “big society” programme intended to “take power away from politicians and give it to the people”
[…] The plans include introducing a national citizen service programme for 16-year-olds, reforms to the planning system to give communities more control over developments, letting public sector workers form cooperatives and giving the public access to government data.”
And who will be in the new ‘Citizens’ Commission’? It will be set up this Wednesday to consult local people on the proposals already chosen by the council. Steve Reed’s homepage announced earlier this year that the Commission was to be set up way back in March “and give a final report no later than June”, but that deadline is unlikely to be met now.
Here’s hoping for some more detail on Wednesday, but I think this is going to be a matter of ‘wait and see’ over the much longer term.