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An Open Letter from Councillor Ian Sharer:
On the 11th December Hackney council took a substantial step to isolate the governance of the borough from the democratic process.
Open, full council meetings are and have always been the principal way for the public to participate in the running of the borough. They are the place where the administration stands up, under the public gaze, to promote its ideas and defend its record. This is where matters of concern can be brought as deputations to the full council in open session. We used to have twelve council meetings a year, now we have eight. With the new dispensation there will be only five.
In future, deputations will be brought to the cabinet where they will be dealt with with no opposition member able to comment. The overview and scrutiny committee is to be abolished and the opposition effectively shut out of the political process. The Mayor will instead be questioned twice a year by the chairs and vice chairs of the scrutiny commissions that he has, in effect appointed and whose careers lie within his patronage.. He should have little to fear.
All of this mounts up, not only to emasculating the scrutiny process, but to a massive concentration of power into the hands not just of a small clique but of one man. Add in the fact that the Mayor in future will be able to make his own decisions on the composition of the cabinet and their remuneration; a more potent temptation towards corruption and the silencing, not only of the opposition but of any independent minded councillor, is difficult to imagine.
Currently, Hackney is run by one party with an overwhelming majority. That is not an argument for excluding the opposition, it is one for strengthening and including it so that there can be proper examination and scrutiny of the administration. A confident and competent administration would accept and welcome this. Instead we have a secretive and dictatorial group determined to avoid any challenge.
Without opposition, there is no democracy.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Hackney Council
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