'Time to change how Haringey Council works – and you can vote in May'
Luke Cawley-Harrison, opposition leader, Haringey Council
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
I have now been a councillor in Haringey for nearly four years. In that time I have found the job incredibly rewarding, but it has also become clearer and clearer to me that democracy in our borough does not function to a high enough standard – only highlighted by the Edmonton Incinerator debate over the past few weeks.
Haringey Council is run under the leader/cabinet system, where a small clique of councillors get the final say on every key decision. This disenfranchises not only opposition members, but also the administration’s own backbench councillors.
Just 10 of the council’s 57 members get a vote on the important issues, meaning that – never mind us Liberal Democrats – over half of Labour councillors don’t even get a say.
The only time the other 47 councillors can bring issues to a vote is at meetings of the full council, which in Haringey occur only four times per year, have many items on the agenda, and must finish within two and a half hours. At the last of these meetings, my party brought a motion to discuss the proposed renewal of the Edmonton Incinerator, an issue of great concern to many residents. However, cabinet members and their allies in the Labour Party, not wishing to debate the issue, were able to filibuster the meeting. The clock ran out on the two and a half hours, and councillors were unable to represent their constituents.
To opposition members, full council motions are the primary tool to bring about borough-wide change. To the leader and cabinet members, they are a nuisance that gets in the way of the dictatorial politics which has helped perpetuate failures in Haringey Council services over many decades. The cabinet model promotes "groupthink", as those making decisions never have to test their ideas through argument, and it increases division, as those outside the cabinet clique, including those from the majority party, are often sidelined.
Next May there will be council elections here in Haringey, and if Liberal Democrats take control of Haringey Council, we will look to introduce the alternative committee system, where all councillors, of all parties, are able to vote on council policy. This will ensure that all residents are represented in the decision making process, rather than only those who live in the select areas represented by cabinet members.
We would also reintroduce area forums, made up of all councillors from specific areas of the borough and of local residents which would focus on items such as traffic and parking schemes, public realm improvements, local investment and much more. These forums would give much needed power to residents for decision making (as well as budgets) allowing far more genuine resident engagement than we have at present.
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We must overcome Haringey’s democratic deficit, and allow everyone to participate in our decision making and the shaping of our borough. Only then will we ensure the best outcomes for residents.
Luke Cawley-Harrison is the Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition on Haringey Council