Lewisham residents being let down ‘by broken system’

A campaign group has said councils dominated by a single political party – such as Lewisham – suffer from “the absence of any real scrutiny”.

“The citizens of Lewisham are being let down by a broken electoral system which underrepresents thousands of voters,” Darren Hughes, the Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, told Lewisham Lately this month.

Asked to comment on the balance of Lewisham Council, where 53 of its 54 councillors are from the Labour Party, Hughes said the current voting structure resulted in “one party dominating… in a manner wholly out of sync with their support on the streets.”

The Electoral Reform Society defines its mission as to “champion the rights of voters and build a better democracy in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Vote share in the borough

In the 2014 local elections, the Labour Party had a vote share across the borough of 51 per cent (see full detail here), but the balance across the council equates to 98 per cent. The Green Party had a 16 per cent vote share but just one councillor, John Coughlin, was returned. No other political party is represented on Lewisham Council.

Hughes said the dominant make-up of the council allowed “its ruling group to pass policy on everything from bin collections to council tax in the absence of any real scrutiny from opposition voices.”

He also highlighted a report carried out on behalf of his organisation, which found that one-party dominated councils are at much higher risk of corruption (51% higher) than competitive councils.

It concluded that such councils often achieve lower price savings: 2.1 per cent compared to 6.2 per cent achieved by competitive councils in England.

Some councillors within Lewisham’s ruling group may also share misgivings about the balance of power.

One Labour councillor said privately saying that holding a council to account locally was particularly important when there were few opposition councillors.

The opposition (or… the Green councillor) motion for a fairer system

Some have suggested they would be happy to welcome a more representative system. In a full council meeting last November, Lewisham Council’s one-man opposition John Coughlin put forward the following motion:

“This Council believes that a proportional voting system best reflects the democratic values of Lewisham Council and that proportional representation is the optimum expression of the legitimate democratic wishes of the people of Lewisham. This council therefore resolves to identify the most appropriate proportional voting system for the election of councillors in the Borough of Lewisham and seek the agreement of HMG to implement this in Lewisham.”

The motion, which was seconded by Mayor Steve Bullock, was defeated by 21 votes to 20, with three abstentions.

Coughlin’s full speech is on the Lewisham Green Party’s web site.

https://lewisham.greenparty.org.uk/news/2018/02/24/fairer-votes-for-lewisham/

His party accused Lewisham’s Labour party “of turning its back on democracy” following the motion’s defeat.

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Social care funding crisis swamps Lewisham as council breaks budget by more than almost any other borough

Forecast overspend to touch almost £13m in 2017/18 – and Lewisham is among councils that most exceeded its children’s social care funding

Lewisham Council is expected to exceed its budget by £12.9m this year – more than any other London borough except Newham.

Social care costs, in particular for looked-after children, make up most of Lewisham’s unplanned spending. For the fourth consecutive year the council will be forced to dip into its reserves to balance its books.

It was among the 10 councils in the country that most exceeded their children’s social care budget, figures researched by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) show.

Lewisham’s children’s services directorate will be a predicted £7.7m over budget by the end of the financial year. Several other London authorities also feature in the top 10, suggesting that pressures on child social care costs are particularly acute in London. (However it was a council outside the capital –  in Somerset – that was most over budget for child care costs at £14.7m).

This year’s total overspend in Lewisham is set to be more than £3m more than last year’s, which stood at £9.8m (£7m after contingency funds were applied). Adult social care services are set to be £1.5m in the red, while other costs cited include the delayed start to the fortnightly bin service, and a growing population leading to pressure on housing.

Of the £12.9m, £7m was attributed to savings that were not made. For context, £153m savings have been made since 2010/11 out of £160m planned.

In Newham, which is the only council set to overspend by more than Lewisham, managers have been instructed to exercise “strict financial controls on non-critical business”. On the other side of the city in Ealing, where the overspend is forecast slightly lower (£12.3m) than Lewisham’s, a spending freeze is now in place.

Of the London boroughs, 26 (81 per cent) are forecast to exceed their budget this financial year, with just six underspending [see table at bottom].

Continue reading “Social care funding crisis swamps Lewisham as council breaks budget by more than almost any other borough”

Anatomy of a ‘Lewisham’ newspaper: the ghost is given up

I’d like to start this blog with a caveat. I don’t want to give individual local journalists a hard time. Most are highly competent, talented, bright, rounded, curious human beings. Given a bit of space and time, they would do great work. Many, in spite of all the obstacles and constraints, still manage to produce brilliant articles, compelling investigations and great features.

I suspect this would be true of the few people who still report at the News Shopper, the main newspaper serving our area, distributed (if that’s the right description for the ever-smaller pile plonked in Lewisham Shopping Centre Sainsbury’s) every Wednesday.

But I picked up a copy of the Lewisham and Catford edition of News Shopper today, and something had to be said. After all, this remains the main printed source of news serving our local community (beyond the council-produced quarterly Lewisham Life).

Here’s an abridged run-through of the paper, starting with the cover wrap, as it’s known in the trade: an advert wrapping itself around the main paper that’s sold (in theory) at a premium. Some traditionalists don’t like cover wraps but I think they are fair game these days. In these straitened times, newspapers have got to (at least try to) make ends meet. Continue reading “Anatomy of a ‘Lewisham’ newspaper: the ghost is given up”

Mystery of derailed Lewisham freight train solved

Remember the freight train that tipped over and messed up your Lewisham commute last year? Here’s why it happened (with technical details)

I never expected to use Rail Technology magazine as a source for writing stories about Lewisham. But it’s the first publication with the lowdown on why that freight train that caused so much havoc for commuters derailed in the first place.

Cast your mind back to a little more than a year ago when conditions were quite similar to now: wintry days with a few flurries of snow .

The incident below happened in the early hours of January 24, 2017 and commuting from Lewisham practically ground to a halt for several days. Continue reading “Mystery of derailed Lewisham freight train solved”

Lewisham Council announces new chief executive – and this time it’s a full-time role

Cynics may question his salary – but his track record is impressive

Lewisham Council has just announced Ian Thomas as its new chief executive. Subject to approval by the full council later this month, he will replace Barry Quirk, who moved to Kensington and Chelsea Council to help in the wake of the Grenfell tower disaster.

The chief executive role in Lewisham is now back to being a full-time post, commanding a salary of between £185,000-£195,000 (see council document here). Dr Quirk had reduced his working pattern to a three-day week in 2011 as part of the council’s austerity measures and taken a cut in salary to just over £115,000 per year. Continue reading “Lewisham Council announces new chief executive – and this time it’s a full-time role”