The Mayor of Newham is to propose new mechanisms for involving her borough’s residents in council decision-making and exploring holding a referendum on whether the mayoral system itself should be abolished.
Rokhsana Fiaz, who succeeded her long standing fellow Labour politician Sir Wales as borough Mayor in May, will on Monday seek councillors’ formal support for the creation of a “democracy and civic participation commission” to strengthen resident engagement and “look at options” for reverting to a “leader and cabinet” governance model, with a referendum on the mayoral system possible in 2021.
The new Mayor, who defeated Sir Robin in a candidate re-selection contest concluded in March, won support from many local Labour members for promising to run a more transparent and accountable mayoralty in the Labour-dominated borough. The creation of a commission is also in line with manifesto pledges made for the mayoral election in May, which Fiaz won with a massive 73.4 per cent of first preference votes.
An officers’ report for Monday’s full council meeting says the commission will be “tasked to consider how we can achieve participatory democracy in its broadest sense and recommend changes to to the council’s governance arrangements”. It says decision-making provisions need to be “enabling, co-ordinated, agile” and “at the right level” with “the right checks and balances in place”.
The “independently-chaired” commission itself will decide on its approach for itself, the report says, but there is an expectation that evidence will be gathered through various forms of online dialogue with residents, from surveys and at “public inquiry style evidence sessions” with senior London and national local government figures and academics. The commission will be asked to produce its conclusions within 12 months of being set up.
The officers’ report says the council has “already made significant progress through greater openness and participation at council meetings and the successful introduction of citizens assemblies at neighbourhood level for young people,” but that much more needs to be one to “achieve genuinely open and participatory democracy in the borough”.
In an interview with On London in February this year as she prepared to challenge Sir Robin, Fiaz said: “There’s something profoundly important about involving communities and ensuring that people are at the heart of everything you do. If you don’t feel that and practise it in what you do as a local authority, that can lead to some quite serious deficits both in terms of civic participation and a democratic deficit. I would like to see residents more involved in co-producing and co-creating – being at the heart of trying to solve some of our most pressing social issues.”
The mayor’s proposals will be considered at a full council meeting on Monday evening.