Tonight in West Ham FC Supporters club, Green Street (which is actually in East Ham) there was a debate led by London Assembly member, Val Shawcross with Emma Sweeney and Ted Flanagan from the new Queen's Park Parish Council in the London Borough Westminster.
The topic was "The Future of London Government" Chaired by Unmesh Desai, organised jointly by Newham Compass and Fabians. Follow my twitter feed at lbncompass.
Val spoke first about how do we sustain and revitalise democracy in London? The Liberal Democrats have been discredited by dropping their core social beliefs in the unsuccessful pursuit of changes that would have benefited them politically (PR and reform of Lords), While the Tories pursue a culture of secrecy especially in the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.
We need to start a dialogue in the Labour Party about democratising and self government, look at the voluntary sector, social enterprises, mutuals and real local control of the NHS. Tories are about privatisation while we should be driving our democratic tentacles into private sector and promoting "responsible capitalism". This change should not be at the expense of workers terms and conditions.
Ted and Emma spoke about their experiences in Queens Park setting up a Parish Council in a mixed income ward in Westminster with houses worth a £million + and a 1960s Council estate with the worse child poverty rate in Europe. They got the idea from a journalist when their local forum had its funding cut in 2010. 68% of the ward voted to set up the Parish, which will receive around £45 per year from each household in the ward (collected by Westminster on top of Council tax). This will raise £180k per year which will be spent on extra community services and events as decided by the local elected parish councillors. Not replace existing borough services.
Like I think nearly everyone present I think this is a really interesting idea and needs following. I'm a little sceptical to be honest since I have seen all sorts of centralised then decentralised then recentralised community governance models in my time, come and go. Yet Ted and Emma seem very confident that this time it should be different.
In the Q&A I warned Val that while the Voluntary sector does many good things there are also appalling governance in many such organisations which needs addressing. I pointed out the Metropolitan Housing Robbery. She accepted that far more needs to be done to improve the way that these organisations conduct themselves and we need to start a debate in the Labour Party on how to do this.