Thursday, October 18, 2018

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz delivering on election manifesto promises and shares power

On Monday evening Newham Council Cabinet & Mayoral proceedings was important, historic, a little exciting yet also reassuringly mundane. In the finest tradition of UK Local Government.

There was a mass of important Council business to wade through including a budget update a report on the eye wateringly painful decisions we will have to make due to the Government's ongoing Austerity programme and huge cuts to our budget.

However, alongside unanimous support for a policy calling on any Newham School considering becoming an academy to firstly hold a ballot of staff and parents there was also really significant democratic and constitutional change agreed.

See Evening Standard report

"London’s first directly elected female mayor has surrendered most of her executive powers less than six months into the job".

Rokhsana Fiaz, the mayor of Newham, has agreed to delegate executive decision-making to her cabinet of senior councillors.

Elected mayors usually hold more power than traditional council leaders because they can approve major plans alone. But Labour’s Ms Fiaz has now pledged that significant decisions will in future be made with a majority vote of the mayor and cabinet — diminishing her own power over the borough.

She said: “This represents the most fundamental change to the elected mayoral model since its introduction [in Newham] way back in 2002.

“This scheme of delegation essentially moves all the decision-making that is held by one person, me, to the entire cabinet, which includes six members. It is all part of the process of bringing good governance, better decision-making and transparency to the way in which we do business.”

Ms Fiaz was elected by residents in May, winning 73.4 per cent of the vote after ousting Britain’s longest-serving elected mayor Sir Robin Wales as Labour candidate in a fierce party selection battle.

The former charity and public relations worker was backed by Momentum and given support by its founder Jon Lansman during the contest. John Gray, cabinet member for housing on Newham council, said: “It is not often that politicians give up power.

“Effectively the mayor is still the mayor but she has delegated power to make decisions to the whole cabinet. We have collective cabinet responsibility, which I think is something we all welcome.” After her election Ms Fiaz promised to eventually hold a public referendum on Newham’s directly elected mayor model.

She described herself as “agnostic” about the position and said the vote would be part of a “democracy review” in the borough. The referendum is likely to take place two years into her term.

(So on Monday it was the last ever Mayoral Proceedings and in future Newham Council Executive decisions will be made by the Cabinet. She is still the directly elected Mayor and it is still a powerful position. She can appoint (or replace) cabinet members, can make decisions alone in an emergency and chairs cabinet meetings. 

What she has done is to give up her legal right to make all decisions herself and give this to the cabinet, who will collectively discuss and (if necessary) vote on decisions. 

In a somewhat similar way to the UK government cabinet which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Unlike the previous administration, where the Mayor acted in a Presidential manner, like the USA or France. 

As I lifelong collectivist, I am really pleased at this decision but realise that cabinet members will have to raise their game from being purely advisory to being a decision making part of the Executive) 

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