Friday, 2 April 2010

Your councillors - they work for you!

Or do they?

I was prompted by my own musings in the previous post, about the invisibility of some of our local councillors, to take a look at the council's latest attendance records.

What with the local elections coming up and my suspicion that the political colour of the council may change, I wanted to investigate the visibility and input of councillors in Evelyn and New Cross wards as an admittedly somewhat blunt tool to assess what kind of job they've done for us in the last four years.

Attendance records for the current year are available on Lewisham Council's website if you live in one of the other wards and want to know what your councillors have been doing to earn their basic £10k annual allowance (and special responsibility allowances in some cases).

Of course this is a very crude and simplistic way of judging what our elected representatives have been up to - attending council and committee meetings is only one part of the job and if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, they should also be very busy holding surgeries, responding to queries and requests for help from their electorate, attending local meetings and so on. Readers who are active in the local community or have had occasion to ask their councillor for assistance will be able to judge this for themselves and may have views that contradict the impression given by the attendance records.

However my own experience is that the level of attendance of council meetings is a fairly good indicator of how responsive and helpful each individual is to their electorate, and how committed they are to their duties.

In Evelyn ward our local councillors are Heidi Alexander, Crada Onuegbu and Sam Owolabi-Oluyole, all three are Labour councillors. Heidi is also deputy mayor (which earns her an additional £40k) and Crada is also on the cabinet (a £15k allowance).

In terms of attendance, Crada and Heidi are setting the standard - although perhaps this is understandable given their positions of responsibility and associated allowances. They both attended all eight council meetings out of the eight given in the stats, and while Heidi managed 18 out of 20 mayor & cabinet meetings, Crada was only just behind with 16 out of 20. At the contracts committees Heidi and Crada made it to 14 and 12 out of 16 respectively. However while Heidi has a rather long list of other responsibilities, Crada seems reluctant to commit to any other committee responsibilities to earn her annual allowance.

Sam met the same high standard of attendance at the full council meetings, but seems to have bitten off more than he can chew in the case of other commitments.

His record for planning committee A was frankly abysmal; he only managed to attend two out of the seven meetings. On the sustainable development committee his performance was improved - five out of eight meetings - and on the housing committee he made it to four out of six.

But if you want to see professional absenteeism, you only have to look at the records of councillors across the border in New Cross ward.

New Cross is represented by Labour councillors Stephen Padmore, Madeliene Long and Paul Maslin, although I use the word 'represented' advisedly. New Cross may have been represented by its councillors at the full council meetings (Paul made all eight, Madeliene and Stephen each attended seven) but as far as other commitments go, they demonstrated a distinct lack of interest in attending the committees they had volunteered for.

Since none of them is in the cabinet, you might expect them to have more time for participating elsewhere.

Not a bit of it.

Paul is a member of the public accounts select committee, but could only manage to get to one out of the five meetings over the year. He did a bit better on planning committee C which had his bum on the seat at four of its eight meetings. Ironically enough he showed up at all three of the meetings of the standards committee (Objective: 'To promote and maintain high standards of conduct within the council and to assist councillors in following the Council's Code of Conduct.').

Meanwhile Stephen didn't do too badly by comparison. Despite missing one of the full council meetings, he made three out of the five public accounts committee meetings - not bad considering he is the vice chair. He attended three of the six meetings of planning committee B and his presence was felt at four of the seven meetings of the children and young persons select committee.

The third member of the New Cross posse is Madeliene Long.

Madeliene's reputation precedes her somewhat; she has already been mightily slagged in the local press (albeit by the Lib Dem opposition who are no doubt strongly targeting New Cross ward in the coming elections) for not turning up to ANY of the seven meetings of the safer & stronger communities select committee.

But her lack of interest doesn't stop there. If the News Shopper had probed a little bit further they would have discovered that she could only be arsed to make the effort for one of the five public accounts select committee meetings and didn't show her face at all at either of the two strategic planning committee meetings.

She is vice chair of planning committee A, and yet skipped all but one of their seven meetings.

Seven council meetings and two committee meetings in the course of a year - I work that out as more than £1k for each meeting she attended. Let's hope for her sake that she's been very busy in the ward to justify this level of laziness elsewhere.

So, do your councillors work for you? You decide!

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor ever have been, a member of any political party. My only agenda is scrutiny of elected officials and an interest getting the best for the local community.

1 comment:

crosswhatfields said...

Good work, Dame (as usual)...
We haven't seen Madeliene either. We've had a tiny bit of contact with Paul Maslin, but Stephen Padmore has been the one who has attended our TRA meetings, often rushing off to attend another estate's meeting before the end of ours. We have found him helpful in our dealings with Lewisham Homes this past year, not least because copying him into an email may ensure a quicker response. He has also followed stuff up for us. Although his email correspondence is barely literate, he is fairly quick to respond and can speak with great passion and intelligence when he has full grasp of an issue.

I get the impression that Stephen and Paul meet regularly to discuss stuff and perhaps divide up the work between them. It may be that they have decided between them that Stephen will deal with our little corner, or perhaps look after housing issues, which could explain why we never hear from Paul, and have never ever heard from Madeliene. Paul would often not make a meeting he'd been invited to because he was "picking up the kids from swimming". We stopped asking him. I have no idea what these two might be doing for anyone else in the area.

So like you suggest, there is more to the job than turning up for committee meetings, but since that is where decisions are presumably made, attendance at these should be an essential part of the job and therefore a good performance indicator.