Lewisham council is planning to revamp Local Assemblies and seek to improve engagement with residents by developing “community networks” of local groups such as residents’ groups, youth and faith groups, and housing associations.
The revamp (full report here) is likely to see an end to what a council report terms “resource heavy” large scale public meetings in each ward. Instead ward based meetings will take place online.
The proposals contained in a report, the “Local Assemblies Update”, follow the council’s Democracy Review, which found assemblies needed to engage a wider and more representative resident base.
The report highlights the value of online communities “many of which developed rapidly and effectively in response” to local needs during the Covid Pandemic.
The assembly revamp also comes after deep cuts to the council’s budget. Since 2007 when assemblies were set up assembly funding has been cut from £450,000 to £45,000 in 2020-21 and zero in 2021-22.
Further council budget cuts of £178,274 in 2022-23 will involve reductions in staffing and cuts to meeting budgets, including venue hiring and publicity.
The report, sent to the Mayor and Cabinet, suggests assemblies tend to attract those people who are “already democratically engaged”.
It aims to widen participation by seeking to ensure “community development is fully informed by representations from all members of the local community.”
To this end it proposes “a minimum of two formal Assembly meetings, delivered on-line, per year” … plus:
Additional face to face events throughout the year in partnership with the local groups.
An appropriate on-line mechanisms through which issues could be raised and communication could take place
An ‘annual report’ for each ward highlighting local concerns for action.
Such an approach, says the report, would maintain the ward based assembly structure but also help develop a community network which would include residents associations, housing associations, youth groups, faith groups, local businesses etc.
“These community networks would be coordinated and organised by one or more local community organisations per ward.”
The community development team at the council would work with voluntary and community sector and resident groups “to encourage and help set up such networks.”
The proposals are intended “to ensure assemblies are more resident-led and ‘bottom up’ at ward level with community owned network groups, involving a range of local partners, taking the lead on setting agendas and driving business.”