Earlier this week, a Councillor in Exeter crossed the floor, joining the Greens citing policy disagreements and secrecy within the Labour Group. At Labour’s last conference, it was agreed through rule changes to increase the disciplinary powers of Labour Groups, and now we see in Lewisham that one of the cabinet members (Paul Maslin) has complained to the Head of Legal about Alan Hall being in breach of the Council’s rules of treating other Councillors with respect in conversation/debate about the Millwall CPO. When researching another blog article and preparing for the Deptford Party GC meeting, I discovered that Labour Group meetings are private and that the result of the vote against the CPO by the overwhelming majority of Labour Councillors couldn’t be discussed outside the meeting.
I find this all very worrying. No matter the size of the majority, its crucial that the affairs of Labour Groups are conducted with the maximum of financial transparency. When large majorities exist, it is more important as the only scrutiny that exists against the Council leadership is within the Labour Group (and the auditors appointed by DCLG. ) Councillors should be accountable to the Party and to voters, the Group’s internal processes must be open. It’s a weakness that until recently, the tithe levied on Councillors is the most significant income to Labour Parties, so not only do Councillors have significant control through their legitimate political support, they have also controlled the funding. (The funding has not be fixed since LP HQ has trousered all the additional income from the new members which is one reason I am arguing for a change in the distribution scheme. )
One man management systems such as executive Mayors and now PCCs are dangerous and unstable in terms of accountability.The most elementary financial control system is that expense requires the agreement of two people and that the decisions are reviewed by a third party. Furthermore it’s necessary to protect against corruption, incompetence and cover ups. Another common control used in the private sector is mandatory leave i.e. that staff have to take at least one two week leave of absence. There is no equivilent in the bodies led by executive mayors. The lack of good faith inherent in the design of the Executive Mayor makes it impossible to control or recall except through election; initially the Labour Party placed a two term limit on these posts, but that was removed and in London we have seen borough mayors in power for decades.
We need better transparency for the affairs of Labour Groups and if we keep the Executive Mayors, must reinstate the term limits, in Law if we form a Government. If you want to help in Lewisham, come the Unite meeting in the town hall at the end of the month.