IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

The Town Hall shape of things to Cummings?

16 January, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Dominic Cummings. Image: YouTube

IF only the “weird” page-jumping ideas of Dominic Cummings could be applied to council and committee meetings. How can the public, who steer clear of them, be enticed to drop in on them?

After all, they are often fixing the levels of council tax and rents for their 20,000 tenants, how their children should be educated – the list is endless. Yet, there is a great divide: on the one side the Town Hall, and on the other, the public.

What often puts off the public is the boring nature of a committee meeting.

I dropped in on the key housing committee on Monday evening – a strange piece of theatre where, in effect, councillors congregated in a large hall at the Crowndale Centre, Mornington Crescent, and then talked to each other.

Three members of the public sat at the back. They played no part. Nor were they welcomed.

It was different in the 1980s and a bit later, under the council leadership of Phil Turner when, in small numbers but pretty consistent­ly, members of the public began to drift into the Town Hall to see what was happening – even at “boring” meetings.

Former council leader Phil Turner

But that was in the days when Bennite ideas began to percolate among Labour councillors; ideas, for instance, of “participatory democracy” rather than representative democracy.

I got a taste of the wall between council officials and councillors and the public when a member of the public, John Mason, a King’s Crosser, had thought he had arranged to be able to give his views and those of a Gospel Oak architect, Tom Young, on the current housing pro­gramme. But somehow it had not been included in the holy gospel of the agenda, and the chairman shook his head.

So, everyone was happy – the chairman and no doubt whoever had compiled the holiest of holies – everyone except two members of the public. But who worries about outsiders? The matter could have been brought up by the chairman who runs the committee and has the last word.

Here is a Cummings idea: Why not hold council and committee meetings in different parts of the borough – in tenants’ and community halls or libraries? It might spark something. Possibly.

Monday’s housing committee could have been held at the community hall on the Chalcots estate where many tenants are not happy about the design of the hundreds of new windows – an item that was actually brought up at the committee hearing.

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