Nick Cuff is a Councillor for West Hill Ward in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

The four aims of the Government’s Neighbourhood Policing Programme
read: access, influence, intervention and answers.  This new style of
policing aims to make local police accountable to local communities.
At the same time, the emphasis is on partnership working with civilian
panels to help solve crime.  Unfortunately, as far as London local
democracy is concerned there is a danger that the bright ambitions may
turn into empty gestures.

The reason for the down beat assessment lies with the Metropolitan
Police’s decision to try and gag London councillors. The Met has
distributed a draft constitution to all ward panels which includes a
clause barring local councillors from voting rights.   

What happened to having a say over neighbourhood policing priorities?
Clearly the Met doesn’t what councillors to have too much of a say.

There are several reasons why councillors should oppose this
initiative.  First, the Met seems to forget the silent majority, who
may vote in elections, but take no active part community affairs, would
at least expect that their elected ward representative to have a stake
in police priorities.  Yet, under the clause, the presumption is that
councillors should not vote.   It goes against the spirit of
partnerships whilst also doing a good job of stifling the legitimacy
offered by democratic mandate.   

Furthermore, a nasty side affect is that it is presented as a fait
accompli, not a discussion item. Participating community
representatives take it as a given that local councillors should not
possess voting rights. 

In effect, councillors are relegated to second-class citizens. From
a councillor perspective, it makes arguing against the clause an uphill
challenge, as I found in my capacity as an elected member sitting on a
ward panel.

The police contend the reason for the clause is to avoid committee
meetings being hijacked for political purposes. There is also concern
that panels might be hijacked by councillors representing extreme
political views.   

Yet a well-run ward panel can always out-vote a councillor’s views,
and there are provisions within the constitution to halt members taking
an overtly political stance.

Besides, is it really the right response to rob the vast majority of
elected members from having a say at the expense of a tiny minority?

In my own ward, I argued against this clause and won narrowly. Yet,
in many wards this constitution is being passed with little resistance.

Is this really the kind of partnership we want with local police –
the kind where elected representatives are second class committee
members?  If the Government is serious about local democracy and giving
back a bit more local accountability then it’s time this sort of
practice was stamped out.

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