When I joined Jillian Green and Nick Mattey to fight in the Local Elections of May 2018, I stood because I had the impression that residents in my ward were being poorly served and had little say in what happened around them.
I saw examples in the “Stop the Incinerator” campaign, the clearance of the retired residents of Richmond Green from what were serviceable homes and the imposition of a Local Plan that among it pages had a proposal to build on the last remaining Open space on the Highview Estate.
What I have found is that the reality of local Government, certainly in the London Borough of Sutton, effectively disenfranchises the ordinary resident because at every level the Ruling Group imposes its will with a robotic acceptance by its elected Councillors of anything that is put in front of them.
In the past 3 years, the only time I saw any break ranks was when Extinction Rebellion prompted a vote on a Zero Carbon Sutton by 2030 – but their rebel tendencies were shown to be transparent when the Liberal Democrats put a motion forward for a Zero Carbon Sutton by 2045 which all Lib Dems present voted for. To compound the infantile nature of the debate and process, a Councillor called the Chief Executive for clarification – which was it, 2030 or 2045 – and the answer came “BOTH!” Reflective of poor executive direction.
The “Rule Book” that we are supposed to play by is the Constitution – I had questioned elements of that document and when there was talk of reform, I volunteered my time to contribute. I spent time with a Consultant brought in to make recommendations and early in 2020, I had a meeting with Lord Kerslake whose wisdom and experience was to be leant upon. The result – so far, no change.
Yet this Constitution is used to manage and manipulate the agenda of Council – at the end of November, the South London Waste Plan that runs until 2031 was due for debate – it went through undebated because Council “ran out of time”. It is a plan that will see Sutton (and Beddington in particular) take 70%+ of the cumulative waste of the four Boroughs of Kingston, Merton, Croydon and Sutton.
More examples are there with the Parking Strategy, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, cycle lanes – if they get consulted on at all, it is through the Committee system and the shambolic LBS website. Petitions with thousands of signatures are “noted” which is a euphemism for ignored.
But for all the protestations on Facebook pages and demands for change – the only agents for change are people who have had enough – residents like Jillian, Nick and myself from 2018.
Because there is one thing that the Liberal Democrats in Sutton are good at and that is getting their vote out – and leafletting.
Instinctively, at election times, we look for the familiar – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat and others like Greens or whatever the party Nigel Farage is promoting.
Interestingly, the Beddington North ballot paper in 2018 had every party represented on it, so Independent can be a very valid choice. But tactical voting which I have seen advocated in some quarters is ineffective individually. This is an area where “opposition” parties need to talk to each other.
National and local politicians have one overwhelming handicap – they truly believe that theirs is the right answer – for the most part, it isn’t and, most especially at a local level, we need to have a Council that is properly representative of the residents who live in the Borough. That means balance and consideration of the legacy that whoever leads the Council into 2022 will need to deal with – consider what the Lib Dems will leave:
- An accumulated debt of £100 million for “investments”.
- A failed heating system, SDEN, which is operationally flawed and the capital investment of which cannot possibly be repaid.
- A waste plan that sees over 1 million tonnes of waste that needs to get to Beddington via the Borough’s roads.
- A top heavy (in terms of remuneration) senior management and overblown Councillor allowances
- The London Cancer Hub whose sole investor to date have been LBS and GLA grants
- A discredited and poorly functioning education service COGNUS, operating as a wholly owned company “independent” of the Council.
- COGNUS is just one of a panoply of wholly owned companies running services on behalf of the Council, with the most labyrinthine organisation chart you will ever see
- The perverse contradiction of the South London Waste Plan with the Incinerator and a commitment to a zero carbon Borough
So, start the conversation – representing your fellow residents is rewarding, it is bloody hard work, but if you put in the effort, the sense of achievement is profound. Too often Local Government is the first step on the escalator into National politics – ambitious young Councillors confusing political ideals with practical realities and making poor decisions. Recent cycle lanes are an apt example.
Back to balance, we need some practical pragmatic voices in Council – but it is not easy, change is uncomfortable but we need change in Sutton and you all have just over 12 months to set the template for a new Borough.
A senior officer of the Council recently remarked during a briefing that in his experience, Independent Councillors work harder because there is no support in place to lead them through the system.
If you think that standing as an Independent is a realistic ambition, then be reassured that there are three people in Beddington that can offer some guidance and support.