Opposition politicians have accused Hackney’s Mayor Jules Pipe and the governing Labour group of behaving ‘undemocratically’ after the council decided to disband the overview and scrutiny board (OSB), a body with the power to take the political leadership at the Town Hall to task on important issues like spending.
The OSB, currently chaired by Conservative councillor Simche Steinberger, can call in executive decisions and grill Mayor Pipe during ‘Question Time’ sessions, but now the council has accepted recommendations made following an eight month study by governance consultants Shared Intelligence and has resolved to scrap it and replace it with a twice yearly conference of commission chairs and vice-chairs whom opposition councillors say will give Mayor Pipe an easier ride.
Other changes include reducing the number of full council meetings from eight to five a year.
The £24,000 Shared Intelligence study found that much of the business conducted at council meetings “adds little or no real value to the governance of the borough”.
The report did not contain details of how much money the reforms would save.
Cllr Steinberger accused the council of commissioning the report in order to have “an excuse to get rid of” the OSB.
He said: “The Labour Party runs Hackney like a dictatorship. Look how long a cabinet meeting takes – two minutes. Sometimes there can be 20 decisions made in that time.
“The OSB is supposed to be there to protect the people of Hackney. If you want to cut something, don’t cut the OSB, cut Living in Hackney [the scrutiny commission dealing with housing and the local environment].”
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Ian Sharer said: “Now all the scrutiny chairs, who are in the Labour group, will get to question Jules twice a year. Now that’s going to be really tough for him, isn’t it? That is scrutiny from now on.
“There are only seven or eight opposition councillors in Hackney, but without us there wouldn’t be democracy. Democracy depends on opposition. We play an important part in holding Hackney Council to account, but now there is hardly any point in turning up.”
Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor of Hackney, said: “After many years we commissioned an independent review of the structures of the council to ensure there is appropriate accountability for decision making. The accepted proposals include more time to hear questions from the public and regular debates on the issues that matter most to them.
“Hackney residents now have more ways than ever before to have their say and to hold the Mayor and councillors to account. Reducing duplication will also help the council to save money.
“We value the independence of scrutiny and rejected proposals to limit the scope of the existing Scrutiny Commissions. Commission Chairs will meet regularly to set their own workload and to carry out some of the functions of the old board.”
She said all political groups and the Scrutiny Board were consulted during the review and there were no objections.