EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet member’s secret backing for council democracy campaign
Days after it emerged Cabinet member Cllr Rajwant Sidhu would be leaving the Cabinet following Labour’s internal elections, the internet name DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk was registered – with Cllr Sidhu’s address listed in the domain’s registration details.
The website name redirects to an online petition calling on the authority to change from the current ‘leader and cabinet’ system to a committee system in order to “bring Power back to the People.”
Although DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk is not registered to Councillor Sidhu by name, a Land Registry search revealed that the domain registrant’s address belongs to the Woolwich Common councillor.
Councillor Sidhu refused to either confirm or deny his role in the campaign when contacted by Greenwich.co.uk.
When asked whether he had set up DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk, he replied that “this is not something which I can comment on.”
Greenwich.co.uk revealed last week that Cllr Sidhu would be exiting the Cabinet at the council’s AGM next month. In a move which has left some local Labour members “fuming” according to 853, he is to be replaced by Cllr Harry Singh.
The committee system that ‘Democracy Greenwich’ are calling for limits the direct power of the council leader and would give greater powers of scrutiny and decision-making to individual councillors.
The committee system was commonly used by local authorities until the introduction of the Local Government Act 2000.
A local referendum can be called on changing the leadership structure of a local authority if 5% of local electors petition for it. However, the new Localism Act gives councillors the power to change the system themselves without the expense of a referendum, by way of a majority vote on the council.
Two local authorities including the London Borough of Sutton recently voted to revert to a committee system.
The campaign to reform Greenwich Council is being led by members of the local Labour Party who are believed to be unhappy about the powers held by the current leadership.
Controversial changes to local masterplans are also thought to be a key factor, with some local party members believing that the proposals are being “forced through” by the leadership.
One senior party figure willing to put his name to the campaign is the chairman of Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party David Gardner. Gardner was one of the first signatories on the petition, but could not be reached for comment today.
The Conservative group on the council withdrew a motion at the last full council meeting calling for a change to the leadership structure after Chris Roberts said that officers were already looking at the proposals.