The Brockley Assembly, September 16th

Thursday 16 September, 7pm-9pm
Leander Community Centre, Ship Street

The Brockley Ward Assembly takes place next week.

The emphasis of this Assembly will be very different from previous events, with the main focus being to consult with the community over which areas of spending should be the Council's highest priority - in other words, where should the cuts fall?

Its location has also moved down in to Deptford, an acknowledgement that Brockley Ward straddles two quite different areas, as Cllr Foxcroft recently told us.


Anonymous said...

I believe part of the reccomendations to the Mayor was a reduction in the money Local Assemblies were allocated.

Lou Baker said...

Ward assemblies are a pretty pathetic idea anyway - so cut them.

We elect councillors to make decisions for us so either the councillors - or the assemblies - are a waste of space.

In any case it's not real people who go to assemblies anyway.

It's a combination of local busy bodies and individuals with an axe to grind.

I went along to the Telegraph Hill one about the skatepark. It was an absolute farce.

A bunch of pushy parents and their chavvy supporters vs a bunch of Nimby toffs.

So assemblies - I say scrap 'em.

Glad not to be Lou said...

How do our local reps know what we want on specific local issues? Telepathy? Now what's the betting that you would be the first to complain if the Town Hall decided to do something locally without consulting the locals? All local assemblies do is influence a portion of the Lewisham spend for the particular area. The total spend is unaffected. Consultation should be encouraged. As for the type of people who turn up, well different forums attract different people. This forum seems to you, a reactionary individual who is not quiet as smart as he thinks. You are our David Brent - give us a dance.

Tamsin said...

A better idea might be to draw back from the Assembly process itself - it is very costly with all the printing, publicity, officer support, room hire and catering and it would be interesting to know how much per head it has cost over the past two years to bring in new local contacts, i.e. people or groups not already in touch with the local councillors.

Certainly in the Telegraph Hill Ward the system of allocating the funds for the local spend seemed to work well enough with the then Councillors contacting their contacts and asking for the word to be spread - hearing proposals and divvying up the money. (But then I would say that being one of the activists they contacted.)

The money allocated to the Wards for local expenditure in this way should not be cut - linking as it does to established third sector groups it has to be one of the more cost effective ways of delivering desired outcomes.

Lou Baker said...


Your desired outcomes. And you are elected by????

The point is that we have a consultation process - it's called an election. It has worked perfectly well for years and adding an extra layer of bureaucracy helps no-one but the bureaucrats.

Glad not to be Lou (I'm glad you're not too) has trouble with this concept. Of course it is desirable for councillors to consult regularly with those they represent too. The
Internet, blogs, email all make this easier and cheaper too. This is the sort of stuff good councillors do.

But if you we have to save money - and we do - getting rid of costly and unnecessary layers like ward
assemblies must be preferable to cutting schools or services for the elderly. Unless Glad knows something the rest of us don't, which he/she/it doesn't.

Brockley Nick said...

Oh come now Lou, I believe in representative democracy, but devolving decisions on very local matters is a very good idea. The level of coverage and debate around the local elections is minimal and there is certainly little discussion of local ward issues.

Besides, they are not mornally about "consultation" they are about allocating money, finding volunteers and helping people find out what's going on in their local area. The ones I have been to are very good. Perhaps they could be administered at a lower cost, but they should be kept and the funds available to be allocated should remain - they are very small in the grand scheme of things and I think money has been exceptionally well spent.

Tamsin said...

Lou, I was actually agreeing with you - doubting the value of the whole Ward Assembly process in these belt-tightening times. (I know that I would rather the council kept up the provision of things like youth work, warden services and adult social care rather than played with the luxuries of democracy like the whole Young Mayor set up and Ward Assemblies.)

What I disagree with is the proposal (from where, BTW?) mentioned by the first Anonymous - that the ward allocations should be withdrawn. They can be adequately dealt with - as they were before the Ward Assemblies were set up - by the Councillors consulting with their electorate - and, as Nick says, they are small amounts of money well and effectively spent.

Someone said on an earlier thread what the Ward Assembly process cost - can anyone point to that, or remind us?

Anonymous said...

Lou were making a similar point in a measured and sober way, all the more effective for that.

Lou is like a petulant teenager... I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!!!! *storms off to his room* the grownups just roll their eyes.

Anonymous said...

When I said Lou, I meant you....

That's that post screwed up.

He's still a gobshite though.

lb said...

Whatever the theoretical value of 'assemblies', the self-selecting nature of these groups is a fundamental problem. Both national and local government are constantly trying to find ways to consult which go beyond existing bodies - precisely because these tend to attract "busy bodies and individuals with an axe to grind", as Lou puts it.

It may be that something more wide-ranging and less formalised would have a better effect than an 'Assembly' - at least until the British become more comfortable with the idea of local-level democracy. The problem is that no-one's yet come up with a decent alternative model.

Brockley Nick said...

It's not 'theoretical' value, the value of them is demonstrable in the numbers that turn up and the success of the projects funded.

I know what you mean about self-selection, but some people are more active than others and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as the Council works hard to broaden involvement, which they do. The meetings I've been to are attended by 50-100 people, with a broad range of groups and individuals represented. None of them were fairly described as busy bodies - fairer to call them conscientious local people.

Tamsin said...

But it's still a rather expensive way (in the light of pending cuts) of reaching 50 to 100 people in each ward most of whom the council a in touch with anyway. (Anyone recall were there was some exchanges here on the cost of it...?)

But, talking of the Council getting in touch, I saw the "Our Lewisham Our Say" bus in Bellingham yesterday and the driver says they will be in New Cross Gate Sainsbury's on Sataurday.

Sparrow said...

This term of 'self-selection' is beginning to irritate me. It implies that a person, by electing themselves, is automotically excluding others. It's like those people who criticise PTAs for being cliquey, when they are open to everyone! The problem is that many people are just too apathetic to do anything and hope that someone else will do it; they are NOT selecting themselves! So, please find a better way to describe what you mean.

By the way, Lou, how would you describe a 'real' person? I really am interested to know. After all, you can't be one because you actually went to a meeting.

assembly attender said...

I talk to loads of people in Brockley and I believe in social justice, so I guess I am a busybody with an axe to grind, but when I attend the assemblies and specifically take part in activities designed to guage opinion for the priorites upon which money is spent, i go out of my way to convey the views I hear from speaking to people.

So whilst I may be self selecting to attend, I don't just push for selfish causes and the nature of the assembly means that those types of 'niche' suggestions, don't get approved anyway.

Brockley Nick said...

@Sparrow - I agree, perhaps the term "self-deselection" would be better, to describe those who don't attend, although with the caveat that some people don't have time or flexibility to attend formal meetings.

lb said...

"This term of 'self-selection' is beginning to irritate me. It implies that a person, by electing themselves, is automotically excluding others [...] please find a better way to describe what you mean"

What, a better term than one that is so familiar in social studies that self-selection bias has its own Wikipedia article? I think you misunderstand exactly what self-selection bias means (in which case that link may be helpful).

The point is that the nature of the groups, i.e. that one has to 'opt in' to them, creating the possibility of them being a nonrepresentative sample. It's a scientific term, not one I've just made up.

lb said...

- "creates", not "creating".

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, LB - it's a statistical term, but used in this context (which isn't about statistics unless anyone was claiming Assemblies are a representative sample of the local population, which they haven't) it's pejorative, suggesting they are "busy bodies" who think they have a right to a greater say than others over local matters. Given that these are formal consultation vehicles, that is unfair - they are merely people trying to do their civic duty.

lb said...

"which isn't about statistics unless anyone was claiming Assemblies are a representative sample of the local population, which they haven't"

Actually, that's exactly what I thought people had been claiming. It's certainly what I was getting at. Even Lou (in his own way) said "it's not real people who go to assemblies anyway".

The problem is, as I said, that you have to opt into them, and attendance and participation in the democratic procedure requires a certain investment of time (not much, but enough to put some people off). Hence, they can be a biased sample.

"Self-selection" is perjorative only in the sense that it indicates a defect in the methodology of running such things via other methods (such as referenda, which are themselves problematic).

Brockley Nick said...

LB - sorry, point me to the place where anyone said they were statistically representative? The most anyone has claimed is that a good number of people, including a broad range of interest groups, go. That is not a statistical claim.

I don't personally think it's important to get a statistical cross-section because there are lots of people who don't give a toss and I don't lose a lot of sleep that their views are not represented.

lb said...

sorry, that made no sense. Insert "as opposed to" before "via".


"busy bodies" who think they have a right to a greater say than others over local matters"

I think the issue is more "busy bodies" who are under the impression they speak for others, or for the community as a whole, when they may in fact be representing the views of only a small group. I don't think many people would assume they have the right to a greater say than others.

As I said, there is a danger that Assemblies and other formal groups may be (due to self-selection bias), or become, unrepresentative. They are also prone to getting taken over by special interest groups.

Brockley Nick said...

Well LB, if your concern is busy bodies, then it's simply a matter of the Assembly moderator disabusing them of the notion that they speak for all, rather than one point of view.

The Assembly meetings I've been to have been very well run.

lb said...

"LB - sorry, point me to the place where anyone said they were statistically representative"

I thought Lou's point, the one on which this discussion originally predicated, was that they were statistically unrepresentative and therefore of little value. Hence the idea of self-selection is significant.

Brockley Nick said...

Lou's proposition (that statistically unrepresentative assebmlies are worthless) is balls though.

General elections aren't statistically representative of the population either.

lb said...

"Well LB, if your concern is busy bodies, then it's simply a matter of the Assembly moderator disabusing them of the notion that they speak for all, rather than one point of view"

Yes, yes, of course there are ways of attempting to mitigate bias within each structure. But the fact remains that assemblies are still by some standards a flawed method of democratic participation - some bodies place a greater value on referenda, for example.

lb said...

"Lou's proposition (that statistically unrepresentative assebmlies are worthless) is balls though"

It's contentious to say that they're worthless, and I certainly wouldn't go that far - but I would say they're flawed, and should be backed by other methods.

lb said...

Incidentally, the cost of inmplementing ward assemblies was estimated at a cool £575,000 originally (see this). Of course, if assemblies are now scrapped, this money will have been chucked down the drain.

Their yearly running cost doesn't seem entirely clear, though some organisers of a 'save libraries' petition seem to think it's close to the above figure.

Brockley Fox said...

The Local assembly may or may not work. Now that's out of the way, perhaps we can start discussing what the assembly is set up to do. I assume, as I have never been to an assembly, they are some sort of public "brain storming" session?

Was anything achieved at the last meeting? Where are the metings held? And coulgate St, and the roundabout aside, what do we want in brockley?

Anonymous said...

There is a proposal to reduce each wards budget from £10k to £7.5k.

Brief description :-
Each ward is currently allocated £10k per annum.

Recommendations are made by the ward members on spend in consultation with the local assembly.

This is separate to the Mayor’s Fund which is not part of Community Services Directorate Budget.

The allocation per ward could be reduced to £7.5k per annum providing a saving of £45k.

Anonymous said...

Brief description :-
The running costs for assemblies include training for members and coordinating group volunteers,
communications budget, additional engagement budget, meeting production costs and overheads.

A £31k saving equivalent to 24% could be achieved through a range of efficiencies across the budget.

Tamsin said...

Thanks, that's interesting. And it looks like an annual running cost - although £180000 of that is the £10K per ward which we would not want to lose - just possibly have channelled to the local needs in a slightly more cost effective way.

On the other hand - it's real people with real jobs. And on a personal basis I really like our co-ordinators.

lb said...

So that's whaa...£129k a year. It doesn't say whether that includes the salaries of any council staff working on assembly-related stuff.

This budget is used to administer 18 assemblies (?) according to the list on Lewisham's website. Each gets a Locality Fund of £10k a year currently = £180k total. Plus £25k a year per ward from the Mayor's Fund in 2008/9 and 2009/10 - another £450,000. So, a total cost of £180,000 (possibly less staff costs) to administer around £630,000 yearly - I'll leave it up to you whether you consider it good value or not.

lb said...

Sorry, a total cost of 129k a year to administer £630k - my mistake.

lb said...

Or if you prefer, it costs about 20p to administer each pound of funding routed through the assemblies.

No idea what alternative methods of consultation would cost. I assume they rejected setting up statutory parish or community councils (which were one option considered, and are the usual way of doing this kind of thing since 1974) due to the additional administrative issues and costs.

Tamsin said...

Hang on - £129K does not include the salaries of the LBL staff that are £345000 on that 2007 paper you gave the link to.

Lou Baker said...

There are two problems with the assemblies:

1) They are unnecessarily expensive to administer - if lb's figures are true they are shocking.

2) They are completely unrepresentative because most people won't go - and even some of those who want to go won't be able to.

To give my own example - most of the meetings start at 1930. Great if you work 9-5 - but I don't so I can't go to these meetings unless I have a day off. People who work unusual hours, those with young families - all unlikely to be able to attend these meetings. That's unfair.

Now I agree with Nick that general elections aren't fully representative either. BUT you have all day to vote or can vote by post if you want.

I agree local people should be asked their views - I just think assemblies are a bad way of doing it. I think you get a far better range if views online on your website Nick than any meeting ever will. And, incidentally, you get some bloody goods ideas which the council
should adopt.

Blah! said...

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"

Winston Churchill

Suspect Lou would like a period of martial law, with him in charge obviously.

The web is indeed a wonderful tool but your arguments could equally apply to the comments it sometimes attracts. Windbags, bigots, lunatics and just as easy to hijack by special interest groups....have you not seen the perculiar X Factor voting patterns!

Have a lie down Lou.

lb said...

Actually, good point Tamsin - the staffing costs are there in the 2007 paper. I don't know, as I said, if this staffing level was eventually adhered to, but that would give:

*£345,000 p/a staff costs
*£129,000 p/a other admin costs (communications, training, etc)

So, that's £474,000 p/a in total to 'run' the Assemblies - around 75 pence for every pound they are allocated to spend.

Lou Baker said...


I didn't say we should decide on the Internet. We should use it to seek views.

Our elected politicians should decide. And, incidentally, there's nothing democratic about ward assemblies.

Nope, still don't get you said...

So the Internet and blogs like this are a useful way of collecting views and local assemblies are not. this blog has great ideas but politicians should not consult or take any notice of their constituents? Local assemblies are not "democratic" are you even clear in what you mean by that?

As always your argument are an object lesson in lucid thought.

Lou Baker said...

Clearly you're struggling.

Our councillors are democratically elected. Every eligible person in the ward is entitled to vote and has ample
opportunity to do so. A councillor's job is then to make decisions for us - that is why we elect them.

Yes, they should consult - and in a wide variety of ways. This is what good councillors do.

Ward assemblies are not representative. Anyone can go along - you don't even have to live in the ward. Attendance is limited - many people can't go - and it's dominated by activists with an agenda. So, no, they're not representative - they're not democratic in any meaningful sense of the word, they're expensive and unnecessary.

So I get it perfectly well, thanks.

I'm not feeling you Lou. said...

Explain why a blog like this is a better, more reliable method, or have you forgoton that assertion? You seem to be striving for a perfect way for politicians to gauge opinion. There isn't one. A vote every four years can only set an agenda in general terms, that doesn't work for specific local issues especially if there is no obvious party doctrine to guide.

Lou Baker said...

A local forum's a better way of gauging an opinion because anyone can contribute at any time on any issue. All for next to nothing.

A ward assembly is unnecessarily expensive, is held infrequently, many people can't go to it, many of those who do won't have the chance to speak, many won't have guts to, it's dominated by cliques and the most people have zero chance to influence the agenda.

There is no perfect way to gauge opinion - I never claimed there was. But ward assemblies are really particularly pointless. I realise there are plenty of apologists for unnecessary bureaucracy - like yourself I presume - but I'd prefer my tax money be spent on services rather than on
superfluous pen-pushers.

You're twisting my melon man? said...

But why consult. Politicians are there to decide. Or did I imagine that bit?

Anonymous said...

ward assemblies are just a sop offered to residents so they think they can have some influence over the way the council works - this is complete nonsense - at any ward assembly I've been to its clear that the councillors are there to fan themselves with their own vanity - very much like what happens on this blog . . .

Remember, nobody gives a tinkers cuss about anybody else.

Monkeyboy said...

Most people who put themselves forward for a leadership role have a certain amount of vanity, even if they don't know it themselves. Not sure that’s really a problem in itself, Churchill was massively arrogant and he knew it. Ken Livingstone is an effective political player, whatever you think about his policies. A shrinking violet without a sense of his/her self importance would not be especially effective. That and wanting to help your constituents is not mutually exclusive.

"Remember, nobody gives a tinkers cuss about anybody else" Rubbish, altruism is a defining human trait, not exclusively of course. Soldiers can be incredibly selfless and incredibly cruel. Have you ever put 10p in a collection tin?

Life is full of contradictions eh?

lb said...

"But why consult. Politicians are there to decide. Or did I imagine that bit?"

It's important to understand that even the Assembly is seen as a consultative body rather than as a decision-making one. Decisions rest in the hands of the executive; the Assembly is about "engagement" (one of the biggest buzzwords in local government under the last administration). In the document I linked to earlier, assemblies are described as "not decision making bodies [but] an important consultative mechanism".

The issue is whether assemblies are a cost-effective and inclusive method of engagement. They are no doubt more expensive than the old three-ward Area Forums (which were only held yearly, I think) but on the other hand probably provide more opportunities for people to make their views known, without the extra administrative layer of introducing parish councils. The Council will, no doubt, carefully monitor things like the age, sex and ethnicity of Assembly participants in order to see if they're close to achieving the Holy Grail - a truly representative consultative group. Indeed, I know for a fact they do monitor such things with respect to the Assemblies as they've published data on them in the past.

That they have identified potential savings in Assembly running costs indicates that concerns have been raised.

Anonymous said...

"fan themselves with their own vanity - very much like what happens on this blog . . ."

nailed that one monkeyboy

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