I noticed this tweet from James about the community council meeting last Saturday:
“Applause for Josiah who says that community councils might as well be abolished if cllrs treat public like children and questions x answered“
The Borough & Bankside CC meetings could often be quite tedious and of little relevance to where I lived in Chaucer Ward, but the meetings became much worse with the increase in size to include Walworth. My experience is that councillors and officers certainly don't like to answer questions, especially when questioned in public, and anything too difficult for them is just swept under the carpet.
The last CC meeting I attended was in November 2013. I raised the matter of the lack of support provided to those (particularly seniors) who want to be involved in their local communities but who have faced issues at community meeting of bullying and abusive behaviour. The chair of the meeting, Councillor Martin Seaton, didn't really want to discuss the matter (where I had raised some complaints with the community engagement section of the council about the abusive behaviour that were just ignored) but I persisted and he ended up promising, in front of a room full of people, that my complaints would be properly investigated. Councillor Seaton spoke with me after the meeting and arranged to meet with me at the home of Josiah - I assume this is the same Josiah who spoke up at the meeting on Saturday. However, at the agreed time and place Councillor Seaton was not there. I tried to call him and left a message on his voicemail but he did not get back to me. So I emailed him – no reply. I then wrote Councillor Seaton a letter that I hand-delivered to Tooley Street. The letter contained by home address, email address and telephone number but yet again (surprise, surprise) no response. I eventually had a brief conversation with Councillor Seaton some 8 weeks after the initial contact, where he suggested mediation (something I'd suggested over a year earlier) and said he had spoken to officers from the community engagement team. The officers had admitted that they were at the meeting where abusive behaviour had occurred but said they were only there to give advice not take action. The matter of lack of a proper response/investigation by community engagement is now the subject of a complaint to the Housing Ombudsman, hopefully to be before an adjudicator next month, but in the meantime it would not seem to be be much of a loss if Community council meetings were abolished.
I don't think community councils should be abolished because of one bad experience, however I stopped going after the B&B/Walworth merger, as there is little point still going. The meeting is too big and I really dislike the theming, which appears to mean we have a lot of singing and dancing but not many actual discussions.
I personally don't think this is the fault of any particular officer or councillor, as they all seem committed and keen to hear from residents. I think it's because the merger doesn't work and two of the areas with some of the biggest issues in the borough don't get to discuss anything in any depth.
A visit to Dulwich community council is an eye opener compared to ours, it's so much better, they get to discuss real issues and it doesn't have to go on for five hours in an attempt to do so as it's only for one area.
Peter the problem you describe sounds like an issue with the chair, not the Community Council.
I've chaired a CC with 2 wards (6 councillors), and one with 6 wards (18 councillors).
The first, Peckham CC was great, with achievements including starting what is now Peckham BMX, the second was sometimes a bit of a toe-curling wade through treacle. It was most successful when we broke into area-based sessions.
The decision to increase the size of the CCs has effectively destroyed what they set out to achieve.
The CCs are a complete waste of time, effort and money. Key issues which are important to the community are invariably fudged and it's just a PR exercise. Indeed some councillors deliberately give such Community Council meetings a miss, sending apologies instead.
The tone set by the chair can make a massive difference.
I can think of both Labour and Lib Dem councillors who have chaired CC meetings in a brisk but friendly and inclusive manner that has brought the best out of people - and councillors from both parties who have adopted a stern tone and been forever telling people off, which creates quite a different atmosphere.
Of course it wasn’t just one meeting that put me off attending. I have been to hundreds of council meetings in Southwark (a glutton for punishment, I know,) and have only ever walked out of two because they were so bad - both were Community Council meetings chaired by Councillor Seaton. Maybe it is time for a change in tone at least, if not the full closure of such meetings.