Scrapping area assemblies ‘wrong move’, says Rotherham councillor

By Gareth Dennison | 01/06/2017

Scrapping area assemblies ‘wrong move’, says Rotherham councillor
Cllr Allen Cowles

AN OPPOSITION councillor labelled scrapping area assemblies “a step in the dark” as members voted in favour of the move.

The ruling Labour group says the meetings format - introduced in 2000 - is outdated and focuses too much on residents’ problems.

The seven area assemblies will be axed and the money - including chairs’ allowances - will be given directly to councillors to spend in their community.

Each of the 21 Rotherham Borough Council wards has been tasked with producing a plan with targets specific to the area.

Opposition leader Cllr Allen Cowles said: “I’ve heard councillors say people only come to area assemblies to moan. 

“I don’t see it as moaning, I see it as a criticism that things are wrong.

“This new idea really provides no way for that to happen in any meaningful way. It’s full of soundbites but very little structure or framework. That is a big concern.

“While there are things in here that are a step in the right direction, it is like us being asked to take a step in the dark.”

UKIP group colleague Cllr Kath Reeder added: “I was astounded at the last area assembly how many people didn’t know that this was coming and many really wanted area assemblies to continue.”

Cllr Clive Jepson, Independent, said he felt there had been a lack of consultation with councillors and the public over axing the meetings.

Under the new set-up, wards will be given dedicated RMBC officer time and a bigger budget to work on projects prioritised by residents.

Council leader Cllr Chris Read said: “I was concerned that our efforts at community engagement consisted of sitting in a big room with not many members of the public four or six times a year.

“What we’ve tried to do is give members some basic tools to enable them to begin to make themselves into better community leaders.”

Cllr Victoria Cusworth, Labour, said: “I think this will be welcomed by residents, that there’s more money in the devolved budget to spend in our wards.

“It gives much more flexibility.

“We can still have public meetings. They can be targeted more to specific issues that affect the ward.”

And Cllr Taiba Yasseen, Cabinet member for neighbourhood working, added: “We deem that where our future focus will be is on wards, going back to those grass root communities. We feel this will serve the communities better if we engage at that level.”

The change will be phased in over 12 months.

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