Tories call for public to have say on all council policies in online votes

Labour budget sails through chamber

Friday, 11th March — By Richard Osley

andrew parkinson

Andrew Parkinson speaking at Monday’s meeting

CAMDEN residents should be given a vote on every single policy, the Conservatives said as they challenged the ruling Labour council’s budget plans.

Opposition councillors want new online referendums to influence policy – instead of leaving it all to the winners of this May’s council elections.

While there will be closely contested ward battles, Labour are expect to comfortably hold control of the Town Hall when Camden goes to the polls, and on Monday evening its councillors passed new tax and spending plans.

Bills, as the New Journal reported earlier this month, will go up by a maximum allowed 2.9 per cent. New outgoings will include a £1million “cost of living” fund due to help around 5,000 residents plunging into poverty as prices rise and energy costs rocket next month.

In an alternative budget – a salvo to the election fight ahead – the Tories said they now wanted to help residents “force Camden to listen”.

Finance spokesman Councillor Andrew Parkinson said about their plans: “For the first time, residents will be given a vote on every policy that Camden Council proposes.”

He added: “A new online platform will give residents the opportunity to force a decision to be voted on in full council. The initiative – novel in the UK – will be based on successful schemes used in a number of cities globally, such as Madrid and Barcelona.”

The opposition group later said it was also being used in Kyiv before the Russian invasion.

“A council that is reluctant to consult and then ignores the results if it doesn’t suit them will no longer be able to dismiss what residents want and decisions can no longer be made behind closed doors,” said Cllr Parkinson adding that he thought power was concentrated in too small an area, with “four times as many Camden cabinet members representing Kentish Town as represented in the entire north-western half of the borough combined”.

The Tories said Camden could spend £100,000 on promoting engagement.

The idea for the shift – described as devolving power away from the Town Hall – got no pickup from the Labour councillors in the room.

And in the annual budget debate, the leadership blamed the Conservatives’ national government for not being able to freeze council tax, as the local Tories wanted.

Finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski

Council finance supremo Labour councillor Richard Olszewski said: “It’s worth remembering that the government has cut funding per head since the Lib Dems and Tories got control of the national finances by 67 per cent per head of the population. We’ve been left with a £19million pandemic black hole to boot – as the government failed to honour its pledges to do what was necessary to support councils. We have unfortunately little choice but to increase council tax by the maximum amount.”

Cllr Olszewski said that if Camden had followed all the Conservative calls not to raise taxes then the council would be another £34million in the red.

The overwhelming majority which Labour enjoys in the chamber meant its budget was easily voted through.

The Liberal Democrats said, in their suggested budget amendments, that they would make a £145,000 Young Camden Fund, with group leader Councillor Luisa Porritt telling the chamber: “And we’d start by asking them [young residents] what they want to see from the future of the O2 Centre.”

Of Cllr Olszewski’s comments, Cllr Porritt reminded him: “We haven’t been in power nationally for seven years.”

The Green Party’s suggestions included a £1million “transition support fund” that leader Councillor Sian Berry would “cancel all rent arrears and provide ongoing support for voluntary and community sector organisations” – and an “empowerment fund” for residents wanting to start green projects.

A diesel surcharge would bring in money and help clean the air, Cllr Berry said.

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