Young people are underrepresented in council consoltation, a review commissioned by the local authority has found.
Croydon Council agreed to improve engagement with their youth council as part of a range of new measures introduced following a council meeting last week.
The council referred themselves to an independent panel to review the way in which the council was governed.
The panel praised the council for being proactive in efforts to reform however did acknowledge difficulties in finding a representative sample of the borough when engaging in consultations admitting that younger people were underrepresented and that the majority of respondents were those who had previously engaged with the council.
The independent body produced a full report detailing a list of recommendations to improve local democracy and give it more power and influence.
Below are 4 of the biggest issues raised by the panel and the recommendations made.
Involve the Youth Council
The panel proposed the Youth Council be given more opportunities to meet with cabinet members and provide them with a better opportunity to have an influence the council’s decision making on a broad level. How the council go about improving the involvement of the Youth Council is yet to be seen and The panel stressed the importance of engagement being well planned and thought out to ensure it is meaningful opposed to tokenistic.
Give better notice to Members over upcoming decisions
The review recommended forward planning for decision taking. The council was obliged by law to give a 28-day notice before key decisions were taken. Council members had complained, that even if they agreed with the decision the council eventually took, a 28-day notice did not give them adequate time to debate crucial issues before decisions were taken and sometimes they were not aware at all. Going forwards the council will now list all upcoming decisions at least six months ahead of them being taken with the only exception for urgent decisions. It is hoped this will give the opportunity for members and residents to influence the earlier stages of the development process.
The panel said: “Publishing a forward plan would be the single most important step towards enabling more inclusive and transparent decision making.”
Clarify the term “Key Decision”
It was not made clear why some decisions were considered key and others not, there was also inconsistency in how the definition was applied by the Council with too much focus on financial decisions and not enough on community ones. Croydon council defines a key decision as one that will result in expenditure or savings of more than £1m or a smaller figure or significant in terms of its effects on communities living or working in an area within the borough. It was recommended that greater consideration be given to decisions likely to significantly impact the community before deciding if they were key or not. For greater transparency the Council will publish guidance to members and residents as to why a decision as been taken at a certain level of the council.
Reinforce role of Members
Around 70% of council members felt that they did not have enough access to information on decision making leading them to feel that they could not represent their residents or influence council decisions as they would like.
Councillors also reported that they felt they’re knowledge of their local wards was being overlooked by council officers and felt they were not always informed of what was going on in their communities.
With most council led initiatives and decision making relating to wards rarely political it was felt that there was no reason why council officers could not be more proactive in engaging with members.
Members can expect to be better informed on local matters with the council to make clear in their guidelines the requirement to involve them in decision making procedures.