A third of Islington’s ward partnerships have gone for at least one year without holding a public meeting, in violation of the council’s constitution, the Islington Citizen can reveal.
Islington Council’s constitution states: “At least once a year there will be a meeting of the ward partnership in public to give local people and service providers an opportunity to come together to discuss local issues.”
But five out of the borough’s 15 ward partnerships have gone for at least one year without a public meeting, and some for as many as three or five years.
The data was released by the council after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Green Party activist Ernestas Jegorovas, who accused the council of “breaking Islington’s constitution”.
They show that Barnsbury’s ward partnership has held no public meeting since 2013, a gap of five years, while St Mary’s ward partnership has not held a public meeting since March 2015, a gap of more than three years.
Holloway’s ward partnership has not held a public meeting since November 2015, while the Caledonian and Tollington ward partnerships did not hold public meetings in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Islington Council, when contacted by the Islington Citizen, implied that the public ward partnership meetings were flexible, saying the council “does not impose one particular model” on ward councillors.
However, in a footnote about the data the council referred to the ward partnerships meeting once a year as being a constitutional requirement.
The council was asked by the Citizen what it has done to make sure public ward partnership meetings take place, why these efforts failed, who is responsible, and what action will now be taken.
An Islington Council spokesperson said: “Ward partnerships can play a part of helping councillors to engage with local people, and each ward takes a different approach to how to arrange their ward partnerships.
“This can include hosting formal meetings or convening smaller steering group meetings with partners like the police, but can also be through organising community fun days that bring people together, such as in Caledonian and Tollington wards.”
They added: “The council encourages and supports all councillors to organise ward partnerships, but does not impose one particular model for how this should be done and it is therefore not possible to track how each ward chooses to do so.
“Following the recent elections, all wards are being encouraged to think about how their ward partnerships should operate, in addition to the many different ways that councillors ensure they are in touch with local people.”
The original FoI response suggested seven out of 15 wards had not held meetings at least once a year, but the council said it uses financial years, bringing the number down to five.
The council also said the lack of a Tollington ward partnership public meeting in 2017 was caused by delays to the launch of Brickworks, the new venue for the meetings.
Ernestas Jegorovas, who was a Green Party candidate in Highbury East ward in the 3 May local elections, said: “There is a good reason why ward partnerships are a constitutional requirement.
“They are a way to inform and listen to the views and needs of local residents.
“When done well, experts from external organisations and council staff inform and update residents on local issues and matters.
“I am deeply disappointed that over the last four years, residents living in a third of the borough’s wards were deprived of this opportunity.”
Jegorovas had previously asked Council Leader Richard Watts about the ward partnership meeting gaps at a council meeting on 30 June, 2016.
According to the minutes, he asked: “Can anyone from the executive explain why there have been no ward partnership meetings in Caledonian and St Mary’s wards?”
Cllr Watts replied: “The ward councillors in both wards hotly dispute that there have been no meetings.
“I’ve been to a range of Cally Road meetings. I haven’t been to a St Mary’s meeting, but I would be happy to go if invited.
“As they hotly deny the accusation, I support my colleagues.”
However, the data now released shows that no public meetings were held by Caledonian’s ward partnership in the year Cllr Watts was speaking, and that St Mary’s ward partnership had not held a public meeting since March of the previous year, and has held none since.
When asked by the Citizen why the Council Leader provided erroneous information at the 2016 meeting, and what action would now be taken about this, Islington Council declined to comment.
Jegorovas said: “My concern, which I raised in a 2016 full council meeting, sadly fell on deaf ears, as Cllr Watts denied there was a problem.
“The council needs to become more transparent, provide more support to cross-party resident groups that would be able to properly and independently carry out scrutiny, and frankly just listen to its residents.”
He added: “The immediate question now is, what are the consequences of councillors breaking Islington’s constitution, and what is Labour going to do to make sure future meetings go ahead so that the local community is engaged?”
Gaps in Islington’s ward partnership public meetings:
Barnsbury – no public meeting since 2013 (5 years)
St Mary’s – no public meeting since March 2015 (3+ years)
Holloway – no public meeting in 2016 or 2017, and only one held since November 2015
Caledonian – no public meeting in 2016
Tollington – no public meeting in 2017
Source: Islington Council