Forums for tokenism

First published in Your MPs by

The new football season – even if it does include a well-deserved England call-up for a Fulham player – hasn’t eclipsed the memory of Team GB’s stellar performance at the Olympics.

The whole country feels good about it, almost as if we all contributed to their success. And of course we all did, through the Government and lottery funding that has built up Olympic sports over the past ten years.

For Londoners, it will be even more the case that we will contribute to the success of the Olympics in 2012 – so it is reasonable to ask what we will get in return. West London will pay extra Council Tax but will not see much Olympic activity – less than Glasgow or Weymouth. What I hope we do get is the chance for all young people locally – whether through schools or sports clubs – to share the Olympic benefits. Better training facilities, coaching and opportunities to compete must be offered to all.

Council-run provision for sport and leisure is an important part of local life and should be one of the issues monitored and contributed to by the new ward forums, set up by the council, supposedly to let people have their say about the issues that affect them locally. But I fear they have been emasculated before they start. They replace the old area committees, which were abolished, according to Tory councillors, because no one went. Of course, the reason people stopped going was that the committees had become talking shops where nothing was achieved. I used to go regularly to the Acton committee. It covered four wards and most of the 12 councillors and many of the senior officers attended. Initially there was a good attendance by residents and community groups. But the same items kept coming back marked “no progress”. Not surprisingly, people stopped going. So the committees were abolished.

But, in theory at least, they were powerful bodies. Now they are to be replaced with ward forums which don’t pretend to be anything but talking shops, with no power, covering a smaller area and with less access to decision makers. I am afraid this looks like more tokenism from a council which is not listening its local communities.

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