Council meetings

Agenda item

Local Assemblies Update



That the report be noted.



Cllr Juliet Campbell, Cabinet Member for Communities, Refugees and Community Safety

James Lee, Director of Communities, Partnerships and Leisure
Sakthi Suriyaprakasam, Head of Culture and Community Development


Key points from discussion

The witnesses introduced the report. Key points included:

4.1.       Local Assemblies were introduced in 2007 as vehicle for local empowerment, establishing a structured environment in each ward that would support an ongoing process for identifying and resourcing local concerns and implement local solutions. Since 2010/11, their budgets of £25,000 per ward to implement local solutions had been progressively reduced and eventually removed; administrative support staffing had also been reduced. This had changed the nature and purposes of assemblies, which were now more modes of consultation and engagement. The role of Assemblies was therefore being reviewed, which would help determine how they should be delivered in the present context.

4.2.       Councillors’ appreciation of the opportunity to engage with large groups of residents, among other forms of engagement, was recognised.

4.3.       The 2019 Democracy Review had found Assemblies to be unrepresentative: they engaged already democratically engaged residents and did not attract seldom-heard communities.

4.4.       The Covid-19 pandemic had required the suspension of Assemblies for 10 months and subsequent resumption as online meetings. The online meetings had shown residents to be keen to reengage with the Council. Voices of Lewisham had concluded that the Council should adopt a ‘collaborative leadership approach’ to resident engagement.

4.5.       Under the current model, a minimum of two Council-led online assemblies were provided for each ward, supplemented by further community-led assemblies, which community groups could apply for Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL) funding to deliver. Eight organisations servicing nine wards had applied for NCIL funding to deliver assemblies.

4.6.       The survey of councillors had received variable feedback on the performance of Assemblies. Approximately half of the 25 respondents had been elected to the Council for the first time in 2021.

4.7.       Most survey respondents thought council-led assemblies had been successful. Thirty-six per cent thought NCIL-funded assemblies had been successful, which resonated with feedback from the community groups who had arranged them. Feedback regarding non-NCIL-funded, community-led assemblies was less favourable.

4.8.       Promoting Assemblies needed to improve. Historically, all homes in the borough had received leaflets promoting Assemblies, whereas now the Council’s Communications Service and mailing lists were relied upon.

4.9.       Respondents considered that Assemblies were successful at engaging residents in Council agendas.

4.10.    A discussion with stakeholders – likely including coordinating groups – about the role and functioning of Assemblies was required. There were issues that were discussed at multiple Assemblies which may be better discussed on a greater scale.

The Committee then discussed the role and functioning of local assemblies with witnesses. Key points included:

4.11.    The role and business of Assemblies could better align with corporate strategy, while maintaining their distinct local characters.

4.12.    Community Development Officers were skilled at their core functions but could potentially be better supported by other areas of the Council, such as Communications.

4.13.    While the role of Assemblies would need to be defined before their resourcing determined, it was unlikely that Assemblies would engage a more diverse cohort of residents if they were not better resourced; whether they would ever do so regardless of resourcing was questioned also.

4.14.    It was likely that Assemblies would remain modes of local engagement for councillors.

4.15.    The differing natures of wards meant some would require greater support than others to deliver successful Assemblies. It was not reasonable to expect community groups from some wards to be willing and able to apply for NCIL to deliver Assemblies.

4.16.    If Assemblies were to support engagement across Council services, that role should be recognised and resourced appropriately. However, that was not commonly recognised as their role.

4.17.    It was resource consuming and challenging for the same proposals to be presented in 19 different Assemblies.

4.18.    Community Development Officers performed other functions in addition to supporting Assemblies and it was difficult to precisely disaggregate the time spent supporting each Assembly.

4.19.    Despite their unrepresentativeness, Assemblies presented an opportunity for the Council to be directly responsive to local issues raised by residents.

4.20.    Each Assembly had a different impact on its ward.

4.21.    In some cases, Assemblies had successfully engaged otherwise seldom-heard people and it was important that any changes did not exclude such residents’ participation.

4.22.    Local engagement on a scale greater than ward level should be considered.

4.23.    The previously allocated funding had helped stimulate resident engagement with Assemblies.

4.24.    Officers were to reopen the survey to provide opportunity for all Councillors to respond, undertake more detailed analysis of the survey’s findings and were content to share options for the future role of assemblies with the Committee in the future.


That the report be noted.

Supporting documents: