4:10pm Tuesday 17th April 2012
By Mark Chandler
GREENWICH Council's leader says he is "relaxed" about a campaign to change the way the borough is run, seemingly launched by one of his own councillors.
The Democracy Greenwich campaign is calling for a return to governing via committees rather than the current leader and cabinet system, stating its aim is to "bring power back to the people".
Its website, traced by Greenwich.co.uk to the address of Councillor Rajwant Sidhu, requires five per cent of the Greenwich electorate to sign for a referendum to be triggered.
Leader Councillor Chris Roberts said: "I opposed the abolition of the committee system at the time myself. But I'm fairly relaxed really."
Cllr Roberts said he had not seen the petition but understood many of the signatures were by "people who lost the election in 2010".
He said: "At the end of the day it doesn't change the electoral arithmetic. You can't replace the ballot box."
Cllr Roberts said the issue would be looked at in a more wide-ranging autumn review, claiming other issues like directly elected mayors, borough boundaries and reductions in councillors were as important.
He said: "I think it's a crude tool to use.
"The discussion I envisage happening after the Olympics would be much broader than just this."
The current system has been criticised for allowing cabinet members to make major decisions behind closed doors, with little scrutiny from outside.
However, Cllr Roberts said councillors were still able to have their say on decisions, but were not doing so. He described the old cabinet committees as "a largely bureaucratic process".
The leader said: "If people are claiming allowances as they are, its right to make them accountable rather than being able to hide behind a committee system."
On Cllr Sidhu's involvement with the petition he said: "I'm not aware of it and I wouldn't comment."
To sign the petition visit DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk
Cllr Roberts, who survived a challenge to his leadership last month at Labour's AGM, said he was not in favour of a directly-elected mayor for Greenwich.
He said: "I've never been particularly favourable to mayoral systems because I think there needs to be some mechanism where you are able to remove a leader."
His challenger for leadership of the council, Cllr John Fahy has lost his Olympics role in the cabinet and now takes on health.
But Cllr Roberts said this had nothing to do with the leadership and was instead in preparation for changes in the NHS and the council taking on responsibility for public health.
He said: "I just felt it was right, as I think is John is the only member of the cabinet who's sat on an NHS board."
The leader added: "John and I get on fine."
Asked if he would change his leadership style following criticisms from fellow councillors, he said: "I'm always open to suggestions."
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