Local assemblies in their current form might be scrapped in Lewisham, according to draft budget cuts.  

Lewisham Council has identified nearly £27 million in possible cuts, out of £40 million planned over the next three years.   

See related: Lewisham Council publishes draft budget cuts

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Covid-19 has left the council with a £20 million black hole in its finances – Lewisham is facing a budget shortfall of £34 million for next year alone. 

Cuts of £15 million for 2021/22 have been proposed at this stage, leaving a potential gap of more than £18 million, depending on Government funding.  

Further cuts will be put forward in January to address that gap for the 2021/22 budget in February. 

Assemblies were cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a bid to save £223,000 over three years, the council is proposing to scrap the scheme, which involves residents meeting in a venue in their ward to get updates on local issues.  

If approved, the cuts will mean two full-time staff members, a ward officer and manager, are made redundant. 

Assemblies are part of the council’s constitution and are currently the main way Lewisham consults and engages with communities.  

There are four meetings per ward every year and ward councillors also attend.  

The council is reviewing how it could organise an “alternative forum to facilitate community engagement” such as virtual meetings.  

Lewisham’s mayor Damien Egan said the residents who attend assemblies are not “necessarily reflective” of the community as a whole and the council wants to “diversify” engagement.  

According to an appendix attached to the budget cuts report: “The assembly programme is currently being reviewed in light of the democracy deview, and the seldom heard voices report, with a view to exploring different approaches to engaging with communities, consulting with them and ensuring better representation.  

“It is anticipated that as a result of this review, engagement and consultation with communities at ward level can be undertaken in a more efficient and innovative way by officers directly working with communities, engaging councillors and community organisations as needed.” 

Mayor Egan told the local democracy service: “I’m really proud of the assemblies programme – we have 18 ward assemblies, up to 100 people come to talk to us about local issues and hear about what the council is doing. 

“We need to think about the best way to run local assemblies in the future and the idea of everybody coming to a hall on a cold evening. 

“I’m really grateful for everybody that comes, but the people coming to assemblies aren’t necessarily reflective of the community that we serve.” 

He said looking to the future of the programme, some of the questions are “how do we make sure that we’ve got more diversity, how do we make sure it’s more inclusive, and also how do we make we’ve got options there so people can just log in”.  

“When I did a public meeting about the low traffic neighbourhood, we had hundreds of people come and it just shows there are other ways that we can do things.  

“But it can go one way or another because there are also people who don’t have internet,” the mayor said.  

Following a decision by mayor and cabinet on the proposals, a consultation will begin with councillors, ward coordinating groups, and residents and is expected to take nine months. 

If the decision to cease assemblies as they are now is made, the move is expected to be in place by April 2022.