Lewisham Council held its first hybrid AGM in the borough’s history on Wednesday (May 26), with 25 councillors attending in person. 

The remaining councillors attended virtually but were not allowed to vote, as per the law.   

The High Court ruled that councils would have to return to face-to-face meetings after May 6 when the Coronavirus legislation allowing them to take place online ended.  

Judges concluded that new legislation would be have to be enacted to allow for virtual meetings, rather than interpret current legislation differently.  

At the AGM, Lewisham’s cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, Cllr Kevin Bonavia, criticised the decision not to extend the Coronavirus legislation “as the Government forces councils to physically meet, while refusing to allow councillors to vote remotely, unlike in Parliament”. 

Cllr Tauseef Anwar was reelected as speaker, with Cllr Pauline Morrison appointed deputy speaker.  

Cllr Brenda Dacres, who the mayor described as “hardworking, compassionate, and collaborative”, was officially appointed deputy mayor.  

The mayoresses of Lewisham, Dawn Atkinson, Natasha Ricketts, and Christina Norman, were all officially appointed for another year.  

They did not attend the hybrid meeting due to social distancing rules, but a video was played highlighting their achievements throughout the past year.  

The mayoresses, volunteers at a community store dedicated to tackling food poverty, raised thousands through a packed lunch appeal (and made thousands of lunches).  

They had a visit from Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan to help in the store, they caught the attention of Marcus Rashford, had a food truck donated from Tesco and Waitrose, and have also been helping vaccinate residents.  

At a cabinet hearing before the AGM, Councillor Kim Powell was made member for culture, jobs and skills (job share), replacing former Cllr Joe Dromey who left the council this year.  

They told stories about how some people died without family around them and how they had to work around the clock to try and make people as comfortable as they could

Mayor Damien Egan’s annual speech put a lot of emphasis on listening to residents after Labour’s poor performance in local elections elsewhere in the country. 

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He thanked all those who made the meeting possible in light of social distancing rules and said over the past year more than 15,000 residents logged on to stream online meetings.  

He spoke of the 598 people who have died in Lewisham due to Covid. 

“Staff at Lewisham Hospital told me heartbreaking stories about how overwhelmed they were over the last year.  

“They told stories about how some people died without family around them and how they had to work around the clock to try and make people as comfortable as they could,” he said.  

He said the full impact of the pandemic would not be known for years.  

“But one thing we do know is that Dominic Cummings is right, this Government let people down when they needed them the most,” he said.  

He reiterated his criticism of Government cuts. 

“In 2010 this council’s budget in real terms was over £400 million. Today that stands at £243 million and over four years another £40 million will be cut from our borough,” he said.  

Mayor Egan spoke about voters moving away from Labour.  

they thought 'Labour nationally was snobby, patronising, obsessed with talking to and about [themselves] and intolerant of people with different views'

He welcomed the four new Labour councillors elected in the byelections, Samantha Latouche, James Royston, Rachel Onikosi, and Jack Lavery, and congratulated Cllr Sakina Sheikh on her election to the London Assembly.  

“But we need to be honest with ourselves, Labour’s success in Lewisham and London was sadly not replicated across the country. 

“And until we’re able to build a Labour Party that appeals to all parts of the country, we won’t have the Labour Government which people in Lewisham want and desperately need,” he said.  

Mayor Egan said he called voters outside of London and was told that they thought “Labour nationally was snobby, patronising, obsessed with talking to and about [themselves] and intolerant of people with different views”.  

“This is a message we have to hear,” he said.  

Mayor Egan also announced that Lewisham has officially been recognised as a borough of sanctuary, the first in London.  

He spoke about 'Future Lewisham: our borough's recovery', the council's plan on recovering from the pandemic.

It focuses on a greener future, reducing carbon emissions, improving the health and wellbeing of residents, creating a more economically secure future, and encouraging people to shop locally.  

“Future Lewisham is about how we rethink and refocus what we do to make sure we’re using the money and resources that we do have to make the biggest impact for those who need us most.

“These values are what make Lewisham such a special place and will be at the heart of our recovery,” he said. 

In his speech last year, the mayor announced that the council was planning to launch a yearly count of Black, Asian and minority ethnic-owned and independent businesses. 

He said the annual survey was expected to run for 20 years. 

The move was to protect Lewisham’s independent businesses “from the increase of chain businesses coming into the borough,” and the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. 

It’s hoped the survey will give “a valuable insight into the diversity of business owners”. 

Concerns were raised after the count was not mentioned by the mayor at the AGM, but a spokesperson for the council said the mayor wasn’t able to fit it into the speech and work was progressing on it.  

A full statement is expected tomorrow.