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'Forums are failing to promote democracy'
COMMUNITY forums aimed at encouraging local democracy in Oxford are failing, the city council has admitted.
But despite low attendance that has continued to fall in the year since they were brought in, the local authority has no plans to replace them.
Area forums were introduced to replace area committees, which were scrapped by the city council in April 2011, despite public opposition, to save money.
Launched in 2001, the six area committees met monthly to deal with neighbourhood issues, planning applications and grants to community groups.
The forums then lost the planning powers and have only taken place on a quarterly basis.
Nearly two years after they were launched, a review by the council’s communities and partnership scrutiny committee has found the new forums wanting.
In a report, it said the forums “do not attract residents in any number and so do not often provide for any meaningful community engagement or leadership” and that they “produce outcomes that are limited in nature and style by the process itself”.
City councillors, the report added, do not universally support the area forums with a number of them seeing “little community value” in them.
Gordon Roper, chairman of Blackbird Leys Parish Council, said: “We have had two area forums here and they have been a complete waste of time. I’ve been to one area forum where only a couple of members of the public turned up.”
There are two centralised planning committees – east and west – and six area forums. Since they were introduced, most areas have had five or six meetings.
But the south east area forum has been split up, which means the Littlemore area forum has been held only once, while the Rose Hill area forum and the Leys area forum have met twice and three times respectively.
The report made recommendations about improving the set-up, which included training to help councillors become better community leaders and a “cross party debate” on the role of councillors.
City councillor Ed Turner, the council’s board member for finance and efficiency, said: “Our preference was to spend less money on meetings and we wanted to protect front line services.
“The problem with area committees was that they weren’t particularly well attended.”
City councillors will discuss the report on January 30.
AREA FORUMS: THE FIRST YEAR
AREA forums are held roughly every three months.
They can be attended by local councillors and residents and there is no formal arrangement for who chairs the meeting. It can be a council officer or a councillor.
There are now eight area forums after the South East Area Forum was split into three:
(with attendance figures for May 2011-May 2012)
- Central, South and West
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 26 in the Old Fire Station
The next meeting is on Monday, January 21 at 6pm in East Oxford Primary School
- North East
The next meeting is on Monday, January 28 at 6pm in Cheney Community Centre
The next meeting is this month on a date and venue to be fixed
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 5 at 7.30pm in St Margaret’s Institute
- South (divided into separate forums)
Q1 No meeting
Q2 16 (Rose Hill) The next meeting is September
Q3 17 (Leys area) The next meeting this month on a date and venue to be fixed
Q4 45 (Littlemore) The next meeting is March
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