Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Community Forum That Never Was

I had an interesting meeting last week with the pastor of a local church, who was keen to hear of any ideas that I and/or the ICG may have had with regard to the role that organisations such as his own could play in community-building.

It was a poignant reminder, if any were needed, of the sheer depth of involvement and potential participation that exists within our local environment. It is when we step into a church, a temple or a mosque - or indeed into a tenants' meeting or a social club, or see a self-help group or a local charity in action - that we come to really appreciate the strength in depth of what a real community actually has to offer.

Then we visit the local Area Forum and see half a dozen or so politicians, mostly from the same group, huddled together nodding sagely in recognition of perceived mutual wisdom, and we so naturally despair for what could be.

Amongst many other things I told the pastor that during the administration of 2006-2010 a serious proposal had been mooted, and discussed with a number of local residents' groups, to establish a local "community forum" to shadow the "official" Council body that was at the time called the Isleworth and Brentford Area Committee. It had been our intention to subordinate IBAC to the power of such a body, either by adapting the constitution of the Council to enable it to happen or, in the event of us being unable to do that, by the simple expedient of an Area Committee majority (which, with the support of the Lib Dem member, we had) voluntarily relinquishing its authority in recognition of the primacy of the community body.

The outcome of this would have been to transfer true decision-making powers to the real community rather than a bunch of politicians – albeit that that power may not have had any formal legal status.

As well as being morally the right thing to do, this would have had the added advantage of circumventing the numerical stalemate which would have existed on IBAC should our Lib Dem ally have lost his seat in 2010 and we been left with a 6-6 split between the ICG councillors of Isleworth and Syon and the Con-Lab establishment councillors of Osterley and Brentford, who throughout the 2006-2010 period had tended to band together to oppose most of our more ambitious projects.

For whatever reason, this project never came to fruition during the 2006-2010 administration and any idea of introducing it during the following one was dashed when we lost all six of our seats and IBAC was returned to a Labour majority. The rest, as they so often say, is history.

There is still, of course, a role for faith groups and for all other stakeholders and that role will be forever present. The pastor and I bounced some useful ideas around and hopefully one or two will be set in motion. But it was a spiritually useful, if practically pointless exercise considering for a moment how things might have developed had the maths been different.

The idea is out there in the ether, who knows it may happen someday somewhere?

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