I don’t think so and I wanted to set out what I hope is a more compelling argument.
In my view there are two intertwined reasons why you don’t see more about councillors in Lewisham Life:
- Councillors themselves aren’t pressing for this; and
- Officers are reluctant to develop direct communications routes from councillors to the general public.
On the first point I’ve seen individual councillors from time to time try to make the case that they should have access to Lewisham Life, but these have never become something that the mainstream of councillors have felt so strongly about that they’ve put effort into achieving it. I admit it’s tricky for minority group councillors should/do want to avoid appearing partisan on this issue, or to give the impression that they are looking for a soapbox to bash the Mayor or Council more generally. But I think that were Overview and Scrutiny to develop a sustained campaign the Council would find it difficult to resist.
To illustrate my second point I’d turn to how the Council is managing councillor’s online presence. For a couple of years Lewisham was part of the councillor.info project, which allows councillors to manage the content of their own site and, within certain limits, talk about what they do as a councillor. In the wash-up of the last council administration, when decisions on this were being made, it was decided to bring these pages in-house and I think that has led to a much reduced capacity for councillors to communicate directly with their constituents.
As far as I can see Chris Best is the only councillor even trying to use the page they’ve been given to do anything more than tell us which committees they serve on. And I’m skeptical as to how useful knowing which committees councillors are on is to visitors to those sites. I don’t know how the management of the sites is organised, but certainly I saw papers before the elections last year which suggested that officers would have final editorial control over content, and that councillors would have almost no access to the content management system for their pages.
And since the election we’ve also seen the Council decide to have a “two click” policy on sites that are run by councillors which mention any sort of politics. I’ve argued here and elsewhere that I think this should be challenged, but that’s a matter for serving councillors.
What is clear to me is that officers are trying to reduce the risk to the Council of charges that politics is being paid for by council tax payers rather than political parties and I suspect these – plus the additional resources that might be needed to develop councillor pages for the magazine – are the real reasons for the lack of councillor stories on Lewisham Life.