Thursday, 25 March 2010

Success! London local election hustings draws a crowd

Wednesday afternoon saw the Women's Resource Centre, HEAR and Voluntary Sector Forum’s hustings event for London’s Local Elections. The 60-strong audience was made up of representatives of the length and breadth of London’s voluntary and community sector, with an emphasis on the equalities and women’s sectors.

There were four councillors on the panel - Cllr Nilgun Canver, Labour, Cllr Lynn Hillan, Conservative, Cllr Stephen Knight, Liberal Democrat and Cllr Ute Michel, Green Party, and the event was chaired by Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women.

So, once everyone had arrived and found a seat, the questioning began…

“What future do you see for the London Councils grants budget and London Councils’ commitment to pan-London and cross-borough service provision?”

This opening question drew out the commitment from the whole panel to funding the work of the voluntary and community sector (VCS), with a cautionary note around the impact of inevitable spending cuts.

However, there was also recognition that some services are more suitable for being funded on a pan-London basis, whereas some which address more local problems need to be addressed on a borough level.

A question on the VCS’ right to campaign on behalf of beneficiaries and be funded for this work threw up the first major difference between the panellists. While the Liberal Democrat and Green councillors were keen to have this work funded by public money, and the Labour councillor emphasised that this work is not political, but a form of advocacy and so should be funded, the Conservative councillor was in support of lobbyists, but was uneasy about their work being funded through public money.

The equalities questions focussed on issues such as the Human Rights Act and how it can be implemented at a local level, how to balance the need for making services available to the whole community and maintaining specialist skills, and the role of equalities organisations in policy work.

The final section of the hustings focussed on the women’s sector, where we heard from the panel on their commitment to London Councils’ spending of 12% of its budget on the violence against women sector. You can read the full responses of the panel to key issues for the women’s sector in our Q&A sheet

There were further questions on women with no recourse to public funds (from the Women Together against Abuse partnership), licensing of lap dancing clubs (from OBJECT) and on addressing the needs of women ex-offenders (from Women in Prison), all of which elicited thoughtful responses from panel members. You can see photos from the event and some of their responses on video here and we will be putting up fuller notes later on.

All in all, it was great to have a space where London’s VCS could come face to face with councillors and there was a real sense of democratic accountability, as those affected by councillors’ decisions were able to question them directly. We’d like to thank the councillors for taking the time to take part in the hustings and all those who took time out of their working day to come along!

We strongly encourage women’s organisations across the country to organise similar events for future elections. After all, councillors represent you - and you need to both get your voice heard and get your sector’s issues on their agenda!

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