By Kaye Wiggins, politics editor
It is more than two years since our local councillors decided that Brixton should be at the heart of the country’s first “co-operative council” and, as Brixton Blog editor Zoe wrote in August, it isn’t always obvious what this means in practice, or why we should take an interest.
But things could be about to change. As the Blog reported this week, the council is planning a radical shake-up that would put decisions about its services – from bin collection and park maintenance to children’s centres and care of the elderly – into the hands of residents, supported by councillors as “mediators” of their demands.
In theory, this is a major shift. A report by the council says it will have to stop “expecting the citizen to respond to the council’s mechanisms for involvement” and instead “councillors and officers will have to go to the citizens.”
The council’s shake-up could have big, practical consequences. It means parents who are unhappy about the way local one o’clock clubs are being run could join a board that makes the decisions about how the clubs’ funding is used.
It means social housing tenants could be given a bigger role in managing the way their homes are looked after.
The plans could, of course, descend into chaos if councillors focus on easy political wins rather than difficult issues, or allow themselves to be led by those residents with the loudest voices.
Either way, the biggest challenge to the radical new vision comes in the same week as its announcement. Steve Reed, the council’s leader and the greatest evangelist of the “co-operative council” agenda, looks set to leave his role to become Croydon North’s MP.
The double instability of having a major shake-up – with all the potential job losses and service closures that could ensue – at the same time as a new leader, mean it is make or break time for the “cooperative council” plans.
It could be a time of fresh energy at the council, and a new approach that would actually convince residents to buy into the “cooperative council” idea. But if, in Reed’s absence, the ambitious new plan turns to chaos, Lambeth’s Labour politicians could be hit hard at the ballot box in 2014 – potentially spelling the end for the council’s big vision.