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Rough Guide to Petitioning Lambeth Council

put together by Ron Hollis 1 Nov 15 – ronhollis@thetec.co.uk

When you’ve exhausted all possible routes to get Lambeth Council to do something for you – you can resort to a ‘Petition to Full Council’. This type of complaint gets you three minutes in front of all the councillors and senior officers at a Full Council Meeting. Here’s a quick guide on how to go about getting ‘your day in court’.

There are a variety of different petition systems on offer, so when you get in touch with the council, make it clear that you want to address the petition to a Full Council Meeting.

In the first instance, you need to contact Democratic services. I have worked with these officers over a number of issues, and always found them to be friendly, helpful and supportive. Note that you have to give at least 10 day’s notice of petitions.

When you contact Democratic Services, you need to check with them the timetable, as you have to prepare this well before the next Council Meeting. To find out when the next Council meeting is, check the Lambeth Calendar:  http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1

The Officer currently in charge of preparing the agenda for Council meetings who you will need to contact is
Wayne Chandai, Tel: 020 7926 0029 Email: wchandai@lambeth.gov.uk

There are forms to fill in, with names to collect and lots of rules to follow, but I am sure Democratic Services will help you; especially since the online guidance is a bit rubbish.

At the council meeting, the speaker is allowed to have up to six non-speaking supporters in the council chamber with them – but get as many supporters to cheer you on from the public gallery as you can manage!

These meetings are very formal, and governed by strict rules. You get just three minutes, and no more, to make your case, with a “thirty seconds to go” warning near the end of your time – just when you are in full flow; (note that several times, the major has misread his clock, so it is useful to have one of your supporters with your own stopwatch).

It is absolutely vital to write your speech out, and practice, making sure you do not go over the three minutes (or you will be cut off); but don’t make it too short and fail to make the best use of your time. (I often start with ten minute speeches, then embark on a bit of drastic editing! Bullet points are your friend here.)

The most successful petitions deal with facts, times and places. Opinions are easily brushed aside, but facts require a specific response.

For example, “I have sent lots of emails about this, and had only one reply”, is much weaker than “I sent 21 emails between last Jan and July 2015, but only received one reply, and that not until 20 July 2015.”

The essential thing to keep in mind is ‘what do you want?’. Your petition should lay out exactly what it is that you want the councillors to do; this is much more effective than presenting councillors with a list of complaints about past ineptitude (because officers will then just tell you how much they have improved since the last complaints!). The shape of the petition works best when you structure it:

  1. This is the problem I want to bring to your attention;
  2. This is what has happened to deal with it so far, (without success);
  3. This is what I want you to do now to resolve the problem.

Remember that many councillors will not have read the papers, so you need to be sure your spoken petition covers all the key points you want to make.

It is very important not to slang off individual officers, especially by name. It is useful to remember that on a petition to Council, you are criticising the Council and its management as a whole. It is the councillors job to decide if any particular person is failing to do their job, and to take appropriate action.

Because the Town Hall Council Chamber is now closed, Council meetings are being held all over the borough. Make sure you know where to go, and arrive in good time (you often need to tell Security you are on the speakers list in order to get in). You will normally be held in a room somewhere, and only invited into the meeting when you are due to be heard. It helps your preparation to know if petitioners will have a rostrum for their notes and a microphone, if they are to be standing or sitting. At the last few meetings away from the town hall, things have been a bit chaotic when it comes to the facilities, so ask Democratic Services what the setup will be.

Few of us have to make formal speeches these days, so preparation and practice, practice, practice, are what makes for a good speech and a successful petition.

To find out more about the different Lambeth Council Petitions, or to apply online, visit  http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/mgePetitionListDisplay.aspx?bcr=1

 

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