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Residents to protest tonight outside Southall Town Hall over Ealing Council leader Councillor Peter Mason holding “invited audience” only meeting

Residents in Southall say they are being denied an opportunity to meet and question their local Southall Councillor and leader of Ealing Council Peter Mason. Locals claim a meeting tonight (27 October 2022) where Councillor Mason is speaking at Southall Community Alliance (SCA) is only open to “an invited audience” and is not being “inclusive”.

As a result, they will be joining with campaign group Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH) to protest about Labour-run Ealing Council dropping local ward forums by replacing them with larger town forums.

Some residents also claim that Councillor Mason, as local councillor for Southall Green ward, doesn’t engage with them or respond to their emails.

Southall residents to protest outside Southall Town Hall
Southall residents to protest outside Southall Town Hall

On October 18 2022, Southall Community Alliance based at Southall Town Hall, sent an email to its members saying that its next meeting will be taking place on 27 October 2022 and the agenda would include Councillor Mason speaking.

The email said: “Our guest speaker will be Cllr Peter Mason, Leader of Ealing Council and so there will be an opportunity to hear about plans relating to Southall and Ealing. Given the current national economic uncertainties and cost of living crisis it will be good to hear about the local response in Ealing.”

SCA added: “Admittance to SCA meetings/events is by appointment or prior invitation only. SCA management reserves the right to refuse admission to the venue. Due to limited space, if you would like to attend could you please RSVP.”

SCA was established in December 2000 and says on its website it is “an umbrella network of 100+, mainly small and new, community groups working in Southall. The majority of these groups support BMER users and represent the Somali, Indian, Tamil, Afghan communities etc.” and “has a history that involves local residents and organisations stretching back over three decades in Southall.”

Angela Fonso, who co-ordinates local campaign group Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH), told EALING.NEWS:  “Councillor Peter Mason will only be engaging with an invited audience when plans for Southall are potentially of interest to all residents and businesses in the area, therefore it would be more appropriate in the interests of engaging with a diverse audience, for Ealing Council to host an open to all meeting for those who have an interest in the council’s plans for Southall.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm, leader of the Opposition on Ealing Council told EALING.NEWS: “If the Council wants to be seen as open and transparent it should invite all people and not handpick people who might say the right things.”

As a registered charity, SCA gets funding from a number of sources which includes Ealing Council. In its latest accounts submitted to the Charity Commission, for the year ended 31 March 2021, SCA had total income £307,408 of which £135,000 came from Ealing Council.

Ms Fonso added: “Peter Mason pledged a new and inclusive administration, but this is an example of his exclusive approach to community engagement. Are we the wrong kind of community for Peter Mason?”

Ealing Conservative leader Councillor Julian Gallant told EALING.NEWS: “Good political leadership is always transparent in its intentions and does not fear scrutiny. Peter Mason should be welcoming the widest possible range of attendance at this meeting to discuss the Southall Reset Plan, a flagship policy of the council. It baffles me why the audience would be in any way restricted. Conservatives have always maintained that ward forums are the ideal interface between councillors and residents.”

Ealing Green Party chair Neil Reynolds told EALING.NEWS:  “In the absence of routine public meetings, such as ward forums organised by the council, it is important that councillors engage openly with the public.”

He added: “These meetings are rarely at full capacity so only allowing those who respond to an invite to attend implies that there is a lack of transparency to the process and also a desire to prevent some members of the public attending. It begs the question what is it that the Southall Community Alliance or Mr Mason don’t want to be heard in public. By opening up the meeting to a wider audience these concerns could easily be dealt with.”

Prior to the pandemic in 2020, Southall residents say ward forums with their local councillors happened but now they are not happening at all despite a need for the local community wishing to have them. Instead the council is planning to offer town forums which bring together all the wards from a town instead of keeping it directly local to the ward. This will reduce the 23 ward local forums down to just 7 town forums.

Last month, EALING.NEWS spoke to Ms Fonso about the lack of ward forums. She said: “The very last one in March 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic. The council cancelled ward forums across the borough as a cost cutting measure.”

With no ward forums, residents have tried to reach out to councillors by email as well as other communication means but feel they are not being listened to.

Ms Fonso added: “Peter Mason did not respond to a letter emailed to him in July 2022 about air quality monitoring at the Green Quarter. Those experiencing digital poverty, the elderly and visually impaired are excluded from the engagement process.”

Another Southall resident Amrik Mahi voiced his concerns over cancelling ward forums. He said: “The Southall ward forums have been stopped by the councillors over two years ago. We need the forums to hold our councillors to account. People need a voice and raise concerns and one way to do this has been stopped. It’s not cost cutting but cutting out the voices of the people. The councillors are not easy to get hold off and Mr Mason won’t reply directly.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm, leader of the Opposition on Ealing Council told EALING.NEWS last month: “Liberal Democrats think the cancelling of ward forums is very regrettable. Labour promised before the election to keep them and they have broken their promise. Their replacement, the town forum meetings, will mean many important local issues may remain unheard due to the much larger size of the towns compared to wards.”

Councillor Malcolm added: “Liberal Democrats want to see ward forums retained and enhanced, with a much greater share of the Council’s environmental budget so that residents and their councillors can have a greater say on what happens in their ward. They would decide which streets need road safety measures, pavement and road repairs as well as improvements to lighting. Liberal Democrats wanted the current ward forums to be quarterly with ad hoc meetings if an important local issue arises.”

EALING.NEWS has approached Ealing Council for a comment.

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