General Forum meeting are open to the public to attend and watch, but not to take part in any way (read on though as we are usually more flexible than this!). Arrangements are in place for four types of people to attend and take part: Member, Officers, Councillors and Observers.
Members join the Forum every three years. A general invitation is sent to all leaseholders and any necessary election held. Current members joined in 2012. Members adopt the Constitution and Code of Conduct annually. Members define the agenda, discuss items on it and, if there is significant disagreement, vote to decide the Forum’s views.
One of the Members is elected as Chair each year, and sets the agenda in advance of each meeting, so that relevant Officers have notice to prepare any papers and to attend as necessary. Participants should therefore arrive having read any pre-pared pre-prepared papers and ready to make informed comments upon them.
Agendas should allow all requested topics to be discussed over the cycle of the meetings. A particular agenda does not cover all possible topics, but allows some to be heard in depth, or at a suitable time (e.g. if the Council is about to make a policy decision). There is a forward work programme set out as part of each agenda. Quite often, there are issues to follow up from previous discussions; attempts to re-debate decisions already taken are resisted.
The Chair conducts the meeting and invites people to speak. This ensures that the meeting keeps to the agenda, reaches tangible outcomes, and that the meeting is held in an orderly fashion (so that people can be heard when it is their turn to speak for example!).
Officers are employees of Camden Council coming to present papers and help inform the discussion on relevant current and prospective Camden Council policy. The “lead officer” is the Head of Leaseholder Services, though more senior officers than he will attend meetings. The Forum can ask for Council “persons papers and records”, but, in doing so, bears in mind the extra burden on officers, and the cost which leaseholders ultimately pay for through service charges: Requests should be pertinent to significant issues, proportionate to the likely outcome, and the simplest and cheapest approach for getting the necessary information to make a decision.
An officer from Democratic Services attends to take minutes and issues the agenda. That officer can help with questions on committee processes too; contact details are here.
Councillors attend as and when they wish, and often do. All Council powers ultimately rest with the Leader (a councillor elected each year by councillors after nomination by the largest single party, which is currently Labour). The Leader appoints Cabinet Members with defined responsibilities, and delegates powers to officers too. The current Cabinet Member for Housing is Pat Callaghan.
Observers are Camden Council leaseholders. Unlike the general public, with the Chair’s permission and the tolerance of other attendees, they may speak to issues on the agenda, but not vote. If Observers wish to raise concerns about something not on the agenda then the following should be borne in mind:
• The Forum aims “To focus upon and examine matters of general concern to Camden Council leaseholders and make representations on their behalf to relevant interested parties” (the first line of the Forum’s Constitution) – i.e. it is not to address individual issues.
• It is not appropriate for personal issues to be discussed in public.
• If the issue is essentially a complaint, follow our guide to Complaining Effectively, and only seek Forum help if resolution has proved impossible.
• No Officer can be prepared to address detailed and personal issues without notice, so consider if you can give notice. You could:
o Find a Member and get them to raise the subject; or
o Submit the request to the Chair (firstname.lastname@example.org) who can then consider how best to get it addressed, whether through the Forum or outside it. If the Forum route is chosen, the deputation process generally used by the Council for full Council meetings will be adopted as set out here. This means you will have three minutes to present the issue and submit a paper in advance so a response can be agreed.
• If the issue is not felt relevant to the Forum, the Chair may seek agreement that the leaseholder and the Head of Leaseholder Services discuss the issue outside the meeting. If no resolution is possible, that may be brought back to the Forum as an issue in itself.
Typically the reason that a request is rejected is that it is personal in nature (between the Council and the person submitting the request and (on occasions) other residents).