Benali Hamdache has taken over the role from long-serving Green councillor Caroline Russell.
By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
The new opposition leader at Islington council has pledged to keep the council on its toes over housing repairs and its response to the climate emergency.
Benali Hamdache has taken over the role from long-serving Green councillor Caroline Russell who is taking on a key role as chair of the Police and crime committee on the London Assembly, which holds the troubled Metropolitan Police to account.
Cllr Russell has served as ward councillor since 2014 and said: “With expanding responsibilities on the London Assembly, this feels like the right to hand over the leadership role in Islington.”
Cllr Hamdache was elected to the council in the May 2022 elections, along with Ernestas Jegorovas -Armstrong, who remains as deputy leader. The trio represent the Highbury ward.
Cllr Hamdache is the party’s national spokesman on migrants and refugee support.
He said his appointment means “it’s the first time that the Leader of the council and and Leader of the opposition are from ethnic minorities.”
He added: “One of the biggest Green pledges is to be a constructive opposition.”
However this does not mean it will not hold the Labour-run council to account.
Cllr Hamdache sits on the housing scrutiny committee and said one of the biggest concerns is over the council’s performance on housing repairs, neglected estates and overcrowding.
He said Caroline Russell has been championing cyclical repairs since she was elected to keep housing in good condition and its’ something his party will continue looking at.
“One of the benefits to challenging the council is we are not tongue tied by a party whip,” he said.
The three Green councillors are the only opposition politicians on the Labour-majority council.
Another area of concern is pushing the council on improving recycling rates in the light of the climate emergency to reduce the amount of waste sent to the incinerator the council co-owns in Edmonton with other local authorities.
Cllr Hamdache said whilst challenging the council over some policies the Greens support much of its work to help residents caught up in the cost of living crisis and cutting traffic and air pollution on Islington roads.
The group pores over council accounts to come up with an annual alternative budget and have pushed for more cuts to council tax for those who can least afford it.
“I am really proud of the accomplishments that Caroline has managed to achieve – like work on council tax reduction for the poorest residents.”
Islington has a 95% reduction scheme for 27,000 people but the Green group want to see 100% off council tax for those struggling most.
Cllr Hamdache also pledged to continue with public meetings over issues concerning residents.
“We are not afraid to hear from people who disagree with us,” he said.