Following our successful joint event with Sheffield City Council on proposed changes to Local Government, the Sheffield for Democracy Steering Group has drafted a response, included below.
We welcome comments and suggestions; in particular, we invite you to make your own representations. Please reply to email@example.com by Friday 5th October 2012.
1. We held a public meeting, jointly organised by ourselves and Sheffield City Council, attended by over 50 people; our response is informed by their opinions.
2. Our response overall is to recognise the significance of the proposals, described by some as a Magna Carta for Local Government. They would create a very different basis for the relation between national and local government, which would demand a change in perspective, attitude and culture. It would mean national politicians ceasing to feel they must act whenever there was a scandalous situation locally for which they would no longer be seen as responsible (Baby P case springs to mind).
3. We also recognise that the code contains not only statements of intent but also practical measures that would ensure the moving of power from central to local, including legal remedies.
4. On both counts, we welcome the proposals. The move to local choices, which will be different In different places, as suits the local environment and preferred ways of tackling issues, instead of a one-size–fits-all approach, seems eminently sensible and democratic. Concern has been expressed over the potential difficulties that could arise when a Local Authority has inadequate revenue or resources to meet its legal obligations.
Thank you to all those members of the public who attended our “Renaissance of Local Government?” meeting last Friday at Sheffield Town Hall and to Sheffield City Council for joint-hosting such a successful event to which more than 50 people came.
Special thanks go to our speakers Clive Betts MP, Peter Facey (Director, Unlock Democracy) and Howard Sykes of the Local Government Association, for coming to Sheffield and speaking on the subject of decentralising power and decision making from Westminster and for answering the many questions asked of them by the audience.
The consultation on the proposals for codifying the relationship between Councils and central government in Westminster is well under way and registration for our latest public event, “Renaissance of Local Government?” is now open for registration. Entry is free, however book in advance as places are limited! In this post, Sheffield for Democracy activist Richard Shaw offers some thoughts on how to create strong, independent local government, which is controlled not by central government, but by local people.
I think that this consultation is very important and that all people interested in local democracy should consider responding to it. It is important because currently we don’t actually have a right to have a council or any local government, as they are not constitutional bodies, they are merely statutory. This means that Parliament could radically change or abolish any or all councils should it be minded to do so, centralising power and making decision making even further removed from the people those decisions affect. We should respond to this opportunity to safeguard and strengthen our existing councils and to seek to bring decision making even closer to the people where practicable and so I have decided to write about my thoughts on how local government and representation should look and operate. I hope to comment on the individual proposals within the draft code itself in a future post.
The Sustainable Communities Act 2010 and Localism Act 2011 have both tried to make decision making more local, offering a bit more power and responsibility to local government and communities. This is to be welcomed, however any genuine re-invigoration of democracy must begin with all current arrangements and institutions being available for reform, abolition or replacement. The default position must not be with one person or body making all decisions but with all decisions being made by every person directly. What institutions we build and their powers must be derived from thereon, with the express consent of the people. What follows are my suggestions for a new democratic settlement between government, be it local or national, communities and individuals.
Renaissance of Local Government?
Friday 22nd June 2012, 6.00pm – 7.45 pm at Town Hall, Sheffield
In collaboration with Sheffield City Council, Sheffield for Democracy is hosting an event to discuss proposals to strengthen the independence of local government.
The last fifty years have seen a growing centralisation of power in England with local government having less autonomy and becoming more and more local administration of central government policy.
The Westminster Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has made some radical proposals which could change this and are consulting on them. This meeting is an opportunity to hear about these changes and their implications, and to discuss how they might improve our democracy.
- Clive Betts MP,
- Howard Sykes (Local Government Association and ex leader of Oldham Council), and
- Peter Facey (Director of Unlock Democracy) will help us explore the proposed changes.
Both Sheffield City Council and Sheffield for Democracy will be making (separate) submissions and this discussion will inform our thinking.
You are invited to attend. Entry is free, however places are limited.
To reserve a place, please contact Richard Cannon either by email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information on the draft code for central and local government can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/
Sheffield for Democracy welcomes supporters of all political parties or none. We want to engage and encourage greater participation of the public in democracy at a local level in Sheffield and encourage young people to become more interested in politics by making them aware of how relevant it is to their lives.
This is a brief report on the Steering Group Meeting of Sheffield for Democracy, held at the Old Queen’s head, Sheffield on Sunday 20th May 2012 between 3pm and 5pm.
Lobbying and House of Lords reform
We began our meeting with an update on both Lobbying and House of Lords reform. The group believes that the current proposals on lobbying reform are too feeble. It was noted that House of Lords reform was included in the Queen’s Speech.
Lack of proportionality in local election results
As mentioned in a previous post, Vicky Seddon has written a letter in the Sheffield Telegraph about the recent local election results and Proportional Representation (PR), which appeared in the paper 10/05/12. If local elections were carried out using a system of Proportional Representation they would better reflect the wishes of the voters and give us a much broader-based Sheffield City Council. The exact outcome of a local election using PR may vary according to which system of PR is chosen and number of candidates in the multi-member wards and also people may change how they vote under PR, with some voters having less need for tactical voting. Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for its local and Assembly elections, as does Scotland (since 3rd May 2007, which came about due to the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament). The London Assembly, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament all use the Additional Member System (AMS) for their elections. European Parliament election in England, Wales and Scotland use a Closed List System, whereas Northern Ireland uses STV to elect their region’s representatives.
Sheffield had the biggest vote against having a directly-elected Mayor, 65% against & 35% for. Doncaster voted yes to retaining its existing directly-elected Mayor (62% for & 38% against). Bristol voted for having a directly-elected mayor (53.3% for & 46.7% against). (Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Wakefield voted against having a directly-elected Mayor).
Public meeting on local government
There was an update on the arrangements for a future public meeting on changing the relationship between local government and Parliament, to make local government more independent of central control. More information about that will be published in due course.
We had a recap on Community Assemblies from Alan Kewley. It was suggested that Community Assemblies:
- haven’t come up to expectations and need reform to do the job better;
- vary in terms of structure and public engagement depending upon the area;
- need more powers to make their own decisions on spending, etc.;
- need to have smaller ward-level forums, which were part of the original proposals but never put into practice.
Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
We had an update regarding the latest proposals for individual voter registration rather than the household voter registration that we have at present. Current proposal for Individual mandatory voter registration instead of the previous idea of individual voluntary voter registration is welcomed. A household canvass is to take place in spring 2014, deferred from Autumn 2013, in order to ensure more people are registered. The constituency boundary changes to create more equal electoral districts will take place in 2015 and are in the same bill.
The next meeting will be on Sunday 8th July at 3pm at the Old Queen’s Head, Sheffield.
Last year I wrote about the problems with how we currently elect councillors and England & Wales, about how First Past The Post allows parties with a minority of support to get a majority of seats, undermines accountability and contributes to lower voter turnout. I suggested how we could fix all these problems, by electing our councillors using the same system used in Scotland and Northern Ireland: The Single Transferable Vote (STV). Well after another round of local elections we have a yet another set of results which show how our democracy is being undermined by our “winner takes all” electoral system. Read the rest of this entry »
The following is a Report of the Steering Group meeting held on 22nd April 2012, 3pm-5pm at the Old Queens Head, Sheffield.
The website now has details of all our activities including Steering Group meetings, the recent public meeting and links to various campaigns about May’s mayoral referendums.
The Clean Up Lobbying Meeting at Friends Meeting House: it had been a good and lively meeting, with 60 people in attendance. Vicky Seddon has produced both a report of the meeting and our submission for the consultation process.
Elected mayor: a meeting with Sheffield Star involvement has been held, and there have been some press coverage. Sheffield for Democracy is not taking a position but there is information and links on campaigns for both Yes and No campaigns on our website.
Local Government: Graham Allen’s Constitutional and Political Reform Select Committee has opened a consultation on their radical proposals, to give proper constitutional status to local authorities, and also to give them finance-raising powers. We are hoping to organise a Sheffield meeting, jointly with the City Council, in June. We have had a very positive meeting with Council Leader Julie Dore to discuss this and subsequently meetings with Council officers.
Party Funding: Labour’s leader Ed Miliband has proposed a £5,000 cap on donations, as well as a cap on spending. This is likely to kick-start the debate.
Lords Reform. Liz reported that the Select Committee was to report on the following day – 23rd April. Probable 80% – 20% split in favour of elected and appointed peers. Bishops still there but fewer. 15 year terms. There will be arguments about whether there should be a referendum.
Consultations. Neil outlined some of the issues in the light of council policies on Community Engagement/Involvement/ Empowerment and how that worked out in practice from experience of recent local consultations. Important that more effort is made from officers and councillors to get local people discussing issues given a residue of apathy and disillusion. A piece on the website would be useful.
Next Meeting: 20th May in the function room of the Old Queens Head public house next to Sheffield Interchange at 3 pm. The meeting is open to all our supporters. Any donations towards the cost of room hire are welcome.
Local Sheffield paper The Star is hosting a debate on elected mayors on Monday evening to allow members of the public to question the main opponents and supporters of having an elected Mayor of Sheffield.
IT’S one of the biggest decisions Sheffield residents will have to make – and will have a huge impact on the way the city is run.
Now The Star is giving you the chance to join a Question Time-style debate about whether the city should have an elected mayor.
The event is being held on Monday, from 6.30pm, at Sheffield Hallam University’s the Cantor Lecture Theatre, in the Cantor Building, Arundel Street. Panellists are to include council leader Julie Dore, who is opposed to elected mayors, and Kevin Meagher, chairman of the Mayor4Sheffield campaign.
Voters will asked at a referendum on Thursday to make the choice between keeping the current system where they elect councillors who then choose a leader and cabinet members, or to have a directly-elected mayor to run the council.