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.
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 »