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Renewing Local Government

April 26, 2019 1:17 PM
By Stuart Smith

Our current Councils are too big and/or distant from the people they are supposed to serve. There is a suggestion that we actually have too few Councillors to represent us properly and should have more. Is it therefore, time to change the way that local democracy works?

One way to do this is to allow our Councils to set up smaller groups based on local wards or polling districts and let the community run its own affairs and elect its own committee using STV. These groups could be referred to as a "development council". Each development council would arrange annual citizens' assembly for their community. The development council's job is to deliver the local vision, as set by their local citizens' assembly. They can work with other development councils to help accomplish this.

The council's first session would be to design a local vision for the next 3 years. The subsequent gatherings will hold development council to account on their progress delivering on the vision. Some people will argue we already have these - called Area Partnerships or Community Councils - but these are not set up in this proposed way. Existing local authorities would then become bodies with a statutorily defined remit to provide infrastructure and services to the new local units of governance. See Act As If We Own The Place for more information.

Another mechanism that can be used is that of Citizens Assemblies, which are much in the news in certain areas these days. Our local Council is not one of these things. The members of a citizens' assembly are typically selected at random from the general public - like a jury. The aim is to secure a group of people who are broadly representative of the electorate across characteristics such as their gender, ethnicity, social class and the area where they live.

Citizens' Assemblies can come in any size, but the larger they are the more representative of the electorate they will be. These aren't just focus groups or consultations though. The goal isn't to just hear what people already think - but for the members to engage in serious, informed reflection on important policy matters with people they may never normally meet. They have a clear task to complete within a set timescale. By randomly selecting a representative group and giving them the tools and time, you can create a proxy for what it would be like if everyone had the tools and time to discuss and debate the important issues.

It is still up to elected politicians whether or not to follow the assembly's recommendations. For more information use this link: What Is A Citizens' Assembly.