Local democracy is in deep crisis. Starved of funds by central government, but still with the same legal responsibilities, it is struggling to cope with the many problems laid at its door. Disconnected with its electorate (only a third of people vote in local elections), it is failing to provide adequate leadership. Council services are failing across the country. How have we got in this mess?
The BBC asked people why they don’t vote: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-47666080. The responses they received should not be a surprise:
- Many of the people we speak to feel there is a disconnect between politics and their everyday lives. Everyone has issues they care about, from local planning and leisure facilities to bin collections and schools, but it can be difficult to identify how local councils operate and affect these issues.
- There is also little national attention paid to the role councils and councillors play in communities. While national politics continues to dominate headlines, it can appear that change can only happen via Westminster – and those making decisions at a local level are neglected of the due attention, and scrutiny, they deserve.
- When you have one party dominating in an area it can be hugely off-putting, with many people feeling like their votes don’t count and it’s not worth turning out.
We desperately need to re-establish effective local government. The whole political process needs a complete rethink. Reform should be based on three criteria:
- Clear accountability- responsibility for many services is divided between central and local government. Local government should have clear areas of responsibility and the powers to raise money to manage them.
- A clear distinction between governance and representation- the leaders of those in government should be directly elected with powers to act. In an extension of the local mayor system, local responsibility of individuals should be emphasised. Those who represent should have the power to hold officials to account. The role of national political parties should be minimised.
- A need to engender a local community spirit and pride- local government services should be integrated with those of the charity and voluntary sectors to tackle local issues in an innovative, inclusive and cost-effective fashion.
Only when we reconfigure our local political system will we get the active and positive community governance that we need.