Here’s a summary of the Active citizens chapter from our “Growing a stronger local democracy” report, published 30th June 2017.
A taster of our findings about Active citizens
We’re aiming to redesign local democracy for the future and we’re strongly aware of the responsibility that we have to our young citizens. We want to develop an environment and a culture that nurtures young people’s interest in local democracy. This is important as young people currently don’t have as much of a stake in civic life, for many reasons. Our schools are a good place to make a start.
What is an active citizen?
Being an active citizen involves informal participation, community activity, informing decisions, campaigning, engaging with public services, petitioning, protesting and having a real stake in the place where you live. It means taking an interest in what happens locally and having a voice. You should feel able to influence your community’s future and be willing to share what you know.
We also recognise that we need to develop a life-long approach to active citizenship. We heard clearly from our citizens that people of all ages want (and need) civic and political awareness. Local democracy is unfamiliar territory for many. Citizens told us that the only way you can get involved is by understanding how local democracy works. We need to do more to explain local democracy and help our citizens understand why it matters.
If we are serious about encouraging active citizens, our democratic content must improve – it must be shareable, interesting and accessible, so that it is of value and relevance to our citizens. We need to think about the explanations we provide, the media we employ, the language we use and the ways we share.
There are lots of ways you can be an active citizen:
Have a voice – be part of your local democracy. Start a campaign, get to know your councillors, help to inform a decision, vote in local elections, set up an information stall, sign a petition, take part in a community meeting, be an activist, speak up for someone else, contribute to community research, give feedback, get involved.
Be part of something – connect with people who share your interests. Join a community group or start a new group, take part in a community activity, get together with neighbours to tidy your street, organise an event, discuss local issues, lend something to a local group, collaborate, make plans for the future, do something fun.
Be a councillor – stand for what you believe in. If there are things that you want to change, support or improve in your neighbourhood, you could make it happen by becoming a local councillor. No other role gives you a chance to make such a huge difference to people’s quality of life in your local area.
Be a good neighbour – do something simple to help a neighbour. Fetch someone’s shopping, make time to stop and say hello, take a neighbour to a community event, let people know what’s happening in the area, share a leaflet about local services, check in on vulnerable neighbours in the winter, start with a small act of kindness.
Volunteer – give a little time, get a lot back. Volunteer with a local organisation, share your skills, be a charity trustee, become a school governor, be a mentor, give an hour a week to a befriending scheme, make connections with people of other ages, join a panel or committee, find the role that’s right for you.
Our culture as a council is to only engage when we have problems or challenges. We need to change this culture as part of a new democratic relationship with our citizens. We should be clear about our roles and responsibilities, and about what our democratic relationship means in our neighbourhoods and communities.
Our recommendations about Active citizens
Kirklees Council should make Active Citizenship a shared strategic priority and use this as a basis for developing a new democratic relationship between Kirklees citizens and the state.
Kirklees Council should ensure that schools play a central role as local democratic hubs as part of the delivery of an Active Citizens Strategy. This should involve designing (and putting into practice) a range of approaches which will create pathways for young citizens to become involved in civic society, including raising awareness about being a councillor. These should include:
- Designing local democracy resources for Kirklees schools to be used in the context of civic education.
- Strengthening the links between local councillors and the schools in their wards through programmed “school surgeries” as part of citizenship education.
- Working with the National Citizen Service to develop a mentoring scheme, to be piloted in Kirklees.
- Working with the Local Government Association (LGA) to develop a young councillors apprenticeship scheme, to be piloted in Kirklees.
- Working with the University of Huddersfield and local colleges to develop a structured approach to work placement.
- Developing a mentoring scheme between Kirklees Councillors and Kirklees Youth Councillors.
Kirklees Council should work with local businesses to develop the idea of “Business Citizenship” as part of delivering an Active Citizens Strategy with our partners.
Kirklees Council should develop a strategic approach to working with the local media, one that seeks to develop a shared responsibility and understanding of the contributions that the media can make to nurturing local civic society.
We should clarify the roles and relationships of MPs and local councillors in the context of Active Citizenship and arrange Constituency Contact Meetings annually to discuss key strategic issues for the area.
Our evidence about Active citizens
Local democracy roadshows
Public inquiry evidence
- Roger Bushell, The Staff College
- Adrian Lythgo, former Kirklees Council Chief Executive
- Cormac Russell, Nurture Development
- Cllr Sir Stephen Houghton, Barnsley Council
- Justin Griggs, National Association of Local Councils
- Peter Macfadyen and Mel Usher, Frome Town Council
- Kenny Imafidon, Bite the Ballot
- Sarah Allan, Involve
- Anthony Zacharzewski, The Democratic Society
- Neil McInroy, Centre for Local Economic Strategies
- Nick Golding, Local Government Chronicle
- Kirklees Council staff survey results (PDF)
- Kirklees residents e-panel survey results (PDF)
- Kirklees Councillors survey results (PDF)
Discussions and debates
- Kirklees Youth Council
- University of Huddersfield Students Union (PDF)
- Kirklees democracy debate
- Labour group (PDF)
- Conservative group (PDF)
- Liberal Democrat group (PDF)
- Green and Independent groups (PDF)