On Wednesday 14th September 2016 our Independent Chair, Dr Andy Mycock from the University of Huddersfield, gave an update to Kirklees councillors at the Full Council meeting. Here are the key points from Andy’s presentation. You can also view the slides and watch the webcast on this page.
What the Democracy Commission is about
In many ways the Democracy Commission is a response to long term concerns such as lower voter turnout. In local elections in particular, on average only around a third of the electorate in England turn out to vote. Lots of citizens complain that they don’t feel represented, either by their elected representatives or by the institutions they’re part of. When you look at levels of political trust, people say that they trust local councillors much more than other politicians – so there’s a contradiction between whether we’re prepared to vote and whether we’re prepared to express trust locally. The Democracy Commission is exploring that tension.
Funding cuts and austerity mean that councils are being asked to do the same with less. This means making difficult choices, and citizens rightly feel they need to be part of that decision-making process. We’re also asking our citizens to do more – so the relationship between councils and citizens is changing. Meanwhile, new forms of political participation, particularly digital methods, are offering new opportunities for councillors to engage and interact with citizens. We want to look at these issues too.
In the background to all this, there’s devolution. This isn’t only about the transfer of power from Westminster (downwards to the regions), but it’s also in some cases about power and decision-making being passed upwards from councils to new combined authorities. Devolution is already having implications for the role of councillors. The Democracy Commission means that Kirklees Council is able to ask the right questions about all of these issues, at the right time. Our mission statement is rightly aspirational:
By 2020 Kirklees is an informed citizen-led democracy with accountable elected representatives who enable communities to influence and affect decisions governing their lives.
This statement tries to capture how we would like democracy to work locally. We know it’s going to take a lot to achieve – and we believe it’s worth it.
One of the things that we’ve heard from citizens so far is the belief that “you only ever see politicians at election time”. We’re asking how we can turn that into a view that local democracy is an ongoing dialogue, that we all need to be active in.
What’s happening now?
In July and August we held five local democracy roadshows, talking to citizens and hearing lots of questions, comments and ideas. We’re still looking at the findings, but some of the broad areas of interest that are emerging from these conversations are:
- Citizens want more information, to help with knowledge and understanding.
- The geography of decision-making.
- Strengthening community and resident capacity so people can get more involved.
- Using technology to help with all of these issues.
Our roadshow participants had a strong interest in being involved further.
We’ve also asked for residents’ views via the Kirklees e-panel and we’ve run a democracy survey for Kirklees Council staff. In September and October we’re holding a range of public inquiries where we’ll be meeting with people who have special knowledge and experience to offer in response to the issues we’ve talked about with local citizens. You’ll be able to follow these inquiries live online. We’ll also be meeting with all political groups in Kirklees.
Then in October and November we’ll bring together all these ideas in a series of reports and we’ll present our findings at Full Council in December. The result will be a series of recommendations for Kirklees Council. Many organisations across the country are also keen to hear the outcome.
There’s enormous interest in this work. It’s a great project and we hope you’ll support it.
Slides from the Full Council meeting on 14th September 2016
Webcast from the Full Council meeting on 14th September 2016