England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Viewpoint: Kirklees Council takes a fresh look at local democracy

Image courtesy Kirklees

On Friday Kirklees Council publish their landmark report about the future of our local democracy: ‘Growing a stronger local democracy, from the ground up’, writes Diane Sims.

The report is based on a year of evidence-gathering and debate by the Kirklees Democracy Commission, a cross-party group of Kirklees councillors with an independent chair, Dr Andy Mycock from the University of Huddersfield. The Commission have been investigating what a strong and healthy local democracy should look like in Kirklees for the next generation – and beyond.

The Growing a stronger local democracy report includes ideas for working with active citizens, making the most of digital technologies and culture, suggestions about councillors, decision-making and elections, and how we can get local voices heard in regional devolution. These recommendations could help shape how both local and national democracy could develop over the next decade.

The Democracy Commission heard evidence from over 1,000 participants, including citizens, community organisations, young people and councillors. Forty-three expert witnesses gave evidence during a series of public inquiries, and several other councils shared their insights. Citizens have taken part in local democracy roadshow events, shared their views in an e-panel survey, taken part in group discussions and joined the debate online.

The Commission made a firm commitment to “working in the open”, and have shared the debates and discussions in real-time wherever possible. There have been live-tweets and opportunities for online participation alongside every event, and the public inquiries were webcast live wherever possible.

Growing a stronger local democracy makes 48 recommendations for improving our local democracy. There is much in the report that will be useful for other councils, for combined authorities and for government. Key ideas in the report include:

  • Working with active citizens to develop a new democratic relationship.
  • Creating pathways to help involve young citizens in local democracy, with practical recommendations including mentoring, stronger links between councillors and schools, and an apprenticeship scheme for young councillors.
  • Making democratic content valuable and relevant by creating shareable, interesting and accessible information for our citizens, in a variety of formats.
  • Developing a democratic digital literacy pilot and supporting councillors with their digital skills and confidence.
  • Using real life stories to help people understand the role of councillor and see the impact that councillors have in local communities.
  • Having a stronger focus on genuine dialogue and engagement, instead of stop-start consultations, and helping people learn how decisions are made (not just what those decisions are).
  • Support for piloting votes at 16 in local elections.
  • Improving awareness of the importance of local elections and trying out ways of improving access to voter information, in partnership with Democracy Club.
  • Clearer information about the purpose of (and processes for) regional devolution.

In keeping with the democratic theme of the project, the Commission have also published all their evidence online for others to explore and learn from. This comprehensive online resource includes a webcast archive but also features text summaries, short video clips with the witnesses, and online stories compiled from the tweets and other social media relating to each of the Commission’s activities.

You can read the report in full (available from 30th June) and explore the evidence on the Democracy Commission website: www.democracycommission.org.uk

Register now to attend the launch of the report on Friday 30th June at University of Huddersfield.

You can follow the Commission’s journey on twitter: @kirkdemocracy