England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Viewpoint: Local democracy for everyone


Spencer Wilson, from Kirklees Council, tells us about an exciting plan to redesign local democracy.

On 7 February 2015, we are holding an event for everyone who has something positive to say about local democracy and for anyone who is up for a challenge. ‘We’re not in Westminster any more’ will challenge you to change one small thing (or change the whole system) to make democracy work better for all of us.

For every one of us with a bestowed interest in democracy, local or otherwise, there are another half-dozen people feeling disenfranchised by the current mechanics of the political system. The question must be asked, if these people see and feel they have little influence over decisions, if their voice is not heard, then how can we expect them to want to be involved? Or to put it another way, why would they see value in their vote?

So we with this bestowed interest must surely want to drive forward change, whatever that change turns out to be, if we are going to succeed in re-designing local democracy to the good of the voting public so their role is not just about a vote, but a role of value in deciding the future of their communities. For people like us, it can no longer be acceptable to stand by and pontificate on the reasons why the people are so apathetic toward politics – indeed, I don’t believe this apathy true – I believe what we label apathy has long been a convenient term and covers the cracks that it is the current system which undermines, discourages or obstructs active participation.

I may be wrong about that! But that is why this event is key, relevant to all of us. If you’re a local government officer, a councillor, community activist or voter of today (or tomorrow), a thinker or a maker, a connector…you might even be none of the above…then you have a role to play, a key role, in starting to not just think about, but re-designing local democracy. In fact, I would go as far to say you have an obligation to participate in this re-design.

Yet, amidst my passion for local democracy, my own musings and redundant pontification, the stark and serious reality is, that relationships between public services, councillors and local communities are changing. Budget cuts mean that local councils have some tough decisions to make. We’re all looking for new ways of doing things, to make sure we keep the services and activities that matter to our communities. It is essential, wherever possible, that everyone has a voice and a stake in these decisions.

It’s a big challenge. But the good news is we can start with our greatest assets – each other.

Come and share examples and ideas, help develop prototypes and connect with others who can help you make local democracy work for you and your communities.

The event will include open discussion sessions, advice about making the most of technology and creative activities with a distinctly democratic flavour.

You know as well as I that, at a moment when everything is up for question, it’s time to think about the part we’re each willing to play.

Our challenge is: How do we re-design local democracy to make it work for everyone? It is a question we can’t answer alone, but it is a question that does need to be answered. I, for one, don’t want to be responsible for further disenfranchisement of the public through inaction; I want to be a part of the solution. Do you?