Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Local government - democracy under threat?

At the next full council meeting we will be discussing whether we should move to “all up” elections. This would mean that all 51 council seats would be contested on the same day with no further elections (except any necessary by elections) for the following 4 years. This compares with the current system when 1 of the 3 seats in each ward is up in each of 3 consecutive years with the 4th year in the cycle being election free. I am pretty sure that this will be roundly rejected notwithstanding the fact that the idea arose from cross party budget saving discussions last year. Some will argue that it represents a threat to democracy as it will prevent the electorate having its say on a regular basis. I will continue to support the suggested change. Not only will it save about £80K in every year that an election is not necessary but it will also prevent the disruption that these never ending elections cause. At times we seem to be fighting an eternal election campaign with some members adopting what they perceive to be a vote catching line even if it is not in the best interests of the town. Many of the policies which are needed to drive the town forward take more than 12 months to deliver and embed and the uncertainty caused by regular elections does not help. After all it is hardly that our local elections have shown any great risk of galvanising the majority of the electorate. Turnout remains appallingly low with many voting on national rather than local issues. All groups are struggling to attract effective candidates or active election workers and this is in the context of the regular elections we are currently holding. I know that some members are concerned that their personal positions may be adversely effected but we need to look at the wider picture. I am also starting to change my stance on an elected mayor for the town. Perhaps what is needed to encourage people to engage is a more personalised campaign with a clearer line of accountability and responsibility. I also continue to believe that issues such as a reduction in the number of councillors and combining authorities, or at least their administration, in south east Essex is essential in not only making local government more costs effective but also perhaps more relevant to local residents.

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