Tag Archives: local councils

Online participation in Council meetings must be allowed again

Jackie Weaver has said that she wants online Council meetings to continue. Although I am sure she knows the difference, this article from the BBC does rather muddy the waters by not distinguishing between streaming Council meetings and remote participation in them (although it does give us another chance to watch the meeting that introduced us to Jackie Weaver’s authority).

Nearly 20 years ago I was asked to chair the National Project for Local e-Democracy, with the remit to explore digital means to improve democratic participation in Council decision-making. At that time some Councils did not even have a website, and where they existed they were non-transactional. The Project pioneered online consultation and petitions at Council level, amongst other things, and encouraged councillors to use online methods of communication with residents, including blogs, which were the only social media available at the time.

Webcasting was another of our initiatives, and many councils adopted the streaming, and subsequent playback, of Council meetings. The systems usually allowed for some interaction through chat. The intention was to allow residents to observe and follow the people they had elected.

At the time the technology for online meetings did not exist, and, as we all know, Zoom and other platforms were only adopted widely during the pandemic. They meant that both Parliament and local councils were able to continue to run meetings and debates without breaking the Covid restrictions.  However, remote participation at both levels did require a change in the Government regulations.

Those regulations for Local Government ended on 7th May 2021. However Covid restrictions were still in place at that time, which meant that social distancing would have to be observed by anyone attending an in-person meeting. In practice this made it impossible for Full Council meetings to be held in many Council chambers, as there was not enough room to space people out.  Pleading for hybrid solutions (a mix of in-person and online attendance) was rejected by the Government, even though they still continued in Parliament.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 2 Comments

Blessed are the Place-makers

Whose place is it anyway?

I’ve long puzzled over the phrase, ‘knowing your place’ – most frequently deployed to (uh oh, here’s another) ‘put someone in their place’.

Both express a need to assume some authority over those who should be ‘put back in their box’ whilst those in command carry on being commanding despite inconvenient ‘un-called for’ reports.

Having long retired from what was then a deeply hierarchical organisation modelled on the military (and one that struggled with innovation), I now much prefer the delight of locally talented pools of people who really do know their places and appreciate their habitats in fine detail.  Between them, they also know a thing or three about almost any specialist topic you’d care to mention.  This Community Capacity – the resident energy source that sustains the places we inhabit – can be seen as a great asset or an annoyance, but either way it cannot be ignored.  Community Capacity plays a significant role in explaining why some places thrive whilst others decline.

There is no doubt that Council Officers are a dedicated bunch, loyally devoted to their chosen areas of expertise.  Nursing a community can be as much a vocation as, well, nursing.  There’s also no doubt that they labour under the constraints of dwindling resources and edicts handed down by higher command – moderated or amplified by the local governors, elected Councillors.  But the central high command sees only averages with little contextual awareness of the real place-makers or the expertise and wisdom embedded in each community.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 1 Comment

Government tells councils they must meet in public after May local elections – that is neither practical nor safe

Local councils have been meeting online during the pandemic. After a few teething problems, the practice of meeting online has worked well. But yesterday the government declared councils must meet in public after 7 May. Many councillors think this is too early. A good many councils, including Ludlow Town Council and Shropshire Council, do not have suitable buildings to accommodate all their councillors, let alone members of the public, while social distancing remains in place.

Vaccination is under way but having kept myself safe for a year, I think this is too risky. Up to 74 councillors and at least 25 officers and public attend Shropshire’s unitary council in a chamber set out like a university lecture hall. My local town council meets in a cheek by jowl Guildhall that is socially cramped. The parish council I chair had 30 people at one online meeting recently. There is nowhere in the parish big enough for a meeting that size even in normal times.

This is retrograde move that will reduce the effectiveness of local democracy. Not for once, ministers are out of touch with reality.

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Opinion: Tough Choices – Yes, but local politicians must grasp opportunities as well as challenges

Sheffield Town HallI doubt that there are many councillors who are unaware of the scale of the country’s financial difficulties. Yet whatever your prescription for resuscitating the British economy, politicians of all parties agree that reducing the deficit is a crucial piece in the puzzle.

Regardless of your views on the Government’s strategy, it is clear that reductions in council budgets are a reality. The challenge for councillors is to best adjust to the new climate and mitigate the impact on the services that people care about most.

I do not believe that the way forward is to abandon all council services, leaving local government as a sole provider of social care. Rather, local government should be taking the lead in innovative ways of thinking – taking bold steps to cut waste, not just services.

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

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