Avid readers will recall our consistent support of this government’s drive to revive local democracy. We know that local, even national, government will cease to be relevant if people are not reconnected with the political processes that serve them.
Back in October we lauded Hazel Blears’s community action plan, which set out in detail what councils were expected to achieve as part of this bid for engagement. We’ve had community kitties, participatory budgeting, community calls to action, and a stream of innovations to kick-start local democracy.
The message has been unwaveringly clear: local government must improve its engagement with residents as successfully as it has improved its performance. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you know what is expected. What’s less clear is exactly how it will be done. Unlike other reforms there is no set solution, and what works in one place won’t in another. That’s the beauty of local democracy in diverse communities.
'Allow us to deliver'
So one wonders, as we approach mid-summer and pre-legislative season, why we need another white paper on engagement. The questions for consultation, set in March, go over well-worn ground visited in 1998 and 2006. And, as we reveal this week, the original direction of the paper has since changed significantly.
If ministers are seeking big, new ideas to fire up the engagement agenda, then don’t: we already have enough of those.
We already have the direction and we already have the leadership. What is needed is time, space and for the government to take a few more risks and keep devolving.
We know that from talking to you, our readers, there needs to a period of reflection where councils can start to put these changes into practice and feel the results.
So ministers, don’t muddy the waters, keep going with what you’ve got, trust councils to deliver and feel free to push on with devolution.