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OPINION-TONY ELLISTON WONDERS WHO CARES

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I realise it may be difficult for those living in the municipal swamp to understand this, but people really could n...
I realise it may be difficult for those living in the municipal swamp to understand this, but people really could not give a tinker's cuss about local government.

Anyone who reads the Outsider's View column in LGC will know most of the celebrities interviewed hardly know what their council does let alone know who their councillors are.

Now it may be that those selected are not exactly representative of the general populace. Being celebrities, they probably do not live in council houses, their children may well be privately educated and they are unlikely to have had the misfortune to attract the attentions of the social services vigilantes. Even so, their lack of interest is typical of the 80% of people who do not trouble the scorers at local elections. The fact is more people go to church on Sundays than take an active interest in local government.

So should we really be surprised at the almost complete lack of public interest in council structures? Shepway DC's recent consultation exercise resulted in the return of a feeble 85 out of 33,000 questionnaires. Bristol City Council fared even worse with just 150 out of 200,000 questionnaires returned - a strike rate of just 0.075%. The leader was quoted as saying there did 'not appear to be a strong feeling about this issue'. This has to be understatement of the millennium.

Of course people are not interested in whether Shepway, Bristol or anywhere else decides to adopt the mayor/cabinet, the leader/cabinet or the mayor/council manager model. Why should they?

The notion councils should consult on how they organise their decision-making processes is utterly boneheaded. No other organisation in the public or private sector does this, least of all central government. Why should people be expected to care about something that has absolutely no impact on their lives whatsoever? The fact we think the public ought to be interested, shows what a sad bunch of inward looking auto-erotics we have become.

A ludicrous amount of energy has gone into finding ways of engaging people in this arcane topic: telephone polls, internet voting, focus groups and prize draws. They have all been tried. But if you have to go to such lengths to persuade people to express an opinion, is that opinion really worth having? We really ought to stop all the self-flagellation and accept the obvious truth - for most people, the modernisation debate is a tedious, self-serving irrelevance.

Tony Elliston

Consultant

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