I am convinced that a renewed focus on empowering people within local communities is the best way to achieve social change and civic renewal.
But is it possible to unearth local community leadership with the right skill-set and frame of mind to make this happen? It’s not easy. Here in Frome despite a common philosophy, a willingness to get stuck in and with a good fusion of the almost sane and downright weird it’s still an uphill struggle.
We believe, that communities need devolution down to the micro- level, where politics and government most resonate with local communities; connecting real people in the real world with real politics.
In a rapidly homogenising world you can detect a yearning to safeguard and enrich differences in our communities; to live more sustainable lives, treasure our local inheritance and value ‘place.’ Local identities increasingly matter and are part of the complex, sometimes unfathomable, jig saw that amounts to our community DNA.
Our democracy should mirror this yearning for identity and not effectively close it down through remote and largely unaccountable systems of local government.
Outside the large towns and cities it is at the microlevel – of market town or village – that people recognise and expect local authority.
Sadly, many amorphous district councils often do not reflect these identities and are sometimes seen as disconnected, distant or even obstructive. The amalgamation of councils and sharing of management teams and chief executives into super districts will do little to alleviate this alienation.
Our experience is that people do want to contribute, its infectious, we have numerous examples of local people taking on multifaceted tasks and on the other hand offering vocal resistance when we make a wrong call. Perhaps it is our form of government that is not keeping pace with the public’s desire for engagement? Maybe people are not disillusioned with politics but traditional politicians are disillusioned with people?
Giving away power takes courage but it must happen if local communities are to once again have some control over their own destiny and we are not to have analogue politics in a digital age.
Mel Usher (Ind), leader, Frome Town Council