Thursday, 23 September 2010

Tory Brighton Council celebrates Democracy Day - but turns back on real democracy

I've just got back from taking part in an event at Brighton's Jubilee Library to mark the city's Democracy Day: present were eight councillors and, when I had to leg it to collect boys from school, a sum total of two members of the public.

I chatted to one of them - she was an active member of a lobby group (Friends of the Earth) and already knew several councillors, at least by name. Hardly the target audience - you could argue she was already pretty engaged with local democracy!

But people care a lot about the issues that the council makes decisions about - and, believe me, many residents do get in touch with their councillors about them to try and influence local democracy at work.

So the real question is: why did so few residents want to talk to councillors at today's event? Maybe it was the timing (middle of the day), or the weather (drizzly), or maybe the location (back room, top floor).

More likely city residents, aware that the Tory-run council here doesn't care much for their views (just last week we saw Geoffrey Theobald - cabinet member for the environment - ignore a consultation that showed a majority of residents in Canning Street and Queen's Park Rise wanted to see residents' parking schemes extended to cover their roads)  just have as little respect for local democracy as it seems to have for them.

We Greens believe in opening up decision-making to neighbourhoods, through participatory-budgeting and taking a much more transparent approach to the way choices are taken (for starters bothering to listen to the results of consultations) - if we get our way I hope we'll see more people taking part in future events like today's.

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