Citizens Agenda – making local democracy more relevant

The Pitch – A Citizen’s Agenda Item

At City Camp Brighton, I made the winning pitch of a citizens agenda item on the local council meeting agenda. The pitch won and got feedback that this idea would be most likely to create a citywide, sustainable change which benefits people. If you want to see the pitch, made as part of a team including Kirsty Walker from the Trust for Developing Communities, Annie Heath from the BHCC tenant involvement team, Luke Flegg from and Simon Bannister from the Safe in the City partnership please view here. [Thanks to Jonathan Tilley for videoing!]

What is the problem?

Local election turnouts have been much lower than general election ones, and with a 76% in 1979 to the lowest turnout in 1998 of 28.8%. At the last local elections in 2012 there was a turnout of 33.1% although turnouts always rise to c.60% when held in the same year as a General Election. I think that it is time that we worked to ensure that local government isn’t the poor relation of UK democracy.

Local government and representatives have the greatest opportunity to connect with citizens and make decisions with and for residents that are relevant. Traditional media has, in my opinion played a part in this Cinderella story but so has the risk aversion and unwillingness to share power with local citizens.

Another barrier this project seeks to address is the language barrier that formal and archaic governance processes throw up to the lay person. Notice of motion, amendment, petition, prayer, ‘through you Madam Chairman’. etc etc. Even the most experienced officers and local politicians get in knots with procedures and language. It’s sometimes hilarious but mostly mystifying.

What tools and resources would you need to create a Citizen’s Agenda item?

The Citizen’s Agenda would be shaped positively by the people who live in a local government area. Existing routes could be used to help people deliberate, such as Local Action Teams, community development workers, resident involvement staff could support and signpost people to participate in setting a proposal for the elected Members to debate and consider.

I believe digital tools should be the primary route however, maybe developing the e-petition tool to enable community building and evidence submissions or, perhaps using a brand new tool such as the one that Luke Flegg is developing at where people can submit pros and cons, rate other contributions for relevance and importance and develop policy working as a digital community. Being able to help refine a proposal, as well as show how those most affected by the decision feel about it would be invaluable to delivering coproductive council and citizen relationships.

What are the milestones?

Are politicians interested in this project? – During the #ccbtn event at least one politician from every party in the city supported the principle via social media. We will need to submit more detailed proposals for the groups to consider.

Are there constitutional barriers? I am going to meet with the city’s Democratic Services team to find out if there are barriers and if so, plan how to overcome them.

Can we get people to participate? We could build on the Neighbourhood Governance pilot work with Kristy from Trust for Developing Communities to develop skills and interest in the project in order to create a test Agenda Item to see how the project works.
How to choose which item is discussed? What happens if the Council don’t ultimately control the policy decision or budget? Could the Health and Wellbeing Board and PCC participate in the project?

Perhaps every year there should be a Young Citizens Agenda Item chosen and supported by schools?

Please comment, add ideas, barriers and to-dos! We need your help.

Thanks from Emma – Citizens Agenda #citizensagenda @huxley06


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