Extractive capitalism, both locally and nationally, is taking away wealth from our communities and leaving them without a voice. The vacuum that is being left is being filled with the loudest and noisiest in our digital world.
As councillors we need to offer an alternative. We need to fuel the imaginations of our residents with hope and ideas that reject wealth being funnelled out of local villages and towns and encourage a shift towards a socially just economy. How do we engage our local businesses and entrepreneurs? Is there a way we can encourage worker-owned or shareholder philosophy?
Fundamentally, we need to provide the opportunity for more democracy. We need to include the residents of the Borough in decisions that effect their lives and livelihoods.
There are methods in place that are meant to increase democracy in the Borough:
- Citizens Questions for Council
- Citizens Questions for Cabinet
- The ability to object to planning online and at committee (NB because planning is such a behemoth it is delegated to officers within the Borough. Should something require special consideration it will find itself being analysed by the planning committee which compromises elected councillors.)
- Councillors’ Surgeries
I have personally become much more interested in how we can increase engagement of local people in what we do. Becoming a new councillor has been an eye-opening experience for me and I have seen what happens in the climate-controlled rooms of the council and the way it is disconnected from what lies outside. Councillors and officers, most with the best of intentions, are not often popular with the public. Their decisions are blasted on Facebook and Twitter, they are accused of bribes (which seems ridiculous to me now… I can’t even accept a cup of coffee at a local cafe from a resident that I’m trying to help) so the solution is increased engagement – more democracy.
Here are a few ideas:
- A Citizen’s Assembly. Used in Ireland in 2016 to tackle some very controversial issues https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/16/citizens-assembly-ireland-abortion-referendum
- Citizen’s involvement in the scrutiny process and work programme. Scrutiny has on 3 different committees in our Borough: Communities, Financial Governance and Growth.
- Using our municipal power to rewrite policy to combat large-scale development and wealth extraction from our Borough.
I do not underestimate the challenges we face, especially as a small opposition party in a an increasingly apathetic world, however I think local economic development is a prize is worth fighting for and the journey has just begun.
I would love to hear any ideas or experiences you may have so please comment and share.