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The trouble with democracy…?

October 23, 2013

Richard Carter writes:


In a highly centralised country such as the UK, the government usually gets the blame for everything. Quite right too? After all it makes the decisions and implements them so why not?

But what about local government? This key part of government, in theory closest to the people, can provide excellent services at a local level but the parties in charge can still suffer electoral defeat at the ballot box due to their ‘national’ party’s performance.

But is this also a reflection of confusion in who does what, at what level? At a simple level, if you do not know what you are actually voting for, it makes a mockery of democracy.

Much polling evidence shows that there is significant confusion around the purpose, role and split of authority at local, regional and national level.

A few facts and figures from our region illustrate a couple of these points. Yorkshire, one county? In our region there are 22 councils and only one county council – North Yorkshire. The other 85% of the population have no county council. The largest council has a 750,000 population; the smallest 52,000. The number of councillors on individual councils ranges from 99 to 30. That means the electorate in Leeds per councillor is 7500, whereas in Richmondshire it is just 1500. In some areas, council wards have three members, in others just one. In some areas there are elections every year, others not.

In Yorkshire we have metropolitan councils, district councils and unitary authorities. Some are run by cabinet style government, some with mayors, others not.

On top of this, the councils, by necessity, have to try to work across council boundaries, for example WYMetro, the ‘City Regions’, LEPs and a myriad of other sub regional and regional bodies. Indeed, at sub or regional level who decides? If the public want to change ‘who decides’, who do they vote for or against? Can the public choose? How?

And this is before we start talking about the split of powers at each level!

What is striking is this large amount of sub and regional bodies in place with little democratic oversight or debate on the strategic areas that they make decisions on.

As someone who has an interest in this, it is to say the least complex, confusing, inefficient, in many ways undemocratic and costly.

It begs the question, what have 40 years of change in administrative boundaries, local authority powers and responsibilities achieved? How can we reset? Should we? Aren’t there more important issues to focus on?

Our region underperforms economically compared to both the UK and European average. To turn this performance round means giving Yorkshire the tools and powers to allow us to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses. This means drawing more powers down from Westminster, and working more effectively at local level.

It is time for Yorkshire to take the initiative and begin to act to influence our future to make us a successful region within the United Kingdom.

Over the coming months the Yorkshire Devolution Movement will be calling for a ‘Conversation for Yorkshire’ to look at:

  • Participation – How the public can be involved in policy, strategy development and service improvement
  • Powers – Which additional powers could be drawn from Westminster and what are the most appropriate levels for decision-making on various issues & delivery
  • Vision of the future – A strategy for Yorkshire to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses
  • Cost – How can we optimise across the region whilst maintaining front line services

The aim should be to get political and community commitment to finding a governing solution that works for the people of Yorkshire at both regional & local levels.

We look forward with optimism and believe with the right power and tools Yorkshire can build a region to be even more proud of. We need Yorkshire people and in particular our politicians to show real leadership and grasp the opportunity to unleash Yorkshire’s potential.

Twitter: richard@yorkshiresense


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