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Thursday, 8 April 2010

1. Local Constitutions

This was one of the three ideas I put forward in my essay in the original SOLACE pamphlet (pdf).  I argued that, because politics and accountability at the local level are so messy (different arrangements for health, police, local government etc), there should be a single written constitution for each local area which sets out the rights and responsibilities of citizens and explains who all the local organisations are and how they are accountable. 

This is not a particularly new idea.  Aristotle, in his book the politics, described how the constitution was at the heart of the Greek city state (aka the polis) giving legitimacy and transparency to political business and, while the constitution is a 'kind of organisation of the state’s inhabitants', it is much more than that as it embodies the 'spirit of the people'.

Local constitutions would define the powers of the different parts of the political whole and provide a focus for public debate and participation. They would set out the rights of citizens and the limits of local lawmaking and be used as a focus for teaching citizenship in schools. Changes would need to be made through referenda and this would provide an opportunity for widespread public debate. In fact the development of local constitutions would be an excellent way to get people involved in local debates about how their politics should be. 

In the UK local areas are already required to community strategies which could be the starting point for developing local constitutions.


Jock Coats said...

Glad to have found this blog, courtesy of David Wilcox I think. There is some good stuff here, and with others like the Hannan/Carswell "Direct Democracy" it's good to see new ideas for local government, and I have some of my own that I blog about a little and might now do so some more.

But just a comment on this one about local constitutions. There's quite an issue with this. Some of these things would need to be more or less ward based, because there is such a plethora of overlapping bodies responsible for all these services.

I can't find the reference now but Oxfordshire did a map and found a huge number of combinations - with a few wards in one district being under Northants for some functions and Oxfordshire for others, and so on. The boundaries are rarely, if ever, really contiguous.

SO under health regions we were in Oxfordshire/Hants, but for police it's Thames Valley which of course does not include Hants and so on. It may not be desirable to tidy all that up of course - sometimes you are better being in, say, a health area "based" in another county because you are on the fringes of your own county and their main facilities are closer. Not impossible to map them all of course, but awkward at least!

Dave Mckenna said...

Thanks Jock! Many good points.

I think there are two ways of looking at this. You could see LCs as a more of a point of reference - something that explains to citizens the web of accounatbilities (phrase from the centre of public scrutiny) but ultimately is unable to change them. In this case LCs are almost an extension of community strategies. The more radical version is you use LCs as the starting point and rewire all the other organisations to fit. Not a small task of course.

It all depends on whether the primary units are political or technocratic. We live in a world where the rationale of service delivery always trumps the rationale of democracy. Again, it depends where you start as to whether this is a bad thing.

The point about the location of facilities is a tricky one - not sure there is an obvious answer for that. Should the LCs be at ward level? That might just be another idea to work on....

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