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Saturday, 29 May 2010

8. Annual Democracy Plan

One of the themes underlying this blog is that there is probably very little that is actually new in terms of ideas for local democracy.  Certainly, in the UK there have been many examples of people reflecting on the nature of local democracy and putting up ideas for improvement.

One such example was the Commission for Local Democracy (CLD).  The CLD was an independent group of academics who, between 1993 and1995, produced a series of reports looking  at a number of different aspects of local democracy.  The main arguments, plus a summary of their recommendations, were brought together in the very readable book - Local Democracy and Local Government edited by Lawrence Pratchett and David Wilson.

The CLD argued that the lack of a truly democratic role for local government lay at the heart of the problems facing local democracy in the UK and that there was:

...a disparity between, on the one hand, a widespread belief in the desirability and value of democracy as a fundamental principle in all forms and levels of government, and on the other, an increasing tendency to demean and subvert the institutions and processes of democracy in practice
There were a number of good ideas that came out of the CLD (and I will no doubt come back to some more) one of which was the idea that local government should have a clear role to promote, facilitate and support democracy in the local area. 

This radical new role starts with the existing democratic institutions of local government, which need to be  invigorated, but extends beyond this to promoting democracy in other local institutions or wherever it can be encouraged.  It also means a substantial investment in promoting citizenship in schools and more widely.  As Pratchett and Wilson argue:

Regardless of their functional focus, local authorities would be empowered to become the focus of political activity on all local issues and to champion the cause of democracy as the seed-bed of a more vibrant democratic culture.
The Annual Democracy Plan is the practical mechanism that lies at the heart of this new role.  The CLD recommended that there should be a requirement on local councils to produce an annual Democracy Plan for their areas detailing how increased democracy will be achieved and allowing for progress to be reviewed and scrutinised.  Democracy here could be taken in its widest sense and not limited to the representative form.  In fact annual Democracy Plans would provide an excellent focus for debate about all sorts of democratic ideas.

Of course this vision is a long way from where we are now.  Whilst there are many good local government schemes to promote citizenship, for example, these are peripheral to  the core role of local councils and are likely to get more so as public sector funding reduces.

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