I’m going to have to make a confession. I’ve never laid eyes on my ward councillors or had any contact with them. That’s despite living across the road from my local town hall. Luckily, I’ve never had such a grievous a cause for complaint about local services that would motivate me to take the trouble of contacting them myself.
Having lived in the ward for four years now, I’m starting to feel part of the local community. I’ve formed an appreciation for the good things and an understanding of the things that might need to change. That gives rise to some curiosity about the people who are supposed to be representing me at the local level.
I know their national party affiliations but I’m in the dark about their aspirations and objectives specifically for this small piece of land in south-west London. Their local party website lists campaigns and achievements in the local area, but the majority of these do not even involve council services. Those that specifically relate to council services, reflect a miniscule proportion of what the Council’s budget is currently directed towards providing. In a time of such dramatic budget cuts, surely there must be some better examples of my local councillors ensuring the Council does things radically differently to continue serve residents effectively?
Is the role of a local councillor vis-à-vis residents simply to deal with enquiries and representations? If so, that’s a rather unbalanced and apathy-inducing relationship. Beyond casting my vote in the last local elections, my opinion has not been sought on any matter other than one minor local planning decision. I don’t want my only interaction with my local councillors to be when the sad day arrives that I am sufficiently enraged and directly affected by a local decision that I feel the need complain.
To have real ‘open’ government and to bring some much needed vitality to our local democracy, I think the ‘job description’ for local councillors needs to include encouraging community participation in the democratic process, beyond just casting votes.
I want to know more about what my local council is doing in my area, and have the opportunity to be heard on key decisions. But just as importantly, I want to know what my local councillors’ priorities are, and how, if at all, these reflect a response to the needs of our local community, alongside a national policy agenda. On top of all that, being a busy Londoner, I want access to these opportunities and information in an easy-access, low-commitment format. Maybe that’s too much to ask!