Abstracts: February 16th, 2009

The most contentious proposal in the Government’s consultation on improving local accountability is to go ahead, despite widespread opposition. The consultation asked for views on creating legislation to allow authorities to modify their attendance and voting procedures and allow councillors to vote remotely.

The most common concern raised was that remote attendance and voting is contrary to the work of the council and councillors being transparent and accountable and that in lacking transparency and accountability it erodes public confidence in democracy. There was a very clear message from those consulted that not only do councillors have to meet face to face to get the best out of their meetings with each other, but citizens want to be able to attend public meetings and see their councilors at work.

Concerns were also raised about the practicality and cost of remote attendance and voting, with respondents suggesting that the proposals could benefit from being trialled to determine how remote attendance and voting could be successfully achieved. There are also risks involved not just in terms of damage to confidence in local government but also in terms of increased risk of challenge on decisions arrived at through meetings or decisions that involve remote attendance.

Communities and Local Government will now work with the Local Government Association, local authorities and other stakeholders to address the particular concerns, prior to the introduction of legislation.

Other proposals which will also go ahead include increasing the visibility and accountability of local public officers so that they are open to public scrutiny and questioning from local communities through senior officers attending regular public meetings and seeking views on a new right for local people to petition to hold officers to account.

Communities in control: Real people, real power, Government response to the improving local accountability is available from DCLG. http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/1129377.pdf