Headlines: May 24th, 2006

Almost three quarters of people want to see local people given greater control over budgets and services, according to a poll conducted by the think tank the Local Government Information Unit in publishing a new pamphlet, “Empowering Neighbourhoods: Going Beyond the Double Devolution Deal.”The pamphlet calls for the Government to reinvigorate forms of community governance and to promote a scheme for new neighbourhood councils. It also urges the introduction of participatory budgeting pathfinders that would directly involve people from a local community in decisions on how money is spent.

The document says government must be brought closer to the people as a way of tackling voter disengagement and disempowerment. It says what it calls a ‘duty of cooperation’ should be placed on all public sector bodies and that they should have more accountability to the local community.

As well as the neighbourhood councils and direct participation in budgeting, the pamphlet suggests the introduction of neighbourhood inquiries so local communities are consulted at ward level and more power and training for local councillors to lead community engagement. It also urges the setting up of a Whitehall cross-departmental review of community engagement and capacity-building funding and measures to encourage local authorities and political parties to take affirmative action to promote the diversity of local councillors.

The pamphlet has been written by Ed Cox, Senior Policy Officer at the LGIU who said people no longer felt part of decision making in their communities. “This has led to a sense of isolation and voter disengagement – illustrated with the relatively low turn out at the recent local election. Government needs to get smarter and accept that there are real opportunities within the localist agenda to reconnect with people across the country,” he said. Neighbourhood councils and participatory budgeting could give councillors real power to build channels in their wards, he said, adding, “Unelected public sector bodies must also become more accountable to residents if we are to succeed in revitalising democracy.”

The pamphlet says there are many options that should ensure the forthcoming White Paper on Local Government should be a shot in the arm for councils and communities.