Party politics in local government are to be rehabilitated to show that political activity is essential to democracy. New sets of powers for local authorities to promote democracy have been announced in a move to ensure that councils are vibrant hubs of democracy and that they overcome the image of being units of local administration.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has set out her vision of promoting democracy in advance of the Community Empowerment white paper which is due to be published today. The measures will make it clear that politics is not a dirty word, that councils are political entities, and that councillors, with power on loan from the people, are in charge.
The effect of the changes will be that councillors will be able to hold surgeries on council premises, they will also be able to appear on a council website or leaflet. In addition, they will be able to have stalls at council-run public events. When people contact the council, staff will be able to tell them the name of the Leader of the council, the political party they belong to, which party or parties are in control, and when the next set of elections is to be held. Councils will be encouraged to run lively campaigns to explain the voting system, to encourage first-time voters, and to sign people onto the register. Funding is to be made available train council staff in the basics of local democracy.
Other measures to promote democracy include scraping part of the Widdicombe rules which forbid council officers over certain salaries from being active in politics. Officers in certain senior posts will still be politically restricted. The duty on public bodies to involve local government will be extended to a new range of organisations including the Homes and Communities Agency, the Environment Agency, Job Centre Plus, Regional Development Agencies, the Arts Council, and the Youth Offending Teams.
The Community Empowerment white paper will set out measures to devolve power to local communities as well as promoting the rehabilitation of politics.