Monday, February 13, 2012

Democracy in Action?

Democracy is supposed to be government by the people or by their directly elected representatives, elected in a free election.  In the English system of local government, or councils, such elections take place every 4 years so the question arises of how to keep those directly elected representatives in touch with their electorate between elections.  This is a question that exercises the minds of people who care about democracy working well, in all parties and none.  At present one aspect of it is the subject of debate within Stockton council.
Traditionally councillors have held ward surgeries - setting aside an hour or so in a specific place each week or month so that members of the public can bring along their concerns, complaints, compliments or whatever.  All Stockton Councillors hold such surgeries.  In Eaglescliffe we have two per month - one on the 3rd Tuesday at either Egglescliffe Parish Hall or Egglescliffe community centre and one on the first Friday at Trinity Methodist Church. None of them are well used, apart from occasionally when there's been a controversial issue such as a planning application which most people oppose.  Over an average 12 month period only a handful of people approach us in this way.
Over the same period

  • we send emails to hundreds of people a month, giving information, encouraging participation in consultations or asking for views on things that are happening in the area.  
  • We send out Focus leaflets to every home in the ward, thanks to the army of volunteer deliverers to whom we are indebted.
  • we carry out resident surveys, knock on doors to consult on specific issues, walk and cycle round the streets chatting to those we meet
  • we answer the phone to those who ring us with problems, concerns and even compliments either for council staff or us
  • we use this blog, facebook, twitter and the Stockton Lib Dem website to keep in touch
  • we use "street surgeries" in fine weather, dropping a note to let people know on what day and at what time we'll be in their street.
Add to them the informal contacts when at the school fair or the shops or the hairdresser or wherever it might be, and we do wonder whether asking the council to pay for the venue for a ward surgery and all the attendant costs of making the bookings, putting the times on the website etc are worth it.  Would our time be better spent in some other way?

Alan Lewis and I are happy to go on holding ward surgeries if Eaglescliffe residents want us to do so.  But if you genuinely think resources would be better spent in some other way we'd listen to you with interest.  So do let us know what you think.
A plea, though - if you comment on this posting please say where you're from.  If you'd rather email directly then please do.  Interesting though views from outside the ward might be, it's the people of Eaglescliffe who need to decide this one.

No comments: