- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
Last night, Canterbury City’s Tory Councillors voted to cut off residents’ access to influence Council decision making.
They voted to abolish Area Forums, the only place where residents and Councillors could engage in dialogue about policy. They voted to stifle the routes for residents, parish councils, residents’ association and civic bodies (like Canterbury Society and the Heritage Design Council) to object to planning applications.
All this not to save money, but to increase their control on discussion and remove opportunities for dissent from the public.
Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors united in opposing these changes, which are an assault on the fundamental principles of representative democracy. The arguments put forward for the changes were spurious and unsupported by either costed savings or improved processes.
The only conclusion one can reach is that the new Council Leader, the architect of this move and the person who has pushed for this untimely and unnecessary change, can’t stand the thought of his ideas being subject to scrutiny. Which is a shame given his terrible track record as a champion of the reviled and nearly empty Station Road West carpark, the over budget ANPR parking system and the failed city centre 4G coverage.
In fact, this removal of public engagement rights is part of a pattern of measures which seek to stifle the people’s voice, to erect barriers to new ideas from outside the Tory Group, and to rigidly control debate. That is contrary to the purpose of a local Council.
Engagement with our electors is not something which is “nice to have”. This Council is, despite what some people think, a business. Residents are not simply customers: what Council does fundamentally affects many aspects of their daily lives. They have a right to be heard, and it is Councillors’ duty to make that as simple and unintimidating as we can.
Councils are already seen as remote. The Forums created openings for people to speak to Councillors in an informal and developmental way. In Canterbury, the Forum heard from market traders, taxi drivers, hoteliers, the Business Improvement District, individual shopkeepers, and residents concerned about parking, parks, street litter, traffic, the environment, refuse collection and many other topics. To shut residents out from any meaningful route to make suggestions and contributions is arrogant and bound to reduce the quality of decision making.
We already see low turnout at elections. We need to do more, not less, to make the Council relevant, approachable and open to residents’ ideas.
Democracy is not an optional extra for local Government, to be discarded on the grounds of cost or its inconvenience for the ruling political Party. It is as much an essential part of what the Council does as providing refuse collection, social housing, playing fields or street cleaning. That the Tories dislike their ideas being open for scrutiny and debate shows both the feebleness of their policies and their fear of the electorate.