April 5, 2017
Early discussions are beginning to take place around the country with regards to what the Local Democracy Bill might seek to address. At this stage it seems as if nothing is ruled in or out other than the broad intention ‘to decentralise local authority functions, budgets and democratic oversight to local communities’. As the Scottish Government consults and develops its thinking, others are doing likewise. Some really interesting ideas emerging from the Commission on Highland Democracy which has just published its interim report.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of Interim Report. For full report click here
The Commission on Highland Democracy was established to continue conversations locally about the kind of democracy we want to have in the Highlands. We have had thousands of conversations with people across the region to better understand what the current state of local democracy is, and what people want to happen about this. Our key findings so far are:
1. Decision making is exclusive. Decentralisation/ centralisation is not seen by local people to be primarily a geographical issue although it does encompass some spatial aspects. People consider decision making to be centralised not because it takes place a long distance from them. Rather, they feel that centralisation occurs when a small group of highly empowered individuals take decisions in a way that has little reference to anybody outside the decision making group and in an exclusive way. With this view of centralisation, it matters little where decision makers are situated and much more how they go about their business.
2. People want involvement and engagement. People have told us time and again that they want a relationship with decision makers in which they are involved and engaged on an ongoing basis. In this situation, decision makers can regularly ask communities for their views for a variety of subjects but equally communities can decide to make their views known on the issues that concern them.
3. Empowered consumers. Almost nobody has said they want to take decision making from their elected or appointed representatives and make them themselves. Quite the reverse, most respondents want to be empowered consumers of services and decisions rather than deliverers or decision makers themselves. And they understand the importance of having elected and appointed representatives to take the final decision in important and difficult matters. They do, however, want decision makers to arrive at their decisions in a much more open and involving way.
4. Integrated local democracy. People want engagement and involvement in the democratic process to happen as part of their day to day living rather than as a separate thing. The Commission takes this to mean that conversations about community aspirations, public services and infrastructure are taking place in communities throughout the region. There seems to be a demand that these conversations are captured and used in decision making, rather than a separate consultation exercise being contrived around these same issues which it is unlikely many people will have the time or inclination to participate in.
5. Balanced decision making. Communities hold the view that for good decisions to be made there is a necessary balance between three different inputs. They recognise the need for high quality professional officer advice. They understand the role of the elected and appointed decision makers and the important perspectives this brings. However, they want to see a third component which is a strong element of community input. The view is that if any one of these elements is missing, less good decisions will be made.
The Commission will now test and interrogate these key findings, and will publish a final report with a final set of conclusions and recommendations which reflect the views and opinions of people across the Highlands in May 2017.
If you have any comments or to keep updated with the work of the Commission please visit our website: www.highlanddemocracy.wordpress.com; follow us on Twitter: @Highland_Dem; or email us at: Commission@highland.gov.uk