Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The value of local democracy

Had a short-piece about the value of local democracy in the local paper yesterday ...

... link here; and I'll just re-produce the text below for those interested:

Cost of local democracy price worth paying

Just last week, Edinburgh had its second Local Authority by-election of this Council-term. The vote took place in the Leith Walk Ward, and was triggered by the resignation of two, sitting Councillors. It was actually the first double-vacancy, in a single Ward, since the introduction of proportional representation for Council elections back in 2007.

And without making any pronouncement on who actually won the two Council-seats that were vacant, I do believe it’s worth taking time to pause and consider the true value of our local democracy.

As many of our daily experiences have some interface with the Council – whether it’s the pavement or road we travel on; the bus we ride on; the school our children attend; the social care services our elderly relatives receive; the sports facilities we visit; the Council House we might live in; the parks we spend our leisure time in; the general cleanliness of our streets; the collection of our waste; the monitoring of the restaurants we eat in; the library books we borrow … the list goes on-and-on.  And all of these services are, to some extent or another, the responsibility of the Local Council.

So electing local Politicians, who will have ultimate responsibility for these services, is a very important process. And it’s a process that costs money; some £50,000 is required to stage a by-election, but that cost has to be judged against the huge value of the numerous public services listed above.

And just to give some idea of the scale, and logistics, involved in a single Ward by-election; here are some facts about that operation: over 25,000 Poll Cards have to be printed and sent out by mail; some 4,000 Postal Vote ballots have also to be printed and despatched; around 10 Polling Places (some are schools) have to be hired and fully staffed from 7am right through to 10pm on polling-day itself. And after the Polls close, the actual counting of the vote has also to be staffed; and then there is the added requirement to ensure smooth logistics (delivering all the ballot boxes from Polling Places to the Count-Venue) in a timely and secure fashion.

And as many will be aware, during the count-process, dozens of political Party Members (from across the political spectrum) will be carefully scrutinising what goes on – physically, looking over the shoulders of the counting-staff. It’s a process which does get tense. Yet, in the numerous election counts I’ve attend throughout my 23-years in Edinburgh, I have never once heard a complaint from a member of the counting staff about the detailed scrutiny they come under? Indeed, I’m endlessly amazed at how calm, collected and polite they all remain.

At the end of it all the result has to be agreed with the numerous political Parties taking part – last week there were ten separate candidates/parties on the ballot-paper; and the whole process has to be seen as fair, thorough and professional … and the result thus accepted by all concerned.

So yes, local democracy in the shape of by-elections, does have a very real and tangible cost … and we do need to acknowledge that fact. But it came to us at a far greater cost, one that we should all try to remember as we choose our local representatives.

That opportunity we all have to choose, to select - or not - those who want to stand for public office to represent us, is something that really is impossible to put a value upon.

And whatever our politics, we must never take the importance of that democratic opportunity for-granted.

Cllr Andrew Burns
Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council


Unknown said...

Are there any stats on the most widely used council services? I guess waste services must be the top, roads / pavements next. Although could argue that 99.9% of residents all depend on the food hygiene inspections.

"The bus we ride on"? Council busses? hmmm......

Andrew said...

Some local stats here Paul:

Not sure I get your point about 'Council Buses' ... CEC own 91% of Lothian Buses:

... anyhow - thanks for checking the blog :-)