Having said I’d try to come up with some positive ideas for reforming local government I guess I need to define the issues I’m interested in addressing.
The following is a rough first draft, feel free to try to make me think further, or suggest things I should read before I try to grapple with things that might make a difference.
First off I’d like to think about how we might improve the representativeness of local councillors.
The Guardian have some useful figures.
According to a 2006 census of councillors in England, 69% of those serving are men, 86% are over 45, and 95.9% are white.
4.1% are from ethnic minorities.
There’s also an issue about workload and recompense.
Apparently councillors spend on average 21.9 hours a week on council business. The Guardian suggests that backbencher’s can expect to be paid between £3 and £10k a year for that. Or if you’d rather believe the TaxPayer’s Alliance (who don’t make a distinction between back bench and portfolio holders) an average of £9,300 a year.
As an aside I’m sure its worth noting that the Alliance say that Lewisham councillors’ earn on average £18,592.59. Which is a bit misleading, in that the mean will be somewhat lower, and doesn’t mention that it’s set by a committee of residents from the borough who aren’t councillors.
And I’d like to look at the relationship with voters.
This Joseph Rowntree Foundation report suggests that there’s about 1% of the population that gets actively involved in public life (I’ve discussed this report before). We know that turnout at elections is low. What changes this?
But beyond that there’s a conversation to be had about accountability. How do people get to understand what their representatives are doing and how can they influence them (or at least try) when they need to?