What steps need to be taken to revive involvement in local civic and democratic roles?
The first step is to showcase the heroes in every community. Our regional newspapers should get on board with government to make this happen because good news stories make us proud. We need to be more aware of what good citizens do in our midst, there are some fantastic stories to be told and if the showcase heroes can create a wave of inspired volunteers to do more, attract their friends to have a go and to build on the superb care foundations our country has then it is for sure we will all win by getting the communities where the quality of life is great.
To help with your Empowerment White Paper and to let you get the idea let me suggest you start with the current Manchester Hero nomination web site to see a selection of great ordinary citizens in action manchestereveningnews.co.uk – Manchester Heroes.
The second step is to join up the heroes. In the past the nominations have been taken and the prizes awarded but there has been no real added value. What is needed is an organisation that takes up all the hero stories from across the regions and gives them added support – taking the thought of good citizens in action further, inspiring schools, involving community organisations and of course getting these new innovators of good community spirit to take that next step of becoming a representative of their community.
The third step is to turn the role of being a councillor into something more fit for the modern world, something we all want to aspire to as a position able to make a difference. Think about each and every elected representative having a community kitty – one they can use for a local football or as wide an investment as can be imagined. This will give more people reason to connect with their elected representative.
The fourth step is one where I would suggest an apology, for all the hard work local groups have had to do in writing up lengthy bid applications and in doing all those overbearing reports. What local groups want to do is get on with life. A commitment to make the grants process easier is a must. Sadly some really good people have been switched off by the system and it has to be not only easier but also needs more money allocating in grants and other support if the communities that have grown in activity spread are able to reach full potential.
Reviving civic roles should be done by looking at what essentially need doing by councillors and making it clear to the public what they do have to deal with. Anything that can be done in better ways, more cost effective and more efficiently should be made to meet the modern times.
Democratic roles are something I would not change. We have an excellent political system in that we can call our representatives to task at each election. What I would change is the cost of elections. It has been suggested to restrict spending limits, but I am not convinced because the more that is invested in getting the messages across the more, in theory, people should be able to understand the choices before them. What I think is missing is an education and engagement service, funded by government without any priority on which party to support, but with essential ingredient of governance, diversity, challenges, respect and responsibilities embedded into the package that must also have choice and be open to all.
Fifth – we have to move more away from "them and us" politics to a system that when all the votes are in the whole council – or parliament- is able to realise they have a responsibility to work together, finding common ground. Are we really saying if someone lives next door to us and votes for a different party then us we should not be "neighbourly". Times are changing and it takes leaders to get real and be much more like the come-all facebook and youtube age.
Step 6 - it is OK to be who you are. Young or old – fat or thin – all with off days, and down to our last nerve when stuck in heavy traffic – we hate pot holes and love a good meal. Wonderful creatures – able to achieve great things – but we miss the mark in trying to understand diversity, respect, tolerance, empowerment and what voting means. Number 6 has to be our lucky number - but we have to work on it together.