Right now most people feel totally insignificant in the political process. Frankly, that's because - in the current over-centralised system - they are insignificant. If you're unhappy about decisions made by your council there's very little you can do about it outside election day.Cameron's February 2009 article on local government, from which this is taken, is here. I'm not sure that Cameron's remedies are all that good, actually, but at least he acknowledges that there's a problem.
We're going to change that by giving people the power to instigate referendums on local issues...
Mike Freer and Councillor Harper (at previous Cabinets) have taken to saying 'if residents don't like what we are doing, they can vote us out at the next election'. Theirs is a really miserable view of local democracy; Barnet Tories aren't going to vote Labour in the council elections, even if they have hated everything that Freer's administration has done. Non-Tory voters are doubly stuffed.
The main item of business tonight was Cabinet agreeing the next phase of the Future Shape programme. A Barnet press release includes this promise:
Barnet Council proposes to establish a residents’ review of Future Shape, ensuring that developing services match the priorities and expectations of Barnet residents.As well as asking whether Mike Freer agrees with David Cameron's proposals for local government, I tried to get him to tell us what resident consultation or input there will be during this next phase of the Future Shape programme - what is this 'residents' review'?
His answer really dismayed me. There isn't going to be any. Citizen input - if it exists - is going to be on the level of consultation with individual (atomised) service users at the point of service delivery, as far as I can see. As far as I can see, they should have been doing that for years anyway: the idea that you don't involve the service user in the service they get has thankfully disappeared, even if the practice is not as good as the theory.
What I'm talking about is political consultation and consent, in advance - do the residents agree with and consent to this or that policy? Do we think outsourcing provision of council services to private companies is, generally, a good idea? The only feedback I've had - and I have the advantage over Freer et al that I have actually gone out and asked Barnet residents this question - is 'no', they think it's a bad idea. In the Future Shape programme, will residents be stuck with it neverthetheless if the council goes down that road? Yes, they'll be stuck with it.
There are many things that are bad about this Future Shape process, this one is a key one for me.