Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A third way?


The Echo's public meeting about the issue of an elected mayor last Friday raised some interesting questions, both in the meeting and in the bar afterwards.



The most important question, of course, is why there is only one hand-pulled beer on offer in the Arts Centre. Only a few years ago, those of us living nearby were actively discouraged from drinking there unless we were attending an arts event. At least now we can go in for a drink if we want to. Unfortunately, the place has all the atmosphere of an airport departure lounge. Now, since the revamp, at least the bar is accessible, albeit with a huge pillar down the middle of the serving area - but the chance to create a warm, inviting environment where the cultured citizens of the West End can drink good beer and wine, maybe with some tapas or interesting salads and snacks, has been lost.



Ah well, at least the post-meeting conversation between members of all three political parties and observers like Chris Lloyd from the Echo was interesting.



It centred on a question raised towards the end of the meeting, where someone asked whether there was a third way - to improve the governance of Darlington without giving all power to an elected mayor. It was a question Alan Charlton was unable to answer, but the Liberal Democrats have been arguing in Council for a third way, as proposed in our manifesto for the recent local elections.




Our proposals, for which I shall be arguing in the Constitution Working Party, are for a devolution of power, including a realistic budget, to Area Committees composed of the elected councillors for groups of wards across the town. Reconnecting with the electorate is vitally important if our democracy is to be re-invigorated. Giving local people a direct line into decision-making where they live - including planning applications - is crucial to this.




At the same time, the way in which the Council operates also needs to be addressed. Proposals for webcasting the Council, holding State of the Borough debates, encouraging citizens to address meetings of the Council etc are all useful. There also needs to be the opportunity for genuine debate at Council and for the Scrutiny process to be able to challenge officers and executive councillors more effectively.




The question is, if there is a "No" vote tomorrow, will the Labour leadership return to its old, closed, autocratic way of operating, or will it genuinely embrace a new openness and democracy. Speaking to more open-minded Labour councillors, they tell me there are still some in the Labour Group who oppose devolution and openness and that the very words "Area Committees" are likely to have them reaching for the garlic.

2 comments:

Mike Pullard said...

[quote]The Echo's public meeting about the issue of an elected mayor last Friday raised some interesting questions, both in the meeting and in the bar afterwards.... The most important question, of course, is why there is only one hand-pulled beer on offer in the Arts Centre.[/quote]

Well, that really does sum it all up...

Aeres said...

Giving local people a direct line into decision-making where they live - including planning applications - is crucial to this.

There's a lot to be said for this - this being the primary reason why the now ex-Labour councillors in Harrowgate Hill took such a kicking this Summer.