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Elections May 3rd

Local elections take place in our borough on May 3rd. All but one ward in our borough has a seat up for grabs. This is a great opportunity for us to have a say regarding who represents our views and best interests at a local level. If you can possibly vote then you should.  In my own experience, local councillors are very much a mixed bag. Some are very active and doggedly progress local issues, others are happiest just picking up the generous expenses that they are paid annually whether they actually do anything or not. If a councillor gets on a committee or two, and can manage to get elected as a County Councillor as well, the annual income is easily equivalent to a good local wage. And of course they can still work full time in their ‘day job’ if they have one, not a bad gig.

I expect our councillors to be pro-active. To canvass our views on local issues and to represent them to the council and other groups. In my experience there is very little of this going on. Some councillors will say that few people attend their surgeries, therefore people are satisfied. Perhaps it’s more that people don’t attend because they don’t know about their surgeries, or they don’t think anything will be gained by attending. I can certainly empathise with the latter view.

Outside of these elections councillors are not really held to account. Poor performance goes unchecked because there are no checks, save for the odd high profile media piece about  a councillor doing something stupid, or perhaps attending no meetings at all for a number of months. Outside of an election campaign when did you last hear from your local councillor? When did they last ask you what local matters you might feel strongly about? In these days of email and the internet it’s not too hard to do.

A councillor barometer ?

Three recent matters spring to mind which could be used as a way to gauge the effectiveness of your councillor:

1: The Community Chest scheme ran for three years. Ward councillors had the power to allocate funds up to about £10,000 for any project or other community based ward improvement. This was ‘use it or lose it’ money available for each year of the scheme. It was councillors alone who held the purse strings by backing (or not) applications for funding by residents’ groups.  Some wards benefited nicely from this, others far less so. Below is a chart of spending by ward over the three years of the scheme.

You can see for yourself where the money was spent.  The chart shows that the highest ward had well over three times more money from the Community Chest than did the lowest ward; food for thought when considering which councillor to vote for in the forthcoming election. Were your current councillors pro-active in this respect? Did they bring your ward some Community Chest funding?

2. The Tesco Broadwater proposal. This was a WGC focussed issue but it was very revealing in terms of councillors. All councillors were continually made aware of developments by residents and local groups such as the WGC Society. They were all asked many times to make their views known and represent their residents on this very important matter. Despite this only a handful of them did so. Right up until the night of the planning meeting where the proposal was thrown out only a select few councillors had got involved at all. This was a huge opportunity for them to get actively involved and canvass our views so they could represent us, by and large they didn’t. Top marks to those that did, but shame on those who stayed away from the various community meetings to which they were invited.

At the final planning meeting a few councillors got up and made good speeches, those from Tony Skottowe, Helen Bromley stand out. But most councillors remained mute. Why wouldn’t they have a view to express on such an important matter? When it came to the vote on the matter things became almost bizarre, with councillor Irene Dean being the only person on the planning committee to endorse Tesco’s plan, going against the grain of sentiment in the room and of her committee colleagues. Councillor Bennett chose to abstain, after all the coverage and debate about the matter over the previous months he still couldn’t decide which way to vote. You could argue then that he was wasting our time and his by even attending. His place on the planning committee could have been taken by someone more interested and engaged in the issue. He certainly wasn’t representing his constituents’ views.

Do you know what your councillor thought about the Tesco proposal? Either for it or against it, it would have been nice to know?

3. New Barnfield Incinerator. This saga rumbles on and is covered elsewhere but do you know what your prospective councillors will do to progress the issue if elected? Have your current Hatfield councillors been pro-active in engaging with the community? Again, the story is mixed. It was reported that one Hatfield councillor won’t be re-standing in this election; presumably as a result of the unpopular stance she took on this issue and the corner into which she painted herself.

The incinerator and the stalled redevelopment of the town centre are huge issues in Hatfield, councillors standing there have their work cut out and there should be no space given to slackers or those not representing the view of the majority of residents.

Where does your prospective Hatfield councillor stand on these issues? They should be stating their position and plan of action loud and clear in the election run up.

 

Local Democracy, does it exist?

It’s a sad fact that time and again people vote at local elections based on national politics and the swing of the national political pendulum.  Voting for a political party locally has little or no bearing on how disgruntled or satisfied you are with the government of the day. The Lib Dems are no doubt going to get a rough ride in local elections around the country, and yet local Lid Dem councillors may still be doing some good work (this writer remains a floating voter).  Confusing the national and the local is potentially a waste of the local vote.

A problem we face in Welwyn Hatfield is that we have a prominent and popular MP. That’s good of course, but it means that councillors in his party are tempted to lie back and bathe in the reflected light of his glory. They can get elected more on the strength of his popularity than their own, and that’s bad for us. They can also access his considerable media resources during the final push, don’t always believe what you read was certainly the mantra at the last big local election.

Because of this our local representation  is skewed, here’s how the parties stack up currently:

The dominance here by one party means that every committee and panel that the council holds is controlled by that dominating party.  The outcome of every vote taken will be decided by that party as they are by default the majority of the voters. This is potentially very damaging.

Why? Because:

Important!

a)      The dominant party might not be representing the view of the majority of the residents. (Did they even canvass the view of residents on the matter in question?)

Important!

b)      Any opposing view can be ignored through the ballot box, the two minority parties have no hope of a vote going their way.

Important!

c)       The dominant party seems to be giving us a council leader with a dictatorial style of leadership who exerts undue influence in the way his councillors vote. Last year, for example, when one of his councillors voted against his own stance on a particular issue that councillor was removed from the committee and replaced by the leader’s own councillor wife. That’s the kind of politics you might expect in Russia or China, but not in our ‘democracy’.

So the idea of fair representation and the will of the people influencing the decisions taken in their name seems quite broken at the local level. More balance in the political makeup of our council can only be a good thing for all of us in the longer term.

This local election is our chance to make that happen. We have some great councillors batting for us, doing a great job. But we also have plenty that are happy to take a back seat while still taking the money. In these times of seemingly endless cut backs and the ongoing transition of public services into the hands of private companies we need a good team representing us inside council towers.

Why not use your vote to make it happen?

Details of all prospective councillors standing can be found here.

Why not send the incumbent an email, give them a call, and ask them what they plan to do for you in coming years? Their contact details can be found here.

Upcoming councillor surgery information can be found here, why not go and see what you incumbent councillors have to say for themselves.

Hopefully you can find out more about the new prospective councillors on their local party websites here. If they haven’t updated their websites with candidate information then they only have themselves to blame! They are certainly missing a very big trick.

Labour                   Lib Dem                 Conservative       Green

Notice

So far it seems that only the Greens are mentioning the election and promoting their candidates on their local websites, amazing in this digital age.

More will follow on the local elections as they approach. Meanwhile do some research and make your vote count.

 

 

 

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