Democracy doesn’t work when people don’t know
We need better democracy. Standards in public life have declined, populists have won influence and power and inequality has risen. A democratic deficit has grown while trust in our institutions and civic engagement, particularly among young people, has reached an historic low.
Our political system is proving unfit for purpose just as a new class of super-wicked problems that demand urgent resolution are being addressed by people whose decisions are often their cause.
Exeter faces a cluster of such challenges but proposes itself as a “global leader in addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges of climate change and urbanisation” despite the many ways in which it is anything but. If reality is to match rhetoric, profound change must take place.
However local responses to these problems are determined and delivered by multiple authorities with overlapping jurisdictions and often conflicting political perspectives and strategic interests. Other actors and organisations also significantly influence decision-making which affects us all.
Last year Exeter City Council became what the Electoral Reform Society calls a “one party council” after being dominated by the same political party for ten years. Devon County Council has been in this state, under the same leader, since 2009. Academic research shows this greatly increases the likelihood of corruption, cronyism and spending decisions which offer poor value for public money.
The city council has outsourced governance to unelected boards and policy-making to unaccountable organisations, undermined decision-making scrutiny and defied transparency legislation. It has spent millions of pounds of borrowed money on loss-making subsidiary companies and vanity projects, with budgets being cut to cover soaring debt interest and loan repayments.
Challenges multiply while those in leadership roles disregard available solutions, present counterproductive choices as positive change and ignore residents in making decisions which will adversely affect the city for many years to come.
The local democracy we need depends on people being sufficiently well-informed about what is taking place to actively engage with decision-making and intervene in the interests of their family, friends and communities.
It doesn’t work without ready access to relevant, accurate, timely reporting on who is deciding what on whose behalf and what the consequences and costs of those decisions will be.
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