What’s next for local authorities?

On the 28th April 2016 the Isle of Man goes to the polls to elect Commissioners and Councillors for another four year term.

Sort of.

Every four years we have the opportunity to elect our Representatives on local government. Currently there are 150 seats are available, spread over 24 local authorities.

But this time there weren’t enough candidates to fill all the seats and most Representatives were returned without having to face the electorate. They didn’t have to put out Manifestos (although some of us did!), they didn’t have to explain themselves or justify their views.

How then can they claim to represent the people they have been “elected” to serve?

Even more important, how can the electorate hold them to account? Normally we’d look at the promises and positions taken by a candidate during an election and then compare those statements to their actions whilst in elected office – but if the candidates never made any statements, can they ever truly be held accountable for their actions?

This is a fundamental principle of democracy, that the power rests with the electorate and we allow our Representatives to serve us, at our behest, whilst they represent our views and our beliefs. When they stop representing our views, we choose someone else the next time around. If they don’t have to ask us for our vote, who is it that really holds the power?

It’s important that these newly “elected” Councillors and Commissioners make extra effort to communicate their views to their new constituents, and to make themselves known to the people they have chosen to serve.

Of course to some extent this is a two way street, it’s up to the electorate to put in the effort to ask their Representatives to define themselves. Having said this, if there’s so little interest in local government that our Representatives can just walk in unelected, will people feel the need to get to know them? Is this lack of interest the public making a clear statement that local goverment has ceased to be relevant?

Perhaps.

Local Authorities are on the cusp of significant reform (although we’ve all heard that before…) and this could spell the end of local government in its current form. This scares both local and national politicians alike, everyone is afraid of transferring power, responsiblity and costs from a centralised national base onto local areas, but in order for Local Authorities to remain relevant I believe these transfers are necessary.

If Local Authorities continue to have no real power or influence and continue to be sidelined by Central Government in all the ways that really matter then they will truly cease to be relevant. We will lose our local identities and all of our services will end up being controlled and administered from central Government. Our MHK’s will be forced into dealing more and more with local issues, taking them away from national issues. Jobs will become centralised, taking them away from our local economies and taking the service providers one step further away from the people they are serving. After everything has been centralised, how do we hold the civil service to account?

I firmly believe that local services should be provided locally, by local authorities employing local workers and who are held directly accountable to the people they serve.

 

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