Learning from #hyperlocal: An effective way of making councillors accountable

Up and down the country, the annual budget meetings are taking place at local councils. Town Hall budgets are being slashed due to government cuts with most councils having to make very difficult decisions.

Central government has been quite good at passing the buck on the cuts – indeed, the fact local government is bearing the brunt so much is, in part, because ministers can remove themselves from the difficult local cuts which follow.

At a local level, there’s been the usual mixed picture of blame. Some councils have been very vocal in their opposition to the cuts, such as Liverpool and Manchester, and the government has replied that these councils are cutting more frontline services than they have to, just to make a political point.

Other councils are preferring to do their lobbying behind closed doors, arguing that they can have more influence away from the spotlight. Opposition councillors in these areas will hope they can use this lack of public criticism from councils to their advantage when the election comes.

And then, of course, there are the councils who have very little to complain about as a result of the new funding formula which saw dozens of grants placed into one pot and then distributed evenly across the country, with no recognition of deprivation in an area.

Ventnor Blog, the Isle of Wight hyperlocal site, has come up with a brilliant way of making sure people know who to blame for the cuts which come their way over the next 12 months. Regardless of the reasons for the budget cuts, local councillors are the ones taking the decisions on what gets cut, and therefore they are the ones who should be held accountable.

Ventnor Blog create a table of every councillor, along with the number of votes they won by at the last elections, and posted it on the site, along with details of which ward they represent. Then, as the named votes took place at last night’s budget meeting, they added details of how each councillor voted.

This approach relies on named votes at council meetings rather than a show of hands and, in my opinion, the Government should tells councils to make named votes mandatory on all big decisions and then add a voting record to every councillor profile on an authority’s website. That would be a giant leap forward in terms of accountability for the public.

For now, though, there’s a lot to learn from what Ventnor Blog has done. Using something like Google Docs, it has created something which will enable voters to check on how their councillor voted on probably the biggest issue of the year.

Such accountability will hopefully make councillors think harder about their votes – and hopefully make people in general feel better informed about the democratic process, in the same way liveblogs of council meetings do.

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