Posts Tagged ‘city council’

Why we need Independents on councils

April 16, 2012

John explains why Independents help improve the performance of councils

To get things done by local councils it helps if groups of councillors agree policies and stick together to achieve them.  I do not oppose political parties in local government.  Indeed a council made up entirely of Independents would be disastrous.  But in the same way that a dish often tastes better when seasoned, a council works better when some of its members are outside the party system and retain the right to publicly oppose policies or expose abuses. 

Often Independents can usefully publicise practices engaged in by all parties, such as when they agree the way to allocate allowances to their own party advantage or pay over a part of their publicly funded council allowances to finance political activities.  Political parties also collectively promote a culture of political bickering or grandstanding  which achieves little but wastes precious time and scarce council resources.  A good local example of this is to be found in the so-called Area Committees which are talking shops, usually attended by all local councillors and a handful of regulars, but which cost the ratepayer thousands of pounds a year in hall rentals, amplification charges, officer time etc. 

Local parties are also frequently tied to their national parties and back policies laid down by their national party bosses rather than answering local needs.  For example, City Councillors who have for years defended the party line on centrally imposed house building targets or regional assemblies will not today deny that they were costly mistakes. However, at the time they were adamant in their insistence of their benefits.

Perhaps my strongest objection to parties in local government is the way in which a few powerful party bigwigs control and manipulate the many fellow councillors who are content to be told what to think and how to vote. I call them ‘lobby fodder’.  I left the Lib-Dems in 2006 because they couldn’t tolerate my propensity to speak my mind and to think outside the box and since leaving them I have been able to breathe intellectually and politically.

Of course a lot depends on how skilfully and usefully an Independent councillor uses their ‘freedom’.  For my part I see my role as highlighting issues of public concern in the hope and belief that they will consequently be raised in the order of party priorities.  I do this through the pages of the local and national press (who have published over fifty articles reporting my views since the last election), through private discussions with fellow councillors, away from the whips, and by persuasion in the various committees and forums on which I have a voice.  My greatest concerns have always been on planning issues and I think it fair to say that my voice on the Planning Committee is respected and often heeded by members of all parties.  So it simply isn’t true to say that as an Independent I don’t have influence.

In the meantime the campaign for my re-election goes on and I am pleased to be able to tell you that we are heartened by the response we are getting.

‘Keep local elections truly local’

March 1, 2012

Cllr Hipkin comments: Local elections for the City Council take place in just over three months from now and already the political parties are ‘positioning’ themselves in an effort to woo voters.   The Lib-Dems tell us they have softened the government’s approach to public service reform and austerity.  Labour says the government has mishandled the economy and devastated the welfare state. And as for the Conservatives they believe David Cameron’s irresistible charisma will lead us on to the uplands of prosperity!

However, amid the welter of party propaganda on national politics what the parties hope we shall overlook is that the elections on May 3rd are local offering local people an opportunity to judge the performance of their local councillors.  Remember too that they are city elections, not county.  They are not about who’s in and who’s out at Westminster or Shire Hall nor are they a dummy run for the 2015 general election.  So I urge residents to keep their minds on issues such as the major developments planned on NIAB and University Farm and the impact they will have on residents, the growing traffic overload on the city’s roads, the protection of local streets and buildings from hasty and careless development such as what was proposed for the Texaco site, the maintenance of local roads and footpaths and the ongoing support for community activities such as those at Mayfield School and St Augustine’s.

Finally, at local elections we get the chance to elect people who live in the ward, who know its residents, who have worked hard to advance their collective interests and to look after individuals baffled or frustrated by the workings of the City Council.  So let’s look forward to the May election but let’s not forget what it is truly about!