The Courier might be right in suggesting that the role of local politicians has waned under previous Governments (“Another year of Council compromise - But tough choices ahead”, May 11, 2011), but even if it has, the Coalition Government is giving councillors the ability to turn this trend around.
One of its stated intentions is the transfer of power from Whitehall to town halls and the Localism Bill that reaches its report stage in the Commons includes two key provisions on the activities of councillors.
The first is that Councils are to be given a ‘general power of competence’ (I’ll refrain from the obvious cheap gag...), which is a very dry way of conferring an ability for Councils to do anything that is not against any other law.
At the minute Council powers and responsibilities are defined by legislation and so they can be wary of trying things that have no basis in law for fear of being challenged in the courts.
The second provision relates to changing the rules on ‘predetermination’, which again sounds very dry, but is very important to the role that councillors play.
The current rules were developed to ensure that councillors came to council discussions with an open mind, but in practice often results in them shying away from contentious issues for fear of being accused of bias.
Another recent article though highlights an issue that has the potential to act as counterweight to these increased responsibilities, which is a possible reduction in the size of the Cabinet from seven to six members (‘Council Leadership’, also May 11, 2011).
The Cabinet-style of governance is already criticised for concentrating power in the hands of the Leader and a small number Cabinet holders, as opposed to a Committee-style where power is more equally distributed amongst all elected members.
A reduction in the size of the Cabinet here in Calderdale would add weight to these legitimate concerns.
That said, it seems clear that this Government is committed to enhancing the role of local politicians, with opportunities to work with officers to transform Council services beyond what they have to be towards what we the residents want them to be.
Councillors will also be supported in representing residents by actively engaging in debate about local issues.
It was stated in the first article referred to above that ‘the challenge for all councillors and potential candidates before the next election will be to convince voters that it is worthwhile trailing to a polling station’.
It would by my suggestion to your readers that if your councillor cannot show how they are contributing to innovation in Council services or genuinely and enthusiastically participating in local debate then they should trail to the polling station and vote for somebody who will.