All posts tagged 'council-elections'

The apathy factor politicians have failed to confront

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 4 2012

The real story of the council elections is not the advances made by Labour and the slide of the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

It is, or at least should be, the fact that the turnout was so appalling - the lowest, so it is said, for ten years.

Hundreds of councillors have been elected on turnouts of about 30% - meaning two thirds of potential voters simply weren't interested. Hardly a resounding mandate.

In one ward in Maidstone - Parkwood - just 18% of voters turned out. Even in Tunbridge Wells, where you might have thought there would be a greater interest, turnout was around 30%.

You can call it apathy, indifference or disillusionment. But however you describe it, it represents a significant and profound challenge to our politicians who have - on all sides - singularly failed to come up with ways of resolving this long-standing crisis afflicting local government.

Thatcher thought the solution was to hit voters in their pockets via the poll tax - a kind of shock therapy that did indeed get people interested in councils but not quite in the way she intended.

Labour tried implementing cabinet government and executive mayors. The argument was that people would know where the buck stopped and greater accountability would transform the public's appetite for local democracy.

More recently, the coalition has gone for a transparency revolution with equally mixed results. There have been various attempts to make it easier to vote.

All have failed to effect any kind of revolution and appear to have left as many of us as indifferent and disinterested as before. This is not to say people are turned off by politics. They are often engaged in issues that really ought to mean that council elections matter more than Parliamentary ones.

Somehow they don't. Why? Many councillors do an admirable job taking up constituents' interests but I am often struck by how inward looking many are - often seeming to consider that in serving 'the council' by attending lots of meetings, they are somehow serving residents.

Political interests are often elevated above those of constituents, with members fearful of uttering anything that could be perceived as being disloyal to their party or damaging to the image or reputation of the authority - let alone damaging their prospects of preferment and a possible job in the cabinet.

Politically, the result is that every party begins to sound the same.

Despite endless consultations and PR, councils are  still too often seen as doing things to people, rather than with them or for them. They suffer, like national governments, from the perception that they are distant and remote, patrician bureaucracies that ask us to accept implicitly that 'they know best.'

Of course, council elections are seen through the prism of the national political scene. So, we see the line trotted out that the apathy factor is more about discontent with the government of the day than lack of interest in the local council. (I accept the media falls into this trap, too).

Note how defeated local councillors are directing their ire at their national representatives and how the party leaders are rationalising their results by talking about Parliamentary mid-term blues.

But if politicians spent as much time discussing how councils could better connect with residents as they did in a blame game explaining away their electoral losses, perhaps we might get nearer to finding a way of resolving this lack of interest.

The antidote to apathy - worth a watch



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Categories: Politics

Is a hike in care charges a cut? Plus: Why some are privately pleased to have lost the council elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 10 2011

We've known for a while that KCC was planning to increase charges for some aspects of its domiciliary care services and now we have some flesh on the bone.

KCC plans hike in care charges>>>

It's worth noting that the council has conceded that it has not consulted about whether there should be increases but is consulting about how they should be implemented - a subtle difference. So, even if you disagree with the principle it won't count for much in this particular consultation.

But the proposals raise something else. Like a lot of councils, KCC has made much of the fact that its spending plans for the year have preserved "frontline" services. In the main, I'd probably agree. But there are an increasing number of policy decisions and reviews about policy that indicate that KCC is clearly banking on raising more income from service users than it previously has to plug the gap caused by cuts in government grants, a freeze on the council tax and a rising demand for some services.

This proposal for care charges to rise is  a classic example. No services are being cut but several thousand face paying more for them. It was the same for the Freedom Pass - the scheme remains in place for free bus travel for teenagers but the administration costs are rising to £100 from £50.

Looking ahead, I expect KCC will be examining other ways of raising cash - including the use of its waste tips. All these could quite legitimately be characterised as extra taxes - people are having to pay more for services, whether it be for parking, a bus pass, a planning application fee or, as in this case, essential home care.

Some may wonder whether a freeze on their council tax bill has that much to commend it if, as is increasingly apparent, they are getting hit in their pockets by all sorts of other charges.


Not everyone who got ousted at the local elections - especially defeated Lib Dems and Labour candidates and former councillors - is unhappy.

Over the next four years, town halls will be inflicting some pretty serious cuts on residents as they deal with a 28 per cent cut in government grants as part of the austerity drive.

By the time 2015 comes around, those running our town halls may well have a fairly lacklustre record to defend and many will find that voters who were prepared to tolerate a degree of hardship in the national interest in 2011 won't be quite so content to do so when they next go to the polls.

As one defeated candidate put it: These were good elections to lose. 

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Categories: election

Is the cost of FOI really too high? Plus: Why Labour are cautious about the elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, April 21 2011

Politicians are prone to grumble that Freedom of Information requests cost too much time and money councils and others spend dealing with them - particularly from the media - might be better put to other uses.

But how much of a burden is it? And are the costs really making a significant dent in the finances of public bodies?

Kent County Council produces some interesting data on the issue which suggest that some of the assertions from politicians might be over-stated.

In 2010, KCC dealt with 1,539 separate requests - about three times as many as when the Act first came into force in 2005. It estimates that the hours spent dealing with these requests was 4,779 and the average cost of dealing with a request was £78 - compared to £71 the previous year.

But the bulk of requests did not come from journalists. The media accounted for 16 per cent of all requests; private individuals accounted for 58 per cent and companies 18 per cent. The costs of dealing with 246 requests from the media were £19,188. In the context of KCC's annual £2.4billion budget, that represents 0.00007995 per cent of its total spend. Now, to me that's pretty small beer.

It's far less, for example, than the £1.7m KCC has to spend on members allowances and expenses each year which, we are usually reminded, accounts for 0.07 per cent of its budget.

But the issue is not just about costs, it is about value. It strikes me that a lot of the information that is elicited by journalists has brought into the public domain data and information of bona fide public interest. That our politicians grumble about it rather reinforces this point.


Ed Miliband was cautious to  play down Labour's prospects in Kent at the council elections on May 5. You can understand why. Although there are some hopes the party may wrest control of two or three councils - Dover, Thanet and Gravesham are being targeted - the party is starting from a very low base after being wiped off the county's political map over recent years, culminating in the catastrophic general election last year when they lost all their remaining MPs.

The view is that despite the cutbacks and continuing recession, the disaffection with the coalition government has not yet reached a point where people are out to give it a serious bloody nose. More like a gentle reproach. The Conservatives have also been fortunate that the backlash has been more pronounced against the Liberal Democrats over what the public perceive as broken pledges.

So I don't see major upheaval in Kent happening in a fortnight. What will be interesting to see is how the Lib Dems fare. Candidates appear desperate to detach themselves both from the leader Nick Clegg and in some cases, even the party. I'm told that election literature from some candidates in north Kent carefully avoid mentioning who they are standing for. 

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Categories: ema | Local Politics

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