It has always puzzled me how local democracy, while incredibly important to everyone’s day-to-day lives barely impinges on people’s consciousness.
I’ve never quite been sure whether that’s because we don’t do enough to publicise it (although politically and administratively I think we’re good at communications) or because people just don’t care. And I’m not sure which of those I would rather it be. While it’s not great to think we’re not doing something well, would that be preferable to people just not caring?
Of course, there is the argument that when things are going well, people just aren’t going to complain. There is some truth in that, and experience shows that people are quick to raise issues, complain and campaign if the council is doing something wrong or they don’t like.
The problem with this approach is that it just supposes that councils are there to provide services, that it exists with a set of fairly binary functions rather than to create the sort of areas we live in. Actually, when you look at the decisions made in Wandsworth ten, twenty or thirty years ago you can start to see that they helped shape the Wandsworth we live in today.
I was blundering around that subject with a post about the Wandsworth sausage the other week: while we do provide those sorts of services, cumulatively they create something that’s not quite as easy to measure or assess. Subtle variations in the services we do (or don’t) provide add up to make the borough we live in. And obviously something is guiding those choices towards, hopefully, that bigger picture.
Last night was a meeting of the Local Strategic Partnership. This is one of those bodies that few outside the public sector know about, but which theoretically wields a huge amount of power over a local area. Everyone there is signed up to ‘Our Wandsworth’, our sustainable community strategy and, therefore, it guides the council, police, NHS, Jobcentre Plus and many others in their binary choices today that collectively building the Wandsworth we want to see in 2018.
The report was just a progress update on how well the medium term targets were progressing. A refresh of the strategy takes place next year, but given my pessimism will anyone outside the public sector contribute their view on the Wandsworth they want to see? Or are we doomed to live in a set of neighbourhoods that are formed as a reflection of the major public sector organisations that serve them? I hope to God not.
I was disappointed at the lack of response to my sausage post. Perhaps it was because of the Carry On innuendo. Or maybe people were disappointed it wasn’t about actual sausages. I’m hopeful it isn’t because people don’t actually care. When I’ve posed similar questions in the past I’ve had plenty of responses, so it was perhaps a poor attempt at engagement by me…
But if I can’t engage people with sausages, what can I engage people with?