Government to trial citizens juries and mass online polls in local decision-making
Will this happen in Wales?
The government is to trial ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area, with proposals for "Citizens’ Juries" or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app.
The proposal is part of the first Civil Society Strategy in 15 years, which was unveiled today by Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society.
“Many people feel disenfranchised and disempowered, and the government is keen to find new ways to give people back a sense of control over their communities’ future,” the document says.
“Participatory democracy methods, such as Citizens’ Juries, can make a profound difference to people’s lives: evidence shows that enabling people to participate in the decisions that affect them improves people’s confidence in dealing with local issues, builds bridges between citizens and the government, fosters more engagement, and increases social capital. It also increases people’s understanding of how decisions are taken, and leads to authorities making better decisions and developing more effective solutions to issues as a broader range of expertise can be tapped into to solve public issues.”
The ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme will take place in six regions across the country “to trial face-to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency”.
The publication also says the government wishes to go devolve more power to community groups and parishes. It will explore with the National Association of Local Councils and others the option for local ‘charters’ between a principal council, local councils, and community groups setting out respective responsibilities.
“This could include joint service delivery or the transfer of service delivery responsibilities to local councils, parishes or community groups, the transfer of borough council assets to local councils, or from councils to parishes, and the opportunity for councils or parishes to ‘cluster’, that is to form a consortium with sufficient scale to commission or deliver larger service functions,” it adds.
Other initiatives set out in the Civil Society Strategy include:
- Revising the guidance that helps communities take ownership of local assets.
- Exploring means of ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need.
- Improving the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 “to ensure that organisations can generate more social value for communities when spending public money on government contracts”. The government will explore the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts, and the suggestion that the Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer. Also, “as announced on 25 June 2018, central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Act to goods and works and to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead the way by applying this wider remit to major projects, to be followed by other departments in due course.”
- Exploring (through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) the potential of transfers of public land to community-led housing initiatives, such as Community Land Trusts, by which residents become members of a trust which holds land and housing on behalf of the community.
- Unlocking £20m from inactive charitable trusts (those which spend less than 30% of their annual income) to support community organisations over the next two years.
- Supporting charities “to make their voices heard on issues that matter to them and ensuring that charitable trustees reflect the diversity of the society they serve”.
- Distributing money from dormant bank accounts to independent organisations that will (a) get disadvantaged young people into employment (£90m) and (b) tackle financial exclusion and the problem of access to affordable credit (£55m).
Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Our plans stand side-by-side with the Industrial Strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making.
“These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.”
Tracey Crouch said: “Civil society is the bedrock of our communities. It is made up of the volunteers, youth workers, charities and innovative businesses that work to improve lives and make areas better for all.
“Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference.
“Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”