Friday, 31 May 2013

Community Leadership

The Town Council prides itself on being democratically elected ‘community leaders’. In my last post, I challenged some of the assumptions about democratically elected – basically, if the choice of candidates is limited, those elected cannot really claim a strong mandate.

Similarly, I’d argue that ‘community leadership’ has to be earned – only vicars, priests and ministers automatically assume the mantle of community leaders upon appointment. There are many forms of ‘community leadership’ too – the roles of patriarch and gatekeeper are popular amongst ‘cooncillors’ of the old school across the North East.

But as far as I am concerned – the Town Council’s community leadership should be about listening to people, about encouraging and nurturing organisations – and giving credit where credit is due. Morpeth is blessed with a wide range of a community organisations, skilled volunteers and community activists. The Town Council Civic Awards are potentially a great way recognising the community life of Morpeth – but they need to be about the award recipients not about how great the Town Council is to present the awards.   

We should not be so insecure that we are forever pushing ourselves forward and making sure the town council’s role is recognised. If Morpeth is doing well, then due recognition will come to the Town Council naturally without our chasing after it. And for me – that is true ‘community leadership’.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Elections, Mandates and Community Leadership

So, as sort of expected, the yellow vote collapsed in North ward with only one out of three existing town councillors getting re-elected. However, since they took four seats in both Kirkhill and Stobhill wards – they have nine of the fifteen town council seats, and calculating that they took 51% of the total town council votes cast across the town, the yellows are claiming a significant popular mandate. I’m not so sure… 

In Kirkhill, they only had four relatively weak blue candidates and a red paper candidate opposing them. And in Stobhill, there were only six candidates for five seats – so four yellows were effectively elected unopposed and the blue paper candidate was elected rather than the fifth yellow. It is interesting to look at the proportion of town council votes not used…

Every voter had one county council and five town council votes: a total of 4669 county council votes were cast (about 40% turnout), implying a total of 23.345 town council votes available to those who actually voted. But very few voters used all five of their votes: in fact 8893 votes (38%) were not used. Breaking that down by division – in North ward, 27% of town council votes were unused; in Kirkhill, 32% of votes weren’t cast; and in Stobhill a massive 57% of town council votes were not used. Active voters were not voting for the town council candidates on offer – presumably because they didn’t like any of them. It is a huge vote for ‘none of the above’

Admittedly the yellows had 51% of the votes used, but they had twelve candidates – when you work it out on ‘votes per candidate’, they came third behind the Greens and Inds (two candidates each) and ahead of the reds (one candidate) and the blues (eight candidates). Not really that much of a mandate.

So overall – I reckon that politicians across the board let the voters down in offering a comprehensive choice of candidates and the Town Council as a whole has a lot to prove in terms its role as ‘community leaders’. But I’ll leave that for the next post.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Four more years?

Well! That was interesting - thanks to everyone who voted for me - and in fact thanks to everyone who voted at all. As they say - if you don't vote, you can't complain about the council (or government).

So - re-elected to the Town Council for another four years, which means I'll either get a civic funeral or reach 20 years as a town councillor. And Ron got elected too - so Morpeth now has two Green Town councillors!

And I came second in the County Council elections, missing out by 99 votes to David Bawn the Tory candidate. I'm not bitter - and I can't complain about eg Labour voters wasting their vote, since I railed strongly against tactical voting during the campaign. All I will say is that having me as a County Councillor would have been better for the local economy in an immediate sense. Half of David's councillor's allowance will go straight back to central government as tax - whereas if I'd been getting it, nearly all would have stayed (and been spent) in Northumberland.

Back to the Town Council then - I think democracy in Morpeth showed up well , with all Town Council seats contested - compared with, ooooh say Alnwick, where they didn't have enough candidates nominated and are looking for seven people to co-opt onto their 18 seat town council. That said, I am arguing strongly that the 9:6 majority of LDs on the Morpeth Town Council is not really earned since in Stobhill, there were only six candidates for five seats - so that four of the nine LDs effectively had a walkover. That isn't to say they wouldn't have won against more substantial opposition, but in North ward, two out of three sitting LD councillors lost their seats. 

So - in my role as informal convenor of the non-LD members on the Council, I'll be reminding the LDs not to behave as though they have a strong mandate and that they need to be inclusive.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Behind the Leaflet III – Jobs AND Profits

I’m running out of time now before the elections (Vote for me!) – so this’ll be the last post in this series spelling out the bullet points behind my election leaflet:

“Commit seriously to local procurement, supporting local business and jobs, and keeping what money it has in the county
“If NCC decides to outsource – contract to local businesses, keeping both jobs and profits in the county”

The ‘jobs and profits’ tag is a paraphrase of the New Economic Foundation ‘Local Multiplier 3’ (LM3) which they actually developed with Northumberland CC a while back. Basically it argues that money spent with local businesses rather than with national or international companies (eg local shops and supermarkets) – because the wages, procurement and profits of local businesses are three times more likely to stay in and be ‘recycled’ the local economy than (at least procurement and profits) spend by nationals and multinationals. Relatively speaking, the big companies effectively drain money out of the local economy. 

So – even on a tight budget, NCC has a lot of money to spend in its operational budgets – we’re not talking about job guarantee funds or anything here – we are just talking about the money NCC spends on its day to day functioning. The more of that money that is spent in the county – or at least in the region – with locally owned businesses, the better the local and regional economy will be. The variously Development Trusts across the county are potentially particularly good vehicles for local service delivery.

And – if NCC does continue down the route of commissioning, contracting and outsourcing services and functions rather than keeping them in house – it’d create and protect  ‘more and better jobs’ (to borrow a phrase from the North East Independent Economic Review) if it commissioned local businesses rather than national and multinational conglomerates to take on the work. Creating and supporting local businesses is the only way out of the ‘branch economy’ mentality which has dogged the North East for well over sixty years and led to many ill-conceived ‘inward investment’ schemes. 
And better still – since a lot of businesses taking on outsourced work employ the people that have been made redundant by the outsourcing process, because they are the ones with the expertise – they know the job – NCC should make advice on in setting up businesses – better still cooperatives or social enterprises - part of their well-honed redundancy package.