THE LOCALISM BILL 2010
Over-cautious steps towards democracy by the people
Better than no steps at all?
I&R ~ GB: First evaluation of a Localism Bill presented in the
House of Commons, December 2010
Referring to: Part 4, Community empowerment, Chapter 1, Local
Citizens will be able to demand and obtain a referendum on any local
issue "economic, social or environmental". One in twenty members of an
electorate must endorse the referendum proposal.
All levels of local government are to be involved, e.g. the Greater
London Area, cities, towns, counties and districts.
Electronic collection of endorsements can be used.
Design of the direct democratic procedure appears to be rudimentary and
not "state of the art" participatory democracy. The
Conservative/Libdems have not heeded errors made during long experience
in other countries.
1. Deliberative components are lacking
1a) A referendum demand can go directly from proposal to ballot without
formal debate of the proposal by the council. This weakens the
"agenda-setting" aspect of the citizens' initiative.
1b) There is no provision for the council to put forward an alternative
proposal. An alternative proposal may bring the advantage of leading to
negotiation between council and proposers. If no compromise can be
reached and the council rejects the original proposal then both
proposal and alternative can be put to the electorate in a ballot
containing a "preference" question.
2. The requirement of 5 percent for electors' endorsements could be
made fairer by having a sliding scale from, say, one in ten for small
villages to one or two percent in large cities.
3. A veto or "facultative" referendum should be explicitly introduced
with its own rules. This requires "rapid response" by the electorate,
so rules need to be different, e.g. the number of endorsements to be
gathered in order to trigger a referendum may be fewer and an embargo
on the disputed council policy should be included.
4. There is no provision for public organisational or financial support
of a referendum campaign (which can be very costly to the proposers)
although councils are encouraged to campaign for their own position.
"Power to the people" and democracy are not fully achieved
5. The citizens' referendum shall not be legally binding but must only
be taken into consideration by the council.
Further questions and comments
Shall modification of citizens' proposals be allowed? How and at what
stage of the proceedings?
Admissibility of issues may be decreed by a minister of central
governmental though no criteria for such power are defined. This power
could be abused, e.g. for party political reasons.
Proposer of referendum is not clearly defined, perhaps this should be
other than simply one "person", e.g. a group of proposers.
What if any is the time limit for collecting endorsements? Is this "the
period of six months ending with the date on which the petition is
received by the authority" (Section 40).
How can a proposal be made? Must it be "submitted" to a public
official? Where? Which form (if any) must be used for collecting
How will "electronic" proposals and collection of endorsements
Will costs of proposers be reimbursed?
Overall, the Localism Bill's new democracy rules regulating citizens'
proposition and referendum are to be welcomed with reservations.
These rules may allow politicians and government to become accustomed
to democracy with a stronger role for the people.
Citizens for their part will be able to try their hand at steering
government, discovering more about how their councils have worked,
grappling with some complexities of public policy making, encountering
freedom or lack of public information.
Dr. Michael Macpherson
Psycho-Social and Medical Research PSAMRA ~ Integral Studies
Guildford and Berlin
I&R ~ GB Citizens' Initiative and Referendum
Campaign for direct democracy in Britain