I have been following the unsurprising news that the V&A is going to be massively over budget. Dundee will have its Holyrood or Edinburgh Trams shambles, why leave Dundee out of the annoying fact in this country that we can’t seem to get any sort of large capital projects right and on budget. But this just highlights the wider issue of local democracy and how this does and does not work.
I have started to think more about this issue, and have found myself getting more and more annoyed that local democracy is pretty much non-existent or certainly is beginning to feel that way due to a real lack of meaningful consultation with local people on most things but certainly on the big things like borrowing.
Now I accept that some local councillors want local people to engage with them about what is going on in the city and my local Liberal Democrat Councillor does a newsletter that comes out monthly and highlights the work that he does in the area, and is actually a good Councillor. However, it is just not good enough anymore in the modern world.
National and local government really need to consider how they involve local people in decision-making. We all lead very busy lives and the days of attending meetings in many cases are gone.
Now I don’t want to go on about the mechanics of the wider decision-making too much but rather on certain decisions reached in Dundee costing vast sums of public money.
Recently in Dundee we have seen the new Olympia being built-in possibly the worst location imaginable in Dundee, situated at one of the busiest road sections in the city. This cost £31.2 million pounds to build with around £7 million from the Scottish Government. Dundee City Council is building a new Harris Academy at a cost of around £32 million pounds with the Scottish Government contributing around £20 million to the project and again within a questionable location. Add in the V&A and what we have is a very large bill coming to the Council Tax payer in Dundee.
Now the common dominator here is that I can’t remember anyone from Dundee City Council asking me or anyone else if we agreed with the spending of millions of pounds of public money for these projects, let alone the terrible location of the projects. It feels a bit like they only consult when it suits them.
So here is a really radical idea. Lets change the rules and make it mandatory that a local council must consult with the electorate if it wishes to spend, lets say anything over £5 million pounds, of local tax payers money on capital projects without consulting with local people on the spend and that all results of public consultation be publicly available in local papers, websites and libraries and that if local people are against then the project cannot go ahead.
It is no longer good enough for big local decisions to be made on what are essentially public services and public assets, paid for by the public, to be made without extensive and very public consultation. It is also no longer acceptable to use the excuse that people don’t turn up to meetings, they don’t reply, we live in the digital age, make the effort.
The more I learn the more I understand that having a vote does not mean that I live in a democracy.