Thursday, 16 December 2010
You can imagine that when I stumbled across the headline "Councillor Calls for Blackberry Ban" I was naturally suspecting that this was another re-run of the usual tweeting in meetings story - same dialogue, different cast. It transpires that the story, emanating from Canada, had another dimension to it. The main issue causing consternation seems to be that councillors are using their devices to communicate with each other in the meeting, particularly to "debate issues and plan voting strategy". I'm not sure what to make of this one to be honest. On the one hand it sort of has the feeling of school children passing notes in class whilst the teacher isn't looking and on the other it begs the question what are the party whips doing. Party whips, at whatever level of government, have a key role in party discipline, which includes being clear as to voting intentions.
That said, I think this article poses some greater and more fundamental questions. Firstly, I'm not sure that "banning" per se is often the answer to many challenges and societal developments. In this case it feels at least like one step forward and one step back. Secondly, the most interesting part of the article to me was not the one that attracted the headlines. A footnote to the article includes a quote from a councillor who defends the use of hand held devices in meetings:
"Councillors use their BlackBerrys to do Internet research on issues that are being discussed and to communicate with their office staff to get information on a file being discussed which might be pertinent to the debate."
There might be a real case for the research argument - informed debate is, one would think, a cornerstone of democracy and political dialogue. Do tools like Blackberries enhance this? Furthermore, communicating with staff (presumably those employed by the councillors / political groups in whatever capacity) during the meeting is a fascinating scenario, one that I have not come across before. I'm not sure what I think about this, there are opportunities and potential pitfalls when applied to our own system of local government. What do you think?
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Saturday, 11 December 2010
This blog has been inspired by some of the work that we (@steventuck and @spencerlwilson) have been doing regionally across Yorkshire and the Humber. Thanks to the support of Local Government Yorkshire and the Humber we have been running social media sessions for councillors, the full details of which can be found at cllrsocmed.
Thursday, 9 December 2010
- Having councillors tweeting in the meeting adds value and perspective to the event - they are politicians expressing views on important matters for the residents of their borough. People are interested in this - this should not be a revelation.
- Be lucky enough to work for an organisation like Kirklees Council that is forward thinking enough to give this sort of stuff a go - obvious but true
- Try and answer any questions that are tweeted.
- Make a virtue of the passionate web and democracy folk in your organisation
- Promote internally within your organisation - it is important that staff understand councillors and the democratic organisation they work for. This is a quick and easy way. We are all approaching budget council meetings - this will be important to residents and staff alike.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
For as long as I can remember my life (like many of us) has been touched by politics, democracy and “events dear boy, events” . I wouldn’t say that I had a political upbringing, but there was always some
strong messages about the importance of voting and understanding what politicians were “doing for us and in our name”.
As a child I remember the excitement of the power cuts under the Heath government, the Lib Lab Pact, Wilson surprisingly leaving Number 10 and the subsequent Winter of Discontent. I may not have understood the political ideologies and decisions behind those events, but they are part of my past and must have sparked some curiosity. Growing up in Sheffield in the 1970s and 1980s certainly fuelled this curiosity. This was a time when the Labour run council had some fame (and notoriety) for some of its policies – the cheapest bus fares in the country being one that everyone reminds me of (like I’d forget) when I say I’m from Sheffield.
Cheap bus fares aside, it was “Rock on the Rates” that I remember. My teenage (and adult) passion was music, punk rock music. It was the collision of my curiosity and my passion that shaped the course of my life from then on – a grand statement, but on reflection true. I was a teenager who was able to see The Damned, The Fall, The UK Subs (I could go on) because the Council put on these free gigs for young people like me. I remember well waiting in line to get my “free” tickets to see bands that I couldn’t afford to see.
Around this time I had a bit of a lightning bolt moment – somebody had made a decision to make that happen. Not exactly rocket science, but enough to have a real impact on me. Politicians had made a decision to give me the chance to do something that was so important to me.
My curiosity with all things democratic and political accelerated – I developed a voracious interest in the world of government and politics. This interest began in the early 1980s and stays with me to this day. When I wasn’t studying politics I was fascinated by the people and events that characterised that period. Labour under Foot, Kinnock and Smith, the SDP, the Thatcher government, inner city riots, the Falklands War, monetarism, the miners strike, Scargill, privatisation, Derek Hatton, yuppies, the Brighton bombing, North Sea oil… I could go on.
At the same time punk music continued to spin on my turntable (CDs don’t feature until much later), with many bands making social comment about the people and their policies that I found myself studying about. I think you’re getting the picture.
I came out of Polytechnic (now there’s a term that dates me) being clear about one thing – I wanted a job that somehow involved making use of all this politics stuff I’d been filling my head with. I wanted to work with these political decision makers, find out more about them and their world. Beyond that, I didn’t have a clue.
It was a Margaret Thatcher policy that I have to thank for getting my foot on the local government ladder. In the late 1980s the Community Charge (aka Poll Tax) came into being. I got a job as a Trainee Revenues Clerk with Kirklees Council in February 1990. Now, I thought, was my chance to get into this political world. Not quite.
Four years!!! later I managed to get a job that gave me the back stage pass to local government politics I had been looking for – Committee Administrator. Since then I have had many roles working with and for politicians in Kirklees. At the moment I am Assistant Head of Policy and Governance.
In terms of this blog, the jobs I have had aren’t important (CV available on request). What matters is the way those experiences have shaped my values, passions and interest. Working closely with councillors at all levels has made me appreciate what they do, why they do it and why local democracy really matters.
Elections, decision making, openness, transparency, representation, governance, scrutiny, accountability, legitimacy, democracy – lots of words, but ones that are important to me. That’s what this blog is about – my take on this world of local democracy and its key players, the councillors. Councillors like the ones who made a decision to allow some kids in Sheffield to see some bands for free.
Finally, the dilemma. I am an officer working for Kirklees Council, and want that to continue thank you very much. I don’t intend to say anything in this blog to compromise the Council’s reputation or my professional position. So you will get my experiences and views (I hope to get yours in return) about loads of stuff, but there will be no politics, no confidences broken and no trusts betrayed.
I also reserve the right to talk about anything else besides. So be warned, there may be rants.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it.