Does Unitary Consultation mean you take just one side?

"Once again, the citizens have disappeared."

Michael Ancram, MP, Devizes.

Yesterday the House of Commons held the first debate about the Local
Government changes – the approval of unitary status for a number of
councils around the country.  The first debate was about Wiltshire, our
home county.

From reading the debate it would seem that the Government has based its decision to form a unitary Wiltshire County Council based on the ease of working of a variety of bodies and organisations and ignored strong evidence that the citizens of Wiltshire opposed the change. I’ve highlighted some of the salient parts from the TheyWorkForYou rendition of Hansard.

"The citizens did not disappear. …  There were probably more people in favour of maintaining district
councils and not moving to a unitary council than there were in favour
of a unitary council. Nevertheless, about a third of the public who
offered a view could see the merit of a unitary Wiltshire and would
like that to happen."

John Healey, Minister of State (Local Government)

So the citizens didn’t disappear but the government choose to ignore them in favour of the views of other stakeholders as described by the County Council who had proprosed unitary status.

"[ask] whether the Government took any steps to authenticate [the evidence produced by the councils submitting a proposal]?"

Simon Hughes, MP, North Suffolk and Bermondsey

"we, as a Government Department, did not undertake any direct opinion polling or checking of residents’ views on the proposal."

John Healey, Minister of State (Local Government)

But the government didn’t check what they said was true. 

"the district auditor stated in response:

"I agree with you that it"—

a press release issued by the county council—

"represents a misinterpretation of the MORI findings. "

Andrew Murrison, MP, Westbury

Even though the District Auditor felt that the county had been mis-representing findings.

I don’t want to get into the debate about whether Wiltshire should abandon the two-tier system or not,


Democracy starts with people

A while back we blogged about how only 7 seats out of 32 were contested in the May 2007 District Council elections in Teesdale.  On the Isle of Wight they have no such problem.  Last Thursday 6 local people were contesting a by-election for a single Parish Council seat in Ventnor.  On a cold December day just before Christmas they achieved a turnout of 28%.


There is no way of telling but the efforts of a local blogger, Simon Perry and his team on VentnorBlog may have helped.  All 6 candidates were interviewed on camera and asked questions that had been left on the blog, results were live blogged and a Podcast from the returning officer was recorded.

Apparently the blog has 17,500 readers which is quite incredible for a town of only 6,000 people.

I spoke with Simon about why don’t more communities have thriving online presences?  I feel the key ingredient is having someone with the energy, drive and commitment to produce the content rather than the tools.  But that is probably coming from someone who doesn’t have a problem with the tools.  Would having better pre-configured sites in WordPress and the right guidance help more communities thrive?

Simon also sent me some links:


%d bloggers like this: