Democracy, or the impact of it, is never far from the news. This country and the world are dealing with so many issues which reflect on democracy or the lack of it. I’m thinking of, inter alia (as we used to say in Roman times):
- Climate crisis and different governmental responses: different nations are reacting quite differently. Our own has this week seen the announcement that the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars (including hybrids) will be banned from 2035 (brought forward from 2040). This seems to many observers to be a knee jerk reaction, but whatever you think of PM Johnson it is a clear response to ground level democracy. Not the formal stuff that we deal in day in day out, although no doubt there will be in depth scrutiny in due course, but it is a response to the work of Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion and the like.
- The chaotic situation in the USA – the failed attempt to impeach the President which coincided with two other major democratic processes, the beginning of the new presidential campaign and the Republican manifesto (sorry, State of Union address).
- The coronavirus problem: an increasingly undemocratic China dealing with a major health crisis – some commentators say that it is a good thing to have autocracy at times like this. It is certainly true that if the outbreak occurred in our only city of similar size, London, it would not, could not, have been dealt with the same way. I’m making no point either way on this but simply flagging up the democratic differences.
- Yet another example, this time in Scotland, of a politician acting inappropriately in sending messages to a 16 year old boy. The media are also having a field day about two behavioural matters in Westminster which may or may not have been breaches of any codes or conventions.
- The issue of how we deal with terror offenders and whether “foreigners” who have committed violent crimes should be returned “home” at the end of their prison sentences. These two issues are, of course, in no way related other than being current and relevant matters in a relatively liberal democracy.
- The general election in Ireland and the forthcoming election of police and crime commissioners.
- The replacement of the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – will that Party select the only white man on a five person shortlist as many commentators predict?
My point is this. Democracy matters in whatever form it is seen and it is our job, your job, to make sure it works smoothly, effectively and efficiently and you all should be proud of the work you do! It is ADSO’s job to give the help, training and support that you might need.
Lecture over – I’d now like to turn briefly to a couple of issues nearer home. Firstly I was very pleased to attend the East South East regional meeting in January. The well attended meeting in Maidstone had a session from Modern.Gov bringing up to speed with developments and encouraging users to try the work flow options. After that a wide range of local issues including the following:
- The current developments in the work of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, and in particular the consultation on the draft code of conduct. All parties and individuals are encouraged to contribute to this process, the most contentious element being whether to introduce tougher sanctions and if so what. The Scottish resignation referred to above would have been interesting had the minister not had the sense to resign. What would happen in local government in a similar scenario? Would it be swept under the Leader’s carpet or would the police simply prosecute?
- The evergreen debate about technology for councillors and the paperless agenda – some real progress being made here!
- Councillor training – another old chestnut, but again some authorities are really achieving good work in this area where historically there has been some resistance to a comprehensive roll out.
- Finally, I gave a brief report on what the ADSO Board had been doing apart from our Christmas lunch. Essentially I told the group that the Board had been concentrating on two important matters – feedback from the 2019 conference and the programme for the 2020 conference; and ensuring that the training programme was meeting members’ needs – in my view this is our core business. I also reported that John Austin and I continue to work on the Joint Taskforce on the Committee on Standards in Public Life alongside our other stakeholders. We also welcome and enjoy feedback from all the regional meetings.
- And finally again, I made the point to this group, which I happily repeat to the entire membership (or at least the ones who get to the end of this long rant) that the Directors of ADSO are dominated by old white men and it would be good to see others come forward willingly to take some of our places – that includes me even though I have only been in post for 18 months or less. These are positions that can be carried out alongside your full or part time jobs so if you are interested please don’t hesitate to contact us – it would certainly look better on your CVs than it does on mine!
Yours in democracy
ADSO Company Secretary