Local democracy is undergoing considerable change at present. Labour have set out their case through ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities’. This shift in emphasis is a move away from centralisation. When Labour came into power, they decided that in order to achieve on the major deliverable agendas, they required strong government. This meant more power for 10 Downing Street and less for the respective departments. Targets were set across health and education in order to encourage improvement in public service delivery. However, much of this delivery has been dependent upon the performance of local organisations like councils and health trusts and an integral part of this local set-up has been the role of the councillor who is supposed to provide local leadership and scrutiny.
Bradford has about 90 councillors, and about 20 of them are Muslims. This is interesting in that Muslims have achieved more representation through direct democracy than through the council structure itself. However, there have been and obviously are several major criticisms of the councillors. Some are currently accused of postal vote fraud. But the bigger crime to me is their lack of involvement in the city itself whether in the form of leadership or scrutiny. This has meant that in the absence of a credible local Muslim leadership, there has emerged a vacuum which has allowed many unsavoury things to pass. What this has practically meant is that some of us have taken on the role of ex-officio councillors, though no-one knows this and neither do we. We have informed people about public policies, directed them about how they can improve their civic involvement and called for scrutiny where necessary. This is because the current system isn’t working.
The government recognised that this was an important issue and so set up a Councillors Commission which reported back to the DCLG a few months ago. I’ve been trying to encourage others to consider taking up the role of councillor in Bradford but most have been reluctant. This is because they have doubts about how the system runs at present and also because they are unsure of which party to join.