Does our system of local democracy work? Are we able to get the best out of our local government with the current arrangements? I'm not sure.
A curent case study is the new communal bin system introduce here in Brighton & Hove. Views on these bins vary widely but from residents meetings I've attended I would say about a third are fundamentally opposed to the bins, another third might be open to the bins but not as they have been implemented with the remaining third either positively welcoming or unfussed by them.
There have been lots of bumps on the path of the Conservative's attempts to introduce the bins. First they tried to impose them without consultation but opposition parties forced them to consult. The siting of the bins was fraught and there's been no clear process for adjudication differences over bin locations (I did ask for one but the administration refused). The bins introduced have also been different to the ones trialled and shown in publicity – the new ones do not have foot pedals which made the trial ones fairly easy to use for people with a wide range of mobility levels.
I've been pursuing this matter for a while now… You can review the questions and answers from the January 2009 council meeting. Below are the video clips from my latest questions to the Conservative Cabinet member responsible, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald (split into two parts due to YouTube's 10 minute per clip limit). The required context is provided by the written questions and answers from page 7 of the meeting addendum
I think the answers (or more precisely the lack of them) speak for themself. It's telling how much time Cllr Theobald and his colleague Cllr Brian Oxley trying to persuade me that a Council meeting isn't the right place to challenge these kinds of issues. I absolutely disagree. The council chamber with all the councillors present is exactly where we should hold Cabinet members to account.
That said despite asking the questions in the council chamber I don't believe I got the answers residents deserved. But by having the debate in public forum they will be able to draw their own conclusions from what they see.