Electing to do things differently

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This article was submitted by Abergavenny Transition Town network.

Next May 2017 we have the once-in-four-years Town Council and Community Council elections.
So why should we care? Does who is voted in, or which party dominates any council, make a difference to our lives?
Did you ever think of putting your name forward but then thought why me?
It’s easy to be cynical and avoid involvement. We are all so busy anyway. Do you even know where your ward boundary is in the town and who are your ward councillors on the Town Council? Surely it’s best left to others, and anyway what do they do?

If you’ve noticed, the last decade of events in our town have a very familiar pattern. Projects and initiatives come forward seemingly out of nowhere, frequently promoted by County Councillors and their officers or developers. The Town Council appear often as bystanders. We then waste months and in some cases years, while those excluded from formulating the origins of the project are forced to simply resist it, or in more positively strive to radically improve it. It frequently and divisively feels like ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. It needn’t be like that. It’s such a waste of everyone’s effort and time.

Many may not be aware, but over the last five years Monmouthshire tried out a progressive but experimental way of involving greater numbers of volunteer groups within our community in a structured way, alongside Councillors, so that more imagination and energy could be brought to the table. This has now collapsed. So it’s back to ‘us’ and ‘them’. The councillors are returning to their old political silos. Does it have to be this way?

Many may not be aware, but many of our current Town Councillors are also County Councillors. That supposedly gets you a seat at the big-boys table at County Hall, Usk where most of the power is and the decisions about resources. Are they doubling up being both County and Town councillors because not enough of us step forward to represent residents and businesses on the Town Council? Is this a healthy state of affairs for the town?

Isn’t there a danger that party political majorities force unwanted decisions on the Town? The political majority in County Hall is similar to that on our Town Council. It’s been like this for years.

Many may not be aware that we are on a cultural precipice re: the future of public services and asset management. There may be endless attempts to off -load assets at a very local level, sometimes on the town and community councils, but most likely on to willing community volunteers, and yet somehow those same volunteers are not invited to the decision making table. Maybe we need another way of working together.

Many improvements in various parts of the town’s environment are being enacted by community volunteer groups. The Friends of Linda Vista, The Friends of Castle Meadows etc.  Any substantial quality improvements in the public domain of the Town (i.e St John’s Square) were in fact largely due to expertise outside the political party structure of the Council and its officers.
The new pedestrian bridge over the Usk wouldn’t be coming forward if it wasn’t for pressure from those outside the Council.
The Town Council with its party political point-scoring mind-set, seems a side-show to all this valuable activity. Surely this is not how it should be.

Is party politics dysfunctional at Town Council level? Do we need another way of working to bring real benefits to this town? Don’t we need an enabling council , open to embracing all those with energy for  positive change in the town? Don’t we need a younger generation to step up to the plate? Isn’t party politics an anachronism at this level of governance in our communities? Many other communities think so.

The town of Frome in Somerset set in motion a different way of acting at the local level called under the title Flat-Pack Democracy. http://www.flatpackdemocracy.co.uk/   A new set of people from all sorts of backgrounds, generations and viewpoints, came together and within three months got themselves elected. Four years later at the next round of elections an expanded group working under the same ethos, completely took over the  whole Town Council. They embraced many divergent political values, but all signed up to a respectful attitude to how you treat each other that rose above party loyalties; they embraced a creative, enabling, open, inclusive and transparent way of conducting business. They got rid of many of the suffocating procedures. They knew they had to bring the volunteering energy into the heart of decision making. Others are following Frome’s lead. One of its founding members Peter MacFayden came to Abergavenny some months ago. A seed was laid.

If you would like to make it blossom and stand for a different way of decision making in the town, then come to either one of two events, one on the weekend Saturday 19th November at 2.30pm for those who work in the week, the other is on Monday evening 21st November 7.00pm: Both meetings will be  held at the Abergavenny Community centre, Park Street, and are hosted by Abergavenny Transition Town.

For more information on Flat Pack Democracy go to http://www.flatpackdemocracy.co.uk/

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About Author

Founder of Abergavenny Now and History graduate from Bath Spa University. I was born in Abergavenny and have lived there for most of my life.

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