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Let the people decide: Allow local referenda

Hannigfield In the third of his series on localism, Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative leader of Essex County Council, on their proposals for Direct Democracy

Following on from yesterday’s coverage, I wanted to share another of our proposals made under the Sustainable Communities Act. This goes straight to the heart of the localism agenda. It is direct democracy in action.

Put simply, we want the Government to give local councils the right to hold local referenda on local issues.

We propose holding such referenda on the same day as local, European and general elections – in much the same way as they do in Australia, in the USA and other Western democracies.

Currently, the Electoral Commission has the power to run referenda on national and regional issues along side national, local and European elections. However, there is no similar power at local level.

Our proposal would change these rules and allow principal local authorities, such as ECC, to ask the Electoral Commission to run referenda on their behalf.

The ability to run referenda would allow increased direct political participation, helping to strengthen and revitalise local government and democracy. It will give our residents real power and influence over important social and political issues which directly affect their lives.

Moreover, running referenda concurrently with other elections would generate a far greater turnout than a referendum run by ECC alone. It would also be much more cost effective, as we would be able to use the existing infrastructure - for example around polling stations and counts.

As for the question for any referendum, we have considered that it would require a mandate of a two-thirds majority in a full council vote, or could be initiated by a petition of local residents. It would then be approved by the Electoral Commission and in the next election these questions would be put on an extra ballot paper and voted on.

Our consultation on the issue shows there is strong support for this proposal from residents and under-represented groups.

Not only is this proposal relatively simple and quick to implement, it is inexpensive and will help to usher in a new age of citizen power. Our residents are calling for a more participatory, direct democracy. We need your support to ensure the Government gives them this opportunity.

> Lord Hanningfield's previous entry in this series examined the quangocracy

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