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Voters need the right to leave their councils

Mark Wallace, Senior Account Manager at Portland Communications and author of the Crash Bang Wallace blog, says those in neighbouring wards should be allowed referendums to switch authority

One of the most common complaints about local democracy is the time it can take to change things. If you don't like a policy or even a whole council leadership, it can take years to unseat councillors or drive your message home to the powers that be.

The effect of that is to deter people from trying to change things at all. In a world where ordinary voters who aren't political obsessives have more than enough pressures on their time - paying the mortgage, holding on to your job, seeing the kids - it is small wonder they are dispirited and deterred by the slow pace of change.

To overcome that will require introducing new methods of allowing voters to make themselves heard.

The first way of doing this would be to introduce the power of recall, so if enough voters got together they would be allowed to sack councillors mid-term.

A couple of years ago that would be a truly radical proposal. Time have changed, though - all main parties now agree that MPs should be subject to recall, so why not councillors?

The second new power I would propose is equally radical - but perhaps in a couple of years it, like recall, will be mainstream.

It was suggested to me by Harrow Councillor Barry MacLeod-Cullinane, one of the more original thinkers in local government.

His idea could be called local secession and it goes something like this. If you live in a ward that borders another council, you should be allowed to hold a referendum to leave your council and join the one next door.

As with recall, this would be done initially by gathering a sufficiently large petition of voters in the ward to secure the right to have a referendum.

This would be the ultimate sanction that voters could use on their council. If you ignore, neglect or mistreat us, and the council next door does a better job, then we'll pack our bags and leave.

It's probably a safe bet to say that Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham would grow pretty quickly.

There are knock-on benefits to this, too. If one ward left a council, then that authority would likely work harder to improve service for their remaining residents to ensure they don't go too.

If your supermarket is overpriced or inefficient, you can go elsewhere. That is why supermarkets work hard to keep their customers. Councils don't have that pressure to do well or lose customers - but they should.


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