The local council elections. When we get our voting cards, we should also get a leaflet telling us what it is we’re voting on. The body we’re electing people to, the powers and responsibilities of that body, how that body functions and how we fit into all of that. If people don’t read it, then that’s fine. But at least we’d all have the option to.
So, here’s what I’ve found out about the local council elections:
Each county council area is divided into wards. The residents of each ward elect one–occasionally two–representatives. Wrexham, my council, has 47 wards and 52 representatives. The elected councillors are not paid a salary, but they are paid expenses.
The council acts as a kind of CEO of county. They appoint the Chairperson and the executive board who are responsible for running the county. The Chairperson and some of the board are appointed from the elected members of the council. The councillors on the board “carry out all of the local authority’s functions which are not or may not be the responsibility of any other part of the council”. This excludes things like Finance, the Environment, Assets and Local Development, Social Care and others, and doesn’t really leave much. Paperclips, maybe? Photocopying Policy?
The executive board (councillors and unelected) act like a corporate executive board. They write documents designed to dictate policy within their departments, like, I dunno, ‘healthy eating is good and we want our kids to do more of it’. The council then vote on those documents to determine the ‘budget and policy framework’ for the board. If the board want to do anything outside the framework, it needs to go to the entire council for a vote.
I’m assuming the executive board of the council also do that other important corporate board function–networking. I’ve been working hard to understand corporate executive boards lately, so I’m sure there’ll be a long and boring post about the importance of networking at some point in the future. Basically, you remember I posted a while ago about non-quantified assets and how my relationship with my dad meant he was going to help me replace the head gasket on my car, and save me close to five-hundred quid? (I really need to come up with a better name than ‘unquantified assets’. It’s not very easy to say, is it? How about… How about fuzzy assets? Fuzzy credit? … We’ll see how it goes.) Well, networking is the building up of fuzzy assets, which then get spent in the name of the organisation you work for.
… I was going to say, ‘to benefit the organisation you work for’, but we all know that’s not always the case. Probably not even that often the case. It’s far easier to work for yourself and your friends than for some diffuse, nebulas ‘corporate entity’.
It’s the executive board runs the county. On May 3rd, I’m going to be electing 1/52nd of the body that appoints the people who run the county. There’s a 1/52 chance that my councillor will be appointed to the board as Head of Strategic Paperclip Review. Well, there would be if everyone’s chance of being appointed were equal.
That’s not to say the rest of the council are powerless. The policy framework they have the power to approve or reject covers the setting and collecting council tax, running of schools, waste collection and management, roads, police, healthcare, social services, town planning… This is the nuts and bolts of policy, the hard edge that has a real and tangible impact on our daily lives. So long as the policies adopted by the council don’t break national laws, they can do what they want. Put up a new shopping centre? Sure! Merge schools? Yeah! Dig up the entire road system on the same bank holiday weekend? Knock yourself out!
So, I should care about these elections. I should really care. It’s just… My councillor is one of 52, and I’m one of about 1,600 residents in my ward. That means my vote counts for about 1/83,200th of a body that has veto over the general direction of council policy. Doesn’t make me feel very empowered, you know?
And the feeling feels mutual. It’s taken me hours of surfing to find all this info out. I’m still struggling to find a list of the candidates in my ward. (ETA. I’ve found a list! There’s two people on it. Oh, the choice!) And the only way candidates can influence policy is by voting in blocks, and those blocks are going to be along party lines. So it doesn’t matter if I elect a Lib Dem, candidate, and xe really cares about the same issues as I do and feels the same way, if Lib Dem Central tell xir to jump to the right, xe’s gonna jump.
We’re butchering foreigners to impose this system on them? We should just leave them to find their own way to enfranchise their people. We might learn a thing or two.