Democracy matters – we need a debate on devolution

If you’ve not been following the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill going through Parliament at the moment, you’re not the only one. But something exciting is happening this weekend that can finally get the public stuck into the debate.  

Saturday will see a major democratic experiment to find out where citizens think power should lie at the local level. In Sheffield and Southampton, we’re launching ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ to coincide with the Government pushing through devolution legislation.

The two Citizens’ Assemblies – four-day events in Southampton and Sheffield taking place in October and November – will bring representative samples of the local population together to discuss and decide on the future of local democracy.

With city deals being brokered left, right and centre (no political pun intended), it will be the first time citizens in English regions will be given the chance to deliberate on the question of where power should lie – within a few days of the government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill receiving its second reading in the House of Commons.

All this is being co-ordinated by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics and the Electoral Reform Society, in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. They are pilot projects for the sort of deliberative event envisaged by those calling for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention. We want to eventually see a proper national debate about Britain’s constitutional future.

A year on from the Scottish referendum, it’s more vital than ever that the public – particularly in England – have a say on where power should lie in the UK.

As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above.

These Assemblies are a real chance to shape the devolution agenda so that it genuinely involves the people which it affects.

We’re expecting some really interesting stuff to come out of this project – so make sure to follow its progress.

About the Assemblies

These Assemblies have been organised to rigorous academic standards. Each assembly will have 45 members – one will be held in Sheffield with membership drawn from across South Yorkshire; all participants will be members of the public. The other will be held in Southampton with members from across Hampshire; 30 participants will be members of the public and 15 will be local politicians.

Members of the public have been chosen by YouGov to be representative of the local population. Politician members of the Southampton assembly have been invited in proportion to their vote shares.

The Sheffield Assembly (Assembly North) will be chaired by Len Tingle, BBC Yorkshire Political Editor. The Southampton Assembly (Assembly South) will be chaired by Peter Henley, BBC South Political Editor.
The work of each assembly will be based around four phases: learning; consultation; deliberation; and decision.

Each assembly will use a mix of plenary and small-group formats at every stage, in order to facilitate inclusive deliberation. The work of each group will be aided by a trained facilitator and a note-taker.

For more information visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk/ or contact Edward Molloy (edward.molloy@electoral-reform.org.uk)

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