Bringing voting reform closer to home

Nearly half a million people signed a petition in the aftermath of the general election calling on David Cameron to reform our voting system and make seats match votes.  The response makes it clear that the government don’t see it is a priority so how can we achieve change.

Speaking at the Great Gathering for Voting Reform on Saturday I proposed  using the Sustainable Communities Act to help unlock democracy at a local level. 

There is a very strong argument for PR in local government.  This already exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland and many of the arguments that are used against proportional systems, such as the fact that you need to have larger constituencies and elect more than one person simply don’t apply at a local level. 

Even more importantly there is a way for us as activists to demand change. It’s called the Sustainable Communities Act, The SCA was passed after a 5 year cross party campaign supported by over 100 national campaigning organisations, including Unlock Democracy.  It  introduced a new bottom up process for communities and local government to reach agreement with central government about additional powers that would improve the sustainability of the local authority area.

There are 2 very important things things to remember about the SCA

1) It is not a consultation. Rather the Act sets out a formal process where the govt has to reach agreement with the local authority and if they reject the proposal, the Local Government Association has a role as selector and can push back. This process has already helped Sheffield to save post offices and Hackney Council to get more control over the number of betting shops on high streets.

2) A local authority, working together with community groups, can put forward any proposal that requires action from central government and that  they believe would improve the sustainability of the area. The definition of sustainability is deliberately very broad but includes the local economy, environment and democracy. 

So how does this relate to voting reform? Councils could use the Sustainable Communities Act to get the power to change their electoral system.  There would have to be local support for the change and the Council would need to provide evidence of how our current flawed system damages the sustainability of their community.

Under current electoral systems, there is a high prevalence of uncontested seats, compared to Scotland where there have not been any uncontested seats since they introduced single transferable vote (STV)  in local elections in 2007. The proportional system has also increased turnout in Scotland, as well as changing the way councillors interact with the public and each other.

The Act is all about finding innovative solutions to local problems--so sign up to our campaign for fairer votes for local government!