Local authorities are oddly opaque. It’s almost as if they don’t want the voters to know how they function and how they can be influenced. Crazy, huh? Without that knowledge though, success, however defined, is extremely unlikely.
|You can explain the basic political structure of your local authority, and the different types of role elected councillors fulfill. You have a basic grasp on the officers too, and the decision making process||You have a detailed and historically formed (‘they used to do it like that, now they do it like this) view of the local authority, its culture, the differences between the official set up and what ACTUALLY goes on.||You know the official story, the real story, where the bodies are buried, how the last reorganisation consolidated the power of THIS faction over that one, how the power games are played, who is good at them and what games are on the horizon.||After an hour in your presence, people fundamentally ‘ get it’, now and forever – the scales fall from their eyes, they understand a panel from a subgroup from a regulatory committee from a scrutiny committee, a directorate from a cold steel rail. For all the good it will do them.|
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This is something that most activist groups seem to have a very shaky grasp on. And I would say this is partly because councils are so badly reported in the national press. And not much better reported in the local press, though you do get obviously more detail. So people just aren’t used to thinking about how their local authority works. And you can’t pick it up by osmosis in the same way that you kind of sort of do with watching Channel Four news or reading the Guardian or whatever. It’s a bit like climate policy in that way. You might slowly gradually pick up a sense by reading mass media, but for the national but you ain’t gonna do it for the local.
Also local authorities, I think, call me the Mad Conspiracy Theorist deliberately bad at explaining how they are supposed to work, let alone how they do work, and how citizens might be involved as more than just cheerleaders. So it’s very hard to find this information.
The consequences of not knowing how local authority structures work in both the official story and the real story is you have no chance of influencing them you’re stumbling around blindly. So the solution is, figure out, do the spade work to find out how they’re supposed to work. Then talk to activists, current councillors, ex-councillors, journalists, there are people around who will tell you how these things really work. Then you could set to work making it easier for other people to understand how local authorities do and don’t work, and actually try changing it (you don’t have to take this crap).
More to follow on this, but for now, here’s a great graphic Solvi did about Manchester City Council.