William Eichler 12 April 2016

Citizens want more say in devolution, report finds

‘Citizens want stronger devolution with more public involvement.’ This is one of the conclusions of the final Democracy Matters report which will be officially launched tomorrow.

The document, entitled Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution, shows strong support for constitutional change—in particular, for devolution—but stresses citizens should have more of a say in the process.

Last October and November, Democracy Matters, a group of academics, and the Electoral Reform Society, organised two ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ in Southampton and Sheffield.

The two assemblies both had 45 members each, but represented two different models. The participants in the Sheffield assembly were all members of the public, whereas the Southampton assembly was constituted from 30 members of the public and 15 local politicians.

Professor Matthew Flinders, principal investigator for the project, said at the time: ‘This is a huge opportunity to feed the views of the public into the policy-making process and to explore the potential of new democratic methods to reinvigorate British politics.’

A major conclusion of this final report, which brings together the lessons of the assemblies, is that ‘citizens are ready, willing and able to take part in participatory and deliberative forms of democracy.’

‘Citizens want stronger devolution with more public involvement,’ it argues. ‘They want to feel part of “the revolution in devolution” and not simply to have change imposed upon them.’

A number of high-profile politicians—including Dominic Grieve MP, Suzanne Evans and Caroline Lucas MP—will attend the parliamentary launch tomorrow.

Commenting on Democracy Matters, Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: ‘People are increasingly fed up with Britain’s archaic and undemocratic political system.

‘It’s clear that our constitution needs updating - but that process must not be the sole responsibility of people in power.

‘This project is hugely exciting because it aims to devolve power to local communities, and allow people a real say on the issues which affect their lives.’

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: ‘It is fantastic to see politicians from all the major parties come together to address urgent need to involve the public in the huge democratic changes taking place in the UK.

‘English devolution is the biggest shakeup to local democracy for decades – yet voters have been left out of the conversation, unable to shape how their areas are changing.

‘A top-down model for devolution simply won’t last, so this report and event will be central to changing the debate and finally letting the public in.’

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