This is a personal viewpoint and not one necessarily endorsed or approved by those I am working with.
For me, one of the reasons for experimenting with the idea of a citizens panel is to explore new ways of improving our democracy. There are many good and committed councillors who work conscientiously to serve the communities they represent. As individuals, many do great work. But the system of governance under which they operate has severe constraints. It is also one where increasingly, people no longer feel they have a voice.
Too often, our councillors are obliged to listen to the voice of Westminster, or their political party rather than those who elect them. In the same report by Hansard, 50% of people say the main parties and politicians don’t care about people like them and 63% think Britain’s system of government is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.
Clearly, something has gone wrong with how our democracy works. A big part of the problem is the over-centralisation of power at Westminster. Local democracy has been gutted, council budgets cut to the bone, and services outsourced or ended, leaving people with a pervading sense of powerlessness over decisions that affect them.
For that same reason, we have to be realistic about what the citizens panel can achieve. It is a first small step in giving voice to local people and in building a stronger more accountable relationship between elected representatives, public officials and the local community. It also seeks to move in the opposite direction to the polarising, angry politics that is dividing communities, inciting hatred and herding us into social media silos where only one point of view is listened to.
Whether or not these aims are achieved is down to all of us. We have a choice and a sense of agency if we choose to exercise it. We can come together to address key issues of common concern -but it does mean listening to each other and having difficult conversations with those who may hold very different views from our own.