Does a Crisis Permit Curtailing Local Democracy?

Southfield ward councillor Gary Busuttil takes another look at the impact of Covid-19

Southfield's Liberal Democrat ward councillors
Southfield's Liberal Democrat ward councillors

The pandemic has shown us that, in a global crisis, much of the action is local. People who were suddenly confined to their homes discovered that their neighbours are the most useful support network in self-isolation. During the last six months, I’ve have witnessed residents clap for carers, volunteering for the NHS, checking on their neighbours, and delivered essential items. I have overall been humbled by the community spirit that has evolved from residents not just in Chiswick ward but across borough of Ealing.

As an elected Liberal Democrat Councillor, I consider my role as a community leader, to provide help when and where needed. My fellow Southfield Ward Councillors and myself have delivered food to Ealing Foodbank, proved to the council that Ward Forums can be moved online at no cost to the council, and dealt with lots of individual casework. Throughout this crisis we’ve remained open and in contact to those who need our help.

However, this year more than any time in my elected tenure as a Liberal Democrat Councillor, residents have been increasing vocal and frustrated with local democracy, and many now feel that government and councils do not listen to them. In my last article “Does a Crisis Permit Curtailing Personal Freedoms?” to, I wrote about how the coronavirus shouldn’t be used to curtail civil liberties, and similarly nor should the coronavirus be used as an excuse to curtail democracy.

We have seen this year that the government are looking to overhaul planning decision taking away from “local opponents”, effectively giving residents less say in developments near to you.

In May this year, Grant Shapps the Transport Secretary announced a £2 billion fund, telling councils to reallocate road space for walking and cycling with immediate effect. Hence why the schemes on Fishers Lane and Turnham Green Terrace have come to fruition.

Liberal Democrat say that the imposition of such schemes or overhauls of regulation is not bad in itself, but for the lack of any consultation and transparency with residents, which fuels resentment. That resentment has sometimes boiled over in raucous planning meetings, street protests about LTN’s and even vandalism. Both government and councils have used each other as convenient scapegoats when residents show resentment.

For local democracy to remain intact – or even stronger – from this crisis, it will be ones where councils have had the imagination, resource and humility to work in partnership with residents, rather than ride roughshod over people’s concerns. It is also essential that national government recognises the enormous role communities are playing, and resource and empower them accordingly.

After all, Charles Darwin once said, “those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Councillor Gary Busuttil

Southfield ward councillor for the Liberal Democrats

September 26, 2020