An editor has warned politicians that “local democracy is in trouble” if they do not make better use of local newspapers to promote democratic engagement.
John Wilson, who edits Newsquest’s weekly newspapers in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, has urged politicians to do more to help their constituents engage with the democratic process by promoting meetings better.
John’s call comes after just 16 voters turned up to a public meeting about the “controversial” Cotswold District Local Plan which was held at 10am.
Newsquest reporter Sarah Watson, who attended the meeting, admitted on Twitter she had been “shocked” by the low attendance for “such an important meeting”.
— Sarah Phaedre Watson (@SPWatsonNQ) August 3, 2018
In turn, John suggested that such meetings shouldn’t be held during the day because “too many people who may like to attend are at work”.
John told HTFP: “The meeting about Cotswold District Local Plan was effectively a rubber-stamping exercise. The consultation period had finished, and there were no further arrangements for members of the public to express their opinions. Nevertheless, it was a final opportunity for local councillors to address voters about a controversial document: the blueprint for how their communities will develop over the next 13 years.
“Cotswold District Council booked the Baptist Church, Cirencester, for the meeting, rather than the council chamber, so it could accommodate more people. Yet our reporter Sarah Watson, who expressed her dismay at the turnout, said there were only about 16 voters there, despite serious concerns in the community about the content of the plan.
“That’s no surprise. The meeting was held at 10am on a Friday in the school summer holidays. Many people with an interest would have been at work or away with their families. No wonder local democracy is in trouble. Significant public meetings like this should be held out of working hours and promoted extensively in local newspapers, which reach many more local people than councils’ communication channels.
“Politicians should also swap their jargon for the sort of everyday English that people can understand, and which will encourage them to engage more in local affairs.”