iFAQ: Updating democracy

For our inFrequently Answered Questions this week, we emailed all political parties standing candidates in the upcoming elections a set of three questions on local democracy. For some reason we don’t fully understand, two Conservatives replied despite us only reaching out to their one contact address. As usual, all responses are published unedited below.

These questions assume your party is in control of the council.

1. What would you change about Medway Council meetings and why?

Generally, I would prefer briefer and more focussed reports. In my business career I am normally asking people to get to the point
Cllr Stuart Tranter, Conservative, Rochester West

Prevent public questions from members of any political party who have various other avenues they could easily pursue and instead focus on the needs of the general public.
Cllr Phil Hall, Conservative, Strood North

UKIP is the only party where UKIP Councillors are not ‘whipped’ unlike other parties who are told what national party policies they must follow behind closed doors to keep their jobs. The undemocratic Cabinet meetings would, therefore, be assigned to the rubbish bin. Medway Council meetings are currently a total waste of time for Councillors and the public.  Medway Council is intentionally being ‘SILENT ‘ on all concerns, inequalities or worries over service delivery and does not wish to debate the direction of Council policy the public wishes to see debated.  UKIP would consult on adopting a new Council agenda where at least half of Council meeting time is allocated to debating questions from the public  – unanswered questions would be answered in writing and copies included in the next Council agenda.  That all Council agenda questions and answers would be published on the Medway Council website and a local paper. 
Cllr Roy Freshwater, UKIP, Peninsula

I firmly believe in a far more open, transparent council. For years the arguments for change have got stronger. Most councils webcast their major meetings, most councils allow for supplementary questions and for people to address cabinet. This Tory Administration avoids all of them. A Labour council in Medway would make all these positive changes. We would also change the timing of cabinet to bring it in line with most other Medway council meetings.
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Leader, Chatham Central

2. What could Medway Council do to make its democratic systems more open and accessible?

That pre-supposes they need to be even more open. There are 55 elected members and 3 MPs.  We are required to represent all communities, and we are ultimately held to account by the ballot box. So, what is ‘more democratic’?  We are in fact very easy to contact through many different means, and listen to views. Anyone can talk with their councillors, or officers, ask questions, use Freedom of Information Act, attend most meetings, formally comment on plans, or informally, or complain and escalate, submit petitions and so on. Just about every report and council minute is available freely. Not to mention endless consultation exercises. But ultimately elected members will have to decide, and justify their decision.
Cllr Stuart Tranter, Conservative, Rochester West

They are already very open and accessible although increasing the use of technology in the future would be a good idea e.g. allowing public questions by users of Skype etc.
As the costs continue to decrease it may also be worth revisiting the possibility of live streaming council meetings on the condition that this did not involve a disproportionate use of taxpayers money and quality could be assured.
Cllr Phil Hall, Conservative, Strood North

The fairest way of delivering local services and also meeting the local needs of local people and their families is to adopt a proportional representation voting system Sadly the Tories are only interested in profit and just hid away from providing essential services for residents and communities  – they should hide their head in shame knowing they have only built 150  affordable homes where they know they have 4,000 people on the housing waiting list and  a massive unfolding housing crisis as set out in the Shelter report.  
The SHELTER report, Building for our future: a vision for social housing, recommends the government invests in a major 20-year housebuilding programme, which would offer a social home to millions who fail to qualify under the current system, including:
– 1.27m homes for those in greatest housing need – homeless households, those living with a disability or long-term illness, or living in very poor conditions.
– 1.17m homes for ‘trapped renters’ – younger families who cannot afford to buy and face a lifetime and insecure private renting.
– 690,000 homes for older private renters – people over 55 struggling with high housing costs and insecurity beyond retirement.
Cllr Roy Freshwater, UKIP, Peninsula

All of the above! Also a return to the points system for selecting the mayor to take the party politics out of choosing the first citizen of Medway.
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Leader, Chatham Central

3. In an ideal world, what would be your preferred voting system for local elections?

In an ideal world it would be easier for more people from all backgrounds and ages to stand for election. For a large and complex top tier authority like Medway it needs to be a ‘first past the post’ party system because otherwise there is no clarity of policy.
Cllr Stuart Tranter, Conservative, Rochester West

In an ideal world both national and general elections would take place over the weekend rather than on a week day. This would help maximise turnout, minimise disruption e.g. to schools etc. used as polling stations and so on. In a perfect world electronic voting would take place, reducing costs for taxpayers and ensuring a result as soon as polls closed rather than in the early hours of the morning. This would need to be sufficiently secure to prevent fraud and exceptions for certain groups may be necessary but it’s technologically possible now as Switzerland, U.A.E. and South Korea have proved.
Cllr Phil Hall, Conservative, Strood North

The fairest system is, of course, proportional representation but clearly, the two main political parties do not wish to hear the voices of the majority of Medway residents on how services should be delivered on their behalf and decisions are only made in the best interest of local people !!! Why would they !!  
Voting for UKIP would allow ordinary hardworking residents to take back power from Medway Council – totally unacceptable that we have 4,000 people on Medway housing waiting list, no GPs and increasing health and pollution inequalities, 7,000 homes given planning permission in Medway but remain unbuilt !! So Medway Councils  brilliant leadership and answer to the deprived  Medway towns and housing crisis  is to build two train stations station like Rochester Station with car parks in the middle of green fields on the Peninsula costing £68 million build new roads costing £86 million to enable private predatory housing developers to build 12,000 homes for London commuters and maintain their grotesque profits. Just crazy when Medway has 7,000 homes already given planning permission and ready to be built!!!  Surely £154 million would be far better spent on improving awful and deteriorating Chatham, providing new homes on the many brownfield sites and derelict sites collecting rubbish within our towns and improving homes, turning empty Mountbatten House into apartments and urgently needed mental health and children services, providing Council run nursing homes and home nursing services and reducing current costs by 50%, and the list goes on. 
Cllr Roy Freshwater, UKIP, Peninsula

I support the current electoral system for our unitary authority.
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Leader, Chatham Central

We received no responses to these questions from the Medway Liberal Democrats or the Medway Greens.

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