Readers Letters: A Voice for Democracy by East Devon District Councillor Mike Allen

By Kate Baxter

26th Jan 2023 | Readers Letters

A Voice for Democracy: A personal view of why we need public comments and press coverage at Scrutiny Committees at East Devon District Council by East Devon District Councillor Mike Allen.

I became a Town councillor and then a District Councillor out of a passion for justice and democracy.

The electorate needs to be vigilant and ready to act on evidence of unresponsive, secretive or indifferent elected representatives. They must be held to account and a Scrutiny Committee is a vital committee as a voice for the people.

Because elections only come every 4 or 5 years the law provides another way to hold Councils to account – through the Scrutiny Committee which I chair and if you contact East Devon Democratic Services with a suggestion for an investigation or an idea to improve Council services, I promise to listen and take it further with the help of our Scrutiny Committee Council members and Officers.

The procedure for registering to speak is set out on the EDDC website. Members of the public need to register by emailing [email protected]

This is why I am unhappy when, for example, an East Devon Alliance Sidmouth Councillor wrote to me opposing a review of the Local Plan Consultation which has caused so much controversy. East Devon residents must be able to ensure that Councillors and officials perform with maximum efficiency and transparency.

There needs to be reliable and vigilant watchdogs to ferret out any incompetence, inefficiency and corruption and expose it all to shame those who are guilty, and they must not be shouted down by Councillors who dislike their motives exposed.

Nothing concentrates the mind quite as much as being exposed. There must be a pay off at election time when unresponsive Councillors can be made to be voted out.

When the Town and District Council tried to ignore the wish of local people to retain a beautiful green field for public use I became part of a Community group who resisted and won.

It is the people who matter, the electorate at the local level, it is not about eloquent policies or ideological posturing. What matters for us are everyday down to earth, bread and butter things that have to do with good planning and service delivery.

Are we or are they not going to get that much needed school or those desperately needed affordable houses, are those roads properly surfaced and the streets safe; will there be a community library, a local hospital and a bigger doctors' surgery. Will there be green spaces to enjoy; will there be safe recreation areas with swings and roundabouts for the children, and safe swimming pools and beautiful sports fields.

Will there be jobs and wages to pay for the needs of their homes. Are the aged and those with disabilities and children and other vulnerable members of society adequately catered for?

I became dissatisfied with the Town Council who took out a massive loan and then added over 16 % (£52 per person) to the rates, followed by double-digit increases each year over the following years.

I stood for East Devon District Council and now Chair the Scrutiny Committee which will allow anyone to speak or raise concerns which can be investigated. It is a critical friends advising improvements to Council activities and it must not be silenced.

A free critical and investigative press is quite indispensable for a vibrant democracy encouraging vigorous debate and dissent, allergic to favouritism and fear of losing advertising or access.

I do hope this article is published with these things in place and functioning well then we can be bold to assert that democracy will be safe.

The price of freedom is ceaseless vigilance because power does tend to corrupt and blunt people to their real duties.

Elected officials should be expected to give more frequent, more regular reports back to town hall meetings where they would give a public account of their stewardship.

The electorate should demand it for we, the people, are who ultimately matter.

Democracy is, after all, government of the people, by the people, for the people! One sanction that the people have to punish erring politicians and public officials who perform poorly is through their vote at election time.

If you feel like me please stand as a candidate for the Council or at least please vote for those who will respond to the electorate and punish those who selfishly pursue their own dreams and ignore you.

"A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom." (Milton & Rose Friedman, 1980)


Mike Allen

St Michael's Ward Honiton


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