Viewpoint: Powers of recall – a necessary step to building trust


The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is planning to give local people the power to get rid of bad councillors. Cllr Kevin Davis, Leader of the Council, explains why.

Local government is at a crossroads. Our populations are growing, demand for our services is growing but our income is reducing. We face a stark choice. We can continue doing things as we always have and end up managing decline or we can embrace change.

Embracing change and doing things differently will involve difficult decisions that will not be universally popular among residents. But if we are to take our communities with us through these difficult changes we need to have a different relationship with them; one that will be built on better understanding and more realistic expectations of what we can do with public services. Most of all if we are to work together more effectively we need to build greater trust among citizens. Councillors may be more trusted than MPs but that level of trust is nowhere near where it needs to be.

At the end of May in Kingston upon Thames we announced our intention to bring in new powers to get rid of bad councillors. In central government these powers have now been passed into law. I however want us to go further in local government. The current system for MP’s relies on bad members being judged by a committee of their peers. I want to place this power in the hands of the local people who elect councillors in the first place.

Along with a raft of other initiatives such as changes to how committees operate which we have also recently announced our aim is to make the business of the council both more accountable and more understandable to local people.

I don’t pretend any of this will be easy. It is becoming fashionable in local government circles to talk about the need to build greater trust but to build trust you must also give trust. These changes we are bringing forward in our area involve giving more trust and power to local people.

All of us have massive challenges in the coming years. In Kingston upon Thames we are embracing an ambitious growth agenda that is going to be difficult for many of our local people. We cannot simply impose it, but we are clear it is the only realistic business model that provides a sustainable future for our borough. We must therefore find a way to take our communities with us.

To do this we must learn to communicate more effectively. That involves listening and responding as well as simply broadcasting. We must be very honest with people by saying that we will not be able to do everything that everyone wants but when we do say we will do something then we must be absolutely certain that we do it.

Councillor recall will be introduced in our borough on a voluntary basis and members will be asked to sign up to a code of practice. But I hope other councils will consider adopting this system and together we can lobby ministers to consider new legislation to introduce it on a statutory basis.

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    1. Seán Holden says:

      This is a loud sounding nothing. What is a “bad” councillor? If it is nothing more than one who has a criminal conviction it will have very little application to the generality of councillors. If it is one who is negligent, lazy, incompetent or just unpopular who will judge? For my book it should be those who do it now – the voters – at those regular callings to account known as local elections.
      If, as with Parliament 10% of electors could get up petition to force a new election then well organised parties who may have had twice that many supporters but lost the vote last time will be getting endless free goes.
      The Blair government’s attempt to embellish our reputations resulted in the vacuous Standards industry in which 99.6% of cases brought resulted in no further action and millions upon millions of pounds were spent on hearing how Cllr Bloggs had called Cllr Smithers a ‘nincompoop’.
      It was a circus of personal political vendettas which merely heaped scorn on itself.
      This proposal cringes before the media myth that our politics is ‘broken’ and that there is an ungrammatical ‘disconnect’ between people and representatives.
      It is not the case and this is not necessary. The supposedly alienated people keep electing politicians, often the same ones; the system continues to administer its duties at all levels reasonably; the level of corruption is minute by international standards. The old time communist mantras (if voting made any difference they’d ban it; you’re all the same; you’re all in it for yourselves; etc etc…) of the likes of Russell Brand are whisked away, as we sdaw in the general election, in the wind of real politics which still suit the people and civilisation is not ending.
      I know people like to display their cynicism and their ‘you-don’t-fool-me’ credentials but I really think our residents should take a step back and look at what they have compared to others in the world. They would see that they are quite fortunate, generally, in the people whom they choose to represent them.

    2. Sean Brady says:

      It might appear that you advocate returning to Standards Committees chaired by Independent Persons and comprising about 20% of such Independent Persons. Having been chairman of such a District Council Committee for ten years (prior to 2011) I strongly support such a change. It leaves the decisions in the hands of the elected Councillors but allows qualified, apolitical, community-conscious citizens to offer opinions and observe fair play.

    3. It would be interesting to find out what information would be needed to accuse a councillor of being bad. He would still need to be judged probably by a panel and I think other councillors would be the best perhaps with a few of the public. Could be councillors from another borough. Also you could simplify it in setting number of complaints and you are out scheme. This would be open to abuse and you would still need a defence by the accused councillor. I am all in favour of the recall scheme for councillors and it is a good lead by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Well done.
      What is the method for rooting out bad staff? This can be more difficult. A complaints scheme would be good for those on the front line!

    4. Eric says:

      And why stop at councillors – the same issues apply and are even more important for directly elected mayors and PCCs. This issue needs addressing now. Well done for raising it.

    5. I could not agree more. So many councillors fail to understand that their first priority is not to themselves or waving around the title councillor as if it were an earned knighthood or self glorification, their first priority is to their residents – Ward then town or City..
      So much work has to be done to break the above attitudes.

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