Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Forums at Local Level Will Give People Say

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Forums at Local Level Will Give People Say

Article excerpt

I am writing to address a number of points made by Councillor Sue Bolam about local government reorganisation ("Why have referendum results been ignored?" Voice of the North, June 12).

Firstly, I certainly have not "studiously ignored the motion passed by the county council" as Coun Bolam alleges. While it is true Northumberland County Council (which has a good many district councillors) voted in the interests of democracy to support the districts' bid being submitted to Government, the only bid that was submitted from county council was for one brand new single council.

Secondly, to pick up Coun Bolam's points about asking the people of Northumberland what they think: the county council has put time and resource into not just asking a quick survey over the phone but holding in depth discussion days with those people who do not often get involved or engaged with any council.

We know from national research that the majority of citizens don't have the time or for other reasons don't get involved or have their say in the usual way, so we have made sure that we have been able to speak to people from this "silent majority".

And what we have found is that people will want and take the opportunity to get involved as long as they can influence things at their very local level. This is why we have in our proposals 26 community forums at that local level where all residents will be able to have their say and influence what happens in their area.

Interestingly, when asked to prioritise the key issues in their area, residents do not necessarily point to those things identified by the district councils in their "two councils" proposals as being the priorities for the urban council or the rural council.

I believe that this mythical stereotyping of the "two distinct parts" of Northumberland is wrong and risky. Our communities are so many and so varied that to get to know the priorities you have to give people a say at a much more local level. And that is what we plan to do with one brand new council.

One council for the whole of Northumberland holds a lot more strength on the regional and national stage, but to make sure it is even closer to communities than any current existing council, there will be a real focus on the 26 local communities and people being able to get things done at that level.

One point that I do agree with Coun Bolam on is to encourage people to feed back their views to the Department for Communities and Local Government. However I would also urge you to look at the facts before making your mind up.

You can find out more about the county council proposals on www.northumberland.gov.uk

COUN PETER HILLMAN, Leader, Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland

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