Do local councils really matter?

Are you one of the many people who think that local elections do not matter and if you vote it won’t make a difference?

In April, BBC News travelled to the Marfleet ward in Hull, which had one of the lowest voter turnouts in England in 2019 (12.7% of eligible voters). They found that many people were not interested in voting due to a lack of understanding of local government. The polling expert, Professor Sir John Curtice, said that the perception is “general elections matter and local elections do not”. This perception cannot be further from the truth.

The council is funded through a ‘precept’ which households pay as part of their council tax bill, and local councillors are the people who make most of the decisions on council tax and how the money is then spent.
Councils do more than just emptying the bins. They provide most of the local public services, for example, social care, education, highways, housing, libraries, open spaces and planning. Many people have views on these local matters but do not realise that their voice can be heard.

In Oundle, we have the Town Council as well as the new North Northamptonshire Council. OTC is responsible for a number of the town’s facilities, such as the car parks, the cemetery, the Recreation Ground, Snipe Meadow, the War Memorial and the graveyard at St Peter’s Church. In addition to this, the Town Council represents the town, commenting on planning applications.

Participation in local government is not solely confined to voting. Observing OTC meetings has made me feel more involved in the town, and I have a greater awareness of the issues that the town faces and have been able to contribute in the time set aside at the start of the meetings for public participation.

At its best, public participation leads to greater democratic representation. It includes connecting ideas with a strategy and resources. Have you ever thought of what skills and ideas you could bring to a project which would benefit Oundle? OTC are always pleased to receive suggestions, ideas and comments. It also currently has four vacancies, should you wish to take a more leading role in the town.

Local government really does matter to our daily lives. As Helen Keller said: “Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Robert Foskett
May 2021