Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


  This short memorandum covers points which there was insufficient time for the Committee to discuss during the timetabled session, but which may be useful to the Committee's deliberations.

1.   The Role of Participation in changes in Governance

  There is a danger that participation and consultation are being promoted at present to fill some of the "democratic deficits" that are arising from the restructuring of local governance. Our evidence related to regeneration partnerships that are non-elected, but there are parallels across a range of public services. Trends towards modernisation ie best value, elected mayors, even partnerships, do not automatically equal trends towards greater democratisation of public decision-making. There are also many tensions and contradictions between modernisation and democratisation. Participation may be wheeled on at this point to give the impression of greater involvement, but the actual structures of decision-making may result in less influence.

  Regeneration partnerships show some of these dilemmas in action. While community partners sit on the board their actual influence is limited due to lack of resources (power), the tendency to be out-numbered and for some decisions to made through chair's action or sub-committees which they do not sit on. Community partners may therefore be there only to legitimise and rubber-stamp decisions over which they have little influence. On the other hand, in practice the local nature of partnerships, the way they operate and the scope for more genuine shifts in power which the partnership arrangement can provide an impetus for can engender more meaningful participation. At the end of the day there are likely to be variable outcomes from the promotion of participation but this is not to imply that it should not be promoted.

2.   Structures and Processes

  The importance of how participation is carried out as opposed to the democratic structures underlying it is illustrated by an example from London Docklands. In research I carried out residents found that the differences between the elected London Borough of Newham and the unelected London Docklands Development Corporation in relation to participation were not as great as might be expected because of the processes by which LDDC consulted. These included an area committee, community development workers and an allocated budget. By contrast LBN had little presence on the ground and less resources to encourage participation. Interestingly, residents still felt that at the end of the day both organisations took little account of their views when making decisions.

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