The Slugger Awards 2008: Local authority of the year

A few weeks ago, I promised to start announcing the categories for the Slugger Awards 2008. Well, it’s the first day of August, so here goes. It may come as a great relief to many of our posters here (and no doubt, to many of our readers) that politics in Northern Ireland is beginning to stray into the parochial every now and then. Instead of competing to dominate the global headlines (NI stories on the international news wires have dropped by some 80% since last year’s settlement), politicians here are more concerned than ever before with the need to improve the quality of people’s lives at a local level. One area we’d like to see some improvements are in the quality of local government.Over in England, the new ‘Communities In Control’ white paper, published earlier in July, is a response by Hazel Blears to the observation that many councils don’t think that it is part of their role to promote local democracy:

“A new duty will be placed on local authorities to promote democracy. Local leaders will be expected to do more to help residents understand how the democratic process works and how they can get involved. Residents can expect to see information campaigns and town halls being opened up to councillors to hold surgeries. New ‘civic champions’ – council staff or former councillors who will go out into the community and work with residents and community groups to increase understanding about how they can raise awareness about civic roles they can take up – whether that’s volunteering, standing as a governor, a councillor or becoming a magistrate.”

Hazel is in an odd position there. Many councils – both permanent staff and elected councillors – somehow imagine that local democracy will promote itself, and that a failure to boost it in any way will not erode their legitimacy. In Northern Ireland, we are seeing a huge change taking place between now and 2011. Our current 26 councils are going to be slimmed down to 11. The new larger local councils will hopefully be looking at what each of the smaller ones do best – and we want to highlight the councils that are doing the most to involve the widest number of local residents in framing local policy.

Many councils do a great deal to ensure that people know who their councillors are, how to monitor, participate in, and respond to council policymaking. But many more don’t. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, we have a combination of democratic evangelism in some councils, and jobsworth hand-sitting in others.

We want to know which local authorities have done the most to ensure that a civil conversation on local issues can take place. Which one does the most to ensure that young people are encouraged to take part in local democracy? Are there any good schools initiatives? Are councillors helped and resourced to go out to meet the people? Do councils make the role of local councillor an attractive one? Which ones have involved the general public in policy consultations? Have there been any innovative approaches tried? And in the spirit of The Slugger Awards, we are not interested in cynicism or idealism here. If a council has tried something and it didn’t work out perfectly, we still want to hear about it – in a good way. You learn nothing from trying nothing, and these awards are about rewarding positive initiatives.

NB: In the original announcement of the awards, eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the following lines:

“In our own informal way, we’ve acted more as a critical friend than fawning acolyte or jaded oppositionalist.”

… and …

“We’d like to highlight the good things that are happening right now in Northern Ireland, and the awards will aim to reward effort and interactivity with a pat on the back from the blogosphere.”

Please try to be positive, people? I know that this site has its fair share of barflies who have a cynical / idealistic opinion on everything. We normally moderate with a light touch here to ensure maximal participation and a pluralism of views, but for the award nominations threads, we’re going to just delete them on sight. This is about catching people being good, for a change.

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  • recognition where it is due

    What about Down DC? Always seem to be punching above their weight in publicising new stuff particulalrly the Development Department – over last few years look at events they run; music festivals, opera, food, golf etc.. excellent development going on around disrict – newcastle promenade has won national awards – OK some hassle on parking – but it is work in progress – as you said Mick some just sit on their hands – Down are out doing stuff. A lot of the work originated in consultations from a few years back – now seeing the benefits. The st pats parade been model of success and nearly brought off inclusion of Orange Order this year.. maybe next?
    Even notable politicos – Harvey Bicker who did the UUP – FF move, Margaret Ritchie as DSD Minister and Dep Speaker at Assembley Jim Wells – all parties seem in council to have delivered for the place.

    Up Down!

  • wild turkey

    Mick
    ‘Which ones have involved the general public in policy consultations? Have there been any innovative approaches tried? ‘

    a good place start in making this assessment would be to examine the extent/breadth and ‘quality’ of Policy Screening exercises and subsequent Equality Impact Assessments carried out by councils per section 75 of the NI act.

    In focusing the exercise it may be worth looking at a specific subset of policies common to, and across, all council areas… flags/emblems comes to mind.

    With respect to councils, I believe past Equality Commission reports on the outworkings of s75 have a section that deals specifically with local govt.

  • Jean Baudrillard

    I had a poke about some of our of local council websites (none are particularly impressive). But I did happen upoon a programme by Belfast that seems to be making some sort of stab at Blears’ agenda.

    Have a look here

    I’m not sure of the implications of this SNAP programme – but it seems to suggest some form of participatory approach to local government – with locally agreed council plans.

    If they’re serious it looks to be a fairly radical approach by Belfast council. Anyone else heard of it?

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    During the period between the ceasefire being called and the GFA being signed you might recall the various delegations flying off to Downing Street for endless “crucial” talks.

    Then they began to snub first NIO officials, then NIO ministers, then Mo Mowlam allowing political collossus, Gary McMichael, to say: “We’re tired of talking to the organ grinder – we want to talk to the monkey.”

    Then it was Washington and boasts about who had access to the White House as our representatives demanded and got unprecedented access and attention out of all proportion to our actual importance.

    Bearing that in mind, I’d have thought that NI politics was the definition of “parochial” for about 40 years. More recently, the level of attention has fallen and people here have realised what a shit-hole we live in now that there aren’t too many bodies in the street.

    We haven’t strayed into the parochial, it was ever thus. It’s just that the world has moved on and left us to our own, suspect, devices….

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Oops! Oh and obviously my above post should read: ““We’re tired of talking to the monkey – we want to talk to the organ grinder.”

  • joeCanuck

    left us to our own, suspect, devices….

    Beautiful turn of phrase, Billie-Joe. Brilliant even.

  • Mick Fealty

    wriit,

    Nice encomium to DC. I have no doubt that Belfast should do well in this category since they have both a wealth of resources and diversity of political interest. But Northern Ireland is broader than that in definition.

    Really, if you think your local council is doing engagement that is not getting recognised, then let us know!

  • paddy

    Thanks for that glowing report on Down DC, Mr. McGrillen-sorry ‘recognition where its due’.

    Seriously, I have plenty of dealings with Down DC and I have found their staff to be excellent particularly in regard to community safety and cross-community issues and initiatives. If they could just sort out their Environmental Health service, then they would merit an 8/10.

  • Blackmouth

    North Down

    “Events Capital of Northern Ireland”

    A clever marketing slogan that has allowed them to compete against their big brother in Belfast when it comes to events. Also, for winning the 50-metre swimming pool bid.

  • Local

    Not sure how this will go down because I have to put in a caveat but I’d like to nominate my local council Limavady Council only if the award can go to the staff and not the councillors.

    The past couple of years have been shite for the area. Theres the closure of Seagate, the civic centre that never gets built and constant bloody bickering in the chamber never mind that statue matter.

    But they do a lot of good stuff on the ground like regular consultations with the public and not just with the usual great and the good. they got there flags problem sorted out this year on the main roads once they took the bull by the horns. They do a lot of good work on rural tourism conservation and heritage stuff as well as community developmnet. They work very cliosely with the environment agency and help maintain about 30 special environmental areas.

    For a wee council they punch above their weight when it comes to the street level communty relations. ALso they keep the whole place really clean especially the beach which must be a huge undertaking They take the lead when it comes to getting funding into the area and have some very big programmes going at the moment.

    Ok so they arent Belfast or stroke City but they do their best with a small budget and some very dedicated staff. Id love to see this go to somewhere different.

  • Dave Newman

    1. I know something about SNAP, as the guy with the job of putting it together came to see me to see if they might use technology to get to the people who won’t come to neighbourhood meetings. They are serious, but moving slowly, as the don’t have the depth of experience of Bristol Council.

    2. For a small councils, I would suggest
    a) Newtownabbey Borough Council. Years ago they appointed a citizen relationship manager. Part of her job was to give feedback on their consultations, so they didn’t just disappear into the void.
    b) North Down council, for the times it has done so much work with local residents on the siting of sewage works that when the formal planning application came out, there were no objections.

  • o’malley

    Belfast City COuncil for SNAP as well as other ‘Good Relations’ projects. particularily on Bonfires. when you read into the detail of what they were there to do, economic regeneration through partnership etc, that chicago trip that Belfast councillors went on recently seems pretty good to me – despite what Stepehen Nolan says!

  • Emily

    Why not Belfast City Council for the Best Council Award.

    BCC is working in partnership to provide a better services for its residents. A prime example of this is the newly open Growve Wellbeing Centre. By working in partnership with Health and Education we now have a library, healthcentre and leisure facilities all under one roof. Not only deos this mean easier access to services for people and the community by working in partnership means we all get better value for our money

  • ems

    Belfast City Council has been looking for the views of their citiziens since 2000 about their services.

    They get the view of the citizens from public surveys and forums to see find out the the public’s perception of the services that are provided by the council

  • James

    What about Belfast City Council for the Best Council Award.

    I went and looked at their Internet Site to see what the council is doing and was surprised.Some of the things that are listed are
    Comuunity Safety initiatives, Young People Awards Scheme,Get Home Safe, Looking at helping the City’s Older people and one small thing I found which will really help a number of people if the Free Bus to Roselawn Cemetery a number of days a week.

  • Emily

    Went on Friday night to the Enchanted Gardens in Botanic Gardens in Belfast. Brilliant and magical night for both adults and the kids. Took my niece and she had a brilliant time. what it really portrayed to me is how much Belfast has changed during the past ten years or so and Belfast City Council has been at the forefront. It was excellent use of one of Belfast’s beautiful maintained parks.

  • Emily

    I could keep putting in comments about Belfast City Council all day and they would all be positive.

    In a finaly round up of what I want to say is that all of us who live in this city should have a look round and see how vastly this city has changed for the better and how quickly this change is happening. Belfast City Council is at the forefront of these changes. Lets list some of them,

    The Gasworks Site
    The Waterfront Hall
    The refurbishment of the Ulster Hall.
    The Plans for the Northforeshore
    Belfast a major tourist destination
    Grove Well Being Centre
    The Leisure Facilities both centres and playing fields.
    Good Relations Strategy
    The DEvelopment of a Safer Belfast Plan – looking at community safety
    The provision of Community Safety Wardens and Park Rangers
    Community Projects
    How the council responded to the local flooding in the city both this year and last year

    I think this shows that Belfast City Council and its employees are really committed to serving the people of Belfast

  • I had a poke about some of our of local council websites (none are particularly impressive). But I did happen upoon a programme by Belfast that seems to be making some sort of stab at Blears’ agenda.