Press Releases

Transparency campaigners welcome Parliamentary Committee’s call for stronger Scottish Lobbying Bill

15th December 2015
15 Dec 2015

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  • For immediate release – 15:15, 15th December 2015
  • Statement from Electoral Reform Society Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT)
  • For more quotes, information or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, Electoral Reform Society Scotland Director, on 07940 523842

Transparency campaigners have today welcomed recommendations from a key Parliamentary Committee on the Scottish Government’s Lobbying Bill, describing the calls as a “strong push towards genuine lobbying transparency.” The Committee has followed the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) in calling for the scope of the bill to be widened significantly.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s Stage 1 report on the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill today suggested that the current proposals to limit regulated lobbying to face-to-face oral communication could “leave a great deal of important information unrecorded and create a loophole for those wishing to conceal their activity.” The report recommends that the definition of regulated lobbying should be expanded to include all forms of communication.

It also suggests that lobbying of public officials other than MSPs and Ministers should be considered for registration, and that parliament might choose to ask lobbyists to disclose how much they spend on campaigns.

Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland said:

“These recommendations show just how pioneering the Scottish Parliament can be when it works well. The Committee has given a strong push towards genuine lobbying transparency, and the Lobbying Bill should now be improved to close the loopholes."

“This report has addressed many of the problems with the Government’s bill, and has laid down a challenge for MSPs to follow suit. As the report makes clear, it is crucial that all forms of communication are included in a register of lobbying, as well as the lobbying of senior civil servants and special advisors – things which are left out of the current Bill."

“The Government can and should go further to ensure the Scottish public are not kept in the dark about who meets their representatives and civil servants, or how much is being spent on trying to change the laws that effect all of us. The Bill needs to include financial disclosure in the register of lobbying activity, so that Scots can see how much is being spent influencing policy-makers.”

“If these recommendations are put into practice, this bill could be huge step forward for lobbying transparency, and an example for the rest of the world to follow. It’s up to the rest of the Scottish Parliament to follow the Committee’s lead and show that they really care about transparency and a democracy fit for the 21st century.”

Dr. Will Dinan of Spinwatch said:

"The SPPA committee has clearly identified some of the key problems with the draft bill. If the Scottish Government are prepared to accept a few sensible, straightforward changes, the bill could yet make lobbying in Scotland more accountable. The recognition that financial disclosure should be kept under review is also welcome, though it would be preferable from a transparency perspective to write that into the legislation now."

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:

"We welcome the Standards Committee's report, which includes valuable improvements for a stronger lobbying register. The Committee's recommendations would give the public a much clearer picture of who is trying to influence their politicians. The Scottish government should listen to the committee and close the loopholes in its Bill. 

Lobbyists should not be allowed to avoid transparency by talking to politicians by phone or email. The lobbying register should cover contact with key decision-makers across government and the civil service, not just ministers and MSPs. Lobbyists should be required to declare how much they are spending to influence decisions, whether it's £500 or £500,000."

For more quotes, information or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, Electoral Reform Society Scotland Director, on 07940 523842

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

The Committee’s recommendations are available here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/94898.aspx

ERS, Spinwatch and Unlock Democracy are all members of the The Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) coalition, whose website is available here: http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/salt

EU referendum: MPs urged to back votes at 16 on Tuesday

7th December 2015
7 Dec 2015

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MPs to debate whether to retain or remove votes at 16 for EU Referendum Bill, after Peers voted for it in November

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
  • For immediate release, 10:30, 7th December 2015
  • For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

MPs will vote on whether to retain or remove the right of 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the EU referendum tomorrow (8th December) – with the Electoral Reform Society urging them to ‘keep it in the Bill’ after Lords voted to back the move in November [1].

The EU Referendum Bill will go to ‘ping pong’ - the ‘Consideration of Lords Amendments’ stage - on Tuesday [2], which will include voting on whether to keep votes at 16 in the Bill.

The Electoral Reform Society are calling on MPs to follow the success of the Scottish referendum by giving the 1.5m 16 and 17 year olds in the UK ‘a voice in their democratic future’.  

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said [3]:

“Our membership of the EU is a crucial issue for the future. After the great success of votes at 16 during the Scottish referendum, it would be a missed opportunity to deny young citizens the vote in the EU referendum.

”In the independence referendum, 75% of 16 and 17 year olds voted and 97% said they would do so in the future. They accessed more information than any other age group, and registered in their thousands. It’s a lesson that’s been taken on board in Holyrood, with the Scottish Parliament unanimously backing votes at 16 for all Scottish elections in June. And the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP supports it too [4].

“With 16 and 17 year olds getting the vote in Scotland and potentially Wales too [5], it would be insulting to the 1.5 million 16 and 17 year olds across the UK for the government to deny them the vote in this crucial referendum. The first generation to receive citizenship education should have a voice in their democratic future, and the government should seize the chance to make it happen.

“David Cameron said during the election he wanted a debate on the issue. Now we are having that debate, it’s time to give young people an equal voice in our democracy. We urge MPs to keep votes at 16 in the Bill.”

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

 

Notes

[1] Peers backed votes at 16 in the Bill by 283 to 211. Column 180 (vote on Amendment 3) - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldhansrd/text/151118-0002.htm#15111858000643

[2] http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/europeanunionreferendum/stages.html

[3] A photo of Katie Ghose is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/yrtpmyci4vmggcf/Katie%20Ghose%20-%20Credit%20Gus%20Palmer.jpg?dl=0

[4] Read Ruth Davidson MSP’s reasons here: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/ruth-davidsons-lessons-scottish-referendum

[5] The largest ever consultation on the issue in Wales showed this week that 53% of young people in Wales (to just 29% against) back the move. http/www.yourassembly.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Vote@16-REPORT-E-small.pdf

The ERS’ logo is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/co61g3209r2okcd/ERS%20Logo%20colour%20on%20white%20348%20x%20220.jpg?dl=0

 

Autumn Statement: opposition party funding cut is ‘bad news for Scottish voters’

26th November 2015
26 Nov 2015

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The Electoral Reform Society Scotland has suggested that the government’s decision to cut public funding for opposition parties [1] will undermine Scotland’s representation at Westminster.

The Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday that ‘Short money’ – funding which goes to opposition parties in order to level the playing field and ensure democratic scrutiny – will be cut by 19%.

ERS Scotland has challenged the decision as ‘highly worrying for democracy’ in Scotland, given that 58 of the nation’s 59 MPs are not in government.

Willie Sullivan [2], Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

“The decision to cut funding for opposition parties is bad news for democracy in Scotland and across the UK. With 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs not in government, it is particularly bad for Scottish representation at Westminster, and can only undermine the ability of those MPs to ensure that Scotland’s voters are effectively represented in parliament.

“Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account. The decision to slash Short money disproportionately hits the ability of Scottish MPs to scrutinise the government, and Scottish voters will lose out.

“Recent upheavals in Scottish politics were partly the result of a perception that political parties at Westminster were not representing Scotland's voters properly - but this measure risks making it worse. Removing public money from opposition parties makes them more likely to depend on big donors, something that is highly worrying for our democracy.

“The system of party funding across the UK is already a mess, and this risks being seen as a partisan effort to further reduce opposition parties’ capacity to hold the government to account.

“The government’s plans represent a totally counter-productive approach to party funding, which should be reformed in a manner agreed on by all parties, so that they can be more accountable to voters rather than big donors.”

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, ERS Scotland Director, on 07940523842 or Willie.Sullivan@electoral-reform.org.uk

For more of the ERS’ research on party funding, see our recent report, ‘Deal or No Deal: How to Put an End to Party Funding Scandals’: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/deal-or-no-deal

Notes

[1] Point 10.8: ‘Reducing the Cost of Politics’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015-documents/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015

[2] A photo of Willie Sullivan is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vo67gyvq2z10baa/Willie%20Sullivan%202%20-%20Credit%20Gus%20Palmer.jpg?dl=0 or here https://www.dropbox.com/s/3o8fxa80ymc7znl/Willie%20Sullivan.jpg?dl=0

The ERS Scotland logo is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/tzyhbx2i8b8ewwf/ERS-Scotland-Social.jpg?dl=0

Autumn Statement: opposition party funding cut is ‘bad news for democracy'

25th November 2015
25 Nov 2015

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  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
  • For immediate release, 17:00, 25th November 2015
  • For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

The Electoral Reform Society has challenged the government’s decision to cut public funding for opposition parties by a fifth [1].

The Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday that ‘Short money’ – funding which goes to opposition parties in order to level the playing field and ensure democratic scrutiny – will be cut by 19%.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said [2]:

“The decision to cut public funding for opposition parties by 19% is bad news for democracy. The UK already spends just a tenth of the European average on funding parties [3]. Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account. This cut could therefore be deeply damaging for accountability.

“The whole party funding system is a complete mess as it is, but this measure risks making it worse. By removing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.

“Unilateral moves like this risk being seen as overtly partisan, and could make it even harder for parties to get round the table and thrash out a deal on the real problem – their over-reliance on big donors’ money. Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.”

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

For more of the ERS’ research on party funding, see our recent report, ‘Deal or No Deal: How to Put an End to Party Funding Scandals’: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/deal-or-no-deal

Notes

[1] Point 10.8: ‘Reducing the Cost of Politics’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015-documents/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015

[2] A photo of Katie Ghose is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/yrtpmyci4vmggcf/Katie%20Ghose%20-%20Credit%20Gus%20Palmer.jpg?dl=0

The ERS logo is available for free use here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/co61g3209r2okcd/ERS%20Logo%20colour%20on%20white%20348%20x%20220.jpg?dl=0

Electoral Reform Society: “Merseyside devolution deal has no mention of democracy”

18th November 2015
18 Nov 2015

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Press release from the Electoral Reform Society

For immediate release, Wednesday 18th November, 12:00

Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)

  • Public should have a say on devolution deal – voters so far left out of negotiations
  • Wrong to impose mayor on Merseyside residents without consultation, say campaigners
  • Consultation could follow pioneering ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ model co-organised by ERS and universities in Sheffield and Southampton on local devolution deals

The Electoral Reform Society has today called on local council leaders and the government to ‘give the public a say’ in the Merseyside devolution deal.

The Society are calling out devolution deals which are being done behind closed doors, amid fears that the devolution process across the UK has so far been made up of back-room deals by politicians and officials - rather than citizens.

Campaigners believe councils and the government should give the public a ‘meaningful’ say on the devolution deal, after the proposals included plans to impose an elected mayor on Merseyside.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“While it’s fantastic that Merseyside will be getting more powers, it’s absolutely essential that local people are involved in the process. Citizens in Liverpool and the surrounding areas shouldn’t be left out in the cold while devolution takes place.

“It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors. It’s vital the public in the region get a say - otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess.

“It’s simply misguided to impose a Merseyside mayor without asking local people if they want one. Why not ask the public what they want? A democratic process could look at whether they back having an elected mayor, what area devolution should cover, what powers it should have and what the Combined Authority’s priorities should be.

“There must be real public involvement now with a real chance of influencing the outcome. This has to be started quickly - otherwise the risk is that citizens in the region will feel it’s a done deal.

“Let’s have a real debate about devolution and decentralisation. The ERS and Universities from across the country recently ran two ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ [1] on local devolution deals in Sheffield and Southampton. Local people were brought together to discuss and vote on the plans in their areas – with great success. It’s time for something similar in Merseyside. It’s time to let the public in.”

Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)

ENDS

Notes

The Merseyside devolution deal is available here.

[1] The Citizens’ Assemblies were conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Southampton, the University of Sheffield, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. For more information about the ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ project, see here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk

Electoral Reform Society: Public need a say on West Midlands devolution deal

18th November 2015
18 Nov 2015

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Electoral Reform Society: Public need a say on West Midlands devolution deal

Press release from the Electoral Reform Society

For immediate release, Wednesday 18th November, 14:00

Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)

  • Biggest devolution deal to date needs voters to be involved in the process [1]
  • Wrong to impose mayor on the West Midlands residents without consultation, say campaigners
  • ‘Real consultation’ could follow pioneering ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ [2] model co-organised by ERS and universities in Sheffield and Southampton on local devolution deals

The Electoral Reform Society has today called on local council leaders and the government to ‘give the public a say’ in the West Midlands devolution deal.

The campaign group are calling out devolution deals which are being done behind closed doors, amid fears that the devolution process across the UK has so far been made up of back-room deals by politicians and officials - rather than citizens.

Campaigners believe councils and the government should give the public a ‘meaningful’ say on the devolution deal, after the proposals included plans to impose an elected mayor on The West Midlands.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“While it’s fantastic that the West Midlands will be getting more powers, it’s absolutely essential that local people are involved in the process. Citizens in the region shouldn’t be left out in the cold while devolution takes place.

“It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors. It’s vital the public in the Midlands get a say - otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess.

“For a start, it’s simply misguided to impose a West Midlands mayor without asking local people if they want one. Why not ask the public what they think? A democratic process could look at whether they back having an elected mayor, what area devolution should cover, what powers it should have and what the Combined Authority’s priorities should be.

“There must be real public involvement now with a real chance of influencing the outcome. This has to be started quickly - otherwise the risk is that citizens in the region will feel it’s a done deal.

“Let’s have a real debate about devolution and decentralisation. The ERS and Universities from across the country recently ran two ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ [2] on local devolution deals in Sheffield and Southampton. Local people were brought together to discuss and vote on the plans in their areas – with great success. It’s time for something similar in the West Midlands – council bosses and officials need to let the public in.”

Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)

ENDS

Notes

The Electoral Reform Society is a campaign organisation that tries to build a better democracy. For more information see here: www.electoral-reform.org.uk

[1] More info on the West Midlands devolution deal is available here.

[2] The Citizens’ Assemblies were conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Southampton, the University of Sheffield, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. For more information about the ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ project, see here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk

Solent citizens debate plans for Hampshire devolution, in UK’s first ‘Citizens’ Assembly’

16th November 2015
16 Nov 2015

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Residents want devolution process to be opened up to the public

Press release from the Democracy Matters project

For immediate release, Monday 16th November, 12:00

For more information/quotes, or to arrange interviews or comment pieces, contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer – Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630

For more details visit www.citizensassembly.co.uk

  • Residents from Southampton, Portsmouth, Isle of Wight and surrounding areas take part in first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy and devolution deals.
  • Citizens at this ground-breaking initiative strongly endorsed the idea that any new devolved body should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, with integration of health and social care seen as the top priority
  • Participants were evenly split on whether they support the devolution proposal currently being negotiated with government
  • Citizens want far greater public involvement in Hampshire devolution deal being proposed, and pledge to stay involved in the process, in bid to ‘democratise devolution’

Citizens from the Solent area debated and voted on proposals for a new devolved body in the region, as part of the UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ [1] on local democracy this weekend.

But residents called for real public involvement and further debate in decisions on devolution at the Citizens’ Assembly, which concluded on Sunday evening (15th November).

Over two weekends of discussion and voting, the nearly 30 participants – drawn from a broadly representative sample from Southampton, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and other parts of the Solent area in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov - reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The Assembly was chaired by the BBC’s Peter Henley.

‘Assembly South’ was only the second such event in the world to include both citizens and politicians as participants in the process, after the Republic of Ireland. Five local councillors participated alongside the citizens for the four days.

The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how Hampshire and the Isle of Wight should be governed [1]. The project has been closely followed by local councils across the region.

Last weekend saw local politicians and other experts giving evidence to the Assembly, including Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council. The project is being backed by Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, who attended the Assembly on Sunday and called it ‘really important and significant’. 

The first weekend in October saw key local figures address the Assembly, including Councillor Stephen Godfrey, Leader of Winchester City Council, Steven Lugg, Chief Executive of the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, and Mike Smith, Director of Cities for Cofely UK and former Director of Finance for Southampton City Council.

Participants voted that if there were to be a new devolved body:

  • It should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, instead of other options like the South East or the Solent.
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment

When asked to vote on the devolution deal currently on the table in negotiations with the government:

  • There was a dead heat, with participants evenly split on whether they would vote for or against the proposals.

The project, entitled Democracy Matters, has been organised by the University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) [2].

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment, alongside Assembly North in Sheffield. Citizens in the parallel Assembly for the South Yorkshire region gathered on the weekend of the 7th November to reach their conclusions. The 31 participants similarly called for stronger powers for South Yorkshire, as well as a Yorkshire-wide elected Assembly and more democratic engagement in the process.

These Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK, a year on from the Scottish referendum and with key questions of devolution, English Votes for English Laws and the EU referendum currently high up the agenda. 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This Citizens’ Assembly has shown well and truly that when given a chance to have a say, people jump at the opportunity. The Assembly has given citizens a real voice on the government’s plans to hand councils in the Solent area more powers – and they’ve spoken loud and clear. Politicians in Hampshire and across the UK should sit up and take note.

“It’s clear that as the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. So far, many feel left out in the cold by back-room deals.”

Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test said:

“This Citizens’ Assemblies project is something which is really important and significant. I applaud this attempt to bring the public into the devolution process, and it is showing that politics can be done differently.”    

Professor Will Jennings, University of Southampton, Co-Investigator for the project, said:

“This Assembly has challenged the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto - people are more than capable of grappling with complex questions about the way we are governed.

“This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country. We have shown there is a real potential for a new way of doing things.”

Professor Gerry Stoker, Professor of Politics and Governance at the University of Southampton

“Instead of devolution being a stitch-up between local and national politicians, we need engagement from citizens to bring new insights and new ideas into the debate. Our Assembly has shown one way that can be done.”

Notes

Read the Hampshire and Isle of Wight devolution bid here: https://www.basingstoke.gov.uk/content/page/40534/Hampshire%20and%20Isle%20of%20Wight%20Devolution%20Prospectus%20September%202015.pdf

1.      The Citizens’ Assemblies are being conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Southampton, the University of Sheffield, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers. Read the biographies of the project team here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/project-team/

2.      The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For more information visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk/.

For more information/quotes, or to arrange interviews or comment pieces, contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer – Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630

Solent citizens to debate and vote on devolution deal

12th November 2015
12 Nov 2015

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  • Press release and invitation to journalists from the Democracy Matters project
  • For immediate release, Thursday 12th November, 12:30
  • For more information/quotes, or to arrange interviews or comment pieces, contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer – Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630
  • For more details visit www.citizensassembly.co.uk

Invitation to journalists:

Journalists are invited to attend this weekend’s ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ in Southampton – the final weekend of a major new democratic initiative.

Citizens from across the Solent area will debate and vote on the devolution deals going through in the region on Saturday and Sunday (14th and 15th November), as part of a ground-breaking democratic experiment.

Event details:

  • Venue: Macdonald Botley Park Hotel, Botley, SO32 2UA
  • Times: Saturday: 10:30-16:30, Sunday: 9:30-15:00
  • Interviews with participants and experts can be conducted on Saturday at 13:00 and Sunday 12:30, as well as from 16.30 on Saturday and 15:00 on Sunday.
  • Final votes on the devolution deal will provisionally be around 13:30 on Sunday
  • RSVP to Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

Around 30 participants - selected by independent polling company YouGov to be representative of the area – will conclude the second of two weekends of deliberation and voting on the Hampshire and Isle of Wight devolution plans on Sunday. The weekend is being chaired by BBC South’s Peter Henley.

Citizens in the region are experimenting with a new way of doing politics, in response to the constitutional questions facing the UK.

Southampton is one of just two pilot areas taking part in the democratic experiment, titled ‘Democracy Matters’, alongside Sheffield. In Sheffield, citizens in the parallel Assembly for the South Yorkshire area gathered for their final weekend on the 7/8th November and voted to call for a much stronger Northern Powerhouse, and a Yorkshire-wide Assembly.

The Southampton Assembly will vote on similar issues – what powers they believe devolution should cover, what area the deal should encompass, and what they think of the existing devolution plans.

The last weekend in October saw key figures address the Assembly, including Councillor Stephen Godfrey, Leader of Winchester City Council, Steven Lugg, Chief Executive of the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, and Mike Smith, Director of Cities for Cofely UK and former Director of Finance for Southampton City Council.

The project stems from the growing feeling that devolution deals need democratic engagement in order to be sustainable and have popular support, and comes a year on from Scottish referendum - amid backdrop of huge constitutional questions, including English Votes for English Laws, House of Lords reform, the EU referendum and the localism agenda.

The Democracy Matters project has been organised by the University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

It is a major academic project, and the first of its kind. Organisers view is as a ground-breaking partnership between universities, civil society and the public. It is the first chance for citizens to properly engage with the government’s devolution plans, North and South.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“The Southampton Assembly is a very exciting democratic project to get citizens involved in the democratic future of their cities and indeed the UK. A year on from the Scottish referendum, it’s more vital than ever that the public – particularly in this crucial region for devolution – have a say on where they think power should lie locally.

“As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. This Citizens’ Assembly is giving local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians in the region and across the UK should sit up and take note.

“The Assembly has so far been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions. By creating the space for citizens to inform themselves about the issues and debate with each other, the project has shown the potential for a new kind of democratic politics.”

Professor Will Jennings of the University of Southampton, Co-Investigator for the project, said:

The Southampton Assembly is challenging the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto. This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said:

“The government’s devolution plans seem to be moving forward at an incredible pace, so finding new ways to gauge the views and opinion of the public is crucial. The Citizens’ Assembly in Southampton is therefore critical for shaping not just how we think about to the future of English governance but also how we 'do' democracy in these changing times.”

For more information/quotes or to arrange interviews or comment pieces, contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer – Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630

Notes

For more information about the Democracy Matters project in Southampton visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/southampton/

Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers.Read the biographies of the project team here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/project-team/

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

South Yorkshire citizens want stronger Northern Powerhouse

9th November 2015
9 Nov 2015
Tags: 
Deliberative Democracy
Northern Powerhouse

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07979 696 265

For immediate release, Monday 9th November 11:15
Statement from the Democracy Matters project
For more details visit www.citizensassembly.co.uk

  • South Yorkshire citizens call for stronger devolution deal in UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’
  • Citizens vote in favour of Yorkshire & Humber regional assembly as best model of devolution, and call for substantially more powers to be held in Yorkshire
  • Assembly demonstrates citizens’ appetite for grappling with and deciding on complex constitutional issues. Members voice support for citizens in Yorkshire and other areas facing devolution deals to have opportunities for informed and deliberative debate of the kind Assemblies allow

Citizens in South Yorkshire have called for a much stronger devolution deal than the one currently on the table for the Sheffield region.

In the UK’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly, which concluded on Sunday evening (8th November), residents voted in favour of a Yorkshire-wide regional assembly as their preferred model of devolution, and called on local politicians to negotiate with the Government for a much more ambitious and democratic devolution deal.

Over two weekends of deliberation, the 31 participants – drawn as a broadly representative sample from Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov – reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how South Yorkshire should be governed [for more detail see note 1]. The project has been closely followed by Sheffield City Council.

Participants voted by majority:

  1. for the Yorkshire & Humber area to form the basis for regional devolution
  2. for a directly elected regional assembly
  3. for stronger powers for the area to include some tax-setting and law-making powers, so there is real power in the area over issues such as transport infrastructure, economic development and education
  4. if asked to vote today, to reject the devolution deal currently on offer for the Sheffield City Region, but to press local politicians to push for a better deal (stronger, more ambitious, more democratic and based on proper consultation) rather than walk away

The project, entitled Democracy Matters [2], has been organised by the University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) [3]. Sheffield is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment. In Southampton, citizens in a parallel Assembly for the Hampshire area will gather to reach their conclusions next weekend.

These Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK. In 2012, two out of three voters in Sheffield rejected the option of a directly elected mayor for the city, while in 2015, the City Region Combined Authority committed itself to public consultation on any new governance model.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. This Citizens’ Assembly has given local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians should sit up and take note.

“The Assembly has been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions. By creating the space for citizens to inform themselves about the issues and debate with each other, the project has shown the potential for a new kind of democratic politics.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said:

“Assembly members preferred a 'rego' over a 'devo' deal for the future, but they also want a better deal in the here and now. If a vote on the current devolution deal had been held this past weekend, a two-thirds majority of Assembly members would have rejected it. Another vote showed strong opposition to an elected mayor.

“But corresponding votes revealed that Assembly members did not want their leaders to walk away from negotiations. It's not that the Assembly members did not want devolution. What they want is genuine devolution with more powers and stronger accountability.

“It’s simply untrue that people do not care about politics and are disconnected from democracy. What these Assemblies show is that citizens are ready, willing and able to embrace rigorous democratic deliberation.”

Professor Will Jennings, Co-Investigator for the project, said:

“These Assemblies challenge the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto. This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country.”

Notes

1.     The first weekend of the Sheffield Assembly in October was opened by Lord (David) Blunkett, who stressed the importance of local people having a say on the future of government in their area. The Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council John Mothersole took questions on the nature of the devolution deal that is currently on the table. Other advocates discussed more radical options for change. In response to members’ requests, the subsequent weekend included a presentation from Councillor Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of Barnsley Borough Council, urging the Assembly to embrace the model on offer (a mayor-led combined authority) and play a full part in consultation to be announced next month. In addition there were advocates of a Yorkshire Assembly, and an advocate of sticking to the existing council structure. The project is supported by local politicians including Angela Smith MP and Alan Whitehead MP (for other endorsements see http://citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/).

2.     The Citizens’ Assemblies are being conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers.Read the biographies of the project team here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/project-team/

3.     The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For more information visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk/. To arrange interviews or further comment contact Will Brett (07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk)

Lobbying (Scotland) Bill should go much further

30th October 2015
30 Oct 2015

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07940 523 842

Electoral Reform Society respond to the Scottish Government’s Lobbying (Scotland) Bill

• A small move in the right direction, but needs to catch up with modern world, say campaigners
• Lobbying (Scotland) Bill should also cover spending, email, phone and written communications

Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
For immediate release, 30th October 2015

A coalition of campaign groups have called on the Scottish government to go 'much further' than the draft Lobbying Bill released today.

The Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and Common Weal have welcomed the principle that action should be taken to regulate lobbying, but the bill still leaves many important aspects of lobbying hidden from public view.

This morning the Scottish Government published the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill, which requires most organisations seeking to influence public policy to record their face-to-face meetings with politicians on a register.

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

“If we accept that the public should know if corporations and big interests are talking to politicians in order to shape policy for their benefit, then it seems logical that we should know when they’re emailing, phoning or writing to them.

“As it currently stands, the bill only makes provision for face-to-face meetings, which is out of step with the way people communicate in the modern world. All these other forms of lobbying will remain secret. This bill would be a beacon of transparency in the 19th century, but it fails to live up to the expectations of an electorate which lives in a digital age.”

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said

"Scotland's lobbyists will breathe a sigh of relief on reading this bill. The proposed register will cover only a fraction of the lobbying that takes place in and around Holyrood. The SNP said they wanted to make Scotland more transparent than the rest of the UK. Instead they have published a bill which is full of handy loopholes for lobbyists. With these proposals, the government has wasted a golden opportunity to bring lobbying out into the open.

“Scotland needs a proper, comprehensive lobbying register. We call on MSPs to strengthen the bill and give the public a full picture of how lobbying affects decisions made in government. Otherwise it will be business as usual for lobbying in Scotland."

Robin McAlpine, Director of the Common Weal, said:

"In this conception of 'transparency' you can spend as much money as you want doing anything at all you want to  distort the political process in any way you want and the overwhelming principle is that the public must absolutely not be allowed to know about it."

ENDS

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Willie Sullivan, Director Electoral Reform Society Scotland, on 07940 523 842 or willie.sullivan@electoral-reform.org.uk