Govt wrongheaded on community empowerment, SMF warns

Even local government can sometimes seem imposing
Even local government can sometimes seem imposing

Efforts to make citizens feel more involved in politics are doomed to fail, a thinktank has said.

A Social Market Foundation (SMF) essay published today criticises prime minister Gordon Brown's community empowerment agenda, which seeks to improve the link between citizens and government.

The government hopes the introduction of citizen's juries and greater use of petitions and consultations will lead to lowered crime, improved public health and an end to disillusionment with politics.

But SMF senior research fellow Jessica Prendergrast says such measures will prove counterproductive to the "holy grail" sought by Mr Brown.

"Despite the rise in participatory opportunities, the reasons for people's disconnection from representative government and distrust of representatives remain," she writes.

"Citizens, with limited free time, have heavy demands placed on them if they participate, only to become even more disillusioned when it becomes clear they do not have the power to really change anything."

Ms Prendergrast suggests improved links with representative democracy. Empowering councillors at local authority and parish levels would make the link between citizens and representatives clearer, she suggests.

The government is expected to publish its white paper on community empowerment early next month.


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