Saturday, 8 July 2017

Local democracy conference in Ukraine

The Council of Europe invited me to talk about local democracy in Ukraine this week.  I took part in discussions on 'trust in local politics' and on the involvement of the public in local decision making.  The 'experts' call that 'participatory budgeting.'

In the first discussion on trust I explained the UK's 'Nolan Principles' of public life.  These are the principles that all involved in public life sign up to - either in their declarations of accepting office, or in the various codes of practice or employment contracts.

They underpin - or perhaps more correctly - should underpin everything that politicians and public servants do.  The principles are:

  • Selflessness
  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Accountability
  • Openness
  • Honesty 
  • Leadership
I was questioned about the size of UK budgets and what councillors get paid.  When I explained that Town Councillors get nothing, that CWaC Cllrs receive 'allowances' not wages - as if they were wages they'd breach the minimum wage requirements, and that you don't become a councillor for the money, you do it because you love your community I received a round of applause.

When it came to participatory budgeting - in other words the people deciding where public money should be spent not councillors - I told them to 'forget the experts' and do what will work in their community.  We've been doing this instinctively for years with community groups deciding where members grants are spent and with the over 70s vouchers.  I'd love to see us do this to a much greater extent though.

At the end of the conference I was asked to say a few words.  The delegates read out their agreed statement from the conference - and it included the Nolan Principles.  I was deeply moved by this.

The Ukrainian view of a budget

If participatory budgeting is to work we all need attention spans longer than a goldfish.

Explaining a CWaC Council Tax Bill statement and why £762m expenditure doesn't capture our imagination

Elected Mayor Vladimir Prebilič from Kočevje in Slovenia makes a telling point

Giovanni (Italian expert working in Portugal) and Serge from Ukraine 

If ever you feel cynical about democracy and democratic values just go and spend some time in Ukraine.  The country is beautiful.  The people I met really want reform.  They said 'we just want to be a European Country.'  They hate the waste that corruption brings to already scarce public resources.  They want to make a real difference.  The conference was made up of elected Mayors, Councillors and Young Leaders.  They were all impressive - but the Young Leaders in particular were fantastic.

The final conference declarations - who knew I'd be moved by the adoption of the  Ukrainian version of the ''Nolan Principles' 

I hope the last 4 days has helped to inspire them to have the courage to bring about real meaningful reform.  I was inspired by what I saw and heard.  I will be suggesting some of the e-government initiatives that Kiev are already trying.  They are well ahead of us.  Watch this space!

By the way - if you are looking for a European holiday - think about Ukraine.  You'll be welcomed with open arms.  The exchange rate for us is fantastic.   Ukraine International Airlines run a daily service from Gatwick.  They were on time - if only I could say the same about my rail journey north.

And if you think I was on a junket - think again.  It was long days and the only recompense I get is €175 per day - and out of that I have to pay for all meals and hotel accommodation.  I've also got to balance my day job.  I've not done the calculations yet - but I suspect I'll be out of pocket.  However that doesn't matter.  What matters is that Ukraine is embracing reform - and if part of that is a Ukranian version of the Nolan Principles - then that is absolutely priceless.