Here’s one for those who like the stench of a politician’s hypocrisy in the summer months.
Paula Sherriff was elected as MP for Dewsbury in May. During her election campaign was that she pledged not to hold a second job as an MP and there is even a page on her website dedicated to a petition to stop MPs holding second jobs. So what is she currently doing? You guessed it.
Sherriff has not resigned her role as district councillor for Pontefract North since winning her parliamentary seat. This would trigger a by-election for a seat that’s up for election in May next year so, I suppose, the idea is just to not bother. However, are the people of Pontefract North getting a fair deal out of this? I somehow doubt it.
What would be the defence? That because each ward has three councillors that it doesn’t matter if one of them suddenly does a disappearing act on her constituents? Well, then, the logical question is whether each ward needs three councillors. If Sherriff is adamant she won’t resign her post (at least until after the point where it would trigger a by-election) then I think we need a fundamental discussion about what our councillors in Wakefield are actually doing to represent their wards.
Alternatively, Sherriff could stick to her promise not to hold two jobs and resign with immediate effect. That would be the sensible and democratic thing to do.
EDIT: Paula Sherriff has just responded to one of my Yorkshire First colleagues on Twitter saying that she no longer draws an allowance for the role nor acts as a councillor for Pontefract North. Still unclear whether this means Pontefract North is being under-represented though…
There was a small piece in Friday’s Wakefield Express about the plans being drawn up for “area councils” which will give powers to “small towns and areas across the district”. The aim is to have these new structures in place by April next year and council leader Peter Box is quoted as saying, “That sounds a long way away but what’s most important is that we get the plan right.” There’s a lot of sense in that statement.
Of course, as someone who wants more devolution I’m cautiously optimistic about these proposals. However, there are many questions to be answered which will determine the success or failure of these “area councils”. Foremost, I suppose, is that of accountability. Who will be on these councils? Will they be elected or merely headed by an “appropriate person” (so an already-elected local councillor or parish councillor)? How does this relate to democracy? The second pitfall, so to speak, is that of duplicating functions. The last thing we need is an extra layer of bureaucracy. One of the things that came up when I was discussing Yorkshire First during the election campaign was the idea of duplicating functions and how this costs more money. Essentially, that’s because it isn’t proper devolution. It’s cosmetic devolution benevolently bestowed by a central power that wants to keep hold of the reins. I think if you approach these two questions of accountability and bureaucracy in tandem then you go some way to creating an effective system of ultra-local governance.
There’s a long way to go before these proposals become reality and I’ll be keeping a close eye on developments and hopefully reporting them on this blog. It’s excellent to see Wakefield Council recognising the problem, however, and I commend them for that.
There is a sting in the tail of the article though. It concludes, “The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is also working to get powers devolved to the Leeds City Region.”
Ah… Me and the Leeds City Region go together like oil and water. Still, we’ll tackle that problem (again) on another day. Let’s just focus on the potential positives coming out of this push for devolution and not on the drive to make Leeds the centre of the universe.