Community participation in decentralising local government
This thesis examines recent experiments with participatory democracy in the context of decentralised local government. It charts the evolution in attitudes to the role of the generality of citizens in their own government, from commentators who were convinced that stability depended upon their apathy, to the current belief that mass involvement will save local democracy from deteriorating further into crisis. From the literature it is apparent that various authorities have pursued decentralisation initiatives for very different, sometimes conflicting reasons, not all concerned with democratisation. These have frequently been only vaguely articulated and then half-heartedly implemented. Where democratisation has actually been attempted and has included a participatory element, it is the particular contention here that there has been a mismatch between the structures adopted and the objectives to be achieved such that the community participants involved are prevented from playing the role envisaged for them. Furthermore, it is argued that a belief that the emergent participants are non political overlooks their true party affiliations; consequently there has been a failure to introduce sufficient safeguards to ensure true accountability to the constituents for whom they are intended to speak. The case studies on which the research is based are drawn from Scotland where there is an existing grassroots network of community councils which might have formed the building block for any new structures of involvement. Two quite contrasting models are examined, one primarily intended to improve the council's responsiveness to local needs and aspirations in regard to provision of public services, and one intended to offset disadvantage through empowerment. These are evaluated in the light of the above hypotheses and alternative models are evolved better suited to achieving the council's apparent aims. Finally lessons are drawn in relation to their effectiveness or otherwise as examples of new forms of participatory democracy which would have a potential to lower the barriers to involvement by those who currently choose, or are forced, to remain excluded from our present representative forms of democracy.