While we and some other organisations in Birmingham have been busy forming the Civil Society Forum to provide a voice for civil society into the workings of the new Combined Authority, Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has been trying to do something a little similar via a deliberative democracy process he’s called the People’s Plan.
It provides a forum and stepped process for people to propose, comment on and discuss ideas to influence what the Mayor might see as priorities. So far, a fair range of proposals have been put forward – some strategic, some a bit less so.
It also says “The Metro Mayor will be elected to control big budgets and make big decisions. They’ll play a big role in shaping the future of where we live.” But looking at the content of the Mayoral Powers consultation on the WMCA website, it looks as if WMCA governance could end up being an odd hybrid of the Mayoral role and collective decision-making. I’m all for collective decision-making rather than the current obsession with macho individual leadership, which is why I was sceptical about the proposal of a Mayor for Birmingham – but how effective will it be to try to combine the two, potentially leading to a constant power struggle between factions of Leaders and the Mayor?
Either way, we really need to help those in charge of forming this subregional tier to help themselves by involving civil society, because so far there’s frankly not been enough participation. The People’s Plan format certainly has its merits for this – it’s based on open source deliberative democracy tools from DCENT, and, for better and worse, is free from the ongoing collaboration commitment that our Civil Society Forum needs, enabling people to contribute freely as and when they can. But it’s only going to be as useful as the ideas that are brought together in it, the breadth and depth of its debate, and the diversity of the voices that contribute. As the website says “The more people who participate, the more legitimacy and impact our work will have.”
So let’s promote it, engage with it, suck it and see.