HELEN BURTON: Democracy must be the core of all we do

Helen Burton
Helen Burton

I welcome Caroline Ansell’s call this week for public consultation about the council’s proposal to sell off the Downland farms.

The farms were bought originally in order to protect the downs, and in the years since I do not believe the need for this protection has reduced. I can understand the council trying to raise funds, but in my opinion this is a very short sighted way to do it. Whatever is decided though, the land now belongs to the people of Eastbourne and I think it is only right that they are consulted before a decision is made to sell it. The council is elected to make decisions on our behalf, but sometimes on contentious issues further consultation is required.

Democracy is hard sometimes. Many of us watched in horror at a man who has spouted such horrendous views being voted president of the United States, I am appalled by my country’s decision to leave the EU, and in the election results last year I did not get the government I wanted. Democracy though, needs to be at the core of everything we do, and consultations (done the right way) are an important part of that process. Some government consultations recently seem to be a literal tick box exercise to make it appear that the public have had a voice in a decision, when in fact the decisions have already been made. The cuts to ESCC social care are a prime example of that sort of consultation. Cuts had to be made, the axe had to fall somewhere. The consultation on libraries also seems to me to be a whitewash of harsh changes about to be imposed on us by government. The sale of the Downland farms though seems like a vital consultation that the council need to have, and I predict that the people of Eastbourne will not want to dispose of these assets, although I was wrong about Brexit and Trump so what do I know? Democracy, transparency and engagement with the public are an important factor in any government body these days. We still might not get the result we want but at least we live in a democracy where we do have a say.

I spoke recently at Pevensey Parish Council about the need to engage with the public more. Modern technology such as social media and ‘SurveyMonkey’ (an online survey tool) give us very easy ways of finding out what our parishioners think. Now that our library is open again we can also make a survey easily accessible to people who don’t have access to the internet (roughly a quarter of Pevensey).

Pevensey Parish council is on Facebook and our draft minutes are now available to the public within a few days rather than after a month, so things are improving, and I am proud to have driven these improvements forward. All councillors need to represent the differing views of our parish or town and need to ensure that democracy is always at the heart of everything that we do.